Posts Tagged ‘Jack Townsend’

Tax Roundup, 9/16/14: U.S. taxes are worse than the Cubs. And: the last month of extension season has begun!

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Now to finish off the extended 1040s.  The extension season for business returns ended yesterday. Now it’s time to mop up the remaining extended individual returns — the “GDEs,” as Robert D. Flach calls them.

 

CubsIf the U.S. tax system were a baseball team, it would be worse than the Cubs. That’s the conclusion I draw from the Tax Foundation’s first International Tax Competitiveness Index released yesterday. The U.S. ranked 32nd out of the 34 rated countries, ahead of only Portugal and France. At 66-84 this morning, the Cubs are ahead of four other teams out of the 30 in the major leagues. Small but mighty Estonia is number 1 (in the Index, not in baseball).

Some “key findings” of the study:

The ITCI finds that Estonia has the most competitive tax system in the OECD. Estonia has a relatively low corporate tax rate at 21 percent, no double taxation on dividend income, a nearly flat 21 percent income tax rate, and a property tax that taxes only land (not buildings and structures).

France has the least competitive tax system in the OECD. It has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the OECD at 34.4 percent, high property taxes that include an annual wealth tax, and high, progressive individual taxes that also apply to capital gains and dividend income.

The ITCI finds that the United States has the 32nd most competitive tax system out of the 34 OECD member countries.

The largest factors behind the United States’ score are that the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world and that it is one of the six remaining countries in the OECD with a worldwide system of taxation.

The United States also scores poorly on property taxes due to its estate tax and poorly structured state and local property taxes

Other pitfalls for the United States are its individual taxes with a high top marginal tax rate and the double taxation of capital gains and dividend income.

20140916-1Unlike the Cubs, the U.S. tax system shows little hope for improvement. What changes we’ve seen recently, or are likely to see in the coming year, only make things worse. The implementation of FATCA doubles down on the committment to worldwide taxation, while putting U.S. taxpayers at a disadvantage abroad.  The inversion frenzy is likely to promote legislation to place even more burdens on U.S.-based businesses.  This legislation responds to the failures of worldwide taxation by doing it harder. In baseball terms, it’s the opposite of Moneyball.

 

TaxGrrrl has more with U.S. Ranks Near The Bottom For Tax Competitiveness: We’re #32! “The United States is one of just six OECD countries that imposes a global tax on corporations meaning that its reach extends beyond its own border.”

Martin Sullivan, REIT Conversions: Good for Wall Street. Not Good for America. (Tax Analysts Blog). REITs are a corporate form that allows some real estate income to be taxed only once. They are a do-it-yourself response to a dysfunctional corporation income tax. It would be good for America if all corporations could move to something more like the REIT model, with a deduction for dividends paid to eliminate the multiplication of tax on corporate income.

 

 

20120511-2Leslie Book, Tax Court Finds Reliance On Advisor In Messy Small Business Setting (Procedurally Taxing), addressing a case we discussed here.  “VisionMonitor is a useful case for practitioners seeking a reliance defense even when advice does not come in the way of a formal opinion, and the advice and corporate formalities reflect less than perfect attention to detail. In other words, this case is representative of the way many small businesses operate.”

Peter Reilly, Grandfather Beats IRS In Tax Court Without Lawyer. “They mystery to me is why when the IRS decided to drop the penalty, they did not drop the case entirely, since, by dropping the penalty, they were indicating that they did not think Mr. Roberts was lying and, given that, it’s pretty clear that he wins.”

Jack Townsend, More on the Warner Sentencing Appeal. Did the Beanie Baby Billionaire get off easy?

 

Jim Maule discusses The Persistence and Danger of Tax and Other Ignorance. It’s fascinating how a man who accurately notes the prevalence of ignorance among voters still thinks policy concocted by politicians elected by these same ignorant voters is better than private solutions .

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 495. I like this point: Why Focus on Ray Rice Instead of Lois Lerner? The relative attention to Rice and Lerner is roughly inverse to their relative importance.

 

np2102904Norton Francis, How Michigan Blocked a $1 Billion Tax Windfall for Corporations (TaxVox). “The case involved the way multistate corporations calculated their state income tax liability from 2008 to 2010. The trouble for Michigan is that, during this time, they had two ways to apportion state income on the books: one, which they thought no longer applied, based on a three-factor formula—the shares of a firm’s property, payroll, and sales present in the state—and the other based only on sales in the state.”

