Every taxpayer (whether an individual or a business entity) must figure taxable income on an annual accounting period called a tax year. The calendar year is the most common tax year. Other tax years are a fiscal year and a short tax year which are discussed later.
Each taxpayer must also use a consistent accounting method, which is a set of rules for determining when to report income and expenses. The most commonly used accounting methods are the: (a) cash method; and (b) accrual method.
Under the cash method, generally you report income in the tax year in which you receive it; and you deduct expenses in the tax year in which you pay them.
Under an accrual method, generally you report income in the tax year in which you earn it, regardless of when payment is received. You deduct expenses in the tax year you incur them, regardless of when payment is made.
This publication explains some of the rules for accounting periods and accounting methods. In many cases you may have to refer to the cited sources for a fuller explanation of the topic.
This publication is not intended as a guide to general business and tax accounting rules. Section references are to the Internal Revenue Code and regulation references are to the Income Tax Regulations.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP58eff8f2
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You may want to see:
Publication 537 Installment Sales 541 Partnerships 542 Corporations Form (and Instructions) 1128: Application To Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year 3115: Application for Change in Accounting Method
See How To Get Tax Help at the end of this publication for information about getting these publications and forms.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP2e7d5c59taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP31f43e21
You must use a tax year to figure your taxable income. A tax year is an annual accounting period for keeping records and reporting income and expenses. An annual accounting period does not include a short tax year (discussed later). You can use the following tax years:
- A calendar year; or
- A fiscal year (including a 52-53-week tax year).
Unless you have a required tax year, you adopt a tax year by filing your first income tax return using that tax year. A required tax year is a tax year required under the Internal Revenue Code or the Income Tax Regulations. You cannot adopt a tax year by merely:
- Filing an application for an extension of time to file an income tax return;
- Filing an application for an employer identification number (Form SS-4); or
- Paying estimated taxes.
This section discusses:
- A calendar year.
- A fiscal year (including a period of 52 or 53 weeks).
- A short tax year.
- An improper tax year.
- A change in tax year.
- Special situations that apply to individuals.
- Restrictions that apply to the accounting period of a partnership, S corporation, or personal service corporation.
- Special situations that apply to corporations.
A calendar year is 12 consecutive months beginning on January 1st and ending on December 31st.
If you adopt the calendar year, you must maintain your books and records and report your income and expenses from January 1st through December 31st of each year.
If you file your first tax return using the calendar tax year and you later begin business as a sole proprietor, become a partner in a partnership, or become a shareholder in an S corporation, you must continue to use the calendar year unless you obtain approval from the IRS to change it, or are otherwise allowed to change it without IRS approval. See Change in Tax Year, later.
Generally, anyone can adopt the calendar year. However, you must adopt the calendar year if:
- You keep no books or records;
- You have no annual accounting period;
- Your present tax year does not qualify as a fiscal year; or
- You are required to use a calendar year by a provision in the Internal Revenue Code or the Income Tax Regulations.
A fiscal year is 12 consecutive months ending on the last day of any month except December 31st. If you are allowed to adopt a fiscal year, you must maintain your books and records and report your income and expenses using the same tax year.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP21769bba
You can elect to use a 52-53-week tax year if you keep your books and records and report your income and expenses on that basis. If you make this election, your 52-53-week tax year must always end on the same day of the week. Your 52-53-week tax year must always end on:
- Whatever date this same day of the week last occurs in a calendar month, or
- Whatever date this same day of the week falls that is nearest to the last day of the calendar month.
For example, if you elect a tax year that always ends on the last Monday in March, your 2006 tax year will end on March 26, 2007.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP6656478c
To make the election for the 52-53-week tax year, attach a statement with the following information to your tax return.
- The month in which the new 52-53-week tax year ends.
- The day of the week on which the tax year always ends.
- The date the tax year ends. It can be either of the following dates on which the chosen day:
- Last occurs in the month in (1), above, or
- Occurs nearest to the last day of the month in (1), above.
When you figure depreciation or amortization, a 52-53-week tax year is generally considered a year of 12 calendar months.
To determine an effective date (or apply provisions of any law) expressed in terms of tax years beginning, including, or ending on the first or last day of a specified calendar month, a 52-53-week tax year is considered to:
- Begin on the first day of the calendar month beginning nearest to the first day of the 52-53-week tax year, and
- End on the last day of the calendar month ending nearest to the last day of the 52-53-week tax year.
