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Evaluating tax issues of refinancing operations in Spain

Gonzalo Rincón de Pablo of Garrigues takes a look at mortgage novations and explains why taxpayers should take care with the costs of renegotiating mortgage facility agreements.

Halted economic activity and a continued decline in revenues in all economic sectors as a result of the COVID-19 crisis have compelled many companies to refinance or renegotiate their debts (secured by mortgages in a few cases). In this scenario, it has again become important to analyse the potential effects of those mortgage novations in relation to the stamp duty/tax.

Generally, under Article 31.2 of the Revised Transfer and Stamp Tax Law, any novation (i) that is stipulated in a public deed, notarised record or certificate, (ii) with quantifiable content, and (iii) eligible for registration at a public registry is subject to stamp tax, unless it may be exempt under a provision of law.

There is no general consensus over how to apply the described rules, and there has been abundant discussion by tax commentators and in the precedents over a number of elements in relation to mortgage novations:
a) One concerns the existence itself of ‘quantifiable’ content in the various types of novations, by reference to their contents and scopes, or of the nature as ‘eligible for registration’ of the stipulated amendments; issues which need to be analysed to determine whether the transaction is subject to stamp duty.
b) Another is, after it has been concluded whether it is subject to stamp tax, the analysis of what the taxable base, or even the applicable tax rate, should be.

An analysis of tax commentary and precedents provides a few important issues in relation to the various amendments being stipulated:

Novations implying an amendment of term or interest rates

An amendment of the term or interest rate is a transaction that meets all of the requirements mentioned above to make it subject to stamp tax.

Although this issue is not exempt from debate, the taxable amount for stamp duty purposes in these cases may be said to consist of the whole of the outstanding mortgage liability payable by the debtor when the novation occurs.

Having said that, and exclusively within the scope of refinancing transactions where the lenders are financial institutions, Article 9 of Law 2/1994, of March 30 1994, on subrogation and amendment of mortgage loans, allows an express exemption from stamp tax for these types of transactions. It must be noted that the precedents are unanimous over the restrictive nature of this exemption, to the effect that, if the novation deed contains any type of transaction other than a strict amendment of the term and/or interest rate for the mortgage loan or credit facility, the taxation of these other amendments must be analysed independently.

On this subject, the stated interpretation of the Directorate General for Taxes (DGT) is that any grace periods granted in a mortgage refinancing must be treated as an alteration of the mortgage term, and therefore, are exempt from stamp duty if the other requirements laid down are met.

Increase of the debt

An increase of the loan or credit facility amount is another transaction that meets the requirements laid down in Article 31.2 of the Revised Transfer and Stamp Tax Law, although no exemption is applicable.

In this case, the taxable base for stamp tax purposes consists of the amount by which the loan or credit facility is increased.

Amendment of the repayment system

The stamp duty on changes to the repayment system of loans and credit facilities is a debatable issue.

The stated interpretation of the DGT and of Madrid High Court is to treat these novations as subject to and not exempt from stamp tax, and that they must be taxed on the whole outstanding mortgage liability when the novation takes place.

Having said that, supreme court precedents (judgments dated March 19 2019, February 26 and March 4 2020) appear to convey (not wholly free from doubt) that amendment of the repayment system does not have to be subject to stamp duty (because it does not have ‘quantifiable’ content); or that it must be taxed exclusively by reference to the substantive content of the taxable event, which, in the case of a simple novation amending a mortgage loan recorded in a public deed means the economic content of the quantifiable financial clauses determining the taxable economic capacity.

Amendment of the appraised value at auctions of mortgaged property

Although the tax on a mortgage novation amending the appraised values at auction of mortgaged properties was the subject of widespread debate among tax commentators and in court precedents, according to a precedent from the Central Economic-Administrative Tribunal, in its decision of October 10 2017 (already accepted by the DGT, among others, in its biding ruling number V1914-18, in which it changes its earlier interpretation) this agreement must be treated as not subject to stamp tax, because it does not meet the ‘quantifiable’ content requirement.

In conclusion, it is advisable to analyse the possible tax costs of refinancing operations (in the above commented cases, among others) where there is a mortgage guarantee.

Gonzalo Rincón de Pablo
T: +34 91 514 52 00

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