1 Valuation Analyst Considerations in the C Corporation Conversion to Pass-Through Entity Tax Status Robert F. Reilly, CPA For a variety of economic and taxation reasons, this year may be a particularly good time for a closely held C corporation to convert to pass-through entity tax status. As summarized in this discussion, there are both tax costs and tax benefits associated with such a business tax status conversion. However, both the costs and benefits are affected by the conversion date valuation of the taxpayer entity assets. Therefore, a contemporaneous valuation of the closely held business assets is an important component of the tax status conversion decision. INTRODUCTION For many closely held companies that operates with C corporation federal income tax status, this may be the year for the company owners to consider converting to a pass-through entity tax status. This tax status conversion decision is timely because of the current unfavorable economic environment in many industries, the low asset values in many industrial and commercial companies, and the low income tax rates on C corporation dividend distributions to individuals. These factors may provide the appropriate conditions for close corporation owners to convert the company s federal income tax status. This tax status conversion decision is particularly timely when the close corporation owners consider that the current 15% income tax rate on qualified dividends is scheduled to expire on December 31, This is the time for valuation analysts to advise their closely held company clients with regard to the tax status conversion decision. The company owners (in consultation with their legal, accounting, and valuation advisers) should consider both the costs and benefits of converting from C corporation tax status to pass-through entity tax status. C CORPORATION INCOME TAX LEVELS C corporations are taxed on taxable income at federal income tax rates of up to 35%. Qualified dividend distributions to the company shareholders are taxed again at a federal income tax rate of 15%. And, such individual shareholder dividends are not tax deductible by the C corporation. Therefore, the total federal income tax rate on the distributed earnings from the C corporation to the company shareholders is 44.75%. That total federal income tax rate is calculated as follows: (1 + 35%) + (15% (1 35%)) = 44.75%
2 If the closely held C corporation converted to an S corporation form or to a business that is not in corporation form (e.g., a partnership, limited partnership, or limited liability company), then there would only be one level of company taxation that would be paid at the company owner level. Such a tax status conversion would result in a savings of 9.75% of the closely held company s taxable income. That 9.75% income tax rate savings assumes that the company owners are individuals who are taxed at the highest individual income tax rate. The potential income tax savings from a tax status conversion is even greater when state corporation income taxes are considered. MINIMIZING THE C CORPORATION TAXABLE INCOME One common tax planning strategy that closely held business owners use to minimize the C corporation taxable income is to pay out as much as possible of the company s income as compensation to shareholder/employees. Unlike dividend distributions, shareholder/employee compensation is tax deductible to the C corporation. Such a tax planning strategy may (1) reduce the C corporation taxable income to an acceptable level and (2) result in the closely held company earnings only being taxed once at the shareholder/employee level. However, the use of this tax planning strategy has several practical limitations. The Reasonableness of Shareholder/Employee Compensation Internal Revenue Code Section 162 allows a tax deduction for compensation paid by a corporation that is (among other things) reasonable. Where a large percentage of the C corporation s income is paid out as compensation to shareholder/employees, particularly when the compensation is proportionate to their share ownership, then the Internal Revenue Service ( the Service ) may challenge the reasonableness of the compensation tax deduction. In some businesses, high amounts of compensation expense as a percentage of total company income is considered normal. Such a high compensation percentage often occurs when personal services are the principal contributor to the company income. For example, this level of expense may be normal in a law firm, accounting firm, or medical practice. In other businesses, capital is the principal contributor to the company s income. A manufacturing, distribution, or other industrial company is more in line with this type of capital-intensive business. In such a capital-intensive company, shareholder/employee compensation that is a very high percentage of the total company s income may be more difficult to justify.
