Taxing the Transfer of Debts Between Debtors and Creditors

By Edward J. Schnee, CPA, Ph.D., and W. Eugene Seago, J.D., Ph.D.




  • When a debtor transfers a debt to a creditor entity it controls, the transaction can be tax free under Sec. 351 and 357(a).
  • In a liquidation of a subsidiary corporation, the subsidiary recognizes no gain or loss on the transfer of its assets in liquidation to its 80% parent, including distributions in payment of debt owed to the parent corporation.
  • Transfers by debtor partners to a creditor partnership are subject to disguised sale rules, while those by debtor partnerships to creditor partners fall under Secs. 731 and 752.
  • Special rules apply to cancellation of debt income in transfers of acquired debt and transfers of installment obligations.

The frequent transfer of cash between closely held businesses and their owners is very common. If the owner works in the business, the transfer is likely to be either a salary to a shareholder/employee or a Sec. 707(c) guaranteed payment to a partner. Alternatively, the transfer may be a loan. As long as the true substance of the transaction is a loan, it will be respected for tax purposes. 1

The cash flow is not exclusively from the businesses to the owner. Many owners prefer to capitalize their closely held business with a combination of equity and debt. Once again, these loans will be respected and not reclassified as equity if they are bona fide loans.

In the normal course of business, these loans are repaid. The receipt of the repayment will be tax free except to the extent it is interest. However, in difficult economic conditions, many of these loans are not repaid. To the extent that the creditor cancels the obligation, the debtor has cancellation of debt (COD) income under Sec. 61(a)(12). This income is taxable unless the taxpayer qualifies for an exclusion under Sec. 108. In other cases, the debt is transferred between the parties either as an independent transaction or part of a larger one. This article reviews these transactions.

Two basic types of transfers have created significant tax issues. In the first, the debtor transfers the debt to the creditor. If the debtor is the owner of a business and the business is a creditor, the transfer appears to be a contribution. If the business is the debtor and the owner is the creditor, the transfer can be a distribution, liquidation, or reorganization. The other type of transfer is from the creditor to the debtor. Again, the transaction can take the form of a contribution if the creditor is the owner, or it can take the form of a distribution, liquidation, or reorganization if the creditor is the business.

Debtor-to-Creditor Transfers


The two seminal cases that established the framework for analyzing the transfer of a debt obligation from a debtor to a creditor are Kniffen 2 and Edwards Motor Transit Co. 3 Arthur Kniffen ran a sole proprietorship and owned a corporation. The sole proprietorship borrowed money from the corporation. For valid business reasons, Kniffen transferred the assets and liabilities of the proprietorship to the corporation in exchange for stock of the corporation, thereby transferring a debt from the debtor to the creditor. The transaction met the requirements of Sec. 351.

The government argued that the transfer of the debt to the creditor was in fact a discharge or cancellation of the debt (a single step), which should have been treated as the receipt of boot under Sec. 351(b) and taxed currently. The taxpayer argued that the transfer was an assumption of the debt and, based on Sec. 357(a), should not be treated as boot.

The Tax Court acknowledged that the debt was canceled by operation of law. However, it did not accept the government’s argument as to the structure of the transaction. Instead, it determined that two separate steps occurred. First, the corporation assumed the debt. This assumption was covered by Sec. 357(a). After the assumption, the interests of the debtor and creditor merged and the debt was extinguished. Since the transfer was not for tax avoidance purposes, Sec. 357(b) did not apply. The result was a tax-free Sec. 351 transaction, except to the extent that the assumed debt exceeded the bases of the assets transferred, resulting in gain under Sec. 357(c). This decision established the separation of the debt transfer from its extinguishment.

Edwards Motor Transit Co. cites, and is considered to have adopted, the approach in Kniffen. For valid business reasons, the owners of Edwards created The Susquehanna Co., a holding company, and transferred Edwards’ stock to it under Sec. 351. Susquehanna borrowed money from Edwards to meet certain financial obligations. To eliminate problems that arose from having a holding company owning the stock of an operating company, the owners merged Susquehanna into Edwards under Sec. 368(a)(1)(A). The government acknowledged that the basic transaction was a nontaxable merger. However, the government wanted the company to recognize income as a result of the cancellation or forgiveness of the debt. The Tax Court ruled for the taxpayer, on the grounds that the debt transfer (from debtor to creditor) was not a cancellation of the debt. The ruling cited Kniffen as authority for this conclusion.

