Posts Tagged ‘Howard Gleckman’

Tax Roundup, 10/2/15: What your Health Savings Account can do that your IRA can’t. And: They don’t stay bought.

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150803-1Your IRA isn’t an HSA. Last week I was asked whether there was a penalty for taking money from an Individual Retirement Account to pay for surgery. I said there was no penalty, but that it was taxable income. The person who asked was surprised and confused, thinking that penalty and taxation are the same thing. They aren’t.

The Tax Court faced a similar question yesterday. A 47 year-old taxpayer took money from her IRA to pay medical expenses for her non-dependent son. The IRS noticed, presumably via a computer match, and assessed her a 10% early withdrawal penalty, as well as regular income tax. Judge Guy explains the issue:

Generally, if a taxpayer receives a distribution from a qualified retirement plan before attaining age 59-1/2, section 72(t) imposes an additional tax equal to 10% of the portion of the distribution which is includible in the taxpayer’s gross income. Sec. 72(t)(1) and (2). The additional tax is intended to discourage taxpayers from taking premature distributions from retirement plans — actions that frustrate public policy encouraging saving for retirement…

Section 72(t)(2)(B) provides an exception to the imposition of additional tax to the extent that retirement plan distributions “do not exceed the amount allowable as a deduction under section 213 to the employee for amounts paid during the taxable year for medical care (determined without regard to whether the employee itemizes deductions for such taxable year).” Section 213 in turn allows as a deduction “the expenses paid during the taxable year, not compensated for by insurance or otherwise, for medical care of the taxpayer, his spouse, or a dependent…

The “dependent” part was bad news:

The record reflects that petitioner did not claim her son as a dependent for the year in issue and fails to demonstrate that her son met the definition of a dependent provided in section 152. Consequently, we conclude that petitioner is not eligible for the exception under section 72(t)(2)(B) — even assuming that she used the funds in question to pay her son’s medical expenses.

But even if she did qualify to avoid the 10% tax (she didn’t), the withdrawal would still have been subject to income tax.

Health Savings Accounts look a lot like IRAs — they allow tax-free build-up, and they can be tapped penalty free like IRAs for retirement income. But HSA funds withdrawn for medical expenses are tax-free — not just penalty free. As with the IRA, though, the medical expenses have to be the taxpayers, the spouse’s, or a dependent’s. This extra flexibility makes HSAs a better savings vehicle than an IRA for those who qualify.

Not everybody qualifies. You need a “high deductible” health insurance policy to qualify for an HSA. For 2015 a “high deductible plan” is one with an annual deductible of at least $1,300 for single coverage and $2,600 for family coverage.  Annual out-of-pocket costs can’t exceed $6,450 for single coverage and $12,900 for family coverage. The 2015 contribution limits are $3,350 for single coverage and $6,650 for family coverage.

Unlike employer “flex-plan” arrangments, there is no “use it or lose it” feature in HSAs. You can accumulate contributions and save them for a year with large medical expenses, or for retirement. You don’t have to withdraw the funds in the same year as the medical expenses, either; if you had medical expenses in year 1, you can wait until year 2 to withdraw the amount and still have it tax-free.

Cite: Ireland, T.C. Summary Opinion 2015-60

Related Links:

IRS publication 969.

Kiplinger, FAQs about Health Savings Accounts.




Maria Koklanaris, ConAgra Foods, Winner of Largest-Ever Nebraska Incentive Package, Moving to Illinois (Tax Analysts, subscriber link):

ConAgra Foods Inc., recipient of the largest tax incentive package ever awarded in Nebraska, announced October 1 that it would move its corporate headquarters from Omaha to Chicago, cutting at least 1,500 jobs in the process.

As I’ve said before, incentive tax credits are like taking your wife’s purse to the bar to buy drinks for the girls. It cheats the person who’s paying, the girls aren’t impressed, and if you leave with one, she’s not the type to be faithful.


It’s Friday! It’s Buzz Day for Robert D. Flach. Trumpmania figures prominently.

Jason Dinesen, How to Protect a Deceased Person’s Identity. “Thankfully, Congress has now limited access to the Death Master File, which was the cause of much of the identity theft relating to deceased people.”

Paul Neiffer, Form 1099-G Does Not Always Require Schedule F Reporting. “The key thing to remember is just because USDA or a cooperative issues a Form 1099 does not mean the income has to be fully reported on Schedule F and subject to full self-employment tax.”

Jim Maule, Taxation of Prizes, Question Three. “The question, however, also referred to the local or state sales tax. The awarding of a prize is not a sale, so the sales tax ought not apply.”

Kay Bell, Hurricane Joaquin intensifies, threatens East Coast…maybe. Maybe you should dust off your disaster recovery plan once in awhile.

Leslie Book, Restitution Based Assessment and Tax Return Preparers: An Uneasy Mix (Procedurally Taxing). On the problems the IRS has in getting restitution from crooked preparers.

Robert Wood, Marijuana Goes Native American And Tax Free




David Henderson, via Don Boudreaux:

Herbert Hoover, in the midst of the Great Depression, more than doubled the top [income-tax] rate to 63 percent and increased the bottom rate by more than nine times to 4 percent.  He did this in spite of the fact that raising income tax rates during a depression lengthens the depression.  Franklin Roosevelt carried on Hoover’s policy throughout the 1930s and increased tax rates further.  By 1940, he had raised the top tax rate to 81.1 percent on incomes over $5 million.

Putting the “great” in the Great Depression.


Stephen Entin, Expensing: The Right Tax Treatment for All Investment Regardless of Financing Arrangements (Tax Policy Blog)

Howard Gleckman, How Investment Managers (And Maybe You) Would Benefit From Trump’s Tax Plan (TaxVox).

Cara Griffith, Idaho Legislators Shamed Into Good Behavior (Tax Analysts) Politicians, bureaucrats and cockroaches prefer darkness.

Carl Davis, Michigan Becomes the 26th State Where Online Retailers like Amazon Must Collect Sales Tax (Tax Justice Blog).


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 876. Lois Lerner and the Wisconsin witch hunt.


The Critical Question. Is Technology Making Accountants Dumb and Lazy? (Chris Hooper, Going Concern).



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, 9/29/15: Iowa, worst of the worst in corporate taxes. And: Trump, CPA extinction events, more!

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1The U.S. Corporation tax is the worst in the OECD. So that makes Iowa… The Tax Foundation yesterday released its 2015 International Tax Competitiveness Index, an international counterpart to their State Business Tax Climate Index. The news isn’t good for the U.S. (my emphasis):

The United States provides a good example of an uncompetitive tax code. The last major change to the U.S. tax code occurred 29 years ago as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, when Congress reduced the top marginal corporate income tax rate from 46 percent to 34 percent in an attempt to make U.S. corporations more competitive domestically and overseas. Since then, member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have followed suit, reducing the OECD average corporate tax rate from 47.5 percent in the early 1980s to around 25 percent today. In 1993, the U.S. government moved in the opposite direction, raising its top marginal corporate rate to 35 percent. The result: the United States now has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world.

Iowa’s 12% rate is the highest state corporate tax rate in the U.S. Iowa’s corporation tax ranks 49th out of 50 states in the 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index. That makes us extra-special.

