Tax treatment for trading options

May 27, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

Options trading is proliferating with the advent and innovation of retail option trading platforms, brokerage firms and trading schools. A trader can open an options trading account with just a few thousand dollars vs. $25,000 required for “pattern day trading” equities (Reg T margin rules).

Options trading provides the opportunity to make big profits on little capital using “risk it all” strategies. Options are a “tradable” financial instrument and a way to reduce risk with hedging strategies. When it comes to option taxation, complex trades with offsetting positions raise complex tax treatment issues like wash sale and straddle loss deferral rules.

Investors also trade options to manage risk in their investment portfolios. For example, if an investor owns significant equity in Apple and Exxon, he or she may want to trade options to manage risk or enhance income on long equity positions. He or she can collect premium by selling or “writing” an options contract or buy a “married put” for portfolio insurance. Traders also use ETFs and indexes for portfolio-wide insurance. (Investopedia has explanations for different option trading strategies.)

Simple vs. complex option trades
There are simple option trading strategies like buying and selling call and put options known as “outrights.” And there are complex option trades known as “option spreads”which include multi-legged offsetting positions like iron condorsbutterfly spreads; vertical, horizontal and diagonal spreads; and debit and credit spreads.

Tax treatment for outright option trades is fairly straightforward and covered below. Tax treatment for complex trades triggers a bevy of complex IRS rules geared toward preventing taxpayers from tax avoidance schemes: deducting losses and expenses from the losing side of a complex trade in the current tax year while deferring income on the offsetting winning position until a subsequent tax year.

Look to the underlying financial instrument tax treatment
Options are “derivatives” of underlying financial instruments including equities, ETFs, futures, indexes, forex, and more. The first key to determining an option’s tax treatment is to look at the tax treatment for its underlying financial instrument. The option is to buy or sell that financial instrument and it’s tied at the hip.

For example, an equity option looks to the tax treatment of equities, which are considered “securities.” Conversely, options on Section 1256 contracts are deemed “non-equity options.”

ETFs are taxed as securities, so options on securities ETFs are taxed as securities. Options on commodity ETFs (structured as publicly traded partnerships) are non-equity options taxed as Section 1256 contracts. Options on futures are taxed as futures, which are Section 1256 contracts.

Capital gains and losses for securities are reported when realized (sold or closed). Conversely, Section 1256 contracts are marked-to-market (MTM) at year-end and they benefit from lower 60/40 capital gains tax rates: 60% long-term and 40% short-term. MTM imputes sales on open positions at market prices so there is no chance to defer an offsetting position at year-end. Generally, that means wash sale and straddle loss deferral rules don’t apply to Section 1256 options.

There are three things that can happen with outright option trades:

  • Trade option (closing transaction)
    Trading call and put equity options held as a capital asset are taxed the same as trading underlying equities. Report proceeds, cost basis, net capital gain or loss and holding period (short-term vs. long-term held over 12 months) from realized transactions only on Form 8949 (Capital Gains & Losses).
  • Option expires (lapses)
    There’s a minor twist on the above scenario. Rather than realizing a dollar amount on the closing out of the option trade, the closeout price is zero since the option expires worthless.Use zero for the realized proceeds or cost basis, depending on whether you’re the “writer”or “holder” of the option and if it’s a call or put. Use common sense — collecting premium on the option trade is proceeds and therefore the corresponding worthless exercise represents zero cost basis in this realized transaction. For guidance on entering option transactions as “expired”on Form 8949, read IRS Pub. 550 – Capital Gains And Losses: Options.
  • Exercise the option
    This is where tax treatment gets more complicated. Exercising an option is not a realized gain or loss transaction; it’s a stepping-stone to a subsequent realized gain or loss transaction on the underlying financial instrument acquired. The original option transaction amount is absorbed (adjusted) into the subsequent financial instrument cost basis or net proceed amount.Per IRS Pub. 550 Capital Gains & Losses: Options: “If you exercise a call, add its cost to the basis of the stock you bought. If you exercise a put, reduce your amount realized on the sale of the underlying stock by the cost of the put when figuring your gain or loss. Any gain or loss on the sale of the underlying stock is long term or short term depending on your holding period for the underlying stock…If a put you write is exercised and you buy the underlying stock, decrease your basis in the stock by the amount you received for the put…If a call you write is exercised and you sell the underlying stock, increase your amount realized on the sale of the stock by the amount you received for the call when figuring your gain or loss.” Some brokers interpret IRS rules differently, which can lead to confusion in attempting to reconcile broker-issued Form 1099Bs to trade accounting software. A few brokers may reduce proceeds when they should add the amount to cost basis. Equity options are reportable for the first time on 2014 Form 1099Bs.Exercising an option gets to the basics of what an option is all about: it’s the right, but not the obligation, to purchase or sell a financial instrument at a fixed “strike price” by an expiration date. Exercise may happen at any time until the option lapses. An investor can have an in the money option before expiration date and choose not to execute it, but rather hold or sell it before expiration.
  • Holding period for long-term capital gains
    When an equity option is exercised, the option holding period becomes irrelevant and the holding period for the equity begins anew. The holding period of the option doesn’t help achieve a long-term capital gain 12-month holding period on the subsequent sale of the equity. When an option is closed or lapsed, the option holding period does dictate short- or long-term capital gains treatment on the capital gain or loss.With exceptions recapped in IRS Pub. 550: “Put option as short sale.  Buying a put option is generally treated as a short sale, and the exercise, sale, or expiration of the put is a closing of the short sale. If you have held the underlying stock for one year or less at the time you buy the put, any gain on the exercise, sale, or expiration of the put is a short-term capital gain. The same is true if you buy the underlying stock after you buy the put but before its exercise, sale, or expiration.”

Complex trades lead to complex tax treatment issues
In general, if an investor has an offsetting position he or she should look into more complex tax treatment issues.

Offsetting Positions
IRS Pub. 550: Capital Gains & Losses: Straddles defines an “offsetting position” as “a position that substantially reduces any risk of loss you may have from holding another position.”

In the old days, shrewd professional options traders would enter offsetting positions and close out the losing side before year-end for a significant tax loss and let the winning side remain open until the subsequent year. They used this strategy to avoid paying taxes. The IRS goes through (and causes) great pains to prevent this type of tax avoidance. Offsetting position rules included “related persons” including a spouse and your flow-through entities.

“Loss Deferral Rules”in IRS Pub. 550 state “Generally, you can deduct a loss on the disposition of one or more positions only to the extent the loss is more than any unrecognized gain you have on offsetting positions. Unused losses are treated as sustained in the next tax year.”

IRS enforcement of offsetting position rules
Frankly, the offsetting position rules are complex, nuanced and inconsistently applied. There are insufficient tools and programs for complying with straddle loss deferral rules. Brokers don’t comply with taxpayer wash sale rules or straddle loss deferral rules on Form 1099Bs or profit and loss reports. Few local tax preparers and CPAs understand these rules, let alone know how to spot them on client trading records.

The IRS probably enforces wash sale and straddle loss deferral rules during audits of large taxpayers who are obviously avoiding taxes with offsetting positions. They make a lot of money, but it’s always deferred to the next tax year. The IRS doesn’t seem to be questioning wash sales and straddles during exams for the average Joe Trader.

I expect the IRS will launch a tax exam initiative for measuring taxpayer compliance with new cost-basis reporting law and regulations. I see a big problem brewing with unreconciled differences between taxpayer and broker rules on wash sales.

Wash sales
As we stress in our extensive content on wash sale loss deferral rules, Section 1091 rules for taxpayers require wash sale loss treatment on substantially identical positions across all accounts including IRAs. Substantially identical positions include Apple equity, Apply options and Apple options at different expiration dates on both puts and calls.

If a taxpayer re-enters a substantially identical position within 30 days before or after existing a position, the IRS defers the tax loss by adding it to the cost basis of the replacement position. When a taxable account has a wash sale caused by a replacement position purchased in an IRA, the wash sale loss is permanently lost.

Cost-basis regulations phased-in options as “covered securities” starting with 2014 Form 1099Bs. Brokers report wash sales based on identical positions, not substantially identical positions. Investors who trade equities and equity options cannot solely rely on Form 1099Bs and they should use their own trade accounting software to generate Form 8949. Learn more about wash sales in our Trader Tax Center.

Straddle loss deferral rules
Options traders use option spreads containing offsetting positions to limit risk and provide a reasonable opportunity to make a net profit on the trade. That’s very different from an unscrupulous trader entering a complex trade with offsetting positions set up for no overall risk (the rule is substantially reduced risk) or reward. Why would an options trader do that? For tax avoidance reasons only.

The IRS straddle loss deferral rules are set up to catch this trader and prevent this type of tax avoidance. The straddle loss deferral rule defers a loss to the subsequent tax year when the winning side of the position is closed, thereby reversing what the unscrupulous trader was trying to achieve. The IRS also suspends holding period so it’s impossible to qualify for long-term capital gains rates in the following year, too. Transaction-related expenses (carrying costs) and margin interest (certain interest) are also deferred by adding them to the cost-basis of the offsetting winning position.

