Tax Roundup, 10/28/15: Tax Court blocks IRS assessment of Gremlin-era gift tax. And: Impeachment is too good for him.

October 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Wikipedia image ploaded by GrapedApe under Creative Commons license.

Wikipedia image uploaded by GrapedApe under Creative Commons license.

Closing the book on tax disputes arising in the Nixon administration, the Tax Court ruled this week that a taxpayer — the brother of Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone — did not make a taxable gift in 1972 when he transferred corporation shares to a trust as part of a lawsuit settlement.

The facts are confusing. Sumner Redstone’s father Mickey capitalized a business in 1959 but named his sons Sumner and Edward as 1/3 owners. When Edward wanted out and tried to sell his shares, the father refused to provide the certificates, saying that they were held in trust for Mickey’s children. Tax Analysts ($link) explains the result:

Mickey claimed that in 1959, when he created NAI, the shares had been held in an oral trust created at the same time. After months of negotiations, the parties agreed to settle by giving one-third of Edward’s shares to trusts in the benefit of his two children. His remaining shares were sold back to NAI for $5 million.

Edward didn’t consider this a gift, and he never filed a gift tax return for 1972. This left the statute of limitations open on the gift, and the IRS assessed gift tax on Edward’s estate after he died in 2011.

The tax law says there is no gift when property is transferred for full consideration and with no benevolent intent. The IRS says that because the beneficiaries of the trust, Edward’s children, paid nothing for the shares they received in the settlement, the transfer was a taxable gift. The Tax Court disagreed:

The evidence clearly established that Edward transferred stock to his children, not because he wished to do it, but because Mickey demanded that he do it…

Respondent’s argument focuses on whether the transferees provided consideration. But that is not the question the regulation asks. It asks whether the transferor received consideration, that is, whether he made the transfer “for a full and adequate consideration” in money or money’s worth. Sec. 25.2511-1(g)(1), Gift Tax Regs. (emphasis added). We have determined that Edward received “a full and adequate consideration” for his transfer — namely, the recognition by Mickey and Sumner that Edward was the outright owner of 66 2/3 NAI shares and NAI’s agreement to pay Edward $5 million in exchange for those shares. Section 2512(b) and its implementing regulations require that the donor receive “an adequate and full consideration”; they make no reference to the source of that consideration.

Decision for taxpayer.

The Moral? First, there’s no gift to the thief who points a gun at you, and there’s no gift when you transfer shares because you have to.

Perhaps more importantly, gift tax can be assessed forever if you don’t file a gift tax return. If there is any question on whether a gift might have happened, or realistic risk that the IRS will challenge the amount of a gift, it’s wise to file a gift tax return even when it doesn’t appear gift tax is owed. Otherwise the statute of limitations never starts running, and you might be fighting a forty-years war with the tax man.

Cite: Estate of Edward S. Redstone, 145 T.C. No. 11




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 902. A resolution has been introduced to impeach IRS Commissioner Koskinen. While his conduct in office has been awful, I hope they don’t really try to make it happen. It could backfire, and even if he were impeached, there will never be a conviction. I would rather they spend the time and energy reducing the powers of all IRS commissioners by reducing the power of the IRS through tax reform.

Russ Fox, Chaffetz Introduces Impeachment Resolution of IRS Commissioner Koskinen. “My view of this is simple: Mr. Koskinen has become a mouthpiece of the Administration rather than an independent head of the IRS… The IRS’s budget does need to be increased, but that’s not happening until Mr. Koskinen leaves the agency (and the scandal is resolved).

Kay Bell, House GOP seeks impeachment of IRS commissioner

Robert Wood, Impeach IRS Chief, Say Republicans Alleging Lies, Obstruction


William Perez, What Every Small Business Owner Should Know About the Health Care Tax Credit

Peter Reilly, Maureen O’Hara’s Ill Fated Cuban Oil Tax Shelter


20151028-2Joseph Henchman is Remembering the Deceased Iowa Pumpkin Tax You Helped End (Tax Policy Blog). “It’s a weird tax system that taxes the same item differently depending on the buyer’s intent. I’m sure Iowa pumpkin patches have better things to do than quiz their customers on future pumpkin uses.”

David Brunori, Billionaires Who Want to Tax Poor People (Tax Analysts Blog) “Second, and just to show you that it really is all about the money, the initiative will impose significant taxes on electronic cigarettes. If people really cared about the health risks of smoking, they would be encouraging — indeed subsidizing — electronic cigarettes.”

Howard Gleckman, Gimmicks Galore Litter the Boehner/Obama Budget Deal (TaxVox) “But one thing seems certain: This deal is far worse for fiscal conservatives that the Grand Bargain that Boehner and President Obama nearly reached in July 2012, a deal the speaker never could sell to his restive caucus.”

Caleb Newquist, Florida Still Cranking Out Unsophisticated Tax Schemes (Going Concern): “If you or someone you know is thinking about concocting a haphazard tax fraud, it may be tempting to go with a tried and true method that goes something like this…”


Programming Note: My travel schedule will keep me from posting a Tax Roundup tomorrow. See you Friday!



Tax Roundup, 10/27/15: IRS list of citizenship renunciations hits new record. And: Santa Monica!

October 27th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Jaywalkers continue to flee. 2015 Third Quarter Published Expatriates – A Record High (Andrew Mitchel):

Chart by Andrew Mitchel LLC.

Chart by Andrew Mitchel LLC.

Last year, there was a record-setting 3,415 published expatriates.  Only an additional 195 published expatriates in the fourth quarter would be required for a new record to be set. If a new record is set, this would be the third consecutive year with a year over year increase.  For a discussion of how the IRS compiles the data, see this post.

We continue to believe that the IRS is likely missing a significant number of names from its quarterly publication of expatriates.  During the third quarter of 2015, the FBI has added 1,558 individuals who renounced their U.S. citizenship to the NICS index.

U.S. taxation of offshore income and overseas citizens is off the rails. The area is full of compliance traps that can trigger catastrophic penalties for innocent behavior. FATCA is making personal finance a headache for U.S. citizens posted abroad. The whole system should be drastically changed, starting with FATCA repeal, a huge increase in the threshold for reporting offshore accounts, repeal of FBAR reporting for signature only accounts, and a standard program where small taxpayers can come into compliance without penalty if they have not been contacted by IRS.

But the IRS is committed to continuing a policy of shooting jaywalkers.

Related: Robert Wood, Reverse Immigration: Americans Renounce Citizenship In Record Numbers



Buzz! A fresh new roundup of tax news from Robert D. Flach is up!

Jack Townsend,  DOJ Will Not Seek Indictment of Lois Lerner  “But, based on what I know and infer from the letter, while DOJ could likely have obtained an indictment for some crime (the old ham sandwich phenomenon), DOJ would not have been able to convict — certainly, there was not the reasonable likelihood of conviction to meet DOJ standards for  prosecution.”

TaxGrrrl, IRS Joins FBI, DEA & Other Federal Agencies With Access To Cellphone Surveillance Technology

Scott Greenberg, The EITC is Not the Solution to Puerto Rico’s Woes (Tax Policy Blog). You mean there are things that tax credits can’t do?

Russ Fox, Over 1,100 Returns Filed from Two Addresses Lead to Two Heading to ClubFed. What tipped them off?

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015: #10 – Cash For Egg Donation Is Taxable Income


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 901

Peter Reilly, God May Bless Your Pot Shop – Tax Court Not So Much


Santa Monica Freeway. I arrived in Santa Monica, California last night for a conference with other members of TIAG, the alliance of independent accounting firms. Our firms membership in this organization gives us access to smart tax and accounting people around the country and around the world. As more of the economy crosses borders, this helps us help our clients as they grow. Yes, there are hardships, like beautiful southern California weather, but we shall be stoic about it. If you are a Tax Update reader and a TIAG member, come and say hi to me or my colleague Doug Ross, who is also here.



Tax Roundup, 10/26/15: No surprise, no Tea Party charges. And: the proposed Iowa graduate tax break.

October 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Toby Miles, IRS.

Toby Miles, IRS.

You break news on Friday when you want to bury it. And that’s what the Department of Justice did when it told Congress that it would not prosecute Lois Lerner, or anybody else in IRS, as a result of the Tea Party Scandal.

Not that anybody would expect otherwise. The Justice Department continues to act as the Administration’s scandal goalie. The fix was in once the President changed his tune from “this is terrible” to “not even a smidgen of corruption.”

Throughout the investigation, not a single IRS employee reported any allegation, concern, or suspicion that the handling of tax-exempt applications — or any other IRS function — was motivated by political bias, discriminatory intent, or corruption. Among these witnesses were several IRS employees who were critical of Ms. Lerner’s and other officials’ leadership, as well as others who volunteered to us that they are politically conservative. Moreover, both TIGTA and the IRS’s Whistleblower Office confirmed that neither has received internal complaints from IRS employees alleging that officials’ handling of tax-exempt applications was motivated by political or other discriminatory bias.

The Investors Business Daily gets this right:

This is absurd. Lerner was caught red-handed targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups, wrote partisan emails to prove it, then engaged in a massive cover-up effort — with a suspiciously crashed server, an oddly missing BlackBerry and plenty of excuses.

She evaded even more accountability by shielding herself with the Fifth Amendment in Congress.

It was only Tea Party groups that had to wait years for approval. Considering the destroyed emails, “lost” backups, and Ms. Lerner’s peculiar interest in communication methods that could not be traced, there’s too much smoke and ash to believe there was no fire.

TaxProf has more: The IRS Scandal, Day 898Day 899Day 900. The fix is put in, and we’re told that means that there is no scandal.


Robert Wood, Obama Administration Learned From Lois, Dodging IRS Scandal. “Deny, stonewall, deny.”

TaxGrrrl, DOJ Says No Criminal Charges For Lerner, Others In IRS Scandal, Closes Investigation




Jana Luttenegger Weiler, IRS Releases Inflation Adjustments for 2016 (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).

Kay Bell, Securing taxpayer data is the IRS’ biggest challenge

Russ Fox, Over 1,100 Returns Filed from Two Addresses Lead to Two Heading to ClubFed

Robert D. Flach, WHO MUST FILE A 2016, or 2015, TAX RETURN? “FYI, based on the new inflation adjustments recently announced by the Internal Revenue Service, you do not have to file a 2016 Form 1040, or 1040A, unless your “gross income” is at least…” Visit Robert to find the numbers.


Hank Stern, Easy come, easy go:

“[T]he GAO report found that … at least $1.6 billion [is] unaccounted for.”

That’s out of over $5 billion in “loans” sent to states, most of which went for state-based Exchanges (which, per SCOTUS, don’t actually exist).

That must be the “affordable” part of the Affordable Care Act.”




Joseph Thorndike, Mexico Is Having Second Thoughts About the Soda Tax – And So Should Everyone Else (Tax Analysts Blog). “If a big tax dissuades people from drinking Mountain Dew, maybe they will lose weight. But maybe they will continue to scarf down their Twinkies with a cupful of untaxed water – and keep packing on the pounds.”

