Tax Roundup, 9/11/15: The pitfalls of putting loss generators in a tax-exempt entity. And: Robert remembers a client.

September 11th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150911-2When the income isn’t taxable, the losses aren’t deductible. Some stockbrokers like to buy publicly-traded natural resource partnerships as IRA investments. I dislike them because those partnerships can trigger Unrelated Business Income Tax in an otherwise tax-exempt IRA.

An attorney in Virginia illustrated another problem with IRA partnership investments in Tax Court yesterday. From the opinion by Judge Haines:

Petitioner maintained a traditional IRA during 2009 and used it to buy and sell various securities, including shares of two master limited partnerships that were involved in the oil and gas pipeline and storage industry–Atlas Pipeline Partners, L.P. (Atlas), and Crosstex Energy, L.P. (Crosstex). Petitioner received a Schedule K-1, Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc., from Atlas reporting a $66,075 ordinary business loss for 2009. The Schedule K-1 indicated “Trad IRA VFTC as Custodian” and stated that the partner was an “IRA/SEP/KEOGH”. Petitioner reported this loss on the Schedule E,  Supplemental Income and Loss, attached to his 2009 Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Petitioner received a Schedule K-1 from Crosstex reporting a $22,793 ordinary business loss for 2009 and stating that the partner was an “IRA/SEP/KEOGH”. Petitioner also reported this loss on the Schedule E attached to his 2009 Form 1040.

This would have been a remarkable result, if it worked. Individual owners of publicly-traded partnerships have their K-1 losses automatically disallowed under the passive loss rules. Unlike other passive losses, those from publicly-traded partnerships can’t offset other passive income; they can only offset future income from the same partnership, until the partnership is sold.

Within an IRA, though, the losses are never allowed. The tax law allows IRAs to earn income without current tax. The idea is to help taxpayers accumulate funds for retirement. Any tax is deferred until you withdraw funds from the IRA. The downside of this is that losses are also deferred. The only way to deduct a loss from IRA investments is to completely close out the IRA. That only works if you have made non-deductible contributions to the IRA, giving you basis. From, Publication 590b:

If you have a loss on your traditional IRA investment, you can recognize (include) the loss on your income tax return, but only when all the amounts in all your traditional IRA accounts have been distributed to you and the total distributions are less than your unrecovered basis, if any.

Your basis is the total amount of the nondeductible contributions in your traditional IRAs.

You claim the loss as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income limit that applies to certain miscellaneous itemized deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). Any such losses are added back to taxable income for purposes of calculating the alternative minimum tax.

Our attorney was having none of that. From the Tax Court:

Petitioner argues, in part, that an IRA has “all of the attributes of a grantor trust and is therefore a pass through entity which makes all items of income, deduction and credit treated as belonging * * * [to him] and reportable on * * * [his] individual tax return”.

I’m sure he would have taken that same principled position if those K-1s generated a bunch of taxable income.

Petitioner advances various tax policy arguments which he believes support this position. For example, he contends that restricting an IRA holder’s ability to deduct a loss that occurs when an investment held by  the IRA is sold thwarts congressional intent to encourage individuals to save for retirement. He also claims that requiring retirees to completely liquidate their IRAs in order to recognize a deductible loss is “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and completely unworkable for savers dependent upon IRA/SEP income for their retirement.”

Unfortunately, heads-I-win, tails-you-lose only works for the IRS. Again from the Tax Court:

While petitioner may not agree with the way the law is written and may have reasons that he believes support changing the law, we cannot do that for him.

Silly lawyer. Only the Supreme Court can rewrite tax law.

The Moral: IRA investments in partnerships can give you the worst of both worlds. You can make a tax-exempt entity taxable (or much worse, if you invest in the wrong partnership), but your losses are almost never useful.

Cite: Fish, T.C. Memo 2015-176.


Jared Walczak, Liz Malm, Where Does Your State Stand on State & Local Debt Per Capita? (Tax Policy Blog):


This is one measure where Iowa looks pretty good.


MOE BARRYRobert D. Flach, NEVER FORGET. Robert remembers a client who died 14 years ago today in New York.

Kay Bell, Fantasy football payouts mean real income taxes. Don’t worry, it’s made up for by the lowered income taxes of employers resulting from lost productivity during Fantasy season.

Jim Maule, Tax Client and Tax Return Preparer Meet Up in People’s Court.  “[A] preparer ought not accommodate a client who wants a return that does not comply with the law. It’s that simple.”

Peter Reilly, Jeb Bush And The Spirit Of 1986. “Somebody should tell Jeb Bush that tax accountants don’t write the Internal Revenue Code and it is a lot shorter than he thinks it is.”

Keith Fogg, IRS Inaction in Prior Years Provides Path to Penalty Relief for Substantial Understatement Penalty – Fire and Rain (Procedurally Taxing).

Robert Wood, Marijuana Taxes Go Up In Smoke On Sept. 16. In Colorado, for one day only. Mark your calendars!

TaxGrrrl, Over 2,000 Businesses Send Letter To Congress Demanding Attention To Tax Extenders Bill. They’ll get to it when they get to it, peasants!

Russ Fox, How Should Multiple Buy-Ins for a Poker Tournament be Handled on a W-2G? I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I’m sure many of you do.

Jack Townsend, Another Swiss Bank Obtains NPA Under DOJ Swiss Bank Program. If you want to skip taxes with the help of offshore bank secrecy, it’s not likely to work.



Joseph Thorndike, Don’t Bother Fixing the Tax Code Unless You Fix the IRS Too (Tax Analysts Blog). “Because even a good tax law will fail when administered by a bad agency.”

Howard Gleckman, The Cost of the Bush Tax Cuts, and What It Might Mean (TaxVox). “My colleagues at the Tax Policy Center plan to have their own estimates of the distributional and revenue cost of his plan soon. But there is no doubt the plan is a huge tax cut.”

Bob McIntyre, Bush and Trump’s “Populist” Tax Rhetoric Is All Talk (Tax Justice Blog).


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 855

News from the Profession. AICPA Survey: College Students Overconfident, Exaggerate, Delusional, Etc. Etc. About Their Personal Finance Skills (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 9/10/15: True crime edition; or, how to get the IRS to pay attention.

September 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

IMG_0603How to make sure the IRS comes looking for your tax fraud. A Minnesota man will have 6 years to ponder mistakes he made diverting employment and excise taxes he owed to finance good times. From

Fifty-seven-year-old Bartolemoea Montanari, formerly of Bayport, was sentenced Wednesday. Montanari was also ordered to pay mandatory restitution of $100,000 and, additionally, to pay more than $1.5 million as a special assessment for the taxes, interest and penalties owed.

According to court documents, from 2009 until January 2012, Montanari willfully evaded the payment of employment and excise taxes owed by him and the three businesses he controlled: St. Croix Development, Emlyn Coal Processing, and Montie’s Resources.

He was convicted on the three counts of an indictment accusing him of diverting funds to a shell company from his legitimate businesses, and then withdrawing funds from the shell company to finance, well, stuff:

During sentencing, the judge noted Montanari used the money he stole to finance an “incredibly flamboyant lifestyle,” that this was “not a single error of judgment,” and that Montanari had “many chances” to correct his behavior, but did not. 

The indictment says the lifestyle included a $1.4 million home in Tennessee and “numerous personal vehicles.”

The defendant would seem to have made two mistakes to help ensure that the IRS would come snooping. First would be the “incredibly flamboyant lifestyle.” Taxgrrrl notes a Pennsylvania tax investigation apparently started when federal agents noticed a fancy house from the air. If the feds don’t notice themselves, envious or annoyed neighbors or associates might bring their questions about a flamboyant lifestyle to their attention.

More importantly, he failed to pay over employment taxes. His employees certainly  wouldn’t have failed to report their W-2 wages and claim their refunds. Despite its information processing shortcomings, the IRS can and does notice that. The main difference between committing employment tax fraud and confessing to it is the amount of work the IRS has to do before pressing charges.




Speaking of foolproof crimes: Hot Lotto rigger sentenced to 10 years (Des Moines Register). The case involved an alleged inside job by an IT professional at the Multi-State Lottery:

The case has enthralled Iowans and gained national attention since late December 2011, when a New York attorney tried to claim — just hours before it would expire — a Hot Lotto ticket worth $14.3 million on behalf of a trust incorporated in Belize. The identity of the original ticket purchaser was a mystery.

Authorities with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation began looking into Tipton after several people identified him as the hooded man in a video showing the ticket being purchased at a Des Moines QuikTrip. At the time, Tipton was the information security director for the Urbandale-based Multi-State Lottery Association that provides games such as Hot Lotto to lotteries nationwide.

[Assistant Attorney General] Sand told jurors at trial that Tipton installed a self-deleting software program, called a rootkit, onto lottery drawing computers to manipulate the outcome of a Dec. 29, 2010, draw. Tipton then filtered the winning ticket he bought through a friend, Robert Clark Rhodes II, from Texas in an attempt to claim the money, Sand said.

There’s a reason lottery workers aren’t allowed to play the lottery. The lawyer and Belize trust didn’t help the whole thing slip by unnoticed.


Tony Nitti, How To Talk About The Yahoo Spin-Off Without embarrassing Yourself. A walk through the mysteries of tax-free corporate separations.

Russ Fox, IRS Removes Social Security Number from Some Notices But…:

The reason for this is the problem of identity theft. And I give kudos to the IRS for this. Unfortunately, the IRS hasn’t executed this that well.

Today I opened an IRS notice that was sent to a client. The good: The social security number in the header had only the last four digits. The bad: Right below the header the IRS put in a bar code–presumably to make processing of the return mail easier. Below the bar code in relatively small print (but easily readable by me, and I wear glasses) was the deciphering of the code. Of course, it contained the social security number.

The IRS, protecting your identity since 1913.

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Will Obamacare Tax Your Home Sale?

Paul Neiffer, Don’t Forget Those Fuel Tax Credits. “Most farmers obtain dyed diesel without having to paying federal and in most cases state excise taxes.  However, there can be many other uses on the farm that will allow a farmer to claim a fuel tax credit on Form 4136.”

Kay Bell, Tax diplomas, computer games and soap operas. “Will informing folks about the role of taxes in their countries, especially starting at an early age, help create more tax responsible citizens?”

Jim Maule, It’s a Failure of Some Sort, But It’s Not a Tax Failure. The professor reminds us not to believe everything you read on the internet.






TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 854

Howard Gleckman, Jeb Bush’s Tax Plan: High Marks for Transparency But Key Questions Remain (TaxVox). “At first glance, GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s tax reform plan is a standard lower-the-rates, broaden-the-base overhaul of the revenue code. But a closer look shows a something-for-everyone stew filled with interesting ingredients—most basic GOP fare but seasoned with a few surprising ideas.”


Well, it’s not my thing, but if it’s for the kids…  Let’s Get High for the Children (David Brunori, Tax Analysts Blog):

Every proposal, like the one in Arizona, calls for dedicating marijuana tax revenue to schools, which is a terrible idea. Perhaps everyone will be stoned and won’t care, but aren’t schools important enough to pay for with real, broad-based taxes on income, sales, or property?

