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The New 20% Deduction in Crowdfunding Transactions

Taxes and Income - iStock-172441475 - small.jpg

Co-Authored By: Steve Poulathas & Mark Roderick

The new tax law added section 199A to the Internal Revenue Code, providing for a 20% deduction against some kinds of business income. Section 199A immediately assumes a place among the most complicated provisions in the Code, which is saying something.

I’m going to summarize just one piece of section 199A: how the deduction works for income recognized through a limited liability company or other pass-through entity. That means I’m not going to talk about lots of important things, including:

  • Dividends from REITS
  • Income from service businesses
  • Dividends from certain publicly-traded partnerships
  • Dividends from certain cooperatives
  • Non-U.S. income
  • Short taxable years
  • Limitations based on net capital gains

Where the Deduction Does and Doesn’t Help

Section 199A allows a deduction against an individual investor’s share of the taxable income generated by the entity. The calculation is done on an entity-by-entity basis.

That means you can’t use a deduction from one entity against income from a different entity. It also means that the deduction is valuable only if the entity itself is generating taxable income.

That’s important because most Crowdfunding investments and ICOs, whether for real estate projects or startups, don’t generate taxable income. Most real estate projects produce losses in the early years because of depreciation deductions, while most startups generate losses in the early years because, well, because they’re startups.

The section 199A deduction also doesn’t apply to income from capital gains, interest income, or dividends income. It applies only to ordinary business income, including rental income*. Thus, when the real estate project is sold or the startup achieves its exit, section 199A doesn’t provide any relief.

Finally, the deduction is available only to individuals and other pass-through entities, not to C corporations.

*Earlier drafts of section 199A didn’t include rental income. At the last minute rental income was included and Senator Bob Corker, who happens to own a lot of rental property, switched his vote from No to Yes. Go figure.

The Calculation

General Rule

The general rule is that the investor is entitled to deduct 20% of his income from the pass-through entity. Simple.

Deduction Limits

Alas, the 20% deduction is subject to limitations, which I refer to as the Deduction Limits. Specifically, the investor’s nominal 20% deduction cannot exceed the greater of:

  • The investor’s share of 50% of the wages paid by the entity; or
  • The sum of:
    • The investor’s share of 25% of the wages paid by the entity; plus
    • The investor’s share of 2.5% of the cost of the entity’s depreciable property.

Each of those clauses is subject to special rules and defined terms. For purposes of this summary, I’ll point out three things:

  • The term “wages” means W-2 wages, to employees. It doesn’t include amounts paid to independent contractors and reported on a Form 1099.
  • The cost of the entity’s depreciable property means just that: the cost of the property, not its tax basis, which is reduced by depreciation deductions.
  • Land is not depreciable property.
  • Once an asset reaches the end of its depreciable useful life or 10 years, whichever is later, you stop counting it. That means the “regular” useful life, not the accelerated life used to actually depreciate it.

Exception Based on Income

The nominal deduction and the Deduction Limits are not the end of the story.

If the investor’s personal taxable income is less than $157,500 ($315,000 for a married couple filing a joint return), then the Deduction Limits don’t apply and he can just deduct the flat 20%. And if his personal taxable income is less than $207,500 ($415,000 on a joint return) then the Deduction Limits are, in effect, phased out, depending on where in the spectrum his taxable income falls.

Those dollar limits are indexed for inflation.

ABC, LLC and XYZ, LLC

Bill Smith owns equity interests in two limited liability companies: a 3% interest in ABC, LLC; and a 2% interest in XYZ, LLC. Both generate taxable income. Bill’s share of the taxable income of ABC is $100 and his share of the taxable income of XYZ is $150.

ABC owns an older apartment building, while XYZ owns a string of restaurants.

Like most real estate companies, ABC doesn’t pay any wages as such. Instead, it pays a related management company, Manager, LLC, $500 per year as an independent contractor. All of its personal property has been fully depreciated. Its depreciable real estate, including all the additions and renovations over the years, cost $20,000.

Restaurants pay lots of wages but don’t have much in the way of depreciable assets (I’m assuming XYZ leases its premises). XYZ paid $3,000 of wages and has $1,000 of depreciable assets, but half those assets are older than 10 years and beyond their depreciable useful life, leaving only $500.

Bill and his wife file a joint return and have taxable income of $365,000.

