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Tracing Rules: Tracking the Deductibility of Interest


The deductibility of interest is an often contested matter. Section 163 of the Internal Revenue Code allows a deduction for interest paid on a loan. However, the extent of the deduction depends on the manner in which the loan is utilized. For instance, interest paid on a loan allocated to business expenditures is deductible, while interest paid on a loan allocated to personal expenditures is not. The allocation of debt has a critical impact on the deductibility of the associated interest payments.

Treasury Regulation 1.163-8T provides “tracing rules” that allocate debt and interest depending on the type of expenditure to which the proceeds are applied. The underlying property used to secure the loan is generally irrelevant; only the loan’s use is significant (subject to a limited exception for qualified personal residences).

Automatic Allocation

The tracing rules automatically allocate debt depending on how the proceeds are used. A 30-day rule allocates debt and interest to any expenditure within 30 days of receipt. After that 30-day period, the proceeds are treated as a personal expenditure. If the proceeds of a loan are paid directly to a third party, the debt and interest payments are automatically allocated to that expenditure.

Loan proceeds deposited directly into an account may constitute an investment expenditure deductible as investment interest. The proceeds are re-allocated if and when they are applied to a different expenditure or the loan’s use changes. Assume Barry deposits a $10,000 loan into an account on January 1. On July 1, he uses $8,000 of that loan to purchase a personal vehicle. From January 1 through June 30, the debt and interest payments are allocated to an investment expenditure. From July 1 through December 31, $8,000 is allocated to the personal expenditure and $2,000 remains allocated to the investment expenditure.

Expenditures from the account containing both borrowed and unborrowed funds are first allocated from the borrowed funds. Borrowed funds deposited earlier in time are deemed to be expended before subsequently deposited borrowed funds. However, if subsequently borrowed funds are utilized within 30 days of deposit, the taxpayer may elect out of this ordering rule. In such event, the 30-day rule described above is applied. For example, assume Barry’s account contains funds from Loan A, deposited on January 1, and Loan B, deposited on March 1. If Barry applies $6,000 to a personal expenditure within 30 days of his deposit of Loan B, he may elect to allocate the proceeds of Loan B to this expenditure, despite the fact that Loan A was deposited first in time.

Loan Used for Prior Interest or Prior Loan

If a second loan is used to repay a prior loan or to pay interest on a prior loan, the interest payments of the second loan are allocated in the same manner as the interest payments of the first loan. If the proceeds of the second loan are used for purposes other than repayment of a prior debt, the proceeds are allocated according to their use (i.e. according to the general rules outlined above).

On January 1, Barry borrows $10,000 (“Loan A”). Barry spends $5,000 on business property and $5,000 on a personal vehicle. According to the general allocation rules, $5,000 is allocated to the business expenditure and $5,000 to the personal expenditure. In December, Barry borrows $15,000 (“Loan B”). Barry uses the proceeds of Loan B to repay all of Loan A ($10,000) and spends the additional $5,000 on an investment expenditure. The debt and interest payments of Loan B are allocated as follows: $5,000 to the business expenditure (mirroring Loan A), $5,000 to the personal expenditure (mirroring Loan A), and $5,000 to the investment expenditure.

Repayment of Loan

When a portion of debt is repaid, such amount is no longer allocated to the given expenditure. The Treasury Regulations treat the debt as repaid in the following order: (i) personal expenditures; (ii) investment expenditures and passive activity expenditures (in the order the debt was allocated to the expenditure); (iii) passive activity expenditures associated with rental real estate in which the taxpayer actively participates; (iv) former passive activity expenditures; and (v) trade or business expenditures and certain low-income housing project expenditures. The following example illustrates a benefit of this ordering rule. Assume Barry borrows $10,000 on January 1. He spends $6,000 on a business expenditure on March 1 and $4,000 on a personal expenditure on August 1. In the next year, Barry repays $7,000 of the loan. The personal expenditure is treated as entirely repaid and $3,000 of the business expenditure is treated as repaid.