Scott Greenberg, Reviewing Paul Ryan’s Short Term as Chairman of Ways and Means (Tax Policy Blog). “In the last 10 months, the Ways and Means Committee has brought 52 bills to the House floor, tied for most with the Energy and Commerce Committee. Out of these bills, 15 were passed into law, the most out of any committee.”

Howard Gleckman, Little Difference Between the Cadillac Tax and a Cap on the Tax Exclusion for Employer Health Plans (TaxVox).


Caleb Newquist, Accountant Won’t Be Taking a Walk in the Woods Anytime Soon. “James Hammes, who spent 6 years on the lam walking the Appalachian Trail, pleaded guilty earlier today to wire fraud.”


David Brunori discusses ($link) a tax break proposed by Iowa graduate students for… themselves.

The idea is that if you graduate from any college or university in Iowa and stay in the state, you would get a 50 percent tax break for five years. If you move to a rural part of the state, you get a 75 percent tax reduction. As an Easterner, I learned everything I know about Iowa from Joe Kristan’s blog. But I could have sworn most of the state is rural.

In any event, kids, this is a terrible tax policy idea. It will solve no brain-drain problem — although employers may pay less since these graduates won’t be paying taxes. Here is just one problem: If you’re not paying taxes, someone else is. That someone else is probably a poor guy or gal who didn’t graduate from college and is making a lot less than you. I thought college kids would be more empathetic than that.

While most of the state is rural, but most of the jobs for college graduates aren’t.

David gets the policy exactly right. It’s tough to justify a special deal for a young prosperous couple with accounting or law degrees while the people building their suburban house and watching their kids pay full fare.



Tax Roundup, 10/23/15: Tax Court dispenses with pot dispensary deductions. And: IRS scam call, captured on tape!

October 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today newsletter visitors: click here to go directly to the rental loss story


Cannabis leaf image via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Cannabis leaf image via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Deductions get stoned. Not in a good way. Attitudes towards marijuana have changed a lot in the last 33 years. A recent Gallup Poll shows that 58% of respondents favor weed legalization. But a tax provision enacted in 1982 continues the Reefer War with full vigor, as the operators of a legal California medical marijuana dispensary learned yesterday.

Section 280E, enacted early in the Reagan Administration, is one of the more clear provisions of the income tax. It reads in full:

No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.

Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, despite its growing legalization at the state level. That means the only deduction allowed to state-legal weed dispensaries and dealers is their cost of goods sold — their direct cost of their inventory. No rent, salaries, benefits, security, depreciation, or any of the other obvious costs of doing business can be deducted.

Canna Care, Inc., a California dispensary, claimed about $870,000 in business deductions over a three-year period. The Tax Court explains (my emphasis, ditations omitted):

Petitioner argues that its actions cannot be considered “trafficking” for purposes of section 280E because its activities were not illegal under California law. Petitioner claims that this conclusion is supported by memoranda issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on October 19, 2009, and August 29, 2013, and guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) on February 14, 2014.

We have previously held the sale of medical marijuana pursuant to California law constitutes trafficking within the meaning of section 280E… DOJ memoranda and FinCEN guidance released after the years at issue that represent exercises of prosecutorial discretion do not change the result in this case. Petitioner regularly bought and sold marijuana. This activity constitutes trafficking within the meaning of section 280E even when permitted by State law.

The taxpayer also argued that its business activities weren’t entirely about marijuana, and that at least some of the activities should therefore be deductible. The Tax Court said that the taxpayer’s evidence wasn’t sufficient to make that case:

Aside from the sale of medical marijuana, petitioner’s only other source of income was the sale of books, T-shirts, and other items. On the basis of the evidence presented, we cannot determine what percentage of petitioner’s income was from the sale of medical marijuana and what percentage was from the sale of other items. Because of the parties’ stipulation, we find that the sale of medical marijuana was petitioner’s primary source of income and that the sale of any other item was an activity incident to its business of distributing medical marijuana.

No deductions. Victory for IRS.

The Moral: Sometime in the next few years I suspect weed will either cease to be a controlled substance or Section 280E will be amended to allow legal pot sellers to deduct their expenses. Until then, dealers will need to mark up their product a lot to cover the taxes on phantom income. If they have other business activities, they need keep records sufficient to separately track the non-pot profits.

The other moral: Don’t use the tax law to do anything other than measure income and collect taxes. Special carve-outs, whether punitive or beneficial, linger long after the moral panic surrounding their enactment passes. In addition to Section 280E, we remain stuck with other moral panic tax provisions. These include Section 409A, enacted in the Enron panic but punishing ordinary businesses and non-profits trying to compensate their employees, and FIRPTA, enacted to combat the threat of Japanese buying up our precious golf courses. The Japanese have moved on to other things, but FIRPTA still clobbers U.S. real estate buyers who fail to realize they need to withhold taxes on purchases from non-U.S. sellers.

Cite: Canna Care, Inc., T.C. Memo 2015-206.

Related: Russ Fox, Up In Smoke, Again. For more on taxes in the early ’80s, TaxGrrrl has Back To The Future: Taxes Now & Then.


Ed Brown’s fortress-house sells at auction, reports The winning bid was $205,000, though the story makes it appear that the winning bidder may also need to pay some accumulated property taxes.


buzz 20151023-1

It’s Friday, so celebrate with fresh Buzz from Robert D. Flach. Year-end planning, IRS inflation adjustments, and the S corporation vs. partnership conundrum figure prominently.

William Perez reports on the updated 401(k) Contribution Limits.

Tony Nitti, IRS Redefines ‘Husband’ And ‘Wife’ In Response to Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Decisions.

Caleb Newquist, Company Accused of Being ‘Pharmaceutical Enron’ Doesn’t Appreciate the Sentiment (Going Concern).

Robert Wood, Stock Options 2.0: Twitter CEO Gives His Own Stock To Employees

Peter Reilly, IRS Should Be Asking For Cooperation Not Volunteering. “Audits of non-compliant taxpayers will have them “busted” which is unpleasant, whereas non-compliant taxpayers not being audited make the rest of us feel like chumps.”

Kay Bell, As Ryan gets ready to take on House Speaker role, Ways & Means members jockey for tax-writing chairmanship




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 897. Administration partisans urge continued political administration of the IRS, as they needed the encouragement.

Alan Cole, This Bill to Repeal Obamacare Taxes Would Grow the Economy (Tax Policy Blog). Just eliminating the ridiculous and costly paperwork of the ACA would be an economic boost.


Ever wonder what it sounds like to get a phone call from a scammer claiming to be from IRS? Well, you are in luck! A scammer was kind enough to leave a message on my phone at home, which I recorded and uploaded to the link in this sentence.  I believe it is typical of the recorded-message version of the scam, telling me that the IRS “is filing a lawsuit against you” and telling me to call a number to “get more information on this case file.”

The IRS does not call you to tell you they are suing you. They use the old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service, and if they can’t find you, they will use genuine U.S. Marshals to serve you papers. Believe me, if the IRS is after you, you will know you have a problem, and that knowledge won’t come over the phone.



Tax Roundup, 10/22/15: Iowa to credit municipal taxes in other states, allow out-of-state credit against school surtaxes. Plus: 2016 numbers!

October 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150925-2City taxes eligible for credit; school district surtaxes must be counted. Like other states, Iowa gives its residents a credit for taxes paid in other states. The credit is supposed to be the lesser of the tax imposed by the other state on the income taxed by that state or the Iowa tax on the same income.

Iowa has excluded the surtaxes applied by many Iowa school districts from the total Iowa tax against which the taxes paid in the other states are compared. Iowa has also excluded out-of-state municipal income taxes, like the Kansas City Earnings Tax, from the list of taxes eligible for the credit.

The Department of Revenue has announced that the Wynne decision earlier this year requires the tax credit to be applied taking the surtax into account:

The Iowa Department of Revenue’s (“the Department”) previous practice was to calculate the surtax prior to applying the out-of-state tax credit.  This produced a similar result to Maryland’s; that is, Iowa’s out-of-state tax credit was only being applied to state income tax liability, not local tax (surtax) liability.  Because this practice is inconsistent with the Supreme Court ruling, the Department must change its practice.  The result is that the out-of-state tax credit calculated on form IA 130 must be applied prior to other nonrefundable Iowa tax credits and before calculation of any school district surtax or EMS surtax. 

The Department also is expanding the credit to apply to municipal income taxes (my emphasis):

Any Iowa resident who has paid taxes on income earned in any other state, a local jurisdiction of any other state, or the District of Columbia may be eligible for a refund. 

This will apply to many S corporation and partnership owners whose businesses are involved in other states. I suspect the Kansas City earnings tax may be one of the more commonly municipal taxes paid by Iowans, but such taxes are also commonly seen in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky. Some localities collect these taxes through “composite” returns filed by the S corporations or partnerships on behalf of their owners, so partners and shareholders should review their K-1 information to see whether they contain municipal taxes that can generate Iowa refunds.

Iowans will have to file amended returns under the normal IA 1040X refund claim process:

The 2015 IA 1040 and IA 130 will reflect these changes; however, prior year Iowa forms will not.  For taxpayers filing 2013 or 2014 returns for the first time or amending those returns using the IA 1040, rather than the IA 1040X, the out-of-state tax credit calculated on form IA 130 should be entered after line 49 on the IA 1040, rather than on line 57 as shown on the form for those prior years. For tax years 2007 through 2012, the out-of-state tax credit calculated on form IA 130 should be entered after line 52 on the IA 1040, rather than on line 62.

The period to claim 2011 refund may still be open until October 31 for Iowans who filed their 2011 returns at the extended return deadline. Otherwise refunds may be avaialable for 2012 and later filings.


Joseph Henchman, Iowa to Refund Local Income Taxes After Wynne Decision (Tax Policy Blog)

Des Moines Register, Court ruling gives 32,000 Iowa households tax refunds

Prior Coverage: Is yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision an Iowa refund opportunity?




Kay Bell, IRS issues 2016 tax inflation adjustments

Me, 2016 401(k) max remains $18,000; most other qualified plan limits unchanged and FICA Max remains unchanged for 2016 at $118,500.


William Perez discusses Various Types of Individual Retirement Accounts.

Hank Stern, Two more CO-OPS down the tubes (Insureblog). The Colorado and Oregon co-ops follow Iowa’s Co-Oportunity into co-oblivion.

Alan Cole, The CBO Thinks Repealing Obamacare Mandates Would Lower the Deficit. Here’s Why. (Tax Policy Blog):

The numbers tell the same story that the paragraph above tells: some people respond to the penalties by paying them, but others respond to the penalties by purchasing (often-subsidized) insurance. The subsidies paid to the latter group actually outweigh the revenue the government earns from the penalties.

What a disaster.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 896


Aidan Russell Davis, New ITEP Brief: A Primer on State Rainy Day Funds (Tax Justice Blog). “Rather than waiting for another crisis to occur, ITEP’s new policy brief explains why states should make structural improvements to their rainy day funds right now.”


Because they’re not hiring? Six Percent of People Looking for Talent Not Sure What All the Complaining Is About (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).


The Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is 29 years old today. 


My, how you’ve grown.



IRS: 2016 401(k) max remains $18,000; most other qualified plan limits unchanged.