Bill’s Deductions

Calculation With Deduction Limits

Bill’s income from ABC was $100, so his maximum possible deduction is $20. The Deduction Limit is the greater of:

  • 3% of 50% of $0 = $0

OR

  • The sum of:
    • 3% of 25% of $0 = 0; plus
    • 3% of 2.5% of $20,000 = $15 = $15

Thus, ignoring his personal taxable income for the moment, Bill may deduct $15, not $20, against his $100 of income from ABC.

NOTE: If ABC ditches the management agreement and pays its own employees directly, it increases Bill’s deduction by 3% of 25% of $500, or $3.75.

Bill’s income from XYZ was $150, so his maximum possible deduction is $30. The Deduction Limit is the greater of:

  • 2% of 50% of $3,000 = $30

OR

  • The sum of:
    • 2% of 25% of $3,000 = 15; plus
    • 2% of 2.5% of $500 = $0.25 = $15.25

Thus, even ignoring his personal taxable income, Bill may deduct the whole $30 against his $150 of income from XYZ.

Calculation Based on Personal Taxable Income

Bill’s personal taxable income doesn’t affect the calculation for XYZ, because he was allowed the full 20% deduction even taking the Deduction Limits into account.

For ABC, Bill’s nominal 20% deduction was $20, but under the Deduction Limits it was reduced by $5, to $15.

If Bill and his wife had taxable income of $315,000 or less, they could ignore the Deduction Limits entirely and deduct the full $20. If they had taxable income of $415,000 or more, they would be limited to the $15. Because their taxable income is $365,000, halfway between $315,000 and $415,000, they are subject, in effect, to half the Deduction Limits, and can deduct $17.50 (and if their income were a quarter of the way they would be subject to a quarter of the Deduction Limits, etc.).

***

Because most real estate projects and startups generate losses in the early years, the effect of section 199A on the Crowdfunding and ICO markets might be muted. Nevertheless, I expect some changes:

  • Many real estate sponsors will at least explore doing away with management agreements in favor of employing staff on a project-by-project basis.
  • Every company anticipating taxable income should analyze whether investors will be entitled to a deduction.
  • Because lower-income investors aren’t subject to the Deduction Limits, maybe Title III offerings and Regulation A offerings to non-accredited investors become more attractive, relatively speaking.
  • I expect platforms and issuers to advertise “Eligible for 20% Deduction!” Maybe even with numbers.
  • The allocation of total cost between building and land, already important for depreciation, is now even more important, increasing employment for appraisers.
  • Now every business needs to keep track of wages and the cost of property, and report each investor’s share on Form K-1. So the cost of accounting will go up.

As for filing your tax return on a postcard? It better be a really big postcard.

Regulation A+ Is Here

A Plus Walking the Red CarpetWell, that didn’t take long.

It’s been a mere 457 days since the SEC proposed regulations under Title IV of the JOBS Act, aka Regulation A+, and a mere 1,070 days since the JOBS Act was signed into law. Yet the SEC approved final regulations today, with just a few tweaks from the proposed rules. Regulation A+ will go into effect in roughly 60 days.

The most important provisions of the proposed regulations survived intact: companies will be allowed to raise up to $50 million – from anyone, not just accredited investors – without approval from state regulators. You will still have to file a thick offering statement with the SEC, and investors – both accredited and non-accredited – will still be limited to investing 10% of the greater of income or net worth. Nevertheless, I expect Regulation A+ to be used very widely, indeed to transform the Crowdfunding landscape.

I’ll be providing a link to the final regulations shortly (as well as a bunch of other useful links), as well as some thoughts about where Regulation A+ will be most useful.

Title III, anybody?

Questions? Let me know.

Why Delaware?

Why are most Crowdfunding entities formed in Delaware? Two reasons.

First, Delaware has very good business laws and a very good system for adjudicating business disputes. Here’s what I mean:

  • Delaware’s business laws – and by that I mean the laws governing limited liability companies and corporations – are very flexible. In the hands of a capable corporate lawyer, Delaware’s laws can be used to do just about anything you want to do, i.e., can implement just about any business deal.Delaware_CF State
  • For better or worse, Delaware’s laws are tilted in favor of management. That means those running the show – and those running the show pick where the entity is incorporated – can get more or less what they want. As an example, Delaware allows the manager of a limited liability company to disclaim all fiduciary responsibilities to the members. Most states do not.
  • Delaware has a whole court system devoted to adjudicating disputes among business entities and their owners and managers. In most states, the judge hearing a business dispute in the morning is hearing auto accident cases all afternoon and is probably a former personal injury lawyer herself. First among the country’s business-only courts, Delaware’s Court of Chancery enjoys a deserved reputation for professionalism.

