IRS Large Business and International (LB&I) Division

On Friday, November 3, 2017, the IRS Large Business and International division (LB&I) announced the identification and selection of 11 additional compliance campaigns. In January 2017, LB&I unveiled its first 13 campaigns to be implemented as part of its effort to move toward issue-based examinations of taxpayers based upon risk assessments so as to make the greatest use of limited audit resources. (See prior coverage here and here.) According to the IRS, the LB&I compliance campaigns represent “the culmination of an extensive effort to redefine large business compliance work and build a supportive infrastructure inside LB&I. Campaign development requires strategic planning and deployment of resources, training and tools, metrics and feedback. LB&I is investing the time and resources necessary to build well-run and well-planned compliance campaigns.” The 11 new campaigns represent the second wave of LB&I’s issue-based compliance work. According to the IRS, more campaigns will continue to be identified, approved and launched in the coming months.

The 11 new compliance campaigns were selected based upon LB&I data analysis and feedback from IRS compliance employees. The 11 new campaigns, along with LB&I’s brief description of each, are as follows:

Form 1120-F Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 Withholding Campaign

  • This campaign is designed to verify withholding at source for 1120-Fs claiming refunds. To make a claim for refund or credit to estimated tax with respect to any U.S. source income withheld under chapters 3 or 4, a foreign entity must file a Form 1120-F. Before a claim for credit (refund or credit elect) is paid, the IRS must verify that withholding agents have filed the required returns (Forms 1042, 1042-S, 8804, 8805, 8288 and 8288-A). This campaign focuses upon verification of the withholding credits before the claim for refund or credit is allowed. The campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including, but not limited to, examinations.

Swiss Bank Program Campaign

  • In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the Swiss Bank Program as a path for Swiss financial institutions to resolve potential criminal liabilities. Banks that are participating in this program provide information on the U.S. persons with beneficial ownership of foreign financial accounts. This campaign will address noncompliance, involving taxpayers who are or may be beneficial owners of these accounts, through a variety of treatment streams including, but not limited to, examinations.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Campaign

  • Individuals who meet certain requirements may qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion and/or the foreign housing exclusion or deduction. This campaign addresses taxpayers who have claimed these benefits but do not meet the requirements. The Internal Revenue Service will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams, including examination.

Verification of Form 1042-S Credit Claimed on Form 1040NR

  • This campaign is intended to ensure the amount of withholding credits or refund/credit elect claimed on Forms 1040NR, U.S. Nonresident Alien Tax Return, is verified and whether the taxpayer has properly reported the income reflected on Form 1042-S, Foreign Person’s U.S. Source Income Subject to Withholding. Before a refund is issued or credit allowed, the Internal Revenue Service verifies the withholding credits reported on the Form 1042-S. The campaign will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including, but not limited to, examinations.

Agricultural Chemicals Security Credit Campaign

  • The Agricultural chemicals security credit is claimed under Internal Revenue Code Section 45O and allows a 30 percent credit to any eligible agricultural business that paid or incurred security costs to safeguard agricultural chemicals. The credit is nonrefundable and is limited to $2 million annually on a controlled group basis with a 20-year carryforward provision. In addition, there is a facility limitation as outlined in Section 450(b). The goal of this campaign is to ensure taxpayer compliance by verifying that only qualified expenses by eligible taxpayers are considered and that taxpayers are properly defining facilities when computing the credit. The treatment stream for this campaign is issue-based examinations.

Deferral of Cancellation of Indebtedness Income Campaign

  • During 2009 and 2010, taxpayers who incurred cancellation of indebtedness (COD) income from the reacquisition of debt instruments at an issue price less than the adjusted issue price of the original instrument may have elected to defer the COD income. Taxpayers must report the COD income ratably over five years beginning in 2014 and running through 2018. Further, when a taxpayer defers the COD income, any related original issue discount (OID) deductions on the new debt instrument, resulting from debt-for-debt exchanges that triggered the COD must also be deferred ratably and in the same manner as the deferred COD income. The goal of this campaign is to ensure taxpayer compliance by verifying that taxpayers who properly deferred COD income in 2009/2010 properly report it in subsequent years beginning in 2014, unless an accelerating event requires earlier recognition under IRC §108(i); and/or properly defer reporting OID deductions during the deferral period under IRC Section 108(i)(2). The treatment stream for this campaign is issue-based examinations. The use of soft letters is under consideration.