October 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

The IRS has announced the inflation adjustments to retirement plans for 2016.  Some highlights:

-Maximum contributions to 401(k) and 403(b) plans remains $18,000.  Taxpayers who are 50 years old by the end of 2016 will be able to contribute and additional $6,000 (formerly $6,000), for a combined maximum of $24,000.

-The maximum IRA contribution limit remains at $5,500, plus the additional $1,000 “catch-up” for taxpayers who are 50 or older by the end of 2016.

-The maximum contribution to defined contribution plans remains $53,000.

-The defined benefit plan annual benefit limit remains at $210,000.

A few retirement plan related amounts did change, including the phase-out range for IRA deductions and Roth IRAs and the maximum AGI for the Savers Credit. Details are available from the IRS press release, IR-2015-118.


Tax Roundup, 10/21/15: The tax law doesn’t care where you are on the autism spectrum. And: Iowa sales tax rule change praised.

October 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20151014-1No Asperger exception to Section 475. It’s heads they win, tails you lose for capital gains and losses. If you have capital gains, they’re happy to tax them, no matter how many you have. If you have capital losses, you are limited to gains plus $3,000 per year, with the remainder carrying forward — even if you have to outlive Methuselah to use them up at $3,000 annually. Many sadder-but-wider former day traders have found themselves with this problem.

Section 475 offers some taxpayers a way out. If you qualify as a “trader,” a Section 475 election makes your losses fully deductible. It makes your gains ordinary, rather than capital, and it requires you to recognize gains and losses on your open positions at year-end, but that’s not a big deal for day traders. They tend to trade short-term, and short-term gains are taxed at ordinary rates anyway, and marking-to-market isn’t normally a big deal to them.

But Section 475 has a strict election requirement. You have to make the election no later than the April 15 of the year you want the election to take effect. For example, a taxpayer wanting to make the election effective for 2015 tax returns would have to make the election on his 2014 timely-filed 1040 due April 15, 2015.

A New York man claimed he made the election on his 2003 1040. Unfortunately, he made two serious mistakes. See if you can spot them in the Tax Court’s summary:

In 2003 on the advice of his accountant, petitioner intended to file a section 475(f) mark-to-market election. Petitioner, however, did not retain a signed copy of any election or any evidence of mailing it. Petitioner filed his Federal income tax return for the tax year 2003 on July 25, 2005. The 2003 tax return contained a statement that petitioner had made an election pursuant to section 475(f), but did not have a copy of Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, attached to it.

Error 1: Not keeping a copy of the election (assuming he made it).

Error 2: Not filing until over a year after the due date.

Other cases have shown that the IRS enforces the timely-filing requirements of Section 475 strictly, to keep taxpayers from making the election with the benefit of hindsight.

The Court ruled that he traded enough to qualify as a “trader” under the tax law, but that he blew the election (my emphasis):

We find that petitioner failed to comply with the requirements for the mark-to-market election set out in Rev. Proc. 99-17, supra. The evidence does not show conclusively whether petitioner signed or mailed a Form 3115 in 2003. Petitioner did not submit a copy of any executed version of Form 3115 or any evidence of mailing it. Respondent did not find any record of petitioner’s Form 3115 in his electronic database, but also admitted that in some years not all Forms 3115 received were actually entered in the database. Next, petitioner filed his Federal income tax return for 2003 on July 25, 2005, failing to comply with the filing deadlines.

There’s a lot in that paragraph. Perhaps the most important thing is that the IRS admits that it doesn’t always know what you file, so it’s wise to keep your returns forever in case something like this happens. The other thing is that the deadlines matter.

The taxpayer made an unusual argument to get out of penalties: that his Asperger Syndrome made it impossible to meet deadlines. The Tax Court wasn’t convinced:

For a number of years, including 2002 and 2003, petitioner worked as a high school teacher. There is no evidence in the record that at any time from 2001 through 2006 petitioner filed for a disability accommodation while he was employed as a school teacher. In 2007 petitioner was trading in securities. Petitioner’s work station was equipped with six monitors showing the status of his trades. Petitioner was able to collect, analyze, and organize information to base his trades on. Petitioner understood he had a duty to file tax returns but claims that in 2007 he was “despondent” because of the losses he suffered and could not organize himself to file a tax return timely.

We are sympathetic to petitioner’s plight. We cannot find, however, under these circumstances that petitioner’s mental condition prevented him from managing his business affairs.

This is consistent with other cases where the courts have found that if you are able to deal with the challenges of daily life, you are presumed to be able to file your returns on time.

The Moral: File your returns on time, and keep copies of your filings forever.

Cite: Poppe, T.C. Memo 2015-205

Related: TaxProf, Tax Court: Asperger’s Syndrome Does Not Excuse Taxpayer’s Failure To File Tax Return




David Brunori calls the Iowa proposal to broaden the definition of manufacturing supplies subject to exemption from sales tax The Best Tax Policy Proposal of the Year (Tax Analysts Blog):

Taxing what business entities buy is wrong for two important reasons. First, businesses will try to pass the tax they pay on to their customers in the form of higher prices. Almost all succeed. The customers incur the tax burden without knowing it. That’s wrong. Even for those companies that don’t pass the tax along to customers, some person is unwittingly paying the tax. Second, when consumers pay higher prices, they are sometimes subject to tax. Thus, the sales tax is imposed on a value that includes previous sales tax. You may know it as cascading or pyramiding. But it’s wrong.

And that’s why the Iowa proposal is so refreshingly right. It would expand the types of business purchases exempt from sales tax. My understanding is that there is a debate in Iowa about whether the Department of Revenue can expand the number of exempt business purchases administratively. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that the proposal represents sound tax policy.

Governor Branstad says expects the proposal to be enacted, reports the Sioux City Journal in Branstad: House GOP won’t buck rule change.


Russ Fox, The Wagering Excise Tax and DFS:

I’m focusing on the tax aspects of daily fantasy sports (DFS) this week. It’s beneficial for DFS participants for the activity to be considered gambling. For political reasons (“gambling is a sin”) and regulatory reasons (gambling is regulated, skill contests are not), the DFS sites want to be considered skill games sites. There’s another reason that DFS sites don’t want to be considered gambling: the wagering excise tax.

Picking the right horse at the track is a skill, too, but I’m pretty sure it counts as gambling.


Paul Neiffer, What is a Marginal Tax Bracket. A useful explanation for the non-specialist of how tax brackets work.

Kay Bell, Increased e-filing security planned for 2016 filing season. Better at least five years too late than never, I suppose.

Jim Maule, Beachfront House Rental Deduction Washed Out. When you try to deduct what looks like a beach party, you’d better have excellent documentation.

Eric Rasmusen, Law Suit for Billions Against Citigroup Because of Treasury’s 2009 Waiver of Section 382’s Rule about Losing NOL’s after an Ownership Change. The Administration put the fix in for its friends at Citigroup, and now another taxpayer is suing.




Tax Policy Blog, A Comparison of Presidential Tax Plans and Their Economic Effects.

Renu Zaretsky, “There’s no cut like a tax cut… There’s no cut like a tax cut…” Today’s TaxVox tax headline roundup covers the continuing fiscal pain in Kansas and the IRS patting itself on the back on ID theft after letting it spiral out of control for years.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 895



Our media outlets dismiss the opponents of the Ex-Im bank or people who want to wind down Freddie and Fannie as Tea Party nut cases. If you want to stop crony capitalism, what we need are fewer influential media outlets and more Tea Party nut cases.

Arnold Kling



IRS issues Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for November 2015

October 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

The IRS has issued (Rev. Rul. 2015-22) the minimum required interest rates for loans made in November 2015:

-Short-Term (demand loans and loans with terms of up to 3 years): 0.49%

-Mid-Term (loans from 3-9 years): 1.59%

-Long-Term (over 9 years): 2.57%

The Long-term tax-exempt rate for Section 382 ownership changes in November 2015 is 2.64%.

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


Tax Roundup, 10/20/15: Shock! State tax “incentives” favor the big! And: the 1% surprise.

October 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Regulation always favors the big. So do state business incentives. Left-side think tank Good Jobs First demonstrates the big-player bias of state “incentive” tax deals in a new report Shortchanging Small Business: How Big Businesses Dominate State Economic Development IncentivesMaria Koklanaris summarizes the report for State Tax Notes ($link):

Using its own databases and other programs, [Good Jobs First] weeded out awards targeting companies of a specific size, focusing only on those purportedly available regardless of company size. Of those “facially neutral” awards, 90 percent of the dollars went to big businesses, the report said.

“The deals, worth more than $3.2 billion, were granted in recent years by programs that on their faces, are equally accessible to small and large companies,” the report said. “Yet big businesses overall were awarded 90 percent of the dollars from the programs analyzed, indicating a profound bias against small businesses.”

While Iowa’s incentives weren’t among those studied, I am confident the exact same thing is true here. It’s the big and well-connected taxpayers who know how to play the system. They can hire the attorneys and accountants to navigate the system, and the lobbyists to make sure the taxpayer money is steered their way. And it’s the big projects — inherently done by big taxpayers — that attract the politicians. You’ve never heard of a Governor calling a press conference for some little business hiring two people.

A real Iowa tax reform, like the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan, would get rid of all of these breaks for insiders and lower the rates and compliance costs for everyone.


New York Times, What Could Raising Taxes on the 1% Do? Surprising Amounts.

Scott Greenberg, No, Raising Taxes on the 1% Will Not Lead to “Surprising Amounts” of Revenue (Tax Policy Blog):

Let’s say, for instance, that Congress decided to raise the effective tax rate of the 1% by increasing the top rate on ordinary income. Currently, the top tax bracket on ordinary income is 39.6%. How high would Congress have to raise this rate, in order to raise the effective tax rate of the 1% to 45 percent?

According to our estimates, Congress would have to raise the top rate on ordinary income to 74 percent, in order to raise the effective rate of the 1% from 33.4 percent to 45 percent. This would be a rate hike of over 34 percentage points, or an 87 percent increase in the top rate.

Oh, I think the amounts of revenue raised would be surprising, to the Times. And disappointing. As I’ve noted many times, the rich guy isn’t picking up the tab, because he can’t.




TaxGrrrl, 11 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self About Taxes. Plenty of good advice here. It’s all worth reading, but I especially like #7, Planning is important:

Tax planning is important. You should take advantage of tax strategies that can help you lower your tax bill, like seeking out tax credits you might have overlooked or making a contribution to a tax-deferred retirement account. And knowing what’s coming down the pike is also important when it comes to payment: having a good idea of what you might owe and making estimated payments will help you avoid writing a big check at the end (trust me) and possibly being subject to underpayment penalties.

This is true for all taxpayers, but it is especially true for the self-employed, who are much more numerous with the growth of the “gig economy.”


buzz20150804Robert D. Flach is up and running with a fresh and pungent Tuesday Buzz roundup. He covers the recent tax season and the right response to callers claiming to be from the IRS demanding payment, among other things.

Jason Dinesen, Choosing a Business Entity: S-Corporation vs. C-Corporation. “The ‘C’ and ‘S’ refer to how that corporation is taxed, not to its legal standing.”