The United States places 32nd out of the 34 OECD countries on the ITCI. There are three main drivers behind the U.S.’s low score. First, it has the highest corporate income tax rate in the OECD at 39 percent (combined marginal federal and state rates). Second, it is one of the few countries in the OECD that does not have a territorial tax system, which would exempt foreign profits earned by domestic corporations from domestic taxation. Finally, the United States loses points for having a relatively high, progressive individual income tax (combined top rate of 48.6 percent) that taxes both dividends and capital gains, albeit at a reduced rate.

Estonia gets the best scores:

Estonia currently has the most competitive tax code in the OECD. Its top score is driven by four positive features of its tax code. First, it has a 20 percent tax rate on corporate income that is only applied to distributed profits. Second, it has a flat 20 percent tax on individual income that does not apply to personal dividend income. Third, its property tax applies only to the value of land rather than taxing the value of real property or capital. Finally, it has a territorial tax system that exempts 100 percent of the foreign profits earned by domestic corporations from domestic taxation, with few restrictions.

Unfortunately, for some of the current presidential candidates, the worst features of the U.S. system are their favorite parts.




Robert D. Flach’s Tuesday Buzz rounds up topics from Blue-to-Red migration, saving too much (hard to do), and the tax costs of stock sales.

Russ Fox, Cash & Carry Your Way to Tax Evasion:

Mr. Kobryn was determined to lower his tax burden. Instead of making sure all expenses were noted on his tax returns and perhaps contributing to a SEP IRA, he decided to not deposit all of the cash into his business bank account. He knew about the currency transaction reporting (CTR) rules, so he made his cash deposits just under $10,000 and deposited them into several branches of his local bank.

That’s a reliable way to attract IRS attention.

Robert Wood, Lance Armstrong Legal Settlement Makes Tax Problem On Steriods. He paid tax on his biking income, but deducting the lawsuit costs isn’t so straightforward.

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for the week ending 8/28/15 (Procedurally Taxing). This roundup of recent tax procedure developments includes a baby picture, no extra charge.




Megan McArdle, Obamacare’s Nonprofit Insurers Are Failing, Predictably. Iowa’s CoOportunity was only the first.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 873


Howard Gleckman, Trump Proposes a Huge Tax Cut. YUUUGE!

Peter Reilly, Trump’s Plan Inverts Traditional Tax Planning Makes Carried Interest Moot. “If you think that Trump will win and enact this program normal tax planning is the order of the day.”

Kay Bell, Trump’s ‘amazing’ tax plan zeroes out taxes for some.


News from the Profession. In Order Save the Accounting Profession, It Has to Be Destroyed First (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “I’ll even take it a step further and say a mass extinction is exactly what the accounting profession needs.”



Tax Roundup, 9/23/15: Certified mail > And more!

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan


certifiedTiming is everything. While electronic filing solves proof of filing questions for many returns, not everything is e-filed. While the IRS “mailbox rule” holds that things mailed by the due date are considered filed on time, it’s up to the taxpayer to prove timely mailing. I recommend Certified Mail with a post office postmark and return receipt requested, though a shipping slip from a “qualified private delivery service” also works.

But not a postmark. A taxpayer sent a petition to the Tax Court, which does provide for electronic filing of petitions. The taxpayer used certified mail, and the date on the mark was on time, but the petition arrived late. That went badly (my emphasis):

In the instant case, the “sender’s receipt for certified mail” was not postmarked by a USPS employee but rather was handwritten by an employee of petitioner’s counsel. Therefore, sending the petition by certified mail afforded petitioner no guarantee of a timely postmark, and he assumed the risk that the postmark would bear a date on or before the last day of the 90-day period prescribed for filing the petition. Unfortunately for petitioner, the “postmark” upon which he relies is superseded by USPS Tracking data, which tracking data serves as a postmark, see Boultbee v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2011-11, and is therefore conclusive in determining whether the petition was timely mailed, see sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(3), Proced. & Admin. Regs. In the instant case, USPS Tracking data demonstrates that the petition was not timely mailed.

The Moral: you want to protect yourself using certified mail, you should make a trip to the post office. Marking the certified mail slip in the office mailroom doesn’t do the job; neither does a postage meter or

Cite: Tilden, T.C. Memo. 2015-188.





I’ve read so many blog posts taking victory laps on Obamacare, but surely something is wrong when our most scientific study of the question rather effortlessly coughs up phrases such as “but most uninsured will lose” and also “Average welfare for the uninsured population would be estimated to decline after the ACA if all members of that population obtained coverage.”  The simple point is that people still have to pay some part of the cost for this health insurance and a) they were getting some health care to begin with, and b) the value of the policy to them is often worth less than its subsidized price.

-Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution), The incidence of the ACA mandates

Alan Cole, The Cadillac Tax is Still Probably Raising Deductibles (Tax Policy Blog).  “The news website Vox today covered the issue of rising deductibles in the U.S. health care market. As with their past coverage of the issue, there is a curious omission from the piece: the Cadillac tax.”


Jason Dinesen, The Difference Between Not-for-Profit and Tax-Exempt. “Not-for-profit is a legal term,” but “Tax-exempt is a federal tax term.”

Robert Wood, Who Pays Tax On Business Sale? Ask Warren Buffett. Warren likes taxes paid by other people.

TaxGrrrl, 2015 Tax Season ‘Miserable’ For Many Taxpayers: Will It Get Better In 2016?

Russ Fox, Kiplinger’s Tax-Friendly and Least Tax-Friendly States: Bring Me (Mostly) the Usual Suspects. Iowa’s somewhere in the middle. Delaware is rated best, California worst.


Kay Bell, Senators seek Treasury Secretary’s help in hiking IRS budget. I’m sure they’ll get it.

Peter Reilly, Tax Rules Forbid Churches From Endorsing Candidates, Will IRS Take Action? “If Pope Francis starts “feeling the Bern” will the taxman show up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral?”

Robert D Flach, IT’S NOT ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL. “Once again the idiots in Congress have put off dealing with the now infamous ‘tax extenders’. And once again these idiots will probably extend the entire lot for at least one more year at year-end.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 867

David Brunori, Don’t Be Fooled — Services Should Be Subject to Sales Tax (Tax Analysts Blog) “Most services aren’t subject to sales tax in most states. From a tax policy perspective, that’s no good. The sales tax should fall on all final consumption — preferably at a very low rate. So everything we buy should be subject to tax.”

Howard Gleckman, Senate Democrats Would Take Some Small Steps To Clean Up Energy Tax Breaks (TaxVox) “The government is still picking winners and losers—it is subsidizing clean energy—but at least it would no longer hyper-manage the process by creating one set of subsidies for hydrogen and another for solar panels.”

Matt Gardner, It’s Not the Real Thing: Coca-Cola Hit with $3.3 Billion Tax Bill for Fake “Foreign Income” (Tax Justice Blog).


Cause: The Most (Montana) And Least (Washington) Fair State & Local Tax Systems (TaxProf)

Effect: Crackdown On Luxury Car Owners Dodging Taxes With Montana Registration (CBS Minnesota)


The Dangers of Video Games. PAC man says 1MDB left US$975m loan off the books, suggests fraud (Malaymail Online)


Speak for yourself, buddy. Your Firm’s Website Sucks; How to Help Improve It and Boost Your Career at the Same Time (Brian Swanson, Going Concern).