On its surface, Edwards Motor Transit affirmed the decision and reasoning in Kniffen. The Tax Court stated, “The transfer by the parent corporation of its assets to Edwards [its subsidiary] . . . constituted payment of the outstanding liabilities . . . just as surely as if Susquehanna had made payment in cash.” This statement relied on both Kniffen and Estate of Gilmore. 4 In Gilmore, a liquidating corporation transferred a receivable to its shareholder who happened to be the debtor. In that case, the court ruled the transaction was an asset transfer and not a forgiveness of debt. The court based its conclusion in large part on the fact that no actual cancellation of the debt occurred.

The statement in Edwards Motor Transit quoted above, however, is inapposite to the conclusion in Kniffen. A payment is not a transfer and assumption of a liability. Since Susquehanna was deemed to have used assets to repay the debt, the Tax Court should have required Susquehanna to recognize gain to the extent that the value of the assets used to repay the debt exceeded their bases. The conclusions in Kniffen and Edwards are consistent only in their holdings that these debt transfers were not cancellations of debts that would result in COD income. In Kniffen, the court ruled that the debt was assumed and then extinguished. In Edwards, the court ruled that the extinguishment of the debt constituted repayment.

It is possible that the Tax Court reached the correct outcome in Edwards Motor Transit but for the wrong reason. In Rev. Rul 72-464, 5 a debtor corporation merged into the creditor corporation in a tax-free A reorganization under Sec. 368(a)(1)(A). The ruling concluded that the debtor corporation did not recognize any gain or loss on the extinguishment of the debt within the acquiring corporation. General Counsel Memorandum (GCM) 34902 6 provided the detailed analysis behind the conclusion.

The GCM cited both Kniffen and Edwards 7 and adopted their underlying rationale. Specifically, it concluded that the basic transaction (the reorganization) results in a transfer of the debt to the acquiring corporation. It is after the transfer that the debt is extinguished by the statutory merger of interests. The transfer is an assumption of debt, which is nontaxable under Sec. 357(a). Therefore, the transferor (debtor corporation) recognizes no gain or loss.

This is exactly what happened in Ed wards. The debt was assumed, not repaid. Therefore, the Tax Court should have reached the conclusion that the transaction was nontaxable under Sec. 357(a) and not have relied on the questionable authority of Estate of Gilmore 8 or concluded that the debt was repaid.


The transactions discussed up to this point have been either tax-free corporate formations (Sec. 351) or tax-free reorganizations (Sec. 361). In a different transaction that is likely to occur, the creditor/shareholder liquidates the debtor corporation.

If the transaction is not between a parent and its subsidiary, taxability is determined by Secs. 331 and 336. Prior to 1986, the outcome might have been determined by Kniffen and Edwards. With the repeal that year of the General Utilities 9 doctrine (tax-free corporate property distributions) and the enactment of current Sec. 336, the outcome is straightforward. Under Sec. 336, the debtor corporation that is liquidated recognizes its gains and losses. Whether the liquidated corporation is treated as using assets to satisfy a debt requiring the recognition of gain or is treated as distributing assets in a taxable transaction under Sec. 336, all the gains and losses are recognized.

The taxation of the shareholder is a little more complex. First, the shareholder must determine how much it received in exchange for the stock. The most reasonable answer is that the shareholder received the value of the assets minus any debt assumed and minus the face amount of the debt owed to it by the liquidated corporation. This amount is used to determine the gain or loss that results from the hypothetical sale of stock under Sec. 331. Second, the shareholder must determine what was received for the debt, whether assets or the debt itself. The amount received in payment of the liquidated corporation’s debt is a nontaxable return of capital. If the shareholder is deemed to have received the debt itself, then the debt is merged out of existence. The basis of all the assets received should be their fair market value (FMV) under either Sec. 334(a) or general basis rules.

If the liquidated corporation is a subsidiary of the creditor/shareholder, the results change. Under Sec. 337, a subsidiary recognizes neither gain nor loss on the transfer of its assets in liquidation to an 80% distributee (parent). Sec. 337(b) expands this rule to include distributions in payment of debts owed to the parent corporation. Therefore, the subsidiary/debtor does not recognize any gain or loss.