Assume a tax provision applies to tax years beginning on or after July 1, 2007, which happens to be a Sunday. For this purpose, a 52-53-week tax year that begins on the last Tuesday of June, which falls on June 26, 2007, is treated as beginning on July 1, 2007. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP0fcb5a3e
A short tax year is a tax year of less than 12 months. A short period tax return may be required when you (as a taxable entity):
- Are not in existence for an entire tax year, or
- Change your accounting period.
Tax on a short period tax return is figured differently for each situation.
Even if a taxable entity was not in existence for the entire year, a tax return is required for the time it was in existence. Requirements for filing the return and figuring the tax are generally the same as the requirements for a return for a full tax year (12 months) ending on the last day of the short tax year. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP16420d64
XYZ Corporation was organized on July 1, 2007. It elected the calendar year as its tax year. Therefore, its first tax return was due March 17, 2008. This short period return will cover the period from July 1, 2007, through December 31, 2007. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP720f00c7
A calendar year corporation dissolved on July 22, 2007. Its final return is due by October 15, 2007. It will cover the short period from January 1, 2007, through July 22, 2007. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP2cb2057c
When an individual dies, a tax return must be filed for the decedent by the 15th day of the 4th month after the close of the individual's regular tax year. The decedent's final return will be a short period tax return that begins on January 1st, and ends on the date of death. In the case of a decedent who dies on December 31st, the last day of the regular tax year, a full calendar-year tax return is required. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP19444dbc
Agnes Green was a single, calendar year taxpayer. She died on March 6, 2007. Her final income tax return must be filed by April 15, 2008. It will cover the short period from January 1, 2007, to March 6, 2007.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP40a7f068
If the IRS approves a change in your tax year or you are required to change your tax year, you must figure the tax and file your return for the short tax period. The short tax period begins on the first day after the close of your old tax year and ends on the day before the first day of your new tax year.
Figure tax for a short year under the general rule, explained below. You may then be able to use a relief procedure, explained later, and claim a refund of part of the tax you paid. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP66971634
Income tax for a short tax year must be annualized. However, self-employment tax is figured on the actual self-employment income for the short period. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP4b4ae89f
An individual must figure income tax for the short tax year as follows.
- Determine your adjusted gross income (AGI) for the short tax year and then subtract your actual itemized deductions for the short tax year. You must itemize deductions when you file a short period tax return.
- Multiply the dollar amount of your exemptions by the number of months in the short tax year and divide the result by 12.
- Subtract the amount in (2) from the amount in (1). The result is your modified taxable income.
- Multiply the modified taxable income in (3) by 12, then divide the result by the number of months in the short tax year. The result is your annualized income.
- Figure the total tax on your annualized income using the appropriate tax rate schedule.
- Multiply the total tax by the number of months in the short tax year and divide the result by 12. The result is your tax for the short tax year.
Individuals and corporations can use a relief procedure to figure the tax for the short tax year. It may result in less tax. Under this procedure, the tax is figured by two separate methods. If the tax figured under both methods is less than the tax figured under the general rule, you can file a claim for a refund of part of the tax you paid. For more information, see section 443(b)(2). taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP18df1075
To figure the alternative minimum tax (AMT) due for a short tax year:
- Figure the annualized alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI) for the short tax period by completing the following steps.
- Multiply the AMTI by 12.
- Divide the result by the number of months in the short tax year.
- Multiply the annualized AMTI by the appropriate rate of tax under section 55(b)(1). The result is the annualized AMT.
- Multiply the annualized AMT by the number of months in the short tax year and divide the result by 12.
For information on the AMT for individuals, see the Instructions for Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax–Individuals. For information on the AMT for corporations, see Publication 542, or the Instructions to Form 4626, Alternative Minimum Tax–Corporations.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP4f332258
You can claim a credit against your income tax liability for federal income tax withheld from your wages. Federal income tax is withheld on a calendar year basis. The amount withheld in any calendar year is allowed as a credit for the tax year beginning in the calendar year. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP1d05d1b3
Taxpayers that have adopted an improper tax year must change to a proper tax year under the requirements of Revenue Procedure 85-15 in Cumulative Bulletin 1985-1. For example, if a taxpayer began business on March 15 and adopted a tax year ending on March 14 (a period of exactly 12 months), this would be an improper tax year. See Accounting Periods, earlier, for a description of permissible tax years.
To change to a proper tax year, you must do one of the following.
