Assignment of Income
The principle of progressive taxation is that tax rates applicable to increments of taxable income increase. Currently there are seven marginal brackets – eight if we count income that is below the threshold of taxable income.75 If a taxpayer can spread his/her income among other taxpayers, more of taxpayer’s income will be subject to lower marginal rates of tax.
The Tax Formula:
MINUS deductions named in § 62
EQUALS (adjusted gross income (AGI))
MINUS (standard deduction or itemized deductions)
MINUS (personal exemptions)
EQUALS (taxable income)
→ Compute income tax liability from tables in § 1 (indexed for inflation)
MINUS (credits against tax)
The following table represents the computation of the income tax burden of a person whose taxable income is $210,000. Imaginary marginal tax brackets are as noted. The total tax burden of this taxpayer is $50,000.
|Income range||Marginal Tax Rate||Tax|
|$0 to $10,000||0%||$0|
|$10,000 to $60,000||10%||$5000|
|$60,000 to $110,000||20%||$10,000|
|$110,000 to $160,000||30%||$15,000|
|$160,000 to $210,000||40%||$20,000|
Our taxpayer might try to reduce his/her tax burden by “assigning” some of his/her taxable income to persons s/he controls – perhaps two children. Our taxpayer might decide that s/he and each of the two children should receive $70,000 of the original $210,000 total. The new tax computation table would be the following:
|Income range||Marginal Tax Rate||Tax|
|$0 to $10,000||0%||$0|
|$10,000 to $60,000||10%||$5000|
|$60,000 to $110,000||20%||$200076|
|Total||$7000 x 3 = $21,000|
The total tax burden of three different persons, each with taxable income of $70,000, would be less than half the tax burden of one person with taxable income of $210,000. This characteristic of progressive tax rates has led taxpayers to create many schemes to “split income” so that more of it would be subject to lower rates of income tax.
The courts have created the “assignment of income”77 doctrine to prevent abusive income splitting. In addition, Congress has created some statutory rules that limit assignments of income. We begin with the leading case.
I. Compensation for Services
Lucas v. Earl, 281 U.S. 111 (1930)
JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether the respondent, Earl, could be taxed for the whole of the salary and attorney’s fees earned by him in the years 1920 and 1921, or should be taxed for only a half of them in view of a contract with his wife which we shall mention. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue and the Board of Tax Appeals imposed a tax upon the whole, but their decision was reversed by the circuit court of appeals. A writ of certiorari was granted by this Court.
By the contract, made in 1901, Earl and his wife agreed “that any property either of us now has or may hereafter acquire … in any way, either by earnings (including salaries, fees, etc.), or any rights by contract or otherwise, during the existence of our marriage, or which we or either of us may receive by gift, bequest, devise, or inheritance, and all the proceeds, issues, and profits of any and all such property shall be treated and considered, and hereby is declared to be received, held, taken, and owned by us as joint tenants, and not otherwise, with the right of survivorship.” The validity of the contract is not questioned, and we assume it to be unquestionable under the law of the California, in which the parties lived. Nevertheless we are of opinion that the Commissioner and Board of Tax Appeals were right.
The Revenue Act of 1918 approved February 24, 1919, c. 18, §§ 210, 211, 212(a), 213(a), 40 Stat. 1057, 1062, 1064, 1065, imposes a tax upon the net income of every individual including “income derived from salaries, wages, or compensation for personal service … of whatever kind and in whatever form paid,” § 213(a). The provisions of the Revenue Act of 1921 … are similar to those of the above. A very forcible argument is presented to the effect that the statute seeks to tax only income beneficially received, and that, taking the question more technically, the salary and fees became the joint property of Earl and his wife on the very first instant on which they were received. We well might hesitate upon the latter proposition, because, however the matter might stand between husband and wife, he was the only party to the contracts by which the salary and fees were earned, and it is somewhat hard to say that the last step in the performance of those contracts could be taken by anyone but himself alone. But this case is not to be decided by attenuated subtleties. It turns on the import and reasonable construction of the taxing act. There is no doubt that the statute could tax salaries to those who earned them, and provide that the tax could not be escaped by anticipatory arrangements and contracts, however skillfully devised, to prevent the salary when paid from vesting even for a second in the man who earned it. That seems to us the import of the statute before us, and we think that no distinction can be taken according to the motives leading to the arrangement by which the fruits are attributed to a different tree from that on which they grew.
Notes and Questions:
1. This case is the origin of the “assignment of income” doctrine, i.e., a taxpayer cannot assign his/her income tax liability to another by assigning as yet unearned income to another.
2. The Earls entered their contract 1901 – at a time when most people believed that a federal personal income tax was unconstitutional and fifteen years before Congress enacted the income tax statute. This “anticipatory assignment” could hardly have had as a purpose the avoidance of federal income tax liability.
• In fact, Guy Earl probably utilized the contract as an estate planning device. He was not in good health, and by this simple contract, he was able to pass half of his property – already owned or to be acquired – to his wife without need of probate. At the time, there was no right of survivorship in California community property. See Patricia A. Cain, The Story of Earl: How Echoes (and Metaphors) from the Past Continue to Shape the Assignment of Income Doctrine, in Tax Stories 305, 315 (Paul Caron, ed., 2d ed. 2009).
3. Is Mr. Earl subject to income tax in this case because he earned the income or because he exercised a right to assign its receipt prospectively?
4a. Consider: Taxpayer sold life insurance for several years. As such, he was entitled to “renewal commissions” when the purchaser of a policy paid premiums in later years in order to keep the policy in effect. Taxpayer sold his/her insurance agency business to another company, and the company paid $100,000 to Taxpayer for Taxpayer’s right to “renewal commissions.” Tax consequences to Taxpayer? How is this case different in essence from Lucas v. Earl?
• See Hodges v. Commissioner, 50 T.C. 428 (1968); cf. Helvering v. Eubank, 311 U.S. 122 (1941), infra.
4b. Taxpayer was a waitress at a restaurant and collected tips from customers. At the end of each shift, she would “tip out” various other restaurant employees, including busboys, bartenders, cooks, and other waitresses and waiters who assisted her during particularly busy times.
• The Commissioner argues that Taxpayer must report all of the tip income. Taxpayer may deduct as a trade or business expense what she pays other employees.
• Taxpayer argued that what she paid other employees was not even gross income to her.
• Why does one characterization rather than the other matter? Read §§ 62(a)(1), 67.
• What result?
• See, e.g., Brown v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 1996-310, 1996 WL 384904 (1996).
