CPA & Business Advisory Blog

Land Surveying Firm Found to be a Qualified Personal Service Corporation (thus subject to 35% flat tax rate)

The Tax Court has held that, under the regs, a land surveying firm is treated as performing engineering services even though it employed no engineers. As a result, the Tax Court found that the firm was a qualified personal service corporation subject to a flat 35% tax rate.

Background. C corporations generally are subject to tax at graduated rates on their taxable income. (Code Sec. 11(b)(1)) The benefits of the graduated rates phase out after taxable income reaches a specified amount. By contrast, qualified personal service corporations are subject to a flat 35% tax rate. (Code Sec. 11(b)(2))

A corporation is a qualified personal service corporation if it meets the function and ownership tests: 

  • Substantially all of its activities involve the performance of services in the fields of health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, or consulting. “Substantially all” means that 95% or more of the time spent by the corporation's employees, serving in their capacity as employees, is devoted to performing such services. Brokerage services, including commission-based financial services, are exempted from consulting services.
  • Substantially all (95% or more) of the stock (by value) is held directly or indirectly by: employees performing the services or retired employees who had performed such services; or the estates of such employees, or any other person who, during the two-year period starting with the date that such an employee died, acquired that individual's stock because of his death. (Code Sec. 448(d)(2); Reg. § 1.448-1T(e)(4))

Facts. Kraatz & Craig Surveying Inc. (Firm) is engaged in land surveying in Tennessee. Land surveying is Firm's only activity. It does not employ any licensed engineers, is not associated with any firm that employs licensed engineers, and does not provide any services that State law requires to be performed only by a licensed engineer.
IRS determined a deficiency of $9,762 in Firm's Federal income tax for its tax year ending Dec. 31, 2005. In the notice of deficiency, IRS determined that Firm is a qualified personal service corporation under Code Sec. 448 subject to a flat 35% tax rate under Code Sec. 11(b)(2).

Parties' arguments. Firm argued that it did not meet the function test because it was not engaged in any of the types of services specified in the statute. Firm did not dispute the ownership test.

IRS argued that Firm's land surveying constituted the performance of services in the field of engineering pursuant to Reg. § 1.448-1T(e)(4)(i), which specifically treats land surveying and mapping as engineering.

Firm argued that the reg was invalid. Alternatively, it argued that if the reg is valid, it means that surveying and mapping services, if performed by an engineer, would qualify as services in the qualifying field of engineering. Under this argument, the reg would not apply in Firm's situation since it has no engineers.

Firm said that the Court should look to State law to decide whether surveying is in the field of engineering. Firm also contended that land surveying in Tennessee can be performed only by a licensed land surveyor and that it is not licensed to perform any activity which State law requires to be performed by a licensed engineer.

Court sides with IRS. The Tax Court held that whether a service is performed in a qualifying field under Code Sec. 448(d)(2) is to be decided by examining all relevant indicia and is not controlled by State licensing laws. It found that Reg. § 1.448-1T(e)(4)(i) is supported by the legislative history, by the ordinary meaning of the term “civil engineering,” which encompasses surveying, and by other indicia that surveying is regarded as within the field of engineering. As a result, it concluded that the reg is valid. Accordingly, it held that Firm's land surveying is a service performed in the field of engineering under Code Sec. 448(d)(2) and Firm is subject to the flat 35% income tax rate under Code Sec. 11(b)(2).

The Moral of the Story.  Professional service firms that may provide personal services that subject the Corporation to the flat 35% income tax rate should consider all viable options for organizing the business.  Other options of business organization may allow the stakeholders to take advantage of graduated rates.

References: For the tax rate for qualified personal service corporations, see FTC 2d/FIN ¶  D-1006 et seq.; United States Tax Reporter ¶  114.02; TaxDesk ¶  600,901 et seq., TG ¶  650. Information Courtesy: Thomson Reuters

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