Archive for the ‘2015 Filing Season Tips’ Category

Tax Roundup, 4/15/15: So here we are. Your last-minute tax list!

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


pay phoneIt’s April 15. 
That means your taxes should be done, or extended, or ready to be filed today or extended. If they aren’t done, do yourself a favor and extend. I will!

E-filing is the way to go.  Whether you file or extend today, electronic filing is the best way to make sure that you get in under the wire. You get same-day notification that the return or extension is accepted, and off you go. But don’t wait until the last-minute. All you need is a spring storm power outage running from, oh, 10 p.m. to midnight, to wreck your whole tax season.

– If you don’t e-file, document your paper filing. Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, is the tried-and-true way to prove you filed your returns on time. It saved my job at least once. $3.30 isn’t too much for that. Be sure to take it to the post office and retain your hand-stamped postmark in a safe place. And don’t expect the post office to stay open late for you. Midnight hours there on April 15 have gone the way of the pay phone.

– If you can’t make it to the post office on time, you can use FedEx or UPS. The timely-mailed, timely-filed rule applies there, but only if you use certain delivery options from one of the “designated” private delivery services. For example, “UPS Next Day Air” qualifies, but “UPS Ground” does not. If you use the wrong shipping option, your filing fails. You will need to use the proper IRS street address, as the private delivery services cannot deliver to the IRS service center post office boxes. Make sure your shipping documents show timely filing when you drop the package off, and retain them.

And you might want to scan down the rest of our 2015 Filing Season Tips, of which this is the last one! In reverse order:

4/14/15: Some things extend, some things don’t.

4/13/15: Tips for those caught cash-short for April 15.

Sunday reading tax tip: read that return!

Last Saturday tip: Maybe a SEP.

The Iowa tax credit that breaks hearts. 

4/9/15: April 15 is also a day-trader deadline

4/8/15: It’s all due a week from today. The case for extensions.

4/7/15: Dealing with that long-awaited K-1. 

4/6/15: I don’t have my K-1 yet. Is that illegal? Or, why K-1s are slower.

Sunday Filing Season Tip: A Roth IRA for your student.

Saturday Filing Season Tip: Savers Credit

4/3/15: The no appraisal, no deduction rule for big donations. 

4/2/15: For gift deductions, it’s not just the thought that counts. It’s the paperwork. 

4/1/15: No fooling – if you reached 70 1/2 last year, take a distribution by today. 

 

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TaxGrrrl, 9 Things Not To Do On Tax Day

Willliam Perez, The 8 Fastest Ways to File a Tax Extension

Kay Bell, 5 tips to make sure your snail mailed tax return gets to the IRS

Peter Reilly, Do Not Be Pressured Into Signing Last Minute Joint Return

Jason Dinesen, Basic Overview of Iowa Sales Tax for New Business Owners

Robert Wood, 23 Sobering Tax Evasion Jail Terms On Tax Day

Robert D. Flach, THANK GOD IT’S OVER!

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 706

Career Corner. #BusySeasonProblems: Happy Tax Season Birthday; An Unnecessary Brown Bag Lunch; The Final Countdown (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

Every tax season a new musical theme seems to emerge from my Ipod.  It wasn’t happening this year, until So Here We Are off of Jerry Douglas’s Traveler came up.

If that’s not your thing, I’m sorry, but it works for me. Last year was Hayloft year.

 

There will be no Tax Update for the rest of the week, barring earth-shattering tax news. I am taking the rest of the week off to celebrate tomorrow’s Iowa Tax Freedom Day, as calculated by the Tax Foundation. Because one day just isn’t enough for that kind of holiday.

Have a great tax day, see you Monday!

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/14/15: Some things extend, some things don’t. And: IRS offers crummy service, blames preparers.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Yes, extensions are your friend. But not everything extends.

No Walnut STApril 15 is do-or-die day for these things:

– Paying at least 90% of your 2014 tax, to avoid the 1/2% (+ 1/2% per each additional month) underpayment penalty.

– Funding a 2014 IRA contribution.

– Funding a 2014 Health Savings Account contribution.

– Paying a first-quarter 2015 federal estimated tax payment.

– Making a “mark-to-market” election for 2015 trading gains and losses.

– Claiming a refund for taxes paid on an unextended timely-filed 2011 1040.

 

Still, many important things are extended with a timely extensionForm 4868 for 1040s, Form 7004 for partnerships, trusts and most other things. Among them:

– The 1040 itself, enabling you to avoid the 5% failure to file penalty — plus an additional 5% per month until filing, up to a maximum 25%.

– Form 1041 for trusts and Form 1065 for partnerships — avoiding a $195 per K-1, per month late return penalty.

– Funding a 2014 Keogh or SEP retirement plan.

– Withdrawing excess 2014 IRA contributions.

– Filing a Form 3115 for an automatic accounting method change, including the “late partial disposition election” allowing “biblical” deductions for prior-year real-estate expenditures.

– Getting a qualified appraisal for a 2014 non-cash charitable contribution)

– Closing 2014 like-kind exchanges entered into after October 18 (to up to 180 days from the day you gave up the property you are exchanging).

– Many tax return elections are extended when the return is extended, including Section 754 elections to step up partnership basis (yes, partnership returns are also due on April 15).

So extend your return by all means. Just don’t miss a deadline you can’t extend.

Tomorrow is the last day of 2015 filing season; return for our last 2015 Filing Season Tip!

