The at-risk rules were designed to limit your tax losses from investments in certain activities to the amount of your economic risk. The most common scenario is using “nonrecourse” financing (you are not personally liable on the debt) to acquire a stake in certain business or investment activities, including:1
Holding, producing, or distributing movies or video tapes;
Real estate leasing;
Oil and gas exploration and exploitation; and
Geothermal deposit exploration and exploitation.
The above activities were commonly associated with “tax shelters” prevalent in the 1970's and early 1980's.
You must treat any loss disallowed by the at-risk rules as a deduction from the same activity in the next tax year.2
If your losses are allowed, the losses are subject to recapture in later years if your amount at risk falls below zero.3
1 IRC Section 465(c)(1).
2 IRC Section 465(a).
3 IRC Section 465(e).