Matt Gardner, New S&P Report Helps Make the Case for Progressive State Taxes (Tax Justice Blog). I link, but I sure don’t endorse.  Using high individual tax rates at the federal level to redistribute income is futile and unwise, but at least it’s plausible. Using state income taxes for that purpose is just absurd.

 

News from the Profession. We Can’t Help But Wonder if This EY Conference Room Cactus Is Trying to Say Something (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

He lost the job after he told his client to get a haircut.  Former Sampson consultant guilty of fraud, conspiracy*

*For those of you who will point out that the guy in the Bible is named “Samson,” just you be quiet.

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/15/14: Extended business returns are due today. And: the great Czech Toilet Paper Caper!

Monday, September 15th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130415-1Extended calendar-year 2013 business returns are due today. No more extensions. If you have a 1040, 1065, 1120, or 1120-S filing for 2013, be sure you get it done today.  E-filing is the best. If you want to go the old-fashioned way, get to the post office and send it “Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested.”  Keep the postmark.

If you can’t get to the post office before it closes, you can still head to a UPS Store, Fed-Ex Kinko’s, or similar place and use a designated private delivery service; be sure to use one of the qualifying services, and make sure your receipt has a time and date designation with today’s date to prove timely filing.

Why does it matter? The penalties are $195 per K-1 per month, so a late S corporation with 10 shareholders overdue six months racks up a late-filing penalty of $11,700 — no matter how little income is reportable on the return.

 

TaxGrrrl, Back To School 2014: Casualty Loss And Theft Deduction.  Also: a chance to win a protective phone case!

Russ Fox, From Owning a Party Mansion to Partying at ClubFed. ” Mr. Verbal and his employees offered customers a unique bonus system: If the return was falsified and the client paid cash, he would get a much larger refund.”

Tony Nitti, Client Sues Tax Advisor For Bad Advice: Is The Settlement Payment Tax-Free?

Annette Nellen, Truncating Taxpayer Identification Numbers – Enough?. “It does nothing about the trillions of documents of all sorts that exist that have people’s SSNs on them.”

Jason Dinesen, Putting Profit First While Planning for Expenses

Kay Bell, What do workers want? At some offices, it’s tax-free lunches

Keith Fogg, A Proposal to Amend Flora or Collection Due Process for Individuals Examined by Correspondence Who Do Not Pick Up or Process Their Mail. (Procedurally Taxing). “When the current procedures for tax administration were built, the rich or upper middle class were the ones interfacing with the tax system.”

lizard20140826Jack Townsend, More on [BS] Corporate Tax Shelters (with Some Rantings):

The large(r) Accounting firms developed substantial practice groups that, overtime (over time also), became an echo chamber that caused or contributed to individuals doing things that they would not do individually.  (For background, this is a major reason that conspiracy is a separate crime.)  Because individuals in these groups were in a echo chamber, they slowly begin to believe the bull shit of the echo chamber.  Had they not been in the echo chamber, they likely would not have done what they did.  But they were in the echo chamber; conduct become less evil or illegal or morally wrong because all these smart people and honorable people were participating in the venture.  Of course, the views of those at senior and more experienced levels were often substantially influenced by the extravagant money that could be made by participating.

It’s hard to see straight through a big pile of cash.

 

Joshua D. McCaherty, The Cost of Tax Compliance (Tax Policy Blog). “All said, Americans spent over 3.24 billion hours, which is about 369,858 years, preparing and filing tax returns in 2012.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 494. “So I’m thinking maybe Anthony Weiner should put his selfie in Lois Lerner’s emails.”

Ajay Gupta, Burning the Inversions Fuse at Both Ends (Tax Analysts Blog). “Here is the ultimate irony in the story: Investment bankers hired by a foreign multinational confronting acquisition by a U.S. corporation alerted the administration, the politicians, and the country to the imperatives of ‘economic patriotism.'”

Kelly Davis, Tax Policy and the Race for the Governor’s Mansion: Ohio Edition (Tax Justice Blog)

Renu Zaretsky, Taxes Take Center Stage This Week—At Least on the House Floor.  Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers Nevada’s corporate welfare for Tesla, hearings on retirement savings, and another futile extenders vote coming up this week.

