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IRS Issues New Rules Under 263(a)

Posted 12:00 PM by

On Jan. 1, 2012 new rules became effective regarding when to deduct or capitalize amounts paid to acquire, produce or improve tangible property. These new rules will affect all taxpayers that acquire, produce or improve tangible property.

The question of when to deduct or capitalize amounts paid to acquire, produce or improve tangible property is frequently a point of disagreement between taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Since 2004 the IRS has been developing guidance intended to reduce controversy related to this question. After issuing and withdrawing proposed regulations under §1.263(a) in 2006 and 2008, the IRS in December 2011 issued yet another round of temporary and proposed regulations, with §1.263(a)-1T providing general rules for capital expenditures, §1.263(a)-2T providing rules for amounts paid for the acquisition or production of tangible property, and §1.263(a)-3T providing rules for amounts paid for the improvement of tangible property. Also affected are guidelines under Regulations §1.162-3 regarding materials and supplies and other regulations indirectly affected by changes to Regulations §1.263(a). These regulations are effective on Jan. 1, 2012 and will expire on Dec. 23, 2014 if not made final.

§1.162-4T of the temporary regulations states that a taxpayer may deduct amounts paid for repairs and maintenance to tangible property if the amounts paid are not otherwise required to be capitalized. §1.263(a)-1T provides that no deduction is allowed for (1) any amount paid for new buildings or for permanent improvements or betterments made to increase the value of any property or estate, or (2) any amount paid in restoring property or in making good the exhaustion thereof for which an allowance is or has been made. The ongoing dilemma for taxpayers has been the application of these rules to business activity. What constitutes an “incidental” repair? What is “maintenance”? How does one discern when an asset has increased in value or had its useful life extended?

The temporary regulations generally divide asset types into (1) buildings and structural components thereof, and (2) assets other than buildings and structural components thereof (i.e., everything else). The temporary regulations further categorize expenditures into (1) amounts paid to produce or acquire tangible property and (2) amounts paid to improve tangible property. Underlying any analysis of whether to deduct or capitalize an expenditure is the concept of the “unit of property” (UOP). 

In the case of property other than buildings, the UOP for real and personal property includes all functionally interdependent components of the property. Components are functionally interdependent if placing one component in service depends upon placing the other component in service. For example, a tractor trailer in its entirety (inclusive of all components such as the motor, the cab, the transmission, the tires, etc.) is the unit of property. In the case of buildings, the UOP concept is clarified and expanded to separately consider important functional systems of a building. 

Under the new regulations, the building UOP consists of (1) the building and structural components; (2) heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; (3) plumbing systems; (4) electrical systems; (5) all escalators; (6) all elevators; (7) fire protection and alarm systems; (8) security systems; (9) gas distribution system, and; (10) any other system defined in published guidance. This is a significant change compared to previously issued proposed regulations, given that under prior guidance taxpayers treated the entire building, inclusive of the now separately identified systems, as a single unit of property. For example, under prior guidance an expenditure related to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems may have been deducted based on the analysis that the UOP, the building, was not improved. Now, the analysis must look at only the HVAC system as the UOP, in which case the position for deducting or capitalizing the expenditure may change.

Temporary regulations under §1.263(a)-2T regarding the acquisition or production of property retain most generally understood rules regarding capitalization of expenditures. Expenditures directly or indirectly incurred that result in the production or acquisition of a UOP must be capitalized. Amounts paid to move and reinstall a UOP already placed in service by the taxpayer are generally not amounts paid to acquire or produce a unit of property. All work performed on a UOP prior to the date placed in service is required to be capitalized. In general, all expenditures that facilitate the acquisition or production of real or personal property, such as permitting or title searches, must be capitalized.

The temporary regulations continue to provide a de minimis rule regarding the amounts paid to acquire or produce tangible property (e.g., deducting amounts paid under $500). However, the general rule prohibiting a distortion of income is replaced with a bright-line ceiling rule. Taxpayers may not deduct otherwise capital expenditures in excess of the lesser of 0.1 percent of the taxpayer’s gross receipts for the tax year, or 2 percent of the taxpayer’s total depreciation and amortization for the tax year. Additionally, taxpayers are eligible to use a de minimis rule only if they have an “applicable financial statement” (i.e., an audited financial statement).

Acquired materials and supplies are discussed under the temporary regulations. Materials and supplies that are incidental (for which no inventories or records of consumption are maintained) are deductible in the year purchased. Materials and supplies that are non-incidental are not deductible until the year in which they are used or consumed. In general, materials and supplies include property acquired to maintain, repair, or improve a unit of tangible property owned, leased or serviced by the taxpayer and that are not acquired as part of any single unit of property. Examples might include air filters for use in a building’s HVAC system, or brake pads for use on a tractor trailer. The proposed regulations add descriptions of material and supplies to include fuel, lubricants, water and similar items reasonably expected to be consumed in 12 months or less, beginning when used in the taxpayer’s operations.

Proposed regulations under §1.263(a)-3T address amounts paid to improve tangible property. In general, amount paid related to a UOP already in service that (1) result in a betterment to the UOP; (2) restores the UOP; or (3) adapts the UOP to a new or different use must be capitalized. The application of these standards to amounts paid will likely remain a source of contention between taxpayers and the IRS, but the temporary regulations provide numerous examples of typical transactions and their treatment under the new rules. Of particular note are changes to regulations that specifically allow the disposition of structural components of a building or building systems. This will allow the adjusted basis of the retired component (e.g., an old roof) to be recovered when replaced. 

The temporary regulations will dispense of the plan of rehabilitation doctrine, which required that otherwise deductible repairs or maintenance be capitalized if performed in conjunction with a larger remodeling or construction project. Retailers and other taxpayers whose buildings or other physical premises are subject to periodic refreshing are given guidance, via examples, on when such costs may be deducted. Taxpayers will still lack bright-line tests that provide clear guidance in such circumstances, so the facts and circumstances of each project must be analyzed. Any expenditure incurred to improve a material condition or defect in property that existed prior to acquisition, or which arose during production, must be capitalized regardless of whether the taxpayer was aware of the problem.

The temporary regulations provide a routine maintenance safe harbor for tangible property other than buildings or building systems. Routine maintenance is a recurring activity and expenditure related to a UOP that a taxpayer expects to perform as a result of the taxpayer’s use of the property. The activity must keep (rather than put) the UOP in its ordinarily efficient operating condition. An activity is considered routine only if the taxpayer reasonable expects to perform the activities more than once during the class life of the UOP.

The temporary regulations under §1.263(a) are far reaching and the discussion above serves to touch on many, but not all, key points that taxpayers should understand when determining whether to capitalize or deduct an expenditure. Taxpayers determining whether to deduct or capitalize expenditures should refer to these temporary regulations, the examples provided, and their KSM advisor.

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