A few weeks ago, the Internal Revenue Service issued a notice stating they would be preparing regulations and guidance to clarify the treatment of income re-characterized for purposes of working around the new $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. So far, several states including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have passed legislation designed to enable high-income taxpayers to bypass the cap, with legislation pending elsewhere. In the notice, the IRS emphasized the “substance over form” doctrine, meaning they care about the actual substance of a payment, and not the name or form it may be given.
While the direct guidance remains to be seen, this is clearly bad news for the charitable contributions in lieu of taxes approach that California was looking into to, and will greatly reduce the itemized deductions of CA residents for 2018. The IRS has made clear in this notice that it is concerned with whether a payment is made in satisfaction of a tax liability, and not whether it is re-characterized in some other way. The impact on other workarounds, such as New York’s optional payroll tax swap or Connecticut’s entity-level tax swap, is not immediately clear, though both approaches could be at risk as well.
We should continue to practice skepticism of any SALT deduction cap avoidance schemes until we receive the IRS guidance. Most agree that existing statutes, case law, and regulations are fairly clear on this matter and states have just muddied the waters. Formal IRS guidance will help protect taxpayers, so hopefully they do not rely on state-endorsed strategies, which could result in penalties and increased liability.