4c. Taxpayer was a partner in a partnership. Partnerships do not pay income taxes. Rather, individual partners are liable for income tax on their individual distributive shares of partnership profits. Taxpayer and his wife entered an agreement whereby she was made a full and equal partner with him. Wife performed no services and the other partners were not a party to this agreement.
• Taxpayer argued that he should be taxed on one half of his partnership distributive share, and his wife should be taxed on one half of his distributive share. This case predates married filing jointly tax returns.
• What result?
• See Burnet v. Leininger, 285 U.S. 136, 142 (1932).
5. How useful is the tree-fruits metaphor in resolving difficult questions of assignment of income?
• Taxpayer works for Mega Corporation. Taxpayer was personally responsible for generating $1M of new business for Mega. Mega paid taxpayer his usual salary of $100,000. Next year, Mega will give taxpayer a 50% raise. On how much income should taxpayer be liable for income tax –
• in year 1?
• in year 2?
Poe v. Seaborn, 282 U.S. 101 (1930)
MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Seaborn and his wife, citizens and residents of the State of Washington, made for the year 1927 separate income tax returns as permitted by the Revenue Act of 1926, c. 27, § 223 (U.S.C. App., Title 26, § 964).
During and prior to 1927, they accumulated property comprising real estate, stocks, bonds and other personal property. While the real estate stood in his name alone, it is undisputed that all of the property, real and personal, constituted community property, and that neither owned any separate property or had any separate income.
The income comprised Seaborn’s salary, interest on bank deposits and on bonds, dividends, and profits on sales of real and personal property. He and his wife each returned one-half the total community income as gross income, and each deducted one-half of the community expenses to arrive at the net income returned.
The Commissioner of Internal Revenue determined that all of the income should have been reported in the husband’s return, and made an additional assessment against him. Seaborn paid under protest, claimed a refund, and, on its rejection, brought this suit.
The district court rendered judgment for the plaintiff; the Collector appealed, and the circuit court of appeals certified to us the question whether the husband was bound to report for income tax the entire income, or whether the spouses were entitled each to return one-half thereof. This Court ordered the whole record to be sent up.
The case requires us to construe §§ 210(a) and 211(a) of the Revenue Act of 1926 (44 Stat. 21, U.S.C. App. Tit. 26, §§ 951 and 952), and apply them, as construed, to the interests of husband and wife in community property under the law of Washington. These sections lay a tax upon the net income of every individual. The Act goes no farther, and furnishes no other standard or definition of what constitutes an individual’s income. The use of the word “of” denotes ownership. It would be a strained construction, which, in the absence of further definition by Congress, should impute a broader significance to the phrase.
The Commissioner concedes that the answer to the question involved in the cause must be found in the provisions of the law of the state as to a wife’s ownership of or interest in community property. What, then, is the law of Washington as to the ownership of community property and of community income including the earnings of the husband’s and wife’s labor?
The answer is found in the statutes of the state and the decisions interpreting them.
These statutes provide that, save for property acquired by gift, bequest, devise, or inheritance, all property however acquired after marriage by either husband or wife or by both is community property. On the death of either spouse, his or her interest is subject to testamentary disposition, and, failing that, it passes to the issue of the decedent, and not to the surviving spouse. While the husband has the management and control of community personal property and like power of disposition thereof as of his separate personal property, this power is subject to restrictions which are inconsistent with denial of the wife’s interest as co owner. The wife may borrow for community purposes and bind the community property. [citation omitted]. Since the husband may not discharge his separate obligation out of community property, she may, suing alone, enjoin collection of his separate debt out of community property. [citation omitted]. She may prevent his making substantial gifts out of community property without her consent. [citation omitted]. The community property is not liable for the husband’s torts not committed in carrying on the business of the community. [citation omitted].
The books are full of expressions such as “the personal property is just as much hers as his” [citation omitted]; “her property right in it [(an automobile)] is as great as his” [citation omitted]; “the title of the spouse therein was a legal title, as well as that of the other” [citation omitted].
Without further extending this opinion, it must suffice to say that it is clear the wife has, in Washington, a vested property right in the community property equal with that of her husband, and in the income of the community, including salaries or wages of either husband or wife, or both. …
The taxpayer contends that, if the test of taxability under Sections 210 and 211 is ownership, it is clear that income of community property is owned by the community, and that husband and wife have each a present vested one-half interest therein.
The Commissioner contends, however, that we are here concerned not with mere names, nor even with mere technical legal titles; that calling the wife’s interest vested is nothing to the purpose, because the husband has such broad powers of control and alienation that, while the community lasts, he is essentially the owner of the whole community property, and ought so to be considered for the purposes of §§ 210 and 211. He points out that, as to personal property, the husband may convey it, may make contracts affecting it, may do anything with it short of committing a fraud on his wife’s rights. And though the wife must join in any sale of real estate, he asserts that the same is true, by virtue of statutes, in most states which do not have the community system. He asserts that control without accountability is indistinguishable from ownership, and that, since the husband has this, quoad community property and income, the income is that “of” the husband under §§ 210, 211 of the income tax law.
We think, in view of the law of Washington above stated, this contention is unsound. The community must act through an agent. This Court has said with respect to the community property system [citation omitted] that “property acquired during marriage with community funds became an acquêt of the community, and not the sole property of the one in whose name the property was bought, although by the law existing at the time the husband was given the management, control, and power of sale of such property. This right being vested in him not because he was the exclusive owner, but because, by law, he was created the agent of the community.”
quoad: as to; as long as; until
The obligations of the husband as agent of the community are no less real because the policy of the state limits the wife’s right to call him to account in a court. Power is not synonymous with right. Nor is obligation coterminous with legal remedy. The law’s investiture of the husband with broad powers by no means negatives the wife’s present interest as a co-owner.
We are of opinion that, under the law of Washington, the entire property and income of the community can no more be said to be that of the husband than it could rightly be termed that of the wife.
The Commissioner urges that we have, in principle, decided the instant question in favor of the government. He relies on [citations omitted] and Lucas v. Earl, 281 U. S. 111.
In the Earl case, a husband and wife contracted that any property they had or might thereafter acquire in any way, either by earnings (including salaries, fees, etc.) or any rights by contract or otherwise, “shall be treated and considered, and hereby is declared to be received, held, taken, and owned by us as joint tenants. …” We held that assuming the validity of the contract under local law, it still remained true that the husband’s professional fees, earned in years subsequent to the date of the contract, were his individual income, “derived from salaries, wages, or compensation for personal service” under § 210, 211, 212(a) and 213 of the Revenue Act of 1918. The very assignment in that case was bottomed on the fact that the earnings would be the husband’s property, else there would have been nothing on which if could operate. That case presents quite a different question from this, because here, by law, the earnings are never the property of the husband, but that of the community.
