Partnership Late Filing Penalty – Rev Proc 84-35 and TEFRA

I have written two prior posts on this issue, and there has been a lot of discussion and important contributions from readers, so I wanted to compile all the information in one post.

The Basics:

Partnerships and entities taxed as partnerships (LLC, LLP, etc) are required to file annual returns by 4/15.  A five month extension is available, making the final deadline 9/15.  Strict penalties are assessed by the IRS if you file late.

The penalty is currently $195 “per partner, per month” that the return is late.  This can add up really fast, and average late filing penalties result in several thousand dollars of non-deductible fees that the IRS is making more and more difficult to get removed.

It does not matter if your business taxed as a partnership did not make any money or never really took off – if you registered for an EIN# or have filed previous returns, you need to follow through and returns annually.  The IRS is not going to listen to they type of excuses.

Abatement Option #1 – Rev Proc 84-35

If the partners or LLC/LLP members filed their personal returns timely (4/15 or extended and filed by 10/15), then you may have a get out jail card that has been available for over a decade now and provides automatic penalty abatement.

Here is the complete list of factors:

  • The partnership has to be a domestic partnership,
  • have 10 or fewer partners (husband and wife and their estate are treated as one partner),
  • all partners have to be natural persons (other than a nonresident alien) or an estate of a deceased partner,
  • each partner’s share of each partnership item has to be the same as their share of every other item,
  • all partners need to have timely filed their income tax returns, and
  • all the partners need to have fully reported their share of the income, deductions, and credits of the partnership on their timely filed income tax returns.

If you meet all these requirements, your first response to a partnership late filing penalty letter from the IRS needs to look like this sample letter.

Now, it seems the IRS has grown tired of Rev Proc 84-35 abatement requests, as they have been trying to shift the discussion of penalty abatement to “reasonable cause”.  Do not let them do this!  Rev Proc 84-35 is available if you meet the criteria.  Even if you have claimed it several years, do not let them try to claim that they cannot abate the penalty or get you side-tracked with a reasonable cause argument – stick to citing Rev Proc 84-35 until you get your abatement.

Important!  This does not work for S corporations and LLCs taxed as S corporations.  A similar Rev Proc for automatic abatement was unfortunately never created for them.  For more information, read my post on S corp late filing abatement.

Abatement Option #2 – The TEFRA Complication

A few years ago, the IRS was looking to raise revenue (they have lavish parties in Disneyland to pay for) and employed a new tactic to reduce partnership late filing penalty abatements.  They found that if a partnership had filed a TEFRA election, that they would not be eligible to use Rev Proc 84-35 to request abatement.  Suddenly, many CPAs who submitted standard Rev Proc 84-35 abatement requests were receiving denials with the IRS claiming the client had filed a TEFRA election.

For all the background on this complication, read my penalty update blog post, but the short story is that the IRS would claim the election was filed clear back in 2002 or earlier, and the client had to dig up a copy of the tax return to prove the election was not made or put together a letter – signed by all partners/members – stating that a TEFRA election had never been filed.  Even then, it often took many letters back and forth or messages on the now defunct IRS eServices resolution service.

I have personally dealt with this issue several times and was able to get abatement in each case; however, I have not had to deal with it in over a year.  Fortunately, some PDXCPA blog readers have had some more current experience, and there was really good information shared in the comments section of the prior posts.  Specifically, Melissa F. Hill, CPA provided a sample abatement letter and backup documentation that became a popular request on this blog.  The documents she has been emailing to readers are available below:

I like Melissa’s sample letter, as that is how you should frame you argument – cite Rev Proc 84-35 and then maintain that a TEFRA election was never filed and request they provide their proof of the election.  A letter signed by all partners maintaining that the election has never been filed helps as well.

Sometimes they will respond with a tax year that they claim the TEFRA election was made in, but then they will claim that it will take them awhile to get a copy from archives.  If you are organized and have a copy of the return, send them a copy and continue to maintain your assertion that the election was not filed and that Rev Proc 84-35 should apply.  You may have to be persistent and put up a strong fight for abatement, but keep trying and do not let them bring up reasonable cause.

Good luck!

Original post 1/5/09 – https://pdxcpa.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/partnership-late-filing-penalty-abatement/

Update post on TEFRA 10/1/12 – https://pdxcpa.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/partnership-late-filing-penalty-update/

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The Minority Owner Report, Part 1- LLCs and Partnerships

I am by no means a “precog”, nor can always predict when minority ownership in a small business will result in disaster, but my 14 years of experience with small business clients has taught me a great deal about what not to do when structuring a business and offering ownership to employees.

If you are currently a minority owner (<50% interest) in an LLC taxed as a partnership or a traditional partnership, or you are being offered such ownership, you may want to consider running away from the ownership if certain warning signs are present.  Also, I highly recommend having your tax professional and/or lawyer look everything over before you sign anything.  Business ownership is a lot like marriage, so know what you are getting into.

Minority Ownership Warning Signs in LLCs and Partnerships

The entity does not increase guaranteed payments by 5% to cover self-employment tax

When an employee becomes a partner or LLC member, their tax burden increases substantially because of the self-employment tax.  Generally, an employee pays social security and Medicare tax of 7.65% on gross wages, and the employer pays another 7.65%.  However, an active partner or LLC member is considered self-employed and has to pay both the employee and employer portions of social security and Medicare tax, which total 15.3%.  Fortunately, the IRS allows a deduction for one half of the self-employment taxes paid (just like the deduction available to employers), which results in an approximate net rate of 12%.  This means that a employee who becomes a partner or LLC member will incur a tax increase of approximately 5%.