3 Nonemployee Shareholders May Object to the Compensation Amount Minimizing the amount of the company s taxable income by paying shareholder/employee compensation may be difficult to implement where there is more than one shareholder. This tax planning strategy may be particularly difficult to implement when there is one (or more) shareholder/employees and one (or more) non-shareholder/employees. In that instance, the non-shareholder/employees will expect to receive dividend (i.e., earnings) distributions in proportion to their equity ownership interest in the closely held company. And, such non-employee/shareholders may not tolerate the scenario that the shareholders/employees receive all (or most) of the closely held company s earnings in the form of employee compensation. Other Compensation-Related Taxes Of course, shareholder/employee compensation is subject to payroll taxes, including Social Security and Medicare tax. In 2012, the combined payroll tax rate of Social Security and Medicare taxes, payable by employer is 7.65% (on the first $110,100 of employee wages). And, in 2012, the combined Social Security and Medicare payroll rate payable by the employee is 5.65%. For employee compensation amounts over $110,100, both the employer and the employee are subject to a Medicare payroll tax of 1.45%. In addition, the shareholder/employee compensation is subject to federal unemployment and state unemployment (i.e., FUTA and SUTA) taxes. Even if double taxation of C corporation taxable income can be minimized through the payment of shareholder/employee compensation, there is another C corporation double taxation problem. That is, there is the problem of minimizing the double taxation of C corporation earnings when the closely held company owners ultimately sell the C corporation itself (or sell its underlying business assets). MINIMIZING THE INCOME TAX ON THE SALE OF THE CLOSELY HELD COMPANY The double taxation of C corporation income on the sale of the closely held company relates to what is typically called inside gain and outside gain. Gain on the sale of the company assets (including the company s goodwill) is called inside gain. The inside gain is taxed at the corporation level. The outside gain is recognized by the company shareholders on the distribution of the after-tax proceeds from the sale of the company s assets. Both inside gain and outside gain also occur where appreciated company assets are distributed to the closely held company shareholders in exchange for their shares. DOUBLE TAXATION ON THE C CORPORATION LIQUIDATING DISTRIBUTIONS
4 If the C corporation sells all its assets and then distributes the sale proceeds to its shareholders in a liquidating distribution, the company is subject to tax on the asset sale. In addition, the closely held company shareholders are then subject to income tax on that sale proceeds distribution. The distribution of the company assets in liquidation is treated at the corporation level the same way as if (1) the company assets were sold for cash and (2) the cash proceeds were distributed to the shareholders in exchange for their shares. The shareholders would also incur a tax on their gain, measured as the difference between (1) the liquidation proceeds (or the net fair market value of the company assets, if the assets are distributed in kind) and (2) the tax basis of the company shares in the shareholders hands. Therefore, the tax consequences to the close corporation and to its shareholders are substantially the same (1) if the C corporation sells all of its assets and distributes the sale proceeds in liquidation or (2) if the C corporation distributes all of its assets in liquidation. In both instances, the transaction is subject to double taxation. In general, the federal double-tax rate of 44.75% (plus applicable state tax, net of any federal tax benefit) should apply if the corporation shares are a long-term capital asset in the hands of the shareholders. In analyzing these transactional alternatives, the closely held company owners should consider both (1) the corporation tax attributes and (2) the shareholder tax attributes. Such tax attributes may include net operating loss or capital loss carryovers. RELUCTANCE OF THE CLOSELY HELD BUYER TO BUY STOCK Typically, there is a general reluctance of a closely held company acquirer to buy the corporation s shares instead of the corporation s assets. This is because the closely held company buyer that buys the corporation shares could inherit any undisclosed or unrecorded liabilities. Such liabilities include financing, litigation, environmental, tax, and other liabilities. Of course, seller warranties (related to the undisclosed liabilities) are common in the purchase/sale of a closely held company. However, such seller warranties are only as useful as the seller s ability to make good on them. There are instances where a closely held company buyer may have no choice but to buy the corporation shares rather than the company assets. For example, this stock purchase transaction structure may be appropriate where (1) the corporation holds a valuable asset such as a lease, permit, franchise, or license that is not transferrable or (2) the corporate charter itself has a special value (such as in the case of a bank, a hospital, or an insurance company).
