Friday, April 28, 2017

California Announces Revision to Method Change Policy

Yesterday, the California FTB issued FTB Notice 2017-03. In this notice, the FTB announced that it was withdrawing FTB Notice 96-3 and will now follow the federal Rev. Proc. 2016-29. This notice was issued to clear up confusion regarding the application of Notice 96-3.

Overview. In FTB Notice 96-3, the FTB announced that it would not follow IRS Rev Proc 96-31. This revenue procedure allowed taxpayers to obtain automatic consent to change their accounting methods when they claimed less than the depreciation allowable. This procedure was republished with slight modifications in IRS Rev Proc 97-37. In IRS Rev Proc 98-60, the procedure was modified so that taxpayers could obtain automatic consent both when they claimed less than the depreciation allowable and when they claimed more. (With slight modifications, this procedure can now be found in section 6.01 of IRS Rev. Proc. 2017-30, which is the quite recent replacement of Rev. Proc. 2016-29.)  In FTB Notice 2000-8, the FTB announced their general policy under which taxpayers could obtain consent to change their accounting methods for California tax purposes. This notice was generally understood as permitting Federal method changes for California tax purposes under California's "deemed election" provisions of Revenue and Taxation Code sections 17024.5 and 23051.5 when there was no conflict between California and Federal tax laws, which was generally the case for non-C corp taxpayers seeking depreciation method changes.

In discussing the new notice with its author, I have learned that the FTB always took the position that Notice 96-3 applied only to Rev. Proc. 96-31 and did not apply to Rev. Proc. 97-37 and its successors. Therefore, the general understanding of Notice 2000-8 was the correct interpretation.

Practice Tips

1. The federal automatic consent change procedures are strict compliance procedures. See Hawse v. Comm'r, T.C. Memo 2015-99, at 22. Even though the IRS may not have rejected an automatic consent Form 3115, the taxpayer may not have received IRS consent to make the change. Id. at 24. Since California's deemed election rules require a "proper election filed with the Internal Revenue Service in accordance with the Internal Revenue Code or regulations", automatic consent Forms 3115 that comply with some, but not all, of the requirements of the automatic change procedures are vulnerable to FTB examination changes.

This is relevant to this topic because many depreciation method changes arise from cost segregation studies. In my experience, most practitioners omit some of the required statements for certain depreciation method changes. When filing a Form 3115 to implement a cost segregation study, practitioners most often omit the statement required under section 6.01(3)(b)(vii) of Rev. Proc. 2017-30 (and predecessors). (This section requires a statement of the facts and law supporting the new classification of each section 1245 asset.)

2. Taxpayers may continue to rely on FTB Notice 2000-8 to request different accounting methods for California purposes than the ones they elect for Federal purposes.

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