Learn more about straddle loss deferral rules in connection with options in IRS Pub. 550: Capital Gains & Losses: Straddles. “A straddle is any set of offsetting positions on personal property. For example, a straddle may consist of a purchased option to buy and a purchased option to sell on the same number of shares of the security, with the same exercise price and period. Personal property. This is any actively traded property. It includes stock options and contracts to buy stock but generally does not include stock. Straddle rules for stock. Although stock is generally excluded from the definition of personal property when applying the straddle rules, it is included in the following two situations. 1) The stock is of a type which is actively traded, and at least one of the offsetting positions is a position on that stock or substantially similar or related property. 2) The stock is in a corporation formed or availed of to take positions in personal property that offset positions taken by any shareholder.”

Straddle loss rules are complex and beyond the scope of this blog post. Consult a tax adviser who understands the rules well.

Caution to unsuspecting option traders
Active traders in equities and equity options entering complex trades with multi-legged offsetting positions may unwittingly trigger straddle loss deferral rules if they calculate risk and reward wrong and there is substantially no risk.

Section 475 MTM
Traders who qualify for trader tax status may elect Section 475(f) MTM accounting, provided they do so by the deadline. MTM means the trader reports unrealized gains and losses on trading positions at year-end by imputing sales at year-end prices. Segregated investment positions are excluded from MTM. The character of the income changes from capital gain and loss to ordinary gain or loss. Section 475 trades are exempt from Section 1091 wash sale rules and straddle loss deferral rules since no open positions are deferred at year-end.

Employee stock options
Don’t confuse tradable options with employee stock options. When an employee acquires non-qualified options on his employer’s stock (equity), the later exercise of those options triggers ordinary income reported on the employee W-2 because the appreciated value is considered a form of wage compensation.

Other resources
Ernst & Young prepared a useful guide with a good section on options taxation. It was requested by The Options Industry Council and is available on the CBOE website at https://www.cboe.com/LearnCenter/pdf/TaxesandInvesting.pdf.


Dear IRS & Congress: Please fix tax rules for active traders

May 14, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

 We mailed the IRS Commissioner this cover letter and comments for the IRS Section 475 “Clean Up Project.” This blog post is comprised of those comments. 

Please take action: sign our Petition to CongressWithout your participation traders are too small a voice. 

The IRS recognizes problems with tax rules for active traders including Section 475 marked-to-market (MTM) reporting, Section 1091 wash sale loss rules and trader tax status (business treatment).

These problems are connected. Only a trader who qualifies for trader tax status may elect and use Section 475(f) MTM ordinary gain or loss treatment. Otherwise with the default “realization method” (cash method), securities trades are subject to Section 1091 wash sale loss rules and capital gain and loss treatment. Wash sale rules are a huge problem for active securities traders; non-compliance is widespread and the IRS is not enforcing the rules. That is unsustainable.

Trader tax status is a requirement for Section 475(f)
Traders, tax professionals, IRS and state tax agents don’t fully understand trader tax status (TTS), and the result is botched tax compliance causing significant losses from higher taxes, penalties, interest and professional fees.

Hundreds of thousands of active traders qualify for TTS, trading their own funds as a business activity. Most of them don’t know they are entitled to file a timely election for Section 475(f) MTM ordinary gain or loss treatment and exemption from Section 1091 wash sale loss treatment. They also don’t realize they can use Section 162 business expense treatment as a sole proprietor or in a pass-through trading company without an election required for Section 162.

Since enactment in 1997, Section 475 and TTS rules remain too confusing to tax professionals and traders. Many local tax preparers conflate the two code sections, not realizing a qualifying trader may use Section 162 but not elect Section 475(f). The IRS needs to do a better job with its guidance.

Better define trader tax status
There is no “statutory law” defining qualification for TTS. There is only “case law” and “trader tax” cases have a broad range of criteria without giving a bright-line test, except the Endicott court stated average holding period must be 31 days or less. Traders need similar standards for volume and frequency of trades and hours per day.

Case law rewards losing day traders with TTS and 475(f) elections, but denies both to profitable options traders who may make a consistent living but have less volume and frequency of trades. The average trader with TTS has business expenses of approximately $15,000 and that does not stress the Treasury in terms of tax benefits.

The IRS has a history of misquoting TTS case law to traders in tax exams. On several occasions, IRS agents told traders they needed to make their “primary or sole living” from trading, whereas tax law requires “an intention to make a living.” Hobby loss rules do not apply to trading because trading is “not recreational or personal in nature.”

Section 475(f) MTM
Section 475 was drafted for dealers in securities and or commodities. In 1997, Congress expanded Section 475 to include traders who qualify for trader tax status adding Section 475(f). The IRS added the terms “trader in securities” and “trader in commodities.” Traders must qualify for TTS to elect and use Section 475(f).

Securities traders consider a Section 475(f) election for two reasons: exemption from wash sale loss deferral rules and the $3,000 capital loss limitation. Section 475 MTM is ordinary gain or loss treatment. Section 475 trading losses contribute to NOL carry backs and forwards which generate tax refunds faster than carrying forward capital loss carryovers, which otherwise are the biggest pitfall for traders. Section 475 MTM ordinary income is taxed at the same ordinary tax rate as short-term capital gains.

Better define commodities
The IRS needs to better define the term “commodities” in Section 475 (and throughout the tax code). The definition needs to clearly state that traders may elect Section 475(f) on “securities only” and retain lower 60/40 tax rates on Section 1256 contracts (futures and broad based indexes). While dealers sell bushels of wheat (commodities), traders do not.

I appreciate the ABA’s comments to the IRS. Their comments on the definition of commodities are confusing. The ABA addresses dealers and traders, whereas we focus on traders only.

Suspending Section 475 treatment
One of the challenges in administrating Section 475 is in the determination of qualification for TTS. Falling short of TTS means the trader must suspend use of Section 475 and use the realization (cash) method until he or she re-qualifies in a subsequent tax year. Suspension treatment is not included in Section 475 rules, yet it should be. The concept is that without TTS, all open positions automatically become investment positions.

The IRS recently fixed Section 475 revocation rules
There’s good news for traders about Section 475 MTM buried in the IRS annual update on procedures for changes of accounting method. It has always been free and easy to elect Section 475 MTM, yet difficult and costly to revoke that election. With this rule change, the IRS makes revocation a free and easy process. (Read my blog post New IRS rules allow free and easy Section 475 revocation.)

Section 475(f) election and Form 3115
Current rules for making a Section 475(f) election are too narrow and complex. In other words, there is a very small window of opportunity to consider and make a 475(f) election and most traders don’t speak with their tax advisor on time. Far too many qualified traders who would benefit from Section 475(f) miss the boat and that’s unfair.

“Existing taxpayers” must elect Section 475(f) by the original due date of the prior year tax return (not including extensions). That provides about three months of hindsight from Jan. 1 until April 15 for individuals and partnerships and March 15 for S-Corps. It’s an election statement as there isn’t a tax form.

The second step — to perfect the election — is to file a Form 3115 with the current year tax return. Many accountants think it’s a one-step procedure and they botch the election by missing either the election statement or the Form 3115 filing (required in duplicate).

A taxpayer must attach the election statement to their extension or tax return and a certified return receipt only proves a tax filing not the election statement. The IRS admits they don’t have a system to record the 475(f) election, so they ask a taxpayer for a perjury statement on the Form 3115 representing they filed the election statement on time. The IRS provides relief for late Form 3115s but not late election statements.

Provide late relief for Section 475 elections
Tax law (Regulation Section 301.9100-3 relief) allows six months to file a private letter ruling to get late relief on certain elections including Section 475(f). But to date it has been almost impossible to get this type of relief for a late Section 475(f) election. The process requires a private letter ruling and the IRS denied all of them to date with the exception of Larry Vines who had a perfect fact pattern. The IRS refuses late relief for Section 475(f) by claiming prejudice to Treasury and hindsight. It takes almost a perfect set of factors to get by this stringent posture. An open portfolio of unrealized capital losses is currently considered enough of a reason for the IRS to deny late relief for a Section 475(f) election.

Rather than loosen up here, I prefer the IRS just allow a Section 475(f) election with more time. Focusing too much on hindsight disenfranchises traders.

Expand Section 475(f)new taxpayerexception
Under current law, there is an exception for “new taxpayers” like a new entity. A new taxpayer may elect Section 475(f) by internal resolution within 75 days of inception. If you start trading after April 15, you can’t make a 475(f) election as an individual; but you can form a new entity to make the election within 75 days of inception.

The new taxpayer exception isn’t clear or broad enough. The IRS should broaden it to accommodate “new traders” qualifying for TTS, not just a new entity. Individual traders or entities qualifying for TTS after April 15 should be able to elect Section 475(f) within 75 days of qualification.

