Guidance on Business Interest Deduction Limit May Address Real Estate Investment Issues

  • January 21, 2019

The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service are close to issuing draft regulations on the new business interest expense limitation, enacted in last year’s tax overhaul.  Regulations related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can be designated for an expedited, 10-day review by the White House Office of Management and Budget before publication and public release, though the timetable can be extended if needed.

  • The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act capped the amount of interest that a business with revenue over $25 million can deduct annually – to no more than 30 percent of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.  The provision also includes an important exception for an "electing real property trade or business." 
  • This exception reflects policymakers' understanding that limits on the deduction for interest expense could have enormous negative consequences for property values, real estate markets, and economic growth.  (Reference: Real Estate Forum, Jan/Feb 2018, Decoding The New Tax Bill) 
  • The Real Estate Roundtable on Feb. 21, 2018 wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and offered a number of recommendations to resolve ambiguities in how the new limitation will apply.  The Roundtable requested clarifications to ensure the exception operates as intended for common real estate ownership arrangements – focusing on the scope and application of the exception for an electing real property trade or business. 
  • The letter urged Treasury to clarify that interest (other than investment interest) on debt that is allocable to an owner of an entity engaged in a real property trade or business is indeed exempt from the new business interest limitation rule – if that trade or business has elected out of the rule.  As relevant examples, the letter describes four common scenarios where the financing of a real property trade or business occurs through a tiered structure. Clarifying the rules for real estate in the context of tiered arrangements will help avoid potential disruptions.  (Roundtable comment letter, Feb. 21, 2018)
  • In April, Treasury and the IRS released Notice 2018-28 to provide interim guidance on the new limit until the proposed regulations are issued. For real estate investors, however, the Notice leaves unanswered some of the key issues related to the financing of real estate.  (IRS, April 2 and Roundtable Weekly, April 6)   
  • On Oct. 25, OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) acknowledged receipt of the proposed section 163(j) rules from Treasury.  After OIRA completes its review, the proposed guidance will be issued.  A second set of regulations, focused specifically on pass-through entities, is expected in December.
The Roundtable's Tax Policy Advisory Committee will continue to seek appropriate clarifications as Treasury moves forward with regulatory projects related to implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.