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

Friday, September 11th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cite: Fish, T.C. Memo 2015-176.


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


This is one measure where Iowa looks pretty good.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 855

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



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

Thursday, September 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The IRS, protecting your identity since 1913.

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

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

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

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






TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 854

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


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

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

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

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


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



Tax Roundup, 9/4/15: 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, 8/28/15: Reverse Danegeld. And: stealing a Congressional tax refund!

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

Flickr image courtesy stu_spivack under Creative Commons license

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

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

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

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

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

They apparently made it easy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Paul Neiffer, Midwest Cropland Values Continue to Drop

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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


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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 841


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



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

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

I don’t think that’s a good thing.


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

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

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


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

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


The dangers of premature tweeting:


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


Jim Maule, A Rudeness Tax?:

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

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



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

Friday, August 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Risky, and foolish.

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 834

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




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

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



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

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 832.




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

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

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


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


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



Tax Roundup, 8/14/15: IRS won’t tax victims of its data breach on IRS-provided credit monitoring. And: little birds as informants?

Friday, August 14th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150814-1That’s sporting of them. The IRS transcript database was hacked this spring. It is offering to pay for credit monitoring to the victims of its negligence in protecting their records. Now, in its beneficence, the IRS says that the victims don’t have to pay tax on the credit monitoring:

The IRS will not assert that an individual whose personal information may have been compromised in a data breach must include in gross income the value of the identity protection services provided by the organization that experienced the data breach. Additionally, the IRS will not assert that an employer providing identity protection services to employees whose personal information may have been compromised in a data breach of the employer’s (or employer’s agent or service provider’s) recordkeeping system must include the value of the identity protection services in the employees’ gross income and wages. The IRS will also not assert that these amounts must be reported on an information return (such as Form W-2 or Form 1099-MISC) filed with respect to such individuals.

Gee, thanks, guys.

Related: Russ Fox, IRS: Free Identity Protection Services After a Data Breach Isn’t Includable in Income


buzz20150804It’s Friday, so it’s Buzz day at Robert D. Flach’s place, with links on topics from tracking time in activities to S corporations.

TaxGrrrl, Fix The Tax Code Friday: Letting Go Of Tax Deductions: “If we scrapped all of the deductions under the Tax Code except one, which one would you want to hold onto?”

Russ Fox, A Pseudo New Nominee for Tax Offender of the Year:

Well, he probably can’t win my coveted award of Tax Offender of the Year as the alleged crimes have nothing to do with tax. However, the alleged perpetrator is a tax attorney, so there is at least some relation to tax. Robert Howell of Cary, North Carolina is accused of attempted murder, kidnapping, and first degree burglary in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. Mr. Howell is alleged to have followed his ex-girlfriend to South Carolina where he is alleged to have committed the crimes. He’s also accused of assaulting and threatening her the day before this incident in her home in Cary, North Carolina.

But the tax code doesn’t say anything about kidnapping and murder!


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 827. Poor Lois edition.

Joseph Thorndike, The Clintons Don’t Care About Tax Reform – And Neither Does Anyone Else (Tax Analysts Blog):

Clinton, in other words, is eating the seed corn of tax reform. For the sake of an appealing policy initiative, she’s cannibalizing the budgetary payoff from base broadening – and making general tax reform much less likely.

To be fair, Clinton isn’t the only improvident one. Republicans, too, are eager to raid the piggy bank of tax reform in order to pay for their own needs, specifically highway construction. Some key Democrats have also signed on to this idea.

That’s exactly why clever little tax tricks, like “patent boxes” or “incentive” tax credits, drive me nuts. They narrow the base and create another group with an interest in preserving the current awful tax system.




Steven Entin, Restoring Solvency to the Social Security Retirement Program (Tax Policy Blog).

August 14th marks the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. The program has done much to alleviate poverty among the elderly. Unfortunately, the system itself is showing its age. The Old Age and Survivors Insurance program (OASI, retirement benefits) is now running cash deficits as the baby boomers are retiring. The Disability Insurance program (DI) has been running deficits for several years, and is about to exhaust its trust fund. The recently released Trustees Report shows that only 93% of current OASI costs are covered by tax revenue, and that when the OASI trust fund runs out in 2034, benefits would have to be cut by more than 20% from projected levels. Longer term, OASI has a funding gap of four percent of payroll, meaning that would require more than a four percentage point rise in the payroll tax to close the funding gap over the next 75 years, or benefits would have to be reduced below promised levels by 27% by 2090.

Have a nice day.


Because it’s not his own money. Why Did Scott Walker Commit $400 Million for a Pro Basketball Arena? (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox):

But what’s really wrong is Walker’s economic analysis. He confidently calculates an enormous return on that public investment. According to The Washington Post:

“The return on investment is 3 to 1 on this, so we think this is a good, solid move as a good steward of the taxpayers’ money here in Wisconsin,” Walker said Wednesday morning after he signed the legislation. “This is just simple mathematics.”

It may be simple math, but it isn’t very good economics. And Walker ignores some important parts of the story. He didn’t have to. An April, 2013 report released by the city’s Legislative Reference Bureau did a nice job demolishing claims of big returns from similar projects.

Related: Sports Stadiums Are Bad Public Investments. So Why Are Cities Still Paying for Them? (

Career Corner. CPE, Booze, Jokes: That’s All You Need to Know (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



TaxProf, Republicans Seek To Ban Unions For IRS Employees.


New frontiers in public service. A revenue agent from Ohio found a way to combine her day job with her side business venture, according to a report from the Ohio Inspector General. The report says the agent, a Ms. Zhang “accessed tax information for six direct competitors of her personal business on 34 separate occasions.”

Her bosses asked what was going on:

Finally, investigators asked Zhang whether or not she accessed tax records for businesses identified as being direct competitors of her own personal business.  Zhang admitted to doing so in order to create audit leads.  Zhang explained that shortly after her business opened, an unnamed individual approached her in the store and informed her that another similar business was not paying sales tax.  Based on this information, Zhang decided to conduct her own research into the matter. 

Oh, an unnamed individual. All righty, then. I was afraid a little bird told her. All for the public good, I’m sure.



Tax Roundup, 8/12/15: Bad news: blogging doesn’t make your vacation deductible. And more great stuff!

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


Accounting Today visitors: the due date post is here.

Road Trip! I had a great time on vacation last month, but it would have been sweeter if I could figure out a way to deduct it. Maybe if I mentioned it here at the Tax Update Blog? Alas, a Tax Court case this week thwarts my cunning scheme.

The Tax Court takes up the story:

In June 2008 petitioner’s adventure began. Over the next 5-1/2 months, petitioner made his way across the continents of Europe and Africa and even made a foray into the Middle East.

Throughout his journey petitioner updated his blog with anecdotes and pictures from his travels. While petitioner included details about some of the sites he saw, places he stayed, and food he ate, many of his explanations do not give enough details for a reader to find the specific site, lodgings, or restaurant described. For example in petitioner’s Paris blog entry he states: “[W]e hit up The [sic] BEST ice cream in Europe. * * * there are a couple of places that serve it and pricing is much higher at one (the ‘tourist’ one as Jeff put it) than at the other one. We walked past the tourist one, which had a huge crowd and walked down the street about half a block to the other one.” Petitioner does not give any more details about where in Paris the best ice cream in Europe can be found.