I think the IRS should go even further by allowing the election on the tax return filing after year-end. Traders using Section 162 business expense treatment simply claim that treatment on their tax return (Schedule C) where they also choose the cash method or accrual method of accounting for expenses. Why not enact the same procedure for a Section 475(f) election? Why make Section 475 confusing and different from Section 162 since they are so tied together already?

Most tax professionals don’t know their client qualified for TTS until tax time and often that’s after the April 15 deadline for filing extensions. Their clients often miss the 475(f) election for the past year, as well as the current year, too.

Taxpayers often don’t discuss election opportunities with their accountants until after year-end, not when they launch a new activity. Traders don’t even realize that trading can be a business; otherwise they might call their accountant early on. It’s unreasonable for the IRS to assume traders can digest the complications of Section 475(f) and TTS on their own.

First year hindsight is reasonable
While extending the 475(f) election until tax filing time gives traders more hindsight during the first calendar year (and into the next tax year) and new IRS rules for revocation allow reversal in a subsequent year, once revoked, Section 475 can’t be re-elected for five years.

Most tax elections are made on a tax return filing, and they are not required earlier in the year – hindsight is allowed. With so many traders missing the boat on Section 475 — and then building up a capital loss carryover hole committing them to the realization method — it’s reasonable for traders to conclude the onerous 475(f) election rules are intended to disenfranchise traders from using ordinary loss treatment.

The original tax law on Section 475(f) mentioned the IRS would issue a tax form for the election. But, to date the IRS has not issued a form. Even with the S-Corp election Form 2553 due within 75 days of inception, the IRS grants relief for late-filed elections. I don’t see precedent for stringent hindsight rules against traders. Missing the Section 475(f) election requirement is the biggest problem in Section 475 and it causes the most inequity for traders contrary to the intention of Congress in expanding Section 475 to traders.

Section 475 segregation of investmentrules are vague
I disagree with IRS proposed regulations for segregation of investments from Section 475 calling for a separate investment account.

Segregation should be done in “form and substance.” It’s not enough to designate an account as an investment account (in form) because traders often actively trade around core investment positions in an active trading account (in substance). Segregation must be assessed in overall actions by traders. (Read my blog post IRS warns traders on Section 475.)

I agree with Chief Counsel Advice (“CCA”) 201432016 stating “the 475 election is made on an entity-by-entity basis, not a separate trade or business basis, and only in the case of separate commodities and securities businesses can a taxpayer make separate elections.” I also agree the proposed regulation stating “a trader may identify an investment with ‘clear and convincing evidence that a security has no connection to its trading activities.’”

As tax preparers for traders, real world fact patterns can be confusing and it would be good if the IRS issued more guidance on segregation of investments. If a client trades the same symbol for which he invests and uses Section 475(f) for active trading but not investing, should all the symbols traded and invested be consolidated into Section 475(f) or into investment treatment, or otherwise? The proposed regulations offer some solutions but they need more work. Tax preparers need support for taking positions that don’t prejudice Treasury. In general, I agree with many of ABA’s comments on May 7, 2015 in this regard.

Wash sale rules are a problem
A Section 475(f) election is an escape hatch for a qualifying trader from wash sale loss treatment (Section 1091). When the IRS considers changes to Section 475, they should also address significant problems with Section 1091 as these code sections are joined at the hip for active traders.

IRS rules for broker 1099Bs differ from rules for taxpayer reporting of wash sale adjustments on Form 8949 (Capital Gains & Losses). The IRS requires brokers to calculate wash sales based on identical positions (same symbol) per account. Conversely, the IRS requires taxpayers to report wash sales based on substantially identical positions (stocks and options) across all accounts including IRAs. With apples and oranges structurally in the rules, there are obviously large, unreconciled differences between broker 1099Bs and taxpayer Form 8949, especially for active traders with multiple accounts and those who trade stocks and options. These 1099B matching problems will overwhelm the IRS in coming years.

The IRS doesn
t enforce wash sales
Too often taxpayers and tax professionals cut corners choosing to solely rely on broker-issued 1099Bs. They don’t comply with different IRS wash sale rules for taxpayers (see above).

Brokers aren’t helping with taxpayer compliance; they are encouraging clients to download 1099-B data into TurboTax and they don’t sufficiently mention Section 1091 compliance issues. The IRS needs to either enforce or change the wash sale rules to better coordinate broker and taxpayer reporting.

Cost-basis reporting also has problems
In 2008, Congress enacted cost-basis reporting to close the “tax gap” on investors. Prior to cost basis rules, Form 1099Bs only reported proceeds on securities, and cost-basis information wasn’t included. Starting in 2011, the IRS phased in the cost-basis reporting rules.

While cost-basis reporting requires wash-sale adjustments, it falls short of the needs of active traders with multiple accounts and those who trade substantially identical positions (stocks and options).

Starting in 2014, 1099Bs reported equity options for the first time. But brokers don’t calculate wash sales between stocks and options and options at different expiration dates whereas taxpayers must do so. This will generate many unreconciled differences or non-compliance with Section 1091 rules.

While cost-basis rules help the IRS with millions of investors, they are not working well enough for active traders who are stuck with huge unreconciled differences. The choice is either reconciliation and non-compliance or huge differences and compliance.

Cost basis problems are another great reason to open the door wider to 475 elections. It’s easier to explain why a Form 4797 (where 475 is reported) is different from a 1099B prepared for the realization method.

Improve sole proprietor tax return reporting
A sole proprietor trader tax return is a red flag in the eyes of IRS agents and IRS computer algorithms because Section 162 trading expenses are reported on Schedule C but trading gains and losses are reported on other tax forms. That looks like a losing business without revenue.

There should be a formal way to transfer some trading gains to Schedule C to show a profitable activity or zero it out. Trading gains are not self-employment income (SEI) and they are exempt from SE tax, with the exception of members of a futures exchange (Section 1402i).

Traders work hard every day and they deserve a tax code that respects their unique tax needs. Since the Great Recession of 2008, the markets have experienced tremendous growth and capital gains taxes have skyrocketed.

Darren Neuschwander CPA and co-managing member of Green NFH contributed to this blog post.


New IRS rules allow free and easy Section 475 revocation

May 1, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

There’s good news for traders about Section 475 MTM buried in the IRS annual update on procedures for changes of accounting method. It has always been free and easy to elect Section 475 MTM, yet difficult and costly to revoke that election. With this rule change, the IRS makes revocation a free and easy process, mirroring the Section 475 election and automatic change of accounting procedure for existing taxpayers.

Before this rule change, the Section 475 revocation procedure cost several thousand dollars in filing fees (close to $7,000 for hedge funds) and the outcome was uncertain since it required advanced consent from the IRS, which could be denied. Few traders opted for revocation; most used other options like suspension or exit (see below).

New revocation procedure is similar to the election procedure
To elect Section 475, “existing taxpayers” must file an election statement with the IRS attached to their prior year tax return or extension by April 15 of the current tax year for individuals and partnerships and March 15 for S-Corps. The second step requires filing a Form 3115 with the tax return for year of the election. For example, a 2015 Section 475 election statement must be filed by April 15, 2015 and the 2015 Form 3115 must be filed (in duplicate) with the 2015 tax return in 2016.

There’s an exception for “new taxpayers” (new entities) who file the election statement in their own books and records within 75 days of inception, since there is no prior tax return to attach the election to. New taxpayers don’t file a Form 3115 because they adopt Section 475 from inception rather than change an accounting method.

The new revocation procedure is similar to the election procedure. An existing individual or partnership must file a 2016 notification statement of revocation (see details below) with the IRS by April 15, 2016 (March 15, 2016 for S-Corps). The second step is to file 2016 Form 3115 for revocation of Section 475 with the 2016 tax return in 2017.

Suspension of Section 475
Historically, our trader clients navigated around the costly and uncertain revocation procedure by “suspending” their Section 475 election.

By disqualifying themselves for trader tax status, they became investors who could not use Section 475 as of the disqualification date. In that case, the Section 475 election was suspended until the trader re-qualified (if ever) for trader tax status. While the IRS may have preferred that the trader follow the costly revocation procedure, we suggested suspension as another option free of cost.

Taxpayers will appreciate having this new choice to revoke Section 475 instead of leaving it suspended on their individual returns if they elected it as a sole proprietor trader.

Other options besides revocation
Prior to this rule change, our trader clients avoided the costly and uncertain revocation procedure in two ways: by trading less and falling short of qualification for TTS, thereby “suspending”the Section 475 election; or by closing a trading business entity which used Section 475, thereby terminating Section 475. These traders could form a new “do over”entity to get back to the cash method, otherwise called the “realization” method.