 

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Kay Bell, 5 last-minute tax filing tips

TaxGrrrl, 5 Ways To Pay Your Tax Bill Now

William Perez, What to Do if You Owe the IRS

Paul Neiffer, Watch Out for Employment Tax Fraud. “To prevent this type of fraud, it is extremely important to either completely control the process of remitting these funds to the IRS (i.e. do it yourself) or make sure you are dealing with a reputable firm.  The Treasury Department just issued a report indicating the safeguards that the IRS and employers should implement.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 705

Robert Wood, Lois Lerner Emails Defend Targeting, Warn IRS Employees Emails Can Be Seen By Congress. No scandal here, though!

 

Andrew Lundeen, Tax Complexity Is Expensive for Small Businesses (Tax Policy Blog). “Nearly a quarter of small business owners in the United States spend over 120 hours each year dealing with their federal taxes, according to the most recent survey by the National Small Business Association.”

Tony Nitti, What Hillary Clinton’s Voting Record Reveals About Her Tax Plan

 

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Well, IRS, you’re not exactly saving the world yourself. IRS to Tax Pros: You’re Not Helping (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern):

“Each filing season, the e-help desk receives phone calls from taxpayers because their tax preparer referred them for assistance resolving rejected returns, tax law and tax account matters,” said the IRS in an email to tax professionals Monday. “This increases the taxpayer’s burden and causes lengthier delays for everyone. The e-help desk cannot help these callers and must direct them to other sources for assistance—typically IRS.gov including Publication 5136, IRS Services Guide.”

You know why we have taxpayers call you? Because you won’t talk to us without a power of attorney, which we can’t always get from them in a hurry. If you would let preparers resolve routine issues for taxpayers, maybe we wouldn’t have to ask taxpayers to ask you to do your job quite so much.

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/13/15: Tips for those caught cash-short for April 15. And: bad tax policy, the busybody’s friend!

Monday, April 13th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

dimeI owe how much? As April 15 approaches, more taxpayers than usual are finding that not only is no refund on its way, but they are supposed to send the IRS more money. For many, it’s because they are required to repay the advance premium credit on their Obamacare policies. For others, they just didn’t have enough withheld from their taxes. Whatever the cause, it’s a cash problem they can’t solve over the next three days. What to do?

First, make sure you either file or extend by Wednesday. The problem of owing the IRS money doesn’t go away by ignoring it. In fact, it can get a lot worse.

If you file a return (or extension) and don’t pay at least 90% of the tax owing, the penalty is 1/2% per month, plus interest, on the amount due — the “failure to pay” penalty. But if you don’t file or extend, then you get the 5% per month “failure to file” penalty, plus interest, on the underpayment, maxing out at 25%. That can make a big difference.

Also, if your underpayment is solely the result of repayment of the premium tax credit, the IRS is waiving the failure to pay penalty, as long as you file or extend timely.

Pay what you can. If you can pay 90% of what you owe, then you only pay interest on the balance at the IRS underpayment rate, currently 3% annually. That’s significantly better than the approximately 8% combined interest rate and underpayment penalty.

Consider borrowing. If you have a home equity line, that can be a good deal. The rates will likely be competitive with the IRS rates, especially taking penalties into account — and unlike IRS debt, you can deduct interest on most home equity loan payments.

Watch your rates. While you want to pay the IRS down, there are worse creditors. You don’t want to take a credit card cash advance or car title loan at 18% to pay off the IRS at 3-8%. But if that is competitive with what your credit card charges, use the card. Credit card companies are easier to deal with than IRS collections. The can be reached by phone, for one thing.

20140321-4Take advantage of a 120-day grace period the IRS offers. There is a toll-free number (800-829-1040), but you are likely to have better luck using the IRS Online Payment Agreement Application.

Consider an IRS “installment agreement.” If you owe under $50,000, you can fill out the request online and get a monthly payment plan going. There is a $120 user fee. Once you get on the plan, be prepared to stick with it, as they can get unpleasant if you default. If you owe more than $50,000, you probably need a tax pro. You don’t think you need one? Come on, you owe more than $50,000, that should tell you that you aren’t doing a great job of tax planning on your own.

Fix the problem for 2015. Many two-earner couples chronically under-withhold. If you and your spouse each have six figure incomes and you are both withholding at 15% or less, you shouldn’t be surprised that you are paying on April 15.

IRS resources:

Tips for Taxpayers Who Can’t Pay Their Taxes on Time.

Ways to Pay Your Federal Income Tax

Three days left – that means after today there are only two more Tax Update . Don’t miss a one!

 

 

20140321-3Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #1: Let Your IRS Notice Age Like Fine Wine!. Like I said, ignoring them won’t make them go away.

William Perez, 8 Reasons to Ask the IRS for a Tax Extension. Good reasons.

TaxGrrrl, 5 Things Taxpayers Are Irrationally Afraid Of – And Shouldn’t Be

Tony Nitti, IRS To Waive Penalties For Taxpayers With Delayed Or Inaccurate Obamacare Insurance Information. Again, this releif is only available if you file or extend on time.

 

Kay Bell, Obamacare, NYPD donations offer new tax considerations

Annette Nellen, Challenges of taxing gambling winnings. Winnings above the line, losses are itemized deductions. What’s wrong with this picture?

Jason Dinesen offers Tips for Choosing Bookkeeping Software

Peter Reilly, Tax Court Allows Multimillion Multiyear Arabian Horse Losses

Robert Wood, 10 Notorious Tax Cheats: Real Housewives Stars Teresa And Joe Giudice Faced A Staggering 50 Years

 

Jack Townsend, Taxpayer Right to Be Present at Interview of Federally Authorized Practitioner. “Therefore, the Court concludes that a taxpayer does not have an absolute right to be present at a third party IRS summons proceeding concerning the taxpayer’s liabilities.”

