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GreenTraderTax Blog
GreenTraderTax
August 13, 2014

IRS warns Section 475 traders

By Robert A. Green, CPA

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The IRS Chief Counsel (ICC) recently gave auditors advice on challenging Section 475 mark-to-market (MTM) traders trying to game the system with segregated investment positions. Section 475 MTM means ordinary gain or business loss treatment, whereas investment positions are capital gain or loss treatment. It’s important not to mix up the two on tax return filings. If you are unclear on your situation, check with one of our CPAs.

In new IRS Chief Counsel Advice 201432016, the IRS focuses on options created on “basket transactions,” which I feel are rarely used tax avoidance schemes. During the past decade, some very large hedge funds parked their trading activity inside of banks and arranged option transactions with the banks to reclaim their trading profits after year-end. These hedge funds avoided application of Section 475 MTM income on their trading gains during the tax year, and replaced it with an option allowing them tax deferral and long-term capital gains tax rates in the following year(s). They converted 40% ordinary tax rates to 20% capital gains rates and received a tax deferral to boot. Their tax savings from these transactions was in the billions of dollars and it attracted the attention of Congress and the IRS. The hedge funds’ arguments about “economic substance” sound pretty hollow to me in relation to tax savings from this tax avoidance scheme. The IRS wants to treat these segregated option transactions as part of the trader's Section 475 MTM ordinary income trading activities, since they see a connection to those activities (see rules below). To learn more about these schemes, read Hedge Fund Chief Testifies at Senate Tax-Avoidance Hearing (New York Times, July 22, 2014).

There’s a lesson for retail traders using Section 475
We haven’t seen retail traders attempt these complex schemes with bank counterparties. Yet it’s a good time to revisit the segregation rules in Section 475 MTM. It’s a nuanced area of the law and it can have significant consequences on tax returns for business traders who have investments.

All business traders using or considering Section 475 MTM should learn its segregation of investment rules. (One way to prevent this problem is to conduct your business trading activity in an entity separate from individual and IRA investment accounts. The entity has a different taxpayer identification number, so there is no connection in the activity.)

We’ve recommended Section 475 MTM since 1997 when Congress expanded it for traders. The biggest tax benefit is unrestricted business ordinary loss treatment, with taxpayers escaping the onerous rules for wash-sale loss deferrals and the capital loss limitation ($3,000 against ordinary income per year on individual tax returns). Section 475 MTM can be the ticket to receiving huge tax refunds, often on NOL carryback returns.

An example of investments vs. business trades
Many traders want to make long-term investments as well in order to benefit from deferral on taxable income (until sale) and to hold investment securities 12 months for lower long-term capital gains tax rates (currently up to 20% vs. 39.6% the ordinary tax rate on short-term capital gains).

Each year we run into a handful of confusing situations on what’s considered a trading position vs. an investment position. Here’s a common example: A trader may want to house his investment portfolio inside a business trading account for portfolio margining purposes and hyperactively trade stock options around his core investment stock positions.

Suppose a trader holds Apple stock as an investment and trades Apple options for business around it to manage risk. Apple stock and Apple stock options are substantially identical positions for purposes of wash sales and Section 475 MTM. By doing this type of commingling activity, the trader may inadvertently subject his Apple stock investment to Section 475 MTM treatment at year-end, thereby losing deferral on the stock and subjecting his gains to ordinary rates rather than lower long-term capital gains rates.

There are all sorts of scenarios that can come up and in some cases it appears to benefit the taxpayer. It’s important to keep in mind that the IRS is entitled to apply the rules in a way that does not prejudice the government’s position. In the previous example, if the trader had a material loss in the Apple stock held for investment, the IRS is entitled to bar the application of Section 475 on that losing investment position. The IRS can have its cake and can eat it too.

