International Financial Law Prof Blog

Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Sunday, March 15, 2020

What will be the impact of the Covid-19 (coronavirus) on tax filings due by April 15? (Or will we all be eaten by zombies by then?)

If the illness known as Covid-19 generated by the coronavirus does not cause a zombie apocalypse (it's almost April 1st, expect wide coverage of zombies in your neighborhood), then we still need to plan for our tax payments due April 15th this year. Not talking about 2019 but rather the first of the 2020 estimated tax payments.  However, it is likely that taxpayers with business or investment income may reduce the 2020 quarterly estimated tax payments that will be due April 15 this year, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of 2021.  Why?

2019 was a good income year for most taxpayers earning investment and business income.  But 2020 will likely be a depressed income year, maybe even a recession (for those not eaten by zombies). Thus, estimated tax payments to avoid a penalty, generally, 90% of the tax that is estimated to be due for 2020, should be much reduced from the 2019 level paid. (Contrarian investor taxpayers that shorted the market may actually need to make higher estimated taxpayers because the contrarians are likely to have a great capital gain year).

What are the changes enacted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that, because of the coronavirus, impact 2020's estimated tax payments?

  • A taxpayer's ability to reduce tax because of a net operating loss ("NOL") in 2020 has been reduced by the TCJA. An NOL resulting in 2020 cannot be applied to taxes paid in the previous two-years of 2019 and 2018 to claw those taxes back.  Before the TCJA, the NOL "carry-back" of two-years was allowed.  NOLs may still be carried forward.  Excess NOL in 2020 may be used to reduce 2021's income and thus tax due.

However, the TCJA even modifies how much NOL may be used to reduce 2020's taxable income.  Starting in 2018, the TCJA modified the tax law on "excess business losses" by limiting losses from all types of business for noncorporate taxpayers. An "excess business loss" is the amount of a taxpayer's total deductions from business income that exceeds a taxpayer’s "total gross income and capital gains from business plus $250,000 for an individual taxpayer or $500,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return."  Said another way, the business loss in 2020 is limited to a maximum of $250,000 for an individual taxpayer. Yet, the remainder does not evaporate like a vampire stabbed with a stake in the heart.  The remainder may be carried forward to 2021.  The remainder is called a "net operating loss" or NOL.

But the TCJA has another limitation for the carry forward of an NOL.  The NOL may only be used in 2021 to reduce the taxpayer's taxable income by 80%.  The remainder NOL in 2021, if any, that resulted from 2020's original loss and 2021's limitation to just 80% of taxable income may again be carried forward, to 2022, yet again subject to the 80% of taxable income limitation.  The NOL may keep rolling forward indefinitely, subject to the 80% limitation until it is all used.

  • High net wealth taxpayers that generate gross receipts greater than $26 million may be subject to the TCJA's limitation of interest expense for 2020. The TCJA included a rule that limits the amount of interest associated with a taxpayer's business income when the taxpayer has on average annual gross receipts of more than $26 million since 2018.  The limitation does not apply to a taxpayer whose business income is generated from providing services as an employee, and a taxpayer that generates business income from real estate may elect not to have the limitation apply.

The amount of deductible business interest expense that is above a taxpayer's business interest income is limited to 30% of the taxpayer’s adjusted taxable income (called "ATI").  For 2020, ATI will probably be significantly lower than in 2019 and 2018. A taxpayer calculated ATI taking the year's taxable income then reducing it by the business interest expense as if the limitation did not apply. The remaining amount is then further reduced by any net operating loss deduction; the 20% deemed deduction for qualified business income, any depreciation, amortization, or depletion deduction, and finally, any capital loss.  The business interest expense allowable for 2020 is 30% of that remainder.  The lost business income resulting from the coronavirus in 2020 may lead the remainder to be zero, and 30% of zero is zero.  Like the NOL above, the business interest expense if not usable in 2020 does not vanish. It carries forward to 2021 and each year thereafter, applying the same limitation rules each year.

  • Many taxpayers may end 2020 in a capital loss position if the stock market does not fully recover by December.  If a taxpayer’s capital losses are more than the year's capital gains, then $3,000 of that loss may be deducted from the taxpayer's 2020 regular income.  Remaining capital loss above the $3,000 may be carried forward to apply against 2021 income, and so on until used up.
  • The IRS may offer taxpayers more time beyond the April 15th deadline to file and pay 2019's tax in 2020.  The filing and payment for 2019, and estimated tax for 2020, is due on or before April 15. But the IRS has indicated that it may extend that deadline.  A taxpayer may, regardless, file a request for a six-month extension on or before April 15, 2020, that is automatically granted if filed on time. But any tax owing for 2019 will still be due April 15, 2020, after which interest begins to be charged by the IRS to the taxpayer's tax debt.   Check the IRS website here for whether, because of the coronavirus, it has extended the payment deadline beyond April 15, 2020. Can the IRS extend the deadline, legally? Yes. Because Congress enacted a section of the Internal Revenue Code (our tax law) "§ 7508A" which is aptly named "Authority to postpone certain deadlines by reason of Presidentially declared disaster or terroristic or military actions".  The President declared an official national emergency (see here). 
  • Taxpayers are not required to exhaust the deductible required by a high-deductible health plan (called "HDHP") before using the HDHP to pay for COVID-19 related testing and treatment.

I'll be covering these and related issues in my weekly Tax Facts Intelligence Newsletter.

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