When to revoke Section 475
A trader may want to elect Section 475 MTM on securities and also Section 1256 contracts to benefit from large ordinary business loss treatment year-to-date as of the April 15 election deadline of the current tax year. In the subsequent tax year, the trader may want to return to lower Section 1256 60/40 capital gains tax rates and retain Section 475 on securities only. With this rule change, the trader can revoke Section 475 on commodities (Section 1256 contracts) only and not securities.

Unlike with retail traders, it’s not convenient for an investment manager to close a hedge fund or trade less to revoke Section 475. Hedge funds will really appreciate the new automatic and free revocation procedure. Hedge funds often have trouble following Section 475 segregation of investment rules. They enter a trading position and sometimes “let profits run” by having it morph into an investment position. That doesn’t adhere to stringent Section 475 segregation of investment position rules. Plus, the manager prefers deferral at year-end so investors don’t request redemptions in order to pay taxes on unrealized gains if using Section 475 MTM. Segregation requires contemporaneous (same day) identification of investment positions and segregation must be done in form and substance. (Read IRS warns Section 475 traders.)

Rev. Proc. 2015-14
Click on Rev. Proc. 2015-14 and scroll down to pages 349 through 355. It starts at SECTION 23. MARK-TO-MARKET ACCOUNTING METHOD (§475). This explains the election procedure for Section 475. Scroll further to page 351: 23.02 Taxpayers requesting to change their method of accounting from the mark-to-market method of accounting described in §475 to a realization method.

  • “(2) Exclusive procedure. The procedure set forth in this section 23.02 is the exclusive procedure for changing a taxpayer’s method of accounting from the mark-to-market method described in §475 to a realization method. Thus, filing the Notification Statement described in section 23.02(6) of this revenue procedure is the exclusive manner of revoking a §475(e), (f)(1), or (f)(2) election. Moreover, any taxpayer requesting permission to change to a realization method must follow the procedures described in this section 23.02 and other applicable provisions of Rev. Proc. 2015-13, 2015-5 I.R.B. XX, to request consent to change its method of accounting for securities described in §475(c)(2) (Section 475 Securities), commodities described in §475(e)(2) (Section 475 Commodities), or both.”
  • “(5) Manner of making change. This change is made using a cut-off basis and applies only to Section 475 Securities, Section 475 Commodities, or both, that are accounted for using the mark-to-market method of accounting described in §475 and for which a change in method is requested under this section 23.02. Accordingly, a §481(a) adjustment is neither permitted nor required…Under the cut-off basis, a taxpayer must make a final mark of all Section 475 Securities, Section 475 Commodities, or both, that are being marked to market and that are the subject of the accounting method change being requested, on the last business day of the year preceding the year of change…”

I see some issues here. This assumes the taxpayer qualifies for trader tax status on the last day of the year for the final mark. If the taxpayer disqualifies for trader tax status before year-end, then Section 475 MTM is used only to the date of qualification ending. See suspension treatment above.

One catch
Darren Neuschwander, CPA, my co-managing member and our head of tax compliance, pointed out one catch.

“If a trader uses the automatic election to revoke Section 475(f), then the trader can’t use the automatic election to get 475(f) again for five years without going through the non-automatic procedures with the IRS, which includes a fee,” he said. “Now we have an opportunity for successful traders to remove Section 475 MTM, if needed, to use against capital loss carryovers without having to use a new entity. Also, we can help people remove MTM if they are concerned that they don’t want it in place in the future as an individual, without having to petition the commission of the IRS or pay the user fee. Basically, notification statement and another Form 3115 filing. Much simpler!”

For more information on the benefits of Section 475, click here.


April 15 tax extensions and Section 475 election

March 15, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

Securities brokers issue corrected 1099Bs close to and sometimes even after the April 15 tax deadline due to complications over cost basis reporting. Schedule K-1s often come late, too.

When tax information is incomplete near the deadline, it’s wise to file an automatic six-month extension. Caution: It’s not a payment extension; so try to pay at least 90% of your tax liability to avoid late-filing and late-payment penalties. If you don’t pay 90%, hopefully the IRS will accept your “reasonable cause” spelled out in a letter seeking penalty abatement. Retaining tax funds as working capital for trading is not reasonable cause in my view.

April 15 is also the important deadline for individual and partnership traders qualifying for trader tax status to file a Section 475 MTM election statement with the IRS for 2015 and subsequent years. The election statement is attached to the federal extension.

There are many advantages to filing extensions. One negative is waiting longer for a tax refund, but traders often apply overpayment credits to estimated taxes due on trading income instead of claiming a refund.

Extensions for individuals
If you don’t owe taxes, the extensions are easy. Enter taxes paid (including credits) with the same amount for tax liability reflecting a zero balance due. Perhaps your spouse has a W-2 with ample tax withholding and you have trading business losses, itemized deductions and nominal other income. You don’t need to prepare detailed draft tax returns before April 15.

If you think you may owe taxes, then continue working on your tax filings. Prepare draft tax returns based on tax information in hand, accounting and estimates of missing information to generate the extensions from tax software. If you have year-to-date trading gains in 2015, it’s wise to be conservative with extension payments figuring you can apply overpayment credits toward 2015 estimated income taxes.

Extensions for entities
Tax extensions for pass-through entities are March 16, 2015 for S-Corps (since 15th is a Sunday) and April 15, 2015 for partnerships with an extension due date of Sept. 15. Pass-through entities are tax filers, not taxpayers, so the federal extension is simple to prepare without any tax liability. Be sure to file it on time because the late-filing penalty for missing the election is $195 per month per partner or shareholder up to a maximum of twelve months.

Some states have nominal franchise taxes or minimum taxes so check with your state or tax advisor. The state taxes are generally due with the extension filing. March 16 is also the deadline for an existing entity – LLC, C-Corp or general partnership (in most states) to elect S-Corp tax status (see our recent blog on S-Corps).

Section 475 MTM election
Active securities traders qualifying for trader tax status should consider a Section 475 MTM election for ordinary business loss treatment (tax loss insurance). Generally, you should elect Section 475 on securities only, not Section 1256 contracts so you retain lower 60/40 tax rates on those. Section 475 converts capital losses — otherwise subject to a $3,000 capital loss limitation and wash sales — into unlimited business ordinary losses. If you have large trading losses in 2015, you should consider a Section 475 election to lock in those losses as business ordinary losses. Ordinary losses are far better than capital losses.

If you have material capital loss carryovers, you can form a new trading entity to pass-through capital gains to your individual tax return, thereby using up capital loss carryovers. In the last-minute rush of tax season, many taxpayers and tax preparers make the wrong decision on Section 475 and it costs them thousands of dollars in tax savings.

Existing partnerships and individuals elect Section 475 for 2015 by attaching an election statement to their 2014 federal extension filed by April 15, 2015. For existing S-Corps, the election date is March 16, 2015. The second step is to file a Form 3115 (Change of Accounting Method) with your 2015 tax return filed in 2016. Learn more about Section 475 and see the election statement in Green’s 2015 Trader Tax Guide. Consult a trader tax expert before the election deadline.

Broker 1099Bs and confusion over wash sales
Many securities brokers are issuing corrected 1099Bs — it’s the new normal. Brokers continue to face many challenges with new IRS cost-basis reporting rules, including wash sale loss adjustments.Options and simple debt instruments purchased on or after Jan. 1, 2014 are considered “covered securities” and are included on 2014 Form 1099Bs for the first time.

Broker and taxpayer rules differ on calculations for wash sales. Brokers calculate wash sales based on the same equity or symbol (identical position) per account. Conversely, taxpayers must calculate wash sales based on substantially identical positions — i.e., between stocks and stock options and options at different expiration dates — across all individual accounts including all IRAs, even Roth IRAs.

Taxpayers can’t rely on 1099Bs and profit and loss reports from brokers if they trade securities and options or have multiple accounts. In these cases, taxpayers should use securities trade accounting software, which calculates wash sales correctly based on substantially identical positions across all accounts. It’s important to reconcile your own software results to 1099Bs, so taxpayers need to account for corrected 1099Bs on tax filings.  Software publishers release program updates late in tax season or after April 15, too.

Traders are not simple like employees
Employees have taxes withheld on each paycheck and many wind up over-withheld generating material tax refunds, which they are anxious to collect. Many employees have simple tax filings and they can file early. Don’t wait for tax refunds every year — update your W-4 for more allowances and less tax withholding. Traders don’t have tax withholding on trading income. They generally owe taxes on trading income on April 15 because many prefer to underpay estimated taxes.

Traders with large Section 475 ordinary losses may be due large tax refunds. These traders have a lot riding on trade accounting and trader tax status; they should not rush their tax filings, especially if corrected 1099Bs are expected. Rushing may lead to errors, delays in tax refunds and potential tax exams, which can hold up refunds.

Futures and forex traders
If you trade Section 1256 contracts (futures), your broker issues a simple one-page 1099-B listing “aggregate profit and loss” based on marked-to-market accounting (realized and unrealized gains and losses). Correct 1099-Bs are rare for Section 1256 contracts. Likewise, forex brokers provide an online tax report that is reliable.