Recap of the segregation of investment position rules
Per Thomson Reuters/Tax & Accounting, “Any securities held by the trader are subject to marking unless they fall within the exception to marking under Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B). In the case of traders, there is only one exception to marking. Under that exception, two requirements must be met. First, it must be established to IRS's satisfaction that the security has no connection to the activities of such person as a trader. (Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B)(i)) Second, any such security must be clearly identified in such person's records as being described in Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B)(i) before the close of the day on which it was acquired, originated or entered into (or such other time as IRS may by regs prescribe). (Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(B)(ii)) An identification that a security is held for investment for financial reporting purposes is not sufficient for Code Sec. 475 purposes. (Rev Rul 97-39, 1997-2 CB 62).

Generally, gains and losses recognized under Code Sec. 475 are ordinary income or loss to a trader that has made an election under Code Sec. 475(f). (Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(A)(i) and Code Sec. 475(f)(1)(D)) However, Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B) provides exceptions to the automatically ordinary rule under Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(A). If a taxpayer can establish that it held securities as hedges, or that the securities were not held in connection with its trading business, or that a security is improperly identified (see Code Sec. 475(d)(2) ), then gains and losses are not automatically ordinary. (Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B)(i), Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B)(ii) and Code Sec. 475(d)(3)(B)(iii)) Character must then be determined by other relevant Code sections.”

Many hedge funds and some traders skip a Section 475 election because they don’t want to be burdened with identifying investments on the time and date of purchase. They establish a trade and may let their profits run and morph the position into an investment position for long-term capital gain and deferral.

How Section 475 MTM and the segregation rules work in practice
A business trader using Section 475 MTM has ordinary gain or loss treatment, plus open business positions are marked-to-market as imputed sales at year-end. On the first day of the subsequent year, the trader imputes a purchase of that same position at the same year-end price.

Duly segregated investment positions are not subject to Section 475 MTM. For example, a business trader organized as a sole proprietor may have a business trading account at Interactive Brokers and a segregated investment account held jointly with his spouse at Fidelity for making long-term investments. Like all professionals, it’s expected that a business trader would have investments, too.

It’s important for the business trader to contemporaneously segregate investment positions from business positions in “form and substance.” Form means a separate account and substance means don’t trade substantially identical positions with business trading positions. While proposed IRS regulations required a separate account, that rule never became final law, so a trader can have investment positions within a business trading account. Just make sure to email yourself contemporaneously when purchasing an investment position. Don’t trade around investment positions with your business positions, as that runs afoul of the substance rule. The lines of distinction can be blurred in some cases and you should consult a trader tax expert about it.

Read Green’s 2014 Trader Tax Guide Chapter 2 on Section 475 MTM to learn more.

Recent trader tax court cases highlight problems with segregation
In recent trader tax court cases covered on our blog, Assaderaghi, Nelson and Endicott, the IRS won denial of trader tax status partially because these option traders did not segregate active option trading from investing in stocks (similar to the example above). However, even if these traders did follow segregation rules and our above guidance, I still don’t think they traded options enough to qualify for trader tax status. They also sought Section 475 MTM ordinary loss treatment on stock investments, which is not possible.

Bottom line
Section 475 MTM is fantastic for most business traders — we call it “tax loss insurance.” But the fine print requires discipline on dealing with investments. It’s best to trade in a separate entity to skip these handcuffs.

April 24, 2014

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March 27, 2014

Protect yourself from market losses with a Section 475 MTM election

By Robert A. Green CPA

Forbes blog version: Save On Taxes If You Make 1,000 Trades A Year.

As the dot-com bust and tech wreck unfolded in 2000, we preached the importance of Section 475 MTM elections to business traders for "tax-loss" insurance. We knew when the markets inevitably turned bearish, many traders would incur huge trading losses. This election means losses are considered business ordinary losses; without it, the losses are capital losses limited to $3,000 against ordinary income per year.

Business ordinary losses can be monetized into tax refunds quickly, whereas capital loss carryforwards often take a long time to monetize — sometimes a decade or more. Traders want immediate tax refunds to replenish their trading capital. Otherwise, they may have little capital left to generate capital gains.

