Posts Tagged ‘Arnold Kling’

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.

Wednesday, 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



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

Tuesday, 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.


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

Friday, 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, 9/30/15: Taking from rich doesn’t give to the poor; state incentives favor the big.

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Today we have two instances where policy tanks that I usually disagree with make important tax policy points.

TPC logoFirst, The center-left Tax Policy Center, a project of the Brookings Institution (which I castigate below), makes an important observation about the overrated problem of income inequality in their paper, Would a significant increase in the top income tax rate substantially alter income inequality? The summary (my emphasis):

The high level of income inequality in the United States is at the forefront of policy attention. This paper focuses on one potential policy response: an increase in the top personal income tax rate. We conduct a simulation analysis using the Tax Policy Center (TPC) microsimulation model to determine how much of a reduction in income inequality would be achieved from increasing the top individual tax rate to as much as 50 percent. We calculate the resulting change in income inequality assuming an explicit redistribution of all new revenue to households in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution. The resulting effects on overall income inequality are exceedingly modest.

I have zero hope that politicians will heed this. Just because you take from the rich doesn’t mean it goes to the poor. It goes to the well-connected, as in the next item.

Second, the not-so-center-left Good Jobs First takes the side of the angels in the battle against state tax incentives, with a survey of small businesses called In Search of a Level Playing Field:

A national survey of leaders of small business organizations reveals that they overwhelmingly believe that state economic development incentives favor big businesses, that states are overspending on large individual deals, and that state incentive programs are not effectively meeting the needs of small businesses seeking to grow. 

I think they have this exactly right. It’s not start-ups that get the big deals from the legislature and the Economic Development bureaucrats. It’s the well-connected and wealthy companies that know how to work the system. The rest of us get to pay for it.




Jason Dinesen, The Iowa School Tuition Organization Tax Credit. “Iowa offers dozens of obscure tax credits. The one I get asked about most is the tax credit available for donations to a ‘school tuition organization’ or STO.”

Kay Bell, Maryland issuing court-ordered county tax credit refunds. If you don’t want to repay illegal taxes, don’t collect illegal taxes.

Russ Fox, How to Wynne Your Money Back in Maryland

Paul Neiffer, IRS Provides List of Counties Eligible For Additional Extension on Livestock Replacement

Jim Maule, Taxation of Prizes, Question Two. He quotes a post from a sweepstakes message board:

 I won concert VIP tickets, there is no value on the tickets, so I can’t sell them. If no value is on them, why am I paying taxes on them? 

Mr. Maule explains that there is a value. If there isn’t, then why didn’t the winner give them away?





InsureBlog, Yes, The New York Obamacare Co-op [squandered*] $340 Million. *The actual headline uses a more colorful term.

Robert Wood, Hillary Backs Cadillac Tax Repeal


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 874. Today’s edition features IRS agents abusing their power on everyday taxpayers. But we can trust them to regulate their tax preparer adversaries, right?

Arnold Kling, Hypocrisy and Cowardice at Brookings. Arnold addresses the firing by the Brookings Institution of Robert Litan, a scholar accused by Senator Elizabeth Warren of “writing a research paper to benefit his corporate patrons.” He is appalled:

1. Robert Litan is one of the most decent individuals in the whole economics profession.

2. Giving Litan’s scalp (sorry for the pun) to Elizabeth Warren does nothing to bolster the integrity of Brookings. It amounts to speaking cowardice to power.

There’s more. The episode is appalling, and it shows the totalitarian tendencies that are barely beneath the surface of Senator Warren’s populism.




Alan Cole, Donald Trump’s Tax Plan Will Not Be Revenue-Neutral Under Any Circumstances (Tax Policy Blog)

Jeremy Scott, Trump’s Tax Plan Is Pretty Much GOP Orthodoxy (Tax Analysts Blog)

Matt Gardner, How Donald Trump’s Carried Interest Tax Hike Masks a Massive Tax Cut for Wealthy Money Managers (Tax Justice Blog)

Peter Reilly, Trump Tax Plan Would Increase Deficit By Over $10 Trillion

Tony Nitti, Love Trump, Hate Romney, But Their Tax Plans Are One And The Same

Renu Zaretsky, Thirty days, goodbye September, shutdown talks—maybe in December. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers shutdown politics, plans to use reconciliation procedures to pass bills repealing pieces of Obamacare, and tax Trumpalism.


See you at Hoyt Sherman Place tonight!



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

Friday, September 4th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

eic 2014

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

welfare benefits marginal rate

Chart via the Mises Institute


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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Reilly, Presidential Candidate Tax Plans Coming In Slow.


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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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


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



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

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

Source: The Tax Foundation

Source: The Tax Foundation

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

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


Source: The Tax Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full report can be found here.


Can Iowa tax reform happen?

Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan




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

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

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

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


Arnold Kling, The EITC in Practice

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

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

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

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




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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is Iowa’s business tax climate really that bad?

Baby steps towards fixing Iowa’s business tax climate

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

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


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




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


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

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

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


Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Estimated Tax Payments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the government has made its point.


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

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

The suit challenges the FATCA rules on foreign reporting.


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

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

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


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

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

Arnold Kling


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



Tax Roundup, 8/7/15: Iowa sales tax takes a holiday, and other brutal assaults on reason.

Friday, August 7th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150807-1Today is the firm field day. Once again my proposal for an all-office open chess tournament failed to win support, so it’s golf again.

The annual Iowa sales tax holiday for clothing and footwear is today and tomorrow. Details from the Iowa Department of Revenue:

-Exemption period: from 12:01 a.m., August 7, 2015, through midnight, August 8, 2015.

-No sales tax, including local option sales tax, will be collected on sales of an article of clothing or footwear having a selling price less than $100.00.

-The exemption does not apply in any way to the price of an item selling for $100.00 or more

-The exemption applies to each article priced under $100.00 regardless of how many items are sold on the same invoice to a customer

“Clothing” means…

-any article of wearing apparel and typical footwear intended to be worn on or about the human body.

“Clothing” does not include…

-watches, watchbands, jewelry, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, sporting equipment, skis, swim fins, roller blades, skates, and any special clothing or footwear designed primarily for athletic activity or protective use and not usually considered appropriate for everyday wear.

Sales tax holidays are a bad policy, for reasons explained well by Joseph Henchman and Liz Malm, including this:

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

The Federation of Tax Administrators has a complete list of sales tax holidays for 2015. Mississippi and Louisiana have holidays for firearms purchases September 4-6, so you can dress up in Iowa and drive south to do your weapons shopping in Iowa style.

Related: Kay Bell, 13 state sales tax holidays on tap this weekend


Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz, including a special offer on THE NEW SCHEDULE C NOTEBOOK, his tax Baedeker for the sole proprietor.

William Perez, Changes in Tax Deadlines to Take Effect in 2017 (Plus Deadlines for 2015 and 2016)

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: LLC

Keith Fogg, The Room of Lies (Procedurally Taxing). No, it’s not about debate settings, Congress or the White House Press Briefing Room. It’s about the process the government uses in deciding whether to appeal tax cases.

Robert Wood, Mo’ Indictments For Mo’ Money Taxes, 20 Years Prison Possible. “Indeed, the fallout for innocent taxpayers patronizing a tax preparation shop that is in trouble can be far-reaching.”  Yes, that’s why taxpayers should be wary of a shop that seems to always get bigger refunds than anyone else.

Tony Nitti, If You Hired Mo’ Money Taxes To Prepare Your Return, You Continue To Have Mo’ Problems.  “The most institutionally corrupt organization south of the New England Patriots…”

TaxGrrrl Live-blogged the GOP presidential debate last night. As the political season seems to be fully underway, it’s time to express my joy of the season, best stated by Arnold Kling:

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

And reason never comes out well in the contest.


Renu Zaretsky, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers international tax reform, gas taxes, and sales tax holidays.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 820. Lots of reaction to the Senate Finance report on the scandal.

Peter Reilly, IRS Scandal – Blame It All On Lois Lerner And Move On?

Joseph Thorndike, Clinton Should Keep It Simple and Just Propose Repealing the Capital Gains Preference (Tax Analysts). No, no, no. She should keep it simple and propose repealing the capital gain tax.


Career Corner. The “I’m Leaving” Conversation (Green Dot Peon, Going Concern).


Tax Roundup, 6/8/15: Hush money edition. And: IRA invests in IRA owner’s business, disaster ensues.

Monday, June 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
"Dennis Hastert 109th pictorial photo" by United States Congress - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Dennis Hastert 109th pictorial photo” by United States Congress – Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The TaxProf and I are cited in a New York Times article on the tax implications of former House Speaker Hastert’s hush money scandal: If Hastert Was Extorted, He Could Deduct Some Losses From His Taxes.

