New "repair" regulations continue to demand action
More than six months after the IRS issued temporary "repair" regulations (T.D. 9564), many complex questions remain about their interpretation and application. These regulations are sweeping in their impact. They have been called game-changers for good reason, affecting all businesses in one way or another and carrying with them both mandatory and optional requirements. Many of these requirements also carry fairly short deadlines.
The new regulations are generally effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2012. However, certain portions are effective for amounts paid or incurred in tax years beginning on or after January 2, 2012, a subtle but important difference. To complicate matters further, the regulations are, in effect, retroactive insofar as accounting method changes are needed to be filed with the IRS in many cases and adjustments made to reflect these changes.
The new regulations are called “temporary” only because the IRS reserves the right to fine-tune them and issue “final” regulations – the IRS may do this before year end, but it has a three year deadline to do so. In the meantime, the “temporary” regulations stand in as the law.
The new regulations present both compliance challenges and planning opportunities. The major take away from examining these new regulations is that it is to the advantage of virtually all businesses to reconsider how they treat certain repairs and improvements for tax purposes.
The following highlights cover only some of the many changes made by the new repair regulations:
Materials and supplies. The definition of materials and supplies has been revised along with the rules for determining the proper tax year for a deduction. The new regulations allow an election to capitalize materials and supplies, and contain special rules for rotable spare parts.
De minimis expensing. Taxpayers with an "applicable financial statement," such as a certified audited financial statement, may now claim a current deduction for the cost of acquiring items of relatively low-cost property, including materials and supplies, if specific requirements are met. Under the general rule, materials and supplies are usually deducted in the tax year used or consumed. The new election to deduct materials and supplies under the de minimis rule is particularly helpful if the tax year in which the cost of the materials and supplies is paid or incurred occurs before the tax year of use or consumption.
Amounts paid to acquire or produce tangible property. This portion of the regulations explains which costs associated with the acquisition or production of real or personal property must be capitalized to the basis of the property and which costs may be claimed as a current deduction.
Amounts paid to improve tangible property. This is the heart of the new regulations which provides rules for distinguishing repairs from capital expenditures. It divides capital expenditures into three categories of improvements: betterments, restorations, and adaptations. Generally, whether an expenditure is an improvement is based on facts and circumstances. A safe harbor rule is provided for routine maintenance activities. Also, certain regulated taxpayers may elect to use their regulatory accounting method to distinguish between repairs and capital expenditures.
Unit of property defined. The "unit of property" is a critical concept in determining whether an expenditure is a repair or capital expenditure. Generally, the larger the unit of property, the more likely that work on that property will be considered a deductible repair. The regulation contains detailed rules for determining the size of a unit of property in the case of buildings and other types of property. Planning opportunities present themselves within this framework.
MACRS general asset accounts. MACRS stands for modified accelerated cost recovery system, which is the basis system now used for the tax depreciation of most assets. Importantly, an election to recognize gain or loss by reference to the adjusted basis of an asset disposed of from a GAA now applies to virtually any asset disposed of. Previously, a taxpayer was usually required to recognize the entire amount realized upon a disposition as ordinary income, and no loss deduction was allowed. Bottom line: A taxpayer may now place an asset, such as a building, in a GAA and—whenever an asset, such as a structural component, is retired—choose whether to follow the GAA default rule that no loss is recognized or elect to recognize a loss equal to the adjusted depreciable basis of the asset.
Businesses that previously retired a structural component which is currently still being depreciated will need to change accounting methods to bring the treatment of the structural component into compliance with the new rules. For most taxpayers, the change in method will involve making a retroactive MACRS general asset account election and then deciding whether to claim a loss on the retired component through a so-called 481(a) adjustment or to continue to depreciate the retired component.