Second, because Delaware entities are used so widely, lawyers across the country are familiar with Delaware law. If two real estate investments are offered on a Crowdfunding portal, one incorporated under Delaware law and the other incorporated under Missouri law, the Delaware company has a head start in attracting investors solely on the basis of familiarity, at least outside Missouri.

There is one important exception. Under Federal Rule 147, an entity raising money through the intrastate Crowdfunding exemption of State X must be incorporated in State X, not in Delaware.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick.

INTEGRATION OF REGULATION A+ OFFERINGS WITH OTHER OFFERINGS

Yesterday I spoke about Regulation A+ on a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. One topic was whether offerings under Regulation A+ would be “integrated” with other offerings, including offerings under Title II.

The word “integration” describes a legal concept in U.S. securities laws, where two offerings that the issuer intends to keep separate are treated as one offering instead. For example, I raise $1 million in an offering under Rule 506(b), where I admit 19 non-accredited investors. Needing more money, I start another offering under Rule 506(b) a month later – and for the same project – and admit 23 more non-accredited investors. Wrong! The SEC says those two offerings are “integrated” and now I’ve exceeded the limit of 35 non-accredited investors.growth captial summit

Today, entrepreneurs can raise money under Title II Crowdfunding only from accredited investors. Under Regulation A+ they’ll be able to raise money from non-accredited investors as well, vastly expanding the potential investor base. Unlike a Title II offering, however, where accredited investors can invest an unlimited amount, an investor in a Regulation A+ offering, accredited or non-accredited, will be limited to investing 10% of his or her income or net worth.

The question naturally arises, why not do a Regulation A+ offering for non-accredited investors while at the same time doing a Title II offering for accredited investors, thus maximizing the amount raised from everyone?

The answer, unfortunately, is integration. The two offerings would be treated as one, and they would both fail as a result.

But along with that bad news, the integration rules under the proposed-but-not-adopted Regulation A+ regulations offer good news as well:

  • A Regulation A+ offering will not be integrated with an offering that came first. Thus, I can raise money in a Title II offering, accepting an unlimited amount from accredited investors, and the day after that offering ends conduct a Regulation A+ offering for non-accredited investors.
  • A Regulation A+ offering will not be integrated with an offering to foreign investors under Regulation S. The two can happen simultaneously.
  • A Regulation A+ offering will not be integrated with an offering that begins more than six months after the Regulation A+ offering ends.
  • A Regulation A+ offering will not be integrated with a Title III offering, even if they happen at the same time.

Another takeaway from the conference is that the SEC plans to finalize the proposed regulations under Regulation A+ by the end of the year (this year). Issuers and portals, get ready.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

A MODEL STATE CROWDFUNDING LAW

Model State CFI was asked recently to draft a Crowdfunding statute for Texas, to augment the proposals made by the Texas State Securities Board. Having done that, I have turned my Texas statute into a model law that could be used by any state, including the handful that have already adopted Crowdfunding in one form or another. The model law is a PDF here.

I drafted the model statute with these goals:

  • To balance the interests of investors, entrepreneurs, and state securities regulators;
  • To reflect the lessons I’ve learned over more than 30 years in the capital formation business;
  • To capture the current best practices of states and the Federal government;
  • To introduce new concepts that will allow Crowdfunding to flourish; and
  • As a Jeffersonian believer in Federalism, to leave space for state-by-state experimentation.

These are some of the key features:

  • The statute relies on portals that will be registered with state securities regulators. The same portal could be registered in more than one state and, indeed, could male offerings at the Federal level as well.
  • The statute imposes disclosure requirements that mirror the disclosures typically made in private placement transactions.
  • The statute expands the concept of “control persons.”
  • The statute requires that state securities regulators have 24/7 real-time access to any material shown to prospective investors.
  • The statute introduces and expands the Federal “bad actor” concept.
  • The statute raises investment limits for truly local projects, to encourage local investing.
  • The statute expands the definition of “accredited investor.”
  • The statute allows issuers to raise up to $2 million per offering.
  • The statute prohibits issuers from seeking to limit their liability for fraud or misrepresentation.
  • The statute gives state regulators broad latitude to modify in accordance with local conditions.

Everything is about balance. Without overwhelming issuers with bureaucracy, the statute protects investors and creates an ecosystem where capitalism can flourish.

I’m going to be reaching out to states with the model law. I would love to hear your input and advice.

Questions? Contact Mark Roderick at Flaster/Greenberg PC.

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