A special Monday Buzz! from Robert D. Flach. Among the topics is an often-overlooked price of “backdoor” Roth IRAs.

 

20140915-1We’ll get to the bottom of this.  Czech special police team flushes out corruption after it seizes millions of toilet paper rolls:

The Czech special police squad Kobra revealed tax evasion estimated at at least 25 million Kč in business involving toilet paper and tissues, representatives of the police and customs officers has told journalists.

The police seized 3.7 million toilet paper rolls from a businessman.

Czech Financial General Directorate Deputy Director Jiří Zezulka said the toilet paper circulated among firms in the European Union while only serving as “the carrier of tax fraud” and was not produced for any final customer.

No word on whether it had special absorbency to carry tax fraud.  I love that the toilet paper caper was uncovered by “Kobra.”
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Tax Roundup, 9/8/14: One week left for procrastinators. And: there were no abuses, because they abused everyone!

Monday, September 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

7004cornerYour extended 2013 corporation, partnership and trust returns are due a week from today.  If you have a pass-through entity and you file late, you have a $195 per month, per K-1 penalty going back to April if you don’t make the extension deadline.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 487.  Among the links today is one from the Washington Post, Why Did the IRS Clean Out Lois Lerner’s Blackberry as Probes Began? It also quotes this from Russ Fox:

Let’s assume you’re under a court order to find some emails. Your hard drive crashed, but you think that some of them are saved on your Blackberry. Would you:

(a) Try to find them on the Blackberry,
(b) Do nothing, or
(c) Erase the Blackberry.

If you’re the IRS, the answer is (c)

For an agency that insists it has nothing to hide, the IRS sure acts like it is hiding something.  Just to ice the cake, IRS Says It Has Lost Emails From 5 More Employees. Can dogs eat emails?

Meanwhile, Democratic Senators released a report insisting the IRS picked on left-side outfits just as much as right-side ones and slamming Treasury Inspector General Russell George for insisting otherwise.  So let’s go to the stats:

 

targetingstats

No left-side groups have produced evidence of the absurdly-intrusive questioning faced by some right side groups. We can assume that if they existed, they would have come out by now. Mr. George stands by his work.

 

The Iowa Department of Revenue has given its web site a makeover.  Ain’t it pretty?

 

20120703-2Tyler Cowen, Civil forfeiture cash seizures:

Only a sixth of the seizures were legally challenged, in part because of the costs of legal action against the government. But in 41 percent of cases — 4,455 — where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.

Hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces appear to rely on seized cash, despite a federal ban on the money to pay salaries or otherwise support budgets. The Post found that 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.

Civil forfeiture rules in the U.S. allow outrages every day.  It’s very third-world, inherently corrupt, and way overdue for reform.

Phil Hodgen, Renunciation Interviews Not So Intense.  “The State Department justifies the new $2,350 user fee for renunciation by saying ‘Hey, it’s a lotta work. It’s intense. You have to pay me more.'” It looks a lot like civil forfeiture, where the government takes the money because they’re bigger than you, and they can.

 

20140521-2William Perez, How to Adjust Withholding in the Middle of the Year in 9 Steps

Paul Neiffer, A Deduction of Zero is Still Zero:

If the calf was born on the ranch and raised there, the tax deduction due to a death loss is zero.  Since the ranch is allowed to deduct all of the feed and other costs associated with raising the calf, the rancher has a tax basis in the calf of exactly zero.  Therefore, the rancher can deduct zero which is still zero.

It’s the same reason you can’t deduct wages you never received; you never pick them up in income to start with.

Russ Fox, Lies, Deceit, and Nefarious Schemes.  He addresses a VEBA scam:

His plans allowed you to both get the tax deduction and, “then later access the full cash value of their plan contributions by taking out loans against the life insurance policies purchased with plan contributions.” That’s not allowed.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

nfl logoKay Bell, NFL 2014 season underway, along with the taxable betting.  Kay also has a great map of NFL team affinities by county.  Oddly, it appears central Iowa is Packer Country.

