Tax Roundup, 2/8/16: When your password is a key for thieves. And: More Tax Credits!

February 8th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20150910-2You need more than one password. Another home tax software company reports that its customers may have had their data stolen. Marketwatch.com reports:

In its letter to affected customers, TaxSlayer said it became aware Jan. 13 that hackers had accessed some of its customers’ accounts. The illegal access took place between Oct.10, 2015, and Dec. 21, 2015.

The letter said an “unauthorized third party may have obtained access to any information you included in a tax return or draft tax return saved on TaxSlayer, including your name and address, your Social Security number, the Social Security numbers of your dependents, and other data contained on your 2014 tax return.”

In its statement, TaxSlayer said it doesn’t believe its own systems were breached. Instead, “user credentials, stolen from other sources, were then used to misrepresent our customers and therefore access our program.”

They’re saying that they got passwords from another site and tried them on TaxSlayer, and they worked. That kind of breach is on the user, not the software company.

Reusing passwords is poor data security hygiene. McAfee Software offers some great tips for good passwords. The tips include a list of things people do that make them vulnerable to data theft, including:

Reuse of passwords across multiple sites: Reusing passwords for email, banking, and social media accounts can lead to identity theft. Two recent breaches revealed a password reuse rate of 31% among victims.

If you use different passwords for your different important accounts, one data breach won’t expose your entire financial life.

Related: TaxSlayer data breach is the 3rd tax software-related security issue so far this filing season (Kay Bell)

 

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Brent Willett, Iowa’s next economic frontier (IowaBiz.com). An unintended but useful followup to my IowaBiz post on Friday on the unwisdom of targeted tax credits, the post boosts a proposed new tax credit that I criticized by name. The post touts a new report promising “Fifty thousand jobs” to Iowa if we just enact a new “Bio-Based Chemicals” tax credit.

The post neatly checks off several items I note in my post:

Might these special favors be better for the economy than some farmer or small business who buys a new tractor or machine? You could make that case, but it would be plausible only if these favors were enacted by a process where the state looked at the vast menu of possible industries to support and carefully evaluated which ones were more persuasive. That never happens. Instead, the credits follow the path of the notorious Iowa film industry credits, where an industry gets some legislators and business boosters excited and builds support — sometimes with “studies” funded by booster groups. There is no evaluation of the opportunity costs, of whether the funds would be better used elsewhere.

No comparison to other industry opportunities? Check. Studies funded by booster groups? Check. Ignoring opportunity costs? Check.

I encourage your to read the Willett post and ponder why a government subsidy is needed if the industry is such a slam-dunk.  Also, consider whether you would get the same article by substituting other industries for bio-chemicals in the post.

 

Annette Nellen, Ideas for Retirement Savings Reform. “One overall reform I

 

Andrew Mitchel: New Expatriate Record for 2015 – Nearly 4,300 Expatriations:

2015 expatriations

“The escalation of offshore penalties over the last 20 years is likely contributing to the increased incidence of expatriation.”

Related: Record Numbers Renounce Their U.S. Citizenship (Robert Wood)

recommend is to change the focus of retirement plans from the employer to the employee, making them truly portable from job to job and if in employee or contractor status or both.”

Jason Dinesen, Lots and Lots of Scam E-mails this Year. Jason posts many helpful examples. Be very skeptical of emails you don’t expect, and delete any purporting to come from IRS.

Jim Maule, The Biggest Tax Refund?. Overwithholding will do the trick.

Leslie Book, The Limits of the “One Inspection” of Taxpayers’ Books and Records Rule (Procedurally Taxing). “One limitation on IRS powers is the Code itself, as Section 7605(b) provides that ‘only one inspection of a taxpayer’s books of account shall be made for each taxable year unless ․ the [Treasury] Secretary ․ notifies the taxpayer in writing that an additional inspection is necessary.'”

Robert D. Flach, TAX GUIDE FOR NEW HOMEOWNERS

Russ Fox, It Was Only a 13.33% Kickback. A police chief breaks the tax law.

TaxGrrrl, So About Those Cam Newton ‘Sunday Giveaway’ Game Balls…

 

Only the form of your destructor. What Would Be At Stake In A Trump v. Sanders Election? How About $24 Trillion in Tax Revenue (Tony Nitti).

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1003Day 1004Day 1005

Scott Greenberg, White House Calls for Targeting the Cadillac Tax by Location:

Why would the White House propose changes that would weaken the Cadillac Tax – a central part of the administration’s most significant policy achievement? In fact, these changes might be necessary to secure the continued existence of the tax. The White House has been fighting a losing battle to defend the Cadillac Tax, and these proposed changes may placate some of the tax’s opponents, particularly employers in states with high healthcare costs.

We must destroy the Cadillac Tax to save the Cadillac Tax!

Renu Zaretsky, Budget Hearings, Saving, and Entertaining (TaxVox). “There is almost always something perfunctory about the last budget of an outgoing president, but this year’s will generate even less interest than usual. In the ultimate insult, the GOP-run congressional budget committees won’t even invite White House officials to describe their fiscal plan.” And lots more in today’s TaxVox headline roundup.

I reject this false choice. Kentucky Can Attract Tourists Who Like Bible More Than Bourbon Without Violating First Amendment  (Peter Reilly)

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/5/16: The IRS isn’t a bank, and a 1099 isn’t what makes income taxable. And: oil companies, money trees.

February 5th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20151217-1Nice Try. The tax law discourages taxpayers from tapping retirement savings too early with a 10% early withdrawal tax. The tax law also allows an above-the-line deduction for penalties imposed by banks for closing out a CD or savings account before maturity.

They aren’t the same thing.

A Mr. Martin learned that lesson this week in Tax Court. He was 54 years old when he pulled out $55,976.29 from his IRA. He reported the 10% penalty tax, but then he also deducted it on line 30 of his 1040 as a “penalty on early withdrawal of savings.”

I can see the logic, as it does look like, well, a penalty on an early withdrawal of savings. But that’s not how the Tax Court sees it (my emphasis):

Martin argues that the additional tax imposed by section 72(t) is deductible under section 62(a)(9). We disagree. Section 62(a)(9) provides a deduction for an amount “forfeited to a bank, mutual savings bank, savings and loan association, building and loan association, cooperative bank or homestead association as a penalty for premature withdrawal of funds from a time savings account, certificate of deposit, or similar class of deposit.” The section 72(t) additional tax is payable to the federal government, not to a “bank” or similar institution listed in section 62(a)(9). Therefore, it is not deductible under section 62(a)(9). Further, the additional tax imposed by section 72(t) is a federal-income tax. Section 275(a)(1) disallows any deductions for “Federal income taxes” (A deduction for certain other taxes, including State income taxes and some other federal taxes, is allowed by section 164(a).).

There was one other problem with the return. He won $1,000 at a casino, an amount arguably below the threshold for which casinos most report gambling winnings on a W2-G. They reported it anyway. Again, the Tax Court:

The casino reported on an information return its $1,000 payment to Martin. Martin argues that, because he earned entries into the lottery by playing slot machines, his gambling winnings should be subject to the $1,200 reporting threshold. Thus, Martin argues, the casino should not have reported the gambling  winnings of $1,000 because the payment fell below the $1,200 reporting-requirement threshold for gambling winnings from slot machines.

Martin assumes that gambling winnings that are not reportable on information returns are not includible in gross income. At trial he said that the IRS is “trying to separate the taxation from the reporting when it is undeniably one and the same”. Martin does not see, or refuses to see, the distinction between information-reporting requirements and the imposition of income tax. Whether the casino was required to report Martin’s winnings is irrelevant to the question of whether his winnings are includible in his gross income. The Internal Revenue Code does not exclude a payment from income when the payment is not large enough to require the payor to report the payment on an information return.

A lot of people think that when something doesn’t show up on an information return, it’s tax-free. It just doesn’t work that way.

Cite: Martin, T.C. Memo. 2016-15

 

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Obama seeks oil tax, destruction of self-driving car industryCNBC reports:

President Barack Obama will propose a $10-per-barrel charge on oil to fund clean transportation projects as part of his final budget request next week, the White House said Thursday.

Oil companies would pay the fee, which would be gradually introduced over five years. The government would use the revenue to help fund high-speed railways, autonomous cars and other travel systems, aiming to reduce emissions from the nation’s transportation system.

“Oil companies would pay the fee.” Such a kidder, that President. Apparently the oil companies will pay it by planting more carbon-absorbing money trees out behind their refineries.

It’s a credit to misguided persistence that the President is still pursuing high-speed passenger rail, an idea that California is busy proving once again to be ridiculously expensive and impractical. And somehow I’d feel much safer in an autonomous car from Google or Apple than one from the the same government that brings us the IRS.

 

Scott Hodge, New IRS Data: Wealthy Paid 55 Percent of Income Taxes in 2014 (Tax Policy Blog).

distribution 2014 income

“So while many politicians may argue that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share of income taxes, the data simply does not support that opinion.”

 

Russ Fox, Maryland Suspends Processing Tax Returns from 23 Liberty Tax Service Locations:

For consumers, the advice that Maryland noted in their press release is accurate: “Taxpayers should carefully review their returns for these issues and should be suspicious if a preparer: deducts fees from the taxpayer’s refund to be deposited into the tax preparer’s account; does not sign the tax return; or fails to include the Preparer Taxpayer Identification number “PTIN” on the return.” I’ll add, if you don’t own a business and see business income on your return, there’s a problem.

Indeed.

Kay Bell, Lesson from IRS hardware failure: Be prepared for the unexpected during tax filing season. The hardware went back on line yesterday afternoon. 

TaxGrrrl, Update: IRS Website Back Online, Tax Refunds Unaffected

Peter ReillyIRS And The Tea Party – Scandal Enters A New Millennium. Peter observes The TaxProf’s Day 1000 Tea Party Scandal entry.

Keith Fogg, Discharging Late Filed Returns – A Novel but Unsuccessful Approach. “The case shows the creativity that can come into play in the face of very long odds.”

Robert Wood, Bank Julius Baer Hit With $547M Criminal Tax Evasion Penalty, Two Bankers Plead Guilty

 

Me, Tax credits for a few vs. business deductions for everyone. I take my battle against cronyism and for conforming Iowa tax law to 2015 federal changes to IowaBiz.com, the Des Moines Business Record Business Professional’s Blog.

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1,002. Another supposedly-erased hard drive sought by investigators miraculously reappears.

Megan McArdle, Obamacare’s Cadillac Tax Will Not Survive. The way pieces of the machine keep falling off, you might wonder if it wasn’t very well designed.

Renu Zaretsky, A Budget, Capital, Growth, and TransparencyToday’s TaxVox news roundup covers the Obama oil fee, last night’s Sanders-Clinton debate, and lots more.

News from the Profession. Lying About Your Financial Statements Being Audited Still Frowned Upon (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/4/16. Confirmed: Governor opposes coupling to ALL 2015 changes. And: Are hipsters really flocking downtown?

February 4th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

coupling20160129Worst Iowa tax policy decision ever. Governor Branstad doesn’t want to conform Iowa’s tax law to any of the extender provisions passed in December for 2015. A reliable source has confirmed our earlier report that the Governor wants to skip coupling entirely for 2015, and then conform to everything except Section 179 and bonus depreciation in 2016 and beyond.

It’s bad enough that he doesn’t want to conform with the $500,000 federal Section 179 for the first time in years — imposing a big tax increase on small businesses and farmers in every county. But conforming to nothing means a whole host of separate Iowa computations for 2015 returns — and 2015 only. Without spending a lot of time, I come up with these:

Exclusion for IRA contributions to charity
Exclusion of gain from qualified small business stock
Basis adjustment for S corporation charitable contributions
Built-in gain tax five-year recognition period
Educator expense deduction
Exclusion of home mortgage debt forgiveness
Qualified tuition deduction
Conservation easement deductions
Deduction for food inventory contributions

I have asked the Department of Revenue for a complete list of affected provisions, and I will provide it if they send one.

