Last year’s tax reform created a new 20-percent deduction of qualified business income for passthrough entities, subject to certain limitations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) (P.L. 115-97) created the new Code Sec. 199A passthrough deduction for noncorporate taxpayers, effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. However, the provision was enacted only temporarily through 2025. The controversial deduction has remained a buzzing topic of debate among lawmakers, tax policy experts, and stakeholders. In addition to its impermanence, the new passthrough deduction’s ambiguous statutory language created many questions for taxpayers and practitioners
The IRS released the much-anticipated proposed regulations on the new passthrough deduction, NPRM REG-107892-18, on August 8. The guidance has generated a mixed reaction on Capitol Hill, and while significant questions may have been answered, it appears that many remain. Indeed, an IRS spokesperson told Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting before the proposed regulations were released that the IRS’s goal was to issue complete regulations but that the guidance would “not cover every question that taxpayers have.”
Wolters Kluwer recently spoke with Joshua Wu, member, Clark Hill PLC, about the tax implications of the new passthrough deduction and proposed regulations. That exchange included a discussion of the impact that the new law and IRS guidance, both present and future, may have on taxpayers and tax practitioners.
The interview is presented as a three-part series running from Tuesday, September 11 through Thursday, September 13. Part I of the interview can be located here. Part II of the interview be located here.
Part III – Looking Ahead
Wolters Kluwer: An IRS spokesperson told Wolters Kluwer that the IRS did not expect the proposed regulations to answer all questions surrounding the deduction. Indeed, Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter has said that stakeholder feedback would help finalize the regulations. What significant questions remain unanswered for taxpayers and tax practitioners, and has additional uncertainty been created with the release of the IRS guidance?
Joshua Wu: On the whole, the proposed regulations did a good job addressing the most important areas of Section 199A. However, there are many areas where additional guidance would be helpful. Such guidance may be in the form of additional regulations or other administrative pathways. For example, the proposed regulations did not address the differing treatment between a taxpayer operating as a sole proprietor versus an S corporation. Wages paid to an S corporation shareholder boosts the W-2 limitation but are not considered QBI. Thus, with the same underlying facts, the 199A deduction may vary between taxpayers operating as a sole proprietor versus those operating as an S corporation.
Possible Changes to Proposed Regulations
Wolters Kluwer: In what ways do you see the passthrough deduction rules changing when the final regulations are released?
Joshua Wu: I suspect that the core components of the proposed regulations will not change significantly. However, I would not be surprised if Treasury were to include more specific examples with respect to real estate and whether certain types of activity constitute a trade or business. Additionally, the proposed regulations will likely generate comments and questions from various industry groups related to the SSTB definitions and specific types of services (e.g., do trustees and executors fall under the legal services definition). Treasury may change the definitions of SSTBs in response to comments and clarify definitions for industry groups.
Tax Reform 2.0
Wolters Kluwer: The White House and congressional Republicans are currently moving forward on legislative efforts known as “Tax Reform 2.0.” The legislative package proposes making permanent the passthrough deduction. How does the impermanence of this deduction currently impact taxpayers? Update: House Republicans’ Tax Reform 2.0 package, consisting of three separate bills, is scheduled for a September 13 markup in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Joshua Wu: The 199A deduction has a significant impact on the choice of entity question for businesses. With the 21 percent corporate rate, we have seen many taxpayers considering restructuring away from passthrough entities to a C corporation structure. The 199A deduction is a large consideration in whether to restructure or not, but its limited effective time does raise questions about the cost effectiveness of planning to obtain the 199A deduction where the benefit will sunset in eight years.
Wolters Kluwer: Aside from advice on specific taxpayer situations, what key takeaways should tax practitioners generally alert clients to ahead of the 2019 tax filing season?
Joshua Wu: Practitioners should remind clients who may benefit from the 199A deduction to keep detailed records of any losses for each line of business, as this may impact the calculation of QBI in the future. Practitioners should also help clients examine the whole of their activity to define their “trades or businesses.” This will be essential to calculating the 199A deduction and planning to maximize any such deduction. Finally, practitioners should remember that some of the information that may be necessary to determine a 199A deduction may not be in their client’s possession. Practitioners need to plan in advance with their clients regarding how information about each trade or business will be obtained (e.g., how will a limited partner in a partnership obtain information regarding the partnership’s W-2 wages and/or UBIA of qualified property).
Wolters Kluwer: Any closing thoughts or comments?
Joshua Wu: Practitioners and taxpayers should remember that the regulations are only proposed and may change before they become final. Any planning undertaken this year should carefully weigh the economic costs and be rooted in the statutory language of 199A. It will be some time before case law helps clarify the nuances of Section 199A, and claiming the deduction allows the IRS to more easily impose the substantial understatement penalty if a taxpayer gets it wrong.
By Jessica Jeane, Senior News Editor