In United States income tax law
, an installment sale
is generally a "disposition of property where at least 1 payment is to be received after the close of the taxable year in which the disposition occurs. The term "installment sale" does not include, however, a "dealer disposition" (as defined in the statute) or, generally, a sale of inventory. The installment method of accounting provides an exception to the general principles of income recognition by allowing a taxpayer to defer the inclusion of income of amounts that are to be received from the disposition of certain types of property until payment in cash or cash equivalents is received. The installment method defers the recognition of income when compared with both the cash and accrual methods of accounting. Under the cash method, the taxpayer would recognize the income when it is received, including the entire sum paid in the form of a negotiable note. The deferral advantages of the installment method are the most pronounced when comparing to the accrual method, under which a taxpayer must recognize income as soon as he or she has a right to the income.
If a taxpayer realizes income
(e.g., gain) from an installment sale, the income generally must be reported by the taxpayer under the "installment method. The "installment method" is defined as "a method under which the income recognized for any taxable year [. . . ] is that proportion of the payments received in that year which the gross profit [. . . ] bears to the total contract price. This means that if a taxpayer sells real estate with a basis of $250,000 for $1,000,000 resulting in 75% total profit then the taxpayer should claim 75% of the total payments received during the taxable year as gross income. The interest on the note is included in gross income by the taxpayer according to the taxpayer's usual method of accounting.
Nothing in the language of the governing statute (section 453 of the Internal Revenue Code) requires the use of the installment method where the disposition results in a loss. If the taxpayer disposes of property in an installment sale, he or she reports a portion of the gain at the time of receipt of each installment payment. Income from an installment sale is generally reported on IRS Form 6252, Installment Sale Income, to be included in the taxpayer's Federal income tax return for each year in which a payment is received.
If a sale qualifies as an installment sale, the gain must be reported under the installment method unless the taxpayer elects not to have the installment method apply (i.e., elects to report the entire gain in the year of disposition, even though at least one payment will not have been received by the close of that year) by making the election on a timely filed income tax return for the tax year in which the disposition occurs.
It is important to note that "contract price" does not necessarily mean the dollar amount agreed to by contract. Instead, Treasury Regulation Sec. 15A.453-1(b)(2)(iii) defines contract price as "the total contract price equal to selling price reduced by that portion of any qualifying indebtedness...assumed or taken subject to by the buyer, which does not exceed the seller's basis in the property (adjusted, for installment sales in taxable years ending after October 19, 1980, to reflect commissions and other selling expenses as provided in paragraph (b)(2)(v) of this section)." Qualifying indebtedness is further defined as a "mortgage or other indebtedness encumbering the property and indebtedness, not secured by the property but incurred or assumed by the purchaser incident to the purchaser's acquisition, holding, or operation in the ordinary course of business or investment, of the property." Qualifying indebtedness specifically excludes any debts that are incident to the disposition of the property, such as legal fees incurred during the sale, or debts that are not functionally related to the taxpayer's holding of the property. This method of calculating contract price allows the installment method to more accurately account for the taxpayer's basis in the property.
Installment sales are a valuable tool to help sellers defer capital gains tax. As with any other seller-financing, however, the seller is generally at risk with respect to the buyer's creditworthiness or ability to manage the asset. The seller may often retain a lien
against the property to secure payment of the installment obligation, which itself may or may not be evidenced by a promissory note
The installment sale allows buyers to obtain an asset such as real estate without bank financing. The seller is then at risk of buyer default and the consequential repossession/foreclosure of the asset.
A sales method called the Structured sale
, also known as the Ensured Installment Sale, is a variation of the traditional installment sale and is intended to protect the seller completely from the risk in connection with the buyer's creditworthiness.