Extensions provide benefits for retirement plans
2014 contributions to Individual 401(k), SEP IRA and employer 401(k) profit-sharing plans must be funded by the due date of your tax return — Oct. 15 if you filed for an extension. That helps your cash flow. But IRAs must be funded by the original due date of April 15.

If your 2014 Roth IRA conversion didn’t work out well — perhaps the securities dropped significantly in value and you paid conversion taxes on the higher value — you’re entitled to “re-characterize” (reverse) the Roth IRA conversion up until the extended due date of Oct. 15. If you already filed your 2014 tax return, you’ll have to amend it to reflect the re-characterization.

Pressuring your tax preparer may lead to errors
If you engage a quality CPA firm for tax compliance, you should not expect them to focus on completing your tax returns during the last few weeks of tax season when filing an extension is a better option. Quality firms have internal deadlines and they avoid error-prone working conditions. I’ve seen countless cases of clients coming to us with botched prior year tax returns where they also missed vital tax elections like Section 475 because they focused on filing a complete return rather than filing an extension and making this election.

Early filers may get audited more
“The early bird gets the worm.” But in this case, the IRS is the bird and your tax return may be the worm selected for audit. I’ve always believed that audit quotas are met based on early filers. The IRS also wants to get started early with exams, and not wait until Oct. 15.

At the start of tax season, the IRS commissioner said there would be delays due to complications over Obamacare taxes, late renewal of “tax extenders” and the IRS being short of resources and staff.

Late-filing and late-payment penalties
Read federal automatic extension Form 4868 with instructions, especially the Page 2 sections on late-filing and late-payment penalties and how to avoid them.

State extensions
Some states don’t require an automatic extension if you’re overpaid and they accept the federal extension. Generally in all states, if you owe taxes, you need to file a state extension with payment. States tend to be less accommodating than the IRS in waiving penalties, so it’s usually wise to cover your state first if you are short on cash. Check the extension rules in your state.

U.S. citizens and resident aliens abroad
Excerpt from the IRS website: “If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien residing overseas, or are in the military on duty outside the U.S., on the regular due date of your return, you are allowed an automatic 2-month extension to file your return and pay any amount due without requesting an extension. For a calendar year return, the automatic 2-month extension is to June 15. If you qualify for this 2-month extension, penalties for paying any tax late are assessed from the 2-month extended due date of the payment (June 15 for calendar year taxpayers). However, even if you are allowed an extension, you will have to pay interest on any tax not paid by the regular due date of your return (April 15 for calendar year taxpayers).” 

 

 


Business traders maximize tax benefits with an S-Corp

March 6, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

S-Corp elections are due by March 15, 2015 for existing entities.

Forming an entity taxed as an S-Corp can save active business traders significant taxes. With an S-Corp, business traders solidify trader tax status, maximize employee-benefit deductions (such as health insurance and retirement plan deductions) and gain flexibility with a Section 475 election.

Tax returns are simple
An S-Corp tax return consolidates your trading activity on a pass-through tax return making life easier for you, your accountant and the IRS. Pass-through means there’s no federal tax on the entity level, which avoids double taxation in C-Corps. (Read our recent blog on corporations.) The S-Corp Form 1120-S reports trading gains, losses and expenses, including officer compensation and profit-sharing plan contributions.

Better than a sole proprietorship
The first tax benefit is business expense treatment (Section 162) rather than restricted investment expense treatment (Section 212). If the S-Corp qualifies for trader tax status, it has business expense treatment; otherwise it’s an investment company with investor tax status. The S-Corp tax return looks better than a sole proprietorship trading business Schedule C. The S-Corp shows all activity, whereas a Schedule C only shows business expenses — with trading gains reported on other tax forms — and that looks like a losing business to the IRS. Business expense treatment saves traders more than $5,000 per year in taxes vs. investment expense treatment.

Sole proprietor business traders cannot have employee-benefit deductions in connection with trading gains. Plus, a sole proprietor cannot pay himself a salary or fee to generate self-employment income (SEI) or earned income, which is required for AGI deductions including health insurance and retirement plans. Those employee-benefit plans can save business traders between $3,000 to $17,000 or more per year if properly arranged with an S-Corp structure.

Better than a partnership tax return
Traders need an entity to financially engineer earned income for health and retirement plan deductions. The S-Corp is better than a partnership tax return for this.

Partnership tax returns are inefficient for employee-benefit plan deductions. Partnership tax returns pass through expenses and net losses for income tax and self-employment income tax — the latter being a problem. The partnership pays a guaranteed payment or administration fee to the owner/trader to create SEI. But after the partnership passes through SEI losses, the net result is a low amount of SEI, which constricts a retirement plan contribution.

It works differently with an S-Corp. The S-Corp pays the owner/trader compensation reported on a W-2. The S-Corp passes through expenses and losses for income tax purposes, but not for SEI tax purposes. Employee-benefit plan deductions are entirely based on the amount of W-2 wages and there’s no reduction of earned income from S-Corp expenses and losses. That key difference unlocks the ability to maximize retirement plan contributions.

Tax planning
The owner/officer can have a base salary for covering the health insurance premium deduction, which is allowed even if the S-Corp has trading losses. If the S-Corp has sufficient trading profits by Q4, establish a retirement plan before year-end. Start with the 100% deductible employer 401(k) elective deferral ($17,500 for 2014 and $18,000 for 2015) and pay it before year-end through payroll since it’s reported on the annual W-2.

If you have large trading gains, increase payroll in December for a performance-based bonus to unlock a 25% employer 401(k) profit-sharing retirement plan contribution. You don’t have to contribute into the plan until the due date of the tax return (including extensions). The maximum defined-contribution profit-sharing plan amount is $52,000 plus $5,500 catch-up for 2014, and $53,000 plus $6,000 catch-up for 2015. (For details about retirement plan choices, limits and savings, see Green’s 2015 Trader Tax Guide Chapter 8.)

S-Corp elections
Existing LLCs, C-Corps and general partnerships may elect S-Corp treatment in every state except general partnerships in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Tennessee. File a S-Corp election on IRS Form 2553 by March 15, 2015. The effective date of the election is January 1, 2015. Most states accept the federal election; if not, file an election in your home state, too. If you miss the S-Corp election deadline, there is IRS and in some cases also state relief for late filings. You’ll need a perjury statement stating you intended to file the election on time. Existing corporations cause taxation on converting accumulated retained earnings.

A new entity may elect S-Corp treatment within 75 days of inception.

Other rules
If you use an S-Corp, read Green’s 2015 Trader Tax Guide Chapter 7 on important issues including officer’s reasonable compensation, stock and debt basis, accounting allocations and more. Underlying income from a trading business is not earned income, so IRS reasonable compensation rules do not apply.

Bottom line
If you’re interested in making an S-Corp election, contact your tax advisor well before the March 15 deadline. There’s still plenty of time to set up a new S-Corp after March 15 to generate employee benefit plan deductions before year-end.

 


C-Corps have limited use for tax savings

February 26, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

A C-Corp can help upper-income taxpayers in business save taxes, but it’s not useful to investors.

Increasingly, upper-income folks and their tax professionals are considering a corporate structure in tax planning in order to avoid Obama-era tax hikes. Starting in 2013, Congress raised the top tax bracket for individuals to 39.6% — effectively 41% after factoring in the Pease itemized-deduction limitation. When the 3.8% Net Investment Tax on unearned income is factored in, the combined individual top rate is a hefty 45%. Upper-income taxpayers are rewarded with an 11% or more tax savings when they can shift income from their individual to corporate tax returns. Plus, Congress is discussing corporate tax reform and they may reduce corporate rates widening the gap with individual rates.

Active traders who don’t qualify for trader tax status (business treatment) wonder if a corporate structure allows trading expense deductions considering that Section 212 investment expenses are restricted on individual tax returns. Corporations cannot deduct Section 212 investment expenses; therefore they don’t provide tax relief when a trader does not qualify for trader tax status.

Businesses can efficiently shift income to a corporation
A pass-through-entity trading business – like an LLC or S-Corp – qualifying for trader tax status has business expense treatment. Administration fees paid to a management company organized as a corporation are a business deduction on the pass-through entity. The receiving corporation has business income and expense treatment.

Business treatment on both the pass-through entity and corporation translates to tax efficiency.

Investors cannot efficiently shift income to a corporation
A pass-through-entity investment company has Section 212 investment expense treatment on the individual owner’s level for administration fees paid to a management company organized as a corporation.

That’s not tax efficient since investment expenses face significant limitations on individual tax returns, including the 2% AGI threshold for miscellaneous itemized deductions and the Pease itemized deduction limitation. Miscellaneous itemized deductions are not deductible for AMT tax.

If the investment company allocates a share of trading gains to the management company corporation in lieu of paying fees, the corporation doesn’t have business purpose. Plus, the corporation could be deemed a personal holding company (PHC) subject to a PHC surtax of 20% on undistributed PHC income. A corporation may not deduct non-business expenses including Section 212 investment expenses, which only individuals may deduct.