Politicians might look for a way to legalize slavery if they thought it would give them more revenue.

Joseph Henchman, Colorado Suspends Marijuana Tax for One Day on September 16 (Tax Policy Blog).


News from the Profession. Rihanna and 50 Cent Need New Accountants (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 9/9/15: Meredith HQ stays in Iowa despite taxes. And: Walter Mitty, Chiropractor — not Ghostbuster.

September 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan



A part of the Meredith campus in Downtown Des Moines.

Meredith Corporation will keep its headquarters in Des Moines, reports the Des Moines Register. The Des Moines-based media company yesterday announced its acquisition by Media General, a Virginia-based company. From the Register report:

Virginia-based Media General will acquire Meredith in a cash-and-stock sale, forming a new company — Meredith Media General — that will combine Meredith’s list of women-focused magazines and 17 local TV stations with Media General’s 71 TV stations and digital media assets.

“We have our corporate headquarters in Des Moines, my management team … we all live in Des Moines, our staff are in Des Moines. We will continue to be in Des Moines,” Lacy said. He will serve as CEO and president of the new company.

Meredith Media General will be incorporated in Virginia, but have corporate offices in both Richmond, Va., and Des Moines.

It’s an interesting compromise. With the CEO of the combined company already located in Des Moines, it’s unsurprising that he will run things from here, everything else being equal.

Yet not everything is equal. Des Moines is an expensive place tax-wise to run a corporate headquarters, according to the Tax Foundation’s Location Matters report. Iowa is the 4th most expensive state in which to locate a corporate headquarters, while Virginia is the 12th cheapest. 20150901-1

Fortunately for Des Moines, non-tax factors apparently outweighed the tax issues. These might include the in-place infrastructure for Meredith’s publishing arm, including Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart Living. Still, those 900 Des Moines Meredith jobs might be more secure with a better tax environment. Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan, anyone?


Tony Nitti, Child’s Unauthorized Incorporation Of Father’s Business Proves Costly In Tax Court. “Raising kids comes with some well-known hazards: sleepless nights, spit-up stained clothes, and of course, the occasional flailing elbow to the genitalia. What you probably don’t anticipate upon the miracle of childbirth, however, is that one day your kid will take it upon himself to incorporate your business via the internet, costing you tens of thousands in tax deductions.”

Robert D. Flach, THE NATP TAX FORUM AND EXPO IN PHILADELPHIA – PART I. “The one thing that is missing from the NATP Tax Forum offering is the IRS perspective.”

Kay Bell, Tax scam callers now spoofing telephone numbers

TaxGrrrl, IRS To Refuse Checks Greater Than $100 Million Beginning In 2016


Scott Greenberg, The Carried Interest Debate is Mostly Overblown (Tax Policy Blog). Mostly? Almost entirely.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 854

Career Corner. 5 Ways Accountants Can Protect Themselves from the Accountapocalypse (Chris Hooper, Going Concern)




Who knew being a Chiropractor could be so exciting? James Thurber created the character Walter Mitty, “… a meek, mild man with a vivid fantasy life: in a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devil-may-care killer.”

A Minnesota chiropractor, a Mr. Laudon, seems to have reprised the Mitty role on his tax return. If his Tax Court testimony is to believed, chiropractic practice can be pretty exciting. From the Tax Court:

He said that his patients often called him a psychiatrist, chauffeur, physician, peace officer, or even a pheasant hunter.2 Some of Laudon’s stated reasons for making these trips strain credibility: for example, driving to a “schizophrenic” patient who was — on more than one occasion — “running scared of demons” down a rural Minnesota highway, or driving to a patient’s home in a Minneapolis suburb — expensing 261 miles — because he had received a call from police that she had overdosed on OxyContin prescribed by her physician. Laudon claimed to have driven hundreds of miles per day — sometimes without a valid license — to see patients, but several of these trips were for medical procedures he was not licensed to perform.

Laudon contends that the Commissioner failed to classify certain deposits as nontaxable, including insurance payments for damage to several vehicles, one of which was involved in a “high speed police chase” with a man “high on meth and cocaine.”

IMG_1583Note that footnote 2, we’ll get to that in a minute. I never knew that a chiropractor could have such an exciting life. Law enforcement, mental health, high-speed chases — even exorcism, it seems.  Is there anything he couldn’t do? Well, back to footnote 2:

But not a ghostbuster. The Commissioner rhetorically asserted that some of Laudon’s trips might have made more sense if he was claiming to be a ghostbuster. Laudon then disclaimed any employment as a ghostbuster. In his reply brief the Commissioner conceded that Laudon was not “employed or under contract to perform work as a ghostbuster during the tax years at issue in this case.” We therefore need make no finding on the existence of a market for “supernatural elimination” in west-central Minnesota. See “Ghostbusters” (Columbia Pictures 1984).

In case you couldn’t tell, this is a Judge Holmes opinion.

Walter Mitty’s dreams didn’t go well, as his fantasy life had him in front of a fantasy firing squad. Things went badly for our chiropractor too. The court found both his documentation and his credibility lacking, including this about his mileage logs:

Laudon claimed to have driven hundreds of miles per day — sometimes without a valid license — to see patients, but several of these trips were for medical procedures he was not licensed to perform. Even his testimony about multiple entries in the logs where he wrote “DUI” was not credible: He claimed that these were not references to being stopped by police while under the influence, or driving while his license was suspended, but instead were his misspellings of a patient named “Dewey” — a supposed patient of his. He testified that he took one business trip to pick up a patient left stranded due to a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. And he even testified about trips he made to test his patients’ urine:

    Absolutely we do * * * [test urine]. It’s part of the — I believe it’s Federal, you know, that they have — we have to abide by that. It’s specific gravity. You’re basically, looking for sugar, let alone height, weight, blood pressure. Make sure they’re not drunk, doing illegal drugs.

We find Laudon not credible in his testimony regarding his business mileage, and this finding affects our views of his testimony’s credibility on every other issue in the case.

The taxpayer reported taxable losses from 2007-2009 ranging from $60,000 to $84,000. That alone is a challenge to credibility. The IRS added $346,000 to his income for the three years, and the Tax Court upheld the IRS with only minor changes. Among the disallowed expenses were “a Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and numerous pieces of hair-salon equipment.” So, a barber, too.

The Moral? There might be more to that mild-mannered chiropractor than you imagined. But if there is, he needs to keep good records when the IRS comes calling.

Cite: Laudon, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-54

Russ Fox is also on the case: Ghost Hunter, Pheasant Hunter, or Deduction Hunter: No Matter, He Loses at Tax Court




Tax Roundup, 9/8/15: One Week to the 15th. And: First-world tax payment problems.

September 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150803-1September 15 is one week away. If you have extended partnership, corporation or trust returns, time is running short. There are many reasons to file on time:

  • Tax elections made on a late return, including automatic accounting method changes, may not count. With all of the “repair regulation” method changes this year, that could be a big deal.
  • If you owe money, late filing turns a 1/2% per month late-payment penalty into a 5% per month (up to 25%) late filing penalty.
  • If you have a pass-through entity, late-filing triggers a $195 per K-1 per month penalty.

Remember to e-file, or to document timely paper filing via Certified Mail, return receipt requested, or with a shipping bill from an authorized private delivery service.


Gretchen TegelerDART: A property tax funded amenity ( Disturbing trends on the inability of the Des Moines-area public transportation service to cover its operations through fares: does appear the service expansions are generating more ridership  However, as was noted last year, property taxes are basically covering the cost of these additional riders. Total operating revenue was 10.1 percent below projections for the year that closed June 30th, 2015; with fixed route operating revenue being 8.65% percent short of budget.

The overall trends have not changed much from a year ago. Total operating revenue is still less than it was four years ago despite substantial service expansions and improvements since that time. Basically, as it weighs future improvements for DART, the community will need to decide if it is willing to continue to raise property taxes to fund them.

The post includes this chart:


That doesn’t include the cost of the recently-completed $18 million Palace of Transit.


TaxGrrrl, Mega-Mansion Attracts Notice By Feds, Results In Criminal Charges:

According to local sources, federal agents flying in and out of Pittsburgh noticed the size and scope of a mansion belonging to Joe Nocito, Sr., and started asking questions. Those questions eventually led to a guilty plea last week from Ann E. Harris, the personal assistant, secretary and bookkeeper for Nocito, in a tax evasion scheme thought to involve as much as $250 million.

If you are a tax evader, it’s unwise to flaunt your wealth, especially to the point of attracting attention from passing aircraft. But maybe that would take the fun out of the thing.




Russ Fox, The Family that Commits Tax Evasion Together Goes to ClubFed Together. “This is yet another reminder for everyone who uses a payroll service to join EFTPS and make sure your payroll deposits are being made. Trust but verify is excellent practice in payroll.”

Kay Bell, Labor Day tax tip: Union dues might be tax deductible

Scott Greenberg, This Labor Day, How High is the Tax Burden on American Labor? (Tax Policy Blog). “In 2014, the average wage worker saw his or her labor income decrease by 31.5 percent due to federal, state, and local taxes, according to the OECD.”

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Excluding Gain On Sale Of Home, And Recognizing Gain On Repossession

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Tax Implications of the Unlicensed Daycare Provider

Jim Maule, “Who Knows Taxes Better Than Me?” Professor Maule notes that Donald Trump’s understanding of tax law and economics might not be all that Mr. Trump thinks it is.

Peter Reilly, From Russia With Built In Losses. “There is a certain irony to the whole thing as it seems like financiers were too focused on looting the US treasury with phony shelters to see the probably larger upside of distressed Russian assets.”

Robert D. Flach, DONALD TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT IS A LOT LIKE OBAMACARE, That isn’t meant as a compliment.




Leslie Book, Tax Court Opinion Reaffirming Validity of Regulations Addressing Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Illustrates Chevron Application (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert Wood, IRS Gets Tax Data From India As Black Money Hunt Hits Americans Too

Jack Townsend, IRS and DOJ Tax Conferences Before Indictment. That doesn’t sound like fun at all.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 849850851852


Renu Zaretsky, Deals, Dreams, and Data. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the ground from A (Amazon’s sweet Illinois tax credit deal and Apple’s Irish strategy) to Zaretsky.

Cara Griffith, Why Is It So Hard to Find Information on the Sharing of Taxpayer Information? (Tax Analysts Blog). “Taxpayers are expected to blindly provide massive amounts of information to tax authorities, but are then not allowed to know the process through which one state or municipality shares information with another.”


I’ll make sure not to have this problem when I file in April:

Effective January 1, 2016, the IRS will not accept any payment greater than $99,999,999.00. Two or more checks will be required, or we recommend that the taxpayers use Fed Wire to make their payments.

If I did owe more than $100 million, I would be tempted to write one of the checks for $99,999,999.01, just to see if they are serious. Not to give away my income secrets, but I’m pretty sure my 2015 taxable income will spare me the temptation.

Cite: Announcement 2015-23.



