How Do I? Determine when the "at risk" rules apply to my business

Taxpayers that invest in a trade or business or an activity for the production of income can only deduct losses from the activity or business if the taxpayer is at risk for the investment. A taxpayer is at risk for the amount of cash and the basis of property contributed to the activity. Taxpayers are also at risk for amounts borrowed if the taxpayer is personally liable to pay the liability, or if the taxpayer has pledged property as security for the loan (other than property already used in the business).

At-risk or not?

A taxpayer is not at risk for a nonrecourse loan, since there is no personal liability. However, amounts at risk include "qualified nonrecourse financing" used in connection with the holding of real estate. A taxpayer also is not at risk for contributions that are protected against loss by a guarantee, stop loss arrangement, or other similar arrangement. For certain activities, such as farming, oil and gas exploration, motion pictures, and the leasing of Code Sec. 1245 property, a taxpayer is not at risk for amounts borrowed from related persons or from persons who have an interest in the activity (other than as a creditor).

Scope of at-risk rules

The at-risk rules apply to all trade or business activities and to activities for the production of income. The rules apply to individuals, partners, S corporation shareholders, estates, trusts, and certain closely-held corporations. The at-risk rules generally do not apply to widely-held C corporations, whether public or private. There also is an exception for equipment leasing activities of closely-held corporations.

Deduction of losses

The taxpayer's amount at risk limits the allowable loss from the activity.  The loss subject to the at-risk limitation is the excess of allowable deductions over the income received from the activity for that year. Under proposed regulations under Code Sec. 465, losses that are allowed as deductions for the tax year reduce the taxpayer's at-risk amount for the activity for the succeeding year. Losses that are denied under the at-risk rules can be carried over to subsequent years and deducted against amounts at risk in the subsequent years.

Adjustment of amount at risk

The amount at risk must be adjusted each year. At the close of the tax year, the following procedures are used to determine the amount at risk:

  • As stated above, amounts at risk at the end of the prior year must be reduced by the amount of loss allowed in that prior year;
  • Amounts at risk are increased by items, such as contributions of money or property, that add to the amount at risk; and
  • Amounts at risk are decreased by items, such as withdrawals of money or property, which reduce the amount at risk.

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