The IRS has released final regulations and another round of proposed regs for the first-year 100% bonus depreciation deduction. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) expanded the deduction to 100% if the qualified property is placed in service through 2022, with the amount dropping each subsequent year by 20%, until it sunsets in 2027. (The phaseout reductions are delayed a year for certain property with longer production periods.) Of course, Congress could act before that to extend or revise the deduction.

To qualify for 100% bonus depreciation, property generally must 1) fall within the definition of “qualified property,” 2) be new (meaning the property’s original use begins with the business) or acquired used property, and 3) be acquired and placed in service by the taxpayer after September 27, 2017.

The final regs address several critical issues related to these requirements and include some changes from the set of proposed regs issued in August 2018. The newly proposed regs provide guidance on some areas not covered in the final regs.

Previous law

Under pre-TCJA law, businesses could claim a first-year bonus depreciation deduction equal to 50% of the basis of qualifying new (not used) assets placed in service in 2017. The deduction was available for the cost of qualifying new assets, including computers, purchased software, vehicles, machinery, equipment and office furniture. Used assets didn’t qualify for the deduction.

You also could claim 50% bonus depreciation for qualified improvement property (QIP), generally defined as any qualified improvement to the interior portion of a nonresidential building if placed in service after the building was placed in service. QIP costs didn’t include costs for the enlargement of a building, an elevator, an escalator, or a building’s internal structural framework.

Eligibility of Qualified Improvement Property

Prior to the TCJA, qualified retail improvement property, qualified restaurant property and qualified leasehold improvement property were depreciated over 15 years under the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS).

The TCJA classifies all of these property types as qualified improvement property (QIP). QIP generally is defined as any improvement to the interior of a nonresidential real property that’s placed in service after the building was placed in service. Although Congress intended QIP placed in service after 2017 to have a 15-year MACRS recovery period and, therefore, qualify for bonus depreciation, a drafting error didn’t make that clear.

In what’s been called “the retail glitch,” the 15-year recovery period didn’t make it into the TCJA’s statutory language. The preamble to the final regs explains that legislative action is required to remedy this problem. Until then, QIP placed in service after 2017 is subject to a 39-year depreciation period and remains ineligible for bonus depreciation.

TCJA changes

The TCJA allows 100% first-year bonus depreciation in Year 1 for qualifying assets placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022. The bonus depreciation percentage will begin to phase out in 2023, dropping 20% each year for four years until it expires at the end of 2026, absent congressional action to extend the break. (The phaseout reductions are delayed a year for certain property with longer production periods and aircraft.)

To qualify for 100% bonus depreciation, property generally must:

  • Fall within the definition of “qualified property,”
  • Be placed in service between September 28, 2017, and December 31, 2022, and
  • Be acquired by the taxpayer after September 27, 2017.

The proposed regs provide additional guidance on several of these elements.

Qualified property

Under the proposed regs, “qualified property” for bonus depreciation purposes is defined to include:

  • Property depreciated under the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) that has a recovery period of 20 years or less (generally, tangible personal property),
  • Certain computer software,
  • Water utility property,
  • Qualified film or television productions,
  • Qualified live theatrical productions, and
  • Specified plants.

For 50% first-year bonus depreciation, it also includes QIP acquired after September 27, 2017, and placed in service before January 1, 2018.

Congress intended for QIP placed in service after 2017 to have a 15-year MACRS recovery period, which would make it eligible for bonus depreciation. However, due to a drafting error, the 15-year recovery period for QIP isn’t reflected in the statutory language of the TCJA. Absent a technical correction to fix this glitch, QIP placed in service after 2017 has a 39-year MACRS recovery period and, therefore, is ineligible for bonus depreciation.

Qualified property also doesn’t encompass property that must be depreciated under the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS). That includes MACRS nonresidential real property, residential rental property and QIP held by real estate businesses that elect out of the TCJA’s limit on the business interest deduction. It also includes property with a recovery period of 10 years or more held by a farming business that elects out of the business interest limit.

The proposed regs detail how taxpayers can elect out of bonus depreciation. They also provide rules for electing 50% bonus depreciation, instead of 100% bonus depreciation, for property acquired after September 27, 2017, and placed into service during the taxable year that includes September 28, 2017.