These will have effects on thousands of taxpayers ranging from minor annoyance and more expensive tax compliance to major unexpected Iowa tax expense. To take a common example, the exclusion fo IRA contributions to charity allows taxpayers aged 70 1/2 or older to have their IRAs make contributions to charity directly. This means the contributions bypass their federal 1040s altogether. But for Iowa, the Governor would have the IRA holder include the contribution in taxable income and then, presumably, add it to their itemized deductions — if the taxpayer itemizes in the first place.

Some of these can be very costly. For example, the exclusion of gain for qualifying C corporation stock sales can apply to up to $10 million of capital gain. The exclusion benefits start-up businesses, which Iowa allegedly supports with at least four separate tax credits. Failure to couple would clobber a $10 million 2015 gain with an unexpected $898,000 tax bill.

There is bipartisan support for coupling with all federal provisions other than bonus depreciation for 2015. The Iowa House of Representatives has already passed such a bill on a bipartisan 82-14 vote. But Governor Branstad and Senate Majority Leader Gronstal have apparently reached a little bipartisan deal of their own to keep the Senate from ever voting on 2015 conformity. The Senate tax committee meeting yesterday was cancelled, which I hope means the Senate leadership is getting pressure to back off this stupid policy.

If you are affected, or if your clients are (they are), I encourage you to let your Iowa Senator know how you feel.

Related Coverage:

Iowa House passes $500,000 Section 179, but prospects bleak in Senate.

Iowa Governor reportedly opposes 2015 coupling for anything.

Branstad budget omits $500,000 Section 179 deduction for Iowa; no 2015 conformity.

 

20130218-1What do you mean, IBM doesn’t stock the vacuum tubes anymore? IRS Systems Outage Shuts Down Tax Processing (Accounting Today):

The Internal Revenue Service said Wednesday evening its tax-processing systems have suffered a hardware failure and that tax processing could be affected into Thursday.

“The IRS experienced a hardware failure this afternoon affecting a number of tax processing systems, which are currently unavailable,” said the IRS. “Several of our systems are not currently operating, including our modernized e-file system and a number of other related systems. The IRS is currently in the process of making repairs and working to restore normal operations as soon as possible. We anticipate some of the systems will remain unavailable until tomorrow.”

The IRS says it’s confident that it will have the system restored by the weekend and that any refund delays will be minor.

Related: IRS Having One of Those Days (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern); TaxGrrrl, IRS Website Hit With Hardware Failure, Some Refund & Payment Tools Unavailable.

 

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Jason Dinesen, The Iowa Trust Fund Tax Credit is $0 for 2015

Robert Wood, Perfectly Legal Tax Write-off? Lawyer Fees — Even $1,200 An Hour

Russ Fox, A Tale of Three States. “Hawaii, Indiana, and Mississippi are three states where daily fantasy sports (DFS) is being debated. The three states are representative of what is likely to occur in every state.”

Keith Fogg, Verification of Bankruptcy Action in a Collection Due Process Case (Procedurally Taxing). “Because Appeals employees often have very little knowledge of bankruptcy, this case points out the need to pay careful attention in CDP cases that follow bankruptcy actions and challenge verifications where the Appeals employee fails to acknowledge the impact of the bankruptcy case.”

Bob Vineyard, Aetna Not Pulling Plug on Obamacare …. Yet (InsureBlog). Many Iowans get coverage through Aetna’s Coventry unit. But as the company expects to lose $1 billion over two years on Exchange policies, their willingness to continue to provide ACA – compliant policies on the exchange will be sorely tried.

Jack Townsend, Another Taxpayer Guilty Plea for Offshore Account Misbehavior

Peter Reilly, Tax Dependency Exemptions For Noncustodial Parents – It Is All About Form 8332. It really is. Form 8332 provides a way for couples to continue fighting long after the divorce is final.

Jim Maule, “Can a Clone Qualify as a Qualifying Child or Qualifying Relative?”

 

Scott Greenberg, The Tax Benefits of Having an Additional Child (Tax Policy Blog). In case your decision hinges on this.

Renu Zaretsky, Debates, Energy, Credits and PrepToday’s TaxVox roundup covers tonight’s Democratic Debate, energy tax policy, and a shutdown of 26 Liberty Tax franchise operations in Maryland.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1,001

 

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Is Hip, Cool Des Moines Really Attracting Migrants? (Lyman Stone). I haven’t seen any local media pick this up, but this is a fascinating look at migration and population patterns Downtown and across Polk County. It is inspired by the recent Politico piece on how hip and all we are (emphasis in original):

In fact, throughout the article, there’s an interesting claim made that the population of downtown Des Moines has risen from 1,000 at some unspecified time in the 1990s, to at least over 10,000 as of 2016. In fact, throughout the article, there’s an interesting claim made that the population of downtown Des Moines has risen from 1,000 at some unspecified time in the 1990s, to at least over 10,000 as of 2016.

The claim turns out to be exaggerated, but only a little:

Downtown Des Moines probably did not gain 10,000 residents from the late 1990s to 2016, nor does it seem likely that it had just 1,000 residents at any time in the last few decades. However, that doesn’t mean the essential claims of Woodard’s story are wrong. Au contraire, Des Moines has gained about 10,000 people since 2000, and has about 9,000 more people than we would expect had 1987 growth rates continued. That’s a meaningful acceleration in urban growth, and a significant number have been headed to the very center of the city.

It’s a great read with some surprising observations about how suburban and downtown growth complement each other.

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Tax Roundup, 2/3/2016: Should tax pros cheer tax complexity? And: 1000 Days of TaxProf scandal coverage.

February 3rd, 2016 by Joe Kristan
Remember, nobody else at the firm ever agrees with me.

Remember, nobody else at the firm ever agrees with me.

Am I more important than you? Yesterday’s post, where I left enough clues to enable people to determine which (losing) candidate I supported at the Iowa Caucuses, provoked this comment:

You voted for Rand Paul? Rand Paul who wants to pass a flat tax and put all the tax professionals out of business?

It’s a statement that verifies the darkest suspicions one might have of the tax profession.  Unless, of course, the commenter, who has “CPA” on his post name, is being sarcastic.

There is certainly a case to be made that an income tax like the one we have is the best way to raise revenue. You could make an honest case also that it is wise to use the tax law to achieve non-tax social goals. While I would disagree, such arguments have a long tradition and reasonable intellectual underpinnings. There’s an argument that in a complex economy, we should expect a complex tax system, and the need to hire tax professionals is a collateral cost to achieve a greater benefit.

But that’s not what the commenter is saying. He is saying that ensuring the ability of tax professionals to make a living off the tax system should be a policy goal. If he means more, he leaves it out; that’s the entire comment.

Sometimes taking an argument to its logical conclusion helps shed light on a system. What if we could magically create a tax system that would grow the economy by a million extra well-paying jobs a year, but was so easy to administer and comply with that it would eliminate the jobs of all 674,686 IRS- registered tax professionals? Oh, and it would cure cancer, too. An objective observer would choose the magical system, and would rightly regard any tax preparer who fought against it to preserve his own job as a monster.

The interest of tax preparers, while obviously important to me, can never be the primary concern of tax policy. Otherwise you would argue for ever-more complex taxes and ever-higher rates to make it harder to do without us. Considering the embarrassment of riches our current tax system offers to those of us who feast on complexity, arguing for more is both unconscionable and redundant.

That gets me back to Mr. Paul, who, according to my Twitter feed, will leave the race today. His tax proposal is a version of a consumption tax that, according to the Tax Foundation’s dynamic projections, would both reduce the budget deficit and grow the economy. It is the only plan that would do both. In contrast, the Bernie Sanders plan would do awful things to the economy, but it would sure make tax preparers more valuable. While people I respect support Sanders for reasons I find incomprehensible, none of them do so to make a living off of forced extractions from others.taxplanchart

Everybody who does tax for a living does so knowing that a stroke of the pen could put us out of business. My dentist taunted me with this observation before I even started my first tax job. I have always set my lifestyle and expectations accordingly. While I’ve made a living off the tax law, the world certainly doesn’t owe it to me, or to anyone else.

 

Kyle Pomerleau, Scott Greenberg, How Danish is Bernie Sanders’s Tax Plan? (Tax Policy Blog):

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But it would be great for tax pros!

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1,000. Thanks to Paul Caron for his persistence in paying attention to the past and continuing IRS abuse of power.

William Perez, 8 Reasons to Ask the IRS for a Tax Extension. Always better to extend than amend.

Peter Reilly, Tax Dependency Exemptions For Noncustodial Parents – It Is All About Form 8332

Robert Wood, Winner Of $1.6 Billion Powerball Jackpot Sued By Prisoner

TaxGrrrl, Congressman’s Son Sentenced To Five Years In Prison On Fraud & Tax Charges. Maybe he’ll meet a Powerball winner.

 

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David Brunori, Paying for Past Sins (Tax Analysts Blog) “The Jindal administration pushed tax cuts without paying for them. It then tried to address the ensuing budget problems with a barrage of gimmicks. For that, the citizens of Louisiana are likely to pay a price.”

Jeremy Scott, Ted Cruz’s Iowa Win Not a Victory for a VAT (Tax Analysts Blog). “Cruz may have a radical tax program, but it hasn’t been a big piece of his campaign.”

Renu Zaretsky, What’s so funny about taxes, love, and solidarity? “Would Americans pay higher taxes with as much love and solidarity for the people of Flint as they donate water? And would my fellow Michigan neighbors pay up, given that state government appointees and representatives caused the problem and then covered it up?” Not to mention the local one-party regime that triggered the crisis in the first place.

News from the Profession. Take the Going Concern Reader Survey (Going Concern).

Kay Bell, North Pole decides to tax marijuana. Maybe that’s why Santa is so jolly.

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/2/2016: I caucused, and lived. And: actually useful things!

February 2nd, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20160131-1Caucuses yesterday, thundersnow today. I caucused last night at the elementary school behind my house. As usual, my candidate did poorly (fourth in my precinct, fifth in the state).

Because they only happen every four years, these things are always a bit chaotic, but the guy running the show did a pretty good job. Once we selected him as a permanent chairman, things went reasonably efficiently. The chairman called on the audience to allow a speaker for each candidate to talk for three minutes. It went alphabetically (apparently “Jeb!” is in the alphabet before “Ben.”). Nobody rose to speak for Fiorina, Gilmore, Kasich or Santorum, telegraphing their poor performances. The Wall Street Journal reports that Gilmore got fewer votes in the whole state than six candidates received in my precinct.

The most entertaining moment was when the last one, a 25-year West Des Moines city councilman speaking for Trump, went over time. He tried to “borrow” time from the campaigns who had no speakers — and was booed into silence.

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Talking for Donald too long.

They then passed out pre-printed ballots — an innovation since the last presidential caucus. The counting went reasonably quickly, with the speakers for each candidate and a TV camera looking over the shoulders of the counters.

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You know by now how Iowa came out, but in case you are curious, here are the results in my precinct: Jeb! 18, Carson 17, Cruz 35, Christie 8, Huckabee 4, Fiorina 1, Kasich 1, Paul 20, Rubio 108, Santorum 4, Trump 56. The suburbs like Rubio.

Now we have a thundersnowstorm going, with 6-10 inches forecast. I’m afraid that if they don’t get out soon, our Caucus media guests may get to enjoy another lovely Des Moines day.

PS. I forgot to add my insta-analysis. Winner: Steve King, who endorsed Cruz, likely pushing him over the top. Losers: Terry Branstad, who came out against Cruz, and only Cruz, trying to turn the vote into an ethanol referendum. Oh, and ethanol.

