Economic Substance

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CompasX

CompasX

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ECONOMIC SUBSTANCE refers to the application of income tax laws, i.e., the substance of the transaction, rather than its form, determines the tax consequences, with few exceptions. The "form" of a transaction is only the label the interested parties attach to their arrangement. For instance, an arrangement might be called a compensation agreement, loan, lease or sale. Documents may support the form, but the courts are not concerned with these labels or papers that purport to govern the transaction -- they focus on its substance. The "substance over form" analysis is used to dissect self-serving transactions between parties, including loans and payments to family members; transactions between related corporations and their shareholders, partnerships and their partners; and between trusts and their beneficiaries. For instance, sale of a home by a parent to a child may be recharacterized by the court as a gift, if the child never pays for it. Related-party transactions provide fertile territory for self-dealing, with the tax benefit as the real motivating purpose, disguised by the form of the transaction. In contrast, arm's-length transactions with independent third parties are far less vulnerable.
 

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