Tax Roundup, 9/4/15: Labor day and the Earned Income Tax Credit. And more three-day weekend goodness!

September 4th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20140711-2Happy Labor Day!  While getting ready to put in your token appearance at work today before you head for the lake, you may want to ponder the hot “labor” issue of the moment — the minimum wage and its alternatives.

In spite of claims otherwise by supporters, a minimum wage has to cause job losses for the least skilled and connected. That’s part of what it was originally meant to do. If raising the price of wages didn’t affect how much labor is purchased, you could set a $100 per hour minimum wage. That, is, of course, absurd. So advocates have to argue that somehow small increases in the minimum wage are worth the job losses because of the benefits for those who keep their jobs, or that there are no job losses.

Recognizing the weakness of these arguments, many economists argue that an increased Earned Income Tax Credit is a better way to support the working poor.   For example, in The minimum wage versus the earned income tax credit for reducing poverty, Cornell University economist Richard V. Burkhauser states:

Introducing or increasing a minimum wage is a common policy measure aimed at reducing poverty. But the minimum wage is unlikely to achieve this goal. While a minimum wage hike will increase the wage earnings of some poor families and lift them out of poverty, some workers will lose their jobs, pushing their families into poverty. In contrast, improving the earned income tax credit can provide the same income transfers to the working poor at far lower cost. Earned income tax credits effectively raise the hourly wages only of workers in low- and moderate-income families, while increasing labor force participation and employment in those families.

The argument for a perfect earned income tax credit is compelling, but the credit is far from perfect. It is estimated that around 25% of the Earned Income tax credit paid out is paid improperly, including billions in fraud. Earned income tax credit fraud is a big part of the business of corrupt preparers. Many other taxpayers who could properly claim it fail to because of its complexity.

Even if the waste and fraud problem could be solved or overlooked, a properly-functioning EITC is still a poverty trap. The credit phases out as incomes rise, creating a high effective marginal tax rate on each additional dollar earned by a low-income family. It provides help at low income levels, but it discourages improving those income levels.

eic 2014

The marginal tax rates get even worse when phase-outs of other income-based benefits are taken into account.

welfare benefits marginal rate

Chart via the Mises Institute


Arnold Kling is a proponent of a “Universal Benefit” providing everyone a basic amount of income in place of the current array of welfare benefits:

One of the advantages of a universal benefit is that you give the money to everyone. My idea is that you would then tax some of it back at a marginal rate of 20 or 25 percent. That is, for every dollar that someone earns in the market, they are lose 20 cents or 25 cents in universal benefits. Compared to a marginal tax rate of zero, 25 percent is more complex and has a disincentive. But it is much less complex and de-motivating than our current system of sharp cut-off points for benefits like food stamps and housing assistance. And having a non-zero tax rate allows you to have a higher basic benefit at lower overall budget cost.

I’m not entirely convinced that giving everyone a benefit is wise, but it may be a better idea than what we have. It deserves consideration before we concede that a fraud-ridden and complicated EITC is the best we can do for the working poor.


Jared Walczak, Location Matters: Effective Tax Rates on Call Centers by State (Tax Policy Blog). California is a surprisingly cheap place for this.




buzz20150804Robert D. Flach brings today’s Buzz roundup from the National Association of Tax Professionals Tax Forum in Philadelphia. Today he links to posts about small business survival tips and the flight of taxpayers from New York state.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Hobby Loss Rules, “This is important because deductions for hobbies are limited, whereas deductions are (generally) unlimited for business activities engaged in with a for-profit motive.”

William Perez, What the Recent Uber Worker Classification Ruling Means for Tax Professionals. It has tax implications that William ably discusses, but what it really means is that the government wants to protect well-connected taxi monopolies.

Kay Bell, Uncle Sam to pay $133 million to protect OPM hack victims. But at least they won’t send you a 1099 for the “value” they provide.

Robert Wood, IRS Offshore Account Penalties Increase, Hunt Continues. Offshore bank account secrecy is pining for the fjords.

Jack Townsend, Another Swiss Bank Obtains NPA Under DOJ Swiss Bank Program

Peter Reilly, Presidential Candidate Tax Plans Coming In Slow.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 848. Today the prof links to a John Hinderaker post that includes this:

So someday–not any time soon–the IRS will finally be forced to answer the question that Koch Industries asked it five years ago, in 2010. The Obama administration’s strategy is always the same–stonewall, assert every possible theory, no matter how frivolous, and try to run out the clock. Whether an honest answer to the question will be given, years after the fact, is of course another question.

It’s worked for the IRS and the administration so far.




Howard Gleckman, Why Individual Tax Revenues Will Grow Even If Congress Doesn’t Raise Taxes (TaxVox):

Since 1985, income tax brackets have been adjusted for inflation so that someone whose annual raise tracks the Consumer Price Index is not thrown into a higher tax bracket. However, that adjustment doesn’t fully protect rising income from higher taxes.

In part, that’s because some key parts of the income tax are not indexed. They include the child tax credit, the surtax on net investment income, and the income ceiling for making contributions to Individual Retirement Accounts. But the real problem is that when income grows faster than inflation, it is pushed into higher tax brackets.

When they say the want to just soak the rich, that’s just to fool the rubes. It’s your pocket they want to pick.


Jenice Robinson, H&R Block Uses Corporate Lobbying Might to Make Sure the Poor Use Its Services. (Tax Justice Blog)Earned Income Credits are involved.


Career Corner. Please Don’t Be Like This Accountant Who Got Scammed Over Email (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “Yeah, it’s a little sloppy that a single email from a CEO along with a lone signature over a company seal would be enough to wire $737k.”



Tax Roundup, 9/3/15: How to cut the IRS in on your foreign inheritance. And more!

September 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150903-1Uncle Heinrich from the old country left you a bundle. Congratulations! Make sure to tell the IRS.

Why, you ask, should I tell them? Inheritances are tax-free, after all.

Well, yes. But the IRS still wants to know about them. And if you don’t tell them, you may be cutting the IRS in on 25% of the gift.

The tax law requires you to file Form 3520 to report gifts or bequests from a foreign source if they exceed $100,000 (or $13,258 if received from a foreign corporation or partnership). This return is due at the same time as your income tax return, including any extensions, but it is filed separately. The penalty for not reporting is 5% of the unreported amount per month, up to 25%.

What if Uncle Hans gives you $75,000, and his wife Aunt Anne-Sophie gives you another $75,000? Then the gifts are counted together and exceed the reporting threshold.

I will be talking about these and other easy-to-overlook  international reporting requirements that can arise in estate planning and administration at the ISU Center on Agricultural Law and Taxation September Seminars. They are September 17 (Agricultural Law Seminar) and September 18 (Farm Estate and Business Planning Seminar). My talk is on the 18th.  Register by September 10 for an early-bird discount!


20150903-2Robert D. Flach, AICPA CONTINUES TO PROMOTE THE URBAN TAX MYTH. “There is absolutely nothing about possessing the initials CPA that in any way, shape, or form guarantees that the possessor knows his or her arse from a hole in the ground when it comes to 1040 preparation.”

TaxGrrrl, Owner Of ITS, Formerly Fourth Largest Tax Prep Biz In Country, To Face Criminal Charges. “Readers sent me numerous emails advising that ITS was still in business for the 2014 tax season, despite the court order.”

Robert Wood, Report Cites Flawed IRS Asset Seizures, And Ironically, Sales Are Handled By ‘PALS’

Kay Bell, Tax moves to make in September 2015. Worth visiting for the accompanying autumn leaves picture alone, but lots of other sound advice too.

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for August 1st to 14th And ABA Tax Section Fellowships (Procedurally Taxing). Recent happenings in the tax procedure world.

Jack Townsend, Ninth Circuit Affirms False Claim Convictions for Tax Preparer. “The false claims statutes involved, however, are not complex statutes.  All that is required is that the defendant know that the claims are false.”

Annette Nellen, 50th Anniversary of Willis Commission Report. “This is likely the most comprehensive study and report ever done on state and multistate issues covering income tax, sales and use tax, gross receipts tax, and capital stock tax.”




Scott Greenberg, Every Tax Policy Proposal from the 2016 Presidential Candidates, in One Chart (Tax Policy Blog). “While some presidential candidates have issued tax reform proposals that touch on almost all of these areas of the tax code, other presidential candidates are not listed as having offered any tax policy proposals at all.”

Renu Zaretsky, The Case of the Unreturned Call for Tax Code Simplicity (TaxVox)  “Are taxpayers clamoring for a simpler, faster, and cheaper filing experience? Well, they are, and they are not.”

Richard Phillips, Ben Carson’s 10 Percent Flat Tax is Utterly Implausible (Tax Justice Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 847. Today’s installment links to an update on the status of the scandal by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal: “In any case, it’s unreasonable for government officials to expect us to trust their assurances when they take such pains to prevent their verification.


News from the Profession. Here’s a Guy Wearing a PwC T-Shirt Giving Weird Street Massages (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 9/2/15: Contract manufacturer deduction to sleep with the fishes? And: IRS can’t monitor ACA tax credit claims, and more!

September 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

No Walnut STTreasury puts out a contract on some Sec. 199 deductions. In a new post at TaxPlace, Roger McEowen covers the New Domestic Production Activities Deduction Temporary Regulations. Unfortunately it is available only to TaxPlace subscribers right now (TaxPlace subscriptions are a fine bargain for practitioners, by the way). He covers a key aspect of the proposed rules: the way they make it impossible for firms who contract out their manufacturing to claim the deduction. From the article:

Contract Manufacturing Activities.  The proposed regulations change the test for determining which taxpayer is eligible for a DPAD.  The proposed regulations eliminate the “benefits and burdens” test of Treas. Reg. §1.199-3(f)(1) and replace it with a requirement that the taxpayer actually perform qualifying activity under the contract.  In other words, the DPAD is to be tied to the taxpayer that actually produces the property.  The IRS views the rule change one of administrative ease that would bar more than one taxpayer from being allowed a DPAD with respect to any qualifying activity.  The IRS is requesting comments on whether there are narrow circumstances that would justify an exception to the proposed rule, particularly with respect to cost-plus or cost-reimbursable contracts. 

Example:  Tex places his hogs in the Swine Place feedlot.  The question is whether the fees that Swine Place collects on Tex’s pigs are DPGR.

Result:  Under the existing regulations, the fees would not constitute DPGR because only income attributable to pigs owned by Swine Place would generate DPGR because Swine Place bore the benefits and burdens of ownership of the QPP (hogs) during the period of the MPGE activity in order for the applicable gross receipts to qualify as DPGR. Under the proposed regulations, the fees that Swine Place collects would appear to qualify as DPGR because Swine Place performed the qualifying activity under the contract with Tex.  

These rules are not yet in effect. Hearings are scheduled on them in December.


The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has issued a report on IRS monitoring of the premium tax credits under the Affordable Care Act:

Because of incomplete or unreported data from the Exchanges, the IRS is unable to ensure that:

  • Taxpayers claiming the PTC met the key eligibility requirement of purchasing insurance through an Exchange.
  • Taxpayers who received the APTC properly reconcile the APTC on their tax return.