Petitioner did keep copies of all his receipts, flight confirmations, lodging confirmations, tour confirmations, rail passes, shuttle confirmations, bank statements, tour vouchers, credit card statements, and other miscellaneous receipts from the trip.

The problem wasn’t so much the recordkeeping, then, but the business plan:

Petitioner realized as he traveled, and even more so after he returned to the United States, that the market was already saturated with international backpacking blogs and that his plan for generating income through affiliate sales from his blog would not be profitable. Petitioner then shifted his focus to writing books about his travels and the insights he gained while traveling.

One way to ease the pain of a bad business plan is to deduct the losses:

Petitioner timely filed his 2008 Federal income tax return (return). He listed “world travel guide” as his principal business on the Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business, attached to the return. On the Schedule C, petitioner did not report any business gross receipts or gross income. He claimed total expenses of and reported a net business loss of $39,138. As part of his net business loss, petitioner claimed deductions for travel expenses of $19,347, deductible meals and entertainment expenses of $6,314, and other expenses of $5,431.

The IRS threw a wrench in this part of the business plan by disallowing the loss under the Section 183 “hobby loss rules.” These rules disallow losses on business activities not really entered into for profit. The Tax Court reviewed nine factors that are used to distinguish a real business from a hobby, and found against the taxpayer (my emphasis::

Petitioner did not maintain any books or records for the activity. He had no written business plan and no estimate as to when his Web site would be operational, when his books would be published, or when he would begin to earn income from the activity. Although petitioner documented and retained receipts for his travel-related expenses, merely maintaining receipts is not enough to indicate a profit motive…

Furthermore, petitioner did not investigate the activity before embarking on his trip. Petitioner incurred over $39,000 in expenses before doing any research into the activity’s profitability. This is an indication that the activity was not engaged in for profit.

My favorite part of the opinion is this footnote, where the court tells us what a “blog” is:

“Blog” is a truncation of the expression “Web log”, which is a regularly updated Web site or Web page written in an informal or conversational style and typically run by an individual or small group.

So now we know.

The Moral? Travel may be broadening, and fun, but not necessarily deductible. Before spending $39,000 on it, you might want to figure out how to earn it back first.

Cite: Pingel, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-48.




Tony Nitti, Teacher Fails To Qualify As Real Estate Professional: Who Can Pass The “More Than Half” Test?. Tony discusses the case we covered here yesterday.

Paul Neiffer, Don’t Use Your Product When Preparing a Tax Return. I think it depends a lot on the product, but Paul gets more specific in the text: “…it is apparent that you should not be using marijuana when preparing your income tax return.”

Jack Townsend, Two U.S. Return Preparer Enablers Sentenced for Offshore Account Conspiracy.

Russ Fox, There’s Innocent FBAR Violations, and There’s This. But jailing an occasional real tax violator doesn’t justify shooting jaywalkers.


Robert Nadler, Spousal Abuse Continues to Provide a Powerful Basis for Innocent Spouse Relief (Procedurally Taxing).

Robert Wood, Trump, Taxes, Tampons, And Snoop Dogg

TaxGrrrl, Defendants Sentenced For Stealing 9,000 Identities, Including Army Soldiers


David Brunori, Taxing Beer (Tax Analysts Blog):

The lowest excise tax rates are in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Oregon. To put it in context, Tennessee taxes beer at $1.29 a gallon. Wyoming’s tax is $0.02 a gallon. Buy your beer in Cheyenne.

I wonder if Jack Daniels has an effective lobby in the Tennessee statehouse.




Joseph Henchman, Ten Years of the North Carolina Lottery (and Why It’s In Part a Tax) (Tax Policy Blog):

The Lottery was set up ten years ago as a state enterprise to generate revenue for education programs. 50 percent of gross sales are paid out as prizes, 7 percent paid to retailers as a commission, 8 percent to pay for operations (including advertising, which cannot exceed 1 percent of total revenues), and 35 percent to the state for education funding. Additionally, winners pay income tax on their prizes. The odds are not great – table games in casinos have much better odds – but the Lottery has no real competition as it is state-sanctioned.

Think of it as a tax on people who are bad at math.


Howard Gleckman, Clinton Would Tinker With, Not Rewrite, the Tax Code. (TaxVox). And what the tax law really needs is more tinkering, right?

Kay Bell, Is Obamacare headed back to the Supreme Court yet again? I think Justice Roberts has made it clear that he will find a way to protect the mess from all challenges.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 825. Today the Prof links to Peter Reilly’s concession that just maybe Lois Lerner ran a biased shop.


News from the Profession. New Study Validates Old Accountant Joke (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 6/24/15: New obscure dumb forms we choose to do together. And: Wine and Taxes!

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150528-1There’s a new stupid form in town. The Commerce Department this year springs a new form on people with interests in foreign businesses. Form BE-10 was originally due May 31, but the system for filing it crashed, leading to a new June 30 deadline.

BE-10 is a survey, not a tax form. The survey is done every five years, and formerly was required only when you were contacted by the Commerce Department. Now everyone with a 10% or more “direct or indirect” interest in a foreign business is supposed to file it. From Accounting Today:

The form is mainly intended for businesses with foreign investments. Originally individuals only had a filing requirement if they were directly contacted by the bureau, but last November, the government amended its regulations to require any U.S. person who had at least a 10 percent direct or indirect interest in a foreign business enterprise at any time during the U.S. person’s fiscal year to file the Form BE-10. A U.S. person includes individuals, trusts, estates, corporations and partnerships.

“With many of our clients fighting the IRS over FBAR penalties, we err on the side of filing whenever the government requests a U.S. person to file an international information report,” said Carolyn Turnbull, international tax services director at Vestal & Wiler CPAs in Orlando, Fla.

Penalties for failure to file the form range from $2,500 to $25,000. Even worse, individuals who willfully fail to file the form can face fines of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a maximum of one year, or both.

$2,500 to $25,000 for not filling out a stupid survey. Remember, government is simply a word for the things we decide to do together, like clobber each other with big fines for obscure paperwork violations.

Robert Wood has more.




Kay Bell, Uncle Sam demands foreign bank account filing by June 30. The $10,000 threshold — and the whole FBAR regime, in fact — is absurd. Like so many regulations, it ensnares otherwise innocent people for paperwork violations while doing next to nothing to affect criminals, who don’t much care about getting the paperwork right.

Robert Wood, Offshore Banks Reveal Account Data, As IRS Amnesty For Many Involves 50% Penalty. Some amnesty.

Russ Fox, FBAR Due in One Week:

Because of the Hom decision of last year, we now must again report foreign online gambling accounts. That’s basically all online gambling sites except the legal sites in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. I maintain a list of online gambling sites and their mailing addresses here.

Russ performs a valuable public service with this address list.



Samantha Jordan, Scott Drenkard, How High are Wine Taxes in Your State? (Tax Policy Blog). In Iowa, pretty dang high:


Considering it’s burgeoning wine industry, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been more effort to bring Iowa’s wine tax down. And some of the new Iowa wine isn’t half bad.


