IRS helps clarify new Surtax

The IRS has issued proposed reliance regulations on the 3.8 percent surtax on net investment income (NII), enacted in the 2010 Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act. The regulations are proposed to be effective January 1, 2014. However, since the tax applies beginning January 1, 2013, the IRS stated that taxpayers may rely on the proposed regulations for 2013. The IRS expects to issue final regulations sometime later this year.

The surtax applies to individuals, estates, and trusts. The surtax applies if the taxpayer has NII and his or her “modified” adjusted gross income exceeds certain statutory thresholds: $250,000 for married taxpayers and surviving spouses; $125,000 for married filing separately; and $200,000 for individuals and other taxpayers. The tax is broad and can raise tax bills by hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

Complex provisions

The regulations are extensive and complex. They address a number of issues that were not answered in the statute, such as the interaction of Code Sec. 1411 (the surtax provisions) and Code Sec. 469 (passive activity loss rules). Significant areas addressed in the proposed regulations include:

  • Identification of those individuals subject to the surtax,
  • Surtax’s application to estates and trusts,
  • Definition of NII,
  • Disposition of interests in partnerships and S corporations,
  • Allocable deductions from NII,
  • Treatment of qualified plan distributions, and
  • Treatment of earnings by controlled foreign corporations and passive foreign investment companies.

Some issues, however, are not yet addressed, such as the application of the Code Sec. 469 material participation rules to trusts and estates. Further guidance from the IRS is expected.

Borrowed definitions and principles

Net investment income that is subject to the new 3.8 percent tax generally includes interest and dividend income as well as capital gains from investments.  But Code Sec. 1411 doesn’t stop there, seeking to tax “passive activities” and contrasting those activities with a “trade or business” in often complex ways.

Because Code Sec. 1411 does not define many important terms, the regulations use definitions from several other Tax Code provisions. For example, the definition of a trade or business is determined under Code Sec. 162, regarding trade or business expenses. This definition is essential to Code Sec. 1411, since the application of each of the three categories of net investment income depends on determining whether the income is from a trade or business. The regulations also borrow the definition of a disposition, which applies to category (iii) income, from other provisions, such as Code Section 731 (partnership distributions) and Code Sec. 1001 (dispositions of property).

New elections available

The regulations provide certain elections that may be beneficial to many taxpayers. Taxpayers that engage in multiple activities under Code Sec. are allowed to make another election to regroup their activities. Taxpayers married to a nonresident alien can elect to treat their spouse as a U.S. resident, which allow more income to escape the 3.8 percent surtax.

Net investment income generally includes interest and dividend income as well as capital gains from investments. To prevent avoidance of the tax, the regulations include substitute payments of interest and dividends in the definition. The IRS also warned in the preamble to the proposed regulations that it will scrutinize activities designed to circumvent the surtax and will challenge questionable transactions using applicable statutes and judicial doctrines. The IRS further warned that taxpayers should figure their exposure to the 3.8 percent tax quickly since liability for this additional tax must be included in quarterly estimated tax computations and payments starting with first quarter 2013.

Please feel free to contact this office for a personalized review of how the 3.8 percent tax may impact you, and what compliance and planning steps should be considered as a consequence.

If and only to the extent that this publication contains contributions from tax professionals who are subject to the rules of professional conduct set forth in Circular 230, as promulgated by the United States Department of the Treasury, the publisher, on behalf of those contributors, hereby states that any U.S. federal tax advice that is contained in such contributions was not intended or written to be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer by the Internal Revenue Service, and it cannot be used by any taxpayer for such purpose.

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