Jack Townsend, Offshore Enabler Nabbed in Sting Operation Sentenced

Peter Reilly, New Hampshire Supreme Court Declines More Power In Tuition Credit Case. The New Hampshire court refused to stop tax credits for contributions to private schools.  Iowa and many other states have instituted such credits.  An athiest group said the credits amounted to an “establishment” of religion. If New Hampshire disallow the credits to the Richard Dawkins Country Day School, they’ll have a better case.

Annette Nellen, Is disclosure of corporate tax information a good idea?  Professor Nellen doesn’t care for proposals to require disclosure of public company returns.

 

 

Ajay Gupta, How Not to Stop an Inversion (Tax Analysts Blog).  “All those proposals focus on the inverting corporate entity—a wonderfully inanimate piñata-like container that can be repeatedly hit for enjoyment and will occasionally yield the candy of additional revenue. None targets the individuals at the helm of the corporation, the men and women who stand to make vast amounts of money from their collective decision to execute an inversion.”

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown, 9/5: Gun Holiday in Mississippi, Shortfall in Wisconsin, and a Showdown in Washington (Tax Justice Blog)

Renu Zaretsky, Business Tax Reform: Will Patience Be a Vice? This TaxVox headline roundup talks business tax reform, Nevada’s corporate welfare plan for Tesla, and how individual tax revenues will grow, but not as fast as the government will spend them.

 

Tony Nitti, The IRS Cares Not For Your Vow Of Poverty.  “Call me conservative, but if I wanted the IRS to take my vow of poverty seriously, I’d probably refrain from cruising around town in a Mercedes.”

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

Friday, September 5th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

You gotta like her sources.

 

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

Russ Fox, $1.25 Billion Attracts Tesla to Nevada

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 484

 

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/4/14: IOU? No basis for you! And: IRS may say TANSTAAFL.

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120801-2Partner IOUs fail to increase basis.  Just like S corporation shareholders, partners in a partnership can only deduct their share of the entity’s losses to the extent they have basis.  Like S corporation owners, partner basis starts with the basis of property and the amount of cash contributed to the partnership; it is increased by the owner’s share of taxable and tax-exempt income, and is reduced by expenses and distributions.

In a Tax Court case yesterday, partners”contributed” IOU from themselves to the partnership, VisionMonitor Software LLC.; the partners then used the amounts of the IOUs as basis for deducting losses.

Unfortunately for the partners, that doesn’t work.  Judge Holmes explains (minor editing by me):

VisionMonitor argues that the notes in this case, like the assumption of debt in Gefen, were necessary to persuade a third party to kick in more funding to a cash-strapped partnership. But unlike the partner in Gefen, neither Mantor nor Smith were guaranteeing a preexisting partnership debt to a third party. And they did not directly assume any of VisionMonitor’s outside liabilities — these notes are their liability to VisionMonitor, not an assumption or guaranty of VisionMonitor’s debt to a third party…  And there’s also no evidence that Mantor or Smith were personally obliged under the VisionMonitor partnership agreement to contribute a fixed amount for a specific, preexisting partnership liability.

Unlike S corporation shareholders, partners can get basis for debt owed by a partnership to third parties — for example, by providing a guarantee to a third-party lender (watch out for the “at-risk” rules).  But the court held that writing an IOU, by itself, doesn’t rise to the level of creating debt basis for the partner:

 Here… the partners each have no adjusted basis in the notes, and until they are paid, the notes are only a contractual obligation to their partnership. Mantor made a payment under his notes only in 2010, and the record has no evidence that Smith ever did. We therefore find that Mantor’s and Smith’s bases in their promissory notes during the 2007 and 2008 tax years were zero and, accordingly, that VisionMonitor’s basis in the contributed notes was also zero.

As it always does, the IRS tried to stick the partners with a 20% “accuracy-related” penalty. Judge Holmes wisely declined, holding that they relied reasonably on oral advice from their tax man, a Mr. Sympson:

We have little problem in finding that VisionMonitor actually relied on Sympson’s advice — his conclusion that the notes were additions to VisionMonitor’s capital (and the capital accounts of Smith and Mantor) was set out on the company’s returns. And we have little trouble in finding that this reliance was in good faith. In a case like this one — where VisionMonitor secured Smith and Mantor’s promises to increase their personal risk alongside their promise to extend their personal credit to the firm’s vendors — advice from a longtime tax adviser that this increased Smith’s and Mantor’s bases would seem reasonable to Mantor.

