How To Structure A Trading Business For Significant Tax Savings
If you actively trade securities, futures, forex or crypto, consider setting up a trading business to maximize tax benefits. With a sole proprietorship, a trader eligible for trader tax status (TTS) can deduct business and home-office expenses and make a timely Section 475 election on securities for tax loss insurance and a potential qualified business income (QBI) deduction. By forming an LLC taxed as an S-Corp, a TTS trader can also deduct health insurance premiums and a retirement plan contribution. An investor without TTS cannot get any of these tax benefits.
The new tax law (TCJA) severely limits itemized deductions for investors, while expanding the standard deduction and improving business expensing. TCJA also introduced a 20% deduction on QBI, which includes a TTS trading business with Section 475 income but excludes capital gains and portfolio income. With TCJA, TTS and Section 475 are more valuable than ever before.
An individual TTS trader deducts business expenses and home office deductions on a Schedule C (Profit or Loss From Business – Sole Proprietorship), which is part of a Form 1040 filing. Schedule C losses are an above-the-line deduction from gross income.
It’s easy to set up a sole proprietorship. First, open an individual brokerage account(s) in the trader’s name and social security number. You don’t need a separate employer identification number (EIN) unless you plan to have employees on the payroll. You can also use a joint individual account but list the trader’s name and social security number first. There is no state filing required for a sole proprietorship as there is for organizing an LLC or incorporating a corporation. You also don’t need a “doing business as” (DBA) name, although you can obtain one if you prefer. There isn’t a federal or state tax election for claiming TTS — it’s determined based on facts and circumstances assessed at year-end.
Don’t confuse TTS with a Section 475 election. Only TTS traders can use Section 475 ordinary gain or loss treatment; however, many TTS traders don’t make a 475 election. TTS is like undergraduate school, and Section 475 is like graduate school: The former is needed to get into the latter, but undergraduates don’t necessarily elect to go on to graduate school. For example, a TTS futures trader might skip a 475 election to retain lower 60/40 capital gains rates on 1256 contracts. You can elect Section 475 on securities only, commodities only, or both.
Here’s an example: An active trader realized in mid-2019 that he qualified for TTS for all of 2018. He can add a Schedule C to his 2018 Form 1040 tax return due on an extension by Oct. 15, 2019. (Traders can use TTS on amended tax returns, too.) A Schedule C provides tax benefits for 2018 and year-to-date in 2019. This trader wants to form an S-Corp later in 2019 to unlock a health insurance deduction for the remainder of 2019 and a high-deductible retirement plan deduction. He realized he qualified for TTS after April 15, so was too late to elect 475 on the individual level for 2019. But a new S-Corp can select Section 475 within 75 days of inception so that the trader will be exempt from wash-sale loss adjustments at year-end 2019.
Section 475 tax benefits
TTS traders are entitled to make a Section 475 election, but investors are excluded from it. I call it “tax loss insurance” because the election exempts securities trades from onerous wash-sale loss adjustments, which can defer tax losses to the subsequent year, and the $3,000 capital loss limitation. Ordinary loss treatment is far better; it can generate tax refunds faster than capital loss carryovers.
A partnership or S-Corp formed during the tax year is considered a “new taxpayer,” which can elect Section 475 internally within 75 days of inception. An individual TTS trader had to choose Section 475 with the IRS by April 15, 2019, so a new partnership or S-Corp comes in handy after the April 15 deadline. An existing taxpayer must also file a Form 3115 (Application for Change in Accounting Method), whereas a new taxpayer adopts 475 from inception, so this filing isn’t necessary.
Prior capital-loss carryovers on the individual level still carry over on Schedule Ds. The new entity can pass through capital gains if the taxpayer skips the Section 475 MTM election to use up those capital loss carryovers. Then, the entity can elect Section 475 MTM in a subsequent tax year. It’s easy to revoke a 475 election in a manner that mirrors making a 475 election.
The qualified business income deduction
TCJA introduced a tax benefit for pass-through businesses, which includes a TTS trader with Section 475 income; whether doing business as a sole proprietor, partnership, or S-Corp. Section 199A provides a 20% QBI deduction on a “specified service trade or business” (SSTB), and TTS trading is an SSTB. However, SSTBs are subject to a taxable income threshold, phase-out range, and income cap. The phase-out range has wage and property limitations, too. Also, the 20% deduction is on whichever is lower: QBI or taxable income minus “net capital gains” defined as net long-term capital gains over net short-term capital losses, and qualified dividends. It’s a complicated deduction, and most traders won’t get a QBI deduction. QBI includes Section 475 ordinary income and trading business expenses and excludes capital gains and losses, dividends, interest income, forex and swap ordinary income, and investment expenses.
For 2019, the taxable income (TI) cap is $421,400/$210,700 (married/other taxpayers). The phase-out range below the cap is $100,000/$50,000 (married/other taxpayers). The TI threshold is $321,400/$160,700 (married/other taxpayers).
A pass-through entity means the company is a tax filer, but it’s not a taxpayer. The owners are the taxpayers, most often on their tax returns. Taxpayers should consider marriage, state residence, and state tax rules, including annual reports, minimum taxes, franchise taxes, excise taxes, and more when setting up an entity. In most states, these taxes are nominal costs. (In Green’s 2019 Trader Tax Guide, I address state taxes for S-Corps in California, Illinois, other states, and New York City.)