 

TaxGrrrl, Understanding Your Tax Forms 2016: 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income. “A form 1099, Miscellaneous Income, is a “catch all” form. It’s used to report income that can’t be neatly categorized anywhere else.”

Robert Wood, Hate 1099 Forms? IRS Loves Them, Here’s Why

William Perez, Tax Refunds by Direct Deposit: How to Do It and Problems to Prevent

Stephen Olsen, Procedure Grab Bag (Procedurally Taxing)

Peter Reilly, You Do Not Have To File A Joint Return And There Are Some Reasons Not To

Dave Nelson, Cyber insurance advice (IowaBiz.com). “You should purchase cyber insurance this year.”

Kay Bell, February is filled with hearts, flowers, frogs & tax moves

 

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Megan McArdle, Tax Cuts Can’t Motivate the Republican Base Anymore

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 999. Sadly, Herman Cain is not mentioned.

Alex Durante, Bonus Depreciation Boosts Investment, New Research Confirms (Tax Policy Blog). But Iowa is having none of it.

Richard Auxier, Why are states letting the NFL rule their sales tax out of bounds? (TaxVox

Matt Gardner, What Free Roaming Chickens and Accounting Tricks Have in Common. They’re tough and chewy?

 

Career CornerShould More Accounting Firms Implement ‘Work Anywhere’ Policies? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Some days I have trouble working anywhere.

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/1/2016: Caucus day, and other plagues.

February 1st, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20160131-1Is there such a thing as snow locusts? Today is the last day Iowa will be plagued by presidential candidates and their relentless ads and emails. Tonight, blizzard and winter storm warnings across the state.

Lots of things go into choosing a candidate. We kid ourselves if we think it is all rational. Many voters put as much thought into their political preferences as they do into choosing a favorite sports team. Most voters are much more informed about their sports teams than their votes.

But Tax Update readers are different!  You especially want to know about candidate tax policies. Fortunately, the Tax Foundation has an excellent Comparison of Presidential Tax Plans and Their Economic Effects. I like this chart they provide:

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You’ll notice that only one plan is projected to have positive economic effects while reducing the budget deficit over 10 years. I like that one.

 

Other Caucus-related links:

Tax Policy Center Major candidate tax proposals, a center-left analysis.

TaxProf, Clinton (47%), Sanders (54%) Propose Highest Capital Gain Tax Rates (Now 24%) In History

Tyler Cowen, My favorite things Iowa (Marginal Revolution). “The bottom line: Who would have thought ‘jazz musician’ would be the strongest category here?” Speak for yourself, buddy!

 

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Russ Fox, The Liberty to Commit Tax Fraud:

This story does show two things. First, requiring every tax professional to obtain a license won’t stop tax fraud. The alleged fraud here was started by an individual with a PTIN, someone who assuredly could obtain the former RTRP designation or the current AFSP “seal of approval.” Second, the Department of Justice news release notes, “In the past decade, the Tax Division has obtained injunctions against hundreds of unscrupulous tax preparers.” This is absolutely true, and the DOJ should be commended for their work. It also shows that licensing every tax professional isn’t needed to get rid of unscrupulous ones.

Amen.

William Perez, When Does an 83(b) Election Make Sense? 

Paul Neiffer, Pre-1977 Purchases May Get 100% Step-up or Not! Involving old joint interests in property.

Kay Bell, W-2, 1099 forms delivery deadline is here

Jack Townsend, 60 Minutes Exposé on Money Laundering Into the U.S.

Jason Dinesen, Not All Donations to Charity Are Deductible. Time, for example.

Kristine Tidgren, Des Moines Water Works Lawsuit Gets More Complicated (AgDocket)

Peter Reilly, NorCal Tea Party Patriots V IRS – Grassroots Or Astroturf?

Leslie Book, Migraine Caused by Improper IRS Collection Action During Bankruptcy Stay Triggers Damages for Emotional Distress

Robert Wood, Worst Lottery To Win Is IRS Audit Lottery, So Decrease Your Odds

TaxGrrrl, Understanding Your Tax Forms 2016: 1098-T, Tuition Statement

Tony Nitti, IRS Rules On Whether Trade-In Of Private Jet Qualifies For A Tax-Free Like-Kind Exchange

Happy Blogiversary! to Hank Stern for 10 years of Insureblog.

 

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Matt Gardner, International Speedway Reaps Benefits of Revived “NASCAR Tax Break” (Tax Justice Blog). In which the Tax Justice people sctually make a lot of sense: “In the context of our growing budget deficits, the annual cost of the NASCAR giveaway is a drop in the bucket at less than $20 million, making it a small part of the $680 billion extenders package. But because its benefits are narrowly focused on a few privileged companies, the damaging effects of this tax break go way beyond its fiscal cost.”

Donald Marron, What Should We Do with the Money from Taxing “Bads”? (TaxVox)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 996Day 997, Day 998. Day 997 links to  IRS’s New Ethics Chief Once Ordered Records Be Illegally Destroyed. These are the people who think they need to regulate tax preparers to keep us in line.

 

Scott Drenkard, David Bowie: Tax Planning Hero (Tax Policy Blog). “Taxes really matter, especially for an artist like Bowie who had a lot of options for where to reside and earn income.”

Robert D. Flach, THE TWELVE DAYS OF TAX SEASON

 

Finally, in honor of the Iowa Caucuses I quote the great Arnold Kling, who captures my feelings about these proceedings perfectly:

To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, to be eagerly anticipated and avidly followed. They are brutal assaults on reason. I look forward to election season about as much as a gulf coast resident looks forward to hurricane season.

Only the beginning of a wise and profound post. Read it all.

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Tax Roundup, 1/29/16: Iowa House passes $500,000 Section 179, but prospects bleak in Senate. And: Iowa may give guy a break.

January 29th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitors: Click here to go directly to the newsletter link on cheaper returns.

coupling20160129Accelerating to a stop. When a household is short of cash, the family usually spends less. Iowa has a different approach. They pick your pocket.

The Iowa House of Representatives yesterday voted 82-14 to retroactively couple with all of the 2015 federal tax law changes except bonus depreciation (HF 2092, formerly HSB 535). This would allow Iowa businesses to deduct up to $500,000 in annual purchases of otherwise-depreciable fixed assets under Section 179. Governor Branstad’s budget would limit the deduction to $25,000 — an unexpected departure from Iowa law for the past several years and a significant tax increase.

You would think that an overwhelming bipartisan vote in favor of the $500,000 version would foreshadow quick passage by the Senate. Alas, no.

I talked to some legislators yesterday when I participated in the Iowa Society of CPAs annual Day on the Hill. It appears that Governor Branstad and Senate Majority Leader Gronstal have a little bipartisan deal of their own to kill Section 179 coupling.

That’s not how Sen. Gronstal explains it. From the Quad City Times:

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said his majority caucus would consider what the House passed, but he expressed doubt about moving ahead with a concept at variance with the governor given a similar course of action last session for education funded ended with a gubernatorial veto.

“I don’t like doing things that I know will get a certain veto,” Gronstal said. “That doesn’t seem to me to make a lot of sense. The governor doesn’t have this in his budget.”

I came away understanding that the voice of the majority caucus is really the voice of Sen. Gronstal, and that Section 179 coupling will never come up for a vote in the Senate. I assume it is because both the Governor and the Majority Leader want the money for their own priorities: more cronyist tax credits for Gov. Branstad, and more spending for Sen. Gronstal.

That’s a crummy deal for the thousands of small businesses that suddenly will see a big unanticipated tax increase. It also seems like a deal that would be vulnerable to an insiders vs. Main Street challenge. The tax credits that the Governor wants to fund go to a narrow set of taxpayers. For example, in 2014 $42.1 million of refundable research credits went to 16 big taxpayers. That’s almost enough to pay for half of Section 179 coupling $90 million cost by itself.

Here is the complete menu of incentive and economic development tax credits in the Governor’s budget:

Iowa credits fy 2017

The refundable sales tax credit goes largely to the big data center companies Facebook, Microsoft and Google. The Enterprise Zone Housing credit and High Quality Jobs credits are big company credits that you have to through the economic development bureaucracy to cash in on. The rest of the credits are mostly for favored industries who get breaks unavailable to the much larger universe of other businesses that have to pay full freight.

It might still be possible to get the Governor and/or the Majority leader to see things differently. That will require taxpayers and practitioners to convince their legislators that small businesses and farmers shouldn’t have to stand in line behind insiders.

It’s not clear to me what form the extension will take under the Governor’s program. I was unable to confirm whether the Senate will skip 2015 conformity entirely, as outlined in Sen. Anderson’s newsletter. I have inquiries in.

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Des Moines Register, Iowa agrees to review man’s $5,000 tax refund request. Some good news in the story we mentioned yesterday of the retired maintenance man who inadvertently conceded to a $5,000 liability he didn’t owe.

 

It’s serious. You know tax season is truly underway when Robert D. Flach posts his last Buzz roundup before disappearing into his hive to make his artisanal hand-crafted 1040s. Im starting to think Robert isn’t Donald Trump’s biggest fan.

TaxGrrrl live-blogged the GOP debate last night. I just did a drive-by, myself. Literally; I drove past the venue on my way home last night. No, I didn’t have it on the radio.

Robert Wood, What To Do If IRS Form 1099 Reports More Than You Received

Peter Reilly, Tax Foundation Analysis Of Sanders Plan Only Shows Downside. On the plus side, you could worry less about your investments, as you wouldn’t have as many.

Jason Dinesen, Having Negative Taxable Income Doesn’t Mean the Government Pays You Extra

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Scott Greenberg, The Sanders Tax Plan Would Make the U.S. Tax Rate on Capital Gains the Highest in the Developed World (Tax Policy Blog).

Renu Zaretsky, No Trump, No Problem. The TaxVox headline roundup today covers Google’s tax travails, “tampon taxes,” and candidate tax plans.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 995

News from the Profession. Life at EY Involves Food, Technical Difficulties (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/28/16: Iowa Governor reportedly opposes 2015 coupling for anything. And: Ethanol execs accused of payroll tax crimes.

January 28th, 2016 by Joe Kristan


couplingNo 2015 coupling at all? 
I had been under the impression that Governor Branstad’s budget proposal would not couple Iowa’s tax law for the $500,000 Section 179 limit or bonus depreciation, but would couple otherwise. A newsletter from Northwest Iowa Senate Republican Bill Anderson says I was mistaken:

Last week we learned Governor Branstad’s budget supports updating Iowa tax law to conform with changes in the Internal Revenue Code that resulted from federal legislation enacted during 2015. With three significant exceptions:

1. No tax year 2015 coupling. Meaning most of the changes are effective for federal tax purposes beginning in tax year 2015, the bill will not incorporate recent federal changes until tax year 2016. (Items that may impact you are: deduction for state and local sales taxes, above the line deduction for teacher classroom expenses ($250), above the line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses, discharge of indebtedness on principal residence excluded from gross income.) The estimated fiscal impact of these changes in total is minimal compared to Section 179.

2. No section 179 expensing for tax year 2015 now or into the future, and

3. No bonus depreciation for now or into the future.

The newsletter also provides some detail of the fiscal impact of coupling:

Estimates project just coupling with Section 179 for one year is an approximate $90 million decrease in FY 2016 budget and a revenue increase in FY 2017 estimated roughly to be more than $20 million

This is a lot of money, but it’s a lot less than the $277.3 million the Governor proposes to spend next year on targeted tax credits. While Section 179 benefits business in every county regardless of whether they hire lobbyists or consultants, the targeted tax credits go to big taxpayers and insiders who know how to work the system. We’ll see which constituency is more important to the General Assembly.

Today is the Iowa Society of CPA’s “Day on the hill.” I will be there pushing for coupling. I will confirm the no-coupling-for 2015 report. I also hope to find out whether Senate Democrats have any interest in Section 179 coupling. The Republican House is expected to pass a bill (HSB 535) with Section 179 coupling (Update, 9:44 am: Full 2015 coupling (except bonus depreciation) passed in the House this morning, 82-14).