This is the sort of standard that the Tax Court should apply.  Taxes are hard — that’s why people hire out their tax work.  If they are open with their tax advisor, and they don’t have reason to think the tax advisor is incompetent, they shouldn’t get hammered with penalties just because the advisor makes a mistake. After all, the IRS makes mistakes too.

The Moral: If you want to get basis in your partnership without putting in cash, you need to get third party debt allocated to you in a way that makes you at-risk.  And: when things get complicated, if you are open with your preparer and follow the advice given, IRS penalties are not automatic.

Cite: VisionMonitor Software LLC, T.C. Memo 2014-182.

Related: How much K-1 loss can I deduct? Start with your basis.

 

TANSTAAFL. (There Aint) No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: IRS Mulls Tax On Employee Meals. (TaxGrrrl)  Just because you can make a theoretical argument that something is taxable doesn’t mean you should tax it.

 

20130121-2So you think regulation of preparers by IRS will stop fraud?  IRS Employee Accused Of Tax Fraud.  If they can’t keep themselves honest, they aren’t likely to prevent preparer cheating. Of course, preparer regulation isn’t about stopping fraud or improving tax compliance. It’s about grabbing power and helping well-placed friends.  Russ Fox has more.

 

Jana Luttenegger, Tax Court Ruling on Frequent Flyer Miles as Income (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

Kay Bell, Tax differences between home repairs & home improvements.  It can make a big difference when you sell.

Robert D. Flach tells you WHAT TO ASK A TAX PRO

Jack Townsend, Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt – Ramblings

 

David Brunori, Business Pays a Lot of State and Local Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

COST recently released its 12th edition of the report. And it continues to influence the state tax debate as much today as it did in 2002. The new report says that businesses paid $671 billion in state and local taxes in 2013, up about 4 percent over the previous year. But business taxes accounted for 45 percent of all state and local taxes.

I note that the amount of tax paid by “business” is deceptive. Businesses do not pay taxes; people pay taxes. And every dime of the $671 billion was paid by some combination of shareholder, owner, employee, customer, or supplier. Those on the left desperately want the burden to fall on shareholders. But there is growing evidence that in a global economy, the burden falls on employees. 

And if it does fall on shareholders, remember that pension funds are also shareholders.

 

20140801-2Lyman Stone, Governor Rick Scott Offers Mixed Bag of Tax Proposals for Florida (Tax Policy Blog). “Governor Scott’s tax proposals offer meaningful improvements in some areas like cell phone and corporate income taxes. But on other issues like the property tax cap, it’s not clear whether or how the plan will work; on sales tax holidays, the proposed “tax cut” would actually make the tax code more complicated and distortionary, while creating little or no economic growth.”

Yes.  Next Question?  Is It Time to Repeal The Corporate Income Tax? (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox) “This view acknowledges that roughly 10 million businesses already have engaged in self-help tax reform by organizing themselves as pass-through firms (where owners at taxed as individuals but bypass the corporate tax entirely).”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 483

 

News from the Profession.  Ladies Still Need Entire Panels Made Up of Dudes to Talk About Ladies in the Profession (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)  “Don’t worry, ladies, the guys are ON IT.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/27/14: Inversions! Fire! Flee! FIRPTA! Edition. And: state credits and the race for Governor.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140815-2DOOM! PANIC!  Corporate inversions!  DO SOMETHING!  This isn’t the first time politicians have gotten their dresses over their heads in a pseudo-patriotic panic over legal transactions, as Ajay Gupta explains for Tax Analysts ($link):

FIRPTA is a statute conceived in xenophobia and dedicated to the proposition that not all investors are created equal. It is nothing more or less than the embodiment of a congressional desire to limit the grasp of foreign investors on domestic real estate.

“FIRPTA” is the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act, and it requires buyers of U.S. real estate to withhold 10% of the gross purchase price paid to non-U.S. sellers.  In practice, it functions as a trap for unwary U.S. buyers who fail to withhold, leaving them liable for the withholding liability on top of their purchase price.  It arose out of the panic over a wave of Japanese purchases of U.S. real estate — a panic that we can now see clearly as madness.  Yet FIRPTA lives on, long after the Japanese moved on to other things.

