Bad Debt-Business or Personal Deduction?


You loan someone money and they don’t pay you back.  What’s the proper tax treatment for deducting the debt?

A business bad debt is deductible on the business tax return of the taxpayer (i.e. Schedule C) as an ordinary loss and can generate a net operating loss (NOL). A non-business bad debt is deductible as a short-term capital loss (Schedule D), subject to the $3,000 per year net capital loss limitation.

The taxpayer in this case made a career out of lending money for profit, both through business entities and out of his personal funds. One of his personal loans to a commercial laundry wound up going bad. He deducted the loss as a business bad debt which in turn created NOL carrybacks and carryforwards. The IRS claimed it was a personal bad debt because the taxpayer’s private lending was not a trade or business.

According to IRC section 166, for a money lending activity to be considered a trade or business, the taxpayer must have been involved in the activity with continuity and regularity, with the primary purpose of earning income or making a profit. The courts have developed a non-exhaustive list of facts and circumstances to consider in deciding whether a taxpayer is in the business of lending money.

The IRS argued that even if the taxpayer had made enough loans over the years, his source of funds was a family limited partnership (FLP) he managed with his two sisters. Out of 89 loans made over a 14 year period, only 8 listed the taxpayer as the lender. The rest listed the FLP as the lender.

The court disagreed with the IRS based on the fact that the majority of those alleged to be FLP loans were in fact made from the taxpayer’s personal trust. The taxpayer made at least 66 loans over this period of time (either alone, or acting as trustee of his trust) to a multitude of borrowers, easily exceeding $24 million. These figures were more than sufficient to support the finding that the taxpayer’s personal lending activities were continuous and regular by themselves.  Unless motivated by some hidden whimsy or charitable purpose, the number of personal loans made and the money he tied up in them proves he spent a sufficient amount of time on them.


Son Sells House To Parents To Avoid Foreclosure. What’s Taxable?


The son was unable to make his mortgage payments that became due on his house. In order to avoid foreclosure, he sold his house to his parents. His parents financed the purchase by taking out a loan that was used to pay off $664,048 of the taxpayer’s outstanding mortgage debt. The closing statement showed that “Total Consideration” for the sale and purchase was $975,000. The IRS claimed that the amount realized on the transaction was $975,000. The son argued that the amount realized should be his $664,048 liability relief.

IRC section 1001(b) states that the amount realized from the sale of property is the sum of any money received plus the fair market value of property other than money that is received. The regulations for this code section state that the amount realized includes the amount of liabilities from which the transferor is discharged as a result of the sale.

The son argued that the amount realized should be the $664,048 of liability relief because the transaction was in part a sale and in part a gift to his parents. The IRS argued the total consideration of $975,000 shown on the closing statement controls the determination of the amount realized.

The tax court rejected the IRS argument saying that the son received no cash and no other property from his parents as a result of the sale other than the mortgage debt that was discharged. The court said the IRS failed to understand that the transaction was in part a sale and in part a gift. [Reg. §1.1001-1(e)(1)]

The tax court ruled that the amount realized on the sale was the $664,048 of mortgage debt relief, minus the son’s settlement costs at closing.  (Son must report the gift on Form 709)

If you’re in a similar bind and need tax help, contact Steve Siesser for advice.