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 702Day 703Day 704. From Day 704: “Lois Lerner, former director of the Exempt Organizations Unit at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), warned other IRS officials that lower-level employees ‘are not as sensitive as we are to the fact that anything we write can be public–or at least be seen by Congress,’ according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch and released on Thursday.” Because she had nothing to hide, of course.

 

Alan Cole, Taxes Are Not Handouts (Tax Policy Blog):

At times I really struggle to understand the way taxes are covered on Wonkblog, but a post yesterday, listing government handouts for the rich, reached a new level.

Some of the items listed seem like poor examples. (Do rich people really take lots of deductions for their gambling losses?) But the one that really threw me for a loop was the estate tax, a tax levied on only the most valuable estates. It is literally the opposite of a handout for the rich.

When start from the premise that everything is a handout for the rich, then you can believe just about anything. Like this next guy:

Richard Phillips, What We Know About Hillary Clinton’s Positions on Tax Issues (Tax Justice Blog) “Taken together, Clinton has frequently shown a willingness to take a stand for tax fairness but has never fleshed out a clear agenda on these issues and has occasionally embraced regressive or gimmicky tax policies.” Of course, the the “tax justice” crowd, “fairness” is just another word for taking your money.

 

David Wessel, How much does the tax code reduce inequality? (TaxVox). “n other words, the U.S. tax system does reduce inequality, but there’s still a lot of it left after taxes.”

Poverty is a problem. Inequality isn’t the same thing, and if you are more worried about inequality, your priorities are misplaced.

 

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David Brunori is my favorite tax policy commentator ($link):

There is a theory that says the tax laws should be used to do one thing — raise revenue to pay for public services. Taxes should not be used to engineer society, promote social agendas, foster economic development, or help anyone in particular. This theory has merit. Adherence would lead to less cronyism, fewer economic distortions, and less regulation through the tax code. State governments, of course, violate these principles all the time.

Who are the perpetrators? Those striving for bad tax policy represent an odd coalition of people who want to run your life, and people who simply want your money.

Extra points to David for correctly distinguishing a “blog” from a “blog post.” A blog contains posts, and a single post isn’t a “blog.” Now get off my lawn.

 

Career Corner. Long Hours Are the Root of All Your Busy Season Problems (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). If you think you have a problem working long hours, try getting these things done without working long hours.

 

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Sunday reading tax tip: read that return!

Sunday, April 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Today’s filing season tip is based on one that ran in 2008, but it works just as well in 2015.

IMG_1429aThis might seem like a self-serving thing for a tax preparer to say, but it’s true: no matter how much you pay somebody to do your return, it’s still your return. You are responsible for what’s on it, and if it’s grossly wrong, it’s your problem.

A dentist learned this hard lesson in Tax Court. A Dr. Neufeld gave his business records, which he kept using the Quicken software program, to a preparer recommended by his brother-in-law. Something must have gone badly wrong. The returns reported federal tax of $35,668 for 2001 and 2002, but the IRS figured it at $181,145. In imposing over $21,000 in penalties, the judge spelled out the rules taxpayers are held to in relying on preparers (citations omitted, emphasis added):

The case law sets forth the following three requirements in order for a taxpayer to use reliance on a tax professional to avoid liability for a section 6662(a) penalty: (1) The adviser was a competent professional who had sufficient expertise to justify reliance, (2) the taxpayer provided necessary and accurate information to the tax adviser, and (3) the taxpayer actually relied in good faith on the adviser’s advice. However, by itself, unconditional reliance on a preparer or adviser does not always constitute reasonable reliance; the taxpayer must also exercise “diligence and prudence.”…

With respect to the third prong of the [requirements], petitioners did not rely in good faith on Mr. Fisher’s advice. Petitioners did not meet with Mr. Fisher or otherwise discuss with him their 2001 and 2002 joint Federal income tax returns or 2002 amended return, and they did not examine their returns before signing and submitting them to the IRS. Taxpayers have a duty to read their returns to ensure that all income items are included. Petitioners did not ensure that all of the income from Mr. Neufeld’s dentistry business was included in their 2001 and 2002 joint Federal income tax returns.

So when your return comes back from the preparer, look it over and ask questions if something looks wrong. Preparers make mistakes too; if you don’t read your return, the preparer’s mistake could become your problem.

In a footnote, the Court identified a serious flaw in the taxpayer’s due diligence:

At trial, Mr. Neufeld stated that when he met Mr. Fisher for the first time, he thought he was a competent accountant and tax-preparer because “He had certificates on the wall and lots of them. He seemed to be really organized. It was a nice office. And so I had no reason to believe or to doubt his competence.”

If a neat office were necessary for this job, I’d still be bagging groceries.

Cite: Neufeld, T.C. Memo 2008-79

Come back daily through April 15 for a new 2015 Filing Season Tip  every day!

 

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Last Saturday tip: Maybe a SEP.

Saturday, April 11th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

If you have self-employment income, or you run your business through a corporation where you are the only employee, a “Simplified Employee Pension” might be just the trick to reduce your 2014 tax bill. While most qualified pension and profit-sharing plans have to be set up by the end of the tax year to generate a deduction for that year, you can establish a SEP for 2014 as late as the due date of your return — including any extensions you take.

