Sunday, September 1, 2019

The IRS Does Not Believe You Made A Loan

The issue came up here at command center this past week. It is worth discussing, as the issue is repetitive and – if the IRS aims it your way – the results can be brutal.

We are talking about loans.

More specifically, loans to/from yourself and among companies you own.

What’s the big deal, right? It is all your money.

Yep, it’s your money. What it might not be, however, is a loan.

Let’s walk through the story of James Polvony.

In 1996 he joined his wife’s company, Archetone Limited (Limited) as a 49% owner. Limited was a general contractor.

In 2002 he started his own company, Povolny Group (PG). PG was a real estate brokerage.

The real estate market died in 2008. Povolny was looking for other sources of income.

He won a bid to build a hospital for the Algerian Ministry of Health.

He formed another company, Archetone International LLC (LLC), for this purpose.

The Algerian job required a bank guaranty. This created an issue, as the best he could obtain was a line of credit from Wells Fargo. He took that line of credit to a UK bank and got a guarantee, but he still had to collateralize the US bank. He did this by borrowing and moving monies around his three companies.

The Algerian government stopped paying him. Why? While the job was for the Algerian government, it was being funded by a non-Algerian third party. This third party wanted a cut of the action. Povolny did not go along, and – shockingly – progress payments, and then actual job progress, ceased.

The deal was put together using borrowed money, so things started unravelling quickly.

International was drowning. Povolny had Limited pay approximately $241,000 of International’s debts.

PG also loaned International and Limited approximately $70 grand. PG initially showed this amount as a loan, but PG amended its return to show the amount as “Cost of Goods Sold.”
COMMENT: PG was making money. Cost of goods sold is a deduction, whereas a loan is not, at least not until it becomes uncollectible. I can see the allure of another deduction on a profitable tax return. Still, to amend a return for this reason strikes me as aggressive.
Limited also deducted its $241 grand, not as cost-of-goods-sold but as a bad-debt deduction.

Let’s regroup here for a moment.

  • Povolny moved approximately $311 grand among his companies, and
  • He deducted the whole thing using one description or another.

This caught the IRS’ attention.


Because it matters how Polvony moved monies around.

A loan can result in a bad debt deduction.

A capital contribution cannot. Granted, you may have a capital loss somewhere down the road, but that loss happens when you finally shut down the company or otherwise dispose of your stock or ownership interest.

Timing is a BIG deal in this area.

If you want the IRS to respect your assertion of a loan, then be prepared to show the incidents of a loan, such as:

  • A written note
  • An interest rate
  • A maturity date
  • Repayment schedule
  • Recourse if the debtor does not perform (think collateral)

Think of yourself as SunTrust or Fifth Third Bank making a loan and you will get the idea.

The Court made short work of Povolny:
·       The $241 thousand loan did not have a written note, no maturity date and no required interest payments.
·       Ditto for the $70 grand.
The Court did not find the commercially routine attributes of debt, so it decided that there was no debt.

Povolny was moving his own capital around.

He as much said so when he said that he “didn’t see the merit” in creating written notes, interest rates and repayment terms.

The Polvony case is not remarkable. It happens all the time. What it does, however, is to tentpole how important it is to follow commercially customary banking procedures when moving monies among related companies.

But is it all your money, isn’t it?

Yep, it is. Be lax and the IRS will take you at your word and figure you are just moving your own capital around.

And there is no bad debt deduction on capital.

Our case this time was Povolny Group, Incorporated et al v Commissioner, TC Memo 2018-37.

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