Tony Nitti, Apple To Issue Restricted Stock To Employees: Siri, What Are The Tax Consequences?

Russ Fox, The Future of DFS. “If you watch any sports television, you’ve almost certainly seen commercials for the two leading daily fantasy sports (DFS) sites, DraftKings and FanDuel.”

Robert Wood, Chef Jamie Oliver Calls For Sugar Tax, While Mexico Eyes Soda Tax Cut. We actually already have a pretty high sugar tax.

Keith Fogg, Contesting the Merits of the Underlying Tax in a Collection Due Process Case – A Convoluted Fact Pattern Leads to Wrong Decision (Procedurally Taxing).

Peter Reilly, Massachusetts Hits Staples For $10 Million On Sham Interest Deductions. “This case is a beautiful illustration of my fourth law of tax planning – Execution isn’t everything, but it is a lot.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 894. On how the President signals Justice Department investigators to back off.

Brian Doherty, Irwin Schiff, R.I.P. ( “He was indeed a jolly warrior for a cause he obviously very sincerely believed in, even when it became completely obvious that the federal government was not going to be daunted by his arguments and indeed was going to keep arresting him for practicing them and advocating them.”

Kay Bell, Infamous tax protester Irwin Schiff has died. “His anti-tax tactics live on, as do penalties for those who insist on using them.”


Howard Gleckman, Presidential Candidates, “Free Stuff,” and Pixie Dust (TaxVox):

Even in its early stages, the 2016 presidential race looks like it will be remembered for two depressing superlatives. The candidates will spend more money than ever before, and they will promise more costly give-aways than any politicians in history.

Once again demonstrating the wisdom of Arnold Kling.


FICA Max remains unchanged for 2016 at $118,500.

October 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

he Social Security Administration has announced that the maximum earnings subject to the 6.2% FICA tax remains unchanged at $118,500 for 2016.   The same cap applies to the 12.4% retirement portion of self-employment tax.

That means he maximum FICA withholding for 2015 will be again be $7,347.00 for 2016.

There is no maximum for the 1.45% Medicare tax. The . 09 extra Medicare tax on wages is withheld starting at $200,000


Tax Roundup, 10/19/15: Keeping a calendar pays off big for Brooklyn apartment owner. And: Irwin Schiff dies in prison.

October 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150811-1Marking time pays. If you ever think owning income property is easy money, a Tax Court case last week might make you think twice. But the case also shows how keeping track of the time you spend can make a big difference if the IRS questions your rental losses.

The taxpayer couple owned “a four-floor mulifamily house” in Brooklyn. The couple lived on the first two floors, and rented out the two remaining floors as two apartments. He had a day job involving construction, but he also had his hands full with the apartment.

The couple claimed just under $70,000 of rental losses between 2010 and 2011. The IRS challenged the losses. The IRS has a good track record in rental loss cases because the tax law sets a high bar for deducting them. Such losses are automatically “passive,” and deductible only to the extent of “passive income,” unless you are a “real estate professional.” To be a real estate professional, you have to

  1. work more than 750 hours in a real estate trade or business during the year, and
  2. Your real estate work has to take more time than anything else you do.

It’s that second test that usually trips up people with day jobs. The taxpayer here, though, had an advantage, as Special Trial Judge Panuthos explains:

For purposes of the requirement in section 469(c)(7)(B)(i) [the real estate professional test], a real property trade or business includes construction and reconstruction. Sec. 469(c)(7)(C). 

So that meant the rental activity didn’t have to take more time than the day job. But the real estate professional rule doesn’t automatically make a rental loss deductible. The taxpayer still had to show that he “materially participated” to avoid the passive loss rule. Material participation is generally based on time spent working on the activity during the year, with 500 hours annually being the most common threshold used.  Fortunately, the taxpayer kept track of his time:

We used petitioner’s contemporaneous activity log to calculate the amount of time that he spent on the rental property. We included the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the tenants’ apartments and two-thirds of the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the common areas. On the basis of these calculations, we conclude that petitioner spent 1,008 hours performing services with respect to the rental activity for 2010. Because the 1,008 hours meets the more-than-500-hour requirement of section 1.469-5T(a)(1), Temporary Income Tax Regs., supra, petitioner meets this requirement for the 2010 taxable year. Accordingly, petitioner materially participated in the rental real estate activity for 2010, and petitioner’s 2010 rental real estate activity was not a passive activity.

That’s a lot of time. So much for the idea that rental income is easy money. The taxpayer’s records also carried the day for 2011. In total, the recordkeeping saved the taxpayer $25,174.60 in taxes and penalties that the Tax Court overturned.

The Moral? Keeping a daily calendar of your time is the best antidote to an IRS passive loss examination. It may seem like a hassle, but as this case shows, it can turn out to be the best investment of time you can make if the IRS comes for a visit.

Cite: Simmons-Brown, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-62.


Irwin SchiffTax Protester Schiff dies in prisonIrwin Schiff, a prominent figure among those denying the general application of the income tax, died in prison last week, reports Peter Reilly. Mr. Schiff, 87, had been diagnosed with lung cancer while serving a 13-year sentence for practicing what he unwisely preached. Peter’s humane and thoughtful coverage includes this:

When I first encountered Schiff’s arguments in the nineties I was so impressed by how well put together they were, that I found it difficult to believe that they were constructed by someone who believed them, as citations always checked out, but were wildly out of context.  Irwin, however, has proved his sincerity.  That doesn’t make his arguments right, but it does merit some grudging admiration.

Mr. Schiff’s story shows that however sincerely you believe that the income tax doesn’t apply to you, your sincerity does little good when the IRS, the U.S. Marshals, the federal judges, and the Bureau of Prisons think it does. And they do.



Russ Fox, That Was the Year that Was. Russ reflects on the filing season ended last week:

Calling the IRS was almost a joke. The “Practitioner Priority Service” hold times were so bad that I’d hate to think of what they were for regular numbers. Unfortunately, I see no improvement possible with the IRS budget until the IRS scandal is resolved. That’s not going to happen until we have a new President, so we have probably two more years of misery in dealing with the IRS.

At least.


William Perez, Where to Find and How to Read Tax Tables

Annette Nellen, Responsible Governance – Tax break bills vetoed! “What happened – On 10/10/15, Governor Brown vetoed nine bills that either created or expanded a tax credit or exclusion or exemption.”




Alan Cole, How Do Property Taxes Vary Across The Country? (Tax Policy Blog). The post feature a handy interactive map showing the average property tax deduction taken in each U.S. county in 2013.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 891Day 892ay 893. Day 892 covers the connection between Lois Lerner and a bureaucrat behind the outrageous Wisconsin “John Doe” investigations of conservative organizations.

Howard Gleckman, The Debt Limit: Here We Go Again (TaxVox).

Kay Bell, GOP presidential candidates tax trash talk on Twitter

Robert Wood, Execs Get 10 Years Prison Over Company Taxes? Yes, Here’s How. Robert covers the Arrow Trucking saga.

TaxGrrrl, As TIGTA Continues To Warn On IRS Scams, New Treasury Scams Surface. “In one version, scammers advise that an individual has been awarded a grant or a similar sum of money and in order to collect, the individual needs to provide personal information or a sum of money to ‘release’ the funds. It sounds a little bit like those lottery scams making the rounds but the use of the name of the Office of the Treasury seems to make individuals believe that it’s more legitimate”


News from the Profession. A Noncomprehensive List of Morale Boosters for Accounting Firms (Leona May, Going Concern). “Accounting firms, who generally eat their young, are all competing for ‘who has the best perks’ in race to scoop up all of the competent new hires.”



Tax Roundup, 10/16/15: Is the Earned Income Credit really all that great? And: Ed Brown house back on the block.

October 16th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150929-1Can a program that wastes 25% of its cost be worthwhile? While many economists left and right say the Earned Income Credit is a great poverty fighting tool, some of us who do tax for a living aren’t so sure. Now two scholars at the libertarian Cato Institute have published a report that fleshes out some of these doubts: Earned Income Tax Credit: Small Benefits, Large Costs. The report provides this background:

While the EITC is administered through the tax code, it is primarily a spending program. The EITC is “refundable,” meaning that individuals who pay no income taxes are nonetheless eligible to receive a payment from the U.S. Treasury. Of the $69 billion in benefits this year, about 88 percent, or $60 billion, is spending.

Articles by liberal and conservative pundits regarding the EITC often make it seem as if there are few downsides to the program. The EITC is aimed at reducing poverty and encouraging work. Who could be against that?

Alas, there is no free lunch with subsidy programs. The EITC has a high error and fraud rate, and for most recipients it creates a disincentive to increase earnings.

The waste and the “disincentive effects” are the things that bother me the most. The phase out of the benefits makes it very expensive to earn a little more, after a certain low-income point. My computation of the Iowa marginal rates on EITC recipients is in chart:eic 2014

That’s a 55% tax on every dollar earned, which doesn’t exactly encourage you to earn more dollars. And I don’t try to account for the hidden tax resulting from the loss of other welfare benefits as income increases.

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t really address what should replace the EITC, other than calling for generic good tax policy: “For example, cutting the corporate income tax rate would boost business capital investment. That would generate higher demand for labor, and thus raise wages and create more opportunities for American workers over time.”

I wish they had discussed the “universal benefit” that Arnold Kling and others have set forth. Arnold describes this version:

For a universal benefit, I propose something like $6000 for each adult in a household and $4000 for each child. [Charles] Murray proposed $10,000 per adult and zero per child.

Murray described the program as a cash grant. I describe it as flex-dollars that can only be used for “merit” goods, meaning health care, food, housing, and education.

Each of us presumes that people will purchase health insurance. I am explicit that catastrophic health insurance would be mandatory.

I propose something like a 20 percent marginal tax rate, or phase-out rate, for the universal benefit.

Arnold would have the phase-out as an addition to the income tax; I would couple it with the standard deduction so it phases out as part of the income tax, not as an addition to it. In any case, it would address many of the fraud and administration problems we see in the EITC.


honey princesses 2014


Robert D. Flach has your fresh Friday Buzz! Last minute filing, neglected beneficiary designations, and Dance Moms are highlighted.

Laura Saunders, Beware of Tax Surprises Lurking in Mutual Funds (Wall Street Journal). “Here’s why: By law, each year mutual funds must pay out to investors nearly all their income, which includes interest, dividends and net realized capital gains—in short, the profits on their trades minus offsetting losses… Already, one fund has announced the largest capital-gains payout some experts can remember.”

William Perez, I don’t make too much money, does the new health insurance rule apply to me?

Annette Nellen, Worker Voice, Classification and Taxes. “One of many things the “on demand” economy means is more clear and consistent rules on worker classification.”

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: S-corporation. “S-corporation is a tax term that refers to a corporation or an LLC that elects to be taxed under the rules of Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code.”

Jim Maule, Taxes, Consumption, Soda, and Obesity. “It is not unlikely that people who find soda to be too expensive because of the tax will spend their dollars on pies, cakes, candy, doughnuts, cookies, ice cream, and similar items.”