The parent corporation (creditor) recognizes no gain or loss on the liquidation of its subsidiary under Sec. 332. The basis of the transferred property in the hands of the parent is carryover basis. 10 This carry­over basis rule also applies to property received as payment of debt if the subsidiary does not recognize gain or loss on the repayment. 11 In other words, the gain or loss is postponed until the assets are disposed of by the parent corporation.

One important exception to the nonrecognition rule is applied to the parent corporation. Under Regs. Sec. 1.332-7, if the parent’s basis in the debt is different from the face amount of the debt, the parent recognizes the realized gain or loss (face amount minus basis) that results from the repayment. Since this regulation does not mention any exception to the rules of Sec. 334(b)(1), the parent corporation is required to use carryover basis for all the assets received without adjustment for any gain or loss recognized on the debt.

This discussion of liquidations assumes that the liquidated corporation is solvent. If it is insolvent, the answer changes. The transaction cannot qualify under Secs. 332 and 337. The shareholder is not treated as receiving any property in exchange for stock; therefore, a loss is allowed under Sec. 165(g). The taxation of the debt depends on the amount, if any, received by the shareholder as a result of the debt.


The taxation of debt transfers involving partnerships is determined, in large part, by Secs. 731, 752, and 707(a)(2)(B). Specifically, the taxation of transfers by debtor partners to the creditor/partnership is determined by the disguised sale rules of Sec. 707(a)(2)(B), whereas transfers by debtor partnerships to a creditor/partner fall under Secs. 731 and 752.

Sec. 707(a)(2)(B) provides that a transfer of property by a partner to a partnership and a related transfer of cash or property to the partner is treated as a sale of property. The regulations specify the extent to which the partnership’s assumption of liabilities from the partner is treated as the distribution of the sale price.

Regs. Sec. 1.707-5 divides assumed liabilities into either qualified liabilities or unqualified liabilities. A qualified liability 12 is one that:

  1. Was incurred more than two years before the assumption;
  2. Was incurred within two years of the assumption, but was not incurred in anticipation of the assumption;
  3. Was allocated to a capital expenditure related to the property transferred to the partnership under Temp. Regs. Sec. 1.163-8T; or
  4. Was incurred in the ordinary course of business in which it was used, but only if all the material assets of that trade or business are transferred to the partnership.

The amount of qualified recourse liabilities is limited to the FMV of the transferred property reduced by senior liabilities. Any additional recourse liabilities are treated as nonqualified debt.

If a transfer of property is not otherwise treated as part of a sale, the partnership’s assumption of a qualified liability in connection with a transfer of property is not treated as part of a sale. The assumption of nonqualified liabilities is treated as sale proceeds to the extent that the assumed liability exceeds the transferring partner’s share of that liability (as determined under Sec. 752) immediately after the partnership assumes the liability. If no money or other consideration is transferred to the partner by the partnership in the transaction, the assumption of qualified liabilities in a transaction treated as a sale is also treated as sales proceeds to the extent of the transferring partner’s share of that liability immediately after the partnership assumes the liability. 13 Following the assumption of the liability, the interests of the debtor and creditor merge, thereby extinguishing the debt. The result is that generally the full amount of these assumed liabilities are part of the sale proceeds. 14

The assumed liabilities that are not treated as sale proceeds still fall under Sec. 752. Since the transaction results in a reduction of the transferor’s personal liabilities, the taxpayer is deemed to have received a cash distribution equal to the amount of the debt assumed under Sec. 752(b). Given that the debt is immediately extinguished, no amount is allocated to any partner. The end result is that the transferor must recognize gain if the liability transferred exceeds the transferor’s outside basis before the transaction, increased by the basis of any asset transferred to the partnership as part of the transaction.

A partnership may have borrowed money from a partner and then engaged in a transaction that transfers the debt to the creditor/partner. The first question is whether the initial transaction is a loan or capital contribution. Sec. 707(a) permits loans by partners to partnerships. The evaluation of the transaction is similar to one to determine whether a shareholder has loaned money to a corporation or made a capital contribution. The factors laid out in Sec. 385 and Notice 94-47 15 should be considered in this analysis.

Assuming the debt is real and it alone is transferred to the creditor/partner, the outcome is straightforward. The partner is treated as having made a cash contribution to the partnership under Sec. 752(a) to the extent that the amount of debt exceeds the amount allocated to the partner under the Sec. 752 regulations. If part of the debt is allocated to other partners, these other partners are treated as receiving a deemed cash distribution.