A SEP is pretty much an IRA for which you have completed a Form 5305-SEP by the return due date. The maximum SEP contribution is 25% of your qualifying income — self-employment income or wages from the job. The maximum 2014 contribution is $53,000.

While funds contributed to a SEP are then restricted like traditional IRA funds, they are still years. The effect is a deduction for shifting money from one pocket to another — a pretty good deal.

SEPs do have some drawbacks. For example, they have strict non-discrimination requirements, so they don’t work very well after you add employees. But they can do a lot to bring down your tax bill in the right situation. You can learn more at the IRS SEP resource web page. Your local community bank can help you get set up, or you can go online with a mutual fund company like Vanguard.

Even on weekends — a 2015 Filing Season Tip every day through April 15!

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/10/15: The Iowa tax credit that breaks hearts. And: IRS budget cut crocodile tears!

Friday, April 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Flickr image courtesy Alexander Marie Guillemin under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Alexander Marie Guillemin under Creative Commons license

Stimulate them young. By my count, Iowa’s tax law has at least 31 tax credits designed to stimulate economic activity in one way or another. There’s another tax credit with stimulative potential that Iowans tend to forget: the tax credit that encourages you to send your high-schooler to the prom.

Any prom parent, or anybody who has gone to one, knows that proms require a flurry of economic activity, from dresses and tuxes to the cost of a nice dinner out. While those items don’t get a tax break, the Iowa tax law at least helps buy the ticket to the great event itself.

Iowa’s “Tuition and Textbook Credit” is a 25% credit on up to $1,000 of qualifying K-12 expenses. Yes, tuition and textbooks count. So do activity costs (my emphasis):

Annual school fees; fees or dues paid for extracurricular activities ; booster club dues (for dependent only); fees for athletics; activity ticket or admission for K-12 school athletic, academic, music, or dramatic events and awards banquets or buffets; fees for a physical education event such as roller skating; advanced placement fees if paid to high school; fees for homecoming, winter formal, prom, or similar events; fees required to park at the school and paid to the school  

Just as many young men today neglect some of the little things that can make a difference on a prom date between happiness and heartbreak, many taxpayers neglect to keep track of the little school fees that can add up to a $250 savings on their Iowa income tax. In addition to prom tickets, instrument rentals, school district drivers education fees, fees for field trips and transportation, band uniform costs and some athletic equipment costs also qualify. Click here for a more complete list.

Related: Prom tickets, rentals qualify for state tax credit (KCCI.com, in which you can see me sort of explain this on actual video).

This is another of our daily 2015 Filing Season Tips running through April 15. Six more to go!

 

"Nile crocodile head" by Leigh Bedford. Via Wikipedia

“Nile crocodile head” by Leigh Bedford

Christopher Bergin, Crocodile Tears for IRS Budget Cuts (Tax Analysts Blog):

Don’t get me wrong — I personally disagree with recent IRS budget cuts. They are not sound tax policy. They also strike me as being politically motivated payback for the Lois Lerner episode. That’s myopic on the part of congressional Republicans. It’s as if they’re demanding their pound of flesh regardless of the adverse consequences to millions of taxpayers.

But I’m equally disappointed with how the IRS has chosen to respond. Rather than rise to the occasion, it has resorted to a blame game. Congress didn’t give us the budget we wanted, so the first things to go are taxpayer service and enforcement. Conflict over agency funding is nothing new in Washington. What’s remarkable here is the blatant manner in which American taxpayers are being held hostage.

Commissioner Koskinen has only himself to blame. His tone-deaf and intransigient response to the Tea Party scandal gave GOP appropriators only more reasons to distrust the agency. Only a new Commissioner can start to repair the damage.

Howard Gleckman, What Will Happen To Voluntary Tax Compliance If a Budget-constrained IRS Is Not Fixed? (TaxVox)

 

20140507-1Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #2: The Eternal Hobby Loss. “If your business loses money year-after-year, and you’re not making any efforts to change it, and you get a lot of personal enjoyment out of the business, beware!”

William Perez, 7 Ways to Pay the IRS

Kay Bell, 10 tax sins of commission that could be quite costly

Sean AkinsDark Matter: When to Seal the Tax Court Record (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert Wood, Best And Worst Tax Excuses To Fix IRS Penalties, “Relying on a professional tax adviser is one of the classic excuses.”

 

Roger McEowen, The Perils of Succession Planning (ISU-CALT). “Most U.S. businesses are family-owned, but statistics show that only about 30 percent of them survive to the next generation and only about 12 percent to the third generation.”

I firmly believe there is no need for a heavy estate tax to break up dynastic wealth. All you need are beneficiaries.

 

Alan Cole offers A Friendly Reminder That Pass Through Businesses Exist (Tax Policy Blog):

Every once in a while we see blog posts from other tax research organizations, or even congressional offices, puzzled over the low collection of corporate taxes relative to GDP or relative to other tax revenues. Today we have another such post, from Citizens for Tax Justice. I believe I can allay that confusion.

It’s not confusion, it’s political mischief.

 

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Tony Nitti, Rand Paul Announces Presidential Bid, Favors Flat Tax. “Flat tax proposals come in many forms, and range from exceedingly simple to nearly as complex as the current law.”

Richard Phillips, Rand Paul’s Record Shows He’s a Champion for Tax Cheats and the Wealthy. (Tax Justice Blog). I’ll translate that: he thinks taxpayers are entitled to keep some of their money, and to a little due process. To the “tax justice” crowd, anything that keeps the government out of your pocket for any reason is cheating.