5 If the closely held company sale transaction takes the form of a sale of stock rather than a sale of assets, it may appear that there is only one level of taxation. That is, the selling shareholders will pay income tax on their gain equal to the difference between (1) the stock sales price and (2) the shareholders tax basis in the company shares. Assuming that the company shares are long-term capital gain property, then the selling shareholders would only incur a 15% federal tax rate. However, such a tax liability analysis does not consider what is sometimes called the economic double taxation. This is because the stock sale transaction structure shifts the problem of the inside (or corporation level) gain to the closely held company buyer. The buyer of the C corporation shares now has a tax basis in the acquired shares equal to the amount paid (assuming that fair market value was paid for the shares). However, the inside basis of the C corporation assets remain at the company s historical tax basis level. Therefore, the difference between the company s historical tax basis and the assets fair market values remains subject to tax upon the new owner s ultimate disposition of the acquired assets. In other words, the closely held company assets carry an implicit tax cost in the form of reduced future depreciation or amortization tax deductions. Generally accepted accounting principles recognize this impact by requiring that a deferred tax liability account be set up on the acquired company s postacquisition balance sheet. In essence, the closely held company buyer that buys the corporation shares inherits a deferred tax liability. That deferred tax liability is in the form of either (1) a future tax on the ultimate sale of the low basis assets or (2) a reduced tax-deductible asset cost recovery. And, that closely held company buyer will expect to be compensated for that increased future tax cost in the form of a reduced purchase price for the closely held company shares. That buyer may negotiate a reduced purchase price considering the amount of what would otherwise by the present value of the entire deferred tax liability. Such a purchase price reduction would put the company buyer and company seller in approximately the same economic position that they would have been in had (1) the C corporation sold its assets and (2) the selling shareholders absorbed the corporation level income tax. Alternatively, the company buyer and company seller may agree on a reduced purchase price that results in each party bearing some portion of the deferred tax liability.
6 The greater the difference between the C corporation assets fair market value and the assets tax basis in the hands of the C corporation (i.e., the inside appreciation), the greater the potential problem of double taxation related to that inside appreciation. And, such inside appreciation may increase over time if the current values of the closely held company assets are generally depressed. If that scenario is the case with the subject closely held company, then this may be the appropriate time to change the company s C corporation status. CHANGING THE C CORPORATION TAX STATUS There are two common procedures for changing the closely held company s C corporation tax status. Each of these two procedures involves the conversion of the subject C corporation to a tax pass-through entity. Generally, the income, deductions, gains, losses, and credits of the tax pass-through entity pass through to the company owners. And, the entity itself is not subject to federal income tax. The first procedure is to convert the C corporation to S corporation tax status. For various technical reasons, S corporation status may not be a suitable alternative for every closely held company (or for every group of shareholders). When S corporation status is not practical, then a second procedure may be considered. The C corporation may convert to a limited liability company (LLC) and then continue its operations in that business form. THE S CORPORATION ELECTION The most common procedure that a closely held company may use to change its C corporation tax status is to convert to an S corporation. However, an S corporation election does have limitations, and it may not be appropriate tax planning strategy for all closely held companies. Electing the S Corporation Tax Status Generally, the S corporation will avoid the corporation level federal income tax (1) on its operating income and (2) on any gain resulting from the ultimate sale of the closely held business. Generally, items of income, deduction, gain, loss, and credit are taken into account in computing taxable income and tax only by the corporation s shareholders and not by the corporation itself. One favorable aspect of the S election is that, in many cases, it takes the subject corporation out of C corporation tax status and its attendant double income taxation without an immediate negative tax consequence.
7 Qualification of an Eligible C Corporation Not every C corporation is eligible to make an S corporation election. There are numerous specific requirements for the C corporation, including (1) shareholder requirements, (2) a capitalization requirement, (3) requirements for corporations with accumulated earnings and profit (E&P) when the corporation has certain levels of passive income, and (4) requirements relating to the corporation itself. The Corporation Requirements To qualify as an S corporation, the subject company must be a domestic corporation that is not: (1) a financial institution using the Section 585 reserve method of accounting for bad debts, (2) an insurance company taxable under Internal Revenue Code subchapter L, (3) a possessions corporation, or (4) a DISC or former DISC. Typically, these restrictions will rarely affect the typical closely held industrial or commercial company. The Individual Shareholder Requirements An S corporation cannot have more than 100 shareholders. Only the following types of individuals qualify as S corporation shareholders: (1) U.S. citizens or residents, (2) certain estates, (3) certain trusts, and (4) certain tax-exempt organizations. The Corporation Capitalization Requirements The S corporation election is only available to corporations with one class of stock outstanding. However, differences in voting rights among the shares of common stock typically do not violate the one class of stock statutory requirement. The one class of stock requirement can become a practical limitation in instances where the closely held company needs to make a special allocation of its corporation earnings to certain shareholders. This situation may occur, for example, when certain shareholders desire a preferred rate of return on their stock ownership. Generally, the corporation is considered to have only one class of stock for S corporation purposes if all outstanding shares confer identical rights to (1) distributions and (2) liquidation proceeds. The corporation owners should note that otherwise ordinary commercial transactions between the corporation and a shareholder (such as compensation arrangements and leases) with the principal purpose to circumvent this S corporation requirement can violate the one class of stock requirement.