Mr. Hastert has been indicted on charges of “structuring” deposits to avoid reporting rules as part of a plan to pay for silence from “Individual A” for alleged sexual contact pre-Congress. From the article:

While extortion payments would be taxable for Individual A, they would actually be partly deductible for Mr. Hastert, said Paul Caron, a tax law professor at Pepperdine University. It’s right there in I.R.S. Publication 17, Chapter 25: You get to deduct losses because of theft, to the extent those losses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. Blackmail and extortion count as theft.

But to claim the deduction, Mr. Hastert would have to convince the I.R.S. or a court he had been extorted, which could be difficult.

”Sometimes judges will find a way to disallow deductions for what they find unsavory behavior,” said Joe Kristan, a tax accountant with the Roth C.P.A. firm. He noted a case in which a divided Ninth Circuit panel denied a tax deduction for extortion to a man who said he paid hush money to his mistress.

For the record, I have no personal experience in deducting extortion and hush money payments.

Related: Jack Townsend, Article on Structuring to Avoid Bank Currency Reporting Requirements, on the structuring charges of the Hastert case.


No Walnut STTaxpayer’s IRA-owned corporation leads to tax disaster. The Eighth Circuit appeals court has upheld horrendous tax penalties against a taxpayer who had an IRA capitalize his business as an investor.

A Mr. Ellis rolled his 401(k) plan into an IRA, which invested about $310,000 in CST, a C corporation. CST started an auto dealership and employed Mr. Ellis as General Manager. That led to unfortunate tax results. From the court opinion (my emphasis):

The tax court properly found that Mr. Ellis engaged in a prohibited transaction by directing CST to pay him a salary in 2005. The record establishes that Mr. Ellis caused his IRA to invest a substantial majority of its value in CST with the understanding that he would receive compensation for his services as general manager. By directing CST to pay him wages from funds that the company received almost exclusively from his IRA, Mr. Ellis engaged in the indirect transfer of the income and assets of the IRA for his own benefit and indirectly dealt with such income and assets for his own interest or his own account. See 26 U.S.C. § 4975(c)(1)(D), (E); 29 C.F.R. § 2509.75-2(c) (“[I]f a transaction between a party in interest and a plan would be a prohibited transaction, then such a transaction between a party in interest and such corporation . . . will ordinarily be a prohibited transaction if the plan may, by itself, require the corporation . . . to engage in such transaction.”)

While the investment itself wasn’t ruled a prohibited transaction, things got messy once the IRA-owned corporation started paying Mr. Ellis a salary — an “indirect transfer” occurred.

The consequences? The prohibited transaction terminated the IRA. That means the whole value of the IRA became taxable income, with no cash made available to cover the taxes. With penalties, the bill will exceed $160,000.

The Moral? Direct business investments from IRAs are dynamite. If you must use retirement plan funds for a business start-up, it may be wiser to take a taxable withdrawal and use the after-tax funds to make the investment. If there is any way to fund it without retirement plan funds, that would be wiser still.

Cite: Ellis, CA-8, No. 14-1310 

Prior coverage here.


20150528-1Margaret Van Houten, Legislature Passes Bill Affecting Iowa Trusts and Estates (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).  “Beginning on July 1, 2016, a step grandchild will no longer be subject to Iowa Inheritance Tax.  Currently, direct ancestors and descendants, including stepchildren, were exempt from the tax, while step grandchildren were grouped with other individuals, such as siblings, nieces and nephews and unrelated individuals and were subject to the tax.”

TaxGrrrl, The Not So Skinny On National Doughnut Day. That’s every day!

Jason Dinesen, Breakeven Analysis for Small Businesses — Service Providers and Not-for-Profits

Annette Nellen, More on marijuana businesses and tax ethics. “Despite state actions, the production, sale and use of marijuana is a crime under federal law. Thus, for licensed practitioners, there is concern about ethical violations of helping someone commit a crime.”

Kay Bell, H&R Block explores virtual tax preparation.

Peter Reilly, A New York Day Is Like A New York Minute At Least For Taxes:

In the case of John and Janine Zanetti, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division agreed with the Commissioner of Taxation and Finance that a New York day can be less than 24 hours.  The point of the decision was to determine whether the Zanettis had spent enough time in New York to be considered statutory residents for the year 2006.


Jim Maule asks Is the Federal Income Tax Progressive? He focuses on the “low” federal effective rate on the “Top .001%.” Of course, the reason people get to those rates is normally because of a one-time event, typically the sale of a corporation, that is taxed at long-term capital gain rates. Such taxpayers are normally at that income level only once in their life. Of course, Prof. Maule ignores the built-in double tax hidden in these figures.

Leslie Book, DC Circuit Criticizes Government in Case Alleging an Israel Special Policy for Tax Exemptions (Procedurally Taxing). “As IRS has increased responsibility beyond its paramount mission of collecting revenues, the historical reasons for the discretion IRS has exercised have lessened.”

Robert Wood, Are On Demand Workers Independent Contractors In Name Only?

Tony Nitti, Put It On The Card! Congressman Proposes To Make Credit Card Debt Forgiveness Tax Free

Russ Fox, Another Las Vegas Preparer Gets In Trouble Over the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. “I’d say it was something in the water but Las Vegas is in a desert.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 758Day 759Day 760. The IRS treatment of the Tea Partiers is compared and contrasted with that of the Clinton Foundation.


Arnold Kling, Payroll Taxes in Europe. ” I find it hard to reconcile Germany’s relatively low unemployment rate with this high payroll tax rate.”

David Henderson responds:

I don’t find it hard to reconcile the two. The reason: Germany has had high payroll tax rates for a long time–for decades, actually. So real wages have had a long time to adjust.

I understand this as saying the total employment cost is about the same, but the employee gets less of it.


Kyle Pomerleau, CRS Outlines Four Important Aspects of the EITC. “The EITC enjoys bipartisan support among lawmakers. This is due to the fact it both reduces poverty among families with children and has a positive impact on the labor force for certain individuals. Yet, the EITC is not without its flaws. It’s benefit phase-out has a negative impact on the labor force and it suffers from high error rate and overpayment.”

Richard Auxier, Choose your tax system: progressive vs. regressive (TaxVox). A critique of the “Fair Tax” and other national sales tax proposals.


News from the Profession. Pope Figured The Lord’s Work Could Use a Good Auditor (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)




Tax Roundup, 5/29/15: A distracted IRS takes its eye off the ball. And more Friday goodness.

Friday, May 29th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

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

The IRS Fails at Job One(Christopher Bergin, Tax Analysts Blog).

Over the years, as the fight for transparency continues, I’ve marveled that while the IRS was willing to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to hide information the courts eventually would force it to turn over to the public, it never shirked from its responsibility to protect the truly private information it was entrusted with. I’ve always admired the IRS for its unflinching diligence in putting that job well ahead of its paranoia of public scrutiny regarding how it operates.

But now there’s a chink, and a big one, in that armor.

The IRS has too much to do. It has its hands full just with its primary job of assessing and collecting taxes, issuing refunds, and protecting taxpayer data. But Congress has chosen to use the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy. As a result, the IRS has become a sprawling superagency with a portolio that includes the nation’s health finance system, industrial policy, welfare for the poor, campaign finance… you name it. It should be no surprise that its real job suffers.


William Perez, Identity Theft Statistics from the Latest TIGTA Report. “I was curious, just how big is identity theft, and how much money is leaking out of the Treasury?”

Annette Nellen, IRS Data Breach Unfortunate in Many Ways – PIN? “Why not use of a PIN as is used to access bank data and use credit cards?”

Kay Bell, IRS security breach highlights need to rethink online privacy. “We’ve all to some degree shared details of our lives to broader audiences.”

Justin Gelfand. Most Recent IRS International Hacking Reveals Vulnerability ( Procedurally Taxing). “Perhaps more than anything else, this cyber-attack reveals that stolen identity tax refund fraud is not a problem the Government can prosecute its way out of.”


eic 2014Arnold Kling, The EITC in Practice. Mr. Kling quotes Timothy Taylor on some of the practical problems in administering this program, and then considers an alternative:

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

In another post, he says:

I think that the incentive problems with the current system are so bad that I would like to see the next Administration take its best shot at something better. As you know, my preference is for a negative-income-tax type system, but with the added administrative issue of having the grants be in the form of flexible-benefit dollars that only can be used for food, housing, medical care, and education.

I like that idea much more than refundable credits, which are a fraud magnet.


Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Adjunct Professors and Mileage Deductions

Robert D. Flach has some fresh Friday Buzz!




Megan McArdle. Obamacare’s Intent? Just Read the Law. “Memory is so very terrible, and this law is so very complex. Anyone who tells you that they have a full and accurate memory of the evolution of the various moving parts is lying — at least to themselves.”