It was always a bad idea to make the IRS a key part of the nation’s health finance system. It’s hard enough to measure taxable income, determine the tax, and collect it. But politicians see the tax agency as their public policy multi-tool.


David Brunori, Messing With the Markets: Using the Tax Laws to Influence Economic Behavior (Tax Analysts Blog). David notes the inequities illustrated in the new Tax Foundation report, Location Matters: The State Tax Costs of Doing Business:

The report says that tax incentives mostly benefit new firms, while disadvantaging (I suspect greatly in many cases) established firms. This is something I have been pointing out since the Mercedes-Benz deal in Alabama. States give a company tax dollars in return for building a new plant or hiring a certain number of people. Sometimes the state gives millions of dollars, but recently it’s been billions of dollars. But what of the companies that have already opened a plant, made investments, and hired workers? They often receive no state gifts. That is patently unfair. Of course, all this often provides an incentive for mature firms to go to the legislature for their own breaks. That may even things up sometimes, but it’s a horrific way to run the government.

That’s just a taste; David’s whole post is well worth reading. This observation should be read aloud every time a legislature considers a new incentive tax credit:

There are a lot of winners in the state tax world but many more losers. And our leaders are picking them.

I made some related Iowa-centric observations yesterday.


7-30 fountain


Kay Bell, IRS awards tax whistleblower $11.6 million. If you are considering a questionable tax move, consider also how lucrative it can be for an accomplice to rat you out.

Jack Townsend, Whistleblower Award of $11.6 Million; Areas of WBO Emphasis Includes Offshore Accounts.


Paul Neiffer, 8 Digits Do Not Make an EIN – Extends Gift Tax Statute. Details matter.

Jason Dinesen, Choosing a Business Entity: What is Basis?

Jim Maule, When Tax Maneuvering Goes Bad. “According to this story, a gerrymandering stunt has backfired, leaving the outcome of a vote on a local sales tax increase in the hands of one person.” A bunch of insiders got together to carve themselves a special deal. And it would have worked if it wasn’t for that darned kid!

Peter Reilly, Billion Dollar Ball By Gilbert Gaul And The Unlikely Charity Known As College Football.

Robert Wood, Bartender Finds $20, Buys Lottery Ticket, Wins $1M, Pays IRS.

TaxGrrrl, Citing Budget Woes, State Won’t Pay Up (Yet) On Big Lottery Winnings. The happy bartender doesn’t live in Illinois, fortunately for him. But if Illinois can’t pay its lottery winners, how should that make its bondholders and pensioners feel?

Tony Nitti, You May Soon Be Able To Use Your HSA Money To Pay For Gym Dues, Spin Class. I would like to use it for groceries. After all, I wouldn’t be very healthy if I didn’t eat.




Scott Hodge, Fifteen Years of Tax Policy (Tax Policy Blog). The leader of the estimable Tax Foundation reflects on his 15th anniversary there.

Howard Gleckman, Could a Carbon Tax Prevent The Catastrophic Consequences of Climate Change That Obama Fears? (TaxVox) Does he? If he was really worried, would he be flying a  jet with a carbon footprint the size of Alaska to the tundra to tell us how concerned he is?


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 846. Today’s link covers the IRS’s habitual obstruction of its monitors.



Tax Roundup, 9/1/15: If the taxman takes your car, recode your garage door. And: jobs, $211,111 each.

September 1st, 2015 by Joe Kristan
1974 mercedes

A 1974 Mercedes scheduled for IRS auction 8/31/15 at Bama Jammer Storage, Huntsville, AL.

As if having your car seized by the taxman wasn’t bad enough. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a report on IRS handling of property seized for tax nonpayment, notes a potential problem if the IRS takes your car:

However, during our discussions with IRS employees involved in the seizure process, we determined that there was no guidance on what actions to take if seized vehicles are equipped with installed navigation or garage door opening systems. Additionally, except for one employee, everyone we spoke with had not considered what actions to take if they seized a vehicle with one of these systems. While we do not have any examples in our case reviews of this situation occurring, it is in the taxpayers’ and Government’s best interest that employees are prepared if seizures involve these types of systems. If these systems are not reset to the original factory settings, there is a risk that the third-party purchaser of the vehicle can gain access to the taxpayer’s personal information or property. For example, the purchaser could use the vehicle navigational equipment to locate a taxpayer’s residence and then use the garage door opener to gain access to the home.

I have to admit, it wouldn’t have occurred to me either. It’s easy to forget that cars are also more and more data systems. Still, computerized data probably wasn’t an issue with the 1974 Mercedes pictured above that was scheduled for auction by the IRS yesterday in Huntsville, Alabama.


O. Kay HendersonBranstad defends state tax incentives for new Kum & Go headquarters:

Governor Terry Branstad today called the “Kum & Go” convenience store chain a “great…family-owned”, Iowa-based business and he has no objection to the nearly $19 million in state tax incentives it will get for moving the company headquarters to downtown Des Moines.

The convenience store chain is moving its headquarters about 10 miles from West Des Moines to Downtown Des Moines. It is getting $6.33 for every Iowan for its trouble. I’m sure Kum & Go is a perfectly nice company, and I don’t blame them for taking money the state is giving away, but there are lots of nice employers who don’t get $211,111 in state tax breaks for each new job they create. The unfortunate ones have to pay some of the highest business tax rates in the country to help pay for those who do benefit from tax breaks.

For perspective, check out Jared Walczak, Location Matters: Effective Tax Rates on Corporate Headquarters by State (Tax Policy Blog). “Today we’ll take a look at states’ effective tax rates on new and mature corporate headquarters.”  Have a look:


For this ranking, Iowa is the fourth worst. Giving millions to one company doesn’t fix it for everyone else.


Robert D. Flach has fresh Buzz for us today. Robert buzzes about blog posts he’s found about higher taxes, due dates, and the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans — which seems to be most of them nowadays.

Russ Fox, The Hospital’s Closing; Who Will Notice the Missing Charity Money? Apparently one of the doctors, with unfortunate tax results.

TaxGrrrl asks Which State Has The Highest Property Taxes In America?

Kay Bell, IRS gets so-so rating so far on Yelp. Well, I’d never eat there.

Leslie Book, Legislative Language Directs IRS To Make Self-Prepared EITC Claims More Burdensome (Procedurally Taxing).




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 845. Today the Prof links to Robert Wood’s Court Orders IRS To Reveal White House Requests About Taxpayers. The White House will surely appeal, waiting until the last minute to file for it, and drag the process out as long as possible. This is good news, though: “Finally, though, the court ruled that the IRS cannot hide behind a law used to shield the very misconduct it was enacted to prohibit.”

The stonewalling doesn’t mean there was misconduct. By stonewalling everything, the administration makes it hard to unearth misdeeds; as an added bonus, when a painful and drawn out process finally forces the administration to yeild innocent information, it makes the investigators look silly while sapping their resources.


Jeremy Scott, Trump’s Lack of Specifics on Tax Is Hardly Unique (Tax Analysts Blog). ” There are many reasons to dislike Trump and his ill-defined platform (which seems mostly based on nativism and reality-show-style demagoguery), but his lack of policy details at this stage of the game is hardly unique.”


News from the Profession. AICPA Lays the Smackdown on Dear Abby (Greg Kyte, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 8/31/15: Low income taxes don’t mean high excise taxes. And: planning for President Bernie.

August 31st, 2015 by Joe Kristan


I would expect states without an income tax to have high excise taxes, but it’s not so. Liz Malm, How Much Does Your State Collect in Excise Taxes Per Capita? (Tax Policy Blog).


Minnesota, with ridiculously high tax rates, also is the third biggest excise tax collector. South Dakota, with no income tax, is only the 26th highest.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 842843844. There is a lot about the current administration’s approach to transparency. An administration that promised to be “the most transparent in history” resists every information request, even when there is no obvious reason to do so. It is cynical and effective. If after a long fight they finally turn over information that shows no evidence of wrongdoing, they make the investigators look silly. And when wrongdoing does come out, the administration says it’s “old news” — because they did their best to make it so.

More on this from John Hinderaker, Obama’s Stonewall Tactics: A Case Study (Powerline Blog), on the ongoing effort to determine whether administration officials illegally accessed the tax information of the Koch brothers for political reasons.

Related: Russ Fox, Sergeant Schultz to the Rescue!




Peter Reilly ponders Tax Planning For The Risk Of A Bernie Sanders Win. He makes the Vermont socialist sound moderate with this:

The funniest thing about the tax proposals is that this candidate who is as far left as you can go without getting into Green Party territory is promoting a  tax package that would pretty much bring us to the second half of the Reagan administration  when it comes to income and estate tax.

So Bernie Sanders favors a maximum 28% individual rate? No evidence for this in the article. In fact, his campaign, like most of them, offers little specific in the way of tax policy. What it does offer is awful — taxing offshore earnings of U.S. companies, confiscatory estate tax rates, and a financial transactions tax that will only drive trading overseas while making markets less efficient and more costly. I started tax practice in the second half of the Reagan administration, and I’m pretty sure that a Sanders administration tax system would not dramatically lower individual tax rates.

That said, Peter’s article does offer some sound tax planning tips, many of which are worth considering regardless of who wins the White House next year.


Jason Dinesen, Due Date of Iowa Partnership and Corporate Tax Returns Unchanged. The Department of Revenue says these will be Due April 30, despite federal due date changes.

Kay Bell, Cadillac tax repeal on Senate’s post-recess to-do list.

Keith Fogg, Time Stands Still for Snow – Expanding Section 7503 on the Last Day to Timely Complete a Task. The issue in this case is interesting: whether a Tax Court petition is considered late if it is delivered late because the Tax Court is closed for weather. It also reinforces the importance of buying the correct delivery method when using an authorized private delivery service.




Robert Wood, Trump As Tax Code King And Hedge Fund Slayer. He’s a floor wax. He’s a dessert topping. He’s whatever you hallucinate him to be.

TaxGrrrl, Ho, Ho, Oh No! Santa’s Office Threatened With Closure Due To Tax Woes. Well, I never understood his business model.

Jack Townsend, Interest and Penalties Issues At Sentencing


Renu Zaretsky, Thirty Days Hath September: Stay tuned for tax plans to remember? The TaxVox headline wrapup talks about taxes in the election campaign and Brazil abandoning a planned financial transaction tax. Brazil is a leftist country with a soul-sucking business tax system. Even they realize a transaction tax is unwise, making them more sensible than Bernie Sanders.




Tax Roundup, 8/28/15: Reverse Danegeld. And: stealing a Congressional tax refund!

August 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Flickr image courtesy stu_spivack under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy stu_spivack under Creative Commons license

May I have another Danish? It’s a lot less fun to be a Dane than it might have been 1,000 years ago. Back then, cowering kings paid a Danegeld, a payment to keep the fearsome Danish Vikings away. From Wikipedia:

The Danegeld (/ˈdn.ɡɛld/;[1] “Danish tax”, literally “Dane tribute”) was a tax raised to pay tribute to the Viking raiders to save a land from being ravaged. 