8 Unless certain safe-harbor requirements are met, the S corporation one class of stock requirement can become a problem where the company s financing arrangements include consideration in the form of equity-based payments. Such payments may include (1) an equity kicker to the financial institution or (2) the financial institution s options to buy the company shares. In addition, the S corporation should exercise caution (1) when all of the shareholders are not treated identically or (2) when financing arrangements include some form of future equity interest. S CORPORATIONS WITH E&P OR PASSIVE INCOME An S corporation can be subject to income tax at the corporation level and its S corporation status can be terminated if it (1) has certain amounts of passive income or (2) has earnings and profits (E&P) accumulated during years when it was a C corporation. For these S corporation requirements, passive income is defined as: rents, royalties, interest, annuities, and dividends. This S corporation election may be avoided if the company E&P are purged by making a distribution in the form of a dividend to the shareholders. With the 15% federal income tax rate on dividends in effect for this year, such an E&P purge in 2012 may be a low cost way to remove those accumulated earnings from the S corporation at a reasonable tax cost. LIMITATIONS ON THE S CORPORATION TAX BENEFITS The Corporation Level Tax on Built-in Gain The excess of the fair market value of the corporation s assets over their adjusted tax basis at the time of the S election is counted as built-in gain. Any amount of this built-in gain that is recognized during the 10-year period beginning with the first day of the first tax year for which the corporation is an S corporation is subject to a corporation level tax. Only the excess of the fair market value of the closely held company assets over their adjusted tax basis is subject to this corporation level tax. However, any post-s election asset value appreciation is only subject to one (i.e., shareholder) level of taxation. Therefore, it is a common procedure for the closely held company to obtain a valuation of all of the company assets at the time that the S tax status election is made. The purpose of this asset valuation is (1) to document all of the company s individual assets in place on the S election date and (2) to keep track of any of the future sale of those individual assets. This S election date valuation of the closely held company assets should encompass all of the company s individual assets. In other words, this valuation should include both (1) all of the tangible assets that are recorded on the company s balance sheet and (2) all of the intangible assets that are not recorded on the
9 company s balance sheet. Such closely held company intangible assets may include goodwill, contracts, licenses and permits, computer software, patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. Such intangible asset should be included in the company s asset valuation even though the historical development costs of such intangible asset was expensed. This S election asset valuation process is similar to the asset valuation process that is performed when a closely held company acquirer allocates the overall purchase price for an entire business among its various tangible assets and intangible assets. Such a purchase price allocation is based on the appraised fair market values of the individual acquired assets. A comprehensive S corporation election date valuation of the company assets (both tangible assets and intangible assets) is an important procedure in the S election process. This is because there are severe civil penalties related to the misstatement of the values of the subject conversion corporation property. S Corporation Tax Aspects of Income From Company Operations Generally, S corporation earnings are subject to income tax only at the shareholder level. This statement is true except for the corporation-level tax on built-in gains. However, the tax on built-in gain is not necessarily a tax problem for all corporations. For example, this built-in gain may not be an issue (1) for a service industry corporation where income is not earned through the sale of property or (2) for a real estate rental business (where income is earned from an active trade or business) and the corporation does not sell off its real estate properties. Of course, salaries and wages paid to S corporation shareholder/employees are subject to payroll tax. This payroll tax may motivate some S corporations to pay little or no salary to shareholder/employees (i.e., in order to minimize the payroll tax). However, the Internal Revenue Service is well aware of this tax planning strategy. And, the Service will typically review this issue during the audit of an S corporation. Therefore, unreasonably low salaries paid to S corporation shareholder/employees may be challenged by the Service. Such a challenge could result in the recharacterization of some portion of the company s dividend distributions as compensation to the shareholder/employees. S Corporation Tax Aspects of Income from the Disposition of the Business Except for the corporation-level tax on built-in gain, the sale of the S corporation s assets generally is not subject to a corporation level federal income tax. The post-s election appreciation in the value of the