Hank Stern, A Quarter Trillion Here, A Quarter Trillion there…  “Obamacare is set to add more than a quarter-of-a-trillion—that’s trillion—dollars in extra insurance administrative costs to the U.S. health-care system”


Joseph Henchman, Major Tax Actions in Texas, Illinois, Nevada, and Louisiana (Tax Policy Blog). The Illinois legislature continues its rush to fiscal disaster. Nevada advances an unwise gross receipts tax. Louisiana advances a bill to kill its poorly conceived franchise tax.

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 5/28: Deals Made, Dreams Fade (Tax Justice Blog). State tax news from New York and Alabama, where a flat tax proposal has fizzled.




Howard Gleckman, The Perpetual, Immortal, Eternal, Never-Ending Tax Extenders. “The magic number for today is 16. That is, remarkably, the number of times Congress has extended the allegedly temporary research and experimentation tax credit since it was first enacted in 1981.”

Jack Townsend, Former House Speaker Indicted for Stucturing and Lying to Federal Agents. It appears blackmail was involved. Robert Wood has more.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 750


Well, it’s not brain surgery. Accountants Lack Some Skills (Caleb NewquistGoing Concern).



Tax Roundup, 5/20/15: April 15 is on April 18 next year. And: exit > voice.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20140805-3It looks like we’ll be working an extra weekend next April. Thanks to the puzzling rules regarding the observance of Emancipation Day in Washington D.C., the deadline for 1040s next year will be April 18 – even though April 15 falls on a Friday. Residents of Massachusetts and Maine get even one more day. From Rev. Rul. 2015-13:

The District of Columbia observes Emancipation Day on Friday, April 15 when April 16 is a Saturday. This makes Monday, April 18, the ordinary due date for filing income tax returns. However, in this situation, Monday, April 18, is the third Monday in April, the date that Massachusetts and Maine observe Patriots’ Day. Because residents of Massachusetts and Maine may elect to hand carry their income tax returns to their local IRS offices, A (a Massachusetts resident) has until the next succeeding day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday to file A’s income tax return. Thus, A has until Tuesday, April 19, to file A’s income tax return.

I suppose I will appreciate the extra time when the deadline comes, but I would really just as soon get it over with.

Kay Bell has more.


Update on Iowa effects of Wynne decision. The Iowa Department of Revenue public information officer responded to my inquiry about the state’s reaction to Monday’s Supreme Court decision requiring states to allow a credit on resident individual returns for taxes paid in other states: “We are in the process of reviewing the decision.”

Not surprising, as it is a new decision. If you have a refund statute of limitations expiring soon, don’t wait on their guidance to file a protective refund claim for income taxes paid in non-Iowa municipalities.


20150504-2Alito on the limits of politicsThe dissent in Wynne said that Maryland resident taxpayers afflicted with a discriminatory double tax on out-of-state income shouldn’t have prevailed becasue they had recourse to the ballot box to protect their interests. Writing for the majority, Justice Alito pointed out that this does little good (my emphasis):

In addition, the notion that the victims of such discrimination have a complete remedy at the polls is fanciful. It is likely that only a distinct minority of a State’s residents earns income out of State. Schemes that discriminate against income earned in other States may be attractive to legislators and a majority of their constituents for precisely this reason. It is even more farfetched to suggest that natural persons with out-of-state income are better able to influence state lawmakers than large corporations headquartered in the State. In short, petitioner’s argument would leave no security where the majority of voters prefer protectionism at the expense of the few who earn income interstate.

This is actually a powerful argument to limit the role of government in the first place. One voter has negligible power to overthrow unfair legislation. In the one-party rule typical of large American cities, political activity for a minority view is futile, Jim Maule notwithstanding.

20140513-1Arnold Kling points out how market institutions, which hold no elections but allow choice, can actually be more empowering for an individual:

Neither my local supermarket nor any of its suppliers has a way for me to exercise voice. They don’t hold elections. They don’t have town-hall meetings where they explain their plans for what will be in the store. By democratic standards, I am powerless in the supermarket.

And yet, I feel much freer in the supermarket than I do with respect to my county, state, or federal government. For each item in the supermarket, I can choose whether to put it into my cart and pay for it or leave it on the shelf. I can walk out of the supermarket at any time and go to a competing grocery.

The exercise of voice, including the right to vote, is not the ultimate expression of freedom. Rather, it is the last refuge of those who suffer under a monopoly.

He argues  that we should be able to choose governing institutions more like we choose other service providers:

In fact, if we had real competitive government, then we would be no more interested in elections and speaking out to government officials than we are in holding elections and town-hall meetings at the supermarket.

He makes this argument more detail in his book Unchecked and Unbalanced). Somehow I don’t think that will go over well with our current officeholders.



Russ Fox, The Real Impact of the Wynne Decision: “However, many states do not give credits for local taxes. Joe Kristan highlighted Iowa today; Kentucky is another state that does not currently offer such tax credits. Under Wynne I believe they’ll be required to offer such credits.”


Taxpayers are required to keep separate track of acquisition debt and home equity debt, to make sure that the deduction on Schedule A does not include interest on debt principal that exceed the statutory maximums ($1 Million for acquisition debt and $100,000 for home equity debt – no limit on grandfathered debt), and to determine what interest deduction to add back on Form 6251 when calculating Alternative Minimum Taxable Income.

I firmly believe that 99.5% of taxpayers do not do this. I do not know of any taxpayer who does.

The clients don’t, but that doesn’t mean preparers shouldn’t watch out for these items. When taxpayers have interest on multiple home loans, or very high home interest deductions, alert preparers have to ask questions to make sure the deductions and AMT are determined correctly.

Annette Nellen, Filing season tax updates

Robert Wood, Floyd Mayweather Gambles, Wins, Pays IRS:




Another ACA Co-op on the ropes? Hank Stern reports at Insureblog that the Kentucky health care cooperative is insolvent. That means it may go the way of Iowa’s short lived and expensive catastrophe Co-Oportunity.


Jeremy Scott, Hawkins Casts Powerful Shadow Over OPR (Tax Analysts Blog):

Hawkins will probably always face at least some criticism because of the overreach of the preparer regime, and some accusations that she was too favorable to the large practitioner groups such as the ABA and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. But she should more properly be remembered as the person who brought coherence to IRS Circular 230 enforcement and essentially rebuilt OPR from scratch.


In fairness, the preparer regulation overreach was decided above her level.


Scott Sumner, A consumption tax is a wealth tax (Econlog). “For any income tax regime, there is a consumption tax regime of equal progressivity. Unfortunately that equally progressive regime will look much less progressive. This is one of the biggest barriers to tax reform.”

Kyle Pomerleau, What are Flat taxes? (Tax Policy Blog):

When most people hear “Flat Tax,” they usually think a tax system with one, flat tax rate on all income. They also imagine a tax system with little or no deductions or credits. While this is a possible way to design a flat tax, it is not what makes a flat tax a flat tax. The key to a flat tax goes beyond its rates. The key is that it is a consumption tax. You would not call a low-rate tax on all transactions in an economy a flat tax, even though it had one, flat rate.





Howard Gleckman, Are GOP Presidential Candidates Downplaying Tax Cuts Or Hiding The Ball? Referring to Joseph Thorndike, he says: “Joe, who is very much in the watch-what-they-do-not what-they-say (WWTDNWTS) camp, noted that while few GOP presidential hopefuls are talking about tax cuts, many of their proposals are, in fact tax cuts.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 741


Caleb Newquist,  “Just Ask the Guy” Not Always a Futile Fraud Detection Method (Going Concern).  Not foolproof, though.



Tax Roundup, 2/9/15: New York questions its tax incentives. And: where’s the ‘no anthrax’ sign?

Monday, February 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

New York FlagNew York Comptroller: nobody tracks whether the state’s corporate welfare tax incentives do any good. Tax Analysts’ Jennifer DePaul reports ($link):

It’s unclear whether the $1.3 billion in incentives and credits doled out annually by New York is creating jobs, a February 5 report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli concluded.

The ESDC, which administers more than 50 economic development programs, provides little public information on taxpayer-funded investments in its initiatives, the report said.

“ESDC makes no public assessment of whether its disparate programs work effectively together, whether such initiatives have succeeded or failed at creating good jobs for New Yorkers, or whether its investments are reasonable in relation to jobs created and retained,” the report said.

Naturally the politicians disagree:

On February 5 Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) told reporters that he disagreed with the comptroller “fundamentally and on his concept of economic development” and said New York has lost its effectiveness to attract businesses over the past decade.

“We’ve come a long way in the past four years in terms of reversing that and bringing jobs back to New York,” Cuomo said. “To the extent that the comptroller thinks we should go back to the old way where we saw New York losing jobs, I couldn’t disagree more strongly.”

To politicians, the only job creation that matters is the kind that lets them hold issue press releases, hold press conferences, and cut ribbons.