Energy Efficient Commercial Building Property Campaign

  • The Energy Efficient Commercial Building Deduction (Section 179D) allows taxpayers who own or lease a commercial building to deduct the cost or portion of the cost of installing energy efficient commercial building property (EECBP). If the equipment is installed in a government-owned building, the deduction is allocated to the person(s) primarily responsible for designing the EECBP. This goal of this campaign is to ensure taxpayer compliance with the section 179D deduction. The treatment stream for this campaign is issue-based examinations.

Corporate Direct (Section 901) Foreign Tax Credit (“FTC”)

  • Domestic corporate taxpayers may elect to take a credit for foreign taxes paid or accrued in lieu of a deduction. The goal of the Corporate Direct FTC campaign is to improve return/issue selection (through filters) and resource utilization for corporate returns that claim a direct FTC under IRC section 901. This campaign will focus on taxpayers who are in an excess limitation position. The treatment stream for the campaign will be issue based examinations. This is the first of several FTC campaigns. Future FTC campaigns may address indirect credits and IRC 904(a) FTC limitation issues.

Section 956 Avoidance

  • If a Controlled Foreign Corporation (CFC) makes a loan to its US parent, Section 956 generally requires an income inclusion equal to the amount of the loan. This campaign focuses on situations where a CFC loans funds to a US Parent (USP), but nevertheless does not include a Section 956 amount in income. The goal of this campaign is to determine to what extent taxpayers are utilizing cash pooling arrangements and other strategies to improperly avoid the tax consequences of Section 956. The treatment stream for this campaign is issue based examinations.

Economic Development Incentives Campaign

  • Taxpayers may be eligible to receive a variety of government economic incentives. These incentives include refundable credits (refunds in excess of tax liability), tax credits against other business taxes (i.e. payroll tax), nonrefundable credits (refunds limited to tax liability), transfer of property including land, and grants including cash payments. Taxpayers may improperly treat government incentives as non-shareholder capital contributions, exclude them from gross income and claim a tax deduction without offsetting it by the tax credit received. The goal of this campaign is to ensure taxpayer compliance. The treatment stream for this campaign is issue based examinations.

Individual Foreign Tax Credit (Form 1116)

  • Individuals file Form 1116 to claim a credit that reduces their U.S. income tax liability for the amount of foreign taxes paid on foreign source income. This campaign addresses taxpayer compliance with the computation of the foreign tax credit limitation on Form 1116. Due to the complexity of computing the Foreign Tax Credit and challenges associated with third-party reporting information, some taxpayers face the risk of claiming an incorrect Foreign Tax Credit amount. The IRS will address noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including examinations.

The Tax Court has issued its long-awaited decision addressing captive insurance arrangements. In Avrahami v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. No. 7 (2017), the Tax Court held that payments made from a number of businesses owned by the Avrahamis to a microcaptive insurance company that was wholly-owned by Mrs. Avrahami were not for “insurance,” and thus were not deductible as insurance premiums paid. Here is what you need to know.

Captive Insurance Generally

Amounts paid for insurance are deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses. Insurance companies are generally taxed on the insurance premiums they receive. However, small insurance companies that satisfy certain requirements are eligible to make a section 831(b) election, in which case they are only taxed on their taxable investment income (which does not include premiums received). For 2009 and 2010, an insurance company other than a life insurance company that had written premiums that did not exceed $1.2 million could elect to be taxed under section 831(b) as long as they met all other requirements.

A pure captive insurance company is one that only insures the risks of companies related to it by ownership. A captive insurance company that is eligible to make a section 831(b) election (referred to as a “microcaptive”) does not pay tax on the premiums it receives. Thus, if a business owner creates a microcaptive that insures only the risks of the business owner’s business, the business is able to deduct up to $1.2 million for insurance premiums paid to the related microcaptive while the microcaptive does not pay tax on the premiums received. However, the premiums are only deductible if the payments are for “insurance,” which begs the question: what is “insurance”? This is the question Avrahami addressed in the context of payments made to microcaptives.

Case Background

The Avrahamis owned jewelry stores and commercial real estate companies (the “Avrahami Entities”). In November 2007, they created an insurance company (the “Captive”) to insure the risks of the Avrahami entities. The Captive was wholly-owned by Mrs. Avrahami. In 2009 and 2010 – the years at issue in this case – the Avrahami entities paid the Captive premiums for direct insurance policies of approximately $730,000 and $810,000, respectively, for policies covering seven types of risk including: administrative actions, business risk indemnity, business income protection, employee fidelity, litigation expense, loss of key employee, and tax indemnity. In addition to its direct policies, the Captive participated in a risk distribution program with other small captive insurance companies through Pan American. Through Pan American’s risk distribution program, the Avrahami Entities paid approximately $360,000 to Pan American for terrorism coverage only. Pan American then reinsured all of the risk it had assumed and would make sure that the Captive received reinsurance premiums equal to the amount paid by the Avrahami Entities to Pan American ($360,000), and in exchange the Captive would reinsure a small percentage of Pan American’s total losses. In total, the Avrahamis deducted approximately $1.1 million and $1.3 million in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for insurance premiums paid from the Avrahami Entities to the Captive or Pan American for both direct policies and for the terrorism coverage obtained through the risk distribution program. Only the Avrahami Entities were covered by the direct policies while over 100 insureds were included in the risk distribution program.

