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PostHeaderIcon Buying and Selling Websites – A Tax Case Study (Part 1)

Websites have become big business and while general business brokers have existed for years, you can find now websites that are dedicated to buying and selling websites.  In addition, there are some great podcasts surrounding internet marketing and how to develop your internet footprint but I can’t remember ever seeing anything on the tax implications of buying and selling websites.

This is most likely going to be a four part series.  Part one (which you’re reading right now) deals with what happens when the asset (the website) is purchased.  Part two deals with when you buy a company that owns a website (i.e. you buy an LLC or corporation that holds a website as one of its assets).  I’ve dealt with the differences between an asset purchase/sale and a stock purchase/sale but I’ll touch on the basics of an asset purchase again here.  Part three deals with what happens when you buy a website then resell that website at a later date.  Part four is going to deal with website dealers, which is someone who creates multiple sites with the expectation of selling them.

Just a disclaimer, this is going to be a general example.  Everyone’s tax situation is different so if you’re buying any kind of business (website or otherwise), I highly recommend you consult with a professional.

Background

First let’s lay out some facts and I’ll start by introducing you to “Website Seller.”  Website Seller got into internet marketing a couple of years, picked out an idea to write about and his site got some traction.  Eventually he was able to monetize the site and he continued to work at it for a couple of years but now he has a fresh idea.   Rather than split his time he decides to sell his old website (whether it’s to cash in or just to free up some time for the new venture) so he goes to one of the great website brokerage sites like Empire Flippers (which has a great podcast and website) and Flippa (another great resource with a helpful blog which I believe has a podcast coming soon) and puts his website up for sale.  Website Seller gets some offers but he eventually sells his website to Website Buyer for $7,500 (I picked this number to make the math easy).  For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to assume both Website Buyer and Website Seller are subject to US income tax and those implications are what I’ll be discussing here.

What Happens to the Seller

Website Seller has a tax event in the year he sells his website.  We are going to assume that any costs he’s had with his website including hosting, design and development were taken as deductions in the year they were incurred. That means his basis is zero so the entire $7.500 is a taxable gain.  Since he held it for more than one year and he’s not a dealer (more on this later), its classification would be a capital gain and he’ll report it on Schedule D of either his personal return or the tax return of his business entity.

What Happens to the Buyer

Website Buyer is now out $7,500 but he has a website.  Not to get to existential but what is a website?  You can’t hold it in your hand.  There’s nothing “physical.”  You can see it, but it’s just bits on a computer screen.  What you own is called an intangible asset.  When you buy an intangible asset in an asset purchase, you’re allowed to amortize the cost over fifteen years.  In this case, you’d get $41.67 a month in amortization deductions or $500 a year (if it’s a full year).  If the site was purchased on July 1, you’d get $250 of amortization expense in years one and sixteen and $500 in each year in between.

This is over and above whatever expenses you incur in operating the website.  You’d now be required to file a tax return (or form) appropriate to your business entity. If you’re a single member LLC, you’d most likely file a Form 1040, Schedule C each year you operate the website.  If you put it into a corporation you’d file either a corporate return or an S-Corporation return.

Form 8594

Form 8594 is required whenever assets are acquired and both Website Buyer and Website Seller will need to attach this form to their tax filing in the year the sale goes down.  Part 1 will vary based on whose return we’re talking about (whether it’s the buyer or seller) but Part II should be the same for both sides of the transactions.  In a more complicated transaction where several assets are purchased, you might have numbers on each line but in this case, there’s just an intangible asset.  Intangible assets (other than goodwill) are Class VI assets so you’d have $7,500 in both columns of the Class VI row.

Website Dealers

Whether Website Seller is a dealer is an important distinction.  In our example, the sale of the website was secondary to the operation of the website.  If Website Seller set up websites, monetized them and then sold and churned them within months, having multiple website sales a year, Website Seller might be considered a dealer.  This comes up more in real estate but it basically means you’re a retailer and your product is websites.  It changes the characterization of the gain from a capital gain to ordinary income and if you’re operating your business as a single member LLC or without a business entity and you’re filing Form 1040, Schedule C, you’ll also be subject to self-employment tax.

The IRS keeps dealer status kind of grey and doesn’t specifically specify what constitutes being a dealer.  My recommendation is to go more with what your intent is.  If your intent was to sell the website from the beginning and you’re doing multiple transactions a year, you’ll probably be considered a dealer.

International Considerations

If you’re the seller and you operate your website overseas and you’re a US citizen, you should still be reporting the gain on the transaction on a US tax return.  You might not have to pay tax on it but this is something that could have a post by itself. I’ve dealt with overseas investors (mostly in the real estate arena) but I’m not an expert.  In a lot of cases, you’ll have to report it both in the country you’re living in as well as on a United States tax return.

Installment Sales

If the seller doesn’t receive the full amount of the purchase price at the time of the sale, the seller can elect to defer some of the gain as an installment sale.  In this case, the best way to think about it is as if the seller financed the sale with the buyer who is paying some of the purchase price at a later date.  I did a blog post on this already so I recommend you go check that out that out in the event of an installment sale.

Conclusion

Buying and selling a website (the asset) doesn’t have really complicated tax consequences but it’s not without its challenges and it does require extra forms for both the buyer and seller.  If you have any specific questions, feel free to contact me in your favorite form.  If you want to know when Part 2 drops, be sure to like my Facebook page.

PostHeaderIcon Installment Sales

Selling an asset can be taxing and sometime you run into problems when you sell an asset and you don’t collect all of the money at once.  Let’s look at an extreme example.  You have a building that’s worth $1 million but you’ve owned it for so long that it’s fully depreciated so if you sell if for $1 million, you’re going to have quite the gain.  Since it’s a long term capital asset and you sell it by the end of this year, your gain would be 15%, or $150,000.  You had a hard time finding a buyer and the one you finally found is cash strapped and they put 10% down and you seller-finance the rest.  The problem here is, your tax ($150,000) is actually more then the cash you received ($100,000) so you’re left with a shortfall.

That’s where the installment sale rules come in.  You can elect to report your gain on an installment basis if you expect payments in a tax year after the year of sale.  This is done on Form 6252 and the first thing you need to do is compute the gross profit percentage. In our example, since there’s no longer any depreciable basis, the gross profit percentage is easy because it’s 100%.  That means whenever you collect principal payments, you pay tax on 100% of the amount received.  In our example, the down payment would result in a $100,000 or $15,000 in tax (assuming this year).  If you collected $50,000 in principal next year, that would be your gain in that year and so on until the note is paid off.

One interesting quirk this year is capital gains are expected to go up in 2013 so you might want to actually pay the tax on the entire amount rather than wait and potentially pay a higher tax rate in the future.  The good news is, you elect the installment method when you file your return so you could potentially put off the decision until you have a better handle on what tax rates will be.