 

Caleb Newquist, #TBT: The Failed Merger of Ernst & Young and KPMG. I remember the abortive merger between Price Waterhouse and Deloitte Haskins & Sells. Price Sells would have been an awesome firm name.

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/9/15: April 15 is also a day-trader deadline. And: Grant 1, Lee 0.

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

daydrinkersTechnology has made made sophisticated stock trading tools that exchange floor pros once could only dream of available to every home. It has democratized the ability to make, and lose, money playing the markets.

It can be tempting to chuck the desk job and run off with Maria Bartiromo and TD Ameritrade. Sadly, more than one trader has emerged from the relationship with nothing to show for it but a lifetime of capital loss carryforwards.

That’s where today’s filing season tip comes in. If you qualify as a “trader,” April 15 is your deadline for choosing whether to make the “mark-to-market election” on your trading positions for 2015. If you don’t qualify as a trader, you can’t make the election.

If you make the mark-to-market election, you are required to recognize all of your open positions at year-end on your tax return as if you had cashed them out. More importantly, all of your gains and losses are ordinary, rather than capital.

That may seem like an inherently bad idea. Aren’t capital gains taxed at a lower rate? Yes, they are, but only if they are long-term, on assets held for over one year. That’s not the kind of gain day-traders are going for. Short-term gains are taxed at the same rates as ordinary income.

Ordinary losses, on the other hand, are a good thing. Well, on your tax return, anyway, if not in any other way. While individual capital losses are deductible only against capital gains, plus $3,000 per year, ordinary losses are fully deductible, and can even generate loss carrybacks.

That makes the mark-to-market election useful for day traders. They give up capital gain treatment that they can’t use anyway, and if they have a bad year — and many beginners do — they at least get to deduct all of their losses. For example, a famous trial lawyer who left the bar for day trading used the mark-to-market election to deduct $25 million in losses.

It’s already too late to make the election, also known as the “Section 475(f) election, for 2014. But you have until April 15 to make the election for 2015. You make the election either with either an unextended 2014 1040 or with the Form 4868 extension for the 2014 return. You may not make the election on an extended 1040.

The election is made on a statement with the following information:

  1. That you are making an election under section 475(f);
  2. The first tax year for which the election is effective; and
  3. The trade or business for which you are making the election.

So if you are spending your days with CNBC and your trading program, you might want to hedge your tax risks by making a 2015 475(f) election by April 15.

Related: The lure of a Sec. 475 election (Journal of Accountancy)

This is another of our series of 2015 Filing Season Tips — one daily through April 15!

 

Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #3: Just Don’t File

 

Flickr image courtesy Easa Shamih under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Easa Shamih under Creative Commons license

Tax Court judges can do math too.We talked last week about the need to properly document charitable deductions.  The Tax Court talked about it yesterday, disallowing claimed deductions of $37,315 for lack of substantiation — most of it for purported contributions of household goods. From the decision:

Petitioners did not provide to the IRS or the Court a “contemporaneous written acknowledgment” from any of the four charitable organizations. Petitioners produced no acknowledgment of any kind from the Church or Goodwill. And the doorknob hangers left by the truck drivers from Vietnam Veterans and Purple Heart clearly do not satisfy the regulatory requirements. These doorknob hangers are undated; they are not specific to petitioners; they do not describe the property contributed; and they contain none of the other required information.

So if you claim property deductions for gifts of $250 or more, you need to have something from the charity that, even if it doesn’t show the value, shows what you gave. So why not claim you just gave only gifts under $250? From the Tax Court (my emphasis):

Petitioners contend that they did not need to get written acknowledgments because they made all of their contributions in batches worth less than $250. We did not find this testimony credible. Petitioners allegedly donated property worth $13,115 to the Church; this donation occurred in conjunction with a single event, the Church’s annual flea market. Petitioners’ testimony that they intentionally made all other contributions in batches worth less than $250 requires the assumption that they made these donations, with an alleged value of $24,200, on 97 distinct occasions. This assumption is implausible and has no support in the record.

Hey, I drive a Smart car, it takes a lot of trips!

Cite: Kunkel, T.C. Memo 2015-71.

 

20140401-1Jana Luttenegger Weiler, Special Tax Deduction for Contributions to Support Families of Slain NY Officers. (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog). A 2014 deduction that you can still fund today.

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): Z Is For Zloty. On paying taxes while abroad and you need to use a foreign currency.

Robert Wood, Newest Tax Fraud Threat? Your Payroll Tax. A good reminder of the need to use EFTPS to monitor your payroll tax service, to make sure your company payroll taxes are getting deposited with the government.

Jason Dinesen, Marriage in the Tax Code, Part 6: Community Property Laws

Kay Bell, IRS headquarters hit by brief Washington, D.C., power outage. A reminder that even if you e-file, you don’t want to wait until the very last minute.

William Perez, Requesting Additional Time to File a State Tax Return

Jack Townsend, Tax Shelter Salesman Avoids Fraud Finding for Investment in Tax Shelter. You’ll have to follow the link for the more accurate, but less printable, version of the headline.

 

David Brunori, Greed, Piracy, and Cowardice (Tax Analsyts Blog):

I have written about 100 articles on tax incentives, all of them critical. I don’t blame the “greedy” corporations. State and local taxes are a relatively small part of the cost of doing business. Corporations are handed opportunities to minimize their tax burdens — legally. And rationally, they take advantage of those opportunities. The biggest factors in deciding where to invest are labor costs and broad access to markets. If we ended all tax incentives tomorrow, there would be virtually no effect on the economy. Corporations would still be investing where they are investing.