Related: Eye on the Legislature 2016.

 

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It’s an awful idea to “borrow” payroll taxes. Iowa Businessmen Indicted for Failing to Pay Employment Taxes (Department of Justice Press Release):

Randy Less, 48, of Hopkinton, Iowa, and Darrell Smith, 59, of Forest City, Iowa, are each charged with multiple counts of willfully failing to truthfully account for, and pay over federal income, social security and Medicare taxes that were withheld from the wages of the employees of Permeate Refining Inc., which was in the business of ethanol production.

According to the allegations in the indictment, Less was the majority owner, a general partner and the general manager of Permeate Refining Inc. in Hopkinton.  In those roles, Less had the responsibility to collect, truthfully account for and pay over to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) federal income, social security and Medicare taxes withheld from the wages of his employees.  From approximately the fourth quarter of 2009 and continuing through the fourth quarter of 2010, Less is alleged to have willfully failed to pay over to the IRS more than $116,000 in withheld taxes.

The indictment further alleges that a company called Algae Energae purchased an ownership interest in Permeate in September 2009.  After that purchase, it is alleged that Smith, a corporate officer and manager of Algae Energae, also had the responsibility to collect, truthfully account for and pay over to the IRS taxes withheld from the wages of Permeate’s employees.  From approximately the first quarter of 2011 and continuing through the third quarter of 2012, both Less and Smith are alleged to have willfully failed to pay over to the IRS more than $307,000 in withheld taxes.

The IRS has resorted increasingly to criminal charges when payroll taxes go unpaid for a long time. While the defendants in this case are presumed innocent unless and until the IRS proves its case in court, the indictment reminds us that failing to remit payroll taxes is serious business. If you find yourself having to choose who to pay, remember that only the tax man has badges and guns, and that their liability doesn’t go away in bankruptcy.

 

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Robert D. Flach, WHO MUST FILE A 2015 TAX RETURN

TaxGrrrl, ‘Bug’ Exposes Uber Driver’s Tax Info, Including Name and Social Security Number

Kay Bell, Uber oops: driver’s tax info exposed on ride share site

Jack Townsend, More on the U.S. as the World’s Tax Haven

 

David Brunori, Most People Lose When Pols Pick Winners and Losers (Tax Analysts Blog). “Tax systems should have as little impact on economic decision-making as possible.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 994

Alan Cole, New CBO Report Shows Declining Share of C Corporations (Tax Policy Blog):

entity filings chart

Some businesses (but not all businesses, just those with a disfavored legal structure) pay a 35% rate at the entity level, followed by taxes of up to 23.8% at the shareholder level. Others, like partnerships and sole proprietorships, have taxes paid by their owners commensurate with their owners’ income in a single layer of taxation. Of course nobody wants to be a C corporation.

And yet certain politicians tell us that we just need to continue the beatings until corporate morale improves.

Renu Zaretsky, When Sharing is Caring… or Scary. Today’s TaxVox roundup covers candidate tax plans, Google and Facebook taxes, and more.

News from the Profession. I Am a Millennial Accountant, and I Hate Accounting (Chris Hooper, Going Concern)

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Tax Roundup, 1/27/16: Sign right here, friend, it’s just paperwork! And: Tax Foundation vs. U of I prof.

January 27th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20151124-1What you’re signing isn’t necessarily what the nice salesman says you’re signing. A sad tax story in the Des Moines Register today shows how easy it is for a taxpayer to commit to a bad deal. The story, Misclassified: Iowa won’t refund veteran’s $5K payment, tells how a maintenance worker who was erroneously paid as an independent contractor by a Cedar Rapids furniture store ended up conceding a $5,000 sales tax liability he didn’t owe.

Iowa imposes a sales tax on “Janitorial and building maintenance or cleaning” for non-residential buildings. Because he was paid as an independent contractor, Iowa asserted sales tax on maintenance man James Robertson. He argued that he should have been classified as an employee, which would make the sales tax go away.

According to the story, Iowa was hounding him for unpaid taxes and preventing him from renewing his driver’s license. So he settled with Iowa for a $5,000 payment. From the story:

But he did so believing that the money he borrowed from a friend would be returned once a federal review process he was pursuing verified his claim he was not a contract worker.

The Internal Revenue Service on Oct. 14 determined that Robertson was indeed wrongly classified, documents he provided to The Des Moines Register show.

But that doesn’t mean he gets his $5,000 back, according to the Department of Revenue:

Victoria Daniels, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said it’s unlikely Robertson can win an appeal because he participated in what her agency calls its “offer in compromise” program.

Robertson signed a document during the settlement negotiations saying he accepts that “all administrative and judicial protests and actions filed in relation to these taxes and tax periods be dismissed.”

“When a person signs an offer in compromise, one of the things that they are signing their names to is the fact that they are giving up their appeal rights and the rights to get any of that money back,” Daniels said. “When you sign an offer in compromise with the Department of Revenue you are signing away any appeal rights you may or may not have had.”

IMG_1287Mr. Robertson didn’t think that’s what he had signed, according to the story (my emphasis):

Robertson said the documents he signed pertained to unpaid tax liabilities, not to his rights to a refund for taxes he never owed. And he said the department collectors led him to believe a refund would be made in the event it was shown he’d been unjustly classified as a contract employee.

This is why any battle between an unrepresented taxpayer and a tax agency is an unfair fight. The taxpayer drew a distinction between tax liabilities and tax refunds that doesn’t matter here. It’s all just taxes. While the nature of the document he signed may have been obvious to the people at the Department of Revenue who work with these things every day, it was all new and unclear to a taxpayer who had never encountered an offer in compromise. I hope he can find a way to get back his $5,000.

The Moral: In any tax controversy, be very careful what you sign. There are a number of ways you can forfeit important rights. If the dollars are big enough to matter to you, hire a tax pro. It doesn’t appear that Mr. Robertson did. Having a guide to the bureaucracy can be a big equalizer in an unfair fight. It’s not right to have to pay someone to help you avoid a tax you don’t owe in the first place, but it might be necessary to avoid something much worse.

 

 

Peter Fisher

Peter Fisher

Joseph Henchman, Open Letter: Errors on Peter Fisher’s Grading the States Website. The brilliant Mr. Henchman takes on U of Iowa prof and tax complexity advocate Peter Fisher’s attack on the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index.

Like most people who dislike the Tax Foundation’s ratings, Mr. Fisher doesn’t like the Index because it doesn’t measure things he wants to measure. But the Index only tries to measure business tax climate. It doesn’t measure regulatory climate, or quality of education, quality of life, weather, or income inequality. And because it makes states with certain tax policy sets look bad, people with an affinity for high taxes or crony capitalism try to change the subject.

 

Paul Neiffer, What Gets a Step-Up. “I continue to get questions regarding how much of a step-up in cost basis farmland gets when someone passes away.  Again, as with most tax questions, it depends.”

Kristine Tidgren, Iowa Supreme Court Says Ag Lease Violates Iowa Constitution (Ag Docket). “Article I, section 24 of the Iowa Constitution states that no lease of agricultural lands ‘shall be valid for a longer period than twenty years.'”

William Perez, Should Married Couples File Taxes Separately? “The Married Filing Separately filing status provides fewer tax benefits than filing joint returns, but it does protect each spouse from any tax mistakes the other spouse makes.”

Kay Bell, 3 marriage-related tax tips to celebrate Spouse’s Day

Jim Maule, “Who Knows the Tax Code Better Than Me?”. “No, it’s not ME asking that question. Who asked it? According to this story, Donald Trump did.” I suspect Mr. Trump knows just enough to hire someone who really does understand the tax law.

G. Brint Ryan, Fee Arrangements are a Matter between Taxpayers and their Advisors. “In an important win for business against government encroachment, a California Superior Court recently invalidated a rule restricting taxpayers from paying performance-based fees for professional services.”

Robert Wood, Missing An IRS Form 1099 For Your Taxes? Keep Quiet, Don’t Ask!

TaxGrrrl, Executors Seek $100 Million For Work On Estate Of ‘Queen Of Mean’ Leona Helmsley

Robert D. Flach, WHAT IS GOFUNDME?

The circus is in town. A media center takes shape at Capital Square, downtown Des Moines.

The circus is in town. A media center takes shape at Capital Square, downtown Des Moines.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 993. “Citizens Against Government Waste, CAGW Names IRS Commissioner John Koskinen 2015 Porker of the Year

Jacob Sullum, Corny Crony Capitalism in Iowa (Reason.com). “The RFS raises food prices and imposes a hidden tax on motorists because ethanol is more expensive than gasoline and produces less energy per gallon. Between 1982 and 2014, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Robert Bryce found, ethanol cost an average of 2.4 times as much as an energy-equivalent amount of gasoline.”

Howard Gleckman, Tyco, Tax Inversions, Income Shifting, and Lost Revenue (TaxVox)

Stuart Gibson, The Dissonance of European Tax Harmonization (Tax Analysts Blog). “The question: Why do so many Americans, even those new to the country or born to immigrant parents, find it so easy to self-identify as American, while so few Europeans identify primarily as European?”

Meg Wiehe, What to Watch for in 2016 State Tax Policy: Part 1 (Tax Justice Blog)

 

Career Corner. How Will Your Team Air Its Grievances This Busy Season? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

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Tax Roundup, 1/26/16: Tempt not your tax pro. And: Airbnb, Buzz, and inspiring emails from the boss!

January 26th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

dimeIf only she had taken an IRS-approved ethics continuing education course. Accountant charged in $1M embezzlement case (Herald-Dispatch.com):

HUNTINGTON – A local accountant is charged with 953 criminal counts accusing her of embezzling more than $1 million from at least one client’s account over a five-year period, according to criminal complaints filed by the West Virginia State Police.

Kimberly Dawn Price, 57, of Huntington, was arraigned Friday on 302 counts of embezzlement, 326 counts of forgery, and 325 counts of uttering at Cabell Count Magistrate Court.

There’s so much that has gone wrong here. For example:

According to criminal complaints, Price, while employed as a staff accountant at the Huntington-based firm Hess, Stewart, and Campbell, PLLC, was directly in charge of the account of Elizabeth Caldwell, a Huntington woman who died in the fall of 2015.

That’s a lot of authority for a staff accountant. I don’t understand, though, why anybody would give their outside accountant full access to their checking accounts. Or why any accounting firm would ever want its employees to deal with that sort of temptation. To be sure, the partners may not have known she had the client checkbook.

When hiring a tax pro, you want them to do a good job of preparing your return, helping you comply with the tax law, and getting you refunds when they are due. It’s not their job to spend it for you. They don’t need your checkbook.

 

Let us operate in your town, you’ll be glad you did. Airbnb, the online facilitator of private short-term rentals, not long ago announced that it would work with states and localities to collect lodging taxes. I suspected that they would use the lure of revenue to convince reluctant municipalities to allow them to operate. Yes, there are silly municipalities, like my own West Des Moines, who prevent people from renting their homes out for, say, the Iowa Caucus crowd.

Now Airbnb seems to confirm my suspicions with their new report, AIRBNB: Generating #2 BILLION IN POTENTIAL TAX REVENUE FOR AMERICA’S CITIES.

Just the sort of argument that carries weigh in city halls everywhere.

 

buzz20150827The bees may be quiet for the winter, but Robert D. Flach is Buzzing! Today’s Buzz covers 1095-Cs, retirement savings, state anti-fraud measures, and a certain national tax prep franchise.

Russ Fox, FTB’s New MyFTB Impresses; Will the IRS Take Heed?:

If you’re a tax professional who deals with California clients or a California taxpayer, I urge you to enroll in MyFTB. I’m very impressed. I may rag on the FTB (especially in the enforcement area) but from my point of view MyFTB is a model to be emulated by the rest of the country.

