Allocation/Apportionment
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Washington Department of Revenue Announces LendingTree Decision Does Not Prevent Sourcing of Services to Customer’s Customer Location

The Washington State Department of Revenue (the “Department”) recently announced its interpretation of the Washington Court of Appeals’ March 30, 2020, adverse ruling in LendingTree, LLC v. Dep’t of Revenue, no. 80637-8-I (Wash. App. Ct. Mar. 30, 2020). See here for our prior analysis of the LendingTree opinion. In its interpretation, the Department takes the view that the LendingTree opinion “does not represent a new legal framework,” but rather that the court simply followed the applicable business and occupation tax apportionment rules in sourcing service receipts to the customer’s location and rejecting the Department’s methodology sourcing to the customers’ customers’ location.

The Department’s response suggests that it intends to narrowly apply LendingTree‘s holding. The Department admits that the court agreed with LendingTree in designating the service at issue to be LendingTree’s referral services (lenders pay a fee to receive referrals of potential borrowers) and rejected the Department’s characterization of the service as marketing and outreach to potential borrowers. Under this characterization, the Department observes, in accordance with a Washington regulation sourcing services to where the customer’s related business activity occurs, the referral services are sourced to the lender’s location, where lenders evaluate the referrals received by LendingTree.

The response goes on to emphasize, however, that there are circumstances where the Department will continue to source service receipts to a customer’s customers’ location. The Department announced that one such circumstance would be for taxpayers who have revenues from the sale of marketing or advertising services to a customer engaged in the business of selling.

Taxpayers should be forewarned that despite the LendingTree ruling, they may still have to battle Department efforts to source service receipts based on the location of their customers’ customers (particularly if they are engaged in the sale of marketing or advertising services), despite a Washington statute requiring service receipts to be sourced to the customer and federal constitutional principles requiring that an apportionment method reflect a taxpayer’s in-state activity. (See: e.g., Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Jefferson Lines, 514 U.S. 175 (1995); Container Corp. of America v. Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. 159 (1983).) Unfortunately, it appears that “look through” sourcing disputes between taxpayers and the Department will continue.




Washington Appellate Court Rejects Department’s B&O Tax Apportionment Method

In a recently issued taxpayer-favorable opinion, the Washington Appellate Court rejected the apportionment methodology used by the Department of Revenue, which sourced service receipts to the location of a taxpayer’s customers’ customers. The Court then affirmed the taxpayer’s methodology, which sourced the receipts to the location of its customers. LendingTree, LLC v. State of Wash. Dep’t of Revenue, no. 80637-8-I (Wash. App. Ct. Mar. 30, 2020) (“LendingTree Op.”).

The dispute concerned the receipts LendingTree, LLC (“LendingTree”) earned from operating its online loan marketplace for purposes of Washington’s Business and Occupation Tax. LendingTree’s business sought to match prospective borrowers and lenders though its website. Prospective borrowers provided LendingTree with requested financial information for no charge, and LendingTree analyzed this data to make referrals to lenders. Lenders paid fees to LendingTree related to its referral services. On audit, the Washington Department of Revenue (“Department”) took the position that LendingTree should have apportioned its service receipts based on the location of potential borrowers rather than its lenders’ locations. Both the Administrative Review and Hearings Division and trial court found for the Department, and LendingTree appealed.

Washington law, like the law of other states, requires multi-state taxpayers earning income from the performance of services to apportion the income to Washington if a customer receives the benefit of the taxpayer’s services in Washington (see Wash. Rev. Code § 82.04.462(3)(b)(i)). A related Washington regulation clarifies where a customer engaged in business receives the benefit of a taxpayer’s service: If the service relates to a customer’s business activities (and the service does not relate to real or tangible property), then the benefit is received where the customer’s related business activities occur. See Wash. Admin. Code 458-20-19402(303)(c). Citing this regulation, the Appellate Court concluded that “taxes are attributed to the state where the lenders conduct their business activity that most closely or directly relates to the services performed by LendingTree” (LendingTree Op. at 5).