- If you are requesting a change to a calendar tax year, file an amended income tax return based on a calendar tax year that corrects the most recently filed tax return that was filed on the basis of an improper tax year. Attach a completed Form 1128 to the amended tax return. Write "FILED UNDER REV. PROC. 85-15" at the top of Form 1128 and file the forms with the Internal Revenue Service Center where you filed your original return.
- If you are requesting a change to a fiscal tax year, file Form 1128 in accordance with the form instructions to request IRS approval for the change.
Generally, you must file Form 1128 to request IRS approval to change your tax year. See the Instructions for Form 1128 for exceptions. If you qualify for an automatic approval request, a user fee is not required.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP7d10f02e
Generally, individuals must adopt the calendar year as their tax year. An individual can adopt a fiscal year provided that the individual maintains his or her books and records on the basis of the adopted fiscal year.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP620bcd89
Generally, partnerships, S corporations (including electing S corporations), and PSCs must use a required tax year. A required tax year is a tax year that is required under the Internal Revenue Code and Income Tax Regulations. The entity does not have to use the required tax year if it receives IRS approval to use another permitted tax year or makes an election under section 444. The following discussions provide the rules for partnerships, S corporations, and PSCs. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP4dfe4ab1
A partnership must conform its tax year to its partners' tax years unless any of the following apply.
- The partnership makes a section 444 election.
- The partnership elects to use a 52-53-week tax year that ends with reference to either its required tax year or a tax year elected under section 444.
- The partnership can establish a business purpose for a different tax year.
The rules for the required tax year for partnerships are as follows.
- If one or more partners having the same tax year own a majority interest (more than 50%) in partnership profits and capital, the partnership must use the tax year of those partners.
- If there is no majority interest tax year, the partnership must use the tax year of all its principal partners. A principal partner is one who has a 5% or more interest in the profits or capital of the partnership.
- If there is no majority interest tax year and the principal partners do not have the same tax year, the partnership generally must use a tax year that results in the least aggregate deferral of income to the partners.
If a partnership changes to a required tax year because of these rules, it can get automatic approval by filing Form 1128.
The tax year that results in the least aggregate deferral of income is determined as follows.
- Figure the number of months of deferral for each partner using one partner's tax year. Find the months of deferral by counting the months from the end of that tax year forward to the end of each other partner's tax year.
- Multiply each partner's months of deferral figured in step (1) by that partner's share of interest in the partnership profits for the year used in step (1).
- Add the amounts in step (2) to get the aggregate (total) deferral for the tax year used in step (1).
- Repeat steps (1) through (3) for each partner's tax year that is different from the other partners' years.
The partner's tax year that results in the lowest aggregate (total) number is the tax year that must be used by the partnership. If the calculation results in more than one tax year qualifying as the tax year with the least aggregate deferral, the partnership can choose any one of those tax years as its tax year. However, if one of the tax years that qualifies is the partnership's existing tax year, the partnership must retain that tax year. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP510bb3f1
A and B each have a 50% interest in partnership P, which uses a fiscal year ending June 30. A uses the calendar year and B uses a fiscal year ending November 30. P must change its tax year to a fiscal year ending November 30 because this results in the least aggregate deferral of income to the partners, as shown in the following table.
The determination of the tax year under the least aggregate deferral rules must generally be made at the beginning of the partnership's current tax year. However, the IRS can require the partnership to use another day or period that will more accurately reflect the ownership of the partnership. This could occur, for example, if a partnership interest was transferred for the purpose of qualifying for a particular tax year. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP553c3552
When a partnership changes its tax year, a short period return must be filed. The short period return covers the months between the end of the partnership's prior tax year and the beginning of its new tax year.
If a partnership changes to the tax year resulting in the least aggregate deferral, it must file a Form 1128 with the short period return showing the computations used to determine that tax year. The short period return must indicate at the top of page 1, "FILED UNDER SECTION 1.706-1." taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP0df5559d
For more information about accounting periods for partnerships, see the Instructions for Form 1128. For information about changing a partnership's tax year, see Revenue Procedure 2006-46 for automatic approval requests and Revenue Procedure 2002-39 or its successor for ruling requests.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP0f35f5e8
All S corporations, regardless of when they became an S corporation, must use a permitted tax year. A permitted tax year is any of the following.
- The calendar year.
- A tax year elected under section 444. See Section 444 Election, below for details.
- A 52-53-week tax year ending with reference to the calendar year or a tax year elected under section 444.