The IRS argued that neither the Captive nor Pan American sold “insurance”, meaning the premiums paid by the Avrahami Entities were not deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses. The Tax Court agreed.

The Court’s Analysis

To be considered insurance, the arrangement must: (1) involve risk-shifting; (2) involve risk-distribution; (3) involve insurance risk; and (4) meet commonly accepted notions of insurance. The Tax Court analyzed only two of these elements: risk distribution and commonly accepted notions of insurance.

Risk distribution occurs when the insurer pools a large enough collection of unrelated risks. The Tax Court looked to the number of companies the Captive insured and the “number of independent risk exposures” (i.e., how many policies does the Captive issue and what do those policies cover). Ultimately, the Court determined that insuring 3 companies in 2009 and 4 in 2010, issuing 7 direct policies that covered 3 jewelry stores, 3 commercial real estate companies, 2 key employees, and 35 other employees did not cover a sufficient number of risk exposures to achieve risk distribution through the affiliated entities. The Court distinguished the facts present in this case from other cases where they have determined that insurers adequately distributed risk.

The Avrahamis argued that they adequately distributed risk because, in addition to the Captive insuring the Avrahami Entities, the Captive participated in the Pan American risk distribution program and reinsured third-party risk. The Court determined that Pan American was not a bona fide insurance company in the first place, meaning the policies it issued were not “insurance” and the Captive could not have distributed risk by reinsuring policies that were not insurance to begin with. The Court looked to a number of factors to determine whether Pan American was a bona fide insurance company, ultimately concluding that it was not for the following reasons:

  • There was a circular flow of funds. Avrahami Entities paid Pan American, Pan American turned around and reinsured all of the risk it had assumed, making sure that the Captive received reinsurance premiums equal to those paid by the Avrahami Entities. Thus, money was effectively transferred from an entity owned by the Avrahamis (one of the Avrahami Entities) to an entity wholly-owned by Mrs. Avrahami (the Captive).
  • The premiums charged for terrorism coverage were “grossly excessive”. The only policy Pan American issued was for terrorism coverage, and the policy was worded in a way that it was highly unlikely that the triggering event would ever occur.
  • Pan American charged high premiums for an event that was unlikely to ever occur (and had never occurred in the past), and if the event did occur Pan American may have not been able to pay the claims.
  • Because the risk distribution program was not recognized by the Court, when the Court reviewed the direct policies it determined that on a stand-alone basis they also did not adequately distribute risk because the direct policies only covered the Avrahami Entities and the combination of risks and entities covered by the direct policies did not distribute risk among an adequate number of independent insurance risks.

For these reasons, the Court concluded that the Captive did not adequately distribute risk.

The Tax Court then analyzed whether the Captive met commonly accepted notions of insurance, which required the Court to work through a number of factors. The Court determined that the Captive was not selling insurance in the commonly accepted sense. The Court explained:

  • The Captive did not operate like an insurance company. No claims were filed until the IRS began its audit. The Captive only invested in illiquid, long-term loans to related parties and failed to get regulatory approval before transferring funds to them.
  • The Captive returned substantial portions of its surpluses to the insureds and owners of the insured through various loans and distributions.
  • The Captive policies were questionable because they were unclear and contradictory.
  • The Captive charged unreasonable premiums even though an actuary priced the policies. The Court did not find the actuary’s pricing methodology at all persuasive, noting that the actuary consistently chose inputs that would generate higher premiums. The Court noted that before creating the Captive, the Avrahami Entities paid $150,000 for commercial insurance policies. After creating the Captive, the Avrahami Entities paid $1.1 million and $1.3 million in 2009 and 2010, and paid $90,000 for a commercial insurance policy.

As a result, the Court concluded that payments made from the Avrahami Entities to the Captive and Pan American were not for insurance, and thus were not deductible as ordinary and necessary business expenses.

