December 2017
Tax Bill Causes Alarm for Some Charities and Tax-Exempt Organizations

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which has been renamed the Amendment of 1986 Code, was signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. Many are calling it the most sweeping overhaul to the United States tax system in decades. The Act positively impacts many sectors, including corporations with the significant reduction in corporate rates. In the case of tax-exempt organizations, however, the Act may have a significant negative impact.

Impact on Charitable Giving

An increase in the standard deduction amount for individual filers and the increase in the estate tax exclusion are predicted to cause a meaningful decrease in overall charitable giving. A higher standard deduction means fewer taxpayers will itemize deductions, reducing their incentive to make charitable donations. Only taxpayers who itemize their deductions receive a tax benefit from charitable contributions. The Tax Policy Center has estimated that before the Act, more than 46 million tax filers would itemize their 2018 returns, but with the passage of the Act, this number could drop to less than 20 million. In the short-term, donors are advised to consider making additional charitable contributions in 2017 since it is uncertain whether their charitable gifts will create a tax benefit in future years. Similarly, the doubling of the estate tax exclusion will reduce the incentive to make testamentary gifts to charities.

New Excise Tax on Executive Compensation Paid by Certain Tax-Exempt Organization; Medical Services Excluded

The Act imposes a 21 percent excise tax on most tax-exempt organizations (defined as “applicable tax-exempt organizations”) on the sum of compensation paid to certain employees in excess of $1 million plus any excess parachute payments paid to that employee (defined as a “covered employee”).

An applicable tax-exempt organization means any organization that:
  • is exempt from tax under Section 501(a) (such as Section 501(c)(3) charitable organizations), 
  • is a Section 521(b)(1) farmers’ cooperative organization, 
  • has income excluded from tax under Section 115(1) (this includes certain governmental entities), or 
  • is a political organization described in Section 527(e)(1) for the taxable year. 

A “covered employee,” is any current or former employee who:
  • is one of the tax-exempt organization’s five highest compensated employees for the current taxable or 
  • was a covered employee of the organization (or any predecessor) for any preceding tax year beginning after December 31, 2016.

Compensation is referred to as “remuneration” under the new provision and is defined as “wages” for federal income tax withholding purposes. It also includes remuneration paid by related organizations of the applicable tax-exempt organization.

There are certain exceptions to the inclusion in remuneration under the definition including compensation attributable to medical services of certain qualified medical professionals and any designated Roth contribution.

The new Section 4960 is effective for taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017. Year-end compensation planning, such as accelerating incentive compensation, should be considered to help avoid or reduce the 2018 excise tax. Calendar year taxpayers have only a few days to engage in this planning while fiscal year-end taxpayers may have a few more months to plan.

Separate Computation of UBTI for Each Trade or Business Activity

Certain tax-exempt organizations are subject to income tax on their unrelated business taxable income (“UBTI”). Under the current unrelated business income (“UBI”) rules, an organization that operates multiple UBI activities computes taxable income on an aggregate basis. As a result, the organization may use losses from one UBI activity to offset income from another, thus reducing total UBI. The Act requires tax-exempt organizations with two or more UBI activities to compute UBI separately for each activity. Accordingly, the losses generated by UBI activities computed on a separate basis may not be used to offset the income of other UBI activities. Under the new provision, a net operating loss deduction will be effectively allowed only with respect to the activity from which the loss arose. The inability to offset losses from one UBI activity against income from another may increase an organization’s overall UBI, but the lower corporate tax rate may otherwise reduce the amount of tax paid.

Provisions Affecting Tax-Exempt Bonds

The Act provides some welcome certainty for many tax-exempt organizations relative to tax-exempt bond financing. The House version of the Act had proposed an elimination of the ability of entities to issue “private activity bonds” Section 501(c)(3) bonds that are issued for the benefit of many tax-exempt Section 501(c)(3) organizations. This proposed elimination did not make it into the final bill. The Act does, however, adversely affect many tax-exempt organizations by eliminating their ability to undertake “advance refunding” transactions, where new tax-exempt bonds are issued to refinance existing tax-exempt bonds more than 90 days in advance of the redemption date or maturity date of such existing tax-exempt bonds. Under current law, tax-exempt Section 501(c)(3) organizations could undertake one “advance refunding” transaction, but the Act eliminates all “advance refundings” after Dec. 31, 2017.

Other Noteworthy Provisions

  • The Act imposes a new 1.4 percent excise tax on the investment income of private colleges and universities and their related organizations with at least 500 students and which have investment assets, including those of related entities, of at least $500,000 per student. 
  • The existing income tax deduction for donations made in exchange for college athletic event seating rights will be repealed. 
  • The charitable contribution deduction of an electing small business trust will be determined by the rules applicable to individuals, rather than those applicable to trusts.
  • The Act modifies the partnership rules to clarify that a partner’s distributive share of loss takes into account the partner’s distributive share of charitable contributions for purposes of the basis limitation on partner losses.
  • The top corporate tax rate for UBI is reduced to 21 percent.
  • The Act increases the annual limit on cash contributions to most public charities from 50 percent to 60 percent. 
  • UBI will be increased by the amount of certain qualified transportation fringe benefit expenses for which a deduction is disallowed.
  • The Act repeals the deduction for local lobbying expenses which could impact Section 501(c)(6) rules.
  • The contribution limitation as to ABLE accounts is increased under certain circumstances.
  • The Act now allows for rollovers between qualified tuition programs and qualified ABLE programs.

The Act could have a significant impact on your tax-exempt organization. Please contact one of the authors of this alert if we can assist in your tax planning relative to these new provisions.

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