Now the money is going the other way, it appears, because the Danish tax agency is outdoing the IRS in sending money to thieves, no questions asked. reports Danes stunned by €800mn tax fraud:

Criminals have duped Denmark’s tax authority into incorrectly refunding €830 million in the past three years, by filling out an online form for tax refunds under double taxation agreements.

The fraud was alerted to police on Wednesday (26 August) and appears to be the country’s biggest tax scam ever, with little chance for the state to recover the money.

They apparently made it easy:

With most of Danish taxes administrated online, it was easy for the fraudsters to fill in the one-page, so-called 06.020 form on the tax authority’s homepage and then claim refunds for taxes paid on stock revenues from Danish companies held by foreign companies.

The fraud would have been easily revealed if the tax authority cross-checked the ownership of shares with Danish companies.

Denmark has about 5 million people, so it’s as though the scammers had taken $185 from every Dane. That would translate to about a $55 billion theft loss in the U.S. Actual annual losses from U.S. tax refund fraud are estimated to run in the neighborhood of $5-6 billion annually.

Being better than Denmark doesn’t seem to comfort one congressman very much. Deseret News reports Congressman Jason Chaffetz is victim of tax return scam:

Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is using the incident to add fuel to his call for the firing of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.

The congressman asked President Barack Obama last month to remove Koskinen, saying he has obstructed congressional investigations into the treatment of conservative groups. Chaffetz said not only has Koskinen ignored a congressional subpoena but has shown an inability to manage a large organization and protect sensitive data.

“There has to be a better, smarter way to authenticate who somebody is. Social Security numbers are floating out there everywhere,” the congressman said.

While the refund fraud debacle started before Koskinen became IRS Commissioner, he sure hasn’t gotten it under control.


A loss in the Iowa tax policy world: Co-founder of Iowans for Tax Relief dies.

buzz20150827Friday Buzz! from Robert D. Flach, rounding up stories from the tax uses of capital losses to catching up on retirement savings.

Russ Fox, Will the Last One Out Turn the Lights Off? “Nearly four years ago my business–and the one whole employee in the Bronze Golden State (me)–left for Nevada because sometimes silver is better than gold.” And their politicians are primed to make California taxes worse still.

Annette Nellen, Sales tax on short-term rentals? Maybe! “The ease of listing your home, vacation property or a room on Airbnb or similar web platform has turned a lot of individuals into landlords.”

Paul Neiffer, Midwest Cropland Values Continue to Drop

Kay Bell, Still waiting for tax extenders. Is money the holdup?

Jim Maule, Traffic Ticket Fines Based on Income? “So my bottom line is, yes, conceptually it is an interesting idea with some valid arguments in support, and with some valid arguments in opposition. But when I turn to practical reality, a benchmark too often overlooked, the answer for me is clearly, ‘No, it’s not worth it.'”

Keith Fogg, Quiet the Title before You Sell (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert Wood, Under Obamacare, Does Everyone Drive A Cadillac?. That’s nothing. Under President Vermin Supreme, everyone gets a pony.

Me, Who should own the bricks?. My latest at, the Des Moines Business Record’s business professionals’ blog, discusses the problems of structuring ownership of business real estate.




Scott Greenberg, Here’s How Much Taxes on the Rich Rose in 2013 (Tax Policy Blog):

So, in 2012, the wealthy had higher-than-usual levels of capital gains income. Therefore, because capital gains are taxed at a lower rate, overall tax rates on high-income Americans were lower than usual in 2012. In 2013, because high-income Americans had much less income from capital gains, their effective tax rates rose significantly.

But some people, including those in the White House now, never beleive the rates are high enough.


Howard Gleckman, CBO Sees a Big Increase in Individual Income Tax Revenues Over the Next Decade. They’ll always want more.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 841


News from the Profession. CohnReznick’s Golf Event Won’t Solve Gender Inequality (Greg Kyte, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 8/27/15: Iowa cheap for the factory, costly for the headquarters. And: Instant Tax indictments.

August 27th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

All the state taxes. The Tax Foundation has issued its 2015 Location Matters report, “a comparative analysis of state tax costs on business.” It provides a summary of the costs of operating different kinds of business, state by state, with wonderful charts like this one for Iowa:

Source: The Tax Foundation

Source: The Tax Foundation

This chart seems to show that Iowa is relatively easy on manufacturing, but a very expensive place for a service business or a distribution center — with an effective state and local rate of around 40% for distribution facilities. It also shows that the corporation income tax really only clobbers retailers and corporate headquarters.

The charts really get interesting when you compare states. Let’s turn to our neighbors in South Dakota:


Source: The Tax Foundation

While most industries fare much better in South Dakota than in Iowa, capital-intensive manufacturers — especially new ones — do a little worse. This is because South Dakota has a higher sales tax, and, presumably, because of the presence of Iowa’s tax incentives for new manufacturers. Once you settle in, there is little difference.

Here’s what the report says about Iowa (my emphasis):

Despite having the highest top corporate income tax rate in the nation at 12.0 percent, Iowa’s mature capital-intensive manufacturing firm experiences the lowest effective tax burden in the nation at 3.9 percent, due in large part to Iowa’s single sales factor apportionment formula and the lack of a throwback rule, which have the effect of exempting nearly all of a firm’s income from in-state taxation. The operation also experiences a relatively low property tax burden due to the lack of property taxes on equipment and inventory.

If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

If Iowa’s income tax were a car, it would look like this.

Iowa offers a 50 percent deduction for federal income taxes paid, which helps mitigate the burden of the state’s high corporate and individual income taxes but is also responsible for those high rates.

In addition to its favorable apportionment factors for businesses selling goods out of state, Iowa’s benefits-based sourcing rules work to the advantage of Iowa-based firms selling services out of state. However, effective property tax rates can be exceedingly high for some firms—nearly double the national average for mature distribution centers, for instance—greatly increasing overall tax costs. Qualifying new firms (the manufacturing operations and the distribution center) receive a full abatement of the property tax on improvements for three years, though the abatement does not cover taxes on the value of the land itself.

Manufacturing machinery and research and development (R&D) equipment are exempt from the state sales tax, and the R&D facility receives other incentives as well. Iowa also offers generous investment and job creation tax incentives to new firms, though due to the state’s high tax rates, most new firms continue to experience above-average tax burdens.

This offers some lessons for Iowa’s ongoing tax reform debate:

– The Iowa Corporation Income Tax, where it isn’t futile, is a job killer, making it very expensive to locate a corporate headquarters here.

– Iowa’s vaunted tax incentives benefit the lucky and the well connected, while stifling start ups: “most new firms continue to experience above-average tax burdens.”

– Despite the recently enacted property tax reforms, Iowa’s real estate taxes still are a big cost for Iowa businesses.

The full report can be found here.


Can Iowa tax reform happen?

Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan




Instant tax unhappinessThe tax prep franchise outfit Instant Tax Service had a colorful history before it was ordered to close by a federal judge. It was notorious for “paystub” returns, prepared to claim refunds for a mostly low-income clientele before they got their W-2s. That’s something preparers aren’t supposed to do.

Yesterday things got worse for the owners of Instant Tax Service with an indictment on tax charges. A Department of Justice Press Release lists some of the allegations (my emphasis):

From about January 2004 through November 2012, Ogbazion and Wade executed a scheme to obstruct the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), wherein numerous ITS franchises filed false federal income tax returns without valid Forms W-2 and without the permission of their taxpayer clients.  The false returns included false and inflated sole proprietorship Schedule C income in an attempt to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Over the course of several years, Ogbazion also instructed an ITS employee to electronically file large volumes of unsigned tax returns on the first day of the “tax filing season,” then falsely backdated customer filing authorizations.  In an attempt to obstruct IRS civil compliance audits, ITS maintained and filed false documents with the IRS, including fabricated Forms W-2 created by ITS employees using tax preparation software, and forged client signatures on various false IRS forms.

Earned income tax credit skeptics are often scolded that the 25% rate of improper payments isn’t all due to fraud; it’s because taxes are hard and all. Taxes are hard, but if there isn’t massive fraud, it’s not for lack of trying. Rather than trying to run a welfare system through the tax code, we should be looking at a universal benefit along the lines proposed by Arnold Kling.


Arnold Kling, The EITC in Practice

Tax Update, Helping the poor by increasing their marginal tax rate., H&R Block snuck language into a Senate bill to make taxes more confusing for poor people (Via the TaxProf).

H&R Block’s entire business model is premised on taxes being confusing and hard to file.

Well, that and promoting IRS preparer regulation to put competitors out of business.

Robert Wood, Trump Firing H&R Block Could Actually Help Immigrants




Jason Dinesen, Things a Business Owner Needs to Know Before Hiring Employees


Tony Nitti, 2013 Tax Changes Raised The Tax Bill On The Wealthiest 2 Percent By $60 Billion. “Whether an additional $60 billion in revenue is enough to satisfy the current administration remains to be seen.” No, we already know it won’t.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 840. More about Toby Miles. Meanwhile, Commissioner Koskinen dismisses the revelations of Lois Lerner’s canine email address under the “old news” ploy, and tells Tax Analysts ($link) that even though she hates Republicans and Tea Partiers, Lerner’s team was fair and square in dealing with their exemption applications.

Kay Bell, Lois Lerner used her dog’s email to conduct IRS business


Joseph Thorndike, When it Comes to Taxes, Americans Are of Two Minds – or Three, or Five or Eight. “While trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s statements on tax policy, I was struck by their disparate quality; to call them random is to exaggerate their coherence.”


Tax Roundup, 8/26/15: The Twins defeat the IRS, so IRS may try to change the rules. Also: EITC fraud, and more!

August 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150826-2The Minnesota Twins have won five in a row. Six, if you count a recent IRS victory by the family that owns the ballclub. It is recounted by Ashlea Ebeling, Estate Of Late Minnesota Twins Owner Carl Pohlad Settles With IRS (via the TaxProf):

The main issue in the estate tax case was how to value Pohlad’s stake in the Minnesota Twins at the time of Pohlad’s death in January 2009 (he was 93). The Pohlad estate valued it as just $24 million for tax purposes, while IRS auditors pegged it at $293 million. Pohlad used typical wealth transfer techniques to limit estate taxes: splitting ownership and control of assets to theoretically reduce what an unrelated buyer would pay for them. 

But the administration doesn’t approve of valuing split interests based on their actual value:

Estate planning with family entities (family limited partnerships and limited liability companies) and the accompanying availability of valuation discounts is in the spotlight. Advisors have been warning clients all summer that the Treasury Department may be coming out with proposed regulations curtailing discounts by next month, and that the new rules could be effective immediately.

That will surely lead to litigation, as it isn’t clear the IRS has that power. It does add great uncertainty to succession planning, which is uncertain enough to begin with.




The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports on tax preparers indicted on allegations of earned income tax credit fraud. The charges say the operators of a business known as Tax King are alleged to have:

…trained Tax King employees how to falsify certain information to maximize returns.