Acquired used property

The proposed regs provide that the acquisition of used property is eligible for bonus depreciation if the property wasn’t used by the taxpayer or a predecessor at any time prior to acquisition of the property. Property is treated as used by the taxpayer or a predecessor before acquisition only if the taxpayer or a predecessor had a depreciable interest in the property at any time before the acquisition, regardless of whether the taxpayer or predecessor actually claimed depreciation.

Businesses that lease property, therefore, can acquire that property at the end of the lease and qualify for bonus depreciation. If a business has a depreciable interest in improvements made to lease property and subsequently acquires the property, the unadjusted depreciable basis of the property that’s eligible for the additional first-year depreciation excludes the unadjusted depreciable basis attributable to the improvements.

If a business initially acquires a depreciable interest in a part of a property and later acquires an additional depreciable interest in it, the additional interest isn’t treated as being previously used by the business. If, however, the business holds a depreciable interest in a portion of a property, sells that portion or part of it, and then acquires a depreciable interest in another part of the same property, it’s treated as previously having a depreciable interest in the property, up to the amount of the part for which the business held a depreciable interest in the property presale.

Used property also must satisfy certain related party and carryover basis requirements, as well as certain cost requirements. The proposed regs include antiabuse provisions for members of a consolidated group, certain acquisitions in accordance with a series of related transactions, and syndication transactions. And they explain how the new bonus depreciation rules apply to a variety of transactions involving partnerships holding assets that are otherwise eligible for bonus depreciation (for example, used machinery or vehicles).

Used Property Questions

The TCJA makes bonus depreciation available for qualified used property that wasn’t used by the taxpayer or a predecessor at any time prior to its acquisition. The final regs define the term “predecessor” to include:

  • The transferor of an asset to a transferee in a transaction subject to rules for tax attribute carryovers in corporate acquisitions,
  • The transferor of an asset to a transferee in a transaction in which the transferee’s basis in the asset is determined by reference to the asset’s basis when it was in the hands of the transferor,
  • A partnership that’s considered as continuing,
  • The deceased person, in the case of an asset acquired by an estate, or
  • The transferor of an asset to a trust.

The regs indicate that the IRS believes the consideration of such parties when determining whether a taxpayer has used a piece of property is necessary to prevent the abusive churning of assets by taxpayers.

The August 2018 proposed regulations explained that a business has used a piece of property if it or a predecessor had a depreciable interest in the property at any time before acquisition, regardless of whether the taxpayer or predecessor claimed depreciation deductions. However, the regs also requested comments on whether the IRS should provide a safe harbor as to how many taxable years a taxpayer or predecessor must look back to determine if a depreciable interest existed.

The final regs include a safe harbor look-back period that considers only the five calendar years immediately prior to the taxpayer’s current placed-in-service year for the property. If the taxpayer and a predecessor haven’t been around that long, only the number of calendar years they’ve existed is taken into account.

In addition, the final regs provide that “substantially renovated property” can qualify for bonus depreciation even if the taxpayer had a prior depreciable interest in it before the renovation. A property is substantially renovated if the cost of the used parts is less than or equal to 20% of the total cost of renovated property, whether the property is acquired or self-constructed.

Date of acquisition

The TCJA states that property won’t be treated as acquired after the date on which a “written binding contract” is entered into for the acquisition. The proposed regs clarify that the closing date, delivery date or other such date is irrelevant when determining the date of acquisition — only the date the contract is entered into matters for this purpose.

Under the proposed regs, a written contract is binding if it’s enforceable under state law against a taxpayer (or a predecessor) and doesn’t limit damages to a specified amount. A contractual provision that limits damages to at least 5% of the total contract price won’t be treated as limiting damages to a specified amount.

A letter of intent for an acquisition isn’t a binding contact, according to the proposed regs. Further, supply agreements aren’t treated as written binding contracts until a taxpayer provides the amount and design specifications of the property.

The proposed regs eliminate the safe harbor for property produced under a contract. Such property is no longer treated as self-constructed property, so the date that the contract is entered into generally is the date of acquisition.

