The sale of a business usually is not a sale of one asset. Instead, all the assets of the business are sold. Generally, when this occurs, each asset is treated as being sold separately for determining the treatment of gain or loss.
A business usually has many assets. When sold, these assets must be classified as capital assets, depreciable property used in the business, real property used in the business, or property held for sale to customers, such as inventory or stock in trade. The gain or loss on each asset is figured separately. The sale of capital assets results in capital gain or loss. The sale of real property or depreciable property used in the business and held longer than 1 year results in gain or loss from a section 1231 transaction. The sale of inventory results in ordinary income or loss.
Publication 541, Partnership interests
An interest in a partnership or joint venture is treated as a capital asset when sold. The part of any gain or loss from unrealized receivables or inventory items will be treated as ordinary gain or loss. For more information, see Publication 541, Partnerships (PDF).
Publication 550, Corporation interests
Your interest in a corporation is represented by stock certificates. When you sell these certificates, you usually realize capital gain or loss. For information on the sale of stock, see chapter 4 in Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses (PDF).
Corporate liquidations of property generally are treated as a sale or exchange. Gain or loss generally is recognized by the corporation on a liquidating sale of its assets. Gain or loss generally is recognized also on a liquidating distribution of assets as if the corporation sold the assets to the distributee at fair market value.
In certain cases in which the distributee is a corporation in control of the distributing corporation, the distribution may not be taxable. For more information, see Internal Revenue Code section 332 and its regulations.
Allocation of consideration paid for a business
The sale of a trade or business for a lump sum is considered a sale of each individual asset rather than of a single asset. Except for assets exchanged under any nontaxable exchange rules, both the buyer and seller of a business must use the residual method to allocate the consideration to each business asset transferred. This method determines gain or loss from the transfer of each asset and how much of the consideration is for goodwill and certain other intangible property. It also determines the buyer's basis in the business assets.
The buyer's consideration is the cost of the assets acquired. The seller's consideration is the amount realized (money plus the fair market value of property received) from the sale of assets.
The residual method must be used for any transfer of a group of assets that constitutes a trade or business and for which the buyer's basis is determined only by the amount paid for the assets. This applies to both direct and indirect transfers, such as the sale of a business or the sale of a partnership interest in which the basis of the buyer's share of the partnership assets is adjusted for the amount paid under section 743(b) of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 743(b) applies if a partnership has an election in effect under section 754 of the Internal Revenue Code.
A group of assets constitutes a trade or business if either of the following applies.
Goodwill or going concern value could under any circumstances, attach to them.
The use of the assets would constitute an active trade or business under section 355 of the Internal Revenue Code.
The residual method provides for the consideration to be reduced first by the cash and general deposit accounts (including checking and savings accounts but excluding certificates of deposits). The consideration remaining after this reduction must be allocated among the various business assets in a certain order. To find out more about how to make the allocation among assets in proportion, refer to Publication 544, Sales and Other Dispositions of Assets.