Deductibility of Investment Expenses

Section 212 of the Internal Revenue Code allows the deduction of expenses incurred to produce or collect income or to manage property held for income. However, how the expenses are deducted depends on the nature of the expenses.

To be deductible, an investment expense must satisfy the general requirements of a business expense, which must be both necessary and ordinary. A business expense is necessary if it is required for the conduction of the business. A necessary expense is incurred by any business of a particular type. An ordinary expense is normal or customary for the type of business, but it is not a capital expense. An ordinary expense does not have to be recurring. They can arise because of special circumstances, but must be paid to continue business. Expenses must have a reasonable and proximate relation to either the production or collection of income or for the management of property held for income. So, for instance, if the taxpayer owns 100 shares in a company and spends $1000 to attend the shareholders' meeting to vote her shares, then no deduction will be allowed because it is not a reasonable expense compared to the income nor is it a necessary expense, since it will not affect the income earned on the stock. If an expense is unreasonable, then the excess amount is not deductible. Reasonableness is a question of fact and depends on the circumstances. Excessive salaries and rents that are paid to investors of closely held corporations may not be deductible, especially if the payments are proportional to their ownership of stock in the corporation, in which case, it will be viewed as dividends, which are taxable to the corporation and to the shareholders.

Direct expenses incurred directly to acquire or dispose of income-producing property are fully deductible because they adjust the tax basis of the property. These expenses include, for instance, depreciation and transaction charges for buying and selling property, such as brokerage commissions charged for the trading of securities.

Example: Deducting Brokerage Commissions

But the deductibility of other types of expenses is more limited. Investment interest is tax deductible, but only as an itemized deduction. Therefore, investment interest is only deductible if the taxpayer's total itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction, which is based on filing status. Furthermore, investment expenses other than interest are classified as miscellaneous deductions that are no longer deductible. However, if the taxpayer has professional trader status, trading as a business, then all investment expenses are fully deductible as business expenses on Schedule C, Profit or Loss from Business.

Example: Investment Interest Deduction



Investment Interest

The full amount of investment interest can be listed as an itemized deduction, up to the amount of net investment income:

Direct investment expenses are those that are incurred in buying or selling the investment, such as sales commissions. Net long-term capital gains, including capital distributions from mutual funds, and qualified dividends do not count as investment income in regards to this interest deduction unless the taxpayer elects to treat some or allthat income as such on Form 4952, Investment Interest Expense Deduction. However, this election will eliminate the preferred tax rates on that portion of long-term capital gains and qualified dividends used to offset investment interest expenses, but the taxpayer may choose this, nonetheless, to offset investment expenses against investment income for the current year.

Investment interest is the interest on debts incurred to buy or carry investment property, such as securities in a margin account, or to buy a business. The interest on loans to buy tax-free securities is not deductible, however. Interest related to a passive activity is subject to passive activity rules; the deduction for this interest is figured on Form 8582, Passive Activity Loss Limitations. The deductibility of the interest expense that is incurred by a partnership and paid to a limited partner is limited by the investment interest deduction. The deductibility of investment interest may also be limited by at-risk rules, since the taxpayer cannot deduct any more than what is at risk in the investment.

Disallowed investment interest can be carried forward. The investment interest limitation applies to any property that produces interest, dividends, royalties, or annuities — called portfolio income. In other words, it is neither business income nor passive income. Investment interest also covers loans for the purchase of property held for potential capital gains that was not used in a trade or business, but was held for investment purposes, and that is also not a passive activity. Investment interest also includes income earned from a trade or business activity in which the taxpayer did not materially participate but is not considered a passive activity under tax law, such as the purchase of rental properties to earn rental income in which the taxpayer satisfies active participation rules. It does not include any other types of interest that are covered by other sections of the tax law, such as loans for a qualified residence.

Any excess of interest deductions over investment income can be carried forward indefinitely. Investment interest is calculated on Form 4952, Investment Interest Expense Deduction, and, along with Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, attached to Form 1040.

Debts to Buy Tax-Exempt Securities

Generally, the money borrowed to buy tax-exempt securities is not deductible, since no tax is paid on the interest income.