Clients, for example, were allegedly encouraged to fill in false business information in order to qualify for earned income credits. They were allegedly also instructed to submit false education expenses, as well as inaccurate information regarding fuel taxes in order to qualify for tax credits.

Up to 25% of earned income tax credits are paid “improperly.” We are regularly assured that “improperly” doesn’t mean “fraudulently.” Taxes are hard, and all that. Well, if they aren’t stolen, it’s not for lack of effort.


William Perez, What to Do if You Contributed Too Much to Your Roth IRA. “There are four ways to fix this problem that are all pretty straightforward.”

TaxGrrrl, Making Sure You Eat: Paying Yourself As A Small Business Owner

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Understanding Partnership Distributions, Part II –The Mixing Bowl Rules. “If a partner contributes property with a built-in gain or loss to a partnership and the partnership later distributes the property to a partner other than the contributing partner within seven years of the contribution, the contributing partner recognizes gain or loss equal to the built-in gain or loss…”

Kay Bell, NRA lawsuit takes aim at Seattle’s new gun and ammo taxes. A “gun violence” tax on guns and ammo makes as much sense as “drunk driving tax” on all alcohol purchases. It doesn’t tax what it purports to tax.

Peter Reilly, About That Kenneth Copeland Mansion You Saw On John Oliver. On abusive parsonage allowances.

Carl Smith, Tenth Circuit Hook Opinion: Interest and Penalties Must Also Be Paid to Satisfy Flora Full Payment Rule (Procedurally Taxing).  You can’t sue for a refund of a tax you haven’t paid.

Jack Townsend, Category 2 Banks under DOJ Swiss Bank NPA Program. A listing of the Swiss banks that have cut deals with the U.S. tax authorities.



Scott Greenberg, Four Tax Takeaways from the Most Recent CBO Report (Tax Policy Blog).

Over the last fifty years, on average, the federal government has collected 17.4% of GDP in revenues. Yet over the next ten years, the federal government is expected to take in 18.3% of GDP in revenues, nearly a whole percentage point higher than the historical average. The CBO forecasts that, in 2016, the federal government will collect 18.9% of GDP in taxes, higher than any year since 2000.

I don’t think that’s a good thing.


Howard Gleckman, Should College Endowments Be Taxed? (TaxVox).

But why not just make the endowments taxable and use some of the huge revenue windfall to boost tuition assistance and other supports for those students who really need it?

Maybe taxing amounts that aren’t used to reduce tuition. A rich university shouldn’t be saddling its students with debt — or asking for more federal subsidies — while its money managers are living high.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 839. Toby Miles figures prominently.

Robert Wood, IRS Reveals Lois Lerner’s Secret Email Account Named For Her Dog.


The dangers of premature tweeting:


Oops. An hour later, the Dow closed down another 204 points.


Jim Maule, A Rudeness Tax?:

Modern American tax policy, which is in tatters, is of such a wrecked nature that it is only a matter of time before someone proposes a refundable politeness credit. The form would be fun, would it not? “How many times during 2017 did you hold a door open for another person?” Even better, the audits and the Tax Court litigation.

Prof. Maule is right: not every problem is a tax problem. Yet the politicians propose a tax solution for every problem anyway.



IRS issues Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for September 2015

August 25th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

The IRS has issued (Rev. Rul. 2015-19) the minimum required interest rates for loans made in September 2015:

-Short-Term (demand loans and loans with terms of up to 3 years): 0.54%

-Mid-Term (loans from 3-9 years): 1.77%

-Long-Term (over 9 years): 2.64%

The Long-term tax-exempt rate for Section 382 ownership changes in September 2015 is 2.82%.

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


Tax Roundup, 8/25/15: Capital losses, your portfolio disaster silver lining. And: Introducing Toby Miles!

August 25th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Flickr Image courtesy donjd2 under Creative Commons License.

Flickr Image courtesy donjd2 under Creative Commons License.

So how’s the market doing? Recent days have been unkind to many stock portfolios. Can you make tax lemonade out of the sour lemons in your portfolio?

Let’s make clear that I am in no way saying you should sell your losing stocks right now. If I were smart enough to call the market, you wouldn’t find me doing tax returns in Des Moines in January, as lovely as it is. But I can explain what stock losses do to your income taxes, and how to do it.

First, tax losses are generally useful only when they occur in a taxable account. If your IRA or 401(k) portfolio takes a hit, you are normally out of luck.

Second, you have to actually sell the losing stock to deduct a loss. Just as you don’t pay taxes on appreciated stocks you don’t sell, you don’t get to deduct losses on shares you don’t cash out.

Third, you can’t buy back the shares you sell at a loss for 30 days, under the “wash sale” rules. So if you think that loser is going to bounce back right away, you can’t just buy back other shares of the same stock you sold at a loss if you want the deduction. Nor can you buy the other shares of the same stock in the 30 days before you take the loss. The IRS says buying the offsetting shares in a nontaxable IRA account also triggers wash-sale disallowance.

Finally, individuals may only deduct their capital losses to the extent of capital gains (long-term or short-term), plus $3,000 ($1,500 for married-filing-separately taxpayers). That means you get no tax benefit from overdoing taking losses; the excess of losses of $3,000 carries forward to offset future taxable gains.

But if you have cashed out gains already in your taxable portfolio, it may make sense to sell enough losers to offset the gain, if you have them. Otherwise, you are in effect paying tax on the gains voluntarily — assuming you can live without the loser stock for 30 days.


TaxGrrrl, As Stocks Tumble, Understanding When A Loss Isn’t Really A Loss, Topic 409 – Capital Gains and Losses



Toby Miles, IRS.

Toby Miles, IRS.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 838. Today’s installment links to revelations of another Lois Lerner personal account used to conduct official business:

“In addition to emails to or from an email account denominated ‘Lois G. Lerner‘ or ‘Lois Home,’ some emails responsive to Judicial Watch’s request may have been sent to or received from a personal email account denominated ‘Toby Miles,’” Mr. Klimas told Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who is hearing the case.

It is unclear who Toby Miles is, but Mr. Klimas said the IRS has concluded that was “a personal email account used by Lerner.”

The linked Washington Times story also has this:

The use of secret or extra email accounts has bedeviled the Obama administration, which is has tried to fend off a slew of lawsuits involving former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her top aides, the White House’s top science adviser, top Environmental Protection Agency officials and the IRS.

That’s not quite right. It’s not the use of the email accounts that has “bedeviled” the administration. Enough have come to light to make clear that such use is standard operating procedure. It’s the getting caught that does the bedeviling.




Paul Neiffer, IRS Delays New Inherited Property Reporting Requirements Until February 2016. Statements showing the basis of inherited property will not have to be filed with the IRS before the end of February, 2016, at the earliest.

Russ Fox, How to Commit Tax Fraud 101. “Until the IRS makes it far more difficult for the fraudsters, this epidemic will continue. As I’ve said, why rob banks?”

Robert D. Flach, TRY TO REMEMBER . . . End of summer tips on home mortgage interest, alternative minimum tax, and more.

Robert Wood, 10 Ways Trump Is Right About Taxes. When you say random things without regard to other random things you’ve already said, you are likely to be right occasionally. Unlike Mr. Wood, I think the “hedge fund loophole” talk is foolish nonsense.

Kay Bell, Trump trashes tax breaks for ‘paper pushing’ money managers. Featuring the Trump Squirrel.

Peter Reilly, Sending IRS Against Phony Churches Is Bringing A Knife To A Gun Fight. “Fundamentally the IRS cannot base its enforcement actions on the content of an organization’s beliefs.”



Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for July (Procedurally Taxing). Coverage of recent happenings in tax procedure.

Jason Dinesen, Does a Sole Proprietorship Need a Balance Sheet? Technically, no, but it’s foolish not to keep one.

Career Corner. Former Ryan Principal Made a Helluva Career Limiting Move (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 8/24/15: School’s in! And: state taxes just might matter.

August 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


20150824-2School starts here today. In my mind, the day school starts will always mark the end of summer, regardless of where the sun is in the sky, and it always makes me a little sad.




Do state taxes matter? Some policymakers say that states can tax “the rich” as much as you want, and they’ll just sit still and take it. According to Clean Slate Tax blog, IRS migration data implies otherwise:


Florida and Texas were in the top ten for state business tax climates in 2013, while New Jersey, New York and California were in the bottom five. California had the highest state income tax rate, at 13.3%. New York and New Jersey are in the top ten. Texas and Florida have no state income tax.

We live in a complex world, and many factors affect migration patterns. But the weather in California is at least as nice as in Texas, yet people are fleeing California. It’s hard to believe taxes don’t have something to do with it.

Via the TaxProf.


20150819-2Robert D. Flach has a special Monday Buzz! roundup today, covering self-employment tax and saving for college.

Kay Bell, Tax fraud gangsters celebrate their crimes in song. IRS has made ID-theft fraud so easy, even a street gang can do it.

Russ Fox, Former Oklahoma State Senator Embezzled $1.2 Million & Committed Tax Fraud:

Over a ten-plus year period Mr. Brinkley had fraudulently obtained over $1.2 Million from the Better Business Bureau. Mr. Brinkley was President and CEO of the organization; he created phony invoices and used the money for personal expenses and to support his gambling habit. He also admitted to not reporting $148,390 in income on his 2013 tax return.

Elected officials don’t lose their human failings when they become elected officials. In fact, public office may attract people with certain kinds of failings.


TaxGrrrl, Debt, Equity and Startup Money. “Repayment of debt is tax-free but associated interest is taxed as ordinary income.”

Peter Reilly, Paul Hansen Receives Below Guideline Sentence – End Of L’affaire Kent Hovind?  The never ending saga of the tax trouble of the guy who things humans co-existed with dinosaurs.


20150824-3Jack Townsend, When a Prosecutor’s Questions Turns the Prosecutor Into a Witness

Keith Fogg, My Dad and the Tax Court are Almost the Same Age (Procedurally Taxing)

They’re, like, totally rad, too. Marijuana Taxes Swell, Not Up In Smoke After All (Robert Wood).



Scott Greenberg, Clean Energy Credits Mostly Benefit the Wealthy, New Study Shows (Tax Policy Blog). ” The credit for electric vehicles is most skewed towards high-income households, with the top 20% of taxpayers claiming 90% of all electric vehicle credits.”

Renu Zaretsky, Plans, Problems, and Production. This TaxVox headline roundup covers the Rubio tax plan, the Walker ACA replacement, and more.



TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 835Day 836Day 837.

News from the Profession. Going Concern Is Now Part of AccountingflyCaleb Newquist takes the Boeing.



Tax Roundup, 8/21/15: Court says the IRS can’t cause a negative gift. And more Friday links!

August 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150821-1Gee, thanks. Few of us ever have to pay gift tax. Logically, more people should. Taxable gifts avoid tax when compared to passing an asset through a taxable estate because only the amount given to a donee is subject to gift tax, while the estate is taxable on its whole value — not just the amount that goes to the donee. Confusing? Let’s try a quick example, assuming a 40% estate and gift tax rate.