Corporations deduct business expenses, not investment expenses
Corporations with business activities may deduct Section 162 trade or business expenses. Corporations aren’t permitted to deduct non-business expenses including Section 212 investment expenses for individuals. When a corporation with established trade or business has ancillary investment expenses related to their business activities — like investing working capital — those expenses are deemed Section 162 business expenses and not Section 212 investment expense. Pure investment companies structured as a corporation may not deduct investment expenses. Pass-through entities with investor tax status report investment expenses on Schedule K-1 issued to individual owners.

Tax law is clear
Our CPA firm researched this tax law: It’s clear Section 212 is for individuals only, and corporations need business purpose to deduct Section 162 business expenses. Corporations cannot deduct non-business expenses. I spoke with an IRS official on this matter and his informal advice was to agree with the position stated in this blog.

Here are some excerpts from highly respected tax publication Bittker and Eustice on “Corporate Deductions.”

  • “The Code allows individuals to take a number of deductions that are not allowed to corporations, including the standard deduction, (investment expenses)…. (the code) prevent restrictions aimed primarily at individuals from being sidestepped by a transfer of the restricted activities to a closely held corporation…Section 212 is restricted to individuals, however, presumably on the theory that § 162(a) covers the same ground for corporations that § 162(a) and 212 in combination cover for other taxpayers. Thus, if a corporation engaged in manufacturing holds some securities as an incidental investment, the cost of a safe-deposit box, investment advice, bookkeeping, and so forth incurred with respect to the securities would be deductible under § 162(a) as trade or business expenses, even though an individual proprietor holding such securities would have to resort to § 212 as authority for deducting such expenses.”

Warning to traders not qualifying for trader tax status
Traders not qualifying for trader tax status should not use a corporation since they don’t have business purpose and corporations can’t deduct non-business expenses. While a corporation starts off with presumption of business purpose, that alone doesn’t achieve business purpose. The corporation must qualify for a trade or business. For a trader that means qualification for trader tax status. A corporation is not a remedy for not qualifying for trader tax status.

Corporate tax rates are materially lower than individual rates
The corporate tax rate starts at 15% on the first $50,000 of income, 25% on the next $25,000 and it settles in at 34% thereafter. Personal service companies don’t qualify for the lower rates under 34%. Taxpayers generally try to take advantage of the lower bracket rates so if the corporation pays them qualified dividends years later there’s still meaningful cumulative tax savings.

Unlike pass-through entities including S-corps, LLCs and partnerships, a corporation (C-Corp) pays entity-level taxes. (Note: LLCs can also elect C-Corp tax-filing status.) An individual owner pays taxes on qualified dividends paid by the corporation up to a 20% (long-term capital gains) rate. Plus a 3.8% NIT is applied on unearned income if you’re over the AGI threshold. Paying taxes on the entity and individual levels is commonly referred to as “double taxation.” Corporations avoid double taxation by paying compensation to owner/officers. Most states also tax corporations, so double taxation can defeat the purpose of using a corporation in high tax states. (State taxation for corporations is beyond the scope of this blog post; see more information in Green’s 2015 Trader Tax Guide.)

A corporation needs business purpose
Before you jump into reorganization as a corporation, it’s important to understand the pros, cons and potential pitfalls. My bailiwick is investors, traders and investment managers. In a nutshell, adding a corporation as a second entity makes sense for a business trader or investment manager to reduce Obama-era tax hikes on individuals. But using a C-Corp structure for an investment company does not work. Corporations need a business purpose; therefore, investors won’t find salvation using a corporate structure.

A successful strategy for a trading business
Suppose you have a successful trading company LLC that qualifies for trader tax status and files as either a S-Corp or partnership. Consider adding a corporation as a second entity to provide administration services or to hold intellectual property and charge royalties to the trading company LLC. That has the effect of shifting income from your individual tax return to a corporate tax return. Either the S-Corp trading company or C-Corp management company can unlock employee-benefit plan deductions including health insurance and retirement plans. (Investment companies can’t generate compensation or earned income by arranging employee-benefit plan deductions.)

A failed strategy for an investor
Suppose you have an investment activity that doesn’t qualify for trader tax status (business treatment). (Read How to Qualify.) You also don’t offer investment management services to clients, so you don’t have any business purpose.

A tax salesman approaches you and promises tax deductions using a corporation. These promoters find their prey on the trading education and seminar circuit. The promoter says you can dump your education expenses and other startup expenses into a corporation going 18 months back and generate a net operating loss (NOL) in the corporation to carryover to subsequent tax years. The promoter also suggests a second LLC entity for trading.

If that LLC doesn’t qualify for trader tax status and pays the corporation management or administration fees, it will have investment expense treatment. That defeats the purpose and you’re right back at the beginning of the problem with investment expense limitations on your individual tax return. Seminars and pre-business education are generally not deductible as investment expenses pursuant to Section 274(h)(7).

Conversely, the LLC can wait to achieve trader tax status at a later date and pay the corporation fees then, which will be business deductions for the LLC trading business. The promoters argue the corporation can utilize its NOL to offset the income from the trading business LLC. But, that doesn’t work in my view, as the corporation can’t deduct those expenses in the first place without business purpose from its inception. Dumping expenses that lack deductibility into a corporation for later use does not have legal authority.

At best, the corporation is entitled to capitalize Section 195 startup business expenses for a reasonable amount over a reasonable period if it has business purpose in the works. It’s simple for an IRS agent to determine whether a corporation has trader tax status or business revenue and, therefore, to determine whether any expenses are legitimate Section 162 corporate deductions.

Personal holding company taxes
Corporate structures are intended for trade or business, not investment companies. Personal holding company (PHC) law charges additional taxes on corporations straying into non-business activities. There are exceptions from PHC rules for financial institutions including banks and insurance companies, but that list doesn’t include trading companies.

The PHC tax is 20% of undistributed personal holding company income. PHC income (Section 543) includes dividends, interest, royalties (with exceptions), annuities, rents, personal service contracts (with exceptions) and more. Exceptions from PHC income include active business computer software royalties, active business copyright royalties in many fact patterns and personal service contracts when a specific person (talent) isn’t named in the contract (consult a tax expert). PHC income also does not include capital gains on trading, which is the main source of income in a trading company. PHCs are corporations with five or fewer owners and more than 60% of their income is from PHC income. The definition of PHC Section 542 discusses business deductions and it clearly leaves out Section 212 investment expenses (which are for individuals not corporations).

Bottom line
The tax code is written to prevent individuals from skirting the narrow Section 212 investment expense deduction rules. Schemes to dump these expenses into corporations are poorly conceived and will lead to tax trouble.

Business traders and investment managers paying top Obama-era tax rates should consider adding a corporation to the mix for legitimate tax savings.

Green NFH CPA Darren Neuschwander and tax attorney Roger Lorence contributed to this blog.

 


9 good reasons to engage Green NFH for tax preparation

February 23, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

Traders have unique tax needs requiring a specialist. Here are nine good reasons to engage our firm for your 2014 federal and state income tax return preparation. Tax compliance including preparation and planning is our core business and we have excellent long-term relationships with our valued clients.

  1. Large trading losses

Filing a tax return with large trading losses reported as ordinary losses causes IRS concern about paying large refunds. The IRS is accustomed to capital loss imitations. Forex traders with the default Section 988 treatment have ordinary losses. Active securities traders qualifying for trader tax status (TTS) and using a timely filed Section 475 election also generate business ordinary losses and net operating loss carryback refund claims. If you’re counting on a large refund or tax benefit from deducting ordinary trading losses, you should have our firm prepare and sign your tax return.

  1. Trader tax status and related tax benefits

The IRS doesn’t fully understand TTS and it’s important to file your tax return without red flags and include good written explanations in tax return footnotes. Many self-preparers and local accountants botch TTS reporting strategies, missing tax benefits and reporting items incorrectly. Taxpayers must properly elect Section 475 on time and perfect the election with a correctly filed Form 3115. The linchpin to trader tax benefits — business expenses, Section 475, and employee-benefit plans with entities — is qualification for TTS and our CPAs are highly trained in analyzing your qualification.

  1. Entities and retirement plans

Traders need to create compensation correctly to unlock and maximize employee-benefit plans including health insurance and retirement plans. Home office and other unreimbursed expenses need to be reported properly on individual returns in relation to entity income passed through on Schedule K-1. Pitfalls need to be avoided with C-Corps.

  1. Wash sales and Form 8949

Active securities traders generate many wash sale loss adjustments and brokers don’t report wash sales according to IRS rules for taxpayers. Taxpayers must make many changes on Form 8949 and they also must reconcile Form 1099Bs and explain differences in footnotes.