- Any other tax year for which the corporation establishes a business purpose.
If an electing S corporation wishes to adopt a tax year other than a calendar year, it must request IRS approval using Form 2553, Election by a Small Business Corporation, instead of filing Form 1128. For information about changing an S corporation's tax year, see the Instructions for Form 1128. See also Revenue Procedure 2006-46 for automatic approval requests and Revenue Procedure 2002-39 or its successor for ruling requests.
A PSC must use a calendar tax year unless any of the following apply.
- The corporation makes an election under section 444. See Section 444 Election, below for details.
- The corporation elects to use a 52-53-week tax year ending with reference to the calendar year or a tax year elected under section 444.
- The corporation establishes a business purpose for a fiscal year.
See the Instructions for Form 1120 for general information about PSCs. For information on adopting or changing tax years for PSCs, see the Instructions for Form 1128. See also Revenue Procedure 2006-46 for automatic approval requests and Revenue Procedure 2002-39 or its successor for ruling requests.
A partnership, S corporation, electing S corporation, or PSC can elect under section 444 to use a tax year other than its required tax year. Certain restrictions apply to the election. A partnership or an S corporation that makes a section 444 election must make certain required payments and a PSC must make certain distributions (discussed later). The section 444 election does not apply to any partnership, S corporation, or PSC that establishes a business purpose for a different period, explained later.
A partnership, S corporation, or PSC can make a section 444 election if it meets all the following requirements.
- It is not a member of a tiered structure (defined in section 1.444-2T of the regulations).
- It has not previously had a section 444 election in effect.
- It elects a year that meets the deferral period requirement.
The determination of the deferral period depends on whether the partnership, S corporation, or PSC is retaining its tax year or adopting or changing its tax year with a section 444 election.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP5b766576
Generally, a partnership, S corporation, or PSC can make a section 444 election to retain its tax year only if the deferral period of the new tax year is 3 months or less. This deferral period is the number of months between the beginning of the retained year and the close of the first required tax year. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP4c344d9d
If the partnership, S corporation, or PSC is adopting or changing to a tax year other than its required year, the deferral period is the number of months from the end of the new tax year to the end of the required tax year. The IRS will allow a section 444 election only if the deferral period of the new tax year is less than the shorter of:
- Three months, or
- The deferral period of the tax year being changed. This is the tax year immediately preceding the year for which the partnership, S corporation, or PSC wishes to make the section 444 election.
If the partnership, S corporation, or PSC's tax year is the same as its required tax year, the deferral period is zero.
BD Partnership uses a calendar year, which is also its required tax year. BD cannot make a section 444 election because the deferral period is zero.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP715a9f73
E, a newly formed partnership, began operations on December 1, 2002. E is owned by calendar year partners. E wants to make a section 444 election to adopt a September 30 tax year. E's deferral period for the tax year beginning December 1, 2002, is 3 months, the number of months between September 30 and December 31.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP20d01a69
Make a section 444 election by filing Form 8716, Election To Have a Tax Year Other Than a Required Tax Year, with the Internal Revenue Service Center where the entity will file its tax return. Form 8716 must be filed by the earlier of:
- The due date (not including extensions) of the income tax return for the tax year resulting from the section 444 election, or
- The 15th day of the 6th month of the tax year for which the election will be effective. For this purpose, count the month in which the tax year begins, even if it begins after the first day of that month.
Attach a copy of Form 8716 to Form 1065, Form 1120S, or Form 1120 for the first tax year for which the election is made.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP63d9263a
AB, a partnership, begins operations on September 13, 2007, and is qualified to make a section 444 election to use a September 30 tax year for its tax year beginning September 13, 2007. AB must file Form 8716 by January 15, 2008, which is the due date of the partnership's tax return for the period from September 13, 2007, to September 30, 2007.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP7f648ba7
The facts are the same as in Example 1 except that AB begins operations on October 21, 2007. AB must file Form 8716 by March 17, 2008, the 15th day of the 6th month of the tax year for which the election will first be effective.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP6486fc84
B is a corporation that first becomes a PSC for its tax year beginning September 1, 2007. B qualifies to make a section 444 election to use a September 30 tax year for its tax year beginning September 1, 2007. B must file Form 8716 by December 17, 2007, the due date of the income tax return for the short period from September 1, 2007, to September 30, 2007.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP4132615f
There is an automatic extension of 12 months to make this election. See the Form 8716 instructions for more information. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP6022839e
The section 444 election remains in effect until it is terminated. If the election is terminated, another section 444 election cannot be made for any tax year.