Finally the argument is pressed upon us that the Commissioner’s ruling will work uniformity of incidence and operation of the tax in the various states, while the view urged by the taxpayer will make the tax fall unevenly upon married people. This argument cuts both ways. When it is remembered that a wife’s earnings are a part of the community property equally with her husband’s, it may well seem to those who live in states where a wife’s earnings are her own that it would not tend to promote uniformity to tax the husband on her earnings as part of his income. The answer to such argument, however, is that the constitutional requirement of uniformity is not intrinsic, but geographic. [citations omitted]. And differences of state law, which may bring a person within or without the category designated by Congress as taxable, may not be read into the Revenue Act to spell out a lack of uniformity. [citation omitted].
The district court was right in holding that the husband and wife were entitled to file separate returns, each treating one-half of the community income as his or her respective incomes, and its judgment is
THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE STONE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
Notes and Questions:
1. Is the distinction of ownership by reason of state law rather than operation of a contract convincing? Would you expect the same resolution of the conflict to be applied to partnership allocations of income embodied in a partnership agreement, i.e., in a contract? Why the difference?
2. When taxpayer lawfully performed services for which insurance commissions were paid but which taxpayer could not legally receive, the Supreme Court held that taxpayer did not have sufficient dominion over the income to be required to include it in its gross income. Commissioner v. First Security Bank of Utah, 405 U.S. 394, 405 (1972) (“We think that fairness requires the tax to fall on the party that actually receives the premiums, rather than on the party that cannot.”).
3. State law often effectively dictates the ownership of property for purposes of federal income tax. Recall the role of Ohio law of treasure trove in Cesarini. If state law recognizes a taxpayer’s same-sex marriage, what federal tax law consequences should follow?
4. Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 U.S.C. § 7, provides:
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
The United States Supreme Court held that this provision unconstitutionally denied same-sex spouses equal protection in United States v. Windsor, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 133 S. Ct. 2675, 2695 (2013). Section 2 of DOMA, 1 U.S.C. § 6, provides:
No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.”
The Supreme Court offered no holding concerning the constitutionality of § 2 of DOMA. For purposes of income tax, Windsor raised issues that the IRS addressed in Rev. Rul. 2013-17, 2013 38 I.R.B. 201.
Although states have different rules of marriage recognition, uniform nationwide rules are essential for efficient and fair tax administration. A rule under which a couple’s marital status could change simply by moving from one state to another state would be prohibitively difficult and costly for the Service to administer, and for many taxpayers to apply.
For Federal tax purposes, the term “marriage” does not include registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or other similar formal relationships recognized under state law that are not denominated as a marriage under that state’s law, and the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” do not include individuals who have entered into such a formal relationship. This conclusion applies regardless of whether individuals who have entered into such relationships are of the opposite sex or the same sex.
1. For Federal tax purposes, the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” include an individual married to a person of the same sex if the individuals are lawfully married under state law, and the term “marriage” includes such a marriage between individuals of the same sex.
2. For Federal tax purposes, the Service adopts a general rule recognizing a marriage of same-sex individuals that was validly entered into in a state whose laws authorize the marriage of two individuals of the same sex even if the married couple is domiciled in a state that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.
3. For Federal tax purposes, the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” do not include individuals (whether of the opposite sex or the same sex) who have entered into a registered domestic partnership, civil union, or other similar formal relationship recognized under state law that is not denominated as a marriage under the laws of that state, and the term “marriage” does not include such formal relationships.
Thus, same-sex couples whose marriage is recognized by any state must file as married filing jointly or as married filing separately. Married same sex spouses may not file as single or as head of household. See IRS, Notice, 2013 WL 4718990 (August 29, 2013), Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Individuals of the Same Sex Who Are Married Under State Law (Q2 and Q5).
5. Do the CALI Lesson, Basic Federal Income Taxation: Assignment of Income: Services.
• Do not worry about question 14.
• Be prepared to learn something about waiver.
II. Income Splitting and the Joint Return
The following excerpt from a legislative report reviews ebb and flow of policy in the choice of tax bracket breakpoints for different filing statuses.
Joint Committee on Taxation, The Income Tax Treatment of Married Couples and Single Persons 3-7 (April 2, 1980)
Under the initial version of the modern individual income tax, enacted in 1913, married couples were taxed as separate individuals. In 1930, the Supreme Court ruled that State community property laws were to be given effect for income tax purposes, which meant that, in the States with such laws, married couples could equally divide income considered community property, the split which minimizes a couple’s combined tax burden in a progressive tax system. After the large increase in tax rates enacted to finance World War II, many States enacted community property laws in order to give their citizens the tax benefit of this income splitting.
To stop this community property epidemic, in 1948 Congress provided that all married couples could enjoy the benefits of income splitting by filing joint returns. Separate filing by married persons was allowed, but the loss of income splitting meant that this almost always led to a tax increase. Single persons were required to use the same rate schedules as married couples and received no special treatment to offset the married couples’ benefit from income splitting; therefore, marriage almost always resulted in a tax reduction for married couples and divorce in a tax increase.
In 1951, Congress enacted the head-of-household rate schedule for single persons who maintain households for certain relatives. This provided a “divorce bonus” to married couples with children if they had relatively equal incomes.
In 1969, Congress enacted a special rate schedule for single persons to give them about one-half the benefit of income splitting and adjusted the head-of-household rate schedule to give these taxpayers about three-fourths of the benefit of income splitting. These changes increased the divorce bonus provided by the head-of-household rate schedule and created a “marriage penalty” when single persons with relatively equal incomes married each other.
The proper tax treatment of married couples and single persons involves judgments about equity, economic efficiency and complexity.
The first question is what should be the tax unit, the group whose income and deductions are pooled in determining tax liability. Many people believe that the tax system should be “marriage neutral;” that is, a married couple should have the same tax burden as two single persons, each of whom has the same income as one of the spouses. Many people, however, also believe that, because most married couples pool their income and spend as a unit, fairness requires that the tax burden of a married couple not depend on how their combined income is distributed between them. A third widely held proposition is that the tax system should be progressive; that is, as income rises, tax burdens should increase as a percentage of income. Many Americans, if asked, would express agreement with all three of these principles of tax equity: marriage neutrality, equal taxation of couples with equal incomes, and progressivity.