  1. Forex traders using lower 60/40 tax rates

We make a case for filing a capital gains election on spot forex to get lower Section 1256(g) 60/40 tax treatment. But those rules are vague and uncertain. If you’re reporting large forex trading gains with lower 60/40 tax rates, it’s wise to have our firm prepare and sign your tax return.

  1. Trading many different financial instruments

Tax treatment varies significantly among different types of financial instruments including securities, options, 1256 contracts, ETFs, indexes, forex, Nadex binary options, swaps, precious metals, bitcoin, and other financial products. It’s not always clear how a financial instrument is taxed and some brokers don’t get it right. Our CPAs look over your financial instruments to identify errors in tax treatment.

  1. Maximize expense deductions

Our CPAs are focused on maximizing deductions for investors, business traders, and investment managers. Where, how, and what expenses to deduct depend on your tax status. We handle thousands of traders and see every type of deduction possible — we won’t miss any for you.

  1. Obamacare net investment tax (NIT)

If you’re over the AGI thresholds for NIT — $250,000 married and $200,000 single — it’s important to reduce 3.8% NIT as much as possible. Many accountants don’t understand the nuances of NIT for traders. For example, unlike other taxpayers, Section 475 traders may offset trading losses against other bucket income getting a better result. Traders can also reduce NII by trading and investment expenses.

  1. Convenience and excellent service

Investor, trader, investment management, and small business tax compliance is complex and nuanced. Self-preparers will spend countless hours trying to get it right and they will probably get it wrong. Local CPAs, accountants and tax storefronts are known to botch tax return planning and preparation for investors, traders, and investment managers. We have endless stories of traders missing vital tax elections like the contemporaneous forex capital gains election or the Section 475 MTM election due by April 15, 2015. Our virtual service is very convenient and we maximize every legal tax benefit while avoiding tax trouble and pitfalls. We utilize best practices and technologies with our highly trained CPAs for excellent communication, work product, and client satisfaction. We have the best client testimonials and media and trading industry endorsements by far. Or tax preparation prices are very competitive and they represent a great value when you factor in tax savings and avoidance of tax trouble. Plus our fees are tax deductible, often as a business expense. We guarantee that you will be pleased with our service!
Tax return or extension due dates are coming up: March 15 for S-Corps and April 15 for individuals and partnerships. Visit our tax compliance section to get started.

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We recommend our trade accounting service for active securities traders with wash sales.

Please tell us about your 2014 tax file (via email, Website contact form, or chat) so we can provide a price estimate. For a limited time, you may also schedule a 15-minute session with Managing Member Darren Neuschwander CPA to discuss how you can benefit from our service and for a price estimate. Click here.

We hope to hear from you soon. Don’t wait until the last minute, as we likely won’t be able to accommodate you then. Thanks for considering our services.

Sincerely,
Robert A. Green, CPA
Darren L. Neuschwander, CPA
Managing Members of Green NFH LLC

 

 


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Trader Tax

February 19, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

How are securities taxed?
Securities traders need to watch out for higher tax rates, wash sales, capital-loss limitations and accounting challenges. Realized transactions in securities are reported trade by trade (or line by line) on Form 8949, which feeds into Schedule D where short- and long-term capital gains rates apply. Click here to see what’s included in securities and to learn more. Visit the Tax Treatment section for tax guidance on all sorts of trading instruments.

How should I handle wash sales on securities?
See our separate FAQs on wash sale losses.

How are Section 1256 contracts taxed?
Section 1256 contract traders enjoy lower 60/40 tax rates, summary reporting, and no need for accounting. (The 60/40 rates mean 60% is taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate and 40% is taxed at the short-term rate, which is the ordinary tax rate.) Section 1256 contracts are marked-to-market (MTM) on a daily basis and reported on Form 6781. MTM means you report both realized and unrealized gains and losses at year-end. Click here to see what’s included in Section 1256 contracts and to learn more.

What is Section 475 and can that election help me?
Section 475 MTM allows qualifying business traders to deduct trading losses in the current tax year as ordinary business losses, without capital loss limitations or wash sale loss adjustments. Short term capital gains are taxed at the ordinary rate, so taxes are the same on trading gains, but Section 475 is much better on trading losses — we call it “tax loss insurance.” GreenTraderTax recommends Section 475 for securities, but not for Section 1256 contracts where you would otherwise forgo lower 60/40 tax rates. Click here to learn more about Section 475.

Can you request a 1099B based on using Section 475?
Brokers are supposed to prepare Form 1099Bs for the everyman, not based on a taxpayer’s election or other facts and circumstances. How can a broker know for sure that a trader elected Section 475 on time and or is entitled to use Section 475, which is conditional on qualifying for trader tax status?

Can I deduct my trading-related expenses on my tax return?
Deductibility is based on tax status: whether you qualify for trader tax status (business treatment) or must use the default investor tax status (investment treatment).

Individual investors are permitted to deduct Section 212 investment expenses related to the production of investment income. Investment expenses exclude home-office, education, and Section 195 startup costs. There are many limitations for investment expenses, deductible as miscellaneous itemized deductions on Schedule A including the 2% AGI threshold, Pease limitation, listed property rules, and AMT preferences.

Business traders qualifying for trader tax status are able to deduct all trading expenses, including home office, education, and Section 195 startup costs, from gross income. Sole proprietor traders report business expenses (only) on Schedule C, and trading gains and losses are reported on other tax forms. An election is not required for claiming business expense treatment. Click here to learn how to qualify for trader tax status. Click here to learn more about business expense treatment.

Are brokerage commissions tax deductible?
Yes, but they are not separately stated tax deductions. Rather, commissions are part of your trading gain or loss — an adjustment to proceeds and cost-basis.

Do I need to fill out a Form 8949 for my securities trades?
Casual investors might have no wash sale adjustments or other cost-basis adjustments and just one securities brokerage account with a few equity transactions. They may qualify to attach their 1099B and skip inclusion of a Form 8949. Active traders won’t qualify for this short cut.

The cost-basis rules are almost fully phased in. Options and less complex fixed income securities acquired on Jan. 1, 2014 or later are reportable for the first time on Form 1099-Bs for 2014. Click here to learn more about IRS cost-basis reporting and Form 8949.

Where can I learn more about trader tax matters, including entities, retirement plans, Obamacare taxes, compliance tips, and more?
In Green’s 2015 Trader Tax Guide.

I prepared these FAQs for an online broker catering to active securities traders. 

 


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Wash Sale Losses

| By: Robert A. Green, CPA

Wash sale losses are a major source of confusion for taxpayers and brokers come tax time, so we answered several FAQs to help.

What’s the best solution for reporting wash sale losses correctly?
Trader tax accounting software that downloads all purchase and sale transaction history and calculates wash sale losses according to taxpayer rules recapped below. In most cases, taxpayers can’t solely rely on 1099Bs or broker profit and loss reports for reporting wash sales. GreenTraderTax recommends software to calculate wash sales across all your accounts and for generating a correct Form 8949. You need to reconcile Form 8949 to 1099Bs and explain the differences as best you can. Click here to learn about GreenTraderTax’s accounting service for securities traders.

What are wash sale losses?
Per IRS Pub. 550, “A wash sale occurs when you sell or trade stock or securities at a loss and within 30 days before or after the sale you: buy substantially identical stock or securities; acquire substantially identical stock or securities in a fully taxable trade; acquire a contract or option to buy substantially identical stock or securities, or acquire substantially identical stock for your individual retirement account (IRA) or Roth IRA.”

The IRS wash sale loss rules (Section 1091) are written to protect the U.S. Treasury against taxpayers taking “tax losses” at year-end to lower tax bills while they get right back into the same positions. The IRS views that as a tax loss but not an economic loss and much of the tax code prevents that from happening.

Wash sale loss adjustments defer losses to the subsequent tax year, where a taxpayer hopefully can utilize that loss. However, if you trigger a wash sale loss with an IRA, you permanently lose the wash sale loss.

Do I have to account for wash sale losses?
Yes, if you trade securities including equities, equity options, ETFs, narrow-based indices (made up of nine or fewer securities), and bonds. Click here to learn more about securities.

What’s exempt from wash sale losses?
Wash sales do not apply to Section 1256 contracts including futures, broad-based indices, and options on futures since they are marked-to-market (MTM). That’s economic reporting and there’s no way to defer wash sale losses. Click here to learn more about Section 1256 contracts.

Business traders with a Section 475 MTM election are exempt from wash sale loss reporting on their business trading positions. Consider a timely 2015 Section 475 election to convert 2014 wash sale loss deferrals on business positions into ordinary losses on Jan. 1, 2015. Click here to learn more about Section 475. Existing individuals and partnerships must file a Section 475 election by April 15 and S-Corps by March 15.

Where do I report wash sale loss adjustments?
Report wash sale loss adjustments on Form 8949 (instructions), along with other cost-basis reporting. Learn more about cost-basis reporting in the Green Trader Tax Center.