Jason Dinesen, Marriage in the Tax Code, Part 11: Meet the “Single Penalty”

Peter Reilly, Chief Counsel Gives Narrow Scope To Partnership Liability Regulations. “Note, here, that the taxpayers were insolvent and the field is being told to look harder for a possibly larger assessment.”

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Navigating The Multiple Definitions Of Nonrecourse And Recourse Liabilities


Carl Smith, Does Rev. Proc. 99-21 Validly Restrict Proof of Financial Disability, for Purposes of Extending the Refund Claim SOL, to Letters From Doctors of Medicine or Osteopathy? Part 1.

TaxGrrrl, Nevada Pops New Tax On Burning Man, iHeartRadio, Other Music Festivals


David Brunori, Rand Paul’s Tax Ideas Are Worth Serious Consideration (Tax Analysts Blog). 

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a GOP presidential candidate, released his tax plan last week. As expected, some commentators piled on criticism. Howard Gleckman of the Urban Institute said Paul was trying to use the tax proposal to “fundamentally restructure the federal government as we know it.” Bob McIntyre, the director of Citizens for Tax Justice, said Paul’s plan would cost $15 trillion over 10 years. Other, less informed folks resorted to calling Paul names.

This criticism from liberals is neither unexpected nor irrational. These are folks who like to see more government spending and revenue raising. Paul is a small government Republican. Of course he wants to see less government and taxes. So it’s not surprising that his tax plan would, in a vacuum, lose the government money. The Tax Foundation says the cost would be $3 trillion over 10 years on a static basis. But that assumes Paul will keep spending at current levels. I suspect that if he became president, he’d support spending cuts equal to or greater than the cost of his tax plan.

I certainly would.




Howard Gleckman, CBO Has No Idea What Repeal of the ACA Means for the Economy or the Deficit (TaxVox). No more idea than when they said the ACA wouldn’t increase the deficit back when it was enacted.


Ethan Greene, Alaska Ends Film Tax Credit Program (Tax Policy Blog). States are beginning to realize that they are being had by the film industry.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 776:

In the continuing saga of the IRS, the Department of Justice, and their efforts to hide evidence and obstruct justice to protect Lois Lerner and the administration’s targeting of its political opposition, the IRS now claims that thousands of emails found on backup tapes Commissioner Koskinen told Congress did not exist are not IRS records, the IRS has no control over them, and they can’t produce them. 

The IRS has done nothing but obstruct and stonewall. If a taxpayer treated an IRS exam the way the IRS has treated this investigation, they’d be inviting the criminal agents in.


News from the Profession. Life at Deloitte Includes Slow Days (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 6/22/15: Iowa shovels more economic development fertilizer. And: Paul flat tax fever!

Monday, June 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan


20120906-1It’s getting deep. The giant pile of tax credits for the big Lee County fertilizer plants got a little deeper last week. The Iowa Economic Development Board Friday voted for an additional $21.5 million in tax credits for the project. The Quad City Times compares that appropriation to other state spending:

Iowa’s elected legislators negotiated for five months on Iowa school funding, before reaching a compromise that provided $55 million in one-time money that will only assure the status quo: No one expects improvements.

On Friday, Gov. Terry Branstad’s Iowa Economic Development Board added another $21.5 million in tax credits to the $85 million in state incentives already lavished on a foreign fertilizer company under construction in Lee County.

No legislative vote.

No deliberation by elected officials.

Not even a hint of how this new pile of Iowa taxpayer money will help Iowans. Representatives of the parent firm Orascom, of Egypt, said the $21.5 million in tax credits will add 11 jobs to the 180 expected at the plant.

This latest giveaway brings local, state and federal taxpayer investment to $500 million in the $1.9 billion project. That’s right, taxpayers are covering 25 percent of Orascom’s project.

So almost $2 million per “job.” And that assumes they wouldn’t have completed the project without a little more cash from the state, which is improbable. That’s $21.5 million from those of us without connections at the state to fertilize an already richly-subsidized project. We can be confident that some wee portion of that $21.5 million will go to attorneys and consultants who pulled the strings to make it happen.

The state board also wasted $8 million in tax credits on ribbon cutting opportunities in Sioux City involving a convention center and hotel — which experience nationwide shows will be a fiscal nightmare. Because who better to allocate investment capital than politicians who are spending other people’s money?

Iowa’s cronyist tax credit boondoggle is long overdue for the scrapyard. It lures and subsidizes the influential and the well-lobbied at the expense of their less well-connected competitors and their employees. It’s time for something like the Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan to improve Iowa’s abysmal business tax climate for everyone — not just the cronies.




Russ Fox, Arbitrage Is Legal, But You Better Pay the Taxes. It looks at the tax troubles of a recently-indicted Tennessee politician.

Annette Nellen, Uber, Lyft and others – worker classification in the 21st Century. I used Uber over the weekend visiting my son in Chicago, and it’s pretty slick. It’s also here in Des Moines. A few weekends ago, my other son was playing music in the Court Avenue entertainment district on the street and an Uber driver stopped, got out a guitar, and started jamming with them. That doesn’t sound like an employee to me.

Kay Bell, Tax gift for Father’s Day: help paying for child care

Jason Dinesen, Iowa Adoption Credit and Special-Needs Adoptions

Peter Reilly, Joan Farr Claims IRS Denial Of Exempt Status Is Example Of Persecution Of Christians




Presidential Candidate Rand Paul has proposed a 14.5% flat tax. I haven’t had a chance to study it, but its base-broadening, rate-lowering approach is promising. The Tax Policy Blog looks at the plan in The Economic Effects of Rand Paul’s Tax Reform Plan (Andrew Lundeen, Michael Schuyler) and No, Senator Paul’s Plan Will Not ‘Blow a $15 Trillion Hole in the Federal Budget’ (Kyle Pomerleau). The second one is in response to Bob McIntyre’s post in Tax Justice Blog, Rand Paul’s Tax Plan Would Blow a $15 Trillion Hole in the Federal Budget.

Howard Gleckman, Rand Paul’s Tax Cut Isn’t Quite What It Seems (TaxVox)


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 771Day 772Day 773, Day 774.

News from the Profession. Ex-BDO CEO’s Quest to Get Firm to Pony Up for His Legal Bills Not Going So Well (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)




Tax Roundup, 6/17/15: Revenues: every business should have them! And: tax abuse of accidental Americans.

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


dontwalk4A picture of a bad deduction. Early in my career a practitioner confided to me that every 1040 should have a Schedule C, the 1040 report of business income, so that taxpayers could write-off personal expenses. That’s never been the actual tax law, but too many taxpayers believe otherwise.

The actual tax law is that you can’t deduct as business expenses costs without an intent to actually make money. Iowa has been independently enforcing this rule, known informally as the “hobby loss” rule. A newly-released protest resolution has an example of a Schedule C business that may not have been conducted with adequate vigor:

The Business Activity Questionnaire you completed indicated that you spent 8-10 hours per year on the business. That is less than one hour per month. This hardly seems reasonable to have for a successful business. An average photoshoot can last longer than 1 hour including let up and tear down and then most photographers spend additional time editing or developing the photos.

What made the state suspicious? From the protest response (my emphasis)

There is no evidence that the taxpayer has ever been successful in this business. With the exception of 2014, there is no record indicating that you filed a sales tax return or a schedule C showing any receipts since your permit was issued. 