If the transfer is part of a larger transaction, then the analysis is a little more complex. The transfer of the other assets is governed by Secs. 737, 731, and 751. Sec. 737 requires a partner to recognize gain if, during the prior seven years, the partner had contributed property with built-in gain to the partnership and the current FMV of the distributed property exceeds the partner’s outside basis. The partner is treated as recognizing gain in an amount equal to the lesser of (1) the excess (if any) of the FMV of property (other than money) received in the distribution over the adjusted basis of such partner’s interest in the partnership immediately before the distribution reduced (but not below zero) by the amount of money received in the distribution, or (2) the net precontribution gain of the partner. The outside basis is increased by the amount of the deemed contribution because the partner assumed a partnership liability. After any gain under Sec. 737 is determined, the general distribution rules of Secs. 731 and 751(b) apply to the transaction. In effect, the transfer to a creditor/partner of a partnership debt owed to the partner is treated the same as any liability assumed by the partner. The extinguishment of the debt should not result in additional tax consequences.

Creditor-to-Debtor Transfers

In addition to debtor-to-creditor transfers, there are creditor-to-debtor transfers. The outcome of these transactions is determined by the two-step analysis in Kniffen. The creditor is treated as having transferred an asset to the debtor/owner. After the transfer, the interests of the debtor and creditor merge, resulting in the extinguishment of the debt. This extinguishment is generally nontaxable since the basis of the debt and the face amount are equal. 16 The result changes if the basis in the hands of the creditor and the adjusted issue price of the debtor are not equal. 17


One of the initial pieces of guidance that addressed this question was Rev. Rul. 72-464. 18 In this ruling, the debt was transferred in a nontaxable transaction. Consequently, the recipient (the debtor) had a carryover basis in the debt. Since this basis was less than the face amount, gain equal to the difference was recognized. This ruling did not explain the reasoning behind the gain recognition or the potential impact if the value of the debt was different from its basis. 19 These items were addressed in Rev. Rul. 93-7. 20

Rev. Rul. 93-7 analyzed a transaction between a partnership and a partner, here designated P and A, respectively. A was a 50% partner. This percentage allowed A to not be a related party to P under Sec. 707(b). P also had no Sec. 751 assets, and A had no share of P’s liabilities under Sec. 752. These were excluded because they did not affect the reasoning behind the taxation of debt transfers. A issued a debt with a face amount of $100 for $100. P acquired the debt for $100. When the debt was worth $90, it was distributed to A in complete redemption of its interest, which had an FMV of $90 and outside basis of $25. In other words, a creditor/partnership distributed debt to the debtor/partner.

The debt was an asset, a receivable, in the hands of P. When it was distributed to A, P determined its taxation under Sec. 731(b), which provides that no gain or loss is recognized by a partnership on the distribution of property. The application of Sec. 731(b) in this transaction followed directly from Kniffen, which treated the transfer of a debt as a separate transaction from any extinguishment that follows the transfer. Under Sec. 732, A’s basis in the transferred debt was $25. 21

The basis rules of Sec. 732 assume that a built-in gain or loss on distributed property is realized and recognized when the recipient disposes of the property. In this situation, the distributed debt was extinguished, and therefore no future event would generate taxable gain or loss. Consequently, this extinguishment became a taxable event. In this specific case, A recognized gain of $65 ($90 FMV – $25 basis) and COD income of $10 ($100 face $90 FMV.) The ruling did not spell out the reasoning for the recognition of both gain and COD income. It is the correct outcome based on Regs. Sec. 1.1001-2. Under that regulation, when property is used to satisfy a recourse obligation, the debtor has gain equal to the difference between the value of the property and its basis, and COD income equal to the difference between the amount of debt and the value of the property used as settlement. The distributed debt is property at the time of the distribution, and the rules of Regs. Sec. 1.1001-2 should apply.

In Rev. Rul. 93-7, the value of the debt was less than the face amount. A debt’s value could exceed its face amount. In that case, the revenue ruling indicated, a deduction for the excess value may be available to the partner as a result of the deemed merger. In Letter Ruling 201105016, 22 the IRS ruled that a taxpayer was entitled to a deduction when it reacquired its debt at a premium as part of a restructuring plan. Rev. Rul. 93-7 cited Regs. Sec. 1.163-4(c)(1), and Letter Ruling 201105016 cited Regs. Sec. 1.163-7(c). Both regulations state that the reacquisition of debt at a premium results in deductible interest expense equal to the repurchase amount minus the adjusted issue price. Regs. Sec. 1.163-4(c)(1) applies to corporate taxpayers, while Regs. Sec. 1.163-7(c) expanded this treatment to all taxpayers. Based on these regulations and the treatment of the distribution as an acquisition of a debt, an interest expense deduction should be permitted when the value exceeds the amount of debt, whereas COD income is recognized when the value is less than the amount of the debt.