It is worth noting that the Captive was incorporated under the laws of the Caribbean nation of Saint Christopher and Nevis (St. Kitts). The Captive made a section 953(d) election to be treated as a domestic corporation for federal income tax purposes, and also made an election to be taxed as a small insurance company under section 831(b). However, since the Captive’s policies were not for “insurance”, both elections were invalid, and it was thus treated as a foreign corporation for federal income tax purposes. The parties stipulated that the taxable premiums earned by the Captive were not subject to U.S. Federal income tax.

Impact on Continuing IRS Scrutiny of Captive Insurance Arrangements

For several years, the IRS has devoted significant resources to examinations of captive insurance arrangements and numerous cases are the subject of Tax Court petitions.  There are several cases pending in the Tax Court post-trial.  The IRS increased its scrutiny of microcaptives when it issued Notice 2016-66, requiring self-reporting by taxpayers engaging in captive insurance arrangements where there has been a low incidence of claims or where significant loans have been made to related parties. In light of the Avrahami decision, the IRS is likely to continue devoting resources to scrutinizing and challenging captive insurance arrangements it believes are abusive.

As many readers know, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (“BBA”) repeals the long standing TEFRA procedures governing IRS examinations of partnerships.  As a result, beginning January 1, 2018, partnerships are subject to a centralized partnership audit regime.  However, partnerships are permitted to make an election to have the BBA rules apply to partnership returns filed for tax periods beginning after November 2, 2015 and before January 1, 2018.  For most partnerships, this will apply to the 2016 and 2017 tax years.

Early Election Procedures under Section 1101(g)(4) of the BBA

Partnerships who receive written notification that a partnership return for an eligible year has been selected for examination have 30 days after the date of such notification to file an election to be subject to the BBA centralized partnership regime for that year.  The election can be made on Form 7036,  or by preparing a statement that complies with the regulations.  The election statement requires the partnership representative to represent that the partnership (1) is not insolvent and does not reasonably anticipate becoming insolvent before resolution of any adjustment for the partnership taxable year for which the election is being made; (2) is not currently and does not reasonably anticipate become subject to the bankruptcy petition under Title 11; and (3) has sufficient assets, and reasonably anticipates having sufficient assets, to pay a potential imputed underpayment.

IRS Guidance

On June 29, 2017, the Commissioners of the LB&I division and the SB/SE division issued a memo addressing procedures initial contacts with taxpayers eligible to make the early election.  The memo educates managers and examiners on which partnerships are eligible to make the election, how and when the election is made, the proper content of the election statement, and related correspondence procedures.  The memo requires the issuance of a new Initial Contact Letter, Letter 2205-D, at the beginning of a partnership examination.  If the partnership responds by making an early election, the process outlined below is followed.  If an early election is not made, examiners are instructed to follow existing TEFRA or NonTEFRA procedures.

The memo instructs examiners who receive elections to verify that no amended returns or administrative adjustment requests have been filed as this would disqualify the partnership from making the early election.  The memo also instructs examiners to ensure that Form 7036 is properly completed or that an election not on Form 7036 meets the requirements of Treas. Reg. section 301.9100-22T, request any missing information from the taxpayer if the 30-day election window is still open, and determine whether the election is valid.  The memo further instructs the examiner to wait 30 days after the valid election is received before issuing a notice of administrative proceeding.  The reason for the 30-day waiting period is to allow the partnership to file any administrative adjustment requests as permitted under Section 6227 as amended by the BBA.  During this 30-day period, examiners are instructed to perform a “cursory check” to determine whether the partnership representative’s name, address, identification number and phone number are correct.  Examiners are not permitted to issue a notice of administrative proceeding until the 30-day period expires.

We expect to see continued guidance from the IRS on BBA centralized partnership examination procedures as the rules become effective.

I was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about the IRS LB&I audit campaigns discussed here.  An interesting part of the conversation included a discussion of why the IRS would tell taxpayers what issues they are targeting.  The bottom line is to increase compliance.  The IRS has identified issues it believes a significant number of taxpayers are non-compliant and is focused on those for one reason: to generate revenue and collections.  There are a few things to keep in mind as you evaluate how to respond to the IRS audit campaigns:

  • The use of “soft letters” indicates the IRS is encouraging taxpayers to self-correct.  It is always better to self-correct than to deal with an issue in audit.  Especially when that issue is something the IRS has highlighted publicly as an issue they are targeting.
  • Failure to self-correct may give the IRS a stronger position for asserting penalties.
  • The 13 IRS audit campaigns identified is not a finite list.  It is an initial list which we expect will evolve over time.

Due to budget constraints, it makes sense that the IRS is targeting significant issues and encouraging self-correction which allows the IRS to increase revenues without significant manpower.

You can read the Wall Street Journal article here.