One of the most important parts of a real business is revenue. You could look it up. If you have none, it may be hard to convince the revenue agent you are serious.

You receive some income from other sources, and the losses you report from this activity does lower your income, in some years enough to make you exempt from tax. 

That can be a clincher. If you have “business losses” that never end, but they save you taxes on other income, that’s a likely sign that your real “business” is reducing your taxes.

Cite: Iowa Document Reference 15201018


20140815-2William Perez, People Unaware of Their American Citizenship are Being Fined for Not Filing US Tax Returns:

“[The] typical [client I’m] seeing now,” reveals Virginia LaTorre Jeker, a tax attorney in Dubai, is “someone who [was] either born in the US and left as young child, or who has [an] American parent from whom they have acquired citizenship.

The individual will always have another nationality, typically from a Middle Eastern country which they consider as their true home. Most times, these individuals will never have filed a US tax return since they were unaware they had any US tax obligations.”

If you think this sounds insane, you are right. No other country does anything like this.

Robert Wood, FBARs For Foreign Accounts Are Due June 30. Should You File For The First Time? “You don’t want to ignore a filing obligation now that you know about FBARs. But one should consider where you are going long term with your issues, how quickly you plan to act, and whether you have good and accurate information to file now.”


Kay Bell, U.K. pays a record amount for tax cheat tips

Jim Maule, How Does a Politician Fix a Tax Law The Politician Doesn’t Understand? Well, they’re obviously perfectly willing to enact tax laws they don’t understand in the first place. Yet for all the demonstrated incompetence of politicians, Prof. Maule wants to put more things under their control.

TaxGrrrl, Banks Quick To Turn Over ‘Abandoned’ Assets To Revenue-Hungry States:

Originally accounts were typically considered abandoned only if they went untouched for decades. But revenue-hungry states have been dramatically shortening that “dormancy” period to get their hands on this booty. 

Because the state politicians want the money don’t trust the private sector to take care of their customers, and they are looking out for you!

Peter Reilly, Campaigning For Bishopric Not A Valid Exempt Purpose – Kent Hovind Update. It’s not? I guess I can skip my mitre-measuring session.




Robert D. Flach, FOUR REASONS TO REMOVE THE EITC FROM THE TAX CODE: “Probably the most important reason – Tax credits, especially refundable credits, are a magnet for tax fraud.” That’s exactly right.

Rachel Rubenstein, Reflections on the General State of Tax-related Identity Theft (Procedurally Taxing). “From 2004 to 2013, the NTA identified tax-related identity theft as one of the “‘Most Serious Problems” faced by taxpayers in nearly every annual report submitted to Congress here.”

David Brunori, The Revolt of the Corporations (Tax Analysts Blog). “The message is clear: Businesses have options and will move to sunnier tax climates.”

Howard Gleckman, The House GOP’s Internal Battle Over Online Sales Taxes (TaxVox).

Tony Nitti, Donald Trump Announces Bid For Presidency: What Is His Tax Plan? And who cares?




Alan Cole, IGM Panel: Real Income Growth is Understated (Tax Policy Blog):

The IGM Forum, a University of Chicago project that surveys academic economists on issues, last month found that economists broadly agree that real median income numbers understate real growth in standards of living.

I think that has to be true. Don Boudreaux likes to compare items in old Sears catalogs with their modern counterparts to show how much better — and cheaper, in terms of hours of work needed to pay for them — the modern goods are:

The list is long of consumer goods that ordinary Americans today can easily afford but that were unavailable commercially to even the wealthiest Americans in the 1950s. This list includes digital cameras, lightweight waterproof sportswear, high-definition televisions, recorded Hollywood movies to play at home, MP3 players, personal computers, cellphones, soft contact lenses, and GPS devices.

We take for granted everyday things, like the internet, flight, automobiles, paved roads between cities, that the richest men of 200 years ago did without.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 769

News from the Profession. Counteroffers Rarely Work for Employees Jumping Ship (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 6/9/15: A Cedar Rapids ID thief pleads guilty. And: Packing the patent box.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

lizard20140826What are the chances of the government recovering any of the fraudulent refunds? WQAD reports on an Iowan who jumped on the ID theft refund fraud gravy train:

A 35-year-old Iowa woman was convicted after she used another person’s identity to file a phony tax return and then cash the $6,000 refund check issued by the IRS.

Gwendolyn Murray, of Cedar Rapids, was initially charged March 3, 2015, with 12 counts of filing false claims for tax refunds, seven counts of theft of government property and two counts of aggravated identity theft. She was accused of preparing fraudulent tax returns between 2008 and 2013, from which she received seven refund checks, according to court documents.

The total amount allegedly stolen is unavailable in public records, and the defendant pleaded guilty to only one count. Whatever the amount, the defendant’s need for a public defender doesn’t make recovery of the stolen funds seem likely.


Image by Theroadislong under Creative Commons license, via Wikipedia.

Image by Theroadislong under Creative Commons license, via Wikipedia.

Martin Sullivan, Patent Box: Good Intentions Gone Bad (Tax Analysts Blog):

Now several prominent members of Congress want to provide another tax break for research. At first glance, this seems like a very good idea since the usual objections to tax breaks don’t apply. And most regular people understand that the competitiveness of our nation — or in politics-speak, the availability of high-paying jobs — depends on technology.

The new tax break is called a patent box. (The “box” referred to here is the box checked on tax forms in Europe where this idea originated.) The general idea is that income from technology pays tax at a substantially lower rate than other income. So if under tax reform we could get the corporate rate down to 28 percent, patent box income would be taxed at a 14 percent rate.

The problem with this approach is that no one knows even a halfway good way of identifying “income from technology.”

It’s a ridiculous idea. In a real sense every bit of income is “income from technology.” The technology of animal husbandry and plant cultivation has been around for awhile, but it was a big step up from the Acheulean Hand Axe, which was cutting edge technology (literally) in its day.

The patent box is as arbitrary and nonsensical as the Section 199 deduction for “domestic production income.” Yet Section 199 became and remains part of the tax law, so being absurd won’t necessarily stop it.


Hank Stern, Obama Tax Breakage:

And second, why is it a given that “employer sponsored” health plans are the bee’s knees? As we’ve previously blogged, employers don’t tell us what groceries or house to buy: they pay us our wages and we’re free to make our own choices. Why should health insurance be any different?

The historical accidents that led to employer health as a tax-advantaged fringe benefit are reasonably well-known, but it’s a lot harder to answer why it should be that way.


buzz20141017It’s Tuesday, so it’s Buzz Day! At Robert D. Flach’s, you can rummage through the tax implications of garage sales and see just how much Robert likes “reality TV.”

TaxGrrrl, Hastert, Hovind & FIFA Matters Shed Light On Dangers Of Structuring

Russ Fox, Neymar Wins Championship but Faces Tax Evasion Investigation. Soccer just isn’t getting great press off the field the last week or so.

Robert Wood, Moving To Avoid California Taxes? Be Careful. “Don’t just get a post office box in Nevada. That doesn’t work and you will end up with bills for taxes, interest and penalties or worse.”

Keith Fogg, Update on Dischargeability of Late Filed Tax Returns. It can be hard to get bankruptcy discharge on tax debts if you don’t stay current with your filings.