In Rev. Rul. 93-7, the partnership was the creditor, and the debt was transferred to a debtor/partner. The reverse transaction can occur, in which a creditor/partner transfers debt to the debtor/partnership in exchange for a capital or profits interest. Sec. 721 applies to the creditor/partner. Therefore, no gain or loss is recognized. However, Sec. 108(e)(8)(B) applies to the debtor/partnership. Sec. 108(e)(8)(B) provides that the partnership recognizes COD income equal to the excess of the debt canceled over the value of the interest received by the creditor. This income is allocated to the partners that owned interests immediately before the transfer. The partnership does not recognize gain or loss (other than the COD income) as a result of this transaction. 23 The value of the interest generally is determined by the liquidation value of the interest received. 24 If the creditor receives a profits interest, the liquidation value is zero, and therefore the partnership recognizes COD income equal to the amount of debt transferred.

Corporate Transactions

Debt transfers between corporations and shareholders are just as likely as transfers between partners and partnerships. If the transferor is a shareholder or becomes a shareholder as a result of the transaction, Secs. 1032, 118, and 351 provide basic nontaxability. However, Sec. 108 overrules these sections in certain cases.

If the shareholder transfers the debt to the corporation as a contribution to capital, Sec. 108(e)(6) may result in the recognition of COD income by the corporation. Under Sec. 108(e)(6), the corporation is treated as having satisfied the indebtedness with an amount of money equal to the shareholder’s adjusted basis in the indebtedness. Therefore, the corporation has COD income amount equal to the excess of the face amount of the debt over the transferor’s basis in the debt immediately prior to the transfer. In most cases, the face and basis are equal, and no COD income is recognized. If the transfer is in exchange for stock, Sec. 108(e)(8)(A) provides that the corporation is treated as having satisfied the indebtedness with an amount of money equal to the FMV of the stock. Therefore, the corporation recognizes COD income equal to the excess of the face value of the debt over the value of the stock received. In many cases, the value of the stock is less than the debt canceled, and therefore COD income is recognized. Sec. 351 provides that 80% creditor/shareholders recognize neither gain nor loss if the debt is evidenced by a security. If Sec. 351 does not apply, the creditor/shareholder may be able to claim a loss or bad-debt deduction.

Rev. Rul. 2004-79 25 provides a detailed analysis of the transfer of debt from a creditor corporation to a debtor shareholder. The analysis is similar to the one for partnership distributions covered by Rev. Rul. 93-7, discussed previously.

Modifying the facts of Rev. Rul. 2004-79, assume that a shareholder borrows money from his corporation. The face amount of the debt is $1,000, and the issue price is $920. The original issue discount (OID) of $80 is amortized by both the corporation and the shareholder. At a time when the adjusted issue price and basis are $950 but the FMV is only $925, the corporation distributes the debt to the shareholder as a dividend.

From the corporation’s point of view, this is a property dividend. Rev. Rul. 2004-79 cites Rev. Rul. 93-7, but it could just as easily have cited Kniffen. As a property dividend, the transaction’s taxa tion to the corporation is governed by Sec. 311. Since the value in the revenue ruling was less than the basis, the corporation recognized no gain or loss. If the value had appreciated, the corporation would have recognized gain equal to the appreciation.

The shareholder receives a taxable dividend equal to the value of the debt; consequently, the debt has a basis equal to its FMV of $925. Since the debt is automatically extinguished, the shareholder is treated as having satisfied an obligation in the amount of $950 with a payment of $925. Therefore, the shareholder must recognize $25 of COD income.

A second fact pattern in the revenue ruling is the same, except the value of the distributed debt is $1,005. Under these facts, the shareholder would be entitled to an interest expense deduction under Regs. Sec. 1.163-4 or 1.163-7 in the amount of $55 ($1,005 $950). In other words, the shareholder is deemed to have reacquired its own debt for a payment equal to the basis that the distributed debt obtains in the transaction.

