In Kraft Foods Global, Inc. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 2018 WL 2247356 (May 17, 2018), the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, recently upheld a New Jersey Tax Court decision denying a taxpayer an exception to the state’s interest add-back requirement in determining the taxpayer’s corporate net income subject to New Jersey’s corporation business tax (CBT). This case highlights the unintended tax consequences that may result from financing arrangements between related entities.
Like many states, New Jersey uses federal taxable income as a starting point for the CBT and then has several modifications to federal taxable income to arrive at New Jersey taxable income. One of these modifications is the related party interest add-back provision, which provides that “Entire net income shall be determined without the exclusion, deduction or credit of … [i]nterest paid, accrued or incurred for the privilege period to a related member….” N.J.S.A. 54:10A–4(k)(2)(I).
There are five statutory exceptions to the interest add-back requirement. In Kraft Foods, the only exception relied upon by the taxpayer was the “Unreasonable Exception,” which requires the taxpayer to establish “by clear and convincing evidence, as determined by the director, that the disallowance of a deduction is unreasonable.” In support of its argument, the taxpayer argued that its parent company simply “pushed down” loans from bondholders because the parent company could secure a better interest rate on the open market than the taxpayer.
The appellate court upheld the determination of the Tax Court that the taxpayer did not qualify for the Unreasonable Exception. While acknowledging that legislative history supported the taxpayer’s contention that the Unreasonable Exception may apply to a “pushed down” loan, even in the absence of a guarantee of the third-party debt, the appellate court found that the taxpayer did not meet its evidentiary burden. According to the court, the taxpayer produced no document suggesting that it was ultimately responsible for the third-party debt. The taxpayer’s promise to pay its parent company did not contain a guarantee to the third-party bondholders, nor did the promissory notes the taxpayer signed on behalf of its parent contain payment terms or a schedule for principal payments. Thus, according to the appellate court, it was reasonable for the Director to determine that the parent’s debt to the bondholders “was not, legally or effectively, ‘pushed down’” to the taxpayer. Kraft Foods Global, Inc. v. Director, Division of Taxation, 2018 WL 2247356 (May 17, 2018).