The IRS has issued proposed regulations for the centralized partnership audit regime that:
- clarify that a partnership with a QSub partner is not eligible to elect out of the centralized audit regime;
- add three new types of “special enforcement matters” and modify existing rules;
- modify existing guidance and regulations on push out elections and imputed adjustments; and
- clarify rules on partnerships that cease to exist.
The regulations are generally proposed to apply to partnership tax years ending after November 20, 2020, and to examinations and investigations beginning after the date the regs are finalized. However, the new special enforcement matters category for partnership-related items underlying non-partnership-related items is proposed to apply to partnership tax years beginning after December 20, 2018. In addition, the IRS and a partner could agree to apply any part of the proposed regulations governing special enforcement matters to any tax year of the partner that corresponds to a partnership tax year that is subject to the centralized partnership audit regime.
Centralized Audit Regime
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 ( P.L. 114-74) replaced the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) ( P.L. 97-248) partnership procedures with a centralized partnership audit regime for making partnership adjustments and tax determinations, assessments and collections at the partnership level. These changes were further amended by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) ( P.L. 114-113), and the Tax Technical Corrections Act of 2018 (TTCA) ( P.L. 115-141). The centralized audit regime, as amended, generally applies to returns filed for partnership tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.
A partnership with no more than 100 partners may generally elect out of the centralized audit regime if all of the partners are eligible partners. As predicted in Notice 2019-06, I.R.B. 2019-03, 353, the proposed regulations would provide that a qualified subchapter S subsidiary (QSub) is not an eligible partner; thus, a partnership with a QSub partner could not elect out of the centralized audit regime.
Special Enforcement Matters
The IRS may exempt “special enforcement matters” from the centralized audit regime. There are currently six categories of special enforcement matters:
- failures to comply with the requirements for a partnership-partner or S corporation partner to furnish statements or compute and pay an imputed underpayment;
- assessments relating to termination assessments of income tax or jeopardy assessments of income, estate, gift, and certain excise taxes;
- criminal investigations;
- indirect methods of proof of income;
- foreign partners or partnerships;
- other matters identified in IRS regulations.
The proposed regs would add three new types of special enforcement matters:
- partnership-related items underlying non-partnership-related items;
- controlled partnerships and extensions of the partner’s period of limitations; and
- penalties and taxes imposed on the partnership under chapter 1.
The proposed regs would also require the IRS to provide written notice of most special enforcement matters to taxpayers to whom the adjustments are being made.
The proposed regs would clarify that the IRS could adjust partnership-level items for a partner or indirect partner without regard to the centralized audit regime if the adjustment relates to termination and jeopardy assessments, if the partner is under criminal investigation, or if the adjustment is based on an indirect method of proof of income.
However, the proposed regs would also provide that the special enforcement matter rules would not apply to the extent the partner could demonstrate that adjustments to partnership-related items in the deficiency or an adjustment by the IRS were:
- previously taken into account under the centralized audit regime by the person being examined; or
- included in an imputed underpayment paid by a partnership (or pass-through partner) for any tax year in which the partner was a reviewed year partner or indirect partner, but only if the amount included in the deficiency or adjustment exceeds the amount reported by the partnership to the partner that was either reported by the partner or indirect partner or is otherwise included in the deficiency or adjustment determined by the IRS.
Push Out Election, Imputed Underpayments
The partnership adjustment rules generally do not apply to a partnership that makes a “push out” election to push the adjustment out to the partners. However, the partnership must pay any chapter 1 taxes, penalties, additions to tax, and additional amounts or the amount of any adjustment to an imputed underpayment. Thus, there must be a mechanism for including these amounts in the imputed underpayment and accounting for these amounts.
In calculating an imputed underpayment, the proposed regs would generally include any adjustments to the partnership’s chapter 1 liabilities in the credit grouping and treat them similarly to credit adjustments. Adjustments that do not result in an imputed underpayment generally could increase or decrease non-separately stated income or loss, as appropriate, depending on whether the adjustment is to an item of income or loss. The proposed regs would also treat a decrease in a chapter 1 liability as a negative adjustment that normally does not result in an imputed underpayment if: (1) the net negative adjustment is to a credit, unless the IRS determines to have it offset the imputed underpayment; or (2) the imputed underpayment is zero or less than zero.
Under existing regs for calculating an imputed underpayment, an adjustment to a non-income item that is related to, or results from, an adjustment to an item of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit is generally treated as zero, unless the IRS determines that the adjustment should be included in the imputed underpayment. The proposed regs would clarify this rule and extend it to persons other than the IRS. Thus, a partnership that files an administrative adjustment request (AAR) could treat an adjustment to a non-income item as zero if the adjustment is related to, and the effect is reflected in, an adjustment to an item of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit (unless the IRS subsequently determines in an AAR examination that both adjustments should be included in the calculation of the imputed underpayment).
A partnership would take into account adjustments to non-income items in the adjustment year by adjusting the item on its adjustment year return to be consistent with the adjustment. This would apply only to the extent the item would appear on the adjustment year return without regard to the adjustment. If the item already appeared on the partnership’s adjustment year return as a non-income item, or appeared as a non-income item on any return of the partnership for a tax year between the reviewed year and the adjustment year, the partnership does not create a new item on the partnership’s adjustment year return.
A passthrough partner that is paying an amount as part of an amended return submitted as part of a request to modify an imputed underpayment would take into account any adjustments that do not result in an imputed underpayment in the partners’ tax year that includes the date the payment is made. This provision, however, would not apply if no payment is made by the partnership because no payment is required.
Partnership Ceases to Exist
If a partnership ceases to exist before the partnership adjustments take effect, the adjustments are taken into account by the former partners of the partnership. The IRS may assess a former partner for that partner’s proportionate share of any amounts owed by the partnership under the centralized partnership audit regime. The proposed regs would clarify that a partnership adjustment takes effect when the adjustments become finally determined; that is, when the partnership and IRS enter into a settlement agreement regarding the adjustment; or, for adjustments reflected in an AAR, when the AAR is filed. The proposed regs would also make conforming changes to existing regs:
- A partnership ceases to exist if the IRS determines that the partnership does not have the ability to pay in full any amount that the partnership may become liable for under the centralized partnership audit regime.
- Existing regs that describe when the IRS will not determine that a partnership ceases to exist would be removed.
- Statements must be furnished to the former partners and filed with the IRS no later than 60 days after the later of the date the IRS notifies the partnership that it has ceased to exist or the date the adjustments take effect.
The proposed regs would also modify the definition of “former partners” to be partners of the partnership during the last tax year for which a partnership return or AAR was filed, or the most recent persons determined to be the partners in a final determination, such as a final court decision, defaulted notice of final partnership adjustment (FPA), or settlement agreement.
Comments are requested on all aspects of the proposed regulations by January 22, 2021. The IRS strongly encourages commenters to submit comments electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov (indicate IRS and REG-123652-18). Comments submitted on paper will be considered to the extent practicable.