Things like this tell us that the best way to deal with the current panics, like corporate inversions, is to not “do something” that will surely be half-baked and haunt the tax law forever.

 

Megan McArdle, Burger King and the Whopper About Taxes (my emphasis):

As my colleague Matt points out, most Americans — including a lot of journalists who write about this — seem to be under the misimpression that companies that invert, or people who renounce their citizenship, are doing so to get a lower tax rate on income they earn here. And in a few intellectual-property-based businesses, which can make aggressive use of transfer pricing strategies to declare most of their income in low- or no-tax countries, these complaints have some basis. In most cases, however, including Burger King, they’re doing it because the U.S. inexplicably insists on taking a big chunk off the top of all their foreign income, and making their lives miserable in the process.

But, but, deserters!  Traitors!

 

canada flagIf you are wondering why Burger King might be attracted to Canada,  read How Much Lower are Canada’s Business Taxes? (William McBride, Tax Policy Blog):

First, Canada has a much lower corporate tax rate: 15 percent at the federal level plus another 11 percent on average from provincial corporate taxes. Compare that to the U.S. federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent plus an average state corporate tax rate of about 4 percent.

Second, Canada has a territorial tax system, meaning there is no additional repatriation tax on foreign profits. The U.S. has a worldwide tax system, which applies a repatriation tax to foreign profits when those profits are brought back to the U.S. The repatriation tax is basically the difference between the foreign corporate tax rate and the U.S. corporate tax rate, which is typically more than 10 percent. The average foreign corporate tax rate in the developed world is 25 percent.

Third, the U.S. is not particularly competitive in terms of taxing shareholders. Canada integrates its corporate tax with shareholder taxes to avoid double-taxation. In the U.S. it just piles up, so the integrated corporate tax rate on equity financed investment is over 50 percent.

A corporation pays 35% federal tax on its net income, leaving 65% for the shareholders.  If it gets distributed to a top-bracket taxpayer, it gets hit at 20%, plus the 3.8% Obamacare surtax. That is a combined effective rate of 50.47% — and that’s low, as it doesn’t count phase-outs or state taxes. Yet congresscritters profess astonishment that anybody would find that a problem worth solving.

 

Howard Gleckman, Could The U.S. Fix Taxation of Multinational Corporations With A Sales-Based Formula? (TaxVox) “Instead of focusing on the real disease—an increasingly dysfunctional corporate income tax—we are obsessing over a symptom—firms such as Burger King engaging in self-help reform by relocating their legal residences overseas.”

Joseph Thorndike, Warren Buffett Is a Tax Avoider. Good for Him. (Tax Analysts Blog). Now Mr. communitarian billionaire who wants high taxes for other people is a deserter too.  Is nothing sacred?

 

20140729-2Paul Neiffer,  $563 Cost a Taxpayer $6,320:

If the taxpayers had simply paid the $563 of additional tax owed on the original assessment, that is all they would have been out-of-pocket.  However, when they went to court, the IRS determined that they had made a math error in their original calculation of AMT and reassessed the tax owed from $563 to $6,883 or an increase of $6,320.  Since this calculation was now correct, the Tax Court honored the IRS calculation and suddenly the taxpayers suddenly owed another $6,320 just for going to court.

Oops.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 475.  It links to this from George Will: “The IRS is the most intrusive and potentially punitive institution of the federal government and it is a law enforcement institution and it is off the rails and it is now thoroughly corrupted.”

And the IRS Commissioner thinks all his agency needs is more money.

 

Kay Bell, IRS, betting that expired state and local sales tax deduction will be renewed, hires firm to calculate Schedule A tables

TaxGrrrl, IRS Still Struggling With Tax Treatment Of Immigrants, Changes Rules Again   

Jack Townsend, BASR Briefs On Issue of Unlimited Statute of Limitations for NonTaxpayer Fraud

David Brunori, Repealing the Bad Franchise Tax is a Good Idea (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Eighteen states still impose a franchise tax; they shouldn’t.”

 

MP branstadBy all means, lets make state tax credits an issue.  The Branstad re-election campaign is making a big deal about how his campaign opponent, Jack Hatch, bottled up a GOP bill that would have reduced developer fees in tax credit deals — fees that Mr. Hatch makes a good living collecting.

