Tax Roundup, 11/25/13: Burning down the parsonage (allowance). And: Red Oak!

November 25th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

The Tax Update comes from beautiful Red Oak, Iowa, in the Southwest part of the state.  This is the sixth stop in the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax School tour for 2013.  Register now if you want a seat in one of the final schools in Denison and Ames!

Flickr image courtesy dvs under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy dvs under Creative Commons license

Sorry, Parson.   A U.S. District Court in Wisconsin ruled Friday that the Sec. 107 parsonage allowance exclusion violates the Establishment Clause of the constitution.  The allowance gives “ministers of the gospel” a much broader tax exemption for housing than is available to other employees.  The “parsonage allowance” even allows tax-free treatment for cash payments when no parsonage is supplied.

Sec. 107 reads in full:

In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include—

(1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or
(2) the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.

The decision overturns the cash allowance exclusion, but does not affect the exclusion when an actual parsonage is supplied.  That would leave ministers a more generous exclusion than is otherwise provided under Sec. 119, which only allows employees to exclude housing from income if it is provided “for the convenience of the employer” and “on the business premises of his employer as a condition of his employment.”  Many parsonage are not attached to the church, so that’s an important difference.

The decision “shall take effect at the conclusion of any appeals… or the expiration of [the] deadline for filing an appeal,” so for now there is no effect.   But it’s not clear what happens next.  As the losing defendant, there’s no requirement for the Treasury to file an appeal.  Presumably they would at least file an appeal, if only to not disrupt the upcoming filing season, but then they could drop it.  We should know soon whether an appeal will be pursued.

Cite: Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Lew (W.D. Wisc. Nov. 22, 2013)

Peter Reilly provides background, and the TaxProf has a roundup.

 

EFTPSDo you know whether your payroll taxes are up to date?  Some Texas businesses learned the hard way they are not.  Courthouse News Service reports:

A Texas businessman admitted his role in a $133 million payroll scam that prosecutors called the largest fraud in San Antonio history.

Charles Pircher, 61, pleaded guilty Thursday to tax fraud conspiracy and mail fraud conspiracy. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the tax charge and up to 5 years for mail fraud…

Pircher managed several San Antonio-based professional employer organizations. From 2002 to 2008 they entered into staff leasing agreements with client companies to manage payroll and insurance programs.

If you use a “professional employer organization” for your payroll service, you may not be able to be sure.  PEOs typically operate as the nominal “employer” of their clients’ employees, so all employees are reported under the PEO’s number.  That makes it impossible for clients to go online on EFTPS, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, to check that their payroll taxes are being paid.  PEO clients need to find other ways to be sure their tax payments are getting made, as the IRS will still want their money from the “real” employer if the PEO pockets funds provided to make the payments.

 

Jana Luttenegger, IRS Change to Use-Or-Lose Rule for FSA Accounts (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 200

Kay Bell, Senate Finance chair wants to hear your tax reform thoughts

Paul Neiffer, Senate “Pool” Process to Increase SE Taxes? Sales of equipment would no longer be exempt.

Annette Nellen, California advertising its use tax

Scott Drenkard,  The Tax Bite on Thanksgiving Travel (Tax Policy Blog)

Tony Nitti,  As New Jersey Prepares To Launch Internet Gambling, Congress Has Plan To Tax The Industry

 

Russ Fox wisely advises us Don’t Try This at Home.  He quotes from a Department of Justice Press Release:

If clients were audited by the IRS, THORNDIKE would provide them with blank Goodwill receipts as well as instructions as to how they should create a list of charitable donations that would correspond with the donation value THORNDIKE had entered on their returns. He also would direct his clients to create mileage logs that would support deductions he had entered for employment-related travel.

You need to prepare the return based on the documentation, not the other way around.

 

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