One problem with devising a satisfactory method of taxing married couples is that these three principles of tax equity are logically inconsistent. A tax system generally can have any two of them, but not all three. A progressive tax system that treats the individual, not the couple, as a tax unit preserves marriage neutrality but sacrifices equal taxation of couples with equal incomes because couples with unequal incomes would pay a larger combined tax than couples with relatively equal incomes. The present income tax sacrifices marriage neutrality, but maintains equal taxation of couples with equal incomes and progressivity. A proportional income tax could have both marriage neutrality and equal taxation of couples with equal incomes, but it would sacrifice progressivity … Which of these three principles ought to be sacrificed is a subjective question.
A second equity issue is how the overall tax burden should be distributed between single persons, single heads of households, one-earner married couples and two-earner married couples. This too is essentially a subjective judgment. The enactment of income splitting in 1948 shifted the tax burden away from one-earner married couples and other couples with relatively unequal incomes. The special rate schedules for heads of households and for single persons shifted the burden away from these classes of taxpayers. Recent proposals to reduce the marriage penalty involve shifting the burden away from two-earner couples. Any proposal that shifts the tax burden away from one of these groups means increasing the relative burden on the others.
Considerations of economic efficiency dictate that tax rates be lowest on persons whose work effort would be most responsive to lower taxes. Virtually all statistical studies of the issue conclude that a wife’s work effort is more responsive to reduced taxes than her husband’s. Therefore, the present system of taxing both spouses’ earnings at the same marginal tax rate is economically inefficient compared to a system with lower tax rates on the wife’s earnings. (The marginal tax rate is the rate applicable to the next dollar of income.) However, the present system may have countervailing benefits to the extent society gains from uncompensated work performed by wives.
Relief for second earners
[Some] proposals involve ad hoc relief for two-earner married couples, designed to reduce the marriage penalty and marginal tax rates on second earners while retaining the basic system of joint filing. Such relief could take the form of a deduction or credit equal to a percentage of the earnings of the spouse with the lower amount of earnings. …
A deduction or credit for second earners is one of the simplest ways to reduce the marriage penalty and the marginal tax rates on second earners. Per dollar of revenue loss, a deduction would be more effective in these respects; however, a credit gives more benefit to lower income couples than a deduction. If either a deduction or credit were adopted, the system would be characterized neither by marriage neutrality nor by equal taxation of couples with equal incomes.
Notes and Questions:
1. How would you resolve these conflicts? You can imagine that there are many interest groups that have their own views of what is fair – but the point is well-taken that the Code cannot, consistently with Poe v. Seaborn, please everyone.
2. For a time, the Code provided a credit to married couples when both husband and wife worked. The credit was based upon the income earned by the spouse who earned less.
Now: Imagine several possible taxpaying units and some possible distributions of $70,000 of taxable income within those units. Review determinations of the tax liability of each unit using the tax tables found in § 1 before temporary reductions and indexing.
1. Married taxpayers together earn $70,000. Couple files married filing jointly.
• One spouse earns $35,000, the other earns $35,000
• Tax burden = 5535 + 9268 = $14,803
2. Married taxpayers together earn $70,000. Couple files married filing jointly.
• One spouse earns $70,000, the other earns $0.
• Tax Burden = $14,803
3. Same sex partners, or unmarried cohabiting man and woman together earn $70,000. Each partner files as unmarried individual.
• Both partners each earns $35,000
• Tax Burden = 3315 + 3612 = 6927 × 2 = $13,854
4. Same sex partners, or unmarried cohabiting man and woman together earn $70,000. Each partner files as unmarried individual.
• One partner earns $70,000, the other partner earns $0.
• Tax Burden = 12,107 + 5115 = $17,222
5. Divorced mother with child earns $70,000
Tax Burden = 4440 + 11,312 = $15,752
• The first two couples pay the same tax. The Code does not discriminate among married couples, irrespective of who earns taxable income.
• However the first two couples pay more income tax than the third couple. This is the marriage penalty.
• The first two couples pay less than the fourth couple. This is the marriage bonus.
• The fifth taxpayer pays less than the fourth couple, but more than the first two couples.
Are these results this fair?
Recompute the tax liabilities of these taxpaying units using the current tables found at the very front of your Code.
• What has happened to the brackets that caused such dramatically different results?
• Look at the bottom two tax brackets in tables 1 and 3. Notice the relationship between the lowest bracket in table 1 and the lowest bracket in table 3. Notice the relationship between the second lowest bracket in table 1 and the second lowest bracket in table 3.
• To whom did Congress respond when it created these relationships in 2001? Perhaps the same people who supported adoption of the Child Tax Credit in 1997 (§ 24)?
III. Income Derived from Property
Re-read Helvering v. Horst in chapter 2. Why did taxpayer Horst lose?
Helvering v. Eubank, 311 U.S. 122 (1940)
MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a companion case to Helvering v. Horst, … and presents issues not distinguishable from those in that case.
Respondent, a general life insurance agent, after the termination of his agency contracts and services as agent, made assignments in 1924 and 1928, respectively, of renewal commissions to become payable to him for services which had been rendered in writing policies of insurance under two of his agency contracts. The Commissioner assessed the renewal commissions paid by the companies to the assignees in 1933 as income taxable to the assignor in that year … The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the order of the Board of Tax Appeals sustaining the assessment. We granted certiorari.
No purpose of the assignments appears other than to confer on the assignees the power to collect the commissions, which they did in the taxable year. …
For the reasons stated at length in the opinion in the Horst case, we hold that the commissions were taxable as income of the assignor in the year when paid. The judgment below is
The separate opinion of MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS.
“The question presented is whether renewal commissions payable to a general agent of a life insurance company after the termination of his agency and by him assigned prior to the taxable year must be included in his income despite the assignment.”
“During part of the year 1924, the petitioner was employed by The Canada Life Assurance Company as its branch manager for the state of Michigan. His compensation consisted of a salary plus certain commissions. His employment terminated on September 1, 1924. Under the terms of his contract, he was entitled to renewal commissions on premiums thereafter collected by the company on policies written prior to the termination of his agency, without the obligation to perform any further services. In November, 1924, he assigned his right, title and interest in the contract, as well as the renewal commissions, to a corporate trustee. From September 1, 1924 to June 30, 1927, the petitioner and another, constituting the firm of Hart & Eubank, were general agents in New York City for the Aetna Life Assurance Company, and from July 1, 1927, to August 31, 1927, the petitioner individually was general agent for said Aetna Company. The Aetna contracts likewise contained terms entitling the agent to commissions on renewal premiums paid after termination of the agency, without the performance of any further services. On March 28, 1928, the petitioner assigned to the corporate trustee all commissions to become due him under the Aetna contracts. During the year 1933, the trustee collected by virtue of the assignments renewal commissions payable under the three agency contracts above mentioned amounting to some $15,600. These commissions were taxed to the petitioner by the commissioner, and the Board has sustained the deficiency resulting therefrom.”
