The Internal Revenue Service said Friday it plans to issue regulations to limit the impact of a new excise tax on the endowments of private colleges and universities under the new tax law.

Under the new guidance, a private college or university that is subject to the new 1.4 percent excise tax in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on net investment income, and that sells property at a gain, generally can use the property’s fair market value at the end of 2017 as its basis for calculating the tax on any resulting gain. In many instances, the new stepped-up basis rule will reduce the amount of gain subject to the new tax, the IRS pointed out. The normal basis rules will still apply for calculating any loss.

In a new Notice 2018-55 that was issued Friday, the Treasury Department and the IRS said they plan to issue proposed regulations to address this along with other matters pertaining to the new excise tax. Meanwhile, affected taxpayers such as private colleges and universities can rely on the special basis step-up rule discussed in the notice. The notice also asks for public comment on other issues that should be addressed in future guidance.

The excise tax was included in the tax overhaul legislation that Congress passed in December. The tax applies to any private college or university with at least 500 full-time tuition-paying students, more than half of whom are located in the U.S., that has an endowment of at least $500,000 per student. An estimated 40 or fewer institutions are affected, but the new tax has prompted considerable concern in the academic world. In April, a pair of lawmakers, Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., and Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., introduced bipartisan legislation, the Don’t Tax Higher Education Act, that would repeal the excise tax.

According to the notice issued Friday, the basis of property held on Dec. 31, 2017, that is later sold at a gain will be not less than its fair market value on Dec. 31, 2017, plus or minus subsequent normal basis adjustments. Similarly, the Treasury Department and the IRS said they intend to propose regulations under which losses can offset gains to the extent of gains, but no capital loss carryovers or carrybacks will be allowed.

Proposed regulations also could allow losses from property sales by related organizations to offset gains realized by other related organizations. Updates on the implementation of this and other provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can be found on the IRS’s Tax Reform page.


The Baker Library of the Harvard Business School on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass.
The Baker Library of the Harvard Business School on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg
Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.