The conclusions of Rev. Rul. 2004-79 are consistent with those in Rev. Rul. 93-7. They follow the reasoning of Kniffen .

Another transaction that could occur involving shareholder debt is a liquidation of the corporation, resulting in a distribution of the debt to the debtor/shareholder. The results should be similar to those in Rev. Rul. 2004-79. The corporation that distributes the debt is taxed under Sec. 336. Therefore, the corporation recognizes gain or loss depending on the basis of the debt and its FMV. This is the same result as in the dividend case, except that the loss is recognized under Sec. 336 instead of being denied under Sec. 311. The shareholder’s basis in the debt is its FMV under Sec. 334(a). The shareholder recognizes COD income or interest expense, depending on whether the basis is less than or greater than the adjusted issue price of the debt. These results flow from the regulations under Secs. 61 and 163 and are consistent with the conclusions in the above revenue rulings.

The results change slightly if the liquidation qualifies under Secs. 332 and 337. The IRS discussed these results in Chief Counsel Advice 200040009. 26 Sec. 332 shields the parent from recognition of income on the receipt of the debt. Sec. 337 shields the liquidating corporation from recognizing gain or loss on the transfer of the debt to its parent corporation. The basis is carryover basis under Sec. 334(b). Then, because the debt is extinguished, the parent recognizes either COD income or interest expense on the extinguishment of the debt. As in the prior revenue rulings and Kniffen , the extinguishment has to be a taxable event because the elimination of the carryover basis prevents the parent corporation from having a taxable transaction in the future involving this debt. These results are consistent with prior decisions.

The results discussed for a parent/subsidiary liquidation should also apply if the debtor/corporation acquires a corporation that owns its debt in a nontaxable asset reorganization. In this case, Sec. 361 replaces Secs. 332 and 337. The extinguishment of the debt is a separate transaction that should result in recognition of income or expense.

Acquired Debt

So far, this article has discussed transactions between the debtor and creditor. Now it turns to how the holder of the debt acquired it. In many cases, the holder acquired the debt directly from the debtor, and the acquisition is nontaxable. In other situations, the debt is outstanding and in the hands of an unrelated party. The holder acquires the debt from this unrelated party. In these cases, Sec. 108(e)(4) may create COD income.

Under Sec. 61, if a debtor reacquires its debt for less than its adjusted issue price, the debtor has COD income. Sec. 108(e)(4) expands on this rule: If a party related to the debtor acquires the debt, the debtor is treated as acquiring the debt, with the resulting COD income recognized. Related parties are defined in Secs. 267(b) and 707(b)(1).

The regulations provide that the acquisition can be either direct or indirect. A direct acquisition is one by a person related to the debtor at the time the debt is acquired. 27 An indirect acquisition occurs when the debtor acquires the holder of the debt instrument, where the holder of the debt acquired it in anticipation of becoming related to the debtor. 28 The determination of whether the holder acquired the debt in anticipation of becoming related is based on all the facts and circumstances. 29 However, if the holder acquires the debt within six months before the holder becomes related to the debtor, the acquisition by the holder is deemed to be in anticipation of becoming related to the debtor. 30

In the case of a direct acquisition, the amount of COD income is equal to the adjusted issue price minus the basis of the debt in the hands of the related party. In the case of indirect acquisitions, the calculation depends on whether the debt is acquired within six months of being acquired. 31 If the holder acquired the debt within six months of being acquired, the COD income is calculated as if it were a direct acquisition. If the holder acquired the debt more than six months before being acquired, the COD income is equal to the adjusted issue price minus the FMV of the debt instrument on the date that the holder is acquired.

When a debtor reacquires its own debt, in addition to reporting COD income, the debtor has the debt extinguished as a result of the merger of interests. When a related party acquires the debt, the debtor has COD income, but the debt remains outstanding. In these cases, the debtor is treated as issuing a new debt instrument immediately following the recognition of the COD income for an amount equal to the amount used to calculate the COD income (adjusted basis or FMV 32). If this issue price is less than the stated redemption price at maturity of the debt (as defined in Sec. 1273(a)(2), the difference is OID that is subject to the amortization rules of Sec. 1272.