Kay Bell, The tax costs of maintaining private coastal properties. “It’s time that we faced the reality that we can’t beat Mother Nature, at least not along the coastline. And we need to stop using our tax dollars to subsidize this destined-to-fail effort.”

William Perez, 4 Tips for the 1st Estimated Tax Payment of 2015. The second payment is due June 15.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 761. “Judicial Watch announced that Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a Judicial Watch request to issue an order requiring the IRS to provide answers by June 12, 2015, on the status of the Lois Lerner emails the IRS had previously declared lost.”




Joseph Thorndike, Carly Fiorina Answers the $59 M Question: Why Should Candidates Release Their Tax Returns? (Tax Analysts Blog). “For many, that disclosure will be unpleasant. But I suspect most candidates have learned a lesson from the Romney debacle: Tax disclosure can hurt, but nondisclosure can be deadly.”

Howard Gleckman, Obama-Era Tax Reform: RIP: “Many Democrats, who have embraced income inequality as their 2016 campaign theme, are likely to back more targeted middle-income tax breaks, not fewer. Their agenda will be tax deform, not tax reform.”


Cameron Williamson, Connecticut Legislature Sends Corporate Tax Hike to Governor. (Tax Policy Blog). This is a step backwards for Connecticut tax policy.

Jared Walczak, Nevada Approves New Tax on Business Gross Receipts (Tax Foundation). A big step backwards for Nevada tax policy. At least it’s paired with a giant step forwards in education policy.


Peter Reilly dives deep into the case of the creationist theme park operator and his seemingly miraculous impending release from prison: The Juror Who Freed Kent Hovind Steps Forward



Tax Roundup, 6/5/15: Iowa adds deductions to 1041s. And: the dangers of unmonitored payroll services.

Friday, June 5th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20130117-1Federal 706 costs good for Iowa 1041. The Iowa General Assembly yesterday eased restrictions on administrative deductions for fiduciaries. Iowa uses federal taxable income, with modifications, as its tax bases. Both houses passed HF 661, which provides a modification to this tax base:

On the Iowa fiduciary income tax return, subtract the amount of administrative expenses that were not taken or allowed as a deduction in calculating net income for federal fiduciary income tax purposes.

If I understand this correctly, this means fiduciaries can now deduct on Iowa 1041s expenses that executors have opted to deduct on the federal estate tax return; executors get to choose to deduct estate administration costs on either the Federal 706 or the Federal 1041, but not both. This bill makes some sense, as there is no Iowa estate tax; any deductions taken on the federal Form 706 estate return would otherwise provide no Iowa benefit.

It also appears to allow the deduction of any “administrative” expenses that would otherwise be disallowed under the 2% of AGI floor. The explanation to the bill doesn’t add much, so we will have to see if this is how the Department of Revenue reads the bill.

The bill passed both houses unanimously, so it seems likely the Governor will sign it. It is to take effect for “tax years ending on or after July 1, 2015 — so it will apply to the current calendar year.


EFTPSPEO operator gets 12 years after looting client payroll taxes. A Kentucky man will go away for a long time for an ambitious list of crimes that include stealing payroll taxes from clients. Wilbur Huff ran a professional employer organization. Such organizations take over employer payroll tax functions for their clients. PEOs file and pay the payroll taxes under their own tax ID number. This differs from traditional payroll tax services, which remit taxes under client tax ID numbers and provide prepared returns for the clients to submit.

From a Department of Justice Press release (my emphasis):

From 2008 to 2010, HUFF controlled O2HR, a professional employer organization (“PEO”) located in Tampa, Florida.  Like other PEOs, O2HR was paid to manage the payroll, tax, and workers’ compensation insurance obligations of its client companies.  However, instead of paying $53 million in taxes that O2HR’s clients owed the IRS, and instead of paying $5 million to Providence Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Providence P&C”) – an Oklahoma-based insurance company – for workers’ compensation coverage expenses for O2HR clients, HUFF stole the money that his client companies had paid O2HR for those purposes.  Among other things, HUFF diverted millions of dollars from O2HR to fund his investments in unrelated business ventures, and to pay his family members’ personal expenses.  The expenses included mortgages on HUFF’s homes, rent payments for his children’s apartments, staff and equipment for HUFF’s farm, designer clothing, jewelry, and luxury cars.

Taxpayers using traditional payroll tax services can make sure their payroll taxes are actually paid to the IRS by logging into EFTPS, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System. This doesn’t work for PEOs. That turned out very badly for Mr. Huff’s clients, who still have to pay the IRS the payroll taxes that went for the fancy cars and clothes.


buzz20140909Robert D. Flach has your Friday Buzz! It’s the place to go whether you Love Lucy or you love reading about tax administration.

Peter Reilly, Structuring Seems Like A Crime You Can Commit By Accident

 Imagine that you go to the bank every four days and deposit $12,000.  The bank will file currency transaction reports that let the Treasury Department know that.  That notion annoys you, so you start going every three days and deposit $9,000. No more currency transaction reports, but before long there will be suspicious activity reports.  If the reason you made the switch was to stop the currency transaction reports, you have committed the crime of structuring, even if there is nothing illegal about the source of the funds or the use of them and you are paying all your taxes.  

The crime of avoiding paperwork.

Kay Bell, Weather claims, estimated taxes and more June tax tasks

Jack Townsend, Two More Banks Obtain NPAs Under DOJ Swiss Bank Program

Robert Wood, Obama’s Immigration Action Means Tax Refunds For Illegals, Says IRS

TaxGrrrl, IRS, TIGTA Talk Tech, Identity Theft & Security At Congressional Hearing.




Cara Griffith, Is the IRS Protecting Taxpayer Information or State Tax Authorities? (Tax Analysts Blog). “Although the IRS indicated it would make changes to improve the oversight of federal taxpayer information, it still seems information is shared between the IRS and state tax authorities as a matter of course and without a true determination (before information is shared) about whether a state tax authority has a secure system in place to protect the information received.”

Scott Drenkard, Why Do So Many Businesses Incorporate in Delaware? (Tax Policy Blog). “Delaware’s attractiveness for incorporation is driven by many things: favorable incorporation regulations, rules limiting corporate liability, and a second-to-none corporate court system (the Court of Chancery) with judges that are corporate law experts.”

Howard Gleckman, How Many Americans Get Government Assistance? All of Us. But some of us pay more than others for it.

Robert Goulder, Global Tax Harmonization and Other Impossible Things (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 757 “The IRS responded to a Republican request for an investigation into the Clinton Foundation’s tax-exempt status with a one-page form letter that starts with ‘Dear Sir or Madam.'”


Career Corner. ICYMI: AICPA Will Squeeze Excel Into the CPA Exam This Decade (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).  In my day we had pencils — no calculators, no slide rules, no nothing. Spoiled kids won’t get off my lawn.



Tax Roundup, 6/3/15: Oh, THAT million-dollar rent payment. And: the IRS data breach is on management, not budget.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan


Flickr image courtesy John Snape under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy John Snape under Creative Commons license

Pay me now, tax me now. A real estate operator agreed to build and lease a building to a tenant, a plasma collection center. The 10-year lease had a provision allowing the tenant to buy down monthly payments by reimbursing the landlord development costs. In 2008, the tenant chose to pay $1 million to the landlord under this lease clause.