The court below declared –
“In the case at bar, the petitioner owned a right to receive money for past services; no further services were required. Such a right is assignable. At the time of assignment, there was nothing contingent in the petitioner’s right, although the amount collectible in future years was still uncertain and contingent. But this may be equally true where the assignment transfers a right to income from investments, as in Blair v. Commissioner, 300 U.S. 5, and Horst v. Commissioner, 107 F.2d 906, or a right to patent royalties, as in Nelson v. Ferguson, 56 F.2d 121, cert. denied, 286 U.S. 565. By an assignment of future earnings, a taxpayer may not escape taxation upon his compensation in the year when he earns it. But when a taxpayer who makes his income tax return on a cash basis assigns a right to money payable in the future for work already performed, we believe that he transfers a property right, and the money, when received by the assignee, is not income taxable to the assignor.
Accordingly, the Board of Tax Appeals was reversed, and this, I think, is in accord with the statute and our opinions.
The assignment in question denuded the assignor of all right to commissions thereafter to accrue under the contract with the insurance company. He could do nothing further in respect of them; they were entirely beyond his control. In no proper sense were they something either earned or received by him during the taxable year. The right to collect became the absolute property of the assignee, without relation to future action by the assignor.
A mere right to collect future payments for services already performed is not presently taxable as “income derived” from such services. It is property which may be assigned. Whatever the assignor receives as consideration may be his income, but the statute does not undertake to impose liability upon him because of payments to another under a contract which he had transferred in good faith under circumstances like those here disclosed.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS concur in this opinion.
Notes and Questions:
1. The Court’s majority says that this case presents issues like those in Horst, supra?
• Is that accurate?
2. Should the right to collect compensation income for services performed become property simply by the passage of time, e.g., one year?
• Should the tax burden fall upon the one who earns the income only if that person receives the compensation in the same year?
3. Do you see any latent problems of horizontal equity in the opinion of Justice McReynolds? Taxpayers have endeavored from the beginning to convert compensation income from ordinary income into property. Courts are very careful not permit this to occur. Does not Justice McReynolds undermine the principles of Lucas v. Earl?
• Maybe the principles of Lucas v. Earl need undermining.
• Why do you think that taxpayer wanted to transfer his rights to receive future renewal commission to a corporation that he controlled? Were there tax advantages to doing this?
Blair v. Commissioner, 300 U.S. 5 (1937)
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question of the liability of a beneficiary of a testamentary trust for a tax upon the income which he had assigned to his children prior to the tax years and which the trustees had paid to them accordingly.
The trust was created by the will of William Blair, a resident of Illinois who died in 1899, and was of property located in that State. One-half of the net income was to be paid to the donor’s widow during her life. His son, the petitioner Edward Tyler Blair, was to receive the other one-half and, after the death of the widow, the whole of the net income during his life. In 1923, after the widow’s death, petitioner assigned to his daughter, Lucy Blair Linn, an interest amounting to $6,000 for the remainder of that calendar year, and to $9,000 in each calendar year thereafter, in the net income which the petitioner was then or might thereafter be entitled to receive during his life. At about the same time, he made like assignments of interests, amounting to $9,000 in each calendar year, in the net income of the trust to his daughter Edith Blair and to his son, Edward Seymour Blair, respectively. In later years, by similar instruments, he assigned to these children additional interests, and to his son William McCormick Blair other specified interests, in the net income. The trustees accepted the assignments and distributed the income directly to the assignees.
… [T]he trustees brought suit in the superior court of Cook county, Illinois, to obtain a construction of the will … [and the Illinois courts] found the assignments to be “voluntary assignments of a part of the interest of said Edward Tyler Blair in said trust estate” and, as such, adjudged them to be valid.
At that time, there were pending before the Board of Tax Appeals proceedings involving the income of the trust for the years 1924, 1925, 1926, and 1929. The Board … [applied] the decision of [the Illinois courts and] overruled the Commissioner’s determination as to the petitioner’s liability. The Circuit Court of Appeals … reversed the Board. That court recognized the binding effect of the decision of the state court as to the validity of the assignments, but decided that the income was still taxable to the petitioner upon the ground that his interest was not attached to the corpus of the estate, and that the income was not subject to his disposition until he received it.
Because of an asserted conflict with the decision of the state court, and also with decisions of circuit courts of appeals, we granted certiorari. …
First. [Res judicata does not bar this case.]
Second. The question of the validity of the assignments is a question of local law. The donor was a resident of Illinois, and his disposition of the property in that State was subject to its law. By that law, the character of the trust, the nature and extent of the interest of the beneficiary, and the power of the beneficiary to assign that interest in whole or in part are to be determined. The decision of the state court upon these questions is final. Spindle v. Shreve, 111 U.S. 542, 547-548; Uterhart v. United States, 240 U.S. 598, 603; Poe v. Seaborn, 282 U.S. 101, 110; Freuler v. Helvering, supra, 291 U.S. 45. … In this instance, it is not necessary to go beyond the obvious point that the decision was in a suit between the trustees and the beneficiary and his assignees, and the decree which was entered in pursuance of the decision determined as between these parties the validity of the particular assignments. …
Third. The question remains whether, treating the assignments as valid, the assignor was still taxable upon the income under the federal income tax act. That is a federal question.
Our decisions in Lucas v. Earl, 281 U.S. 111, and Burnet v. Leininger, 285 U.S. 136, are cited. In the Lucas case, the question was whether an attorney was taxable for the whole of his salary and fees earned by him in the tax years, or only upon one-half by reason of an agreement with his wife by which his earnings were to be received and owned by them jointly. We were of the opinion that the case turned upon the construction of the taxing act. We said that “the statute could tax salaries to those who earned them, and provide that the tax could not be escaped by anticipatory arrangements and contracts, however skilfully devised, to prevent the salary when paid from vesting even for a second in the man who earned it.” That was deemed to be the meaning of the statute as to compensation for personal service, and the one who earned the income was held to be subject to the tax. In Burnet v. Leininger, supra, a husband, a member of a firm, assigned future partnership income to his wife. We found that the revenue act dealt explicitly with the liability of partners as such. The wife did not become a member of the firm; the act specifically taxed the distributive share of each partner in the net income of the firm, and the husband, by the fair import of the act, remained taxable upon his distributive share. These cases are not in point. The tax here is not upon earnings which are taxed to the one who earns them. Nor is it a case of income attributable to a taxpayer by reason of the application of the income to the discharge of his obligation. Old Colony Trust Co. v. Commissioner, 279 U.S. 716; [citations omitted]. There is here no question of evasion or of giving effect to statutory provisions designed to forestall evasion; or of the taxpayer’s retention of control. Corliss v. Bowers, 281 U.S. 376; Burnet v. Guggenheim, 288 U.S. 280.