Rev. Rul. 2004-79 provides a simple example of this transaction. In the ruling, a parent corporation, P, issued $10 million of debt for $10 million. After issuance, S, a subsidiary of P, purchased the debt for $9.5 million. Under Regs. Sec. 1.108-2(f), P had to recognize $500,000 of COD income ($10 million face $9.5 million basis to S). After this recognition, P was treated as having issued the debt to S for $9.5 million. Therefore, $500,000 of OID was amortizable by P and S. If S later transfers the debt to P, the previously discussed rules determine the taxation of the transfer using S’s basis ($9.5 million + amortized OID).

Secs. 61 and 108(e)(4) apply only if the debt is acquired for less than the adjusted issue price. If the acquisition price is greater than the adjusted issue price, the acquiring party treats this excess as premium and amortizes it, thereby reducing the amount of interest income recognized by the holder.

Installment Obligations

An installment obligation differs from other obligations in that the holder recognizes income when cash is collected in payment of the obligation. The rules describing the taxation of installment obligations were rewritten as part of the Installment Sales Revision Act of 1980, P.L. 96-471. Under old Sec. 453(d) (new Sec. 453B(a)), if the holder of an installment obligation distributes, transmits, or disposes of the obligation, the taxpayer is required to recognize gain or loss equal to the difference between the basis in the obligation and the FMV of the obligation. There is an exception to this rule for distributions in liquidation of a subsidiary that are exempt from taxation under Sec. 337.

Prior to the Code revision, the regulations permitted the transfer of installment obligations without gain recognition if the transaction was covered by either Sec. 721 or 351. 33 Although the regulations have not been revised for the Code change, the IRS continues to treat Secs. 721 and 351 as overriding the gain recognition provision. 34

If the transaction results in transfer of the obligation either from the creditor to the debtor or from the debtor to the creditor, the tax result changes. The seminal case is Jack Ammann Photogrammetric Engineers, Inc. 35 In it, the taxpayer created a corporation to which he contributed $100,000 in return for 78% of the corporation’s stock. He then sold his photogrammetry business to the corporation for $817,031. He received $100,000 cash and a note for $717,031. He reported the sale under the installment method. When he was still owed $540,223 on the note, he transferred it to the corporation for stock of the corporation worth $540,223. He reported this as a disposition under Sec. 453(d) and recognized the deferred gain. Later, he filed a claim for refund, arguing that Sec. 351 prevented recognition of the deferred gain. After allowing the refund, the IRS assessed a deficiency against the corporation, arguing that the corporation came under Sec. 453(d). The corporation argued that, under Sec. 1032, it was not taxable. The Tax Court ruled for the IRS.

The Fifth Circuit reversed the decision. The underlying reasoning was that the disposition by the shareholder and the extinguishment of the debt in the hands of the corporation were separate transactions. The extinguishment did not fall under Sec. 453(d). The court indicated that the IRS should have assessed the tax against the shareholder.

Following this case, the IRS issued Rev. Rul. 73-423. 36 In this ruling, a shareholder transferred an installment obligation from Corporation X back to the corporation in a transaction described in Sec. 351. The ruling concluded that the transfer was a satisfaction of the installment agreement at other than face value under Sec. 453(d)(1)(A) and that the shareholder was required to recognize gain without regard to Sec. 351. The corporation had no gain or loss under Sec. 1032 and Ammann.

Sec. 453(d) is now Sec. 453B(a), and the rule has not changed. Therefore, if a creditor transfers an installment obligation to the debtor in an otherwise tax-free transaction, the obligation is treated as satisfied at other than its face value, and the creditor is required to recognize gain or loss as discussed in Rev. Rul. 73-423. 37

New Sec. 453B(f) covers transactions in which installment obligations become unenforceable. This section covers the extinguishment of an installment debt through a merger of the rights of a debtor and creditor. The Code treats these transactions as dispositions of the obligation with gain or loss recognized. When the debtor and creditor are related, the disposition is at FMV but no less than the face amount.

If the debtor of an installment obligation engages in a transaction in which the creditor assumes the debt, the results are consistent with those of transactions involving obligations other than installment notes. The debtor is deemed to have received cash equal to the amount of the debt. This is fully taxable unless exempted by Sec. 357, 721, or a similar provision. The creditor falls under Sec. 453B(f), with the extinguishment treated as a taxable disposition of the obligation for its FMV (which for related parties is no less than the face amount).