Leslie Book, Tax Court Holds Preparer Who Placed Truncated Social Security Number on Returns Subject to Penalties. He didn’t use a PTIN or Social Security Number on the returns he signed. The penalty is $50 per return. He prepared 134 returns in 2009. I’ll leave the math as an exercise for the reader.

TaxGrrrl, ‘Dance Moms’ Star Abby Lee Miller Accused Of Hiding Income, Indicted On Fraud Charges. So many TV shows I’ve never seen, so many indictments.

They both eat brains. Presidential candidate debates outdraw zombies (Kay Bell)




Howard Gleckman, The Debt Limit: Here We Go Again (TaxVox):

The House is largely leaderless and a significant minority of its Republican caucus will oppose any increase in the federal borrowing limit. In the Senate, CNN reports that GOP leader Mitch McConnell wants major concessions from the White House on such hot button issues as Social Security and Medicare before he moves a debt bill. And a lame-duck President Obama seems increasingly disinclined to negotiate with Hill Republicans on any issue. 

Pass the popcorn.


Jeremy Scott, Democrats Offer Nothing Much on Tax Reform (Tax Analysts Blog):

Taxes were discussed. Bernie, of course, wants to use them to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, something it’s not clear his plan even addresses. Chafee wants a new 45 percent bracket on higher incomes. And Hillary talked some about the numerous small tax provisions she would like to enact to accomplish extremely specific, targeted goals. But nothing said onstage Tuesday night should give any tax reform observers hope that a Democratic White House in 2017 will be any more behind a broad tax reform effort than President Obama has been.

A complicated tax code that meddles in everything is exactly what you would expect from big government fans. There’s no reason to expect reform from the avowed party of big government.


Kyle Pomerleau, Governor Lincoln Chafee’s Modest Tax Proposal (Tax Policy Blog).

Bob McIntyre, Although He Left out Key Details, It’s Clear Kasich’s Tax Plan Is a Deficit-Busting Giveaway to the Wealthy (Tax Justice Blog). We don’t need no stinking key details.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 890

News from the Profession. Will the CPA Exam Become Optional? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)


The Brown house. Photo from IRS Auction web site.

The Brown house. Photo from IRS Auction web site.

6,000 Sq. Ft., Handyman’s and Ordnance Clearance Specialist’s Dream! The IRS is going to once again try to auction the home of Ed and Elaine Brown, the couple serving loooong prison terms as a result of an armed standoff following their conviction on tax charges. It has some unusual features, reports

In the back of a closet, a hidden door can be found. A ladder leads to a small bunker with a passageway that leads just outside. Dirt hides the manhole cover that provides an exit to the passage.

Admit it, you’ve always wanted one of those.

“There’s a lot of stuff that you need to look at and say, ‘Do I want to finish it that way? Do I want to go a different direction?'” said Roger Sweeney, liquidation specialist for the IRS. “But it also comes with 100 acres, and with that price, it’s a heck of a deal.”

There are solar panels and a wind turbine on the land, but investigators have found explosive devices, as well. A warning is included in the notice of sale.

The article has a little photo tour of the property. You can learn more at the IRS auction website. The starting bid is only $125,000.

Related: Tax Update Blog Ed Brown coverage.



Tax Roundup, 10/15/2015: How to do that last-minute filing right. And: C.R. ID thief sentenced, Iowa sales tax rule delayed.

October 15th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

certifiedFile! Today is the last, final, immutable deadline for filing an extended 2014 1040.* What are the stakes for getting that return in today?

  • If you owe federal taxes, it’s the difference between a late payment penalty of 3% (1/2% per month since April 15) and a late filing penalty of 25% (5% per month, capped at 25%).
  • It’s the last chance to make a free grouping election of your activities for the ne investment income tax and passive loss rules.
  • If you have an international reporting form on your return — a 5471, 8865, 3520, 8938, or 8891, for example — it’s the only way to avoid an automatic $10,000 late penalty on your filing. These forms may be due if you own an interest in a foreign corporation, partnership or trust; if you received a foreign gift or inheritance; if you have foreign financial assets, like a loan to an overseas person; or if you have an interest in a Canadian retirement plan.

So how to file? If you haven’t started yet (ugh), Russ Fox has some tips. If your return is done and you just need to file, e-file if at all possible. That gives you the assurance that your return has arrived on time and saves you the hassle of a trip to the post office or the UPS or FedEx store. And I feel safer if my return doesn’t have to be touched by an actual IRS employee.

OK, you ask, why can’t I just drop it in the mail or use the office postage meter? After all, the Mailbox Rule says “timely mailed, timely filed.”

Because then you have no proof that you filed on time. If the letter gets lost, or delayed, the IRS can call it “late” and you have no way to prove otherwise. If you have anything at stake with a timely-filing, it’s foolish to rely on the competence of the postal service and the goodwill of someone at the IRS service center.

If you aren’t e-filing, the best thing to do is to go to the post office, spring for Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, and get a hand-stamped postmark. Save it and keep it with the return receipt when that comes back. That will ward off late-filing vampires. Filling out the certified mail slip and running it through the office postage meter or using a postmark doesn’t work.

If you can’t make it to the post office before they close, then you can go to the FedEx Store or UPS store and use a “designated private delivery service.” This is trickier. You have to use one of the delivery methods specified by IRS Rev. Proc. . For example, “UPS Ground” doesn’t work, but “UPS 2nd Day Air” does work. Make sure the shipping paperwork shows today’s date. Be sure to use the proper IRS service center street address, because the private services can’t use the IRS post office box addresses.

*Unless you are a South Carolina flood victim, a war zone resident, or a non-resident alien.





Five years for Cedar Rapids ID reports an Iowa woman will go away for 61 months after pleading guilty to one count of ID theft. The Government’s sentencing memorandum says Gwendolyn Murray prepared “at least 136 false and fraudulent returns.” Ninety-four of them were processed, netting over $380,000 in refunds.

And that’s the real crime. The IRS has such poor controls that an amateur, probably using an off-the-shelf tax prep software package, could help herself to that much taxpayer money before getting caught. The chances of getting that back are about the same as my chances of a pro baseball career. And yet the IRS says the real problem is that honest preparers don’t have to take a compentency literacy test and submit a fee and paperwork.

Related: TIGTA: 1,300 IRS Computers, 50% Of IRS Servers Are Running Outdated Operating Systems, Putting Taxpayer Data At Risk (TaxProf)


Iowa Sales Tax Rule for Manufacturing Supplies to be delayed six months. It will now take effect July 1, 2016, reports AP.


Gretchen Tegeler, Ask questions about your property taxes (

You may not realize you are supporting not only your city, county and school district, but also Broadlawns Medical Center, Des Moines Area Regional Transit (DART) and the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC).

For instance, 8.6 percent of the property taxes my husband and I pay on our home are going to Broadlawns. The single largest percentage increase in our property taxes (and this would be the case for most everyone in Polk County) is for DART, a whopping 10.4 percent!  

I’m sure it’s worth every penny…


Roger McEowen, Obamacare; Reimbursement of Health Insurance Premiums; and Limited (and Inconsistent) Transitional Relief (AgDocket). On the incomplete and confusing relief for “Section 105 plans” being clobbered by insane ACA regulations.


Paul Neiffer, What about Partnerships?:

The ACA mandates an $100 per day per employee penalty for providing non-qualified health insurance to more than one employee.  Many of our farm operations operate as S corporations and partnerships.  There is specific IRS guidance that allows shareholders and partners to deduct these health insurance premiums for owners and since this guidance did not line up with the guidance on the imposition of the $100 per day penalty, the IRS issued a notice earlier this year that indicated S corporations could continue to file their returns the same way until the end of this year.

However, this notice appeared to be silent on the treatment for partnerships and partners. 

They had to pass it for us to find out what was in it.


Peter Reilly, Santorum 20/20 Flat Tax Might Be Hard On Many Small Businesses. “I don’t understand why there does not seem to be more excitement about the elimination of business interest deductions.” Maybe because it’s Rick Santorum.

Robert WoodU.S. Tax 35%, Ireland 12.5%, New Irish Tech Rate 6.25%, Any Questions?

Kay Bell, Be like Trump: Pay as little tax as possible




David Brunori, Getting Taxpayers to Rat on Each Other: Uncool (Tax Analysts Blog):

Private citizens should not be in the business of administering or enforcing the tax laws. The most obvious reason is that they do not have the expertise or the context to judge whether taxes are being evaded rather than, say, avoided. It is hard enough for trained tax professionals to ascertain the difference between tax fraud and very aggressive tax planning. That task should be left to the professionals.

Not to mention the free play it gives to bitter ex-lovers or spouses, shakedown artists, and parasites in general.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 889


A big thank you to Gretchen Tegeler and the Taxpayers Association of Central Iowa for inviting me to be on a panel last night on small business tax and regulation last night. I wish I could have lingered to chat longer, and enjoy some of that delicious Lucca food, but it being October 14 and all, I couldn’t stick around. It was a good session with lots fo great discussion.



Tax Roundup, 10/14/15: The return’s not joint without that Jane Hancock. And: Iowa supplies rule advances.

October 14th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

1040 signature blockSignatures matter. A Tax Court case yesterday reminds us that even though they seem like an afterthought, the IRS cares whether you sign your paper return.

A busy executive mailed the family’s 2000 1040 near the October 15, 2001 extended due date. Possibly through a miscommunication, his wife failed to sign the return before he took it to the office to mail near the deadline. The Tax Court takes up the story (citations omitted):

Sometime after the Andover Service Center received the original 2000 return, respondent returned it to petitioners. The Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) requires the examining agent to perform certain actions before sending a return back to a taxpayer. The examining agent must attach certain forms explaining to the taxpayer why the return is being sent back, what needs to be done with respect to the tax return, and when is the deadline to comply and resubmit the return.

Petitioners claim they received a date-stamped original 2000 return with some red ink marks on it but did not receive any attached correspondence. The date on the stamp was October 15, 2001.

They never signed or re-submitted the return, and it apparently didn’t occur to the taxpayers to ask their CPA why they got it back:

[The husband] explained that he was not alarmed to have received back the original tax return with some red ink marks on it because he requested copies of his tax returns from time to time for various business reasons.

That doesn’t sound right. They had a tax preparer who would normally keep copies of client tax returns. Why would anyone go through the hassle of getting one from the government when you can call your tax man?

The tax year came up for audit, and the taxpayers tried to get 2000 dismissed on the grounds that the 3-year statute of limitations had expired. The statute only starts to run once a return is filed, and the IRS said that with only one signature, there was never a legitimate joint return. The Tax Court discussed and rejected two taxpayer arguments on why the return should count: the “substantial compliance doctrine” and the “tacit consent” doctrine. The first one was easy: filing with only one signature is not “substantial compliance” when both are required.

The “tacit consent” doctrine is more interesting. Again from the Tax Court:

At the outset of our discussion of the tacit consent doctrine, we note that courts generally apply this doctrine when one spouse signs a joint return for both spouses and it is later shown that the other spouse has tacitly consented to the joint return filing.  Most of the cases that petitioners cite follow this general pattern.