James has $14 million. He wants to give it all in a taxable gift, saving enough to pay his taxes. He makes a $10 million gift, and he pays 40%, or $4 million in taxes.  

His sister Janet dies with the $14 million, the tax is 40% of $14 million, or $5.6 million. The after-tax inheritance to her beneficiaries is $8.4 million, instead of the $10 million received by James’s heirs.

The giver is supposed to file a gift tax return and pay the gift tax on Form 709.

But what if he doesn’t? Then the IRS will come after the recipients. That happened to the recipients of gifts from James Howard Marshall II, best known as the short-term husband of Anna Nicole Smith. He died without paying the gift taxes, and the estate couldn’t cover them. The IRS then went after the gift recipients, in a big way — demanding more in gift tax payments and interest than the value of the gift actually received.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on whether the government could do that:

However, the Government brought suit seeking to hold the Marshalls personally liable for almost $75 million beyond the value of the gifts consisting mostly of interest accrued on the unpaid tax liability from 1995. The Marshalls argued that § 6324(b) limits their personal liability to the value of the gifts they received.

It wouldn’t be much of a gift if it cost you money. The Fifth Circuit ruled against the IRS:

A donee is “personally liable” only for “such tax” — the gift tax and accrued interest — “to the extent of the value of such gift.” The statute’s text does not support the Government’s position.

That seems fair, though fairness isn’t required in the tax law. I’m not sure there’s much tax planning to be done around this, other than maybe making sure Grandpa files a gift tax return when he gives it all away.

Cite: Estate of Marshall, CA-5, No. 12-20804.

The TaxProf has more: 5th Circuit: Donee’s Liability For Billionaire’s Unpaid Gift Tax And Interest Cannot Exceed The Amount Of The Gift




TaxGrrrl, Lawyers, Accountants and Administrators, Oh My! Putting Together A Professional Team. “I know what you’re thinking. A professional team costs money. And startups and small businesses are often short on money”

Kay Bell, Taxes as a weapon of mass destruction in historical thriller

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Asset. “For individuals, an asset is things such as stocks; houses, buildings and land; investments in partnerships; and personal possessions (TVs, electronics, jewelry).”

Jim Maule, Be Careful With Divorce Tax Planning, Part II:

A simple sentence in the agreement, which the parties drafted without assistance of counsel, would have specified whether or not the payment obligation terminated if the former wife died during the 8-year period. There is no way of knowing if they considered the question. There is no way of knowing, if they considered the question, what they wanted the answer to be. There is no way of knowing if they thought that the answer did not require a provision in the agreement. What can be known is that it is risky to draft a divorce agreement without understanding the tax implications.

Risky, and foolish.

Keith Fogg, Who Gets to Decide What is Frivolous (Procedurally Taxing). “After all, if the IRS has unbridled discretion to determine what is frivolous, it could deny even those with arguably non-frivolous arguments from moving forward in the CDP process of seeking collection relief.”

Robert Wood, Trump Bashes $4 Billion In IRS Refunds To Illegals

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 834

Howard Gleckman, Scott Walker’s Replacement for the ACA Would Leave Many Uninsured. (TaxVox). Of course, so does the ACA.




Scott Greenberg, John Oliver Set Up His Own “Church” to Make a Point about the Tax Code (Tax Policy Blog). “To demonstrate his point, Oliver announced that he had founded his own church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption, showing how “disturbingly easy” it was to obtain tax-exempt status for a sham religious organization (the main mission of Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption is to collect donations).”

News from the Profession. Deloitte Doesn’t Want You Wasting Billable Hours Searching for Adulterer Profiles (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 8/20/15: Can Iowa tax reform happen?

August 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

If Iowa’s income tax were a car, it would look like this.

Iowa Tax Reform – doable? I will spend much of today at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry Tax Committee meeting. The topic is Iowa tax reform. Regular readers know that I have strong feelings about the topic. Iowa’s income tax is a mess, and it doesn’t have to be.

Or does it?

There are always forces that push a tax system to complexity. I think any tax system will always have insiders trying to cut special deals for themselves. This leads to higher taxes on everyone else, but the insiders are good at protecting their special deals. Iowa’s dozens of incentive tax credits are classic examples.

Iowa has other factors that help stymie efforts to lower tax rates by eliminating deductions and special tax breaks. On the right side of the aisle, Iowans for Tax Relief has always opposed any tax reform that eliminates the deductibility of federal income taxes. This is almost unknown outside of Iowa, and its repeal is probably essential if we are going to significantly reduce Iowa’s very high 8.98% individual rate.

On the left side of the aisle, the politicians have an unhealthy focus on soaking the rich. With control of the state senate, Iowa Democrats have bottled up all efforts that would reduce Iowa’s high rates because they help “the rich” — better known as “employers.”

I think Iowa may overcome these obstacles. Elimination of corporate tax and much lower individual might persuade insiders to give up special deals, or at least make them not worth fighting for. I think Iowa business is tired of its perpetually poor business tax climate.  Iowans for Tax Relief may soften its stance on federal deductibilty, or legislators may find the arguments for reform more persuasive. And a broad-based tax simplification could have non-partisan appeal, especially if it has a large low-income exemption.

But I think it has to be ambitious. A small plan isn’t going to persuade anybody to give up their special deals, or to modify long-held views. That’s why the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan is a good place to start.


Scott Drenkard, State Sales Tax Holidays in 2015 (Tax Policy Blog):


“Political gimmicks like sales tax holidays distract policymakers and taxpayers from genuine, permanent tax relief. If a state must offer a “holiday” from its tax system, it is a sign that the state’s tax system is uncompetitive. If policymakers want to save money for consumers, then they should cut the sales tax rate year-round.”


Kay Bell, Does your state have unusual, confusing tax laws? Probably.


Victor Fleisher, Stop Universities From Hoarding Money:

Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers as compensation — about $137 million in annual management fees, and another $343 million in performance fees, also known as carried interest — to manage about $8 billion, one-third of Yale’s endowment.

In contrast, of the $1 billion the endowment contributed to the university’s operating budget, only $170 million was earmarked for tuition assistance, fellowships and prizes. Private equity fund managers also received more than students at four other endowments I researched: Harvard, the University of Texas, Stanford and Princeton.

For some reason, you hear less about inequality in college endowments than you do about income inequality.





Two Headlines from Tax Notes this morning (unfortunately links only work for subscribers):

Tax Community Questions Proposal to End IRS Union Representation

No Evidence of IRS Partisanship Has Been Found, NTEU Says

To me, the second headline pretty much confirms the error of the “tax community” cited in the first one. To read the Lerner emails and conclude that she was “non-partisan” indicates a reading comprehension problem. NTEU, the IRS employee union, gives 96% of of its donations to, er, non-Republicans. Sounds nonpartisan to me…





TaxGrrrl, LLCs, S Corps & PCs: Choosing A Business Entity:

Entity selection is more important than you think. Your choice of entity can affect the number and identity of shareholders and partners, equity structure, control and management, as well what kind of funding you might be eligible to receive.

If you can’t make up your mind, start with the most flexible one — an LLC not taxed as a corporation– so you can change your mind without too much pain and suffering

Peter Reilly, Does Ninth Circuit Mortgage Interest Decision Create Special Rights? Well, it creates an incentive for people with multi-million-dollar houses to get divorces.

Carl Smith, Tax Court Again Refuses to Apply One Part of Equitable Innocent Spouse Relief Rev. Proc. 2013-34 (Procedurally Taxing)

Paul Neiffer, Wo! Paul is seeing lots of 200-bushel corn in Southwest Iowa on his Midwest Crop Tour.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 833



Tax Roundup, 8/19/15: Even if it faxes, it’s still a printer in Iowa. And: the rich guy still isn’t buying.

August 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150813-1All for one, one for all. Iowa has a sales tax exclusion for “Computers used in processing or storage of data or information by an insurance company, financial institution, or commercial enterprise.” But what is a computer anymore, now that everything has a computer in it?

Last week Iowa released a ruling (Document 15300028) holding that Principal Financial Group’s all-in-one devices count as computers and are exempt from sales tax. From the ruling:

The protest was filed due to the Department’s partial denial of a refund claim which involved, among other issues, several multi-function devices which provide copy, print, scan, and fax services.  Your position is that because the multi-function devices are connected to your company’s computers and used in the manner described that these devices qualify as exempt computer peripheral equipment under Iowa’s statutes and administrative code…

Rule IAC 701—18.58(1), which was written, in part, to implement that code section, defines computers as the following:

…stored program processing equipment and all devices fastened to it by means of signal cables or any communication medium that serves the function of a signal cable. Nonexclusive examples of devices fastened by a signal cable or other communication medium are terminals, printers, display units, card readers, tape readers, document sorters, optical readers, and card or tape punchers.

The Department of Revenue had argued that copiers and fax machines don’t qualify, and these functions disqualified the multi-function devices. Principal brought its considerable in-house tax expertise to bear:

However, since the filing date of the protest, you have provided the auditor with the “click count” information for each individual multi-function device included in the refund claim.  This documentation verifies that each unit individually qualifies for exemption because the majority of the usage for each of the devices is for exempt printing and scanning. 

Attached to the protest as Exhibit B was a summary schedule in which you determined that 96.67% of the usage of the devices was for exempt purposes.  This percentage was utilized by Principal to determine the amount of tax under protest ($145,134.80).  However, because each device qualified for exemption, the purchase prices of these units are fully exempt from Iowa sales tax.  Therefore, the Department will refund 100% of the sales tax paid on the purchases of these devices. 

So after a struggle, the Department settles on the right legal answer. The policy answer is only half-right, though. All business inputs should be exempt from sales tax, regardless of whether they are hooked up to a computer.

I rarely fax or copy anything anymore, and I think that this is true nowadays for most businesses. It could say something about how they do things at the Iowa Department of Revenue that they assumed otherwise. In any case, this ruling tells us that fax and copy capability doesn’t make an otherwise exempt scanner/printer subject to sales tax for an Iowa business.




Megan McArdle discusses presidential candidate Scott Walker’s Obamacare replacement (my emphasis):

In this debate, you can see the shape of where our politics may go over the next 20 years. Many Republicans would like a much smaller entitlement state; some Democrats would like a much bigger one, with Sweden-style universal coverage of virtually everything, crib to grave. Neither one is going to get what they want, because Americans are not prepared to give up their Social Security checks, or 60 percent of their paychecks either — and no, there is not enough money to fund these ambitions, or even our existing entitlements, by simply taxing “the rich.”

The discussion is becoming more urgent, as Obamacare as it stands is not working well; the big premium increases and the struggles of the “cooperatives” us that. It could be harder to fix the health insurance market than it was to wreck it in the first place.




Robert D. Flach brings the Tuesday Buzz on Wednesday, covering the tax blog ground from property taxes to the Get Transcript data breach.