In the instant case, the tax is upon income as to which, in the general application of the revenue acts, the tax liability attaches to ownership. See Poe v. Seaborn, supra; [citation omitted].
The Government points to the provisions of the revenue acts imposing upon the beneficiary of a trust the liability for the tax upon the income distributable to the beneficiary. But the term is merely descriptive of the one entitled to the beneficial interest. These provisions cannot be taken to preclude valid assignments of the beneficial interest, or to affect the duty of the trustee to distribute income to the owner of the beneficial interest, whether he was such initially or becomes such by valid assignment. The one who is to receive the income as the owner of the beneficial interest is to pay the tax. If, under the law governing the trust, the beneficial interest is assignable, and if it has been assigned without reservation, the assignee thus becomes the beneficiary, and is entitled to rights and remedies accordingly. We find nothing in the revenue acts which denies him that status.
The decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals turned upon the effect to be ascribed to the assignments. The court held that the petitioner had no interest in the corpus of the estate, and could not dispose of the income until he received it. Hence, it was said that “the income was his,” and his assignment was merely a direction to pay over to others what was due to himself. The question was considered to involve “the date when the income became transferable.” The Government refers to the terms of the assignment – that it was of the interest in the income “which the said party of the first part now is, or may hereafter be, entitled to receive during his life from the trustees.” From this, it is urged that the assignments “dealt only with a right to receive the income,” and that “no attempt was made to assign any equitable right, title or interest in the trust itself.” This construction seems to us to be a strained one. We think it apparent that the conveyancer was not seeking to limit the assignment so as to make it anything less than a complete transfer of the specified interest of the petitioner as the life beneficiary of the trust, but that, with ample caution, he was using words to effect such a transfer. That the state court so construed the assignments appears from the final decree which described them as voluntary assignments of interests of the petitioner “in said trust estate,” and it was in that aspect that petitioner’s right to make the assignments was sustained.
The will creating the trust entitled the petitioner during his life to the net income of the property held in trust. He thus became the owner of an equitable interest in the corpus of the property. Brown v. Fletcher, 235 U.S. 589, 598-599; Irwin v. Gavit, 268 U.S. 161, 167-168; Senior v. Braden, 295 U.S. 422, 432; Merchants’ Loan & Trust Co. v. Patterson, 308 Ill. 519, 530, 139 N.E. 912. By virtue of that interest, he was entitled to enforce the trust, to have a breach of trust enjoined, and to obtain redress in case of breach. The interest was present property alienable like any other, in the absence of a valid restraint upon alienation. [citations omitted]. The beneficiary may thus transfer a part of his interest, as well as the whole. See Restatement of the Law of Trusts, §§ 130, 132 et seq. The assignment of the beneficial interest is not the assignment of a chose in action, but of the “right, title, and estate in and to property.” Brown v. Fletcher, supra; Senior v. Braden, supra. See Bogert, Trusts and Trustees, vol. 1, § 183, pp. 516, 517; 17 Columbia Law Review, 269, 273, 289, 290.
We conclude that the assignments were valid, that the assignees thereby became the owners of the specified beneficial interests in the income, and that, as to these interests, they, and not the petitioner, were taxable for the tax years in question. The judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed, and the cause is remanded with direction to affirm the decision of the Board of Tax Appeals.
It is so ordered.
Notes and Questions:
1. On what basis did the court of appeals hold for the Commissioner? Compare that to the language of Horst.
2. The Court spent several paragraphs establishing that Edward Tyler Blair had the power to dispose of his interest as he wished. Why was the exercise of this discretion sufficient in this case to shift the tax burden to the recipient when it was not sufficient in Helvering v. Horst?
3. William Blair died. Through his will, he devised part of his property to a trust. We are not told who received the remainder of his property. Edward Tyler William Blair was an income beneficiary of part of the trust. We are not told of the final disposition of the corpus of the trust. We are told that Edward had no interest in the corpus of the estate. Edward assigned fractional interests “in each calendar year thereafter, in the net income which [Edward] was then or might thereafter be entitled to receive during his life.” It appears that Edward’s entire interest was as a beneficiary of the trust. He then assigned to various sons and daughters a fraction of his entire interest.
• Exactly what interest did William Blair, Jr. retain after these dispositions?
• Compare this to what the taxpayer in Helvering v. Horst, supra, chapter 3, retained.
• Is this difference a sound basis upon which the Court may reach different results?
4. Think of the ownership of “property” as the ownership of a “bundle of sticks.” Each stick represents some particular right. For example, a holder of a bond may own several sticks, e.g., the right to receive an interest payment in each of ten consecutive years might be ten sticks, the right to sell the bond might be another stick, the right to the proceeds upon maturity might be another stick. Imagine that we lay the sticks comprising a bond, one on top of the other. Then we slice off a piece of the property. We might slice horizontally – and thereby take all or a portion of only one or a few sticks. Or we might slice vertically – and thereby take an identically proportional piece of every stick.
Consider the accompanying diagrams of Horst and Blair. Do they suggest an analytical model in “assignment of income derived from property” cases?
• Slice vertically rather than horizontally?
5. Taxpayer was the life beneficiary of a testamentary trust. In December 1929, she assigned a specified number of dollars from the income of the trust to certain of her children for 1930. The trustee paid the specified children as per Taxpayer’s instructions.
• Exactly what interest did Taxpayer retain after these dispositions?
• Should Taxpayer-life beneficiary or the children that she named to receive money in 1930 be subject to income tax on the trust income paid over to the children? See Harrison v. Schaffner, 312 U.S. 579, 582-83 (1941).
6. Taxpayer established a trust with himself as trustee and his wife as beneficiary. The trust was to last for five years unless either Taxpayer or his wife died earlier. Taxpayer placed securities that he owned in the trust. The trust’s net income was to be held for Taxpayer’s wife. Upon termination of the trust, the corpus was to revert to Taxpayer and any accumulated income was to be paid to his wife.
• Exactly what interest did Taxpayer retain after these dispositions?
• Should Taxpayer-settlor-trustee or his wife be subject to income tax on the trust income paid over to Taxpayer’s wife? See Helvering v. Clifford, 309 U.S. 331, 335 (1940).
