Incentives for 2010 Small Businesses Investments

Last month, President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 (Act) into law. One of the incentives under the Act effectively eliminates capital gains tax on certain investments in qualified small business stock that are made before the end of 2010. This incentive under Section 1202 of the tax code may help a number of emerging technology companies to close investment deals before year end. As may be expected though, there are both significant requirements to qualify for the tax incentives as well as limitations on the capital gains exclusions. But, a 0% capital gains tax rate is compelling for those who qualify for the Section 1202 tax incentives.

Scope of Investment Incentives

Under the Act, the capital gains from investments made between September 27, 2010 and January 1, 2011 in qualified small business stock are generally not subject to taxation. The total amount of the capital gains that are eligible for exclusion is capped at the greater of $10 million or 10 times the taxpayer’s basis in the stock. The Act also eliminates the alternative minimum tax (AMT) preference for qualified investments, further improving the potential tax benefits to investors who are subject to AMT.

What Investments Qualify for Incentives?

In order to qualify for the limited capital gains tax exclusion for an investment made during the remaining months of 2010, an investment must be made in an entity that has the following characteristics:

  • a C corporation that meets certain active business requirements–no pass-through entities, such as LLCs, S corporations, or partnerships;
  • a “qualified small business,” which means that it must have less than $50 million in assets (parents and their majority-owned subsidiaries are treated as one entity for purposes of the exclusion); and
  • a “qualified trade or business,” which excludes (among others) banking, insurance, financing, leasing, investing, farming, and hotel businesses, and a variety of service businesses (such as those in health, law, consulting, financial services, etc., or any other trade or business where the principal asset of such trade or business is the reputation or skill of its employees).

Likely the most onerous requirement to qualify for the incentives is the holding period for the investment. Generally, stock must be held by the investor for at least five years to qualify. In addition, the investment must be (a) for the purchase of stock directly from the issuer of the stock or through an underwriter, rather than purchasing previously issued stock from an existing shareholder; and (b) acquired in exchange for cash, property (not including stock), or services.

Who Qualifies for the Section 1202 Tax Incentives?

Angel investors, venture capital firms, and individual investors should all be able to take advantage of the small business investment tax break. Corporations are excluded, however. Gains realized by pass-through entities, such as limited liability companies, partnerships, S corporations, and common trusts qualify to the extent that they meet the five-year holding requirement or transfer the stock to the partners in the entity.

What are Some Notable Exclusions to the Section 1202 Tax Incentives?

Certain stock repurchases made by a corporation before the issuance of the stock may disqualify the original investment from the capital gains tax exclusion. Investors may also disqualify themselves from the tax break if they (a) hold a short sale position for the same stock; (b) acquire an option to sell the stock at a fixed price; or (c) enter into a transaction that reduces the risk of holding the investment.

The combination of the potential tax incentives and an expected increase in capital gains tax rates in the near future means the timing of investments may be critical to maximizing potential tax benefits and limiting exposure to tax increases for investors, which should make investing before year more attractive.

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