Based on 30 years of experience working closely with traders, we know there are huge swings in bull and bear markets. We've seen clients make a lot of money in a few years and lose a lot in a subsequent year. Traders need to be able to carry back losses and that can't be done on securities unless Section 475 is used. Futures traders can carry back Section 1256 contract losses three years but only against Section 1256 contract gains.

A worst-case scenario in the 2000 tech wreck: Several securities traders made $500,000 in 1999 and lost it all in Q1 2000. They lost their 1999 taxes due in Q1 2000 and they missed the Section 475 MTM election by April 15, 2000. They couldn't pay the IRS for 1999 gains and they got stuck with a capital loss carryover for 2000, which they couldn't monetize since they had no capital left to trade. With a simple 2000 Section 475 election, they could have filed a net operating loss (NOL) carryback wiping out their 1999 tax debt. They would have been square with the IRS.

Why talk about 1999/2000? Because it feels like similar market conditions are developing now. 2013 was a big income year for traders and Q1 2014 started off rocky. Consider the rush of tech/mobile/gaming IPOs; CNBC's Jim Cramer says its Deja vu with the dot-com and tech wreck of 1999/2000. There could be a big correction or bear market later this year.

This past week I consulted with a client on a potential worst-case scenario for 2013/2014. He broke even for 2013 but said TradeLog shows over $1 million of wash sales deferred to 2014. That presents a huge 2013 tax liability on phantom income and he already lost all that tax money and more in Q1 2014.

Luckily, he came to us in time — he will file a Section 475 election by April 15, 2014. The required Section 481a adjustment turns deferred wash sales on year-end 2013 business positions into business ordinary losses on Jan. 1, 2014. The important challenge for him is to maintain his trader tax status in 2014 so he can use Section 475. We suggested filing a 2013 Form 9465 Installment Agreement Request including a note that taxpayer expects to file an NOL carryback wiping out his 2013 tax debt.

Section 475 is free to elect, which is why we call it free tax-loss insurance. While it costs money to switch back to the cash method, traders rarely do that — they just exit their trading activity, thereby suspending Section 475. We recommend section 475 on securities only; you want to retain the lower 60/40 tax rates on 1256 contracts.

Be careful to segregate your investments so 475 won't apply on those investments and you can hold them for lower long-term capital gains rates. Section 475 marks to market open business positions at year-end, but not investment positions.

Only business traders qualifying for trader tax status may use Section 475. The main requirement is 1,000 trade volume per year (annualized) and frequency over 75% of available trading days with trade executions.

Existing taxpayer individuals and partnerships file Section 475 elections by April 15, 2014. Attach the election statement to your 2013 tax return or extension. The second step is to perfect the election with a 2014 Form 3115 (change of accounting method) filed with your 2014 tax return. New taxpayers/new entities may adopt 475 within 75 days of inception by filing an internal resolution.

There are many nuances and misconceptions about section 475; read about them in Green's 2014 Trader Tax Guide.

It’s important to run Tradelog software to determine your trading gains and losses for 2013 and 2014 year to date. Turn on the Section 475 MTM election within Tradelog software for 2014, and the program will calculate the Section 481a adjustment for January 1, 2014.

If you have a large trading loss for Q1 2014, and also a large capital loss carryover, it’s probably wise to make the Section 475 MTM election to lock in the 2014 loss as ordinary. Resume trading in a new entity with capital gains treatment so you can use up the capital loss carryovers.

Not sure what to do? Consider a 30-minute consultation with Robert A. Green, CPA.

If the music stops in the markets, don't be caught without a chair to sit on — Section 475 may be just the chair for you.
February 27, 2014

Another trader tax court loss (Assaderaghi)

By Robert A. Green, CPA

Forbes blog (same article, but different heading): Knowing The Rules Keeps Traders Out Of Tax Trouble

The IRS is piling up victories in tax court against individual traders who inappropriately use Section 475 MTM business ordinary loss treatment for deducting large trading losses. Fariborz Assaderaghi & Miao-Fen Lin v. Commissioner is yet another IRS win that can be added to the list. According to Tax Analysts, “The Tax Court held that a husband's trading activity in securities didn't constitute a trade or business and, thus, he wasn't eligible for a mark-to-market accounting method election under section 475(f) and the couple was limited to a $3,000 deduction of losses from the purchase and sale of securities under section 1211(b) for each year at issue.”