10 company assets is not subject to the corporation level built-in gain tax. Also, after the S election has been in effect for 10 years, the built-in gain tax liability will no longer apply. In addition to only one level of tax on the sale of the company assets, it is possible to sell the S corporation shares and have the buyer and seller jointly elect to treat the stock sale transaction as an asset sale transaction. This mutual election is called the Section 338(h)(10) election. This Section 338(h)(10) election allows for instances (1) where certain S corporation assets are not transferrable or (2) where the S corporation s charter has a measurable value of and by itself. Other S Corporation Election Issues The S election requires the unanimous consent of all of the closely held company shareholders. The S election is effective for any year if it is made (1) in the prior year or (2) on or before the fifteenth day of the third month of the year. The documentation of the S election should be made a part of the corporation s permanent legal records. Generally, the S corporation will use the calendar year as its tax reporting year. However, a different tax reporting fiscal year end is possible in certain circumstances. For any S corporation, there should be a shareholder agreement that prohibits a unilateral action by a shareholder that would cause the S election to be revoked. Such an S revocation could occur, for example, if a shareholder transferred his or her shares to an ineligible person, such as a nonqualifying trust. In addition, the S corporation shareholder agreement will typically deal with distributions of cash to pay the individual shareholder s income tax on the S corporation earnings. The shareholders are liable for income tax on their distributable shares of the S corporation earnings whether or not the corporation income is actually distributed. Typically, the S corporation shareholders agreement will require the company to distribute at least a sufficient amount of cash for each shareholder to pay his/her income tax liability. The S corporation shareholders are taxed on the income of the S corporation. Accordingly, the company shareholders tax-compliance burden may be increased after the S corporation election. Each company shareholder may have to file individual income tax returns and pay individual taxes and estimated taxes in each state in which the S corporation does business.
11 It is also important to determine how each state in which the S corporation operates will handle the S corporation. For example, some states do not recognize an S corporation as a tax pass-through entity. In those states, all company income is still taxed at the corporation level for state income tax purposes. And, some states require the withholding of income tax on the S corporation earnings related to any nonresident shareholders. It is also important for each company shareholder to determine whether he or she may claim a credit on his/her resident state income tax return for the nonresident state income tax that is paid on his/her share of the S corporation income. THE S CORPORATION CONVERSION FROM C CORPORATION STATUS For many closely held companies, the S corporation election may be an efficient and inexpensive way to change the C corporation status and to avoid the double taxation on operating income and gain on the sale of the business. However, the S corporation election is not the ideal solution for every closely held company. There are limitations on the number of S corporation shareholders and on the types of persons who can be shareholders. Also, there are restrictions on the closely held company s capital structure that impose limitations on the availability of S corporation status. However, if S corporation status is not practical for a particular closely held company, then that company may be able to achieve the desired taxation results by converting from a C corporation to an LLC. CONSULTING THE C CORPORATION STATUS TO LLC STATUS Let s assume that the C corporation is not a candidate for an S corporation election because of the requirements for S corporation status summarized above. In that case, the uncertain economic environment, the company s currently depressed asset values, and the currently low individual income tax rates on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains may make conversion to an LLC form an alternative tax strategy solution. However, the conversion from C corporation status to LLC status has immediate negative tax consequences. Accordingly, the closely held company and its owners should contrast the current tax costs of LLC conversion to the future potential income tax savings of LLC tax status. NEGATIVE TAX CONSEQUENCES OF CONVERTING TO THE LLC STATUS