Most companies do the right thing and give an employee transitioning to ownership enough additional income to cover this 5% tax increase.  The most effective means of doing this is to provide the additional income to the new partner or LLC member in the form of an increase to their regular guaranteed payment.  Employees are accustomed to predictable cash flow and regular tax withholdings, so the transition to making quarterly estimated tax payments at a higher tax rate can be difficult.  Additional income that is guaranteed and paid on a regular basis is going to ease that transition and insure that there is a tangible benefit to ownership.

Unfortunately, a surprising number of partnerships and LLCs do not provide additional income to employees transitioning to minority ownership, and often it can result in ownership that is actually a detriment to them as a result of the additional tax.  Usually, future profits are promised when selling ownership to the employees, and in some businesses, this works very well when consistent profits easily eclipse the 5% tax burden.  However, taxable business profits can be very unpredictable due to current accelerated tax depreciation rules and other complications, and in order to distribute profits during the year when they are helpful to the owners, a business has to keep very accurate accounting records.  Owners have to pay estimated tax payments quarterly, so the unpredictability of having to rely on distributions of profits can create a lot of dissension among owners – especially during periods of low profits or losses.  The sad irony for these businesses who are unwilling to pay the additional 5% in income to partners/LLC members is that they often make ownership offers to employees for the sole purpose of keeping them at the company, and often the tax burden on the new owners does the exact opposite after several years of seeing no benefit to ownership.

The entity is providing capital interest ownership in exchange for services

Giving ownership to an employee in exchange for services can actually work very well if structured correctly and all parties are properly informed of the tax ramifications.  However, ideal situations like this rarely happen in the real world, and usually such an arrangement results in a surprise tax bill for the employee receiving ownership.  Avoiding such a disaster requires an understanding of the most common types of interests available in small business organized as LLCs.

Capital Interest – this is the default type of LLC interest, as it is a complete ownership that entitles the holder to a share of profits and losses as well as a share of the proceeds from the sale of the LLC’s assets if the LLC liquidates.  A capital interest is most commonly given to employees brought on for succession planning purposes.

Profits Interest – this interest is like the capital interest, except a profit interest holder does not receive liquidating distributions from the LLC.  In other words, it is only an interest in future profits of the LLC and there is no initial capital balance for the member.  A profits interest is often given to key employees much like stock options are given to employees of corporations.  It is often intended as a form of additional compensation and a method to retain key personnel.

If you receive a capital interest in exchange for services, it is treated as current compensation in an amount equal to the fair market value of the capital interest at the grant date.  The problem is that most small businesses owners organized as LLCs are not aware of this, and rarely do they tell their CPA about such transactions in advance, so it often becomes an ugly year-end or tax-time surprise for the recipient, as they have taxable income to recognize and no cash to pay the tax with.  To make matters worse, most small business owners have no idea what the fair market value of their LLC is, so the transaction becomes very complex can create many problems down the road if not done correctly.  As an employee being offered such an interest, I strongly recommend asking the LLC to involve their CPA and/or lawyer so that the compensation is determined ahead of time.  This will allow you plan accordingly and look into options like the 754 election that can minimize the tax impact.

If you are granted a profits interest in an LLC, no taxable income is recognized as long as the interest satisfies the Revenue Procedure 93-27 safe harbor rules.  Most LLCs that offer a profits interest have already had a CPA and/or lawyer setup it up so that the rules are met, so in most cases it is a good deal for the employee receiving the interest.  However, it is important to get some prior financial statements and/or tax returns so that you can know what to expect, as sometimes start-ups give profit interests and then go several years without any recognized profit.

The entity does not have a method of equalizing expenses

Single-owner businesses have it very easy in the area of expenses, as they can spend how they want without having to justify to other owners or worry about trying to keep things equal.  In multi-owner businesses, there is a constant problem with equalization, as business partners are usually wired differently when it comes to spending and often have different tastes.  One LLC member may be tech savvy with smart phones and tablets and another may still prefer a flip phone and a paper legal pad, so it is crucial for a minority owner that an LLC or partnership have an established method of expense equalization in place.

The most flexible method of expense equalization is to have the operating agreement specifically state that the LLC or partnership will not reimburse partners for certain expenses and that they are required to pay for these expenses.  As long as it is properly setup in this way, each partner or member can deduct their unreimbursed partnership expenses on their own 1040 tax return on Schedule E page 2.  This allows each partner or member to be as lavish or frugal as they want without having to worry about the expenses of the other owners.  Often, meals and entertainment, automobile, travel, and office expenses are treated in this fashion.

The second best method is devising a special allocation where certain expenses are allocated 100% to certain owners against their guaranteed payments.  This can be elaborate or just a simple calculation done with the tax return preparation, but either way – LLCs and partnerships are extremely flexible in this area.  Just make sure the allocation is decided on well in advance, as it is much more difficult to agree on after expenses have already been paid.

That’s it for LLCs and partnerships.  In Part 2, I will concentrate on minority ownership issues in S corporations.