Search This Blog

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Tech Needed to Simplify Energy Credits for Individuals

picture of light bulb with windmills in background

Special tax rules tend to be complex because they are "special" in that they are not part of the normal tax system and are not intended for all taxpayers and all activities. Drafting legislation and regulations to be sure the credits are used as intended, is challenging. We are seeing this with most of the energy credits added or modified by the Inflation Reducation Act of 2022. The IRS has to define many challenging terms that were not completely spelled out in the legislation, such as the value of critical minerals, battery components, and more.

I have written about some of this before and this blog post of 8/21/22 includes track changs for several of the revised credits such as the two home energy credits and the clean vehicle credit.

For the clean vehicle credit at IRC §30D, the "qualified manufacturer" has to verify most of the difficult provisions to know if the vehicle is "clean" and if it qualifies the buyer for the critical minerals credit of $3,750 and/or the battery components credit of $3,750. The provisions are complex, but some of that complexity is on the manufacturer rather than the buyer (and lots of complexity on the IRS).

For the two revised residential energy credits, the complexity falls on the homeowner (and for some elements of the credits, the tenant if they are incurring the costs). These rules are complex and are with us for the next 10 years to it is worth finding ways to simplify the process for individuals to know if they have purchased the proper property (meets the specified Energy Star or other standard). In addition, for the IRC §25C Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit, there are different credit limits on doors versus windows versus biomass stoves, etc. 

Here is one suggestion for making it simpler for indviduals to know if they can qualify for the §25C credit which might also better encourage them to make home improvements that will reduce energy usage. 

Software, algorithms and databases can be created where the individual can use in at least two ways. First, the individual can enter a product code (often on many products) or description (name of product and manufacturer) into a website and learn if it qualifies for the §25C or 25D code. The website would need to have the Energy Star and similar information required per these provisions. And the individual would need to enter data about whether they own or rent their home and whether it is their principal residence (the §25C credit covers three broad categories of property and they all vary on how that information is relevant).

The second way to use the well-designed website is to input what they want to do. For example, they want to install energy efficient windows (and how many and the cost). The website should then provide a list of what windows qualify and how they can maximize the credit over multiple years since the maximum credit for windows, for example, is $600 total for the year (at a 30% rate that is a maximum door window cost of $2,000 per year).

The website could also provide a list of reminders such as the need to reduce basis of property by the credit amount, whether a carryforward is allowed, and what recordkeeping to keep and for how long.

Finally, these website should allow the individual to take the output and in a digital format, let it be connected to their tax prep software to produce the required form.

The technology exists to make this happen. It will take time to produce such websites for individuals du to the complexity of the provisions and the variety of items that may qualify for the credit.

There is some helpful information on the IRS website about the §25C credit (and others), but it is not everything and likely won't help individuals understand how to ensure they qualify for the credit and how to maximize it over multiple years.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently tried to determine which model AC unit made by Goodman would qualify for the section 25C credit and was amazed at how difficult it is. I am still not certain I understand the answer. There are no regulations under section 25C, but I did find some somewhat helpful FAQs on the IRS web site. If a CPA with a JD/LLM (Tax) has this much trouble applying these rules, then there is no way the average person can navigate these waters. It is shameful Congress passed such laws. I find this to often be the case — the laws applicable to the poorest are some of the most complex. As another example, the earned income tax credit is extremely complex. So complex that many who qualify for the EIC do not even claim it. It is beyond shameful that Congress makes laws that apply to the masses so difficult.