12 Generally, an LLC with only one owner is disregarded for federal income tax purposes. In other words, the LLC is treated as a sole proprietorship. Generally, an LLC with more than one owner is treated as a partnership for federal income tax purposes. Therefore, a conversion from C corporation status to LLC status is not merely a change in the tax status of the closely held company. Such a tax status conversion actually involves liquidating the C corporation and transferring the C corporation s assets to an entity that will be treated as either (1) a partnership (if the C corporation had more than one shareholder) or (2) a disregarded entity (if the C corporation only had one shareholder). The mechanics of a conversion from a C corporation tax status to LLC tax status can take one of four structural forms: (1) assets up, (2) interests over, (3) assets over, or (4) merger or statutory conversion. Each of these four tax status conversion forms is summarized next. The Assets Up Form In the assets up form of conversion, the subject C corporation is liquidated. The C corporation assets are transferred to the corporation shareholders, who then transfer the company assets to the LLC. The Interests Over Form In the interests over form of conversion, there is an actual transfer of the C corporation shares to an LLC. At that point, the LLC is then the sole shareholder of the C corporation. This stock transfer is followed by an actual liquidation of the C corporation, with the C corporation assets being distributed to the LLC. The Assets Over Form In the assets over form of conversion, the C corporation transfers its assets to an LLC in exchange for all the ownership interests in the LLC. This transfer is followed by an actual liquidation of the C corporation. After the liquidation, the C corporation distributes the LLC ownership interests to its former shareholder(s). The Merger or Statutory Conversion Under State Law Form The merger of a C corporation into an LLC or its statutory conversion into an LLC under applicable state law are forms of conversion only available in some states. Where it is allowed, the C corporation can merge into an LLC, or the C corporation can be converted to an LLC by election.
13 LLC CONVERSION INCOME TAX (AND OTHER) CONSEQUENCES The Assets Up Form The assets up form involves a liquidation of the C corporation. Such a liquidation is a taxable event at the corporation level. The taxable event is measured by the difference between (1) the fair market values of the corporation s assets and (2) the assets respective tax bases. The closely held company shareholders will recognize gain to the extent of the excess of the fair market value of the assets distributed in liquidation over the shareholders tax bases in their shares. The tax bases of the company assets in the hands of the shareholders are the assets fair market values upon distribution from the C corporation. The shareholders contribution of the distributed property to the LLC is generally not a taxable event. The contributed property s new tax basis in the hands of the LLC is the same as it was in the hands of the new LLC member (i.e., the former C corporation shareholder). The Interests Over Form In the interests over form, the shareholders transfer of their C corporation shares to the LLC is generally not a taxable event. The tax basis of the C corporation shares in the hands of the LLC is the same as the shareholders tax bases in those C corporation shares. The members (i.e., the former shareholders) tax bases in their LLC interests is the same as the shareholders tax bases in the C corporation shares. Upon the liquidation of the C corporation, the tax consequences are the same as the liquidation of the C corporation in the assets up form. That is, the C corporation will recognize gain. The LLC will also recognize gain. However, that gain will be taxable only at the member level. And, the members tax bases in their membership interests will increase by the members share of that taxable income. Therefore, the tax basis of the assets of the C corporation in the hands of the LLC will be the fair market values of the company assets. And, the tax basis of the LLC ownership interests in the hands of the member(s) will reflect the fair market values of the company assets. If there is only one shareholder of the C corporation (so that the LLC is disregarded), the conversion result should be the same and the assets up analysis should apply. The Service often takes the position that the assets up conversion form requires an actual transfer of the company assets (rather than a transfer of an ownership interest in the LLC). In the case of the interests over form, the C corporation assets are actually transferred to the LLC, whether or not the LLC is a disregarded entity. The only difference is whether the LLC members (i.e., the former C corporation
14 shareholders) will be taxed (1) on the distributions from the liquidating corporation directly (because the LLC is disregarded) or (2) as partners in a partnership (because the LLC is classified as a partnership). Assets Over and Statutory Merger or State Law Elective Conversion Form In a relatively recent Letter Ruling (i.e., Letter Ruling ), the Service concluded that a statutory merger of a C corporation into an LLC under applicable state law should be analyzed as an assets over form transaction. In that Letter Ruling fact set, the C corporation was considered to have transferred all of its assets to a newly formed LLC in exchange for the LLC ownership interests. At that point in the transaction, the C corporation was the only LLC member. In addition, the LLC assumed all of the C corporation s liabilities. The LLC ownership interests were