California has made it easier for practitioners to get powers of attorney online.

Robert Wood, Married Filing Joint Tax Returns? IRS Helps Some Couples With Offshore Accounts. “The new rules are a welcome change. But they should still underscore the importance of deciding which disclosure program is right for you.”

Emily CaubleReforming the Non-Disavowal Doctrine (Procedurally Taxing) “I will refer to courts’ resistance to taxpayers’ attempts to invoke substance-over-form as the ‘Non-Disavowal Doctrine.'”

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: 529 Plan. “The term “529 Plan” is a generic name given to tax-advantaged savings accounts for college expenses.”

William Perez, Tips for a Tax-Efficient Divorce, Plus a List of What to Do First

Annette Nellen, Recent Tax Law Change Cautions

Kay Bell, Arizona proposal: a state tax credit for gun classes. Tax credits. Is there anything they can’t do?

 

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Scott Greenberg, How the Tax Code Discourages Investment, in One Statistic (Tax Policy Blog). “The results are disheartening: over time, U.S. corporations will only be able to deduct 87.14 percent of the cost of investments they made in 2012, in present value terms.”

Renu ZaretskyOutlooks, Deficits, Breaks and Moves. Inversions, deficits forever, and state budget battles.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 992

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 1/25: State of the States (Tax Justice Blog). “Read all about the latest tax debates in West Virginia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. Plus a listing with links to State of the State addresses.”

 

News from the Profession. Confidential to a Certain Deloitte CEO: Millennials Don’t Need Any More Emails (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

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Tax Roundup, 1/25/16: Four steps to a quicker, cheaper 1040. And: ID theft – prevention vs. punishment.

January 25th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

1040 corner 2015How to make your tax return cheaper. If you don’t have all of your 1099s, brokerage statements and so on, there’s a good chance you’ll have them by the end of the week (but if you’re waiting on K-1s, forget it). Then you will want to send it all to your tax pro and get it back right away. If you want to get it back quickly, and keep your fee down, the best way is to provide everything your tax pro needs the first time.

Every time we have to ask you a question or track down a document, it slows things down, and the fees start to creep up. Here are a few things taxpayers commonly forget to do or include.

Go through the tax organizer and at least answer the questions. Many taxpayers just return a blank organizer with their 1099s. That’s unwise. The question part is there for a reason. For example, it identifies life events that don’t show up on 1099s or W-2s. Once a client mentioned his wife in a phone conversation. I had improperly prepared returns for him as single for two years. Of course, the “change in marital status” question on the questionnaire had been returned unanswered on his blank organizer both years.

Double-check your estimated tax payments. The standard answer tax pros get from taxpayers who return blank organizers is “I sent in all the payments you said on the dates you said.” And sometimes that’s actually true, but quite often it isn’t. That leads to IRS notices, tax penalties and extra tax pro fees. Go through your check register and bank statements and write down the actual dates and amounts on the organizer — or send copies of the cancelled checks from your statements.

Spend a few minutes culling your information. You don’t want to pay your tax pro to dig through your utility bills, cable provider statements, and junk mail to find your charitable contributions and information returns. Clear out the junk before you bring it in.

Make sure your contact information is current. If we do have to ask you questions, it’s a lot easier if we have your current email address and the right cell phone number.

This is the first of our 2016 filing season tips. Look for these occasionally until April, when they will come thick and fast. 

Related: Robert D. Flach, DON’T BE IN SUCH A HURRY – BUT DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. “I have a strict long-standing rule that all returns that are not literally in my hands, with all the necessary information, by March 19th will be automatically extended!”

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Jim Maule, Will Providing a Driver’s License Number Reduce Tax Return Identity Theft?:

The problem is two-fold. On one side, better systems of identification are necessary, and need to be based on information that is not as easily stolen. Databases need to be secured more carefully than at present. On the other side, identity thieves and those thinking of engaging in that behavior need to be presented with changes in their risk analysis. Not only are better methods required to track them down, they also need to face more severe consequences for their behavior.

I think the penalties in place are already severe enough. The problem is that it is too easy to steal tax refunds. The grifters that go in for identity theft aren’t known for impulse control or careful weighing of benefits and costs. They just know that with the right personal information and a copy of Turbotax, they can make prepaid debit cards rain on their mailboxes. And, of course, the overseas crime syndicates don’t care about the penalties, because they are unlikely to ever face them.

It’s much more important to improve IRS procedures to thwart I.D. theft in the first place. The IRS is finally taking needed steps here, but lots of horses are already out of the barn.

TaxGrrrl, 11 Tips To Protect You From Identity Theft & Related Tax Fraud

 

Russ Fox, An Entity a Day Will Keep the IRS Away, Right? “Here’s a scheme that’s sure to work to avoid remitting payroll taxes to the IRS. Every day (or week or month), I’ll form a new business entity that’s collecting the tax. Once the amount due to the IRS gets large, I’ll just use a new entity. The IRS will never catch on, right?” As Russ explains, wrong.

Kay Bell, Taxpayers want up-front pricing from paid tax preparers.

William Perez, Taxes When Hiring Household Help

Matt McKinney, Anonymous ownership in an Iowa LLC (IowaBiz.com).

Jack Townsend, More on Transparency for Entities Acquiring Valuable Real Estate in Some U.S. Markets

Robert Wood, Trump Is Unapologetically Aggressive On Taxes, Like Buffett And Bono. All the sort of folks who are happy to increase taxes, on other people.

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Kadri Kallas-Zelek, Incorrect Claims for Earned Income Tax Credits Are Likely to Become More Costly (Tax Policy Blog). “The IRS estimates that for the fiscal year 2013, improper payments from EITC amounted to $13.3 to $15.6 billion, or 22 to 26 percent of total EITC payments.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 989Day 990Day 991. Hard drives as doggie treats.

Renu Zaretsky, Snow, Settlements, and Sales Taxes. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers Snowzilla, online sales tax cheats, and Oregon liquor taxes, among other things.

Matt GardnerAdobe Shifts Hundreds of Millions Offshore, Revealing, Like PDF Documents, Its Profits Are Portable Too (Tax Justice Blog). For some reason, this only inspires the Tax Justice folks to do what’s failing more and harder.

 

Career Corner. Let’s Review: Deloitte Demotivation, Denim, Bad Managers (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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IRS issues Applicable Federal Rate (AFR) for February 2016

January 22nd, 2016 by Joe Kristan

The IRS has issued (Rev. Rul. 2016-04) the minimum required interest rates for loans made in February 2016:

-Short-Term (demand loans and loans with terms of up to 3 years): 0.81%

-Mid-Term (loans from 3-9 years): 1.82%

-Long-Term (over 9 years): 2.62%

The Long-term tax-exempt rate for Section 382 ownership changes in February 2016 is 2.65%.

Historical AFRs may be found here or from prior Tax Update posts.

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Tax Roundup, 1/22/16: Tax scams for tax pros. And: How Des Moines got so cool once I moved here.

January 22nd, 2016 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today Visitors:  Click here for the post on Popular wisdom and tax rates.

 

Gone Phishing. It’s not just taxpayers that get scam emails. Scammers also aim at tax pros. For example:

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Of course the message is a fake. It was sent by the sketchy-sounding email address “info@tablerockbelize.com” and the link goes to something called “otadealsbox.com/irs.” Nothing good would happen from following that link. Be careful out there.

 

Nicole Kaeding, Map: State-Local Tax Burden Rankings for FY 2012 (Tax Policy Blog):

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While Iowa’s tax burden isn’t that out of line — it’s actually a little better than average — our business tax climate is one of the worst. It’s a result of how poorly designed Iowa’s tax system is. The good news is that there’s a lot of room to improve our tax system without increasing the overall tax burden.

 

Start your weekend right with fresh Buzz! from Robert D. Flach. Today’s links cover lots of ground on early filing, and a good explanation of why the talk of how “IRS now has six years to audit your taxes” isn’t right.

Jason Dinesen, Do I Need Form 1095-C to File My Tax Return? The next question: how many taxpayers even know to expect one?

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William Perez reminds readers to Communicate Effectively with Your Tax Preparer

Annette Nellen, Filing 2015 tax returns – help for practitioners

Kay Bell has 4 filing tips to ensure you get your tax refund ASAP

Robert Wood, What To Do If Form 1099 Reports More To IRS Than You Received

Paul Neiffer, Mr. Market Wants Its Excess Profits Back. “We know what happened after the 1970s and now Mr. Market is now trying to grab those excess profits back from farmers from the ‘ethanol’ boom.”  Of course, aging corn state politicians are fighting back by yelling at clouds.

Jim Maule, Deductions Arising from Constructive Payments. “The Tax Court explained that payment by an S corporation of a shareholder’s personal expense is a constructive distribution. It pointed out that this principle had previously been articulated by the court. Thus, explained the court, ‘It also follows that for purposes of claiming the deduction, the shareholder is treated as constructively paying the obligation.'”

Peter Reilly, Tax Planning In Bernie Sanders Land Would Feel Familiar To Elderly CPAs. Older than me, even.

E. Martin Davidoff, New Format of Notice of Intent to Levy Fails to Provide Sufficient Notice (Procedurally Taxing)

Russ Fox, Fail, Caesar! An Update. Implications for poker pros.

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 988. “Tax Agency Erased Hard Drive Despite Litigation Hold.” Don’t try that with your tax records.

Jeremy Scott, Furor Over Extenders and Rising Deficits Disingenuous (Tax Analysts Blog), my emphasis:

So the new CBO report is something of a bitter pill for Obama. But the president isn’t to blame, according to some observers. In fact, the CBO itself points out that about half the cost of rising deficits is from tax legislation enacted since August 2015. The biggest chunk, of course, comes from the extenders compromise, which made some expiring (or expired) tax provisions permanent. That hurts the budget outlook, which always assumed expiring tax provisions would stay expired.

But extenders have never been allowed to stay expired. They are always renewed — sometimes late and sometimes retroactively, but without significant exception. And that makes the CBO’s observations about extenders deceptive. It also highlights why previous CBO projections about the deficit were always too rosy. By assuming that extenders would go away once they expired, budget forecasters were always showing too much revenue. If the CBO had used a model that assumed Congress would continually renew popular provisions like the research credit, the deduction for state and local sales taxes, and bonus depreciation, the numbers would look almost identical to what the January 19 report is showing now.

Exactly. The extenders were an ongoing accounting scam, pretending provisions that were permanent in reality would go away. “By making some extenders permanent, Congress has finally allowed the CBO to paint a more realistic portrait of the federal deficit and the long-term budget outlook.”

Matt Gardner, After Years of Shrinking, Nation’s Deficit Set to Grow in 2016; Recent Tax Cuts a Contributor (Tax Justice Blog)

 

Howard Gleckman, What Are the Consequences of a Financial Transactions Tax? (TaxVox). Aside from moving exchanges offshore, damaging markets, erasing wealth, and making it harder for the little guy to close transactions, it’s a great idea.

 

Joseph Thorndike, Do Progressives Hate Tax Reform? (Tax Analysts Blog):

The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was far from perfect, but it made good on the lower rates/broader base mantra. Almost immediately, however, both parts of the bargain began to fray; rates began creeping up within a few years, and preferences (never vanquished entirely in the first place) also began to grow. By the mid-1990s, tax reform was starting to look like a disappointment, to both liberals and conservatives.

Today, classic tax reform has little real support outside the wonk community. So it’s fair to say, as Holtz-Eakin does repeatedly, that liberals don’t care about tax reform.

But neither do conservatives.

I think that’s always true, in a way. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

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News from the Profession. Report: CPAs Exaggerate Their Success at the Bar, Pretty Much Everywhere (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

Fun link: How America’s Dullest City Got Cool. I think they overstate how much of the revival of Des Moines was planned by anyone, but they are right to point out home much this town has improved since I moved here in 1985 (proving that correlation is definitely not causation). Thanks to @lymanstoneky for the link on Twitter.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/21/16: Defying Governor, House conformity bill includes $500,000 Section 179 limit.

