We recently went on the Massachusetts Society of CPAs (“MSCPA”) tax practitioner website, aka the “HUB”, to answer a question regarding the ability of a partnership that has some service type activities to claim Section 199A benefits. We do get a number of questions on this so we felt it would be great to share on our blog.
The basic question presented was whether a partnership that manufactures and sells goods but has some consulting or service type activities may claim Section 199A benefits?
This is a very good Section 199A question that, as noted above, we’re seeing quite a bit in our business practice. It highlights the fact that Section 199A is actually a very complicated piece of legislation lacking solid administrative guidance and detailed understanding among many professionals. Many clients have assumed they qualify for Section 199A benefits when they actually do not.
When Section 199A was enacted and reviewed by the tax community there were more questions than answers to many specific fact situations. In particular, the statute itself left unclear to us the treatment of trades or businesses with both a Qualified Trade or Business (“QTB”) component which is benefit eligible and a Specified Service Trade or Business (“SSTB”) component which is not benefit eligible.
Section 199A only applies to pass-through businesses. C Corporations received their tax break separately by reduced tax rates. The Proposed Regulations issued in August created the term “relevant pass-through entity” (“RPE”). An RPE is generally a partnership, other than a Publicly Traded Partnership, or an S corporation that is owned, directly or indirectly, by at least one individual, estate or trust. In most states, including Massachusetts, partnerships are mostly multi-member LLCs.
Section 199A defines a QTB rather simply as any trade or business except a SSTB or services performed as an employee. A SSTB includes a trade or business involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, investing and investment management, trading, dealing in certain assets or any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees. For practitioners familiar with former Section 199 and the former Extraterritorial Income Exclusion (“EIE”) rules, one could foresee how services besides architecture and engineering were going to be excluded from benefits – and they were but in a complicated fashion.
The Proposed Regulations provide us with our only guidance on our issue of a partnership, i.e., an RPE, with both QBI and SSTB activities. Prop. Reg. 1.199A-5(c)(1) provides a de minimis rule based on trade or business gross receipts and the percentage of gross receipts attributable to a SSTB under which a trade or business will not be considered a SSTB merely because it performs a small amount of services in a SSTB. The Preamble to the Proposed Regulations explains that this rule was created because the Treasury Department and the IRS believe that requiring all taxpayers to evaluate and quantify any amount of specified service activity would create administrative complexity and undue burdens for both taxpayers and the IRS. It is simply an administrative safe harbor.
Under this rule, a trade or business, determined before application of the aggregation rules, which I’m not addressing here, would not be a SSTB if in a specific tax year it has: (1) gross receipts of $25 million or less, and (2) less than 10% of the gross receipts are attributable to the performance of services in a SSTB. Take note that this includes the performance of activities incidental to the actual performance of services. For a trade or business with gross receipts greater than $25 million, the trade or business qualifies for the de minimis rule if less than 5% of the gross receipts are attributable to the performance of services in a SSTB.
The bottom line is that if the SSTB activities rise above these safe harbor amounts within a single RPE, the entire trade or business is tainted and is considered to be a SSTB. The law does not allow you to otherwise create allocations within a single RPE. It is either a QBI or a SSTB depending upon the results of the test outlined above.
We are assisting many of our clients with both QBI and SSTB activities with restructuring options to qualify for Section 199A benefits. However, any restructuring alternatives are fact dependent. There is no one option that applies to all businesses but restructuring options do exist that allow many taxpayers to claim these important new benefits.
Frank J. Vari, JD, MTax, CPA is the practice leader of FJV Tax which is a CPA firm specializing in complex international and U.S. tax planning. FJV Tax has offices in Wellesley and Boston. The author can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone at 617-770-7286/800-685-2324. You can learn more about FJV Tax at fjvtax.com.