The election ends when any of the following applies to the partnership, S corporation, or PSC.
- The entity changes to its required tax year.
- The entity liquidates.
- The entity becomes a member of a tiered structure.
- The IRS determines that the entity willfully failed to comply with the required payments or distributions.
The election will also end if either of the following events occur.
- An S corporation's S election is terminated. However, if the S corporation immediately becomes a PSC, the PSC can continue the section 444 election of the S corporation.
- A PSC ceases to be a PSC. If the PSC elects to be an S corporation, the S corporation can continue the election of the PSC.
A partnership or an S corporation must make a required payment for any tax year:
- The section 444 election is in effect.
- The required payment for that year (or any preceding tax year) is more than $500.
This payment represents the value of the tax deferral the owners receive by using a tax year different from the required tax year.
Form 8752, Required Payment or Refund Under Section 7519, must be filed each year the section 444 election is in effect, even if no payment is due. If the required payment is more than $500 (or the required payment for any prior year was more than $500), the payment must be made when Form 8752 is filed. If the required payment is $500 or less and no payment was required in a prior year, Form 8752 must be filed showing a zero amount. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP44bbd7a4
Any tax year a section 444 election is in effect, including the first year, is called an applicable election year. Form 8752 must be filed and the required payment made (or zero amount reported) by May 15th of the calendar year following the calendar year in which the applicable election year begins.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP6ae5e5d5
A PSC with a section 444 election in effect must distribute certain amounts to employee-owners by December 31 of each applicable year. If it fails to make these distributions, it may be required to defer certain deductions for amounts paid to owner-employees. The amount deferred is treated as paid or incurred in the following tax year.
For information on the minimum distribution, see the instructions for Part I of Schedule H (Form 1120), Section 280H Limitations for a Personal Service Corporation (PSC).taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP59de69b8
A partnership, S corporation, or PSC can file a back-up section 444 election if it requests (or plans to request) permission to use a business purpose tax year, discussed later. If the request is denied, the back-up section 444 election must be activated (if the partnership, S corporation, or PSC otherwise qualifies). taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP08883cad
The general rules for making a section 444 election, as discussed earlier, apply. When filing Form 8716, type or print "BACK-UP ELECTION" at the top of the form. However, if Form 8716 is filed on or after the date Form 1128 (or Form 2553) is filed, type or print "FORM 1128 (or FORM 2553) BACK-UP ELECTION" at the top of Form 8716. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP6c42c0d5
A partnership or S corporation activates its back-up election by filing the return required and making the required payment with Form 8752. The due date for filing Form 8752 and making the payment is the later of the following dates.
- May 15 of the calendar year following the calendar year in which the applicable election year begins.
- 60 days after the partnership or S corporation has been notified by the IRS that the business year request has been denied.
A PSC activates its back-up election by filing Form 8716 with its original or amended income tax return for the tax year in which the election is first effective and printing on the top of the income tax return, "ACTIVATING BACK-UP ELECTION." taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP381ffcfc
A partnership, S corporation, or PSC can use a tax year other than its required tax year if it elects a 52-53-week tax year (discussed earlier) that ends with reference to either its required tax year or a tax year elected under section 444 (discussed earlier).
A newly formed partnership, S corporation, or PSC can adopt a 52-53-week tax year ending with reference to either its required tax year or a tax year elected under section 444 without IRS approval. However, if the entity wishes to change to a 52-53-week tax year or change from a 52-53-week tax year that references a particular month to a non-52-53-week tax year that ends on the last day of that month, it must request IRS approval by filing Form 1128. taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP6905c345
A partnership, S corporation, or PSC establishes the business purpose for a tax year by filing Form 1128. See the Instructions for Form 1128 for details.taxmap/pubs/p538-000.htm#TXMP6fbeb063
A new corporation establishes its tax year when it files its first tax return. A newly reactivated corporation that has been inactive for a number of years is treated as a new taxpayer for the purpose of adopting a tax year. An S corporation or a Personal Service Corporation (PSC) must use the required tax year rules, discussed earlier, to establish a tax year. Generally, a corporation that wants to change its tax year must obtain approval from the IRS under either the: (a) automatic approval procedures; or (b) ruling request procedures. See the Instructions for Form 1128 for details.