The Appellate Court went on to conclude that the services at issue were LendingTree’s referrals of prospective borrowers to lenders, and that the lenders’ related business activities were their receipt and evaluation of the referrals at lender business locations. The Court rejected the Department’s argument that lenders received the benefit of LendingTree’s services where the borrowers (LendingTree’s customers’ customers) were located, reasoning that lenders received no benefit from LendingTree’s services until LendingTree made referrals to lenders identifying prospective borrowers. In support of its conclusion, the Court noted that lenders did not even know the identity of potential borrowers at the onset of the referral evaluation process. (LendingTree Op. at 7).

In reaching its conclusion that service receipts must be apportioned based on where the customers received the benefit of the taxpayer’s services, rather than where the customers’ customers were located, the court relied on its recently published opinion in ARUP Laboratories, Inc. v. State of Washington Department of Revenue, no. 52349-3-II (Wash. App. Ct. Feb. 11, 2020) (“ARUP Op.”). Interpreting the same rules at issue in [...]

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New State Digital Ad Taxes? Will Maryland’s Take Effect? Which States Will Follow? Litigation Guaranteed!

On March 18, 2020, Maryland legislature sent a massive new tax on digital advertising services to Governor Hogan for consideration. The tax imposes a rate of up to 10% on annual gross revenue in the state derived from digital advertising services. This tax is on a sliding scale based on companies’ global revenues and would take effect with tax year 2021. There are many legal problems with the legislation, including the violations of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, the Commerce Clause and the First Amendment. Other states have considered and are considering similar proposals. It is imperative that companies know how broadly this new tax will apply.

Click below to watch our recent webinar on this new tax. We discuss the legal challenges that can be made and how to protect your company from the unlawful reach of such laws.




Maryland General Assembly Sends Digital Advertising Tax to Governor; Nearly Identical Bill Pending in New York

With gatherings larger than 50 people banned and the State House cleared of visitors, on March 18, 2020, Maryland’s legislature approved HB 732, which contains a massive new punitive tax on digital advertising services, and sent it to Governor Larry Hogan (R) for his consideration.

Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax

Contradicting the clear legislative trend in the advertising space to exempt the facilitation of advertising services (but tax the consumer transactions that may result therefrom), HB 732 would impose a new, one-of-a-kind tax on the annual gross revenue of digital advertising services that are deemed to be provided in the State. The proposed tax contains a tiered tax rate structure (arbitrarily determined based on the advertising service provider’s global annual gross revenues) that would allow for a tax rate of up to a whopping 10% of the annual gross revenue in the State derived from digital advertising services. As passed, HB 732 would take effect July 1, 2020, and the new tax would apply to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020.

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Tax Takes Video: State Tax after Reform…Where Are We Going?

Determining financial statement impact from the state flow through of federal tax reform will be complicated by changes in state tax policy expected to be adopted. In our latest Tax Takes video, McDermott’s Steve Kranz and Diann Smith discuss the issues with Joe Henchman, Executive Vice President of the Tax Foundation. The group suggests options for companies to protect against negative policy changes.




Choices for Illinois Taxpayers in Implementing the 2017 Income Tax Rate Increase

Last year, Illinois enacted a mid-year income tax rate increase. Effective July 1, 2017, Illinois increased the income tax rate for individuals, trusts and estates from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, and for corporations from 5.25 percent to 7 percent. The Illinois Personal Property Replacement Tax (imposed on corporations, partnerships, trusts, S corporations and public utilities at various rates) was not changed.

As we previously reported, the Illinois Income Tax Act contains a number of provisions intended to resolve questions regarding how income should be allocated between the two income tax rates applicable in 2017. 35 ILCS 5/202.5(a). The default rule is a proration based on the number of days in each period (181/184). For taxpayers choosing this method, the Department of Revenue (Department) has recommended the use of a blended tax rate to calculate tax liability. A schedule of blended rates is included in the Department’s instructions for the 2017 returns. The blended rate is 4.3549 percent for calendar year individual taxpayers and 6.1322 percent for calendar year C corporation taxpayers. (more…)




SALT Implications of the House and Senate Tax Reform Bill

Many provisions of the House and Senate tax reform proposals would affect state and local tax regimes. SALT practitioners should monitor the progress of this legislation and consider contacting their state tax administrators and legislative bodies to voice their opinions.

