Many states and localities give incentives for business to move or transact in their locations. There has always been a question of whether these incentives are taxable income under federal income tax law. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 118, as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, P.L. 115-97, provides that “[i]n the case of a corporation, gross income does not include any contribution to the capital of the taxpayer….(b) For purposes of subsection (a), the term “contribution to the capital of the taxpayer” does not include—…(2) any contribution by any governmental entity or civic group (other than a contribution made by a shareholder as such).”

In a recent case, the US Tax Court ruled that certain cash grants given by the State of New Jersey fit squarely within IRC section 118, and were not taxable to the corporate taxpayer. Brokertec Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-32.


Continue Reading

The judicial substance-over-form doctrine provides the IRS with the ability to set aside carefully orchestrated tax planning arrangements to treat a transaction consistent with its substance.  However, the doctrine does not give the Service carte blanche to deny tax benefits. In Summa Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, No. 16-1712 (available here), the Sixth Circuit overturned the Tax Court and declined to apply the substance-over-form doctrine when faced with taxpayers who, “to [their] good fortune, had the time and patience (and money) to understand how a complex set of tax provisions could lower [their] taxes” and “complied in full with the printed and accessible words of the tax laws.”

Summa Holdings involved a closely held corporation (Summa Holdings, Inc.) that supercharged the tax benefits provided by paying commissions to an interest charge domestic international sales corporation (IC-DISC) by having the IC-DISC owned by two Roth IRAs. While the dividends paid by the IC-DISC were taxable upon receipt, the dividend amounts (totaling $6 million over 7 years) were vastly larger than the annual contribution limits placed on Roth IRAs. For unfathomable reasons, the IRS did not challenge the $3,000 price that the Roth IRAs paid for the IC-DISC stock. Instead, the IRS asserted that that the substance of the arrangement was that the corporation paid dividends to its shareholders and the shareholders made excess contributions to the Roth IRAs.


Continue Reading