The Senate moved this week to limit the tax burden imposed last year on many seller-financed property transactions by passing a compromise bill that sets a minimum interest rate.
The legislation, which was sought vigorously by the real estate industry, was approved by voice vote and sent to President Reagan. The House of Representatives had approved a similar bill in May.
Under the 1984 Deficit Reduction Act, the Internal Revenue Service could "impute" a higher interest rate to below-market loans provided by sellers and could tax the sellers as if they were receiving that higher rate.
The new bill sets a minimum interest rate of 9 percent or what the government pays on debt for a similar term, whichever is less. It covers seller-financed transactions worth $2.8 million or less. The minimum interest rate for most transactions over $2.8 million must be the same as the federal rate.
The section of the Deficit Reduction Act permitting the IRS to impute interest rates and tax them at the higher rate provoked loud protests from real estate industry representatives. They asserted that the practice would hamper sales during periods of high interest rates when sellers need to offer below-market rates to attract buyers.
The Treasury Department asked for the provision to prevent buyers and sellers from avoiding taxes by raising the price of the property and lowering the interest rates. This allows the seller to treat more of the proceeds from the sale as capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate. Income from market-rate financing, on the other hand, would be taxed at ordinary rates. The procedure also allows the buyer, in the case of business or income property, to boost the amount he or she can deduct from taxes in the form of depreciation, because the depreciable value of the property is increased through a higher price.
After protests from real estate industry representatives and individuals who feared they would be hurt by the 1984 law, Treasury officials said they would not oppose some changes. They urged, however, that some restrictions be kept to prevent absues by buyers and sellers of expensive properties.
The new legislation also extends the period over which real estate can be depreciated from 18 years to 19 years to replace tax revenue that would be lost under the new regulations.
Although the 1984 rules were aimed at large business and commercial property transactions, many home sellers who took back a mortgage at below-market rates would have been affected.
When the effect on small transactions became apparent after the passage of the Deficit Reduction Act, Congress passed a stop-gap measure exempting the first $2 million of seller financing. The stop-gap bill expired June 30, and the new bill is retroactive to that date.