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Who Qualifies as a Partner under the New BBA Regulations

This is the first of a series of deeper dives into the newly finalized partnership audit regulations that cover who can elect out of the new centralized partnership audit regime. We have previously blogged about the regulations here.

In order for a partnership to elect out of the new centralized partnership audit regime (the “BBA regime”), there are several hurdles to overcome. The first of which is that the partnership wishing to elect out must be able to satisfy a two part test:  It must have 100 or fewer partners and those partners must be eligible partners

First, the partnership must have 100 or fewer partners. Treasury Regulation 301.6221(b)-1(b)(1)(i) states that a partnership has 100 or fewer partners if, under section 6031(b), it is required to issue 100 or fewer statements.

Who gets a statement?

While these rules seem straight forward, they could become problematic for partnerships with S corporations as partners.   Under new section 6221(b)(2)(A)(ii), the statements required to be furnished by an S Corp under section 6037(b) for its taxable year ending with or within the partnership’s taxable year will count towards the 100 or fewer partner threshold.  This is in addition to the statement that the S Corp partner received from the partnership.  The partnership must also provide the names and taxpayer identification numbers of each person to whom the S Corppartner was required to issue a statement under section 6037(b).  Thus, an S Corp partner and its shareholders will all count towards the 100 or fewer requirement.

A quick example:

A partnership has 50 partners, which are as follows:

  • 49 unmarried individuals
  • 1 S Corp which has 51 shareholders

At first blush, it would seem that this partnership qualifies. It has only 50 partners after all.  However, under the new rules,  the total number of partners for the 100-partner rule is 101 (49 individuals + 1 S Corp + 51 S Corp shareholders) and the partnership cannot elect out of the BBA regime.

So, while you may think you are under the 100 or fewer limit, you will want to make sure you tally and include the number of shareholders your S Corp partner has if you are attempting to elect out of the BBA regime. The presence of a single S Corp partner may defeat the election.

Who is an eligible partner?

Second, each of those partners must be an eligible partner.   Treasury Regulation 301.6221(b)-1(b)(3) describes the types of partners that are “eligible partners” as individuals, C corporations, foreign entities that would be a C corporation if domestic, S Corp, and estates of deceased partners. Partnerships, trusts, disregarded entities, nominees or other similar persons that hold an interest on behalf of another person, and estates other than the estate of a deceased partner are not considered eligible partners under the rules.   Drawing the rules so narrowly promotes the IRS’s goal of pushing as many partnerships as possible into the new regime.

To recap, when weighing the decision to elect out, be careful to ensure that your partnership has 100 or fewer partners (being mindful of the S Corp trap mentioned above), and that each of the partners are eligible partners under the regulations.

Lurking in the wings, however, is the potential for the IRS to use judicial doctrines to recognize constructive or de facto partners or partnerships.  We will discuss this other pitfall in greater detail next week.

Taxpayers Putting Pressure On Courts to Establish The IRS’s Burden Of Proof In Offshore Disclosure Cases

Recently, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Bernard Gubser v. IRS, et al., was asked to overturn a recent U.S. District Court’s decision. The case involved the appropriate burden of proof the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) must meet when the IRS asserts a willful failure to file penalty for the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). At issue is whether the IRS must meet a clear and convincing evidence standard to establish willfulness or whether the appropriate measure is the lower preponderance of the evidence level of proof.

The District Court’s dismissed the initial suit for lack of standing. A group of taxpayers filed an amici curiae brief with the Fifth Circuit urging the Court to reverse the District Court’s decision due to the perceived harm that the uncertainty of the burden of proof could cause taxpayers who made an error in failing to file the FBAR, but who believe their oversight was not willful. This comes at a time when an unprecedented number of District Court cases will be filed for FBAR violations due to the inability of many taxpayers to achieve relief through the IRS Appeals process.

The Streamline Program Turns Two

The Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedure (SFCP) is now two years old. The SFCP was designed for taxpayers whose failure to disclose their offshore accounts was “non-willful,” due to a lack of understanding or knowledge of reporting requirements for U.S. persons. Unlike the full blown Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”), the SFCP places the burden of proving that the taxpayer’s noncompliance was willful on the IRS once the taxpayer has asserted that their non-compliance was not willful. Taxpayers who’s tax returns and informational filing requirements satisfy the SFCP are only required to file tax returns for the previous 3 years and FBAR’s for the previous 6 years while taxpayers in the OVDP must file tax and information returns and FBAR’s for the previous eight years.

One point of contention for taxpayers who entered into the OVDP before the SFCP was introduced in 2014, and whose noncompliance would have qualified them for the SFCP, is that they should be able to switch to the SFCP and take advantage of the reduced penalties on the income tax liability and file only 3 years of income tax returns. While the reduced miscellaneous penalty is available under the OVDP by requesting transitional relief, such relief is not guaranteed and often denied.

Recently, a group of taxpayers brought suit in the Washington D.C. District Court to challenge the IRS’s position that taxpayers who were enlisted in the OVDP prior to the implementation of the SFCP, cannot have their matter transferred to the SFCP. The taxpayers in this case contend they were being treated unfairly under this system as they were no different than those who came forward later in time and entered the SFCP.

Unfortunately, the court did not decide the merits of the case. Rather, the court held that the suit hinders the IRS’s ability to make decisions regarding the enforcement of tax liabilities and dismissed the suit as being barred under the Tax Anti-Injunction Act (26 U.S.C. § 7421), which prohibits suits that restrain the assessment and collection of taxes.   This case highlights the difficulties that can arise when the Service creates settlement programs independent from regulatory oversight and commentary.