IRS Issues Final “repair” Regulations With Looming Effective Date

The IRS has issued much-anticipated final “repair” regulations that provide guidance on the treatment of costs to acquire, produce or improve tangible property. These regulations take effect January 1, 2014. They affect virtually any business with tangible assets. The IRS has estimated that about 4 million businesses must comply.

At a length of over 200 pages, the regulations remain complex. Taxpayers will need to devote significant time and effort to study these regulations and to address their impact on their tax accounting. Taxpayers must decide whether they can deduct costs as repairs and maintenance or must capitalize the costs and recover their costs over a period of years. Every business, especially those with significant fixed assets, must develop an understanding of the regulations and their requirements.

Effective dates, decisions and opportunities

The final regulations retain the basic structure of the temporary and proposed regulations issued in December 2011 (the 2011 regulations). The IRS is not expected to delay these effective dates, since taxpayers were informed of the impending changes in many of the rules almost two years ago. Moreover, taxpayers will have the decision of whether to apply the regulations (either the temporary or the final) to the 2012 or 2013 tax years.

The IRS must provide additional guidance for taxpayers to change their methods of accounting to elect to apply either set of regulations retroactively and to comply with the 2014 effective date. Some accounting method changes will require taxpayers to make adjustments under Code Sec. 481(a), in effect, applying the regulations to past years and calculating the impact on income.

The final regulations make significant changes that can benefit most taxpayers if applied correctly. The changes include new and revised safe harbors, as well as new relief provisions for small business. The regulations will provide simplification and reduce controversy by allowing taxpayers to follow their financial accounting (“book”) policies in some areas.

The IRS did not finalize every portion of the 2011 regulations. To address some problems with the temporary regulations on the disposition of depreciable property, the IRS issued new proposed regulations that ease the requirements for taxpayers to deduct the cost of building components that they replace.

Significant provisions in the final regulations include the following:

Materials and supplies – The threshold for deducting materials and supplies was increased from $100 to $200 and generally applies to items expected to be consumed in 12 months or less, or that have an economically useful life of 12 months or less.

De minimis safe harbor – The final regulations eliminate a controversial ceiling on the use of this safe harbor. Taxpayers with applicable financial statements can apply the safe harbor to an item that is $5,000 or less. The regulations extend the safe harbor to taxpayers without a financial statement, but only for property that costs $500 or less. Taxpayers must have written book policies in place at the beginning of the year to apply the safe harbor.

Routine maintenance and improvements – The final regulations retain controversial unit of property rules that apply the rules for real property to eight separate building systems. However, the rules do extend the routine maintenance safe harbor to real property and provide a new safe harbor for small taxpayers. The safe harbor for real property limits the period for recurring maintenance to 10 years, which many practitioners believe is too short.

Capitalization election – The final regulations allow taxpayers to capitalize repair and maintenance costs if these costs are capitalized for financial accounting purposes. This provides significant simplification over the temporary regulations, although the tax impact is contrary to what taxpayers normally want.

If you have any questions regarding the compliance obligations that your business now must face, and the opportunities that many of these new rules present, please do not hesitate to call this office.

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