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State and Local Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework

The White House and Republican congressional leadership released an outline this week to guide forthcoming legislation on federal tax reform. The states conform to the federal tax laws to varying degrees and the extent to which they will adopt any federal changes is uncertain. This memorandum outlines some of the key areas—individual taxation, general business taxation and international taxation— with which the states will be concerned as details continue to unfold.

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California FTB Schedules Interested Parties Meeting on Short Notice to Discuss Issues in the Regulations on Sourcing Income from Services and Intangibles

The California Franchise Tax Board has scheduled an Interested Parties Meeting to discuss proposed changes to its apportionment regulations. Several years ago, when the statute called for sourcing receipts from services and intangibles at the location of income producing activity, based on cost of performance, the FTB, after a series on interested parties meetings, adopted new regulation 25137-14 sourcing receipts for mutual fund service providers and asset management service providers not at the location of the service provider, but at location of customers.  That was good news for California service providers and bad news for out-of-state service providers.

The FTB scheduled on December 22, 2016 an Interested Parties Meeting for January 20, 2017 to discuss a series of issues arising under the new market- based sourcing regulations. A Discussion Topic Paper (attached) was issued on January 3, 2017, and included (1) draft examples of souring income from asset management fees, (2) a discussion of “reasonable approximation”, including who makes that reasonable approximation, (3) clarification of the term “benefit of a service” in several contexts, including timing, government contracts, R&D contracts and patent sales, (4) dividend assignment, (5) a freight forwarding example, (6) interest received from a business entity borrower and (7) marketing intangibles.

The FTB takes these Interested Parties Meetings seriously.  Taxpayers should pay immediate attention to whether any of these issues are of significance to them, and consider participating.




California FTB to Discuss Apportionment of Combined Group Income

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) will hold a second Interested Parties Meeting at their office in Rancho Cordova on April 20, 2016, dealing with the apportionment of income for combined reporting groups with both financial and non-financial members.  The Notice of Interested Parties meeting provides a description of the sourcing methods used in other states and solicits comments on four specific proposals.

The current statute and regulations, applied literally, in effect assign the majority of combined income of bank(s) and broker-dealer(s) to the location of the bank(s) or broker-dealer(s) and its customers.  This can produce an issue worth many hundreds of millions of dollars to the bank or broker dealer.  We understand that the California FTB has issued ad hoc Notices of Proposed Assessment to some taxpayers based on a distortion theory; some of these cases have gone to the Settlement Bureau, where both the FTB and the taxpayers have settled and executed confidentiality agreements.

The FTB takes these Interested Parties Meetings very seriously.  They have an unusual format in that there is not a record of who said what, the goal being to have a full and frank discussion on a non-attribution basis. An early example of collaboration between the FTB and interested parties produced what is now Reg. 25137-10.  Before the regulation, many years ago Sears argued that it was not engaged in a unitary business with a finance company subsidiary.  Sears lost in the trial court on that issue, but the court also held that Sears was entitled to include intangible personal property in the property factor, and the situs of that property was Illinois, resulting in a refund for Sears. Regulation 25137-10 represented an effort to harmonize the income-producing character of intangible personal property with tangible property in the property factor, and the outcome was that intangible property would be included in the property factor at 20 percent of face value. This regulation and the bank regulation 25137-4.2 provide the current regulatory basis for modification of the statutory formula where high volume, low profit activity is combined with other activity in a combined return, but Reg. 24137-10 only applies where the principal business activity of the combined group is not financial.

Taxpayers should follow these regulatory activities carefully, as evidenced by the adoption of a regulation a few years ago on sourcing income of mutual fund service providers, which was favorable to California-based taxpayers. The statute provided for sourcing income from services at the location of income-producing activities, measured by cost of performance. The adopted regulation instead provides for a form of market sourcing.




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