This happens in real life more than I care to think about. But Judge Laro ruled that it didn’t fit here where there is no second signature at all:

Extending the application of the tacit consent doctrine to cases such as the current case has the potential of creating an exception that would swallow the rule. We believe sufficient administrative mechanisms are already in place to deal with such situations. Existing procedures described in the regulations and the IRM provide how to handle documents when one of two required signatures is missing. At the very least, a nonsigning spouse who did not intend to file a joint return may be alerted that something is wrong.

Decision for IRS.

The Moral? It’s always best to get both signatures. Better still to not run to the deadline, where it’s easy to miss one. Best of all is to e-file, so the IRS has no manual signature issues in the first place, and your signed e-file authorization is safely in the hands of your e-file originator.

Cite: Reifler, T.C. Memo. 2015-199




Iowa rule on sales tax of manufacturing supplies passes first test. The legislative rules committee yesterday split 5-5 on a party-line vote on a Democratic objection to the rule. The split vote allows the rule to go forward, and probably means it will become final, according to this report by O. Kay Henderson.

The rule would flesh out the definition of consumable manufacturing supplies that are exempt from Iowa sales tax. This has been a contentious issue for years, one that has been a large portion of disputes at the Iowa Department of Revenue. Good tax policy favors a broad definition, as good sales tax policy doesn’t tax business inputs in the first place. But it turns out that the people who most benefit from tax receipts — state employees — don’t care for things that deprive them of their cash flows. From the report:

“I don’t believe it’s ever been done, to use the rule-making process to cut taxes. That seems like a heck of a precedent,” says AFSCME Council 61 Danny Homan, head of the union that represents the largest share of state workers.

He says all 150 legislators should vote on the proposal and Homan accuses Branstad of abusing executive power to try to cut taxes for corporations.

“After, on July 2, the governor vetoed $55 million in one-time appropriations for schools and vetoed funding for the MHIs in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant,” Homan says. “It seems like he’s got money to reward his friends, but he doesn’t have money for education and he doesn’t have money for folks that are suffering from mental illness.”

There is so much wrong with the idea that all of this money is the Governor’s to give out, and that the only problem is that he isn’t giving it to state employees. It’s a great example of why public employee unions as bargaining units are an awful idea.


William Perez, Do Your Home Improvements Qualify for the Residential Energy Tax Credits? “Homeowners who install solar panels or make other energy-efficient improvements to their home may qualify for a federal tax credit.”

Jason Dinesen, Are Tax Preparers Who Operate on Volume Doomed? It would be a blessing, actually.

Peter Reilly, A Twisted Tale Of New Jersey Use Tax,

TaxGrrrl, Losers Like Me: Fantasy Sports Sites Like FanDuel Attract Billions And Scrutiny As Popularity Grows

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Daring To Take On The Section 263A Adjustment. A key part of the 1986 tax reform process, it is a monument to the baneful tax policy consequences of the tax revenue scoring process.


Scott Greenberg, NY Times Reporter Casts Doubt on Financial Transactions Taxes (Tax Policy Blog). They are an awful idea.

Howard Gleckman, How A Carbon Tax Could Have Prevented The Volkswagen Diesel Scandal (TaxVox)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 888. Today’s link discusses a GAO report on how the IRS has failed to enact safeguards against continued political bias in IRS operations.


And finally: With first Wrigley clinch, Cubs move on to NLCS.



Tax Roundup, 10/13/15: Thoughts for those facing the due date. And: Ex-Iowa revenue director backs sales tax rule.

October 13th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitors, click here to go to the YMCA story.


20151013-4It’s time. The extended return deadline is Thursday, October 15, and no more extensions are available (unless, perhaps, you are in South Carolina, drying out from the floods, or you are in an overseas combat zone).

Haven’t filed yet? Haven’t even started? Russ Fox has some thoughts for you:

Somewhere, there’s a procrastinator wondering that exact question. He’s likely thinking, “I don’t have to do anything; I have until October 15th!” That’s not a good answer (with one exception [1]).

First, most tax professionals will not be able to fit you in. I took in one new client appointment this week—and he’s filling a cancellation. Determine your income, gather all your documents, and do your best. Tax forms are available online (the IRS website is actually quite good). Commercial tax software, though flawed [2], is a good choice at this point in time.

That makes sense. You really shouldn’t file late. It’s habit-forming, and it’s a bad habit. If you have a refund coming, you will probably lose it if you don’t file in two years — and without a due date deadline, that happens a lot. If you don’t file, you can’t get a 2016 ACA advance premium credit, making you out-of-pocket for the whole thing until you file your 2016 tax return, assuming you get around to that one.

Russ has another comment worth noting:

I disagree with fellow tax professional Robert Flach on his description that all tax software is fatally flawed. For individuals in simple situation it works perfectly. It doesn’t make math mistakes. And it usually allows for seamless electronic filing. I agree with Robert that the ability to look at a return and evaluate what’s on it (does it pass the smell test) is vital but when you’re up against a deadline, you don’t have a choice.

While I am in awe of Robert’s practice of doing his returns by hand, I don’t recommend it for anyone else. While software, like any human endeavor, is “flawed,” it’s much less flawed than a do-it-yourself tax filer without software. Tax software prevents a lot more mistakes than it causes.


Speaking of Robert Flach, it’s Tuesday, so he has fresh Buzz! His artisanal mind wanders from the size of the tax law, charity scams, and maintaining small business records. Presumably posted with flawed software!




Mike Ralston, Manufacturers shouldn’t be taxed twice. The President of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and former director of the Iowa Department of Revenue, defends the new proposed rules broadening the definition of “manufacturing supplies” exempt from sales tax: “To the best of my knowledge, no one inside the Statehouse has argued that the proposed rule is bad policy.” David Brunori is quoted.


Tulsa World, Doug Pielsticker: Sentence more than justified. “Laid-off employees blamed the company’s bankruptcy partly on Pielsticker’s lavish lifestyle, which included a $1.3 million mansion, a Bentley and a wedding with 1,000 guests at Philbrook Museum.” We covered the sentencing yesterday.


John Mickelson, Importance of succession planning for privately held businesses (

TaxGrrrl, Be Smart When Being Charitable: IRS Warns On SC Flood Relief Scams

Keith Fogg, The Right Instincts and the Wrong Decision Leads to No Relief as an Innocent Spouse – An Adam and Eve Story (Procedurally Taxing) “Reading the opinion, I realized that I had watched the trial with my students and we had analyzed it in class reaching the same conclusion as Judge Lauber but still feeling sad for the individual who sought relief.”

Peter Reilly, Volkswagen’s Emissiongate May Include Tax Crimes

Jack Townsend, Schumacher, UBS Banker Enabler, Sentenced to Probation Only and Fine. Once again, slapping the real international financial criminals on the wrist while shooting the jaywalkers.

Kay Bell, Some in GOP question Ryan’s conservative commitment; others say he serves the party best as tax-writing chair.  

William Perez, Changes in Tax Deadlines to Take Effect in 2017 (Plus Deadlines for 2015 and 2016). There’s a big one this week.




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 887. Today’s installment features some guy who think the IRS isn’t meddling in politics enough.

Scott Greenberg, Bobby Jindal’s Tax Plan Would End the Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Exclusion (Tax Policy Blog):

Some of the features of Bobby Jindal’s recently released tax plan – fewer tax brackets, ending the estate tax, and eliminating itemized deductions – should be familiar from other Republican candidates’ tax plans. But a few elements of Jindal’s plan stand out from the rest of the field. Specifically, Jindal would significantly change the tax treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance plans.

It would replace the employer exclusion for health care with a “standard deduction” for insurance costs.


Bob McIntyre, We (Don’t) Need to Talk about Bobby Jindal (Tax Justice Blog). We don’t like him. We’ll pretend he’s not there.

Renu Zaretsky, A Speaker, A Speaker, Their Kingdom for a Speaker. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the House Speaker situation, Hockey free agents, and the upcoming Democratic candidate debate.

Career Corner. The Rise of the Lifestyle Accountant (Chris Hooper, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 10/12/15: Broken Arrow (Trucking) nets CEO 7 1/2 years. And: Last week of tax season!

October 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitors, click here to go to the YMCA story.

Last Week! Extended 2014 1040s are due Thursday. That’s it, no more extensions are available.  It should be all over by now, but it’s not. Don’t put your preparer off until Thursday because there might be a $25 charitable contribution you missed, and you are just too darned busy to find it today.


ice truckWrecked. A weird and strange payroll tax crime case wrapped up last week when James Douglas Pielsticker was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison.

Mr. Pielsticker was CEO of Arrow Trucking when it failed spectacularly, leaving hundreds of its drivers stranded:

December 24, 2009

Hundreds of truckers nationwide are stranded and trying to get home before Christmas after their company shut down operations with little notice.

Arrow Trucking, based in Tulsa, suspended operations and laid off employees. Arrow is among the largest trucking companies in the nation.

About 900 truckers were left stranded across the country. Many drivers learned that the company had folded only after filling up their rigs and discovering the company’s fuel credit cards would not work.

There was no money to get the drivers home because Mr. Pielsticker was using it for… other things. From the Department of Justice press release (my emphasis):

According to the plea agreement and other court records, in 2009, Pielsticker and others conspired to defraud the United States by failing to account for and pay federal withholding taxes on behalf of Arrow Trucking Company and by making payments to Pielsticker outside the payroll system.  Pielsticker and others withheld Arrow Trucking Company employees’ federal income tax withholdings, Medicare and social security taxes, but did not report or pay over these taxes to the IRS, despite knowing they had a duty to do so. 

The conspirators paid for Pielsticker’s personal expenses with money from Arrow Trucking Company and submitted fraudulent invoices to TAB to induce the bank to pay funds to Arrow Trucking Company that were not warranted.  In total, the conspiracy caused a loss to the United States totaling more than $9.562 million.

What sort of personal expenses? According to the government’s sentencing memorandum, they included:

…expenses related to his Bentley and Maserati automobiles, and trips on private jets…  In 2007, Arrow paid at least approximately $361,000 for Pielsticker’s benefit; in 2008, it was at least approximately $753,000; and in 2009, Arrow paid approximately $1,300,000 for Pielsticker’s benefit in addition to his normal salary. 

The company collapsed under the weight of the looting, and the drivers were left hanging. Fortunately, other drivers and industry players came to their rescue to get them home, showing a lot more consideration than Mr. Pielsticker.

Employment tax fraud is a very stupid crime (not that there are a lot of smart ones). Jack Townsend reports that the government has recently updated its procedures for prosecuting payroll tax fraud, a sign that this is an enforcement priority. Don’t fail to remit withheld taxes. It’s not just a bad financial move; it could get you in criminal trouble.


Pielsticker Criminal Information Document

CEO Gets 7 1/2 Years Prison Over Employment Taxes, Owes $21M In Restitution (Robert Wood)




Call me when you start using the tools you have. We keep hearing how “common sense” preparer regulation is needed to keep us tax pros in line. Yet the IRS Return Preparer Office isn’t even using the authority it actually has, according to a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration:

However, the RPO does not revoke PTINs from tax return preparers who are not compliant with their tax filing and payment obligations. In January 2015, the RPO identified 19,496 preparers with PTINs who were potentially noncompliant with these obligations. These preparers had over $367 million in tax due as of January 26, 2015. In addition, the RPO identified 3,055 preparers who failed to file required tax returns for one or more tax years and eight tax return preparers who failed to file required tax returns for five years.