For a brief shining moment in the Iowa’s Culver administration, the film tax credit fiasco made our politicians look at the Iowa’s tax credit programs. A panel of state officials issued a report finding no clear evidence that the tax credits do any good. So Iowa replaced them all and lowered individual and corporate tax rates with the savings.

Actually, no. They just continued enacting new credits. I can dream, though.

Link: The Comptroller Report.


dirtyThe Journal of Taxation has a summary of this year’s IRS “Dirty Dozen” tax scams. Number 1 with a bullet are phone call scams from people saying they are IRS agents. Just remember, if the caller claims to be from the IRS, he (or she) isn’t, unless you have been in touch with a specific agent by mail already.


Puzzling over the tangible property regulations and the 3115 requirements? The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation wants to help solve the puzzles. They have scheduled a webinar on on the regs February 18Roger McEowen and Paul Neiffer will host. Registration info available here.


Russ Fox celebrates 10 — the tenth anniversary of his excellent Taxable Talk. Congratulations, Russ!

William Perez, How Is Interest Income Taxed and Reported?

Annette Nellen discusses the new IRS Directory of preparers and Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP). Another useless effort by the supposedly impoverished agency.

IMG_1271Leslie Book, Preparers and Due Diligence (Procedurally Taxing)

Kay Bell, Additions to the tax law name roll of [dis]honor? We at Roth & Company would like to claim rights to the name “Roth IRA,” but alas, we had nothing to do with it.

Jason Dinesen, I Like Mowing My Lawn and Shoveling Snow; Do You Like Preparing Your Tax Return?

I see no value in hiring someone else to mow my lawn or shovel my snow.

The same principle holds true for people who choose to prepare their own taxes. If they know what they’re doing and they enjoy doing it, then I encourage people to do it themselves because they won’t see value in the work of a tax professional.

I see no value in hiring someone else to do my lawn and driveway either. That’s what the teen-ager is for.

TaxGrrrl, Brady Passes On Super Bowl Prize As Butler Hauls In Truck & Tax Bill

Jim Maule, So Who Gets Taxed on the Super Bowl Truck?

Peter Reilly, Oil Rig Manager Does Not Qualify As Foreign Resident

Robert Wood, On-Demand Workers: It’s Tax Time, You’re Self-Employed, Audits Are Inevitable

Me, IRS issues 2015 vehicle depreciation limits, updates 2014 limits for Extension of Bonus depreciation




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 641. Judicial Watch says it has received emails showing the IRS Office of Chief Counsel delayed the investigation into the Tea Party scandal.

The tax law is obese. So the supergenius behind Obamacare, Jonathan Gruber, has floated the idea of taxing folks based on body weightArnold Kling is comments wisely: ” I know that many of my progressive friends would be disgusted by the obesity, but that does not make it a public policy problem.”

That’s right, not every problem is a tax problem. Or even the government’s problem.

David Henderson has more: Jonathan Gruber on Sin Taxes (Econlog)


Kyle Pomerleau, Worldwide Taxation is Very Rare (Tax Policy Blog):

At the beginning of the 20th century, 33 countries had a worldwide tax system. That number slowly dropped to 24 countries by the 1980s. By the 2000s, the number of countries switching to territorial systems accelerated, with more than 10 countries switching in 10 short years. Nearly all developed countries have moved to the superior territorial tax system. Today there are only 6 countries that tax corporations on their worldwide income. The President’s proposal would double-down on the U.S.’s current system and push the United States further out of line with the rest of the developed world.

The U.S. is even more of an outlier on worldwide taxation of individual income, with only Eritrea joining us in taxing citizens abroad.

Tracy Gordon, Go Team: Score 1 for Obama on Ending Tax Subsidies for College Sports (TaxVox).

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 2/5: State of the States (Tax Justice Blog).


Career Corner. Let’s Discuss: The Worst of Eating in the Audit Room (Marty, Going Concern)

Brian Gongol says “You’re not allowed to carry a bag of anthrax spores through a mall.” My bad. It won’t happen again.



Tax Roundup, 2/2/15: Film trial sequel ends badly for a main character. And: Iowa conformity bills advance.

Monday, February 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Dennis Brouse

Dennis Brouse

They got him for the trailer. The filmmaker who got more transferable tax credits under the Iowa film tax credit program than anyone else was convicted Friday of first degree fraud with respect to the program. From the Des Moines Register:

Dennis Brouse, 64, could face up to 10 years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled for March 23. Brouse owned Changing Horses Productions, a company that received $9 million in tax credits from the scandal-ridden Iowa Film Office. Brouse starred in the company’s main series, “Saddle Up With Dennis Brouse.”

Prosecutors claim Brouse bought a 38-foot camper trailer from an elderly couple, Wayne and Shirley Weese, for $10,500 in cash. But prosecutors charged that Brouse claimed the trailer cost twice that much in a statement for tax credits that he turned in to the state.

The State Auditor’s Report on the program reported that Changing Horses claimed 50% tax credits for many other doubtful items. For example, they claimed a $1 million value for a “sponsorship” awarded to a feed company that had refused to sign a document with that value on the grounds that it was “grossly overvalued.” This enabled the company to get tax credits that likely were more than 100% of the money spent in Iowa by the filmmaker.

Mr. Brouse had a prior conviction on charges related to the film program overturned, and his attorney says he will appeal this conviction.

While Iowa’s film credit program was spectacularly mismanaged, it was only one extreme example of the unwisdom of the state legislature attempting to manage Iowa’s economy via the tax law.


Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

Iowa conformity bills advance The bill to update Iowa’s income tax to reflect the December federal “extenders” bill cleared both the House and Senate taxwriting committees. I think than means the bills won’t be delayed, and we can get on with Iowa’s tax season. Both bills conform for pretty much everything in the federal tax law, including the increased Section 179 deduction, but do not conform to federal bonus depreciation.


Dahls checks outThe central Iowa grocery chain was broken up Friday in a bankruptcy liquidation. Seven stores will re-open under another name.

Perhaps the greatest victims of the failure are longtime Dahls employees who owned the company through their Employee Stock Ownership Plan. They get nothing, or close to it.

Iowa passed a special break for sales of companies to ESOPs in 2012. Proponents pointed to the employee ownership of Dahl’s major competitor, Hy-Vee, in support of the bill.

The Dahls example shows a dark side of employee ownership — the way it concentrates a large portion of employee retirement assets in a single vulnerable asset.


Jason Dinesen, Do I Have to Have Form 1095-A Before I Can File? “Yes, you need the Form 1095-A if you got premiums through an insurance exchange.”

William Perez, Need More Time? How to File for a Tax Extension with the IRS

20150105-1Jim Maule, When Is A Building Placed in Service? “Because the taxpayer presented undisputed evidence that certificates of occupancy had been issued, that the buildings were substantially complete, and that the buildings were fully functionally to house the shelving and merchandise, they had been placed in service within the required time period.”

Jana Luttenegger Weiler, Sharing Financial Responsibility at Tax Time (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog). “Whatever your situation, it is important to keep good records so that someone else can pick up where you left off, if needed.

Kay Bell, Is Belichick’s coaching style like tax avoidance or tax evasion?

Paul Neiffer, $500,000 Permanent Section 179 Could be Coming Soon! “The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote on seven expired tax provisions on February 4, including making permanent Section 179 expensing at the $500,000 level.” Given the politics involved, I’m not holding my breath.

Robert Wood: Receipts Rule IRS Keeps Quiet: They’re Optional. Well, sometimes they aren’t optional, and they always help.

TaxGrrrl, Salaries, Ads & Security: What’s The Real Cost Of Super Bowl XLIX?

Russ Fox, This Never Works…:

Patrick White is the owner of R & L Construction in Yonkers, New York. He liked his home and he liked to gamble. There’s nothing wrong with that. He took payroll taxes withheld from his business and used that money for his homes and for gambling. There’s a lot wrong with that, especially when it totals $3,758,000. Mr. White pleaded guilty to one count of failing to pay over payroll taxes to the government. He’ll be sentenced in May.

Russ throws in some good advice about using EFTPS.

Robert D. Flach regales us with THE TWELVE DAYS OF TAX SEASON

Stephen Olsen, “Summary Opinions for 1/6/15-1/23/15” (Procedurally Taxing). News from the tax procedure world.


IMG_0543Christopher Bergin, Robin Hood and Other Fables (Tax Analysts Blog):

When it comes to taxation, President Obama has his own particular points of view. He may use terms such as “middle-class economy” or say things like “the rich can pay a little more,” but at the core he views the tax system as either a mechanism that helps the rich hang on to their ill-gotten gains or as a “honey pot” to fund his political ideas and base. It’s all politics. And that’s why we will see no progress – regarding the gas tax, taxation of businesses, or any other kind of real tax reform – until there has been a change in administrations.

