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10693: Basis, At-Risk, and Passive Activity Limits


Tax Info + Help Generally

What is the difference between basis, at-risk, and passive activity limits?

Basis Limits.

Generally your deductions cannot exceed your basis. Basis is more or less the amount you have invested in an activity. If you bought into a partnership or s-corporation for $10,000, your basis is $10,000. If the partnership passes losses and deductions out to you of $1,000, your basis goes down to $9,000. Next year, when there is a profit and your K-1 shows $5,000 of income, your basis becomes $14,000, and so forth. You cannot deduct losses once your basis reaches zero because you cannot lose more than you invested in the first place. Losses that are suspended due to lack of basis are carried forward on the basis worksheet. They will not show on any other form or schedule until the year that basis is restored. Then they will carry to the appropriate forms along with any current year amounts.

See Publication 551, Basis of Assets for details.

Losses in excess of basis (stock or debt) are not allowed in the current year. If the preparer does not provide basis calculations with the return when required, the taxpayer will get a Letter 5969 in the mail.  

Note: In Drake18 and future, when there is debt basis that can be applied against the losses and deductions, it will automatically be applied per IRS guidelines. You can review the calculations on Wks K1S IRS Debt Basis in view mode for details. See the IRS' S Corporation Stock and Debt Basis page and Code Section 1366 for more information. In Drake17 and prior, if the debt basis can be applied to the losses and deductions, a direct entry must be made on the K1S screen > Basis Worksheet tab > line 16. 

For information about distributions in excess of basis, see Related Links below. 

At-Risk Limits.

Generally, your deductions cannot exceed the amount you have at risk. Roughly, an amount at risk is an amount you invested and could lose. An amount not at risk exists when there is a part of your investment basis that you are protected from losing.

This might occur because:

  • You bought your interest in the business with money that you borrowed through a non-recourse loan. Since you are not personally responsible for the debt, you are considered not at risk for that borrowed amount.
  • You have a “stop loss” agreement in which the other partners have agreed to reimburse you for a portion of any losses you might have in relation to the business.
  • You borrowed some of the money you have invested in the business from one of the other partners.

The amount you have at-risk is similar to basis in that you cannot deduct losses in excess of your at risk amount. The amount at-risk, however, is not the same as basis. In many cases, a taxpayer can still have basis, but his losses are not deductible because they are limited by the amount at risk. See Publication 925, Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules.

Passive activity Limits.

Generally, you cannot deduct expenses from a passive activity against income that is not from a passive activity.

A passive activity is:

  • a trade or business activity in which you do not materially participate during the year.
  • a rental activity, even if you do materially participate, unless you are a real estate professional.

See Publication 925, Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules.

The limits imposed by IRS rules dealing with basis, at-risk activity, and passive activity are applied in that specific order. Only the amount that does not exceed basis should be carried to the next step (main form, Form 6198, or Form 8582, as the case may be). Form 6198 is used to figure at-risk limits. Form 8582 is used to figure passive activity limits.


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