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  • Writer's pictureDavid Sterrett

Maximizing Tax Efficiency in Asset Acquisitions: A Guide by Sterrett Law

At Sterrett Law, we make complex legalities understandable and guide you through the intricate world of asset acquisitions with a focus on tax efficiency. In this article, we'll explore the art of allocating purchase prices, utilizing examples to shed light on the impact it has on both buyers and sellers.

Maximizing Tax Efficiency
Tax Efficiency

The Tax Advantage of Asset Sales

Consider this scenario: You're purchasing a business for $1 million. Opting for an asset sale, your depreciable basis aligns perfectly with the purchase price. Now, let's compare this to a stock sale—choosing an asset sale structure could potentially save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. From a tax perspective, opting for an asset sale provides a significant advantage. By aligning your acquisition with this structure, your depreciable basis in the business becomes identical to the purchase price. This approach, in contrast to a stock sale, can potentially result in substantial tax savings, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Allocating Purchase Price: The Residual Method

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mandates a specific allocation of the purchase price to the acquired assets, known as the residual method. This allocation is of utmost importance as it has the potential to significantly alter the tax implications for both the buyer and the seller. Typically, gains or losses resulting from the sale of assets by a C-Corporation seller are treated as ordinary income, except for specific cases such as 'personal goodwill' or consulting agreements. In contrast, assets sold by a pass-through entity may lead to a combination of ordinary income and capital gains or losses for the seller.

IRS Classes and Their Impact

The IRS outlines seven distinct buckets for allocating the purchase price, each with its own tax implications:

Class 1: Cash & General Deposits

In the context of asset allocation, Class 1 pertains to Cash & General Deposits. If your business deal involves the transfer of cash, the total cash amount should be allocated to this class. Notably, there should be neither gain nor loss associated with cash transfers. It's important to acknowledge that many transactions do not involve cash transfers, making this class often overlooked in practical terms.

Class 2: Actively Traded Securities

Class 2 encompasses Actively Traded Securities, which includes various items such as Certificates of Deposits, US Government Securities, foreign currencies, and other securities or stocks. If a seller experiences a gain or loss in this category, it is treated as a capital gain. This classification is particularly relevant when dealing with financial instruments that are actively traded in the market.

Class 3: Debt Instruments / Accounts Receivable

Class 3 involves Debt Instruments and Accounts Receivable (AR). In situations where AR is part of the deal, sellers who operate on an accrual basis will not incur any gain on the allocation. However, for cash-basis filers, ordinary income rates apply to AR since the income from those sales hasn't been recognized yet. This highlights the importance of considering the seller's accounting method in the allocation process.

Class 4: Inventory

Class 4 pertains to Inventory. If a seller realizes a gain from selling inventory, ordinary income rates come into play. It's crucial to be aware of this, especially when assessing the tax implications of transactions involving the sale of goods held as inventory.

Class 5: Fixed Assets

Class 5 covers Fixed Assets, encompassing long-term assets like trucks, furniture, buildings, machines, and equipment. Gains on these items trigger a combination of capital gains and ordinary rates, primarily due to depreciation recapture. In scenarios involving real estate or substantial equipment with extended lifespans, depreciation recapture can significantly impact taxes, as illustrated in the example of a building sold for $3 million with a substantial tax of $847,000 resulting from depreciation recapture.

Section 6 & 7: Intangibles

The final category, Section 6 & 7, involves Intangibles. Intangibles, such as goodwill, are typically depreciated over 15 years and are subject to recapture similar to fixed assets. Notably, certain "self-created intangibles" must be fully taxed as ordinary income upon sale. This underscores the diverse nature of intangible assets and the need for careful consideration during the allocation process.

The Crucial Allocation Process: Residual Method in Action

The IRS demands precision in allocating the purchase price to specific assets through the residual method. Let's break down the process using seven distinct buckets outlined by the IRS, illustrating their tax implications through practical examples.

Example 1: Class 3 - Debt Instruments / Accounts Receivable

Imagine you're acquiring a business with accounts receivable (AR). If the seller operates on an accrual basis, there's no gain on the allocation. However, for cash-basis filers, ordinary income rates apply since they haven't recognized income on those sales yet.

Example 2: Class 5 - Fixed Assets

Now, let's consider fixed assets like a building. Suppose the original cost was $2 million, depreciated to a net basis of $250,000, and sold for $3 million. The gain of $1.75 million would be taxed at 37%, and the remaining $1 million at 20%, resulting in a total tax of $847,000.

Example 3: Section 6 & 7 - Intangibles

Intangibles, like goodwill, are typically depreciated over 15 years. Suppose there are certain "self-created intangibles" which must be fully taxed as ordinary income on sale. This illustrates the nuanced treatment of intangibles and their impact on tax outcomes.

Implications for Buyers and Sellers

Buyers and sellers often have conflicting preferences when it comes to allocating the purchase price. Sellers aim for asset classes with favorable capital gains rates, while buyers may lean towards assets allowing quicker cost recovery, like depreciable assets or inventory.

As a buyer, understanding the seller's tax position is crucial, and adjustments in the allocation can be strategic. However, any concessions made to ease the seller's tax burden may have implications for the buyer's future tax position.

At Sterrett Law, we specialize in guiding businesses through the complexities of asset acquisitions. Our expertise in corporate law, trademark law, and real estate development positions us to provide tailored advice, ensuring that your acquisition is not only successful but also optimized for tax efficiency.

Contact us today to explore how Sterrett Lawcan assist you in achieving your business goals while minimizing tax implications in the asset acquisition process.

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