In Rev. Proc. 2015-20, the IRS substantially simplified the requirements for small businesses to adopt the tangible property regulations (the ‘repair regulations’) for 2014. The relief allows small businesses to change their accounting methods, to comply with the regulations, without having to apply Code Sec. 481 and without having to file Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method.
The repair regulations are broad and comprehensive, applying to any business that uses tangible property. The regulations totally redo the rules for deducting and capitalizing expenses associated with fixed assets. IRS adopted final regulations in September 2013, effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. Taxpayers also have the option of applying the final regulations in 2012 and/or 2013.
Change of accounting method
Taxpayers ordinarily have to file Form 3115 to request IRS consent to change a method of accounting. The IRS provided automatic consent for taxpayers to change their accounting methods to comply with the repair regulations, but this did not relieve taxpayers of the requirement to file Form 3115. Furthermore, taxpayers changing their accounting method must apply Code Sec. 481(a), which requires them to calculate an adjustment to their accounting treatment of the same items for prior years, as if the new method were used in the prior years. Code Sec. 481 is designed to prevent any duplication of deductions or omission of income upon a change in accounting method.
Small businesses in particular had complained to the IRS about the burden of implementing the regulations with a full Code Sec. 481 adjustment. Taxpayers would be required to go back in time (as far back as their books allow) and redo their analysis of prior year tangible property costs.
The IRS has now responded by providing relief from the requirements for changing an accounting method. Small business taxpayers can make the change without filing Form 3115 and without having to make a 481 adjustment. Instead, taxpayers can make the change on a ‘cutoff’ basis, by taking into account only amounts paid or incurred, and dispositions of property, in their 2014 tax year. In effect, small business taxpayers can make the change prospectively.
The relief applies to a taxpayer that has one or more separate and distinct trade(s) or business(es) with either total assets under $10 million at the start of the 2014 tax year, or that has average annual gross receipts of $10 million or less for the prior three years.
Because the IRS provided automatic consent, taxpayers making the change for 2014 would not have to file Form 3115 until the deadline for their 2014 income tax return, either March 15 or, with an extension, September 15. So taxpayers (and their tax representatives) are right in the middle of the process to comply with the regulations for 2014. The timing of the IRS’s relief, in February 2015, is opportune, and gives small businesses plenty of time to comply with the regulations for 2014.
The relief is elective. Small businesses can follow normal change of accounting procedures, or can use the relief provided in Rev. Proc. 2015-20. There are trade-offs to claiming the relief. For some taxpayers, there may be tax savings from applying Code Sec. 481 to prior years, regardless of the burden involved to make the calculations. Furthermore, taxpayers that do not file Form 3115 will not get audit protection for tax years before 2014.
Rev. Proc. 2015-20, IR-2015-29
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