Tax Roundup, 3/20/14: An optional mandate? And: baseball-tax convergence!

March 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


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Is the Obamacare individual mandate penalty now optional?  
 A couple of weeks ago the Wall Street Journal editorial page published ObamaCare’s Secret Mandate Exemption; HHS quietly repeals the individual purchase rule for two more years.  That’s a pretty bold statement, especially because the Administration has adamantly rejected calls for a delay in the individual mandate, after having delayed the business mandate twice.  If there is no mandate, Obamacare will likely lead to huge losses for insurers (to be subsidized by taxpayers), who need the forced patronage of the healthy to cover the sick that they can no longer exclude or charge risk-adjusted premiums.  Did they really do that and not tell anyone?

Here’s what WSJ says happened:

But amid the post-rollout political backlash, last week the agency created a new category: Now all you need to do is fill out a form attesting that your plan was cancelled and that you “believe that the plan options available in the [ObamaCare] Marketplace in your area are more expensive than your cancelled health insurance policy” or “you consider other available policies unaffordable.”

This lax standard—no formula or hard test beyond a person’s belief—at least ostensibly requires proof such as an insurer termination notice. But people can also qualify for hardships for the unspecified nonreason that “you experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance,” which only requires “documentation if possible.” And yet another waiver is available to those who say they are merely unable to afford coverage, regardless of their prior insurance. In a word, these shifting legal benchmarks offer an exemption to everyone who conceivably wants one.

Did this really happen? The IRS has just issued Tax Tip 2014-04, The Individual Shared Responsibility Payment – An Overview.  It says:

You may be exempt from the requirement to maintain qualified coverage if you:

  • Have no affordable coverage options because the minimum amount you must pay for the annual premiums is more than eight percent of your household income,

  • Have a gap in coverage for less than three consecutive months, or

  • Qualify for an exemption for one of several other reasons, including having a hardship that prevents you from obtaining coverage, or belonging to a group explicitly exempt from the requirement.

So what kind of “hardship” would that involve?  The list of eligible hardships at Healthcare.gov provides a long list of qualifying hardships, including “You recently experienced the death of a close family member.”  I’m sure you can come up with one, but if that doesn’t work, try “You experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance.”  Like, “Healthcare.gov” crashed, for example?  It’s your word against — whose?

So how do you claim “hardship?”  The first way is “You can claim these exemptions when you fill out your 2014 federal tax return, which is due in April 2015.”   

So somebody fills out the form and finds out the government wants hundreds of dollars in penalties for not buying insurance.  I bet they’ll come up with either a loss in the family or a hardship in a hurry.  There will be tens of thousands of these.  The IRS can’t possibly police this.

It appears the Wall Street Journal is on to something.  Considering the high cost of policies on the exchanges, a struggling young single really would incur hardship buying mandated coverage.  And if you feel it’s a hardship, they are practically inviting you to opt out.  It’s hard to see this ending well.

This also poses ethical issues for practitioners, which I’ll address another time.

 

IRS Bars Appraisers from Valuing Facade Easements for Federal Tax Purposes for Five Years (IRS Press Release):

The appraisers prepared reports valuing facade easements donated over several tax years. On behalf of each donating taxpayer, an appraiser completed Part III, Declaration of Appraiser, of Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions, certifying that the appraiser did not fraudulently or falsely overstate the value of such facade easement. In valuing the facade easements, the appraisers applied a flat percentage diminution, generally 15 percent, to the fair market values of the underlying properties prior to the easement’s donation.

There’s a lot of interesting things here.  For example, they never mention the name of the appraiser group.  It would seem like that would be useful information to taxpayers.  Sometimes people who seem to be barred from a line of work apparently neglect to mention that to prospective clients.

It also shows that you can’t count on a too-good-to-be-true result just because a lot of other people have gotten it.  They just might not have been caught yet.  You can be sure the IRS is working its way down the appraisal group’s client list.

 

Principal Park, as seen from my office window.

Principal Park, as seen from my office window.