In fact, the major lesson we’ve learned from this latest episode is that when it comes to of tax reform, the Obama administration has the “tinnyist” of tin ears. Whether the merry men and women at the White House believe that section 529 tuition savings plans benefit the ”rich,” they should know that when American voters actually recognize and identify with a tax break by its code section number (in this case, 529), be careful — very, very careful. You usually can’t sneak a fast one into the tax code when taxpayers know the section by number.

Hard to argue with this.


Arnold Kling, 529: Popular != Good Policy. “529 plans subsidize affluent people for doing what they would have done anyway–send their kids to exclusive, high-priced colleges.” Maybe, but it still is better than rewarding borrowing by subsidizing it.

Howard Gleckman, Obama’s Failure to Kill 529 Plans May Say Less About Tax Reform Than You Think (TaxVox). “But the survival of these education subsidies does not mean that a rate-cuts-for-base-broadening swap will never be possible.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 634

Matt Gardner, Facebook’s Record-Setting Stock-Option Tax Break (Tax Justice Blog). 595 words on the evils of the deduction for stock option compensation without one word noting that every dollar of “phantom” deduction for the issuing corporation is also a dollar of “phantom” income to the employees — and usually at higher rates than the corporation pays.

Scott Drenkard, Gov. Kasich’s Plan May Be A Tax Cut, But It’s Still Poor Policy. (Tax Policy Blog) “Unfortunately, the plan which is set to be announced next Monday by Governor Kasich isn’t going to address any of these problems and will probably make them worse.”


Career Corner. You Should Take a Nap This Afternoon Because Science (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 11/6/14: You pretend to complete the form, we’ll pretend to care. And: election mania!

Thursday, November 6th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitorsthe godawful link you seek is here.


20120905-1Don’t worry about getting it right, just make it look good. IRS personnel trying to appease angry practitioners at an AICPA Tax Division gathering had some strange and annoying things to say yesterday.

Practitioners are upset at the IRS insistence on Form 3115 accounting method change applications with 2014 returns from everyone moving into compliance with the new rules on repair and capitalization costs.  Tax Analysts reports ($link):

Participants in the tax methods and periods panel at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants fall Tax Division meeting in Washington said that some taxpayers don’t want to pay the high costs associated with going through years’ worth of records to calculate a precise section 481(a) adjustment required under the final regulations (T.D. 9636). The cost of that level of compliance could be more than the entire cost of preparing their returns, practitioners said, adding that the taxpayers are considering filing their method changes with corresponding section 481(a) adjustments of zero.

The piece cites Scott Dinwiddie, special counsel, IRS Office of Associate Chief Counsel (Income Tax and Accounting):

Taxpayers were taking aggressive positions, so the government didn’t want to provide an across-the-board cutoff in the final regulations, he said. Instead, it required 481(a) adjustments as a way to allow field agents to examine taxpayers’ aggressive positions, he said.

So because some taxpayers were taking positions you didn’t like, you want to require everyone to do a bunch of wasteful and meaningless busy work during our busiest time of the year. Got it.

Dinwiddie said that, barring a situation in which the taxpayer has taken aggressive positions in the past or has in no way applied a proper capitalization method, the IRS is unlikely to have much interest in examining a taxpayer’s section 481(a) adjustment now.

So we pretend to file an accurate Form 3115, and they pretend to care. Well, you have to admit that considering the budget and enforcement restraints on the IRS, this approach is… absolutely insane. Taxpayers have to pay for a bunch of nonsense compliance, and the IRS doesn’t care whether it’s right. The IRS still has to incur processing costs. I’d love to see the IRS cost-benefit worksheets on this one.


20120810-1The TaxProf has a roundup of observations on the whether tax reform can happen in the new Congress, including this from William Gale:

It is a good bet that the new Republican Congress will continue to talk about tax reform. That is safe ground for Republicans generally. And, of course, seemingly impossible things do sometimes happen. But I wouldn’t bet on tax reform. 

A wise non-bet.


TaxGrrrl, What Matters Most When It Comes To Tax Reform? Hint: It’s Not Control Of Congress:

What is interesting, however, is that most of the significant tax policy changes in the modern era are more closely tied to the length of presidential terms. Every president has a budget – and an agenda – but real shifts in rates and policies tend to happen during a second term (or en route to a second term) no matter which party is in control. 

I don’t expect it to happen this time.


Scott Drenkard, What Do the 2014 Midterm Election Results Mean for State Tax Policy? “My prediction is that this means that taxes will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest issue in state policy next legislative session, and that tax reform will become even more of a bipartisan issue.”  I’m afraid that’s not true here in Iowa.

Russ Fox, Nevada Goes Deep Red. “Do you remember 1928? Well, that was the last time Nevada had a Republican governor, a Republican State Assembly, a Republican State Senate, and Republicans holding all major statewide offices.”

Paul Neiffer, A Christmas Present?! “They will meet over the next six weeks or so and around Christmas time we will get the final tax package.”



20120702-2Arnold Kling’s characteristically wise observation on the election results:

Conventional wisdom is that, relatively speaking, Democrats have a structural advantage in Presidential elections, because those elections attract more turnout. In other words, they do much better among disengaged voters. One could spin this positively for the Democrats, saying that they get support from the weaker segments of society. One could spin this negatively and say that they rely on a segment of the electorate that is poorly informed and easily bamboozled, which I believe is the case. The counter to that would be that Republicans also rely on a segment of the electorate that is poorly informed and easily bamboozled, which I also believe is the case.

While I don’t agree with all of what he says, the whole post is brief and well worth reading. So is this from Don Boudreaux:

I advise freedom-loving and free-market-appreciating Americans (of which I am unashamedly one) to be good Tullockians about the results of yesterday’s landslide wins for the G.O.P.  The Republicans who won those elections are, after all, politicians – and it is the rare politician, of whatever party, who reliably puts principle above personal interest.  As a rule, politicians are untrustworthy, duplicitous, and cowardly; they are people who have an unusually powerful craving for power and fame; and the successful among them typically posses an unusual talent for camouflaging their craving for power and fame as a saintly calling to ‘serve the people.’

Pretty much. But some are less bad than others, enough so that I do bother to vote.

Renu Zaretsky, Don’t Call It a Comeback… Yet.  The TaxVox headline roundup is full of post-election links, including news of Berkeley, California, passing an idiotic soda tax. When they start taxing mocha lattes, I’ll believe they’re such taxes are about public health than moral vanity.



And some folks are actually talking about things other than the election:

Jana Luttenegger, Even Startups Need to Have the Conversation (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).

Jason Dinesen tells us A Little Bit About Sole Proprietorships, Part 1

William Perez, Dividends: Taxes and Reporting


Jim Maule discusses how Mortgage Loan Modification Can Imperil Interest Deduction

Stephen Olsen at Procedurally Taxing as a new round of Summary Opinions., with links to news from the world of tax procedure.

Jack Townsend, The Honorable Jed Rakoff on Why Innocent People Plead Guilty. He quotes Judge Rakoff: “…the guidelines, like the mandatory minimums, provide prosecutors with weapons to bludgeon defendants into effectively coerced plea bargains.”

Kay Bell, 5 tax record keeping questions … and answers!

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 546

News from the Profession. McGladrey Reminds Audit Staff to Stay Billable This Busy Season (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 11/3/14: Elections tomorrow; good riddance. And: $3,000 unmentionables!

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121006-1Tomorrow is Election Day. Good Riddance.  Tomorrow ends the current Festival of Democracy. Because I share Arnold Kling’s view of election seasons as “brutal assaults on reason,” I look forward to it ending.

However unreasoning, elections do affect policy. Some of the tax policy issues in play this year:

Is it better to give that to receive? Iowa’s incumbent Governor Branstad is an avid distributor of corporate welfare tax credits. His challenger is an avid recipient. If the polls are to be believed, it is truly better to give than to receive.

What about the extenders? We practitioners just want to have a tax law for Christmas, or sooner, so a tax season that we already expect to be bad won’t be just godawful. It’s not clear whether a Republican takeover of the Senate will affect the timing of the extender bill, but it is possible that it might spur the incumbent Democratic leadership into action to pass bills more to their liking than they would see from their successors.

What about federal tax reform? The 1986 tax reforms were passed by a Congress led by one party and signed by a president of the other party. The possibility of this happening if the Senate goes Republican seems absurdly small.

What about Iowa Tax Reform? Iowa once again is in the bottom 10 in having a bad business tax climate. A Republican takeover of the Iowa Senate would make serious tax reform efforts possible. It wouldn’t make it likely, though, given the Governor’s affinity for giving away tax credits.

Whatever the results, I predict that politicians will continue to give away tax credits to businesses that will proceed to do what they were going to do anyway; the politicians will then claim credit for the jobs they “create.”  Other politicians will say that there is nothing wrong with spending money that taking more from “the rich” won’t cure.