It’s politicians responding to the incentives. Those of us who want better tax policy, broad tax bases, and low rates for all don’t show up at the legislator’s golf fund raisers. Those looking for a special deal for their company or their industry have low handicaps for a reason.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 700. 700 days, no scandal here, move along.

 

Bloomberg, An Emotional Audit: IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed. A visit to one of the few places where they still offer on-site service. (Via the TaxProf)

 

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History alert. General Lee surrended to General Grant 150 years ago today at Appomatox Court House, Virginia. Fellow tax blogger Peter Reilly is there, and I am insanely jealous.  I am contenting myself by re-reading Lee’s Last Retreatthe best book I’ve seen about the last frantic days of the Army of Northern Virginia. It makes you feel like you are there with the crumbling confederate army as it tried to escape after shattering defeats around Richmond. It also punctures a lot of romantic myths around those events.

After tax season, I will be happy to bore you with my thoughts on why Grant is grievously underrated for his Civil War achievements, and why he is also an underappreciated president. Next week.

 

News from the Profession: CPA Firm Managing Partner Charged in Embezzlement Scheme (Accounting Today):

Patrick H. Oki, managing partner at the Honolulu-based firm was charged Monday with theft in the first degree, money laundering, use of a computer in the commission of a separate crime, and forgery in the second degree, according to the office of Prosecuting Attorney Keith M. Kaneshiro.

Mr. Oki is reported to be both a CPA and a Certified Fraud Examiner. I can only imagine the awkwardness at the next partner meeting.

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/8/15: It’s all due a week from today. The case for extensions.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


4868 bigThe tax deadline is a week from today. An extension might be a great idea. 
It’s all real at your local tax pro’s office. Late nights, new information, complex returns, tight deadlines — all ingredients for something to go wrong. Is it really a good idea for you to want your tax filing to come out of that?

You tax return isn’t a trivial item. That’s why you are paying for it, or why you are spending hours slaving over it. The consequences of a seemingly minor mistake can be shockingly expensive. You own 10% of a Canadian partnership with some fishing buddies and you didn’t report it on the right form? That’s a $10,000 penalty for you!

That’s why it’s unwise to try to rush it through at the deadline, when you can easily get an extension and have it prepared by somebody who has had some sleep and nutrition.

Here are things I hear from people who don’t want to be extended:

This means I will get audited! No it doesn’t. I have seen zero evidence that extending a return increases the risk of audit. I have filed my own 1040 on extension every year since at least 1990, and have yet to be audited (*knocks wood*). A return with a mistake, on the other hand, definitely increases your risk of audit.

But this means they get an extra six months to look at my return! Yes it does. That doesn’t mean much. While I’m sure it’s happened, I have yet to see a case where a taxpayer had to pay an amount on audit on an extended return that wouldn’t have been caught had the return not been exended in 30 years of tax practice. I have seen cases where we were able to get refunds because we found an error on the return three years after the original due date, but before the extended filing date. It can work both ways.

I always file on time! Extended returns are still filed on time. It’s just a different time. This is usually more an assertion of the individual’s self-importance. It really means “you should drop everything else you are doing and finish my return.” It asserts ego over wisdom and practicality.

Now, the positive things about extending:

It gives you more time to make certain tax return elections. Automatic accounting method changes can be filed with extended returns. For many taxpayers, especially those with real estate investments on their 1040, an extension may give your preparer extra time to find new deductions that are “biblical” in scale under the new “repair” regulations. These aren’t available on amended returns.

It may give you more time to fund deductions. If you have a Keogh or SEP retirement plan, extending your 1040 gives you until October 15 to fund your 2014 deductible retirement plan contributions. Remember, though, that some deductions still have to be funded by April 15 even on extended returns, including IRA and HSA contributions.

20150326-3It may give you more time to find deductions. More than one taxpayer has found a charitable contribution receipt or tax payment that they missed when they sent their pre-extension information in.

Extensions may avoid an amended return. It’s not unknown for a taxpayer who is already filed a complex return to get a late K-1 or a 1099 from a new investment that they didn’t think would issue one. That means they have to file an amended return. The IRS does look at these. It’s always better to extend than amend. 

Extensions can turn a 5% per month non-filing penalty into a 1/2% per month late payment penalty. If you are caught short and can’t pay, it’s a lot cheaper to extend than to blow off the payment.

Finally, and most importantly, an extended return is likely to be more accurate. Workload compression is something tax preparers talk about with each other, if not so much in public. Tired people make more mistakes, and that includes preparers. If you really want to attract IRS attention, drop a digit from a six-figure 1099 or K-1 number.

If you extend, you still need to have 90% of your tax paid in when you file Form 4868 to avoid penalties. Many taxpayers extending 2014 returns will include the amount they would pay as their 2015 first-quarter estimate with the extension payment; that payment is due April 15 too, and it gives them a little cushion against surprises on the extended return.

This is another in our series of 2015 Filing Season Tips. Come back every day for a new one through April 15!

 

Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #4: Procrastinate! “What happens if you wake up and it’s April 15, 2015, and you can’t file your tax? File an extension.”

Robert Wood, 9 Innocent Tax Return Mistakes That Trigger IRS Problems. Nine more good reasons to extend and get your return right.

TaxGrrrl, 13 Quirky Beer And Tax Facts On National Beer Day. They say that was yesterday, but any tax pro will tell you it’s really April 15.

Kay Bell, Chaffetz goes after tax-delinquent federal employees (again)

 

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The Des Moines Register reports: Bill advances to exempt bees from sales tax

 The [Iowa] House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill Tuesday that would exclude the sale of honey bees from state sales tax laws.

