Cottage Savings Association V. Commissioner

Cottage Savings Association v. Commissioner, 499 U.S. 554 (1991), was an income tax case before the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Court was asked to determine whether the exchange of different participation interests in home mortgages by a savings and loan association was a "disposition of property" under Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 1001) (since this was the requirement for them to realize, and deduct, their losses on these mortgages).

The court determined that it was a "disposition of property" by making the following three holdings:

  • Under § 1001(a), exchange of property gives rise to realization (a "disposition of property") only if the exchanged properties are "materially different."
  • This concept of "material difference" is not defined by an economic substitute test (whether various parties would consider their differences to be "material"); rather, two properties are materially different if their respective possessors enjoy legal entitlements that are different in kind or extent.
  • The S&L's 90% participation interest in its mortgages embodied legally distinct entitlements (and so was "materially different" from) the 90% mortgage participation interest it received from the other savings associations. Even if mortgages are "substantially identical" for purposes of Federal Home Loan Bank Board "Memorandum R-49" on reporting losses, they can still exhibit "material difference" for the purposes of finding a "disposition of property."

Read more about Cottage Savings Association V. Commissioner:  Facts and Procedural History, Issues, Majority Opinion, Dissent, Academic Commentary

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