January 21st, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20151118-1Reason to hope, reasons to despair. The Iowa House Ways and Means Chairman introduced a “code conformity” bill yesterday (HSB 535) that includes the federal $500,000 Section 179 limit. This defies the wishes of Governor Branstad, who says the state can’t afford the expanded deduction. He would only allow a $25,000 deduction for asset purchases that would otherwise have to be capitalized and depreciated.

The bill, as expected, does not adopt bonus depreciation for Iowa.

The Section 179 conformity proposal is is good news. It appears that Ways and Means Republicans sense that their business and farm constituents won’t appreciate a big tax increase, especially in a year that looks like it will be a down year around the state. Now attention will turn to the Senate, where Democratic Majority Leader Gronstal controls what legislation reaches the floor. If he supports the legislation, it is likely to pass. The Governor would probably be able to kill it with a veto, but would he?

That brings up my first reason to despair. Unless the Governor backs down or some compromise is reached, the conformity bill is likely to be delayed. Affected taxpayers will have to wait to file their 2015 Iowa returns until they know what the tax law is; if they guess wrong, they will incur the expense of amending their returns. It compresses the filing season into an ever-narrower window and delays refunds.

The biggest issue is likely to be the budget impact. While I haven’t seen a current figure, last year’s Section 179 conformity bill was estimated to reduce state revenues by $88.5 million.

capitol burning 10904I certainly have a list of possible pay-fors, starting with the newest proposed credit, a $10 million  “renewable biochemical tax credit” (SSB 3001). It is refundable, meaning it isn’t just a tax reduction, but an actual cash subsidy to taxpayers whose credit exceeds their Iowa tax. That easily could happen, as it is based on pounds of qualifying stuff produced. It will only go to taxpayers who “enter into an agreement” with the economic development administration. In other words, for insiders who know where to pull strings.

And here is another reason to despair. It appears this new boondoggle is going to slide right on through. From the Des Moines Register (my emphasis):

More than a dozen lobbyists representing businesses, farm organizations, economic development groups and other expressed support, and there was no opposition. Gov. Terry Branstad has listed renewable chemical manufacturing tax credits as a key item in his 2016 legislative agenda.

Under the bill, the maximum amount of state tax credits available annually to any one business for the production of renewable chemicals would be either $1 million or $500,000, depending how long the company has operated in Iowa.

Even Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), who has in the past voted against corporate welfare tax credits, is on board with this one.

It will be very difficult to get the Governor to go along with the higher Section 179 limits without spending or tax credit cuts to offset the revenue loss. The Governor seems dead set against cutting cronyist tax credits. If the legislature agrees with him, Section 179 has a very difficult fight this session. Failure to adopt the federal Section 179 limit would represent a triumph of a handful of insiders over the businesses and farms in every county that would have their taxes increased to pay for subsidies.

 

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Iowa increases security to prevent tax fraud (thegazette.com):

The Iowa Department of Revenue has upped its security game after seeing more than 10,000 fraudulent tax returns last year.

This tax season, the agency will use technology to better track fraudsters, validate bank accounts before making direct deposits and share information with the IRS, other states, software providers and banks.

The story says Iowa stopped $11.6 million in fake refund claims last year on 10,600 fraudulent returns.

 

Hank Stern, O’Care in Real Life (InsureBlog):

So, one of my small group clients just lost the last person on his group plan. It had gotten so expensive that no one could really afford to stay on it. Shopping around didn’t help: everything we looked at was at least as expensive for comparable benefits. And the plan was pretty much bare-bones, not a lot of fat to trim.

Tom has been a client – and friend – for almost 30 years. A small business owner, he was proud to be able to offer his employees coverage. Now that’s gone.

He said “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” He didn’t say you could afford it.

Kristine Tidgren, Farm Lease Questions Often Arise This Time of Year (Ag Docket)

Robert D. Flach, A VERY IMPORTANT REMINDER. “Don’t listen to a broker, a banker, an insurance salesman, or your Uncle Charlie!   You wouldn’t ask your butcher for a medical opinion, so why would you accept tax advice from your MD?”

Keith Fogg, Public Policy Cases Accepted by the Taxpayer Advocate Service (Procedurally Taxing). “If you have an issue that raises policy issues for a group of taxpayers, you can bring this to the attention of the NTA in hopes that it will make the policy list and open the doors to TAS assistance.”

Paul Neiffer, Top 10 Reasons You Might Need Accrual Accounting. “Although this list is designed to be humorous, the reality is that all farmers should consider using accrual accounting to manage their farm operation.”

Kay Bell, Smooth tax season start? Not for some TaxAct users. “Just a few days before the filing season and Free File opened for business, the tax software manufacturer sent a letter to about 450 customers, notifying them of a data breach.”

Jack Townsend, Should Proof of No Tax Evaded Be Admissible as Defense in Crime Not Requiring Tax Evaded as an Element

 

Tony Nitti, An Ode To Tax Season: How To Bid Farewell To Your Family.

Tax season is here. Tax season is the worst. But don’t just abandon your family for the next three months with no explanation; make them aware of the series of mistakes that were set into motion long ago that led you to this self-imposed hell. And tell them with rhymes! 

That may be why my grown kid is a musician, and the high schooler wants to be one.

 

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David Brunori, Good Government Developments in the Tax World (Tax Analysts Blog). No Iowa items make the list.

David Henderson, The Economics of the Cadillac Health Care Tax, Part IPart II. “But now that I have done a more careful analysis with some plausible numbers, I am seriously undecided.”

Kyle Pomerleau, Senator Hatch To Introduce Corporate Integration Plan (Tax Policy Blog). “Not only does the double tax on equity investment increase the cost of capital, it creates economic distortions. The most obvious one is the distortion towards debt-financed investments.”

Renu Zaretsky, Market Woes and the Price of Breaks. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers stupid things from proposed financial transaction taxes to the ongoing Kansas budget and tax policy disaster.

 

Robert Wood, IRS Wipes Another Hard Drive Defying Court Order…But You Must Keep Tax Records. Darn right, peasant!

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 987.

 

Career Corner. Stop Doing Other People’s Work Because It Saves Time (Leona May, Going Concern). A classic symptom of Senior Accountant’s Disease.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/20/16: Divorce transfer foot fault wrecks Iowa ESOP. And: efficiency!

January 20th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

tax fairyMarriage explodes, ESOP explodes. S corporations and ESOPs are a tempting mix. To the extent an ESOP holds the shares of an S corporation, it becomes a tax-exempt for-profit business. This is almost like finding a real-life tax fairy. If any other tax-exempt entity holds S corporation stock, it will pay Unrelated Business Income Tax — a form of the regular corporate income tax — on its S corporation earnings.

These features draw tax-fairy seekers to the S corporation ESOP. For a Muscatine, Iowa chiropractor, the quest ended in both tax and romantic failure. The failure reminds us that ESOPs are not to be adopted lightly. It also shows that ESOP failures, unlike some marriages, last forever.

The chiropractor involved incorporated his practice in 1999, made an S corporation election, and immediately established an ESOP. He and his wife were the only shareholders and only ESOP participants.

The marriage broke up in 2007. In 2009, the ex-wife left the company and agreed to give up her ESOP account, then valued at $286,904.53. But they did it wrong. The Tax Court explains (citations omitted):

In addition, once a participant’s benefit becomes vested, it is nonforfeitable under ERISA. In sum, a participant in a section 401(a) plan may not assign or alienate his or her benefit, and at the same time, he or she has a nonforfeitable right to that same benefit.

Pursuant to the May 27, 2009, corporate documents, and relying upon the divorce decree, [Wife] transferred 100% of her ESOP shares and relinquished any rights she had under the ESOP. The ESOP’s June 30, 2009 and 2010, reports [*15] reflect that 100% of the shares allocated to [Wife] on June 30, 2009, were reallocated to {Husband’s] account as of June 30, 2010.

Before April 5, 2007, [Husband] and [Wife]… were also [the corporation’s] sole employees and ESOP participants. Although the 2007 divorce decree dissolved the… marriage, it is insufficient to allow the transfer of plan assets that transpired in this case. Transferring the vested shares from [Wife]’s account to [Husband’s] caused [Wife]’s ESOP account to become alienated from her after it became fully vested. By violating section 401(a)(13), the plan ceased to be qualified. Accordingly, we hold that respondent did not abuse his discretion in disqualifying the ESOP for its 2010 plan year and for subsequent plan years.

Public domain image courtesy Wikipedia

Public domain image of Phoenix courtesy Wikipedia

You might wonder why one mistake in one year wrecked everything. Judge Dawson explains:

In general, a qualification failure pursuant to section 401(a) is a continuing failure because allowing a plan to requalify in subsequent years would be to allow a plan “to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of such disqualification and become qualified for that year.”

That’s the frightening thing about going ESOP. You have to comply with extremely detailed and complex qualification rules every year, every time. This requires significant legal and consulting bills, and even then mistakes can be made. While ESOPs can be useful in the right situations, you have to live with serious compliance costs and risks.

In this case, I’m only surprised that the ESOP lasted as long as it did. Section 409(p) imposes a both the UBIT and a 50% excise tax when “disqualified persons” receive an ESOP allocation. Related taxpayers who own more than 10% of the S corporation, or 20% with family members, are “disqualified persons.” In this case the couple owned 100% of the corporation. The case is silent on this issue, but I don’t understand how this structure could have worked even before the disqualification in light of the Section 409(p) rules. The case does say that they terminated their S corporation in 2005, which would have solved the 409(p) problem after that date.

This is the fourth ESOP disqualification the Tax Court has decided involving the individual named as trustee in this case, who I believe had an Iowa-based practice. This continues Iowa’s unhappy history of involvment in bad ESOPs.

Cite: Family Chiropractic Sports Injury & Rehab Clinic, T.C. Memo 2016-10.

 

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William Perez, Secure Ways to Send Tax Documents to Your Accountant. It is reckless and dangerous to send pdfs of your W-2s, 1099s, etc. as an unencryped e-mail attachment. William offers good advice on how to do it right.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Compilation. “In the accounting world, the term “compilation” refers to formal financial statements prepared by a public accountant.”

Robert Wood, IRS Forms 1099 Are Coming, The Most Important Tax Form Of All.

Robert D. Flach, 2015 INFORMATION RETURNS. Robert offers a handy chart of the various information returns, except for K-1s.

Russ Fox, Texas Attorney General: DFS Illegal in Texas. “Texas’s Attorney General, Ken Paxton, issued an opinion today that says that daily fantasy sports (DFS) is illegal under Texas law.”

 

 

Illustration for early draft Bernie Sanders tax plan.

Illustration for early draft Bernie Sanders tax plan.

Water is wet. Bernie Sanders Is Proposing Really Big Tax Increases (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox).

It is hard to grasp the enormity of the tax increases Bernie Sanders is proposing, how far out-of-step he is with recent economic history in the U.S., and what a stunning contrast he presents with Republican presidential hopefuls.

I love when “enormity” is used correctly unintentionally.

While Sanders describes his top rate as 52 percent, top-bracket taxpayers would be paying up to 58 percent rate (the 52 percent base rate, plus the 2.2 percent health premium, plus the Affordable Care Act’s 3.8 percent surtax on investment income, which Sanders would keep).

Be happy he doesn’t take more, kulaks!

Peter Reilly, Bernie Sanders Tax Plan Moderate On Top Income Tax Rate. Well, I suppose compared to beheading high bracket taxpayers, confiscating their estates, and selling their families into slavery, it is.

 

 

Career Corner. Accountant Worked One Day, Allegedly Embezzled $15k (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Efficiency!

