The IRS has issued final regulations with guidance on how a tax-exempt organization can determine whether it has more than one unrelated trade or business, how it should identify its separate trades and businesses, and how to separately calculate unrelated business taxable income (UBTI) for each trade or business – often referred to as “silo” rules. Since 2018, under provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the loss from one unrelated trade or business may not offset the income from another, separate trade or business. Congress did not provide detailed methods of determining when unrelated businesses are “separate” for purposes of calculating UBTI.
On April 24, 2020, the IRS published a notice of proposed rulemaking ( REG-106864-18) that proposed guidance on how an exempt organization determines if it has more than one unrelated trade or business and, if so, how the exempt organization calculates UBTI under Code Sec. 512(a)(6). The final regulations substantially adopt the proposed regulations issued earlier this year, with modifications.
Separate Trades or Businesses
The proposed regulations suggested using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) six-digit codes for determining what constitutes separate trades or businesses. Notice 2018-67, I.R.B. 2018-36, 409, permitted tax-exempt organizations to rely on these codes. The first two digits of the code designate the economic sector of the business. The proposed guidance provided that organizations could make that determination using just the first two digits of the code, which divides businesses into 20 categories, for this purpose.
The proposed regulations provided that, once an organization has identified a separate unrelated trade or business using a particular NAICS two-digit code, the it could only change the two-digit code describing that separate unrelated trade or business if two specific requirements were met. The final regulations remove the restriction on changing NAICS two-digit codes, and instead require an exempt organization that changes the identification of a separate unrelated trade or business to report the change in the tax year of the change in accordance with forms and instructions.
For exempt organizations, the activities of a partnership are generally considered the activities of the exempt organization partners. Code Sec. 512(c) provides that if a trade or business regularly carried on by a partnership of which an exempt organization is a member is an unrelated trade or business with respect to such organization, that organization must include its share of the gross income of the partnership in UBTI.
The proposed regulations provided that an exempt organization’s partnership interest is a “qualifying partnership interest” (QPI) if it meets the requirements of the de minimis test by directly or indirectly holding no more than two percent of the profits interest and no more than two percent of the capital interest. For administrative convenience, the de minimis test allows certain partnership investments to be treated as an investment activity and aggregated with other investment activities. Additionally, the proposed regulations permitted the aggregation of any QPI with all other QPIs, resulting in an aggregate group of QPIs.
Once an organization designates a partnership interest as a QPI (in accordance with forms and instructions), it cannot thereafter identify the trades or businesses conducted by the partnership that are unrelated trades or businesses with respect to the exempt organization using NAICS two-digit codes unless and until the partnership interest is no longer a QPI.
A change in an exempt organization’s percentage interest in a partnership that is due entirely to the actions of other partners may present significant difficulties for the exempt organization. Requiring the interest to be removed from the exempt organization’s investment activities in one year but potentially included as a QPI in the next would create further administrative difficulty. Therefore, the final regulations adopt a grace period that permits a partnership interest to be treated as meeting the requirements of the de minimis test or the participation test, respectively, in the exempt organization’s prior tax year if certain requirements are met. This grace period will allow an exempt organization to treat such interest as a QPI in the tax year that such change occurs, but the organization will need to reduce its percentage interest before the end of the following tax year to meet the requirements of either the de minimis test or the participation test in that succeeding tax year for the partnership interest to remain a QPI.