If expenses were incurred for both tax-exempt and taxable securities, and the expenses are not specifically allocable to either type of security, then only the proportion of the expenses equal to the taxable income divided by the total income is deductible:

Investment Interest Deduction = Investment Expense × Taxable Income / Total Income

Example: Allocation of Expenses between Taxable and Tax-Exempt Income
Total Interest $10,000
Tax-Exempt Interest $4,000
Taxable Interest $6,000
Investment Expenses $500
Investment Expense Deduction $300 = Investment Expenses × Taxable Interest/Total Interest

However, if a taxpayer pays cash for tax-exempt securities but then takes out a loan to buy taxable securities or to purchase a home or other property or to invest in a business, then there will be a presumption by the IRS that the taxpayer arranged his affairs so that the money borrowed could be applied to the business or other property rather than to the purchase of tax-exempt securities.

Therefore, in these situations, the IRS will infer that the purpose of the loan was to buy tax-exempt securities, except in the following cases:

Miscellaneous Investment Expenses

Under the new tax package passed by the Republicans at the end of 2017, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a new provision that applies in 2018 and afterwards, will limit the total amount that can be deducted, as any combination of state and local income taxes or sales taxes, or property taxes, to $10,000. Additionally, this GOP bill will prevent filers from deducting any prepayments of these 2018 taxes in 2017. Additionally:

Investment interest is still deductible, but miscellaneous investment expenses are not deductible for tax years 2018 to 2025. Miscellaneous investment expenses include:

Investment expenses do not include expenses related to investment interest, passive activities or to a business or trade. Expenses related to running a business or trade or expenses incurred for property held for rent or royalty income are deductible from gross income.

Deductibility of Loan Interest Depends on How the Loan Money Is Used

Whether loan interest is deductible depends on how the loan proceeds are used: if for taxable investments or an active business, then the interest is fully deductible, but is not deductible for personal purchases. The interest incurred for passive activities is deductible only against passive income, which is figured on Form 8582, Passive Activity Loss Limitations.

If the taxpayer obtains a loan and deposits it in an account, and uses the account to make different types of purchases with the money, then what interest is deductible depends on when the disbursements are made and for what purposes.

If the loan proceeds are mixed with non-borrowed funds, then there is a 30-day disbursement rule where any expenses paid within 30 days either before or after the deposit of the loan proceeds is treated as being paid by the loan proceeds, so if the money is used for a purpose that qualifies the interest as deductible, then the interest on the loan is fully deductible even if it is mixed with non-borrowed funds.

If a loan is used to buy several types of property, then the loan is repaid, it is assumed to be repaid in the following order:

Example: The Assumed Repayment Order of Repaid Loans

Example 1:

Example 2:

Example 3:

Interest can only be deducted in the year that it is actually paid, except for an accrual-basis taxpayer, who can claim the interest expense as it accrues. Interest is not deductible if it is simply added to the loan amount in a margin account, but can be deducted either when the taxpayer pays the margin interest or the account has collected dividends, interest, or security sale proceeds that can be used to pay the interest.

For partial repayment of a loan for which the allocation between principal and interest is not specified, then the assumption is that some of the payment is allocated to the interest first and then to principal. For involuntary payments, such as for a foreclosure, the sales proceeds are applied to principal first and then to interest, unless there is a contrary agreement.

Generally, prepaid interest is not deductible in the year paid. Rather, it must be allocated pro rata over the term of the loan.

Historical Notes

Previous to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), miscellaneous itemized expenses were deductible and this is how the deduction was calculated.

Unlike investment interest, other investment expenses are not only an itemized deduction, but are subsumed under the category of miscellaneous deductions, calculated on Schedule A, subject to the 2% AGI floor. Hence, only miscellaneous expenses above 2% of the taxpayer's AGI are deductible.

Miscellaneous Expense Deduction Formula
Miscellaneous Expense Deduction = Miscellaneous Expense × Total Miscellaneous Expenses
− 2% × AGI
Total Miscellaneous Expenses

Since miscellaneous investment expenses are also an itemized deduction, the benefit of the deduction over just claiming the standard deduction is even less:

Benefit of Claiming Itemized Miscellaneous Expense Deduction
Over Claiming the Standard Deduction
Miscellaneous Expense Deduction Benefit = Miscellaneous Expense Deduction × Total Itemized Deductions
− Standard Deduction
Total Itemized Deductions

Note that if the taxpayer's total itemized deductions are less than the standard deduction, then there is no tax benefit to claiming any itemized deductions, including the miscellaneous expense deduction.

Example: Miscellaneous Expense Deduction



Example: Deducting Paid or Accrued Investment Interest and Other Investment Expenses