Pass-Through Entities

Notice 89-35 contains special tracing rules for debt associated with pass-through entities in two situations: (i) debt-financed acquisitions and (ii) debt-financed distributions. However, these special rules do not apply if the pass-through entity was formed “with a principal purpose of avoiding or circumventing” the general tracing rules. In such case, interest expense is allocated according to the rules of Treas. Reg. 1.643-8T as if the pass-through entity had not been formed.

A debt-financed acquisition occurs when the taxpayer borrows funds to purchase an interest in a pass-through entity or to contribute to the entity’s capital. When the taxpayer purchases the interest, the debt and associated interest expense are allocated among the entity’s assets using “any reasonable method,” such as a pro rata allocation based on fair market value or adjusted basis. Provided that the chosen allocation method is reasonable, this rule provides flexibility to obtain the most favorable outcome. For instance, assume Barry obtains a loan to purchase a $20,000 interest in S Corporation from Owner and the S corporation’s only assets are a building with a fair market value of $60,000 and stock valued at $40,000. Loan A is allocated $12,000 to the building (20,000*60,000/100,000) and $8,000 to the stock (20,000*40,000/100,000). Alternatively, Barry may allocate based on the assets’ adjusted basis or book value. The associated interest expense follows the allocation.

Debt contributed to the entity’s capital and the associated interest expense are allocated using “any reasonable method,” such as a pro rata allocation among the entity’s assets or by tracing the proceeds of the loan to the entity’s expenditures as if the debt were incurred by the entity. The purchase of an interest is treated as a contribution to capital to the extent the entity receives the proceeds from the purchase of an interest. Thus, if Barry purchased his interest from S Corporation directly, the debt and interest is allocated among the entity’s assets or in accordance with the entity’s expenditures.

Debt is re-allocated as necessary if the nature or use of the entity’s assets change. The associated interest expense is reported on Schedule A, if a personal expenditure, or Schedule E, if a trade or business, passive activity, or investment expenditure. Notice 88-37 provides additional guidance as to the reporting of the associated interest expense.

In a debt-financed distribution, the pass-through entity’s debt and the related interest expense are allocated and reported according to each owner’s use of the proceeds. For example, if an owner uses distributed debt proceeds to purchase a passive activity interest, the owner’s share of the debt and interest expense are allocated to a passive activity expenditure. Each owner’s share of the entity’s interest expense is reported on Schedule K-1; each owner reports the interest expense based on his or her use of the debt proceeds. From the above example, the owner’s share of the interest expense was allocated to a passive activity and is reported on Schedule E.

A pass-through entity may elect to allocate the debt and interest associated with a distribution under an optional rule. Under this rule, the entity may allocate the debt and interest among its expenditures (other than distributions). This optional rule may be utilized only to the extent that distributed debt proceeds do not exceed the entity’s total expenditures; any excess debt and interest are allocated at the owner level according to the general rule described above. The entity reports the interest expense on Schedule K-1 based on the expenditure. For instance, if distributed debt proceeds are allocated to a rental activity, the interest expense should be considered when computing the rental activity’s income or loss on Schedule K-1.

Passive Activity

While not a tracing rule, there are provisions that re-characterize the interest on loans to passive activities. When a taxpayer loans money to a passive activity in which the taxpayer has an interest, the taxpayer incurs interest income, while the entity incurs a passive deduction for interest paid. The “self-charged interest rule” in Treas. Reg. 1.469-7 addresses this disconnect by treating such interest income as passive activity income to the extent of the taxpayer’s interest in the passive activity.


Section 163 allows taxpayers to deduct interest paid on a loan, but limits the extent of the deduction depending on the expenditure to which the loan and interest are allocated. The tracing rules contained in Treasury Regulation 1.163-8T provide detailed rules regarding the allocation of the interest deduction. Taxpayers should maintain careful records detailing each loan and its utilization. As described in this article, various elections and default rules can be effectively used to maximize the interest deduction.

This article first appeared in the May 2013 NYSSCPA newsletter.
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