Only traders who qualify for trader tax status (Schedule C business expenses) may elect and use Section 475. Lots is at stake since without trader tax status or a timely Section 475 MTM election, traders are forced to use a puny $3,000 capital loss limitation against other income.

We agree with the IRS that Assaderaghi did not qualify for trader tax status in any of the years examined. Assaderaghi had many day trades, and he used professional trading equipment and charts. But he had a demanding full-time career as an engineer/executive and the IRS is more skeptical toward part-time traders claiming trader tax status. Assaderaghi was unable to prove his hours spent in trading and his evidence lacked credibility in the eyes of the IRS and tax court.

Most importantly, Assaderaghi came up short on meeting our golden rules for 2008, the one year he had a chance to qualify for trader tax status. He had 535 trades and our golden rules call for 1,000 total trades. He traded just over 60% of available trading days and our golden rules call for trade executions on 75% of available trading days. In the other years examined, he came up far short of trader tax status and when you view the years together it’s especially weak.

Perhaps Assaderaghi could have fought harder to win trader tax status in 2008, and concede the other years, but that is generally not the main issue. A bigger issue is filing a timely Section 475 MTM election and Assaderaghi and his accountant did not do that. It’s significant since Assaderaghi’s CPA deducted $374,000 in trading losses for his 2008 Schedule C, but the IRS forced them to use a puny $3,000 capital loss limitation instead. Once again, a trader and professional go to tax court with a clear losing case on technical grounds, missing or botching a Section 475 MTM election, and there is nothing that can be done about it. They wasted their money and effort in tax court.

Assaderaghi made some tragic rookie tax mistakes which sealed his fate as a loser with the IRS. He made the common mistake of asking his local CPA tax preparer to elect trader tax status and Section 475 MTM, but after not getting an answer from his CPA, he didn’t do anything about it. His accountant was clueless about trader tax benefits and rules — which is sadly still often the case. When it comes to timely Section 475 elections, there is no excuse allowed for relying on an accountant, and there is no IRS relief. The IRS is lenient on many things, but not Section 475.

His accountant grasped the idea of trading as a business — filing a Schedule C — but he jumped to the tragic conclusion that he could simply report trading gains and losses on schedule C like other types of businesses. He should have filed a timely election for Section 475 and reported trading gains and losses on Form 4797 Part II with ordinary gain and loss treatment. It’s clear the accountant did not know that Section 475 MTM had to be elected by April 15, 2008 for 2008 or perfected with a 2008 Form 3115 change of accounting filed in 2009 with the 2008 tax returns. Had Assaderaghi known the golden rules, perhaps he would have traded more to meet them.

Assaderaghi’s tax return screamed for an IRS beat down. The IRS computers see trades on Schedule C and issue a tax notice because trades don’t belong on Schedule C. The IRS tries to match broker 1099-Bs to Schedule D (in 2008 and Form 8949 after 2010), Form 4797 Part II (section 475 MTM) and Form 6781 (Section 1256). The IRS agent asked the CPA preparer about his filing of a Section 475 MTM election and the CPA did not even know what the agent was talking about. Case closed — it’s a loser! You can never file a Section 475 MTM election late (or with hindsight).

Lessons learned: Learn trader tax benefits and rules with our content and hire a proven trader tax CPA like our firm Green NFH, LLC to assist you with the election, Form 3115, Form 4797 and tax return footnotes.

It’s important to note that 2014 Section 475 MTM elections are due by April 15, 2014 for individuals and existing partnerships, and March 15, 2014 for existing S-Corps. “New taxpayers” (new entities) file a Section 475 MTM election in their own books and records (internally) within 75 days of inception of the new entity formation. We recommend Section 475 MTM on securities only, so you retain lower 60/40 capital gains rates on Section 1256 contracts like futures. Section 475 MTM does not apply to segregated investment positions. If you have capital loss carryovers, you may want to wait until you generate more capital gains to use them up first. Section 475 is complex and nuanced, so read Green’s 2014 Trader Tax Guide Chapter 2 on Section 475 and Chapter 1 on trader tax status.