So vote away, if you are so inclined. But don’t count on any big changes as a result.


Flickr image courtesy David Goehring under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy David Goehring under Creative Commons license

Jack Townsend, IRS and FinCEN Form 8300 and Geographic Targeting Order: “Recently, FinCEN issued a Geographic Targeting Order, here, imposing additional reporting and recordkeeping requirements on a relatively small (but apparently financially active) area of Los Angeles, California.”

Very strange, to me. The order imposes special rules on accepting cash for a wide variety of businesses in part of L.A. I didn’t know there was such a rule. I wonder how they are letting all of these stores — including “lingerie stores” — know they suddenly have a new reporting obligation if somebody spends $3,000 in cash there.  And I wonder who spends $3,000 on lingerie.



The Des Moines Register adds to the coverage of the seizure of cash from an Arnolds Park, Iowa restaurant owner.

Robert D. Flach, TO EXTEND, OR NOT TO EXTEND. THAT IS THE QUESTION. “If a tax benefit is appropriate it should be permanent – except in response to serious natural disasters, the idiots in Congress should never enact temporary tax measures.”

Amen, Brother Robert.


William Perez, Investing in or Spending Bitcoin? Learn about the Tax Implications


harvestPaul Neiffer, IRS Announces Various Inflation Adjusted Items:

Last night I rode in the combine in Northeastern Iowa from about 7 pm to about 2:30 am.  We cut about 10,000 bushels of corn with a John Deere S680 and I must admit there is something therapeutic about seeing corn come into the combine and then get dumped into the grain cart. 

Take 10,000 bushels and call me in the morning.


Annette Nellen, Damages: Deductible?

It’s a fact of life that businesses get sued. Even if they win, there are legal and related fees. What if they lose and have to pay compensatory and perhaps also punitive damages? Perhaps also some fines to the government?  What is deductible for tax purposes? A recent case from the First Circuit Court dealt with an action involving the False Claims Act with total damages of just over $486 million!

I don’t think generally one sort of damages should be more tax-beneficial than another. The income tax should base should measure capacity to pay taxes, not moral fiber or good citizenship.


Jana Luttenegger, More 2015 Tax Numbers Released, Including Tax Brackets (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)


Keith Fogg, Promoting, Not Discouraging, Tax Compliance (Procedurally Taxing). “Don’t we want to introduce our young citizens into a tax system that is rational and just? The current model does precisely the opposite.”

Kay Bell’s “Don’t Mess with Taxes” is sporting a new look. Go read Best states for business tend to have no or low taxes and check it out.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 543


tax fairyRuss Fox, Perhaps She’ll Cover the Guilty Plea in the Second Edition:

Her book, The Prosperity Principles: Secrets to Developing and Maintaining Generational Wealth, notes that business should be run, “…where everything you can do can be deducted from your reportable income as a business expense.”

That’s just another way of saying that there is a Tax Fairy. There is no Tax Fairy.



Tax Roundup, 10/31/14: Halloween! And: mortgage interest? Put it on the tab.

Friday, October 31st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140325-1The deduction for home mortgage interest is hugely popular among those with huge home mortgages. Taxpayers get to deduct all of the interest paid on loans used to buy a home, up to $1 million in principal; they also get to deduct interest paid on the first $100,000 in home equity debt.

But there is a technicality: the interest needs to be “paid.” That was a problem for a California couple in Tax Court yesterday.

The couple bought a home in 1991 for $300,000. They refinanced it for $600,000 in 2007. Then 2008 happened, and they got a loan modification in 2010. Tax Court Judge Lauber explains:

The modifications included a reduction of the interest rate, a change in the payment terms, and an increase in the loan balance. Immediately before the modifications, the outstanding loan balance was $579,275; after the modifications, the new balance was $623,953. The difference (equal to $44,678) resulted from adding the following amounts to the loan balance: past due interest of $30,273, servicing expense of $180, and charges for taxes and insurance of $14,225.

The taxpayers added the $30,273 to the $9,253 the bank put on their 1098 mortgage interest statement for 2010. The IRS noticed the difference and disallowed the $30,273.

20121031-2The Tax Court sided with the IRS:

Petitioners are cash basis taxpayers. It is well settled that “[a] cash-basis taxpayer ‘pays’ interest only when he pays cash or its equivalent to his lender.”

 Through the loan modification agreement, the $30,273 in past-due interest on petitioners’ mortgage loan was added to the principal. No money changed hands; petitioners simply promised to pay the past-due interest, along with the rest of the principal, at a later date. Because petitioners did not pay this interest during 2010 in cash or its equivalent, they cannot claim a deduction for it for 2010. They will be entitled to a deduction if and when they actually discharge this portion of their loan obligation in a future year. 

In short, you can’t just add interest to the loan balance and get a deduction. That has obvious implications for “reverse mortgages.”

As the taxpayers make the payments, they will have some additional factors to consider. Their original purchase price was $300,000 for the house. Unless the additional borrowing was used for renovation or expansion of the home, it is “home equity indebtedness.” Interest on only the first $100,000 of equity debt will be deductible — and only for regular tax, not AMT.

Cite: Copeland, T.C. Memo 2014-226.


mst3k-lanternWilliam Perez, The Tax Audit Success Story and Tips from Audit Experts

Jason Dinesen, Same-sex Marriage and State Taxes: 2014

Kay Bell, 2015 income tax rates, income brackets

TaxGrrrl, IRS Announces 2015 Tax Brackets, Standard Deduction Amounts And More

Robert D. Flach has A SCARY THOUGHT for Halloween. “What if the 114th Congress turns out to be made up of most of the same idiots as the 113th Congress!”  It will be.


Leslie Book, AICPA Suit Against IRS Voluntary Education and Testing Regime Thrown Out of Court (Procedurally Taxing)

Tax Trials, Tax Court Preserves Taxpayer Protections against Arbitrary and Capricious Appeals Rulings


Arnold Kling  on “middle class” tax credits:

Brooks endorses the reform conservative Room-to-Grow idea of showering middle-class families with tax credits. I see that as political posturing. If I could be in charge of tax reform, we would get rid of credits and deductions, and we also would move away from taxing income and instead toward taxing consumption. Note, however, that tax reform is not one of my top three priorities.

Except for the last sentence, I agree with it all.


6fpw32atDon Boudreax on the Arnolds Park IRS cash seizure:

I challenge anyone to justify, or even to excuse, such an abuse of power.  (HT a dear and wise and passionate friend.)

Words normally do not escape me, but I can find none that adequately convey the anger and sense of injustice that course through me when I read of seizures such as this one.  Best to let the matter speak for itself, which it surely does to anyone this side of Frank Underwood in decency and civility.  Fortunately, the great Institute for Justice is on the case.

Oh, I’m sure that things like that could never happen if the IRS had a bigger budget.


Andrew Lundeen, Tens of Thousands Protest Internet Tax in Hungary (Tax Policy Blog) Would-be dictators come up with wacky ideas.

20141027-2Matt Gardner, Obscure Law Allows Wealthy Professional Sports Team Owners to Reap Tax Windfalls (Tax Justice Blog) . He doesn’t care for intangibles amortization.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 540


News from the Profession. Grant Thornton to Have Rat Problem for Foreseeable Future (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

Tony Nitti, Want To Do Your Part To Help Fight Ebola? Skip Your Next Vacation. OK, I’m skipping my next vacation to Liberia.


Tax Roundup, 9/19/14: Brutal Assault on Reason Season Edition. Arrggh!

Friday, September 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121006-1Brutal Assault on Reason Season is underway. Elections depress me. Arnold Kling sums up my feelings:

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

Very few of us are in a position to have more than intuitions on the great issues of the day. Rarely are voters health-care economists, trade experts, military or foreign policy specialists, etc., and most of us have little basis to tell when the politicians are lying about these issues (though that is a good default assumption). Doing taxes for a living, though, I feel competent to identify bogus tax claims by politicians. William McBride does so in a Tax Policy Blog Post,  U.S. Corporate Tax Revenue is Low Because High Taxes Have Shrunk the Corporate Sector.

He quotes the U.S. Senate’s only unabashed socialist, Bernie Sanders:

“Want to better understand why we have a federal deficit? In 1952, the corporate income tax accounted for 33 percent of all federal tax revenue. Today, despite record-breaking profits, corporate taxes bring in less than 9 percent. It’s time for real tax reform.”