Baseball-Tax Convergence.  Over at Cubs Fan site Bleacher Nation, Proprietor Brett yesterday posted The Chicago Cubs Financial Story: the Payroll, the Debt, and the Syncing of Baseball and Business Plans.  A lawyer by training, Brett digs deep into the leverage partnership deal where the Ricketts family bought the Cubs in a way structured to defer taxes to the Tribune Company:

In a leveraged partnership, a “seller” partners with a “buyer” to form a new entity, which takes on the assets and distributes cash to the “seller.” In its formation, the partnership takes on a great deal of debt, which is guaranteed by the seller. Doing so allows the “seller” to receive the cash distribution, and defer the taxes associated with the sale of the asset. 

At least that’s the idea. Brett notes that the IRS doesn’t have to agree, and that they didn’t when the Trib tried a similar trick when it sold Newsday.  After tax season, and after I wander down to Principal Park for the noon I-Cubs game on April 16, I’ll try to explain this.

 

Tony Nitti, What Are The Penalties For Failing To File Your Tax Return On Time? .  A lot more than failing to pay.  It’s worth getting that extension in, even if you can’t pay right now.

Kay Bell, Missing your 2010 tax refund? Claim deadline is 4-15-2014

William Perez, Tax Reform Act of 2014, Part 1, Tax Rates

Russ Fox, IRS Releases New Forms W-8BEN and W-8ECI.  Important if you find you are doing business with an offshore payee.

Iowa Public Radio, State Tax Laws ‘A Mess’ For Same-Sex Couples And Employers.  That’s where specialists like Jason Dinesen can really help.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 315

Bloomberg, Buffett Cuts Tax Bill, Tells Others Not to Complain.  He’s tired of hearing you complain about subsidizing him, peasant. (Via TaxProf)

Chris Sanchirico, As American as Apple Inc. (TaxVox).  A complaint that Apple doesn’t voluntarily increase its own taxes.

ThinkAdvisor offers 8 Tax Evaders Who Should’ve Known Better — public servants biting the hand that feeds them.

 

Scott Drenkard, Richard Borean, Cigarette Smuggling Across the States (Tax Policy Blog) “Smuggled cigarettes make up substantial portions of cigarette consumption in many states, and greater than 25 percent of consumption in twelve states.”

 

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Almost one in five Iowa smokes are smuggled.

 

Cara Griffith, City of Tacoma Considers Contingent-Fee Auditors (Tax Analysts Bl0g) It’s a bad idea, but it’s hard to see where it’s any different from red-light cameras, where the camera companies collect a bounty of their own.

TaxGrrrl, 10 Tips For Making The Most Of March Madness  My strategy is to ignore it.

 

The Critical Question. Can the IRS Tell a Good Story? (Susan Morse, Procedurally Taxing)

 

 

20130419-1You lied to the IRS all these years, but you’re telling me the truth?  Sometimes business owners get away with tax evasion for years.  Then they try to sell their business.

A Henderson, Nevada auto body shop owner decided it was time to cash out.  KTNV reports:

Robert E. D’Errico, 64, was sentenced Wednesday morning to six-months in federal prison for tax evasion.

According to the plea agreement, D’Errico owned Sunset Collision Center in Henderson. In 2009, he began listing the business for sale on small business listing sites and with small business brokers. D’Errico stated in his listings that, “Seller states that his discretionary take-home cash is $150,000 per year and has receipts to prove it.”

When contacted by a potential buyer, D’Errico re-iterated, “Seller’s discretionary cash take home beyond stated net income is approx. $150,000 avg. per year and is verifiable with receipts.”

During a meeting with a potential buyer, D’Errico stated he stopped accepting checks and was taking cash deductibles from customers, as well as selling excess inventory for cash. 

Either the “potential buyer” ratted him out, or he was an IRS secret shopper.  The IRS got a search warrant, found the real ledgers, and things got ugly.  

Tax returns are sometimes the only financial statements a small business has.  Buyers naturally want to see them, and it can be awkward trying to convince a buyer that they aren’t the “real” financial statements.  But it can get a lot more awkward than that.

 

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