Our review of PTIN holders as of September 30, 2014, identified 3,001 preparers who self reported a felony conviction on their application; 87 reported a crime related to Federal tax matters. Lastly, processes do not ensure that PTINs assigned to prisoners or individuals barred from preparing tax returns are revoked. Specifically, the RPO did not revoke the PTINs assigned to 65 of 445 confirmed prisoners and 15 of 87 individuals who the IRS identified as barred from preparing tax returns.

This supports the case that preparer regulation is more about driving out competitors of the big national tax franchises than it is about promoting quality tax compliance.




Russ Fox, Gilbert Hyatt Goes to Washington…Again:

Back in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that Gilbert Hyatt could sue the Franchise Tax Board in Nevada. That was after the FTB rummaged through his trash. The FTB was then hit with over $400 million in damages. However, the Nevada Supreme Court threw out much of the decision, though the court upheld that the FTB committed fraud against Mr. Hyatt.

Sauce for the Gander is excellent tax policy. We should get to assess the same penalties against the government that they assess against us.

Mitch Maas, Netting Tax Savings Found to be a Goal of Many NHL Free Agents (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).

Kay Bell, Computer scientists’ tax code algorithm could make it easier for IRS to catch partnership tax cheats. If nothing else, visit Kay to check out her slick new site design.

Paul Neiffer, How Much Does Section 179 Cost the Government? Or, how much does it save the taxpayer?

Jason Dinesen, Iowa Taxation of Retirement Income

Jim Maule, A Federal Income Tax on Everybody? How Would That Work?

Peter Reilly, Jindal Tax Plan Creates A Wonderland Of Dodging



Scott Hodge, Biggest Challenge To Tax Reformers: Overcoming Our Progressive Tax Code. “But as many of the presidential candidates have found in crafting their tax reform plans, the extreme progressivity of the individual tax code makes broadening the base and lowering the rate an exercise in raising taxes on the poor and cutting taxes on the rich—hardly a winning political message.”

This chart says a lot:

20151011 effective rate chart tax foundation


It’s hard to have an income tax reform that doesn’t disproportionately benefit the folks who pay the tax in the first place.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 884Day 885Day 886. The votes are in:



Richard Auxier, Taxes penalize hockey teams? That’s a bad call, eh?

Career Corner, Would You Work for Revenue Share? (Chris Hooper, Going Concern). Well, I sort of do.



Tax Roundup, 10/9/15: If you don’t e-file your business return, you may stand out. And: FATCA follies, Friday fun.

October 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

e-file logoI shouldn’t e-file, they might notice me. There remain some people who worry that by filing electronically, they make it more likely that the IRS will cause them trouble. Their numbers are shrinking, according to this IRS press release:

The Internal Revenue Service announced today the number of tax returns e-filed by businesses rose nearly 9 percent this year, continuing the growth in the number of corporate and partnership returns filed electronically. This year, an additional 625,000 corporations and partnerships chose to e-file their tax returns.

As of Sept. 20, almost 8 million corporations and partnerships e-filed their income tax returns. The IRS estimates that e-file accounts for 77 percent of all corporate and partnership returns filed during 2015. Many corporations and partnerships operating on a calendar year receive filing extensions. The due date for filing a return after filing for an extension is usually Sept. 15.

I like e-filing for a number of reasons. I like that we can be sure the return is actually filed and received on time by the IRS, especially when there is a time-sensitive election, or a foreign information return that can trigger a $10,000 penalty if filed late. As you can now e-file most extra forms, like elections and signed charitable contribution Form 8283 appraisal statements, it’s become more convenient. And I think that any time an IRS employee has to touch your return, you increase the risk of an IRS mistake, or of IRS curiosity.



Russ Fox, IRS to Tax Professionals: Rules for Thee but Not for Us. Russ discusses the IRS rules for preparers on safeguarding taxpayer data, including this:

6. Do not mail unencrypted sensitive personal information.

Russ comments:

There’s nothing wrong with these recommendations; in fact, they’re excellent. But note that the IRS says that authorized e-file providers that participate in the role as an Online Provider must follow these rules.

I highlighted the last rule (#6, above) regarding mailing unencrypted sensitive personal information. Why? Because the IRS is one of the biggest offenders in this area.

Yet serious people think that this agency, which can’t even run its own shop, should regulate preparers more.


Robert D. Flach offers fresh-picked hand-crafted Friday Buzz. His links today range from the effects of high tax regimes to the early distribution penalty for IRAs

TaxGrrrl, The Last 10 Things I Bought: How A Busy Working Mom Spends Her Money

Kay Bell, McCarthy ends House Speakership quest; Ryan still says ‘no’




Colleen Graffy, The Law That Makes U.S. Expats Toxic (Wall Street Journal):

Aimed at preventing money laundering, the financing of terrorism and tax evasion, Fatca requires foreign financial institutions such as banks to report the identities of their American customers and any assets those Americans hold. Institutions that don’t comply are subject to a 30% withholding tax on any of their own transactions in the U.S.

This provision was enacted without regard for its effects on the 8.7 million U.S. citizens living abroad, who have essentially been declared guilty of financial crimes unless they can prove otherwise. Many institutions no longer consider their American clients worth the burden and potential penalties of the law, and are abandoning them in droves.

This isn’t news for regular readers here, but it is for almost everyone else. Yet the politicians who smugly imposed this outrageous regime blithely move on to other targets, like the “carried interests.” And so many people trust the politicians to “solve” the “problem” without doing massive damage — despite all history and evidence to the contrary.


Glenn Reynolds, If You Tax It Too Much, They Will Go (USA Today). “IRS data show that taxpayers are migrating from high-tax states like New York, Illinois, and California to low-tax states like Texas and Florida. And it’s not just sports stars or star scientists, doing that, but fairly ordinary people — though, of course, people who earn enough money to pay taxes.”


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 883. In which he features Peter Reilly’s discussion of whether his scandal coverage has “jumped the shark.” So meta. I get a mention.




Kyle Pomerleau, The Key Component of the Estonia’s Competitive Tax System (Tax Policy Blog).

There are many impressive features in the Estonian tax code. It has a flat individual income tax rate of 20 percent, a broad-based 20 percent value-added tax, and has few distortive taxes such as the estate tax or financial transaction taxes.

All of those features contribute the Estonia’s high score. However, the most important and competitive feature of the Estonian tax code is its corporate income tax system. And not only is its corporate tax system competitive with a low, 20 percent rate, it is unique among OECD countries in how it works.

The Estonian corporate income tax is what is called a cash-flow tax. Rather than requiring corporations to calculate their taxable income using complex rules and depreciation schedules every single year, the Estonian corporate income tax of 20 percent is only levied on a business when it pays its profits out to its shareholders.

I prefer that corporations be taxed as income is earned and that they be allowed to deduct payments to shareholders, but the Estonian way has an advantage. The business owners are never taxed until they actually get something out of the business. There is no possibility of income tax exceeding corporation income over its life that way, which can easily happen in our system.


Steven Rosenthal, Making Wall Street Pay—Proposals from the Campaign Trail (TaxVox). There’s no shortage of stupid out there on the trail.


Career Corner. Reminder: Please Take Vacation So You Don’t Die (Leona May, Going Concern).




Tax Roundup, 10/8/15: Your tax preparer has to protect your confidential info. IRS, not so much. And more!

October 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

TIGTAIRS Basically Plastering Your Social Security Numbers on Billboards Now, Because Why Not? (Peter Suderman,

The IRS continues to recklessly print Social Security Numbers (SSNs) on hundreds of millions of notices and letters, despite warnings that this practice dangerously exposes sensitive personal information, and years of pressure to reduce the use of SSNs on documentation.

In fact, the tax agency doesn’t even have procedures in place to fully track its use of SSNs, according to a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), a tax agency watchdog.

This is a problem because of the identity theft epidemic. Every document from IRS sitting untended in your mailbox that has your Social Security number is an ID theft vulnerability. Private parties have changed their practices to protect ID numbers. One example is the adoption of secure password-protected web portals to send anything with an SSN. Another is the decline of the practice of identifying tax returns on the outside of mailing envelopes. The increased risk of attracting an ID thief outweighs the risk a taxpayer might not bother opening an unmarked envelope.

Yet TIGTA says IRS is behind the curve. From their press release:

TIGTA found that as of January 2015, the IRS estimates that it has removed SSNs from 58 (2 percent) of the 2,749 types of letters and 93 (48 percent) of the 195 types of notices it issues.

“A person’s Social Security Number is the most valuable piece of personal data identity thieves can obtain.” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “The fact that the IRS does not have processes and procedures to accurately identify all correspondence that contain Social Security Numbers remains a concern.”

Businesses have to be careful with taxpayer information because we could lose business, or be sued, or worse. The IRS doesn’t have that motivation, and it shows.


20151008 tax incidenceTaxProf, Who Benefits From State Corporate Tax Cuts? Firm Owners (40%), Workers (35%), Landowners (25%). The Prof links to a study of “tax incidence,” or who “really” bears the burden of the corporation tax. While politicians and activists like to talk about corporations as tax-avoiding fat cats, it’s a fact that corporations ultimately don’t pay any tax; it comes out of the pocket of an actual human somewhere. Economists will endlessly debate whether its owners, customers or workers who bear the burden. Whoever it is, it’s not a free lunch for the tax man.


Russ Fox, Tax Relief for South Carolinians. “Note that the relief is automatic; impacted taxpayers need not do anything.”

Robert Wood, Skimming Cash — Even From Yourself — Can Mean Prison For Tax Fraud:

Prosecutors said the Horners owned Topcat Towing and Recovery Inc., a towing business in Georgia. Between 2005 and 2008, they skimmed $1.5 million in cash from the businesses, depositing into their personal bank account without disclosing the income on their corporate or personal tax returns filed with the IRS. They tried to conceal their cash deposits from the government by “structuring,” splitting up cash deposits that exceed $10,000.

Unwise. Banks have great incentive to report “structuring,” and they do.


Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Audit (Of Financials)

Leslie Book, Senate Again Takes Aim at Improper Payments in Federal Programs. The government wants to use the IRS inability to stop issuing fraudulent payments as an excuse to regulate preparers.

Jack Townsend, U.S. Senators on Senate Finance Committee Probe the Tax Aspects of the Volkswagen Debacle. “As often in tax-related and other potential criminal settings, the prosecutor has a panoply of provisions to choose from.”

Kay Bell, NHL players’ goal: Play in low or no income tax states


Jared Walczak, How Much Does Your State Collect in Taxes Per Capita? (Tax Policy Blog).



Iowa is #20.


Cara Griffith, Why Is It So Hard to Fund Schools? (Tax Analysts Blog). This article actually highlights the dangers when judges meddle in the appropriation process.