Business entities often incur debts to their owners, and, conversely, the owners incur liabilities to their business entities. In numerous transactions these obligations are canceled for consideration other than simple repayment of the debt. Based on Kniffen, these transactions are treated as a transfer of consideration followed by an extinguishment of the debt. If a shareholder’s debt to his or her controlled corporation is transferred to that corporation along with assets, the transaction may be tax free under Secs. 351 and 357(a). If a shareholder/creditor receives the related corporate debt in a distribution or liquidation, Sec. 311 or 336 determines the corporation’s taxation.

The cancellation of a partner’s debt to the partnership is generally governed by the distribution rules, including the constructive sale or compensation rules of Sec. 707(a)(2). When a partner cancels the partnership’s debt, the partner has made a contribution to capital. This can have consequences to all partners since the total liabilities are decreased and the partners’ bases are decreased under Sec. 752.

In most cases the merger of debtor and creditor interests is nontaxable. However, if the basis of the debt or receivable does not equal the face amount of the debt, income or loss is recognized. The exact amount and character of the income or loss depends on factors discussed in this article. It is important for the tax adviser to identify those cases in which the debt transfer is not tax free.


1 Invalid loans to shareholders have been reclassified as dividends.

2 Kniffen, 39 T.C. 553 (1962).

3 Edwards Motor Transit Co., T.C. Memo. 1964-317.

4 Estate of Gilmore, 40 B.T.A. 945 (1939).

5 Rev. Rul. 72-464, 1972-2 C.B. 214.

6 GCM 34902 (6/8/72). The GCM also refers to Sec. 332, which will be discussed later.

7 As the GCM points out, by using Sec. 357(a), taxpayers could achieve the same outcome in C reorganizations.

8 See Chief Counsel Advice 200040009 (10/6/00), which suggests Estate of Gilmore’s requirement of a formal cancellation of debt before COD income is recognized may no longer be valid.

9 General Utilities & Operating Co. v. Helvering, 296 U.S. 200 (1935).

10 Sec. 334(b)(1).

11 Id.

12 Regs. Sec. 1.707-5(a)(6).

13 If the partnership transfers money or other consideration in the transaction, the amount treated as sales proceeds may be limited under Regs. Sec. 1.707-5(a)(5)(i)(B).

14 Under Regs. Sec. 1.707-5(a)(3)(ii), a partner’s share of liabilities is reduced by liabilities assumed that are anticipated to be reduced. Based on Kniffen and Edwards, the reduction will be anticipated.

15 Notice 94-47, 1994-1 C.B. 357.

16 See, e.g., IRS Letter Ruling 8825048 (3/23/88).

17 The transaction that gives rise to the difference and the taxation that results are discussed later.

18 Rev. Rul. 72-464, 1972-2 C.B. 214. Although this is a debtor-to-creditor transfer, the result is the same.

19 See GCM 34902 (6/8/72).

20 Rev. Rul. 93-7, 1993-1 C.B. 125.

21 If the partnership makes a Sec. 754 election, the partnership has a Sec. 734 adjustment of $75 ($100 inside basis – $25 basis after distribution).

22 IRS Letter Ruling 201105016 (2/4/11).

23 Regs. Sec. 1.108-8, effective Nov. 17, 2011.

24 See the Regs. Sec. 1.108-8(b)(2) safe-harbor rule.

25 Rev. Rul. 2004-79, 2004-2 C.B. 106.

26 CCA 200040009 (10/6/00).

27 Regs. Sec. 1.108-2(b).

28 Regs. Sec. 1.108-2(c)(1).

29 Regs. Sec. 1.108-2(c)(2).

30 Regs. Sec. 1.108-2(c)(3).

31 Regs. Secs. 1.108-2(f)(1) and (2).

32 Regs. Sec. 1.108-2(g).

33 Regs. Sec. 1.453-9(c)(2).

34 See IRS Letter Rulings 8824044 (3/22/88) and 8425042 (3/19/84).

35 Jack Ammann Photogrammetric Engineers, Inc., 341 F.2d 466 (5th Cir. 1965), rev’g 39 T.C. 500 (1962).

36 Rev. Rul. 73-423, 1973-2 C.B. 161.

37 Although this revenue ruling involved a corporation, the IRS believes the same rule applies to partnerships. Treasury is currently working on a revision of the regulations to clarify the results. See the preamble to Regs. Sec. 1.108-8, T.D. 9557 (11/17/11).



Edward Schnee is the Hugh Culverhouse Professor of Accounting at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Eugene Seago is the R.B. Pamplin Professor of Accounting at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. For more information about this article, please contact Prof. Schnee at

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