Honey bees have been the subject of much concern in recent years as their numbers have mysteriously declined. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, total losses to managed honey bee colonies was 23.2 percent nationwide during the 2013-2014 winter.

Those honey bee losses – which have been occurring for the last decade – have been linked to many things, including the use of pesticides, disease and loss of habitat.

As far as I know, this is the first time the decline in bees has been linked to sales taxes.

I’m sympathetic to this, in a way, in that I think business inputs should not be subject to sales tax. Still, this is the wrong way to go about it. While I love bees, there’s nothing about apiculture that makes it different from, say, raising earthworms, from a tax policy viewpoint. A group with good lobbyists gets the ball rolling, and everyone else gets left behind.

 

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TaxProf, Brown: The IRS Should Report on Tax Returns Filed by All 535 Members of Congress. I have a better idea: The President, every member of Congress, every cabinet member, and the IRS Commissioner should all have to prepare their 1040s by hand on a live webcast with a running comment bar. The webcasts should be archived on the Library of Congress website, along with the completed tax returns. I think tax simplification would follow in a hurry.

 

Andrew Lundeen, The Estate Tax Provides Less than One Percent of Federal Revenue (Tax Policy Blog). The rich guy isn’t buying.

Howard Gleckman, One Solution to California’s Drought: Tax Water. Oh, so close. How about markets?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 699

 

Career Corner. #BusySeasonProblems: Inflatable Sharks; Late-night Checklists; Unexpected Taxable Income (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/7/15: Dealing with that long-awaited K-1. And: IRS, beacon for Millenials?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

My K-1 finally showed up. Now what? Many Tax Update visitors arrive here when they ask their search engines something like “understanding K-1s” or “deducting K-1 losses on 1040.” As more business income is now reported on 1040s via K-1s than on corporation returns, these aren’t trivial questions.

k1corner2014It helps to understand what a K-1 does. “Pass-through” entities — partnerships, S corporations, and trusts that distribute their income to beneficiaries — generally don’t pay tax on their income. The owners pay. The tax returns of the pass-throughs gather the information the owners need to report the pass-through’s tax results properly. Because many different tax items are required to be reported differently on 1040s, the income, deductions and credits of the business have to be broken out on the K-1. That’s why there are so many boxes and so many identification codes on the K-1.

The challenge for the return preparer is to take the information off the K-1 and to report it properly on the 1040. It can get especially complicated when losses are involved.

While anything short of a full seminar will oversimplify the treatment of pass-through items, there are three main hurdles a loss deduction has to clear. They are, in order (follow the links for more detail):

You have to have basis in the pass-through to take losses. Basis starts with your investment in the entity. It includes direct loans to the entity. If you have a partnership, it includes your share of partnership third-party debt. It is increased by earnings and capital contributions and reduced by losses and distributions. If you don’t have basis, the loss is deferred until a year in which you get basis.

There is no official IRS form to track basis, but many pass-throughs track basis for their owners. Check your K-1 package to see if includes a basis schedule.

Flickr image courtesy  Grzegorz Jereczek under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image courtesy Grzegorz Jereczek
under Creative Commons license.

Your basis has to be “at-risk” to enable you to deduct losses. While the at-risk rules are a very complex and archaic response to 1970s-era tax shelters, the basic idea is that you have to be on the hook for your basis, especially basis attributable to borrowings, to be able to deduct losses against that basis. Special exclusions exist for “qualified non-recourse liabilities” arising from third-party real estate loans. Losses that aren’t “at-risk” are deferred until there is income or new “at-risk” basis. At risk losses are computed and tracked on Form 6198.

You can only deduct “passive losses” to the extent of your “passive” income. A loss is “passive” if you fail to “materially participate” in the business. Material participation is primarily determined by the amount of time you spend on the business activity. Real estate rental losses are automatically passive unless you are a “real estate professional.”

Passive losses are normally deductible only to the extent of passive income. The non-deductible losses carry forward until a year in which there is passive income, or until the activity is disposed of to a non-related party in a taxable transaction. You compute your passive losses allowance on Form 8582.

Even if you have income, instead of losses, be sure to use any carryforward losses you might have against it. And consider visiting a tax pro if you find the whole process perplexing.

This is another of our 2015 Filing Season Tips. There will be a new one every day here through April 15!

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Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #5: Ignoring California

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): Y Is For Years Certain Annuity

William Perez, Opportunity to Increase Charitable Donations for 2014 under a New Tax Law. “Individuals who donate cash by April 15, 2015, to certain charities providing relief to families of slain New York City police officers can deduct those donate on their 2014 tax return.”

Robert Wood, Beware Tax Mistakes IRS Calls Willful. “Even a smidgen of fraud or intentional misstatements can land you in jail.”

Have a nice day.

I’m from the IRS, and I’m here to help! IRS Agent Causes Grief For Taxpayer’s Spouse By Being Helpful (Peter Reilly)

Kay Bell, Don’t bet on fooling IRS with bought losing lottery tickets.

Leslie Book, District Court FBAR Penalty Opinion Raises Important Administrative and Constitutional Law Issues. “Taxpayers should not be forced to sue in federal court to get an explanation as to the agency’s rationale or the evidence it considered in making its decision.”

Jason Dinesen, It’s Pointless for EAs to Attack CPAs. And vice-versa.