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/19/16: Thieves holiday! Filing season underway today.

January 19th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

1040 corner 2015It begins. The official start of filing season is today. That means the IRS will begin processing electronic return filings today. That doesn’t mean all that much.

Well, it means something to the people most eager to file 2015 1040s: the identity thieves. They don’t have to wait on real W-2s and other information returns, most of which don’t have to be provided to recipients before February 1. The thieves like to file right away, before the real taxpayers e-file and block them.

It means something to earned income tax credit fraudsters. Claiming a little qualifying income on a phony schedule C is standard operating practice for EITC scams, and you can file in a hurry when you just are making it up.

For most other taxpayers, the opening of filing season is a non-event. They are still waiting on the W-2s, their 1098s for their home mortgage interest, and their 1099s for interest and dividends. Especially dividends, as the big brokerage houses routinely get extensions for issuing their 1099s, and then issue amended ones anyway. And K-1s for partnerships and S corporations often aren’t even ready by the filing deadline.

The information return wait will be longer for many of us this year. This is the first year many businesses are required to issue 1095-Bs and 1095-Cs to report health care coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act. These forms are supposed to enable employees to determine their coverage credits and penalties. When it became clear that many employers would be unable to meet the deadline for completing these complex forms, the IRS rolled back their deadlines. The IRS says employees can file their 1040s using “other information” to compute their ACA taxes and credits, but we don’t know yet if people will try.

Don’t be hasty. It is unwise to try to file returns before you have all of your information returns. Especially don’t try to file using your last pay stub instead of your W-2. You’ll probably get it wrong. Worse, if your employer is participating in a new IRS program where W-2s get a unique anti-theft ID number, you’ll delay your refund.

This convicted ID thief likely was a first-day filer.

This convicted ID thief likely was a first-day filer.

It’s better to extend than amend. Whatever benefit you get from filing your return a little sooner, it is lost if you have to file an amended return for a corrected 1099, or for one you didn’t expect that showed up late.

You can file a FAFSA using estimated amounts. One of the biggest causes for taxpayer impatience is the need for tax return information to complete their “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” which asks for numbers off the 1040. But the FAFSA allows you to use estimates if you haven’t filed your 1040. If you are awaiting a K-1, you’re better off filing your FAFSA based on an estimate than hounding the tax preparer to file a 1040 with incomplete information.

The system should change. Allowing e-filing before any of the information return deadlines almost seems to be a special IRS fraud-filing feature. Given the identity theft epidemic, it’s irresponsible for IRS to be sending billions to grifters before they can cross check returns against third-party information. The third-party filings should have unique identifiers for taxpayers to use to show that they aren’t ID thieves.

The culture should change. Everybody gets excited about a big refund. That just means you gave the government a big interest free loan. Withholding tables should be modified to not generate big refunds, to reduce the pressure for rapid refunds. Penalty thresholds for underpayment should be lowered so that taxpayers accidentally underwithheld aren’t clobbered. People shouldn’t think it’s good to let the Leviathan have their extra cash.

Related: 

TaxGrrrl, Another State Puts Brakes On Tax Refunds, Citing Concerns About Identity Theft;

Accounting Today, IRS Launches Free File for New Season.

Russ Fox, Same as Last Year Doesn’t Work. “Robert Flach has a post today where he notes the information that’s needed to prepare a tax return. I don’t have much to add to his excellent list (though I do need to see your W-2Gs, too).”

 

Enjoying a short Des Moines winter commute.

Enjoying a short Des Moines winter commute.

Gazette.comGeorgia man linked to 2014 UNI data breach charged with tax fraud:

A Georgia man linked to a University of Northern Iowa data breach in 2014 has been charged with tax fraud in federal court.

Bernard Ogie Oretekor, 45, also known as Emmanuel Libs, was charged last week with theft of government property and aggravated identity theft.

How did a Georgia man from Nigeria get past the IRS? It apparently isn’t too hard:

The California indictment shows Oretekor and his co-defendant sent victim’s “phishing” emails to capture their usernames and account passwords. When victims clicked on the link in the phishing emails it sent them to a fraudulent website and when they logged in their usernames and passwords were captured, which allowed the defendants to access the victims’ accounts.

Be smart. I’ve never seen a real email that requires you to “update your information” for your bank, credit card, etc. Don’t click on links from emails you aren’t expecting, and don’t provide information to them. If you really need to check your information, close the email and go to the actual bank or vendor website directly.

 

Robert D. Flach has a wintry Tuesday Buzz! Bartering, bad taxpayer service, and much more.

William Perez, Can Two Taxpayers Claim Head of Household Status at the Same Address?

Robert Wood, Goldman Sachs’ Historic $5 Billion Settlement Has Silver Lining: Tax Deduction

Kay Bell, Lotteries aren’t budget bonanzas for states

Congratulations to a longtime Iowa Business Blogger. 2016 Brings 10th Anniversary of Rush on Business

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 985

Cara Griffith, Why the Minnesota Tax Court Is Making Me Paranoid:

Here’s my concern: In doing regular research, staff at Tax Analysts realized that the Minnesota Tax Court hadn’t published any new opinions to its website in several months. That is odd, so an inquiry was sent to the court to ask if the location of published opinions had changed or if the court had stopped publishing opinions.

The court responded that its website was under construction and that recent tax court decisions could be found on Westlaw. Eventually it added that a paralegal would attend to the request – next week.

That’s sad and lame. And, as Ms. Griffith points out, Westlaw is expensive. Here in Iowa, the Department of Revenue hasn’t put new rulings online since November 5, and now their new ruling website appears to have blown up. Here’s how it looks this morning:

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Oops.

 

Renu Zaretsky, All’s fair in debates and taxes…. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers how taxpayers will feel the Bern, the attempt to subvert Colorado’s taxpayer protections, and much more.

 

News from the Profession. In 2016, The War Rages On for All the Management Accountants (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/18/15: Popular wisdom and tax rates. And more Monday goodness!

January 18th, 2016 by Joe Kristan
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Math is hard.

Vox Populi. It’s a slow tax news day, with schools and government offices closed and e-filing not beginning until tomorrow. That enabled me to spend a little time with Peter Reilly’s coverage of Disparate Tax Views At Opening Of Bernie Sanders Worcester Office. Peter chatted up Sanders volunteers about their views on the proper top marginal tax rates. He was surprised by his first conversation:

Deb Bock, my first victim, said 15%.  I hadn’t gotten into the listening groove yet so I failed to hide my shock and asked her why she wasn’t backing Ben Carson – “Because he is an idiot.”

Those of us who live in the tax world can easily forget how poor the knowledge of actual tax law, including rates, is among the general public. The Tax Foundation has printed some fascinating surveys about what people think tax rates should be. Here is some information from their 2009 survey, the most recent available on the Tax Foundation website. It shows that Peter’s friend Ms. Bock is close to the  consensus view of what the effective combined federal, state and local effective rate on taxable income should be: 15.6%:

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Source: Tax Foundation

Of course, effective rates are much higher than this, as The Tax Foundation explains in its 2015 Tax Freedom Day explanation:

In 2015, Americans will pay $3.28 trillion in federal taxes and $1.57 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $4.85 trillion, or 31 percent of national income.

That’s just about twice the average effective rate that people think should apply. Because the tax law is very progressive, many taxpayers pay a much higher percentage.

Still, politicians like Mr. Sanders continue to get votes by convincing us that taxes are too low. Of course, they do so by telling people that those taxes will be paid by somebody else.

Related:

Tony Nitti, Bernie Sanders Releases Tax Plan, Nation’s Rich Recoil In Horror. “Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders took a break from yelling at clouds long enough to release his tax plan today, and it’s, how should I put this…aggressive.”

Me, The rich guy can’t pick up the tab.

 

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Kyle Pomerleau, Congressman Nunes Introduces Business Tax Reform (Tax Policy Blog):

Details of the plan:

-Cutting the corporate income tax to 25 percent;

-Limiting the top tax rate on non-corporate business income to 25 percent;

-Allowing businesses to deduct investment costs when they occur (full expensing);

 

-Eliminating most business tax credits and many deductions;

 

-Moving to a territorial tax system like most developed nations;

 

-No longer letting nonfinancial businesses deduct interest costs but no longer taxing them on interest receipts;

 

-Applying the same tax-rate limitation to individuals’ interest income as now applies to their capital gains and dividend income; and

 

-Eliminating the individual and corporate alternative minimum taxes (AMTs).

This would be a big improvement.

 

Russ Fox, Those “Extra Services” Were Great for Business. A massage business.

Jason Dinesen, Choosing a Business Entity: Wrap-up Post

Robert D. Flach, COME IN TO THE OFFICE AND WALK OUT WITH CASH!

Kay Bell, Finding a charity to volunteer with on MLK Day 2016

Jack Townsend, Prosecuting Corporate Employees and Officers, with Focus on Swiss Banks. “Corporations cannot go to jail; individuals can.”

Jim Maule, Birthdays in the Tax Law (and Obituaries?).

Actually, the tax law uses the phrases “attain the age of” and “attain age” far more often that its occasional use of the word “birthday” but few of us talk about “attaining an age” when we are conversing about the anniversaries of our arrival on the planet.

When was the last time you ever said “attain” out loud?

Robert Wood, IRS Lax Controls Enable Targeting Based On Religion + Politics, Claims Report

 

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Len Burman, Ted Cruz’s Business Flat Tax is a VAT. “It’s also important to point out—as Cruz did in the debate—that his plan also repeals the payroll and corporate income tax.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 982Day 983Day 984.

Tax Justice Blog, Obama Policies Curbed Tax Break for 400 Richest Americans; Choice of Next President Will Reverse or Continue This Shift. Once again Tax Justice Blog entirely misses the point that it’s never the same 400 people who pay tax in any given year.

Career Corner. Let’s Review: Side Gigs, Email, Lunches and Logos (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/15/16: Tax credits and their opportunity costs. And: a turnaround in IRS service!

January 15th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

haroldReport: Tax credit for me would benefit me. Report: Tax credit would help Iowa biochemical industry (Des Moines Register).

The argument that this industry, above the thousands of industries out there, deserves funding at the expense of other businesses in the state, and that Iowa’s elected officials are just the ones to figure that out, is hard to credit. It might almost be plausible if it came at the end of a careful and systematic process where the state looked at all of the possible industries that would be good for the state to have and then carefully selected finalists based on objective and unbiased review.

That never happens.

Instead, the Bio-renewables credit is following a path blazed by the film industry and other credit recipients. Somebody decides a tax credit would be a good thing. It’s never hard to get the industry that would receive the subsidy on board. Local business boosters climb on because they know of a local business that would benefit. They fund studies to prove that this industry offers extraordinary benefits. Economic development officials join in, because that’s what they do. Politicians like giving away money, and soon you have amazing results.

I don’t fault businesses for using state tax credits. If somebody gives you money, you take it. But that doesn’t make it good policy for the rest of us.

There are two little words that credit boosters never bring up: opportunity costs. The money spent on the favored industry isn’t conjured into existence out of thin air. It is taken from somebody else. This year it’s taken from every Iowa business that uses the $500,000 Section 179 limit, which the Governor says the state can no longer afford. There are businesses in every county that will pay higher taxes if Iowa reduces its Section 179 limit to $25,000. Those businesses lose the opportunity to use funds to grow their own businesses and hire their own employees.

If there is to be any benefit here, it’s that it might actually teach the General Assembly about the opportunity costs of benefiting sympathetic industries. Here, it’s the cost of the lost Section 179 benefit to constituents statewide.

Related:

LOCAL CPA FIRM VOWS TO SWALLOW PRIDE, ACCEPT $28 MILLION

List of Iowa incentive tax credits budgeted for 2017.