Make sure you meet our golden rules for trader tax status based on tax court cases. The Assaderaghi case does not change our golden rules. The Assaderaghi court reinforced the notion that business traders must be consistent in trading volume and frequency and avoid sporadic lapses in active trading. The tax law requires “regular, frequent and continuous trading based on daily market movements and not long-term appreciation.”

It’s wise to stop trading as an individual and form an entity that qualifies for trader tax status and files an entity business tax return that resembles many active trading hedge funds. As pointed out in Green’s 2014 Trader Tax Guide, a high ranking IRS person in the trader tax status and Section 475 area recently warned at a tax conference that the IRS is going after individual traders inappropriately using trader tax status and Section 475 MTM ordinary loss treatment. Get the help you need to be a winner.

See the Tax Analysts PDF file on this case with our yellow highlights.
February 1, 2014

Net investment tax

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as “ObamaCare”) has many new and different types of taxes to finance the law, starting on different dates.

One of these new tax regimes — the “ObamaCare 3.8% Medicare surtax on unearned income” — affects upper-income traders and investment managers as of Jan. 1, 2013. It only applies to individuals with modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding $200,000 (single), $250,000 (married filing jointly) or $125,000 (married filing separately). (Modified AGI means U.S. residents abroad must add back any foreign earned income exclusion reported on Form 2555.)

Final IRS regulations and tax form 8960 instructions were late
The IRS released its final regulations for “net investment income” (NII) and “net investment tax” (NIT) in December 2013, and draft instructions for Form 8960 (Net Investment Income Tax) in January 2014. The IRS was late because the proposed IRS regulations were highly problematic for many CPAs and industry groups who submitted comments asking the IRS for many changes. The proposed regulations disenfranchised taxpayers from deducting their losses against NII which was unfair and against the spirit of the tax code.

Thankfully, the final regulations are better. We are pleased with the results for business traders, who went from being the most disenfranchised to the most enfranchised. Unlike most taxpayers with NII, business traders may deduct trading business net losses and expenses against NII.

What’s included and excluded from NII?
Notice the term “investment income” is used in lieu of “unearned income.” People who receive “earned income” from a job pay FICA (on the social security base amount) and Medicare on their wages or self-employment income. In general, unearned income includes interest, dividends, rents, royalties, capital gains and distributions from companies in which you are passive. Now, this type of income is subject to Medicare taxes, too — albeit at upper-income brackets only.

NII’s proposed regulations interpreted the tax code to require segregation of different types of unearned income into three different buckets, for the main purpose of disenfranchising taxpayers from using losses from any given bucket. The final regs make some serious amends here and the Section 475 MTM trader fares very well...

The NII buckets include the following:
Bucket 1: Portfolio income (includes interest, dividends and annuity distributions), royalties (net of oil and gas depletion expenses) and rents (net of depreciation);
Bucket 2: Passive activity income and loss from pass-through entities;
Bucket 3: Capital gains and losses from the sale of property not used in an active business. In the final regs, the IRS moved trading businesses into bucket 3, so trading business capital gains and losses are counted with investment capital gains and losses. Smart move!.....

THERE MAY BE EVEN BETTER NEWS, TOO
The regulations state: “To minimize the inconsistencies between chapter 1 and section 1411 for traders, the final regulations assign all trading gains and trading losses to section 1411(c)(1)(A)(iii). The final regulations also permit a taxpayer to deduct excess losses from the trading business of a section 475 trader from other categories of income. Part 5.C of this preamble describes the treatment of those excess losses.”

Consider the example of a Section 475 MTM trader who arbitrages securities trades against interest income......

This is an excerpt from Chapter 15 of Green's 2014 Trader Tax Guide). Read the full chapter for further details on what's included and excluded from NII, an NIT calculation example and more.


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