There is a truly brutal assault on reason, and Mr. McBride fights back:

The share of U.S. business profits attributable to pass-through businesses has grown dramatically as well, as they now represent more than 60 percent of all U.S. business profits. The second chart below shows that C corporation profits, while extremely volatile, have generally trended downward in recent decades, while the profits of S corporations and partnerships have trended upwards. In the 1960s and 1970s, C corporation profits were about 8 percent of GDP, while partnership profits were about 1 percent and S corporation profits were virtually nil. Now C corporation profits hover around 4 percent of GDP (4.7 percent in 2011), while partnership profits are almost at the same level (3.7 percent in 2011) and S corporation profits are not far behind (2.4 percent in 2011). Partnership and S corporation profits are growing such that they will each exceed C corporation profits in the near future if not already. When commentators claim that “corporate profits are at an all-time high”, they are referring to Bureau of Economic Analysis data that combines C corporations and pass-through businesses, whether they know it or not.

In sum, the Senator’s statement is flat out false. It is completely misleading to claim that corporate profits are up while corporate tax revenues are down, essentially implying there is some mischief going on via “loopholes”, etc. The truth is corporate tax revenue has been falling for decades because the corporate sector has been shrinking, and not just by corporate inversions. The most likely culprit is our extremely uncompetitive corporate tax regime.

In other words, high rates are driving businesses out of the corporate form and to pass-throughs of one sort or another.


As we head into election season, expect the brutal assaults to continue. Here are a few phrases commonly seen in assaults on reason when taxes are involved, enabling you to spot them even if you don’t know a 1040 from a hole in the ground:

“Politician X voted for tax breaks to ship jobs overseas.”

“This tax cut will pay for itself.”

“I believe in free markets, but tax credit X is needed to level the playing field.”

“I don’t want to punish success; I want X to pay his fair share.”

“This tax credit created X jobs”

I know I’m missing many. If you point out more in the comments, I’ll be happy to talk about them.


It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, so Kay Bell comes through with Avast, me hearties! The IRS wants its cut of your illegal income, be it pirated or otherwise criminally obtained.


Peter Reilly, Professional C Corp Denied Deduction For Uncashed Salary Check To Owner.  He covers a story I covered earlier this week where a professional corporation deducted a year-end bonus “paid” through an NSF check that was “loaned” back to the corporation.  His take: “I’m not sure that the Tax Court was right to deny any of  deduction, but I really question whether the whole deduction should be denied.”


TaxGrrrl, Back To School 2014: Deducting Student Loan Interest (Even If You Don’t Pay It)

20140826-1Robert D. Flach has fresh Friday Buzz, including links on the cost of tax compliance and “7 deadly tax sins.”

William Perez, When are State Refunds Taxed on Your Federal Return?

Jason Dinesen, IRS Says Online Sorority Is Not Tax Exempt. Social media apparently isn’t social enough for them.

Jim Maule, An Epidemic of Tax Ignorance. He covers one of my pet peeves — people who use the term “the IRS code” for the Internal Revenue Code. It’s Congress that came up with that thing, not the IRS.

Russ Fox, Hyatt Decision a Win for FTB as Far as Damages, but Decision Upheld that FTB Committed Fraud. FTB is the California Franchise Tax Board. Tax authorities should get in trouble for fraud to the same extent they hold taxpayers responsible for fraud.


A. Levar Taylor, What Constitutes An Attempt To Evade Or Defeat Taxes For Purposes Of Section 523(a)(1)(C) Of The Bankruptcy Code: The Ninth Circuit Parts Company With Other Circuits (Part 1) and (Part 2).


20140801-2Joseph Thorndike, Should We Tax Away Huge Fortunes? (Tax Analysts Blog). “In other words, if you like the estate tax, talk more about revenue and less about dynasties.”

Richard Philips, House GOP Bill Combines Worst Tax Break Ideas of 2014 for Half-a-Trillion Dollar Giveaway. (Tax Justice Blog). When they know that the Senate will ignore whatever they do, it’s easy to accommodate anyone lobbying for a tax break.

Renu Zaretsky, Will Tax Reform See Light at the End of the Next Tunnel? This TaxVox headline roundup covers Tax Reform, Treasury’s plans on inversions, and the continuing resolution passed before the congresscritters left D.C. to assault reason some more.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 498

Me, IRS issues Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for October 2014

News from the Profession. Grant Thornton Has a Fight Song and It’s As Awful As You Might Expect (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 9/5/14: Obamacare tax credits get a reprieve. And: what’s $14 billion waste for a good cause?

Friday, September 5th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will re-hear Halbig.  The full court will re-decide the decision reached by a three-member court panel that limited tax credits under Obamacare to policies purchased through state-established exchanges.  As 36 states have not established exchanges, the decision would have undermined both the employer and employee mandates, which are largely dependent on the tax credits.  Jonathan Adler has more.  Michael Cannon explains the politics behind the decision to re-hear the case.


EITC error chartLeslie Book, IRS Issues New Report on EITC Overclaims (Title A).  Leslie covers the recent IRS report on how much of the cost of this welfare program run through tax returns is misspent:

“As a result of the EITC program growth the total overclaims in the study are higher in the 2006-08 Report than in the past 1999 study, with annual overclaim estimates for 2006-08 at $14 billion (lower estimate) or $19.3 billion (higher estimate), compared to 1999 figures of $12.3 billion (lower estimate) and $14 billion (higher estimate).”

The report shows that the errors arise largely from misreporting of income and claiming ineligible dependents.  While some of the errors are attributable to complexity, the skewing of the errors to extra refunds points to widespread cheating.  Complexity errors would tend to be more equally split between overpayments and underpayments, but the vast majority of errors resulted in EITC overpayments.

All of this makes Arnold Kling’s proposal to roll all means-tested welfare programs into a single voucher grant with a uniform phase-out rate look wise.


haroldMore on the Iowa Film Credit Settlement with a Rhode Island filmmaker from Maria Koklanaris at Tax Analysts ($link):

The state admits no liability in making the settlement, according to the agreement. An accompanying letter from Adam Humes, a state assistant attorney general, to Joseph Barry of the state Department of Management, says that “the agreement will resolve all claims related to these film projects, and all claims in . . . the civil case in exchange for a cash settlement. After the settlement becomes final, the civil case . . . will be dismissed with prejudice.”

Joe Kristan of Roth & Co. PC of Des Moines said several civil suits arose after the state “slammed the brakes on everything” to do with the film tax credit scandal, which resulted in seven criminal convictions amid revelations that the state had issued $26 million in improper credits.

You gotta like her sources.


Sebastian Johnson, Big Oil Wins In Alaska, Hollywood Wins in California.  Because California has plenty of cash to shower on filmmakers…

Russ Fox, $1.25 Billion Attracts Tesla to Nevada


Kyle Pomerleau, IRS Aims to Tax Silicon Valley Workers’ Fringe Benefits (Tax Policy Bl0g).

“The IRS and U.S. Treasury Department last week included taxation of “employer-provided meals” in their annual list of top tax priorities for the fiscal year ending next June. The agencies said they intend to issue new ‘guidance’ on the matter, but gave no specifics about timing or what the guidance would say.”

The IRS believes that the regular free meals provided to employees are a fringe benefit and should be taxed like compensation.

You can make a good theoretical argument that a lavish Silicon Valley cafeteria results in taxable income for the employees. It’s much harder to make a good practical arguemnt for taxing that benefit.  There are serious measurement problems, and the amount of revenue at stake hardly seems worth it.


buzz20140905It’s Friday!  That means it’s Buzz day for Robert D. Flach, who buzzes from taxing frequent flyer miles to taxing marijuana.  However you get high, there’s a tax for that.

William Perez, How to Deduct Car and Truck Expenses on Your Taxes.  “To prove you are eligible to deduct your car and truck expenses, you should keep a mileage log.”

Paul Neiffer, Partner Must Have Basis to Deduct Loss. “The bottom line is if you show a loss from a partnership, make sure you have enough “basis” to deduct the loss.”

Kay Bell, New NFL players ready for football, IRS ready for their taxes

Peter Reilly, IRS Shows Serious Meatspace Prejudice.  “You would think with all the pressure that it puts on people to file and pay electronically that the IRS would have a forward looking view and a preference for cyberspace.  It does not seem to be that way  in the tax exempt division, where meatspace seems to be much preferred.”


Jack Townsend discusses an Article on Swiss Banks in U.S. DOJ Program.  He quotes from the article:

Caught in the crossfire of these strategies, however, are thousands of bank clients who are either innocent of tax evasion offences or were unaware of their reporting responsibilities.

These include US citizens living and working in Switzerland who cannot open bank accounts or take out mortgage loans. In some cases they have been expelled by their banks as involving too much unwanted paperwork and risk.

Well done, Congress.  Your FATCA makes everyday personal finance a miserable challenge for Americans abroad.

Tax Trials, IRS Updates Internal Revenue Manual for Streamlined Offshore Compliance


horse 20140905Annette Nellen, Shakespeare, building your vocabulary … and taxes.  She summons up a “parade of horribles” — well, a judge she quotes does.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 484


Should I show this to my high school junior?  What Every High School Junior Should Know About Going to College (Bryan Caplan).  “College is a good deal for good students, a mediocre deal for mediocre students, and a poor deal for poor students.”

