New Limitations on Deductions for Interest Payments May Impact Many Family BusinessesThe new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits the ability of many businesses to deduct interest payments. Under prior law, any interest expense was generally deductible. Now, many businesses are prohibited from deducting any interest expense that exceeds 30 percent of adjusted taxable income.

Before January 1, 2022, the formula for calculating net taxable income generally approximates EBITDA. Beginning in 2022, the formula will generally approximate EBIT. The EBIT formula will make the limitation even more restrictive for capital intensive businesses that finance equipment acquisitions with debt because they will be prohibited from adding back depreciation and amortization expenses to earnings for purposes of calculating the 30 percent limitation. When the EBIT formula becomes effective, it will apply to all debt regardless of whether incurred before or after 2022.

Several key points concerning the new limitation include:

  • The limitation does not apply to businesses with less than $25 million in average gross receipts for a trailing three-year period.
  • The gross receipts of related businesses are combined for purposes of the $25 million test. If the combined receipts exceed $25 million, the 30 percent limitation applies to each business.
  • Real property businesses (including development, construction, rental, management, leasing and brokerage businesses) are allowed to make an irrevocable election out of the business interest deduction limitation, but if so electing must use the alternative depreciation system for their nonresidential real property, residential rental property, and qualified improvement property.
  • Disallowed interest expenses may be carried forward indefinitely.

Family businesses subject to the new limitation should reassess their current debt profile. Beginning in 2022, family businesses in capital intensive industries may have little or no ability to deduct interest payments. In addition, family businesses that are looking to make a debt-financed acquisition, or that are considering a sale of their business, may be negatively impacted by the new limitation. It is generally anticipated that the limitation will raise the cost of debt-financed acquisitions.

New Tax Law Makes Asset Deals More Attractive for Family Business OwnersBuyers often prefer to structure family business acquisitions as taxable asset purchases. In a taxable asset purchase, the buyer is entitled to write up the basis of the seller’s assets to fair market value, and then going forward, receive a tax benefit by depreciating the assets. In addition, a buyer is entitled to amortize goodwill (i.e., the portion of the purchase price in excess of the fair market value of the purchased assets) over 15 years.

Under prior tax law, selling assets was often cost-prohibitive for a family business taxed as a C-corporation. The combined federal rate under prior tax law was 48 percent (resulting from a 35 percent corporate tax rate combined with a 20 percent tax rate on dividends received by non-corporate shareholders). When buyers insisted on an asset purchase and the owners of the seller were unwilling to pay half of their sales proceeds in taxes, the deal was likely to fall apart.

Under the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the corporate tax rate was permanently reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent. The lower rate makes asset sales more attractive for sellers. Now, the combined federal rate is 36.8 percent, as compared to 48 percent under prior law. Asset sales are no longer as costly as they were for family business sellers.

Under the new tax law, there is also an additional incentive that makes buyers even more likely to favor asset acquisitions. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act now allows for full expensing of most types of “qualified property” acquired after September 27, 2017. Significantly, “qualified property” includes used property acquired from any unrelated party. Because full expensing applies to used property, asset purchasers can now deduct the portion of the purchase price allocable to qualified property.

The lower corporate tax rate, together with immediate expensing of qualified property, makes asset deals more attractive for buyers and sellers.

On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “2017 Act”) which, among other items, made several changes to the federal wealth transfer tax system with respect to transfers occurring during calendar years 2018 through 2025.

Background

Prior to enactment of the 2017 Act, the first $5 million (as adjusted for inflation in years after 2011) of transferred property could be exempted from gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax. For estates of individuals dying and making gifts in 2017, the applicable inflation-adjusted exemption amount was approximately $5.5 million (or $11 million for a married couple).

New Law

Under the 2017 Act, this basic exemption amount was doubled from $5 million to $10 million, which, after being indexed for inflation, is now $11,180,000 for 2018 (or $22,360,000 per married couple). However, the increased exemption amounts are scheduled to “sunset” or revert on January 1, 2026, to the 2017 levels, as adjusted for inflation.

Considerations for Action

What should individuals do in response to these changes in the estate, gift and GST tax law? The following is a summary of some of the initial issues to consider in light of the 2017 Act:

Review your current will and estate plan.

The substantially increased estate tax exemption amount may permit the wills of married couples to be simplified. For the past 30+ years, the wills of many clients have included tax-planning provisions creating a so-called “bypass trust” or “family trust” to protect the estate tax exemption of the first spouse to die of a married couple. While there are many non-tax reasons to continue to use such a trust, the increased $11,180,000 estate exemption may enable some married couples to eliminate such a trust and allow assets to be given outright to the surviving spouse.

In addition, many wills and other estate planning documents are designed to minimize estate taxes through the use of formula provisions that are dependent on the estate tax exemption amount, the GST tax exemption amount, or both. Because of the changes under the 2017 Act, these formula provisions may produce serious unintended consequences for a person dying between 2018 and 2025, including the possibility of materially altering the intended beneficiaries receiving property under a person’s will.

For example, assume that a person’s will makes a gift equal to “the largest amount that can pass free of federal estate tax” to his or her children, with the remainder of property given to such person’s spouse, and that person has less than $11,180,000 million of assets passing through his or her will. If this person dies while the 2017 Act is in effect, the children may receive 100% of this person’s property and the surviving spouse may receive no property. Other examples would include wills that have similar formula provisions to make charitable gifts or generation-skipping gifts for grandchildren.

We think it is very important that you consider these recent changes in the tax law in connection with your current estate plan and encourage you to review these matters as one of your 2018 New Year’s resolutions. At a minimum, you should be aware of the possible impact of the 2017 Act on your estate plan and should consider what changes, if any, should be made to your will and other estate planning documents.

Make current gifts for family members.

For individuals who want to make gifts to family members, gifts may be made during 2018 that utilize an individual’s unused $11,180,000 gift tax exemption amount, or $22,360,000 gift tax exemption amount per married couple (taking into account prior gifts). Such a gift may be made outright or in trust, and unused GST exemption may be allocated to a gift into a long-term trust to protect it from future estate and GST taxes. You may also want to leverage these gifts using your gift and GST tax exemption amounts through other estate planning strategies, such as sales of assets to grantor trusts, intra-family loans, grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs), and split-interest charitable trusts.