considered to be distributed to the shareholders in liquidation of the C corporation. The C corporation had more than one shareholder. And, the Service held that the resulting entity was a partnership. Self-Employment Tax Conversion Consequences Where the C corporation continues to operate as an LLC, it is possible that all of the company s income can be subject to self-employment tax. This may not be a substantial tax expense if the C corporation shareholders were already paid compensation at or above the self-employment tax wage base. SUMMARY OF THE TAX COST OF THE LLC CONVERSION The form of the C corporation to LLC conversion has an important impact on the conversion tax outcome for the closely held company shareholders. Since the LLC conversion is a taxable event at both the corporation level and the shareholder level, the selected conversion form should allow a step-up in the assets basis to fair market value for the assets formerly held by the C corporation. In a multishareholder C corporation conversion, the Service has taken the position that the merger of a corporation into an LLC should be analyzed as an asset over form of transaction. The Service may take this same position for an elective statutory conversion. The conversion of the C corporation to the LLC status is a taxable event. Therefore, it is appropriate to analyze whether the current tax cost of the LLC conversion is less than (1) the present value of the future tax cost of C corporation earnings double taxation plus (2) the present value of the future tax cost on the ultimate sale of the C corporation s assets. In this tax cost/benefit analysis, it is appropriate for the closely
15 held company owners to consider (1) whether (and to what extent) the C corporation assets will appreciate in value and (2) how much operating income the C corporation will generate over a period of years. In addition, it is appropriate for the company owners to consider the possibility of managing the double taxation on C corporation income by paying tax-deductible compensation to shareholder/employees. If (1) the value of the C corporation assets in excess of their tax basis is sufficiently small and (2) those asset values are expected to appreciate over time, then the cost of conversion and the opportunity cost of the current payment of tax may not be too expensive in light of the tax savings on future appreciation. Also, the existence of any favorable tax attributes at the corporation level may reduce the current tax cost. The tax consequences of conversion are based on the company assets fair market values. And, it is noteworthy that the tax conversion transactions are not between unrelated parties dealing at arm s-length. Therefore, it is important for the closely held company to obtain a comprehensive valuation to support the fair market value that is used to determine the transaction gain. As mentioned above, there are severe tax penalties related to the misstatement of the value of the converting C corporation s assets. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION The double taxation of C corporation income from operations and from the ultimate sale of its assets make the C corporation tax status inefficient. The changes in the federal tax law that are scheduled to take effect in 2013 will increase this level of double-taxation inefficiency. The owners of a closely held C corporation can avoid the C corporation status tax inefficiency by converting the company to either (1) S corporation status or (2) LLC status. The conversion of the C corporation to an S corporation may be accomplished without a current tax cost. However, the conversion of a C corporation to an LLC status can result in a current tax at both the corporation level and the shareholder level. Nonetheless, the current conversion tax cost may be less than the future tax cost (1) of operating the closely held company as a C corporation and incurring double taxation at what may be higher tax rates or (2) of incurring the higher tax cost (or reduced price) on the ultimate disposition of the company assets and the attendant double taxation of the appreciation in the value of the company assets.
16 Since individual income tax rates on qualifying dividends from C corporations and on capital gains are currently at very low rates, this may be a good time for closely held C corporation owners to consider the costs and benefits of a conversion to either S corporation status or LLC status. The closely held company owners should consult with their legal and accounting advisers in order to consider all of the costs and benefits of a possible corporate tax status conversion. The closely held company owners should consult with a valuation specialist before considering the corporate tax status conversion decision. This is because an estimation of both the costs and benefits of the corporate tax status conversion depends on the concluded fair market values of the converting C corporation s assets. That closely held company asset valuation should encompass all of the company s assets, both tangible assets and intangible assets. Robert Reilly, CPA, is a managing director of the firm and is resident in our Chicago office. Robert can be reached at (773) or at
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