 

Service: It’s in our nameA new report from the Government Accountability Office documents the decline in IRS service that we’ve all experienced under Turnaround Artist John Koskinen:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provided the lowest level of telephone service during fiscal year 2015 compared to prior years, with only 38 percent of callers who wanted to speak with an IRS assistor able to reach one. This lower level of service occurred despite lower demand from callers seeking live assistance, which has fallen by 6 percent since 2010 to about 51 million callers in 2015. Over the same period, average wait times have almost tripled to over 30 minutes. IRS also struggled to answer correspondence in a timely manner and assistors increasingly either failed to send required correspondence to taxpayers or included inaccurate information in correspondence sent.

The picture they draw isn’t pretty:

 

gao chart service 20160115

When you turn around, it’s important to turn in the right direction.

Related: TaxProf, GAO:  Only 38% Of Taxpayers Who Called IRS Got Through In 2015 (Down From 74% In 2010); Wait Time Increased From 11 To 31 Minutes

 

buzz20150804Robert D. Flach has your Friday Buzz! He covers ground from choosing a tax professional to extenders to a certain presidential candidate.

William Perez, How to Know if You Should Hire a Tax Attorney

Matthew McKinney, Iowa’s open records law – who, what, when, and why? (IowaBiz.com).

Kay Bell, N.J. Gov. Chris Christie kills film & TV tax credits. Good. 

Jack Townsend, Updated FAQs for SFOP and SDOP Streamlined Processes. “The IRS has updated the FAQs for the Streamlined Domestic and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures.”

Leslie Book, State of the Union: Tax Administration a Small But Important Part of the Speech

Robert Wood, Beware: IRS Now Has Six Years To Audit Your Taxes, Up From Three. “The three years is doubled to six if you omitted more than 25% of your income.”

Peter Reilly, Conservation Easement Tax Deductions And Valuation Abuse. “I think this is another instance of what Joe Kristan calls using the Tax Code as the Swiss Utility Knife of public policy.”

 

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Megan McArdle, Gaming of Obamacare Poses a Fatal Threat. “The problem: People signing up during ‘special enrollment’ (the majority of the year that falls outside of the annual open enrollment period) were much sicker, and paying premiums for much less time, than the rest of the exchange population.”

Scott Greenberg, The Cadillac Tax will Now Be Deductible. Here’s What That Means. (Tax Policy Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 981. “Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released two new reports regarding serious flaws in the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) audit selection processes. GAO confirmed that these flaws mean the IRS could continue to unfairly target American taxpayers based on their political beliefs and other First Amendment protected views.”

Robert Goulder, India’s Long Journey to a VAT (Tax Analysts Blog)

Renu Zaretsky, Winners, Losers, and Movers. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers last night’s presidential debate, Missouri earnings taxes, and  innovation boxes.

 

Jim Maule, Powerball, Taxes, and Math:

The expectation that widened my eyes is a meme circulating on facebook, and elsewhere, I suppose, that claims splitting the $1.4 billion evenly among all Americans would give each person $4.33 million. Good grief! This is just so wrong. The responses pointing out the error are themselves amusing, with the best one pointing out that it would generate $4.33 per person, enough to buy a calculator.

This meme:

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This explains more about the political process than I care to contemplate.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/14/16: Branstad budget omits $500,000 Section 179 deduction for Iowa; no 2015 conformity.

January 14th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

IMG_1291Priorities. Governor Branstad yesterday told a business group that he is leaving Section 179 conformity out of the new Iowa state budget. That means Iowans will be unable to claim the $500,000 maximum Section 179 deduction for 2015 returns, assuming the legislature doesn’t override this.

The Governor dropped this little bomb after touting a new $15 million incentive tax credit for “bio-renewable chemical production” to members of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. He said the new credit will be “revenue neutral,” taking its funding from existing incentive credit programs. (Note: I was there, so this is all firsthand). He said that there just isn’t room for it in the budget.

The Governor has inadvertently highlighted the priorities of a tax policy dedicated to directing economic activity using tax credits. My my count, the Governor budgets $277.3 million in fiscal year 2017 to steer economic activity towards favored activities via tax credits:

Iowa credits fy 2017

Presumably the new bio-renewables credit is buried in here somewhere.

By definition, these credits go to a few lucky taxpayers. The largest one, the refundable research credit, goes overwhelmingly to a few big companies — and mostly as cash grants. The Department of Revenue’s calendar 2014 research credit report showed that $42.1 million of the $56.9 million in credits claimed went to 16 taxpayers. About 2/3 of the 2014 credits were “refunds,” meaning that the credit exceeded the taxpayer’s liability for the year, so the state issued a check for the difference.

20120906-1The Section 179 deduction, by contrast, is available to any non-rental business that buys fixed assets and has taxable income. It requires no negotiation with the Department of Economic Development. It’s available regardless of whether your business is bio-chemical, renewable fuels, or whatever else is the economic development flavor of the month. It’s simple to administer – you just use the number you claim on your federal return. But it has one dreadful flaw: it provides no opportunities for politicians to issue press releases or attend ribbon cuttings.

While I don’t have exact numbers for the tax revenue cost to the state for FY 2017, the Legislative Service Bureau estimated an $88.5 million revenue loss in fiscal year 2015 from the last Section 179 conformity bill.

Of course, all Section 179 revenue losses are a matter of timing. By denying Section 179 deductions, the state has a revenue gain in the first year of the asset’s life, but gives it all back through depreciation over the rest of the asset life. By contrast, tax credits are forever. They never turn around.

There is so much disheartening about this development. Failure to conform on the $500,000 Section 179 limit — after doing so for a number of years — suddenly increases the Iowa tax for thousands of Iowans who purchased equipment in 2015. Because Congress made the Section 179 deduction permanent, it signals that Iowa will permanently de-couple and use its own computation — an inherently bad policy. It requires Iowans to maintain a separate Iowa fixed asset schedule for assets that would otherwise have been written off. And, if the legislature tries to reverse the Governor’s decision, it leaves Iowans uncertain of their 2015 tax law until well into the filing season.

But perhaps most disheartening is the stark way that it shows how Iowa’s tax system, with its high rates and special favors for the well-connected, mistreats the regular taxpayers who are just going about their business, hiring people, and paying their taxes. Lots of taxes.

Related: Hide the spoons, hold your wallets. The General Assembly is back.

 

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Robert D. Flach reports that a certain national tax prep outfit has A NEW GIMMICK.

Robert Wood, Powerball Losers Make Lemonade By Selling Losing Lottery Tickets

Paul Neiffer, Planted Vines and Trees Qualify for Bonus Depreciation

Kay Bell, Final 2015 estimated tax payment is due Friday, Jan. 15

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 980

Cara Griffith, Waiting on the Court to Figure Out How to Tax Remote Sales (Tax Analysts Blog)

Jared Walczak, What Percentage of Lottery Winnings Would Be Withheld in Your State?

Howard Gleckman, Clinton and Sanders Face Off Over Who Should Pay for New Social Programs (TaxVox).

 

Career Corner. An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Team Lunches (Leona May, Going Concern)

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Tax Roundup, 1/13/16: Considering the “small partnership exception.” And lots more!

January 13th, 2016 by Joe Kristan
Today in Helsinki. Photo: Sini Hämäläinen

Today in Helsinki. Photo: Sini Hämäläinen

Small partnerships, big risks. A venerable voice in Iowa tax, Neil Harl, has for some time touted the “small partnership exception” as a way for partnerships with 10 or fewer members to avoid filing tax returns, and the operation of the partnership rules in general. A version of it appeared at Tax Analysts yesterday ($link), where he argues that a tax case defeat for a non-filing small partnership does not call his argument into question. Non-subscribers can read his basic argument here.

I find it unconvincing as a legal matter. Dr. Harl’s argument is that a provision that applies by its terms to the Code subchapter covering how partnership examinations are conducted (“For purposes of this subchapter,” meaning Chapter 63, Subchaper C) creates a blanket exemption to the filing requirement imposed in a different part of the code (Chapter 61, Subchapter A). Time has resolved the argument after 2017 as the Code section Dr. Harl relies on has been repealed effective in 2018.

1065 2015 cornerStill, even assuming Dr. Harl is correct on the law, he is unconvincing on the practicalities. Dr. Harl himself says that partnership failure to file penalties are proper unless “all partners have fully reported their shares of the income, deductions, and credits of the partnership on their timely filed income tax returns.”

That puts any managing partner at the mercy of his least responsible partner. There’s no practical way to force a partner to file. In a ten-person partnership, one non-filing partner triggers $1,950 in monthly failure to file penalties. That’s a big risk for a partner to take on just to save filing a return, and it was a losing bet for the South Dakota Battle Flats partnership.

Dr. Harl summarizes the advantages he sees in his approach (my emphasis):

The availability of the exception generally means a lower annual cost for income tax return preparation and freedom from the onerous penalties for failure to file a timely or complete Form 1065, not to mention the advantage of sidestepping the complex rules that apply to partnerships generally such as the depreciation rules applicable to partnerships after transfer of depreciable assets to the partnership.

The Battle Flats case disposes of the “freedom from onerous penalties” bit. As far as return prep costs, Dr Harl himself notes that the income of a small partnership has to be reported somehow:

So how do the small partnerships report their income? The statute is not clear on that point but the definition of “partner” implies that each partner is to take into account the “partnership items” which would include income, gains, losses and credits. Those items would be reported on Schedule C, F or E as would be appropriate for that partner.

That means the partnership has to provide each partner with the income from operations sorted in a way that enables the partner to properly file their 1040s. That’s exactly what Form 1065 and its Schedule K-1 do. Either you prepare a homemade document to do what the K-1 does, or you do a K-1. It’s hard to see why it’s cheaper to design a homemade K-1 than to use the one the IRS provides.

Tax pro Chris Hesse responds to Dr. Harl in the comments to his Tax Analysts piece:

Readers who carefully read Rev. Proc. 84-35 will conclude that Dr. Harl’s position is not sustainable. Those who follow Dr. Harl’s path will find themselves not only subject to the penalties for late filing, but incurring the professional costs of defending a losing argument. Advisors should counsel that it is less costly to comply.

I think that’s correct.  Even if you are convinced that Dr. Harl has the law right, I don’t see why it makes sense for a partnership to place its tax compliance, and the risk of severe non-filing penalties, in the hands of its least responsible partner.

Related: Roger McEowen, IRS Guidance on Reasonable Cause Exception to Penalties for Failure to File Partnership Return Upheld.

 

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Kristine Tidgren, DMWW Court Certifies Questions to Iowa Supreme Court (AgDocket). Developments in the Des Moines Water Works environmental lawsuit against upstream farming counties.

William Perez, New Rules for Deducting Repairs and Maintenance

Tony Nitti, IRS Continues To Whipsaw Taxpayers: Sales Of Land Generate Ordinary Income, Capital Loss

Robert D. Flach recaps THE FAMOUS STATE TAX SEMINAR last weekend in New Jersey.

 

Jim Maule offers Another Reason Tax Professors Don’t Need to Invent Hypotheticals. If you made up a case like the real one he discusses, everyone would say it was too far-fetched.

Question, answered:

Peter Reilly, How To Cash Your Powerball Winning Ticket Anonymously.

Robert Wood, Copy Hillary Clinton: Transfer Powerball Tickets Now Before Win, Avoid Taxes.

TaxGrrrl liveblogged the State of the Union. State Of The Union 2016 – LIVE. That’s dedication.

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David Brunori, Montana’s School Credit Is Unconstitutional, but Not for Obvious Reasons (Tax Analysts)

Joseph Henchman, Pretend You Won the Powerball. What Taxes Do You Owe? (Tax Policy Blog).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 979

Renu Zaretsky, Tax Hikes, Relief, Dedication, and Resurrection. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers State of the Union tax talk, campaign tax proposals, and lots more.

 

Career Corner: Let’s Get Worked Up About: Email Pet Peeves (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Hey, Caleb sent me one yesterday!

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