News from the Profession: EY Is No Longer Blocking Sports Websites Just in Time for Football Season (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 8/18/14: Tax Credits for housing. And for Elvis!

Monday, August 18th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The Des Moines Register is running a series on Jack Hatch, the Democratic nominee for Iowa Governor, focusing on subsidized housing projects he developed.  The stories include Jack Hatch’s record shows no clear conflicts of interest and Review shows Hatch followed public financing rules.

The Register finds no evidence of illegality in Sen. Hatch’s tax credit-driven deals.  That’s unsurprising, as the tax credits are shared with investors, who want clean tax projects and impeccable tax breaks.  As usual with tax incentives, though, the scandal is what is perfectly legal.

The series describes the financing of some projects.  For example:



A $6.5 million development with over $8 million in government aid.  A sweet deal, if you are one of the lucky participants of an oversubscribed subsidy program.

While such projects are touted as achieving “affordable housing,” the real beneficiaries are arguably well-connected developers and tax shelter investors.  It’s all legal, and all paid for by the rest of us.

If the real goal is to help the poor, there are better ways than a Rube Goldberg tax credit system running the aid through tax shelter developers and investors.  Arnold Kling’s idea to provide the poor with a universal flexible benefit “to replace all forms of means-tested assistance, including food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, and the EITC, with a single cash benefit,”  is a more promising approach.  It is what a program designed to help the poor, rather than the connected, would look like.


Elvis20140818-3Kay Bell, Elvis estate seeks tax breaks for Graceland expansion.  Or what?  Graceland is going to leave Tennessee?  Elvis will leave the building?  But, but, jobs!  Or something.

Robert D. Flach, KEEP COPIES OF YOUR W-2s FOREVER!  Robert explains how he was able to use old W-2s to help a client show that his retirement contributions were “after tax” for New Jersey purposes, preventing a second tax on withdrawal.

Tony Nitti, New Opportunities Exist For S Corporation Shareholders To Deduct Losses

William Perez, Got a Call From the IRS? It’s Probably Not the IRS.  A client of our office got such a scam call last week.  We told them to hang up if they call back.

Jack Townsend, Tidbits on the New Streamlined Procedures

Annette Nellen, Better identity theft efforts – S. 2736


20140818-1Jason Dinesen, Why an LPA?  Jason answers the question “Why did I pursue an Iowa “Licensed Public Accountant” designation? LPAs are an obscure lot, in that we only really exist in 3 states (Iowa, Delaware and Minnesota).”

Peter Reilly, IRS Stampedes A Cattle Shelter.  Peter explains why losing a hobby loss case is extra bad.  With a bonus quote from me (Thanks, Peter!).

Tax Trials, Record Your Easement: Tax Court Adjusts Timing & Valuation of New York Facade Easement


TaxGrrrl, From AR-15s To Rubber Bullets: How Did Police End Up With Military Gear On American Streets?  Your tax dollars at work.  Amazingly, no tax credits appear to be involved.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 466.  It appears the judge who told the IRS to explain what happened to the Lois Lerner emails isn’t yet satisfied with the IRS response.  More from Russ Fox: Judge Sullivan Not Impressed by the “Dog Ate my Homework” Excuse.

20140818-2Ajay Gupta, Demagoguing the ‘I’ Words. (Tax Analysts Blog) “If an inversion exploits a loophole, then so does every other corporate reorganization that painstakingly adheres to the requirements of the code and regs.”

Steven Rosenthal, Can Obama slow corporate inversions? Yes he can.  Silly rabbit.  The idea isn’t to slow corporate diversions; it’s to demonize them for political fun and profit.  And his idea of reviving the moribund Sec. 385 debt-equity regulations for this purpose shows how much the inversion panic has parted from reality.


News from the Profession.  Here’s Further Proof That Accounting Firms Need a Charge Code for “Wasting Time on Internet” (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 8/15/14: Sell Iowa land, pay Iowa tax. And: more inversion diversion!

Friday, August 15th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


Accounting Today visitors, the ALEC story link you want is here: Tax Roundup, 8/11/14: Don’t you dare agree with me edition.


It’s not just Iowa.  If you sell land for a gain, the state where the land is will want to tax you.  A Letter of Findings (Document 14201016issued by the Iowa Department of Revenue this week  gave the bad news to a Wisconsin man.  From the letter:

Your income tax assessment for 2002 was based upon the fact that you sold property in Iowa for that year and the gain from the sale of that property was never reported as taxable income in Iowa.  Your Protest seems largely based on the argument that you are not a citizen or resident of Iowa.

You don’t have to live in a state to be taxed there.  States can tax income from non-residents if it has enough connection to the state.  The letter explains:

 Despite the fact that you are currently a nonresident, you still owe Iowa income tax on the capital gain related to the sale of property in Iowa. 

This is important to a lot of non-Iowans who have inherited farmland here.  Farmland values have spiked in recent years, making it tempting to cash out.  The Department of Revenue will be looking for its cut.


Kyle Pomerleau asks How Much Will Corporate Tax Inversions Cost the U.S. Treasury? (Tax Policy Blog):

The Joint Committee on Taxation in May released their estimate of the revenue gained from passing the “Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014.” This law alters rules and makes it harder for corporations to invert and move overseas. The JCT estimates that this will raise approximately $19.5 billion over fiscal years 2015 and 2024.

Compare this to the Congressional Budget Office’s fiscal outlook that estimates that the corporate income tax is estimated to raise approximately $4.5 trillion over the same period.

That is a 0.4 percent loss to our corporate tax base due to corporate inversions. Hardly the doom and gloom many in the press and Congress make it out to be.

Or, in handy graphical form:



The whole contrived inversion panic is best understood as a diversion, an attempt to create a hate totem to divert attention from the disastrous effects of other policies.


20140815-2Jim Maule isn’t taking inversions very well:

Furchtgott-Roth asks, “What is more American than doing what is best for your company?” The answer is, doing what is best for America no matter what it does to the company. That is what America did during World War II. If today’s generation of “capitalists” were the folks around back in the 1940s, we’d be speaking German or Japanese.

The good Professor Maule makes some basic mistakes here.  First, he assumes that people didn’t try to keep their taxes low back in the 1930s and 1940s.  I have boxes of dusty old tax casebooks that say otherwise.

A more fundamental mistake is his assumption that paying more taxes than the tax law requires is “best for America no matter what it does to the company.”  The President and our 535 Congressional supergeniuses have no magical insight on what’s “best for America.”  Reasonable minds may differ on “what’s best” without being traitors.

Professor Maule seems to make the default assumption that whatever gives more revenue to the government is “best for America no matter what it does to the company.”  By that logic, corporations should liquidate and turn their proceeds over to the IRS.  Forget the products those corporations make, the needs they meet, the jobs they provide.  Screw the pensioners with pension plans funded with corporation stock.  Because America!


TIGTA reports Some Contractor Personnel Without Background Investigations Had Access to Taxpayer Data and Other Sensitive Information.  Remember how everyone was all up in arms that a private company was hired to call on tax delinquents that the agency couldn’t be bothered with, on privacy and security grounds?  Good thing confidential tax data is secure now.


20120620-1TaxGrrrl, TIGTA, IRS Warn Phone Scam Continues As Fraudsters Rake In Millions   

William Perez, How to Make Sure Your Charity Donation Is Tax-Deductible.

Kay Bell, California tax deduction bill aimed at former NBA owner Donald Sterling advances.  California forgets that not every problem is a tax problem, and being a jerk isn’t a taxable event.

Russ Fox, Lawsuits Against FATCA in Canada

It’s Friday, so Robert D Flach has fresh Buzz!


Arnold Kling points out this from the Wall Street Journal:

Employers in many countries are reluctant to hire on permanent contracts because of rigid labor rules and sky-high payroll taxes that go to funding the huge pension bill of their parents.

He adds: “Don’t think it couldn’t happen here.”  It’s already starting to.

Because giving money to politicians is more important than your retirement. Amazing Waste: Tax Subsidies To Qualified Retirement Plans, (Calvin Johnson, at Tax Analysts, via the TaxProf): 

Qualified plans are ineffective or counterproductive for their given rationales, which makes them a rich source of revenue when the United States needs money.

Mr. Johnson has a strange hobby of finding ways to give more of your money to the government by making tax rules even worse.  Apparently he is convinced that politicians and bureaucrats have better things to do with your money than you do.  (via the TaxProf)


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 463

Kelly Davis, Hey Missouri, You’re the Show Me State, But Don’t Follow Kansas’s Lead.  (Tax Justice Bl0g).  Shouldn’t that be “so,” no “but?”