Tony Nitti, Tax Court Reminds Us That You Should Never Toy Around With Your Retirement Account:

Section 72 clearly mandates that annuity income is ordinary income, rather than capital gains. Thus, it is immaterial whether, as the taxpayer asserted, the annuity generated most of its income in the form of capital gains. Because once the annuity distributed the cash generated from those capital gains on to the taxpayer, the tax law required it to be treated as ordinary income.



Jason Dinesen, Why is Self-Employment Tax Based on 92.35% of Self-Employment Income?

William Perez, These 6 states will waive penalties if you pay off your back taxes.

Paul Neiffer, Highway Use Tax Return Due August 31, 2015

Jim Maule, More Tax Fraud in the People’s Court. “It was an attempt to change a non-deductible cost of a boat into a business deduction.”

Kay Bell, A-list performers would get tax credit for New Jersey shows.

Republican Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. this week renewed a push for his bill that would provide a tax break for so-called A-list performers in the Garden State.

Not every problem is a tax problem. Especially this one.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 832.




David Brunori, Retroactive Tax Laws Are Just Wrong (Tax Analysts Blog):

There are two fundamental problems with changing the rules retroactively. First, it is patently unfair. People who follow the rules should not be penalized later. We would never stand for it in the criminal context. Why should we accept it for taxes? Second, retroactively changing the rules undermines confidence in the tax system. Most people try to do the right thing. Often they spend a lot of money paying lawyers and accountants to guide them to the right result. The good taxpayers might not be diligent in following the rules if those rules might change.

It’s harder to justify spending money on tax compliance when it doesn’t do any good.


Howard Gleckman, New Rules Will Require States to Be More Transparent About Tax Subsidies (TaxVox): “While local governments have complained that the new rules will be complicated and burdensome, it is frankly a scandal that governments have been able to keep these subsidies under wraps for so long.”


News from the Profession. Only 20% of Companies Using Creative Accounting to Its Full Potential (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “…it’s not technically fraud”



Tax Roundup, 8/18/15: Oh, THOSE 200,000 hacks — the Get Transcript debacle worsens. Also: Crips, blog tax, and more!

August 18th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner, but he'd probably do a better job than the one who is.

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner, but he’d probably do a better job than the one who is.

The Get Transcript debacle, revised and extended. IRS Commissioner Koskinen’s perfect record of getting things wrong the first time rolls on. The man who famously assured us that there were no more Tea Party emails, and they weren’t backed up, only to be proven repeatedly wrong, now tells us that the hack of the “Get Transcript” hack was much worse than they had let on. Ars Technica reports:

More than three months after the Internal Revenue Service shut down its online tax transcript service because of a massive identity theft effort, the IRS is now acknowledging that the number of affected taxpayers is more than three times the agency’s initial estimate. And the number of affected taxpayers may continue to grow as the agency digs into logs of hundreds of thousands of connections to its Get Transcript application over the past year. 

Commissioner Koskinen was billed as a “turnaround artist” for a struggling IRS. I guess I just don’t understand art. The IRS continues to send billions of dollars to identity thieves, most far less sophisticated than the (presumably Russian) outfit that hacked the transcript application. For example:

Fourteen reputed gangsters from Plainfield, Elizabeth and Newark have been indicted on charges ranging from tax fraud to murder following a seven-month investigation into alleged financial scams that helped sustain their criminal organization.

All 14 members and associates of the Elizabeth-based 111 Neighborhood Crips street gang were charged under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, or RICO.

If you can’t keep the 111 Neighborhood Crips from electronic tax theft, you don’t stand much chance against Russian organized crime.

The TaxProf has a roundup. More coverage:

Caleb Newquist, IRS Was Just Kidding When It Said Cyber Criminals Tried to Access Tax Return Information for 225,000 Households. “It was quite a few more than that, actually.”

Russ Fox, IRS Data Breach Impacted 334,000, Not 100,000 as IRS First Said. “Being a cynic, I wonder if the IRS’s announcement last week regarding free credit monitoring services has to do with today’s announcement.

TaxGrrrl, IRS Releases Additional Statement On Illegal Access To Taxpayer Accounts

Kay Bell, Uncle Sam, watch TV! You need these kind of tech-savvy staffers to fight growing tax & government website hacking. Actually, it appears the IRS already relies on fictional characters to protect its systems.




Annette Nellen, Highway Trust Fund and Tax Reform

Robert Wood, A $35 Million Wedding? Yes, Before Taxes:

But suppose you’re all about business? Is it possible to write off the cost if you’re inviting all your clients and customers?

Dream on.

Patrick Smith,D.C. Circuit Majority Opinion in Florida Bankers Not Consistent with Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing Decision (Part 2). On the bankers’ challenge to FATCA.

Peter Reilly, Travel Blogger Finds Sex, Drugs Even Some Museums But No Tax Deductions. Sex, drugs, but no tax rock ‘n roll.

Paul Neiffer travelblogs the First Day of the Midwest Crop Tour, looking at good corn in South Dakota and Nebraska. No word on how his deductions are doing.


Honey princesses at the Iowa State Fair.

Honey princesses hold court at the Iowa State Fair.


Jeremy Scott, Lessig Is Probably Wrong About Extenders (Tax Analysts Blog):

Maybe some would argue that all this is part of a grand conspiracy. The president, left-leaning think tanks, and Republicans conspire to create a debate over extenders that lets the GOP and its allies (many Democrats do in fact support permanent credits for research, state and local sales taxes, depreciation, and other items) constantly churn money from donors. But that doesn’t seem very plausible.

Maybe not, but it sure does get the lobbyists to show up for the summer golf fund-raisers.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 831

News from the Profession. CPA Thought He Was Out, Gets Pulled Back In (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

If you were a CPA who testified in the trial of two NYPD officers dubbed the “Mafia Cops,” no one would doubt you if you said, “I could never ever, I will never ever, be a CPA again.”

But he did. It doesn’t appear to be going well.


Tax Roundup, 8/17/15: New directions in Iowa tax policy. And lots more!

August 17th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

If Iowa’s income tax were a car, it would look like this.

This week may see the start a discussion of the future of Iowa tax policy. The Iowa Association of Business and Industry Tax Committee meets Thursday to discuss proposals for the future of the Iowa income tax.

There’s a lot to talk about. The Tax Foundation puts Iowa among the bottom-ten states in its 2015 Business Tax Climate Index. Iowa has the second worst corporate tax ranking and the highest corporation tax rate of any state. We also have a subpar individual tax ranking. Along with the high rates — and made possible by them — the Iowa income tax is full of special favors for influential and sympathetic interests. This makes the taxes expensive and difficult to comply with and not so good at collecting revenue.

The state legislature has not seriously addressed income tax reform in recent years. There has been no movement against the awful corporation tax that I am aware of. The Republican caucus has pushed an individual “alternative maximum tax,” one with lower rates and a broader base — that would co-exist with the current system. That has an obvious flaw — everyone would compute their tax both ways and pay the lower tax. That makes the system more complex. But all tax reform has been bottled up by the Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate.

What are the ingredients for Iowa tax reform? A good tax reform discussion should consider:

Repeal of the Iowa corporation income tax. The Iowa corporation tax provided $438 million of the the state’s 2014 revenue, out of $7.545 billion. Corporation income taxes discourage in-state growth and are expensive to enforce. The state would be better off without it.

Repeal of all incentive tax credits. The state has many tax credits, some of which are refundable, including the R&D tax credit. Simply eliminating the tax credits would recoup some of the lost revenue from a corporation income tax repeal.

Move the individual income tax to an AGI-based system. Eliminate state itemized deductions and special state deductions and use the savings to lower the rates. Such as system would only retain a few itemized deductions to prevent abuse of taxpayers, principally the deduction for gambling losses.

Don’t be Kansas. That state enacted a poorly conceived tax reform effort a few years ago, and it has been a mess. Ambitions for tax reform have to be reconciled to revenue needs. While I think the state should spend less than it does, we can’t assume it will do so. Tax reformers need to present a plan that is revenue-neutral, or close to it.


Is Iowa’s business tax climate really that bad?

Baby steps towards fixing Iowa’s business tax climate

What an Iowa income tax might look like with a fresh start.

The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan


Jared Walczak, How High Are Property Taxes in Your State? (Tax Policy Blog). With this map:




Iowa still has relatively high property taxes, even after the recent property tax reforms. But we have high income and sales taxes too.


Russ Fox, Two Sets of Returns Aren’t Better than One:

Today I look at the idea of preparing one set of tax returns for clients but using a second set of returns when submitting the returns to the IRS. Of course, those second returns had higher refund amounts with the difference being pocketed by the preparers. After all, what’s a little tax fraud?

This is what Russ might call a Bozo tax offense. It’s not like this sort of thing will go very long without someone noticing.


Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Estimated Tax Payments

Annette Nellen, Innovation box tax reform proposal, A good explanation of a bad idea.

Kay Bell, IRS says free identity theft protection services are tax-free. “That’s very good news for me, since I was part of the huge OPM hack”

TaxGrrrl, IRS Offers Tax Guidance On Free Identity Theft Protection Services

Paul Neiffer is on the road on The ProFarmer Midwest Crop Tour.

Jim Maule, Rebutting Arguments Against Mileage-Based Road Fees. I think an expansion of tolling is more likely, but I don’t think that is very likely either.

Jack Townsend, Ninth Circuit Requires a Filing for Tax Perjury Charge. “Under the facts, Boitana had merely presented the false return to the agent, but that presentation was not a filing.”

Peter Reilly, Let Irwin Schiff Die With His Family Not In Prison:

You don’t have to agree with Irwin Schiff’s views on the federal income tax, to feel sympathy for Peter Schiff’s request that his father be released from prison. Irwin, now 87, has been diagnosed with lung cancer and it seems likely that he will not live to see his July 26, 2017 release date.

I think the government has made its point.


Patrick J. Smith, D.C. Circuit Majority Opinion in Florida Bankers Not Consistent with Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing Decision (Part 1) (Procedurally Taxing):

The weakness of the majority opinion in Florida Bankers, together with the strength of a dissenting opinion filed in the case, as well as the inconsistency of the majority opinion not only with the Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing decision but also with other D.C. Circuit opinions, all make the Florida Bankers case a strong candidate for en banc review. 

The suit challenges the FATCA rules on foreign reporting.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 828Day 829Day 830

Matt Gardner, Latest Inversion Attempt Illustrates U.S. Can’t Compete with a 0 % Corporate Tax Rate (Tax Justice Blog). It could with a zer-percent rate of its own.

Renu Zaretsky, Tax plans and presidential candidates: The future [may or may not be] now. The TaxVox headline roundup talks about presidential candidate tax plans and the bleak outlook for the IRS budget under the current Commissioner.


If you think of government programs as technology, they are hopelessly behind. We regulate communications using the FCC, which is 1930s regulatory technology. We address health care for the elderly with Medicare, which is 50-year-old technology.

In the private sector, when an enterprise becomes technologically obsolete, it falls by the wayside. In government, it gets larger.

Arnold Kling


News from the Profession. Yep, Almost All Accounting Firm Partners Are Still White Guys (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Well, I still am, anyway, and I don’t see that changing.