Getting a $1 million payment can complicate your tax planning. Tax Court Judge Ruwe explains the simple approach used by the landlord on the joint return he filed:

Petitioners jointly filed a Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, for 2008. On one of the Schedules E attached to the return petitioners reported rents received of $1,151,493 in connection with the plasma collection center rental. Among the deductions that petitioners claimed on this Schedule E was a $1 million “contribution to construct” expense.

The IRS disagreed, saying that the taxpayer should have reported the amount as rent without the “contribution to construct” deduction.

When it got to Tax Court, the taxpayer dropped the deduction argument and instead argued, first, that the $1 million payment wasn’t income in the first place, but an expense reimbursement. The Tax Court said that the use of the payment to buy down rent payments was fatal to that argument.

The taxpayer then argued that the rental income should be spread over 10 years under the “rent levelling” rules of Section 467. This often-overlooked section was enacted to prevent games like tenants front-loading rent deductions via prepayments to tax-indifferent landlords. Judge Ruwe provides some background (some citations omitted):

Congress enacted section 467 to prevent lessors and lessees from mismatching the reporting of rental income and expenses.  Section 467 provides accrual methods for allocating rents pursuant to a “section 467 rental agreement”. In order to qualify as a section 467 rental agreement, an agreement must have: (1) increasing/decreasing rents or deferred/prepaid rents and (2) aggregate rental payments exceeding $250,000.  Both parties agree that the lease in this case qualifies as a section 467 rental agreement.

The court held that the lease didn’t “allocate” the $1 million payment across the ten-year lease term:

Petitioners argue that they should be permitted to use the constant rental accrual method provided in section 467(b)(2) in order to spread their rental income to other years. However, this method is inapplicable because it was intended to allow the Commissioner to rectify tax avoidance situations, and the regulations provide that this method “may not be used in the absence of a determination by the Commissioner”.

That’s a tool for the IRS, not for you, silly taxpayer!

dimeThe court also held that the rent was not “prepaid rent” that could be deferred over the lease term:

In applying this regulation to the facts of this case we first find that the lease in question does not “specifically allocate” fixed rent to any rental period within the meaning of section 1.467-1(c)(2)(ii)(A), Income Tax Regs. However, the lease does provide for a fixed amount of rent payable during the rental period (i.e., rent payable pursuant to the terms of the lease). Accordingly, in the absence of a “specific” allocation in the rental agreement, the amount of rent payable in 2008 must be allocated to petitioners’ 2008 rental period pursuant to section 1.467-1(c)(2)(ii)(B), Income Tax Regs., which provides that “the amount of fixed rent allocated to a rental period is the amount of fixed rent payable during that rental period.” Therefore, petitioners are required to include as gross income the entire $1 million lump-sum payment made pursuant to the terms of the lease for the year of receipt, 2008.

The Moral? Heads they win, tails you lose, when you aren’t extremely careful drafting a funky lease. Section 467 is obscure and, I suspect, frequently overlooked. It usually doesn’t matter, as most leases don’t get fancy. When they do, though — especially when you see big payment variances — you need to pay attention. The tax results may surprise.


TaxProf, TIGTA: IRS Ignored Recommended Security Upgrades That Would Have Prevented Last Week’s Hack Of 100,000 Taxpayer Accounts. Prof. Caron quotes the Washington Post:

A government watchdog told lawmakers Tuesday that the Internal Revenue Service has failed to put in place dozens of security upgrades to fight cyberattacks, improvements he said would have made it “much more difficult” for hackers to gain access to the personal information of 104,000 taxpayers in the spring.

“It would have been much more difficult if they had implemented all of the recommendations we made,” J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing on the data breach, which the IRS says was part of an elaborate scheme to claim fraudulent tax refunds.

Identity theft has been a neglected problem at the IRS for years. Billions of dollars have been lost both to petty Florida grifters and to “a worldwide criminal syndicate” taking advantage of IRS laxity. Yet the last two commissioners (and, sadly, the Taxpayer Advocate) have spent more effort trying to set up a preparer regulation scheme that would do nothing to stop fraud — but would increase IRS power and the market share of the big franchise preparers. Priorities.

And it’s not a matter of a pinched budget. Ask Commissioner Koskinen (via Tax Analysts, $link): “Koskinen acknowledged before the Finance Committee that the Get Transcript security breach was not a matter of resources, and thus budget, but of management.”



Russ Fox, The BEA Responds, or Making IRS Customer Service Look Normal (Bad). Russ reports that BEA has extended the deadline for its mandatory “survey” of foreign business ownership to June 30 for most filers.

Peter Reilly, Failure To File Texas Franchise Tax Form Voids Lawsuit. Sometimes ignoring a state tax filing can bite you in a surprising place.

TaxGrrrl, IRS Changes Position On Identity Theft, Will Provide Copies Of Returns To Victims. “Thanks to an inquiry from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), IRS will now provide victims of identity theft with copies of the fraudulent tax returns filed using their personal and financial information.”

Robert Wood, If You Handle Cash, IRS Can Seize First, Ask Questions Later. “Even if your bank/cash efforts come from 100% legal money, the IRS says it still  [c]an seize it.”

IJim Maule, Where’s the Promised Trickle-Over? Another example of the illusory nature of the benefits of publicly-funded pro sports venues.

Keith Fogg, Tax Court Continues to Take the Same “Angle” on Attorney’s Fees When IRS Concedes the Case. “I continue to find this line of cases to contradict the purpose of the statute.  Particularly for those of us representing low-income taxpayers where the amount of tax at issue is low but the amount of time spent to prepare a case for trial not inconsequential, this loophole is swallowing the rule.”

Jack Townsend, Third Circuit Reverses Variance to One Day from Guidelines Range of 63 to 78 Months. Apparently one day isn’t close enough to 63 months.

Tony Nitti, Will Caitlyn Jenner’s Gender Reassignment Costs Be Tax Deductible?



David Brunori, Amazon Does the Right Thing (Tax Analysts Blog):

Shakopee was prepared to provide direct incentives to Amazon. But Amazon told Shakopee it didn’t want them. That’s right — Amazon said no to the tax incentives being offered.

Good. Why?

I would like to think Amazon is being a good corporate citizen, but I really like the idea that it may have backed off because of potential political opposition to the incentives. Only politicians can stop the scourge of incentives. So if political hassles lead to fewer tax incentives, let’s have more political hassles.


Megan Scarboro, New Hampshire Considering Cuts to Corporate Tax Rate (Tax Policy Blog):

While New Hampshire generally has a good tax code, a tax cut for businesses could improve the state’s economic climate.

Because the state has no tax on wage income or general sales, New Hampshire is ranks 7th overall in our State Business Tax Climate Index, but a notable weakness is that high corporate rates drive a ranking of 48th in the corporate tax rate component.

In case you are wondering, Iowa is #50.

Jeremy Scott, Republican Support for Brownback’s Tax Plan Begins to Erode (Tax Analysts Blog).


Howard Gleckman, What’s Up With the No Climate Tax Pledge?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 755


Career Corner. Study: Faking Long Hours Is Just As Good As Working Long Hours (Greg Kyte, 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).