Renu Zaretsky, Questions, Subsidies, Deductions, and Profits. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup has stories on whether Volkswagen’s emission test rigging got them clean air tax credits, questions on the need to subsidize wind turbines, and much more.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 882

Peter Reilly, Paul Caron’s Day By Day IRS Scandal Has Jumped The Shark – Conclusion. “I fear that the series which serves as a great resource is in danger of having its quality diluted.” I worry that the administration will succeed in running out the clock on the outrageous IRS misconduct.

Tax Justice Blog, New CTJ Report: 358 or 72% of Fortune 500 Companies Used Tax Havens in 2014, Alternate headline: 72% of Fortune 500 Companies try not to squander shareholder value.


Finally: Arrieta, Cubs ace Wild Card test vs. Bucs

Not tax related? Oops.



Tax Roundup, 10/7/15: Iowa Dept. of Revenue proposes sound policy, protests erupt. And: skating to a low-tax state.

October 7th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150122-1The Iowa Department of Revenue proposes broad definitions for industrial sales tax exemption. The chief Democratic taxwriter in the Iowa Senate is unhappy.

The Des Moines Register reports:

State legislators will consider a proposal next week that would reduce the tax burden for manufacturers by up to $46 million in a move critics say bypasses the legislative process.

In an effort to avoid a “double tax,” current law exempts from taxation some items used during the manufacturing process and instead taxes the final product. The proposal would expand the number of items that qualify for that exemption.

The policy behind the exemption is sound. As David Brunori points out,

Only bad things happen when businesses pay sales tax. First, the businesses paying the tax pass the burden on to their customers in the form of higher prices. But the tax is hidden. People do not know they are paying it. Politicians, and perhaps the New York Times, may like that lack of transparency, but it is awful government policy. Second, the higher priced products purchased by consumers are often subject to tax. This gives rise to a tax on a tax. That is awful tax policy. Finally, taxation of business inputs artificially keeps sales tax rates low. People think the sales tax rate is lower than it actually is. None of this is good.

Whether the Department has overstepped its authority is a separate question from the tax policy. From the Register story:

But state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, pointed out the fiscal effects of the legislation on Monday.

“We’ve been told repeatedly by this governor that we can’t afford to educate our kids, and here he goes again with another big tax cut for Iowa’s largest corporations and putting their needs ahead of our kids,” Bolkcom said. “It’s wrong.”

“I don’t remember ever tax policy being made by the rules committee or being made by the executive branch without the consent of the Legislature,” Bolkcom said. “This is a huge tax policy change that (Gov. Branstad) has unilaterally decided.”

Iowa businesses have long complained about the restrictive definition of “equipment” and “property directly and primarily used in processing.” It seems to me that the new definitions are more in line with business reality and the intent of the exemption. Still, I haven’t seen a fight over proposed regulations like this, so I have no idea how this will play out.

Link: Proposed new Iowa rules.




TaxGrrrl, Hockey Players Ice High Tax Teams In Favor Of Tax Savings:

With teams located in Canada and in the United States, high performing hockey players may be able to negotiate their tax home with their team home in order to choose a more favorable tax result. That is, according to a new report released jointly by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) and Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), exactly what’s happening.

According to the report, 54% of the 116 Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) and 60% of players with no-trade clauses who changed teams picked teams with lower taxes.

Sports free agency is an unusual natural experiment on whether state taxes matter. There are always other factors than taxes in choosing a team.  Winning is worth something. Still, it’s pretty much the same job, just with different taxes. The resulting low-tax preference is what you would predict.


Kay Bell, Fantasy sports: Gambling or just good, clean online fun?  Either way, taxes are due, but deduction options differ.

Jack Townsend, Swiss Asset Manager Settles Up with DOJ Tax. A $295,000 fine. Another example of second prong of the IRS approach to international tax compliance — shoot the jaywalkers so you can slap the big offenders on the wrist.

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: A Buyer’s Best Friend – Understanding The Section 338(h)(10) Election. “What if a buyer could acquire a target’s stock for legal purposes — thereby keeping the target alive and preserving its non-transferable assets — but acquire the target’s assets for tax purposes, giving the buyer the stepped-up basis in the asset it seeks?”


Jim Maule, Putting More Tax Information “Out There” for the Tax Database Thieves:

Until and unless the protection of online data is heightened to a point of 99 percent confidence, the IRS should not create yet another vulnerability, another door through which the robbers can force their way in. In the meantime, why not focus on the problem rather than the symptoms? The underlying cause of some noncompliance is the complexity of the tax laws. Treating the symptoms does not cure the illness.



Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for 8/31/15 to 9/11/15. Procedurally Taxing rounds up recent developments in tax procedure, “heavy on estate and gift this week.”




David Brunori, North Carolina Tax Changes — Sort of Good, Kind of Bad (Tax Analysts Blog):

On the good side, the state lowered the personal income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5.49 percent. Lowering rates is usually good for the economy and for the people paying taxes. I believe that people know how to spend their money in ways that improve the economy much better than the government does. The state also expanded the no-tax exemption to $15,500, providing more relief for low-income taxpayers. In general that is a good thing.

On the super-negative front, the legislature is giving Hollywood moguls $30 million in each of the next two years to make films in North Carolina. I guess they haven’t read any of the studies showing that film credits don’t work. But why let facts stand in the way of policymaking?

It’s probably only a matter of time before they realize the wisdom of Iowa’s enlightened approach to hosting filmmakers.


Joseph Henchman, California Supreme Court Hears Arguments in MTC Case (Tax Policy Blog).

Roberton Williams, New Estimates Of How Many Households Pay No Federal Income Tax (TaxVox). “We now figure it is 45.3 percent, nearly 5 percentage points higher than our 2013 estimate of 40.4 percent.”  Mitt Romney, call your office.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 881. Quoting Victor David Hanson: “What now constitutes actionable criminal behavior in the scandals at the IRS, EPA, ICE and a host of other alphabet agencies are not treated as per se violations of the law. Rather, they are judged according to whether the offender and his crime were deemed progressive and well-intended—or reactionary and thus prosecutable.”

Peter Reilly, Paul Caron’s Day By Day IRS Scandal Has Jumped The Shark – Part 1. Sometimes I think the TaxProf has to reach deep to have something to run every day, but his continued focus on the outrageous IRS behavior is a public service. I’m not sure Peter thinks there is a scandal in the first place.


Career Corner. Do PwC Employees Really Like the New Student Loan Perk? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). No word on whether the spiff is available in cash for those thrifty students who got by without loans.



Tax Roundup, 10/6/15: Tax Fairy fails to show up for Kansas ESOP. And: lots of other tax stuff.

October 6th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

tax fairyThe ESOP Tax Fairy Cult has long had Midwest adherents. The Tax Court told gave a Kansas believer the bad news yesterday — there is no tax fairy.

A successful Kansas orthopedic surgeon, a Dr. Prohaska, set up a new corporation, DNA Prof Ventures, with his wife. The surgeon and his wife were the only DNA employees. On the day it was incorporated, DNA created an employee stock ownership plan for its employees.

Problems arose. Tax Court Judge Dawson tells the story:

On December 31, 2008, DNA issued 1,150 shares of class B common stock to the trust with a par value of $10 per share. The trust then allocated the 1,150 shares of DNA stock to Dr. Prohaska’s ESOP account in 2008.

During 2008 DNA did not pay any salaries, wages, or other officer’s compensation. For 2009 DNA issued separate Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, to Dr. and Mrs. Prohaska reporting the respective amounts of $4,500 (during its fourth quarter beginning October 1). DNA issued Forms W-2 for 2010 to Dr. and Mrs. Prohaska reporting the respective amounts of $3,000.

DNA deducted a $1,350 retirement plan contribution on its Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return, for 2009.

Although DNA was the sponsor of the ESOP, it did not file any Forms 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan, for plan years 2008, 2009, and 2010.

The IRS examiners found problems with this and other aspects of the way the ESOP was run (my emphasis):

    In this case, the ESOP had two separate failures to follow its plan document during 2008. First, the ESOP sponsored by DNA Pro Ventures allowed Dr. Daniel J. Prohaska and Amy Prohaska to participate in the ESOP as of the plan year ending December 31, 2008, in violation of the terms of the ESOP plan document regarding eligibility and participation. Second, the ESOP plan document required the ESOP to use appraisal rules substantially similar to those issued under I.R.C. sec. 170(a)(1) when it obtained annual appraisals for the same plan year. The ESOP, however, failed to obtain any appraisal for the 2008 plan year or for any plan year.

That led to a bad result:

For the reason stated above, it is determined that the ESOP is not qualified under I.R.C. sec. 401(a) for the plan years ending December 31, 2008 and all subsequent plan years. As a result, the Plan is not exempt from taxation under I.R.C. sec. 501(a) for trust years ending December 31, 2008 and all subsequent plan years.

A Google search reveals that the ESOP reported net assets of nearly $400,000 at the end of 2012. That would mean that much additional income for the ESOP participants over the term of the ESOP.  That’s an expensive sacrifice to the tax fairy. As the ESOP was set up the same day as the corporation, it appears likely that the purpose of the corporation was to feed the ESOP. Iowa has been a hotbed for bad ESOPs. While there is no evidence showing that this is linked to any other bad ESOPs, I note that the corporation had an Iowa mailing address.

The Moral: ESOPs aren’t easy. They can be useful under the right circumstances, but they require appraisals and careful compliance with the plan document an ESOP rules. They aren’t an easy tax shelter, and there is no ESOP Tax Fairy.

Cite: DNA Pro Ventures Inc. Employee Stock Ownership Plan, T.C. Memo 2015-195.




It’s Tuesday, so it’s Buzz-day for Robert D. Flach. He rounds up news ranging from the developments in the Section 105 $100-per-day penalty (Tax Update coverage here) to the ongoing problems in keeping EITC from squirting all over the place.

Kay Bell, IRS says ‘No’ to tax-exempt status for pet care group offering heated spa, massages and other animal amenities. My beagle would approve this exemption.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: MACRS. “MACRS refers to “modified accelerated cost recovery system,” which is the default depreciation method used for tax purposes.”

Russ Fox, Well, That’s One Way to Avoid ClubFed. But fatal heart attacks have serious non-tax drawbacks.

Peter Reilly, Boston Bernie Backers Probably Not Bashing Bruins



Joseph Thorndike, The ‘Cadillac’ Tax Shows Why Obamacare Was Never Built to Last (Tax Analysts Blog). “All of which suggests that Obamacare will be in trouble for a long time.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 880

Joseph Henchman, California Supreme Court to Decide Fate of 48-Year-Old Multistate Tax Compact. (Tax Policy Blog). “Maybe it’s time we accept that the MTC isn’t working, and the Gillette case might be the first step of that realization.”

Renu Zaretsky, Evasion, Cuts, Hikes, and Drops. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers a planned “global crackdown” on tax evasion, business tax cuts in New Hampshire, and much more.

Leslie Book, District Court Hands IRS Loss in its Bid to Exclude Discretionary Treaty Benefits From Judicial Review (Procedurally Taxing).

Robert Wood, As IRS And DOJ Hunt Offshore Accounts, Banks Pony Up.


News from the Profession. Oh Great, Public Accounting Discovered the Selfie Stick (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)