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 698

Roger McEowen, Rough Economic Times Elevate Bankruptcy Legal Issues (ISU-CALT)

Martin Sullivan, How Much Did Jeb Bush Cut Taxes In Florida? (Tax Analysts Blog). “So was Jeb Bush a pedal-to-the-metal tax slasher in Florida?”

Renu Zaretsky, It’s Spring Break, and “Everything’s Coming Up Taxes…” (No Daffodils). The TaxVox headline roundup covers IRS budget cuts, reefer madness, and online sales taxes in Washington State today.

 

Career Corner. Do Any Millennials Want to Work at the IRS Non-ironically? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Not very hipster.

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/6/15: I don’t have my K-1 yet. Is that illegal? Or, why K-1s are slower.

Monday, April 6th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

k1corner2014I have my W-2. Why don’t I have my K-1? Tax practitioners hear some version of this every year. The short answer is that employers are required to provide W-2s by the end of January, but most K-1 issuers can legally wait until September 15.

The long answer is that K-1s can be much harder to prepare. For a W-2, you only need to have the wage, withholding and benefit information for the employee — not always super-simple, but usually easy enough with a good payroll system.

To issue a K-1, in contrast, a business has to determine its taxable income, and then it has to determine how to allocate it among its owners. Most businesses don’t even have a clean close on their books until well into January. Many then have their auditors in to opine on the financial statements, sometimes with adjustments that change the results. Then the tax preparers show up.

The tax preparers have to determine where the financial statement books have to be changed to get to taxable income. They have to evaluate elections as to the timing of assets and present them to the business, which then has to make a decision. They may have to prepare accounting method changes that require a review of years of fixed asset additions and disposals. If ownership has changed, they have to determine how the income is to be allocated based on the differing ownership during the year. If property has been contributed, they may have to allocate income and deductions for that property differently than for everything else in the business.

20140321-3Then it’s time for state returns. Every state tax system has its own quirks, and the preparer has to determine whether a business needs to file in a state, how to allocate or apportion the business income to the state, and then to identify where the state computes income differently from federal income.

Oh, and they have to do this for more clients than just the one that issues your K-1.

So it’s not a crime for you to not have your K-1 yet. There are a lot of good reasons, from the complexity to the tax law to the rules that require most K-1 issuers to have their work done at the same time, that delay K-1s. If you are missing a K-1 and April 15 is looming, an extension is likely to be your best option. There’s no evidence that the IRS pays special attention to extended returns, but they definitely notice if you file a return that leaves out a K-1. And you’d much rather file an extended return with a correct K-1 than to amend a return because a K-1 prepared in haste was wrong.

Tomorrow we start to talk about what to do with your K-1 when it does show up as part of our series of , one a day through April 15. Don’t miss a one!

 

Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #6: Nevada Corporations. “If the corporation operates in California it will need to file a California tax return. Period. It doesn’t matter if the corporation is a California corporation, a Delaware corporation, or a Nevada corporation.”

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): W Is For Withholding From Wages

 

William Perez, The Penalty for Not Having Health Insurance

Robert Wood, Know IRS Audit Risks Before Filing Your Taxes. Your audit risk is a lot less if you don’t make a prep mistake. If extending helps you avoid mistakes, extend.

Jack Townsend, Court Approves FBAR NonWillful Penalty Merits But Wants Further Development of APA Issues. ” The IRS disregarded its own promise and assessed the penalty before Mr. Moore could request an ‘appeal.'”

 

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David Brunori has thoughts on state tax incentives ($link):

To the extent blame is to be assigned, it rests solely on our political leaders. Governors, and to a larger extent legislators, have the power to grant or deny incentives. If they adhered to the principles of sound tax policy, they would build tax systems on a broad base with low rates. There would be little, if any, special treatment. But they don’t, because they are driven by two human conditions — greed and fear. They want a big corporation with thousands of employees to move to their state. They believe, incorrectly, that the way to achieve that is to give tax breaks that are unavailable to the rest of us. Conversely, they fear that a company might leave and take the jobs with it. They believe the only way to do that is through the tax code. I have said that politicians are unimaginative cowards when it comes to incentives. I don’t think that is too strong a statement. Of course, we put them in power. So perhaps the real blame lies with us.

The other reason is that nobody shows up at your golf fund-raiser to lobby for broad bases and low rates, but they do when they want a special deal.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 697Day 696Day 695. Thoughts on how this scandal would have been viewed if it occurred under a President Bush, and a victory for a group suing for a complete list of entities targeted by IRS for their politics.

Jared Walczak, Legislators Take on the Taxing Logic of Nevada’s Live Entertainment Tax (Tax Policy Blog). How Nevada puts musicians out of work.

Annette Nellen, Designing sales tax exemptions – what is necessary?

Robert Goulder, Stateless Income Revisited: Kleinbard, Herzfeld, and BEPS (Tax Analysts Blog)

Richard Phillips, Will this Tax Day be the First and Last Including Premium Tax Subsidies for Millions of Americans? (Tax Justice Blog).

 

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Kay Bell, Mad Men’s Pete Campbell complains about 1970’s tax rates. “In 1970, when the midseason premiere is set, the top tax rate was 70 percent on, for a single filer like Pete, income of more than $100,000.”

Career Corner. Ten Days Until Tax Day: How To Tell Inconsiderate Clients You’ll Be Extending Their Returns (Tony Nitti). “Yet, despite presumably possessing the ability to comprehend the standard Gregorian calendar, here you are, dropping off all of your information mere days before the deadline — just as you did last year, and the year before that — and leaving me a Post-It note thanking me for ‘squeezing you in.'”

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