Firms flocking to an obscure tax loophole

April 22, 2013 at 2:34 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) -- More and more U.S. companies are applying to change their status with the IRS to tax free trusts, experts said.

The loophole that has been around since 1960, passed by the Eisenhower administration, allows companies to apply for the special status that has been traditionally reserved for real estate holding companies.

But now a diverse set of businesses are applying for the status, which is enjoyed by about 1,000 companies now, The New York Times reported Monday.

One method of qualifying is to create a subsidiary that rents their office space from the corporate parent. That turns the corporate parent into a real estate firm renting to its own business.

One company that run 44 prisons, the Corrections Corporation of America, has changed its status and the company said it will save $70 million in 2013 as a result of the switch.

Potentially, any company that owns an immovable asset, like land or a building, can apply for the status, the newspaper said.

Companies such as casinos, advertising firms that own billboards and communications companies that own relay towers are looking into the switch. Potentially, fast food chains, like McDonald's, could also define themselves as trusts, the Times said.

"I've been in this business for 30 years, and I've never seen the interest in real estate investment trust conversions as high as it is today, said Robert O'Brien, director of the real estate division of accounting firm Deloitte & Touche.

"It is not a far stretch to envision REITs concentrated in railroads, highways, mines, landfills, vineyards, farmland or any other 'immovable' structure that generates revenues," analysts at market research firm Jefferies said in a research note.

The law was written to exclude companies that were real estate holding companies from taxes, but unfair tax loopholes that attract media attention have found themselves repealed in the past.

"I worry that in a world where Congress is very sensitive to taxes, that a lot of these structures could end up attracting a lot of attention that might not be entirely positive," said Ross Smotrich, a market analyst at Barclays bank.

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