The Treasury and IRS have issued final regulations excepting certain partnership-related items from the centralized partnership audit regime created by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA), providing alternative examination rules for the excepted items, conforming the existing centralized audit regime regulations to Internal Revenue Code changes, and clarifying the existing audit regime rules. The regulations finalize with revisions 2020 proposed regulations ( REG-123652-18).
Centralized Partnership Audit Regime
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA, P.L. 114-74) replaced the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA, P.L. 97-248) partnership procedures with a centralized partnership audit regime for making partnership adjustments and tax determinations, assessments, and collections at the partnership level. These changes were further amended by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act, P.L. 114-113) and the Tax Technical Corrections Act of 2018 (TTCA, P.L. 115-141). The centralized audit regime, as amended, generally applies to returns filed for partnership tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. A partnership with no more than 100 partners may generally elect out of the centralized audit regime if all the partners are eligible partners.
Under the post-2017 centralized partnership audit regime, the IRS examines “partnership-related items” of all domestic and foreign partnerships and their partners. A “partnership-related item” is any item relevant to the determination of the income tax liability of any person. However, Code Sec. 6241(11), added by the BBA, authorizes Treasury to except “special enforcement matters” from the centralized partnership audit regime and to issue regulations providing alternative assessment and collection rules for those matters. The 2020 proposed regulations and these final regulations implement Code Sec. 6241(11) and make changes to previously issued final regulations pertaining to the centralized partnership audit regime.
Special Enforcement Matters
Code Sec. 6241(11) sets forth six categories of “special enforcement matters”:
- (1) failures to comply with the requirements for a partnership partner or S corporation partner to furnish statements or compute and pay an imputed underpayment;
- (2) assessments relating to termination assessments of income tax or jeopardy assessments of income, estate, gift, and certain excise taxes;
- (3) criminal investigations;
- (4) indirect methods of proof of income;
- (5) foreign partners or partnerships; and
- (6) other matters identified in IRS regulations.
The final regulations add three new types of special enforcement matters:
- partnership-related items underlying non-partnership-related items;
- relationship of a partner to the partnership under the Code Sec. 267(b) or Code Sec. 707(b) related-party rules and extensions of the partner’s period of limitations; and
- penalties and taxes imposed on the partnership under chapter 1.
The final regulations also require the IRS to provide written notice of most special enforcement matters to taxpayers to whom the adjustments are being made.
In addition, the final regulations clarify that the IRS may adjust partnership-level items for a partner or indirect partner without regard to the centralized audit regime if the adjustment relates to termination and jeopardy assessments, the partner is under criminal investigation, or the adjustment is based on an indirect method of proof of income.
However, the final regulations provide that a determination about partnership-related items made outside of the centralized partnership regime is not binding on any person who is not a party to that proceeding. The final regulations clarify that neither the partnership nor the other partners are bound by a determination regarding a partnership-related item from a partner-level examination and that neither the partnership nor the other partners need to adjust their returns.
In addition, the special-enforcement-matter rules do not apply to the extent a partner can demonstrate that adjustments to partnership-related items in the deficiency or an adjustment by the IRS were (i) previously taken into account under the centralized audit regime by the person being examined or (ii) included in an imputed underpayment paid by a partnership (or pass-through partner) for any tax year in which the partner was a reviewed-year partner (but only if the amount exceeds the amount reported by the partnership to the partner that was either reported by the partner or included in the deficiency or adjustment).
The IRS and Treasury believe that a mechanism must exist for including adjustments from a centralized-regime audit in the partnership’s imputed underpayment, even if the partnership elects to “push out” the adjustment to its partners.
Under existing regulations for calculating imputed underpayments, an adjustment to a non-income item (that is, an item that is not an item of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit) that is related to, or results from, an adjustment to an item of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit is generally treated as zero. The final regulations require a partnership to take into account an adjustment to a non-income item on its adjustment-year return by adjusting the item to be consistent with the adjustment, but only to the extent the item would appear on that return without regard to the adjustment. If the item already appeared on the partnership’s adjustment-year return as a non-income item or the item appeared as a non-income item on any return of the partnership for a tax year between the reviewed year and the adjustment year, the partnership does not create a new item on the partnership’s adjustment-year return.
The final regulations provide that if the partnership is required to adjust its basis in an asset, the partnership does so in the adjustment year; however, the partnership only recognizes income and gain as a result of the basis adjustment in situations in which income or gain would be recognized. The final regulations also demonstrate how adjustments to liabilities are taken into account when they do not result in an imputed underpayment, and how an amended return should reflect adjustments to non-income items.
The final regulations follow the proposed regulations in allowing either the IRS or the partnership to treat an adjustment to a non-income item as zero. The final regulations also permit a partnership to treat such an adjustment as zero if the adjustment is related to, or results from, another adjustment to a non-income item. The partnership may not, however, treat such an adjustment as zero if one adjustment is positive and the other is negative.
Partnership Ceasing to Exist
Code Sec. 6241 states that if a partnership ceases to exist before any partnership adjustments take effect, the former partners of the partnership must take the adjustments into account in the manner prescribed in regulations. The final regulations clarify that even if a partnership has ceased to exist, it may make the election to push out the adjustments, request modification of the imputed underpayment, or pay the imputed underpayment within ten days of notice and demand for payment.
A section of the proposed regulations that would define “former partners” is not included in the final regulations and remains proposed.
Effective and Applicability Dates
The final regulations, which are effective December 8, 2022, apply to tax years ending on or after November 20, 2020 (except that final Reg. § 301.6241-7(b) applies to tax years beginning after December 20, 2018).