Actual self-constructed property isn’t subject to the written binding contract requirement. The acquisition rules for self-constructed property are met if the taxpayer begins manufacturing, constructing or producing the property after September 27, 2017.

The rules regarding the eligibility of acquired used property could have a significant impact on mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. For example, buyers might prefer to structure a transaction as an asset purchase rather than a stock acquisition to take advantage of bonus depreciation. Businesses also should review transactions that have closed but are subject to the new rules to ensure they achieve the optimal tax treatment.

Date of Acquisition Issues

Under the TCJA, eligible property must be acquired after September 27, 2017, or acquired according to a written binding contract entered into by the taxpayer after September 27, 2017. The final regs provide that the acquisition date of property acquired according to a written binding contract is the later of:

  • The date on which the contract was entered into,
  • The date on which the contract is enforceable under state law,
  • The date on which all cancellation periods end, if the contract has one or more cancellation periods, or
  • The date on which all conditions subject to such clauses are satisfied, if the contract has one or more contingency clauses.

The August 2018 proposed regs provided that property manufactured, constructed or produced for the taxpayer for use in its business by another person under a written binding contract that was entered into prior to the manufacture, construction or production is acquired according to a written binding contract. Many commenters disagreed with this position, prompting the IRS to reconsider.

Thus, the final regs provide that such property is self-constructed property. This property type isn’t subject to the written binding contract rule and is eligible for bonus depreciation if the taxpayer began manufacturing, constructing or producing it after September 27, 2017.

The Ads Factor

Property that must be depreciated under the alternative depreciation system (ADS) generally isn’t eligible for bonus depreciation. As the final regs note, some tax code provisions require the use of the ADS to determine aggregate basis for the purposes of the respective provision — but not for purposes of calculating Section 168 depreciation deductions.

The final regs state that such requirements to use the ADS generally don’t render property ineligible for bonus depreciation. They also clarify that using the ADS to determine the adjusted basis of a taxpayer’s tangible assets for purposes of allocating business interest expense between excepted and nonexcepted businesses generally doesn’t make the property ineligible.

Effective Dates

The final regs are effective for qualified property placed in service during tax years that include September 24, 2019. You can elect to apply the regs to qualified property acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, or during tax years ending on or after September 28, 2017, as long as all of the rules in the final regs are consistently applied. Alternatively, you can rely on the August 2018 proposed regs for qualified property acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, during tax years ending on or after September 28, 2017, and ending on September 24, 2019.

Proposed Regulations

The proposed regs contain additional rules regarding the definition of qualified property, consolidated groups, the treatment of components of self-constructed property and the application of the midquarter convention. They also propose exceptions to some of the final regs.

For example, the proposed regs include an exception to the depreciable interest rule for used property when the taxpayer disposes of the property within 90 days of placing it in service. If certain requirements are satisfied, the taxpayer’s depreciable interest in the property during that period isn’t taken into account when determining whether the property was used by the taxpayer or a predecessor at any time before the taxpayer’s reacquisition of it.

Taxpayers generally can rely on the proposed regs for qualified property acquired and placed in service after September 27, 2017, during tax years ending on or after September 28, 2017, and ending before the taxable year that includes September 24, 2019.

Amount of the deduction

According to the proposed regs, the amount of the first-year depreciation deduction equals the applicable percentage of the property’s unadjusted depreciable basis. The unadjusted depreciable basis generally is limited to the property’s basis attributable to manufacture, construction or production of the property before January 1, 2027.

Maximize Your Depreciation Deduction

Businesses that wish to take advantage of the new rules for fiscal tax years beginning in 2017 but ending in 2018 may have several bonus depreciation options, and amended returns may be advisable in some cases. We can help you make the most of the new rules for fiscal tax years beginning in 2017 and going forward.

The final and proposed first-year 100% bonus depreciation deduction regs may provide you with some unexpected opportunities to claim bonus depreciation. In some cases, it might be worth amending your 2017 and 2018 tax return filings (or, in the event that you filed an extension, adjust your returns prior to filing). Contact us to maximize depreciation deductions for your business.

SD Mayer