Do brokers report wash sale loss adjustments on Form 1099B?
Yes, but in compliance with IRS rules for brokers which differ from IRS rules for taxpayers. In most cases, taxpayers need to do additional work on wash sale loss reporting.

How do broker and taxpayer rules differ on wash sales?
Brokers calculate wash sales based on identical positions (an exact symbol only) per brokerage account. Section 1091 requires taxpayers to calculate wash sales based on substantially identical positions (between stocks and options and options at different exercise dates) across all their accounts including IRAs — even Roth IRAs.

What is a substantially identical position?
Apple stock and Apple options are substantially identical, but Apple stock and Google stock are not substantially identical.

Are options subject to cost-basis reporting and wash sale loss adjustments?
Yes, IRS cost-basis reporting rules phased-in options purchased on or after Jan. 1, 2014. Brokers won’t report a wash sale loss between a stock and an option, but taxpayers must do so. Options at different expiration dates have different symbols, so they are considered substantially identical.

Can I rely on my 1099-B for reporting wash sale loss adjustments?
Only if you have one brokerage account trading equities. If you trade stocks and stock options, or just stock options and/or have multiple brokerage accounts, you can’t rely on brokerage firm Form 1099-Bs for reporting wash sale losses correctly because there will be differences in application of taxpayer rules on substantially identical positions.

Are brokerage firm profit and loss reports similar to 1099Bs?
Yes, brokers use the same accounting for the 1099B and their profit and loss reports. When brokers suggest downloading a 1099B into TurboTax, they really mean downloading their profit and loss report. Those P&L reports account for wash sales based on broker rules, not taxpayer rules.

Do I have to worry about my IRA accounts in my wash sale loss calculations?
Yes, as recapped in IRS Pub. 550 above, Section 1091 includes all types of IRAs. It’s a catastrophic mistake to trigger a wash sale loss in your IRA since you will never get that tax loss benefit as it won’t reduce distributions in retirement for a traditional IRA. It’s wise to avoid trading substantially identical positions between an IRA and your taxable accounts.

What accounts are included in the wash sale loss analysis?
It goes by taxpayer identification number. If you are married filing joint, make sure to include each spouse’s separate, joint, and IRA accounts.

Are entity accounts included in the wash sale loss analysis?
Maybe. Although Section 1091 rules do not include your entity accounts, Section 267 related party rules can drag your entities into the wash sale loss analysis. Case law can apply Section 267 related party transaction rules in the event a trader plans to avoid a wash sale loss between his entity and individual accounts. If the related party transaction “is purely coincidental and is not prearranged” Section 267 law does not apply. If Section 267 applies it can lead to wash sale loss deferral or losing the wash sale loss permanently. 

Where can I learn more about wash sales?
Read the GreenTraderTax blog “How will you handle wash sale losses on securities this tax season?” and watch the related Webinar recording.

I prepared these FAQs for an online broker catering to active securities traders. 


How will you handle wash sale losses on securities this tax season?

January 23, 2015 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

If you actively trade equities and equity options and or securities in more than one account, unless you use proper software on all your individual taxable and IRA accounts, you will probably handle wash sales wrong and under-report or over-report your taxable income. In these cases, you can’t solely rely on 1099-B reporting because brokers use a different set of tax compliance rules than taxpayers in calculating and reporting wash sale losses.

The IRS cost-basis reporting saga continues
Accounting for trading gains and losses is the responsibility of securities traders; they must report each securities trade and related wash-sale adjustments on IRS Form 8949 in compliance with Section 1091, which then feeds into Schedule D (capital gains and losses). Form 8949 came about after the IRS beefed up compliance for securities brokers starting in 2011, causing headaches, confusion and additional tax compliance cost. Congress found tax reporting for securities to be inadequate and thought many taxpayers were underreporting capital gains. The cost-basis rules are almost fully phased-in. Options and less complex fixed income securities acquired on Jan. 1, 2014 or later are reportable for the first time on Form 1099-Bs for 2014. Inclusion of complex debt instruments on 1099-Bs is delayed until Jan. 1, 2016.

Broker-issued securities Form 1099-Bs provide cost-basis reporting information, but they often don’t provide taxpayers what they need for tax reporting. For example, brokers calculate wash sales based on identical positions (an exact symbol only) per separate brokerage account. But Section 1091 requires taxpayers to calculate wash sales based on substantially identical positions (between stocks and options and options at different exercise dates) across all their accounts including IRAs — even Roth IRAs.

Taxpayers report securities proceeds, cost basis, adjustments, holding period and capital gain or loss – short term vs. long-term (held over 12 months) on Form 8949. According to the form’s instructions, taxpayers without wash sale and other adjustments to cost-basis may simply enter totals from broker 1099-Bs directly on Schedule D and skip filing a Form 8949. After all, the IRS gets a copy of the 1099-B with all the details.

But, there is a protracted ongoing problem for many taxpayers with securities sales. For 2014 tax reporting, many 1099-Bs may not report wash sales or other cost-basis adjustments leading taxpayers or their tax preparers to choose the short-cut option: to enter totals on Schedule D and omit the headache of preparing a Form 8949. But, we know very well that taxpayers are supposed to calculate wash sales differently from brokers, and there could be wash-sale adjustments that taxpayers should make on Form 8949, which probably changes the net capital gain or loss amount.

Section 1091 wash sale loss rules for taxpayers
Per IRS Publication 550: A wash sale occurs when you sell or trade stock or securities at a loss and within 30 days before or after the sale you:

  • Buy substantially identical stock or securities,
  • Acquire substantially identical stock or securities in a fully taxable trade,
  • Acquire a contract or option to buy substantially identical stock or securities, or
  • Acquire substantially identical stock for your individual retirement account (IRA) or Roth IRA.

An example of how wash-sale rules differ between brokers and taxpayers
IRS regulations require brokers to calculate and report wash sales per account based on identical positions (it’s reiterated in Form 1099-B instructions). Here is an example of broker rules: an account holder sells 1,000 shares of Apple stock for a loss and buys back 1,000 shares of Apple stock 30 days before or 30 days after in that same account. According to the 1099-B, that’s a wash-sale loss deferred (added) to the replacement position cost-basis. But, if the account holder buys back Apple options instead of Apple stock, according to broker rules it’s not a wash sale because an option is not “identical” to the same company’s stock – however the taxpayer must report it as a wash sale. Broker computer systems are programmed to calculate wash sales based on an identical symbol, and stock and options and options at different exercise dates have different symbols. In that same example, if the taxpayer bought back Apple stock in a separate account, including an IRA, the broker would not treat it as a wash sale, but according to Section 1091, the taxpayer must treat it as a wash sale.

Don’t assume that substantially identical positions are worse for wash-sale calculations; they could actually be better. Subsequent transactions with profit can absorb prior wash sales before year-end, which can fix a wash-sale problem. So a gain on an option can absorb a wash-sale loss on a stock. Note that Apple stock and Apple options are substantially identical, but Apple stock and Google stock are not substantially identical.

Ways to avoid Form 8949
Business traders qualifying for trader tax status are entitled to elect Section 475 mark-to-market (MTM) accounting elected on a timely basis. Section 475 business trades are not reported on Form 8949; they use Form 4797 Part II (ordinary gain or loss). Although Section 475 extricates traders from the compliance headaches of Form 8949 (and Section 475 trades are exempt from wash sale rules), it does not change their requirement for line-by-line reporting on Form 4797.

Form 8275-R disclosure
If you or your local tax preparer decide to cut corners and disregard Section 1091 taxpayer rules for calculating wash sales across all accounts based on substantially identical positions — choosing instead to rely on broker 1099-B reporting in spite of known broader wash-sale conditions (explained in Chapter 4) — then you need to “disclose items or positions that are contrary to Treasury regulations” on Form 8275-R included with your tax return filing. We asked a leading malpractice-insurance carrier for tax preparers about this issue and they said, “there is coverage for regulatory inquiries but not if the firm is investigated for preparer penalties.” Whether you knowingly or ignorantly cut corners relying on 1099-Bs for active securities traders, it’s a circular 230 infraction and ignorance is not an excuse. Use our guides and suggestions to do it right.

Software for wash sales
When you consider a securities trade accounting software and Web-based solution, ask the vendor if they calculate wash sales based on Section 1091 and if not, you may want to skip that solution.

TurboTax ads say they make taxes simple and they imply you can just import your 1099-B. You’ll spend a lot of time finding their small fine print about having to make Section 1091 adjustments on your own.

Don’t tackle this minefield on your own, get professional help
Every case is different and our CPAs will look for ways to work with what you provide us, and in some cases, we can make manual adjustments. For example, if you don’t have open wash sales at year-end, we may be able to find ways to generate proper tax forms using 1099Bs, broker tax reports, and software solutions that you provided to us. Green NFH also offers a securities trade accounting service using proper software to be fully compliant with Section 1091.

We used several excerpts from Green’s 2015 Trader Tax Guide for this blog. 


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