6a. Now suppose that Taxpayer placed property in trust, the income from which was to be paid to his wife until she died and then to their children. Taxpayer “reserved power ‘to modify or alter in any manner, or revoke in whole or in part, this indenture and the trusts then existing, and the estates and interests in property hereby created[.]?’” Taxpayer did not in fact exercise this power, and the trustee paid income to Taxpayer’s wife.
• Exactly what interest did Taxpayer retain after this disposition?
• Should the trust income be taxable income to Taxpayer or to his wife?
• See Corliss v. Bowers, 281 U.S. 376, 378 (1930).
7. Again: is the tree-fruits analogy useful in difficult cases? Consider what happens when the fruit of labor is property from which income may be derived.
Heim v. Fitzpatrick, 262 F.2d 887 (2nd Cir. 1959)
Before SWAN and MOORE, Circuit Judges, and KAUFMAN, District Judge.
SWAN, Circuit Judge.
This litigation involves income taxes of Lewis R. Heim, for the years 1943 through 1946. On audit of the taxpayer’s returns, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue determined that his taxable income in each of said years should be increased by adding thereto patent royalty payments received by his wife, his son and his daughter. The resulting deficiencies were paid under protest to defendant Fitzpatrick, Collector of Internal Revenue for the District of Connecticut. Thereafter claims for refund were filed and rejected. The present action was timely commenced … It was heard upon an agreed statement of facts and supplemental affidavits. Each party moved for summary judgment. The plaintiff’s motion was denied and the defendant’s granted. …
Plaintiff was the inventor of a new type of rod end and spherical bearing. In September 1942 he applied for a patent thereon. On November 5, 1942 he applied for a further patent on improvements of his original invention. Thereafter on November 17, 1942 he executed a formal written assignment of his invention and of the patents which might be issued for it and for improvements thereof to The Heim Company.78 This was duly recorded in the Patent Office and in January 1945 and May 1946 plaintiff’s patent applications were acted on favorably and patents thereon were issued to the Company. The assignment to the Company was made pursuant to an oral agreement, subsequently reduced to a writing dated July 29, 1943, by which it was agreed (1) that the Company need pay no royalties on bearings manufactured by it prior to July 1, 1943; (2) that after that date the Company would pay specified royalties on 12 types of bearings; (3) that on new types of bearings it would pay royalties to be agreed upon prior to their manufacture; (4) that if the royalties for any two consecutive months or for any one year should fall below stated amounts, plaintiff at his option might cancel the agreement and thereupon all rights granted by him under the agreement and under any and all assigned patents should revert to him, his heirs and assigns; and (5) that this agreement is not transferable by the Company.
In August 1943 plaintiff assigned to his wife ‘an undivided interest of 25 per cent in said agreement with The Heim Company dated July 29, 1943, and in all his inventions and patent rights, past and future, referred to therein and in all rights and benefits of the First Party (plaintiff) thereunder * * *.’ A similar assignment was given to his son and another to his daughter. Plaintiff paid gift taxes on the assignments. The Company was notified of them and thereafter it made all royalty payments accordingly. As additional types of bearings were put into production from time to time the royalties on them were fixed by agreement between the Company and the plaintiff and his three assignees.
The Commissioner of Internal Revenue decided that all of the royalties paid by the Company to plaintiff’s wife and children during the taxable years in suit were taxable to him. This resulted in a deficiency which the plaintiff paid …
The appellant contends that the assignments to his wife and children transferred to them income-producing property and consequently the royalty payments were taxable to his donees, as held in Blair v. Commissioner, 300 U.S. 5. . Judge Anderson, however, was of opinion that (151 F. Supp. 576):
‘The income-producing property, i.e., the patents, had been assigned by the taxpayer to the corporation. What he had left was a right to a portion of the income which the patents produced. He had the power to dispose of and divert the stream of this income as he saw fit.’
Consequently he ruled that the principles applied by the Supreme Court in Helvering v. Horst, 311 U.S. 112 and Helvering v. Eubank, 311 U.S. 122 required all the royalty payments to be treated as income of plaintiff.
The question is not free from doubt, but the court believes that the transfers in this case were gifts of income-producing property and that neither Horst nor Eubank requires the contrary view. In the Horst case the taxpayer detached interest coupons from negotiable bonds, which he retained, and made a gift of the coupons, shortly before their due date, to his son who collected them in the same year at maturity. Lucas v. Earl, 281 U.S. 111, which held that an assignment of unearned future income for personal services is taxable to the assignor, was extended to cover the assignment in Horst, the court saying,
‘Nor is it perceived that there is any adequate basis for distinguishing between the gift of interest coupons here and a gift of salary or commissions.’
In the Eubank case the taxpayer assigned a contract which entitled him to receive previously earned insurance renewal commissions. In holding the income taxable to the assignor the court found that the issues were not distinguishable from those in Horst. No reference was made to the assignment of the underlying contract.79
In the present case more than a bare right to receive future royalties was assigned by plaintiff to his donees. Under the terms of his contract with The Heim Company he retained the power to bargain for the fixing of royalties on new types of bearings, i.e., bearings other than the 12 products on which royalties were specified. This power was assigned and the assignees exercised it as to new products. Plaintiff also retained a reversionary interest in his invention and patents by reason of his option to cancel the agreement if certain conditions were not fulfilled. This interest was also assigned. The fact that the option was not exercised in 1945, when it could have been, is irrelevant so far as concerns the existence of the reversionary interest. We think that the rights retained by plaintiff and assigned to his wife and children were sufficiently substantial to justify the view that they were given income-producing property.
In addition to Judge Anderson’s ground of decision appellee advances a further argument in support of the judgment, namely, that the plaintiff retained sufficient control over the invention and the royalties to make it reasonable to treat him as owner of that income for tax purposes. Commissioner v. Sunnen, 333 U.S. 591 is relied upon. There a patent was licensed under a royalty contract with a corporation in which the taxpayer-inventor held 89% of the stock. An assignment of the royalty contract to the taxpayer’s wife was held ineffective to shift the tax, since the taxpayer retained control over the royalty payments to his wife by virtue of his control of the corporation, which could cancel the contract at any time. The argument is that, although plaintiff himself owned only 1% of The Heim Company stock, his wife and daughter together owned 68% and it is reasonable to infer from depositions introduced by the Commissioner that they would follow the plaintiff’s advice. Judge Anderson did not find it necessary to pass on this contention. But we are satisfied that the record would not support a finding that plaintiff controlled the corporation whose active heads were the son and son-in-law. No inference can reasonably be drawn that the daughter would be likely to follow her father’s advice rather than her husband’s or brother’s with respect to action by the corporation.
For the foregoing reasons we hold that the judgment should be reversed and the cause remanded with directions to grant plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.
Notes and Questions:
1. Eubank involved labor that created an identifiable and assignable right to receive income in the future. How does Heim v. Fitzpatrick differ from Eubank? After all, a patent is the embodiment of (considerable) work.
Contingent fee arrangements: What happens when a taxpayer-plaintiff enters a contingent fee arrangement with his/her attorney? Has taxpayer entered an “anticipatory arrangement” to which the assignment-of-income doctrine should apply? Or has taxpayer partially assigned income-producing property?
• Is the contingent-fee attorney a joint owner of the client’s claim?
• Does it matter that the relationship between client and attorney is principal and agent?
• No and yes, said the Supreme Court in CIR v. Banks, 543 U.S. 426 (2005). State laws that may protect the attorney do not change this, so long as it does not alter the fundamental principal-agent relationship.
• If taxpayer-plaintiff must include whatever damages s/he receives in his/her gross income, taxpayer-plaintiff must include the contingent fee that s/he pays his/her attorney.
Assume that plaintiff must include whatever damages s/he receives in his/her gross income. The expenses of producing taxable income are deductible. What difference does it make? See §§ 67 and 55(a), 56(b)(1)(A)(i) (alternative minimum tax). And see § 62(a)(20). When would § 62(a)(20) affect your answer?
If plaintiff’s recovery is not included in his/her gross income, why should s/he not even be permitted to deduct the expenses of litigation?
2. A patent is also a capital asset, even to the “individual whose efforts created” it, that the holder has presumptively held for more than one year. § 1235(a), (b)(1). However, this rule does not apply to loss transfers between related persons under §§ 267(b) or 707(b).
• Does the existence of § 1235 lend inferential support to the court’s holding in Heim?
3. Do the CALI Lesson, Basic Federal Income Taxation: Assignment of Income: Property.
• Do not worry about questions 3 and 19.
IV. Interest Free Loans and Unstated Interest
Consider these scenarios:
• Father has a large savings account, and daughter is 18 years old. Daughter is enrolled at Private University and in need of tuition money. Father and mother have planned for many years for this day and saved an ample amount to pay for Daughter’s tuition. They now have $1M saved, and the annual interest income on this amount is $80,000. Father and mother are in the 39.6% marginal income tax bracket. Daughter is in the 0% marginal income tax bracket. An income of $80,000 would place Daughter in the 25% marginal tax bracket – although some of that income would not be subject to any tax, some would be subject to 10% tax, and some would be subject to 15% tax. Father and mother decide to loan Daughter $1M interest free. Daughter would deposit the money in an interest bearing account and use the interest income to pay her tuition and other expenses for four years. With diploma in hand, Daughter will repay the loan.
• Are there any income tax problems with this?
• Read § 7872(a)(1), (c)(1)(A), (e), (f)(2), (f)(3).
• [By the way, § 7872 applies both to the income tax and to the gift tax.]
• What result under these provisions.
• Corporation very much wants to hire Star Employee and has made a generous salary offer. To sweeten the deal, Corporation offers to loan $1M to Star Employee interest free so that Star Employee can purchase a house in an otherwise expensive housing market. Star Employee will repay the loan at the rate of $40,000 per year for the next 25 years.
• Are there any income tax problems with this?
• Read § 7872(b), (c)(1)(B), (e), (f)(2), (f)(5), (f)(6).
• What result under these provisions?
• Closely-held Corporation is owned by four shareholders. If the corporation pays dividends to shareholders, the dividend income is subject to income tax for the shareholders. The payments are not deductible to Corporation. Corporation loans each shareholder $100,000 interest free. Shareholders will repay the loans at the rate of $1000 per year for the next 100 years.
• Are there any income tax problems with this?
• Read § 7872(b), (c)(1)(C), (e), (f)(1), (f)(2).
• What result under these provisions?
• Alpha owns a vacant piece of land (capital asset). Alpha’s AB in the land is $700,000. Alpha wanted to sell the land, but bank financing is very tight. In order to sell the land, Alpha entered a contract with Beta whereby Beta would pay $1M for the property exactly four years from taking possession.
• Are there any income tax problems with this?
• Read § 7872(b), (c)(1)(E), (e), (f)(1), (f)(2).
• What is the likely result under these provisions?
Father and Mother are the proud parents of a 1-year old. Knowing that a college education costs a lot, they place $100,000 in the child’s e-Trade account that he entirely manages from his crib. The account earned $9000 this year. This is unearned income. Child is of course the dependent of Mother and Father.
• Tax consequences to Father, Mother, and Child?
• Assume Father and Mother are in the 30% tax bracket. Assume Child is in the 10% tax bracket.
• Read § 1(g) very carefully and § 63(c)(5).
• Check the latest revenue procedure to determine the standard deduction “for an individual who may be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer.” For tax year 2013, it is $1000 or the sum of $350 and the individual’s earned income. Rev. Proc. 2012-41, § 3.01.
• How do we determine the amount that is subject to the parents’ tax rate? How do we determine the amount that is subject to the child’s tax rate?
• Note: the § 63(c)(5)(A) amount is indexed. Assume for purposes of this Lesson that the amount is $900, not $500.
Wrap-Up Questions for Chapter 5
1. It has been observed that the actual federal tax80 burdens among different American taxpayers are not very progressive. Federal tax burdens could be made more progressive simply by capping a taxpayer’s total allowable exclusions, deductions, and credits. Perhaps a cap of $25,000 would be appropriate. Maybe it should be more, maybe less. What do you think of the idea of increasing progressivity by enacting such caps?
2. At what point does it not pay to spend money in order to gain income that will not be subject to federal income tax?
3. When the IRS in its enforcement mission must come up with an interest rate, it turns to the “applicable Federal rate.” What might be wrong with reliance on such a uniform rate?
4. Congress has made the tax burden on the combined income of taxpayers who file married filing jointly exactly twice the tax burden on single persons with half the income of the couple. This reduced the tax bracket on married persons from what it was before Congress enacted this change. Is that preferable to giving relief only to those couples where both spouses work, as was the case when the Code provided for a credit based on the amount of income earned by the spouse who earned less?
5. Comment on the following rough outline of a flat tax: Remove all deductions, exclusions, and credits from the Code. Retain only those associated with the production of income so that the income tax is a tax only on “net” income. All taxpayers would be entitled to a $40,000 exemption. The tax would be a flat rate on all taxpayers to the extent their gross income exceeds $40,000.