Senator Hatch could truthfully explain that his committee snuffed every GOP tax bill last session, so that bill didn’t receive special treatment.  Still, it doesn’t look good.

Yet this ignores the real scandal with state incentive credits: they are inherently corrupt.

For starters, the credits for low-income housing and historic rehabilitation go disproportionately to well-connected insiders who know people and know how to pull strings — at the expense of real estate owners without the connections — and arguably at the expense of renters who might benefit more from housing aid not run through developers.

But also that’s true of the other credits.  Special deals go to Microsoft, Google and Facebook because they are big and they know how to play the system.  Tax credits go to big fertilizer companies for doing what they would do anyway, while other poor schmucks without lobbyists and fixers pay full-freight on their income and property taxes.  NASCAR and the Field of Dreams played on glamour and celebrities to keep sales taxes they collect, while other sellers of amusements have to collect the same sales taxes and turn them over to the state.  And Governor Branstad has handed out these tax credits generously.

I’m fine with the Governor’s criticism of Senator Hatch for tax credit deals; I don’t care for them either.  Still, the Governor should keep his old MP helmet handy, because he is calling down fire near his own position.

 

Claire Celsi, PR is like pork scraps and pickle juice (IowaBiz.com).  Sounds yummy.

 

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

Monday, August 18th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

20140816-1

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Jack Townsend, Tidbits on the New Streamlined Procedures

Annette Nellen, Better identity theft efforts – S. 2736

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/11/14: Don’t you dare agree with me edition.

Monday, August 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

microsoft-appleDavid Brunori notes ($link) some odd behavior by Good Jobs First, a left-side outfit that has been on the side of the angels by highlighting the baneful effects of corporate welfare tax incentives.  The American Legislative Exchange Council came out with a report blasting cronyist tax incentives, and rather than embracing the report, Good Jobs First ripped it — because the Koch Brothers are the Devil:

Yet, Good Jobs First slams ALEC because many recipients of tax incentives have close ties to ALEC. But so what? The fact that corporations, including those run by the Koch brothers, provide support to ALEC doesn’t diminish the argument that incentives are terrible.

Weirdly, Good Jobs First primarily blames the recipients of corporate welfare for taking the money, rather than the politicians who give it away:

Moreover, Good Jobs First inexplicably says that ALEC is wrong to blame policymakers rather than the companies that receive incentives. But the blame for those horrible policies rests squarely on the shoulders of lawmakers and governors who perpetuate them. In a world where the government is handing out benefits to anyone who asks, it’s hard to fault the people who line up for the handout. No one has been more critical of tax incentives than I, but I’ve never blamed the corporations. Nor do I blame the army of consultants and lawyers who grease the wheels to make incentives happen. There’s no blame for anyone other than the cowardly politicians from both parties who can’t seem to resist using those nefarious policies.

Precisely correct.  When somebody is handing out free money, it’s hard to turn it down when your competitors are taking all they can.

I have seen smart people I respect do everything short of donning tin-foil hats when talking about the Koch Brothers and their dreadful agenda of influencing the government to leave you alone.  Maybe everyone needs an Emmanuel Goldstein.

Adam Michel, Scott Drenkard, New Report Quantifies “Tax Cronyism” (Tax Policy Blog)

Annette Nellen, What about accountability? California solar energy property.  Green corporate welfare is still corporate welfare.

 

20130121-2Russ Fox, Where Karen Hawkins Disagrees With Me…  The Director of the IRS Office of Preparer Responsibility commented on Russ’ post “The IRS Apparently Thinks They Won the Loving Case.”  Russ replies to the comment:

Ms. Hawkins is technically correct that Judge Boasberg’s order says nothing about the use of an RTRP designation. However, the Order specifically states that the IRS has no authority to create such a regulatory scheme. If there isn’t such a regulation, what’s the use of the designation?

The courts closed the front door to preparer regulation, so the IRS is trying to find an unlocked window.

 

TaxGrrrl, IRS Imposes New Limits On Tax Refunds By Direct Deposit.  “Effective for the 2015 tax season, the IRS will limit the number of refunds electronically deposited into a single financial account (such as a savings or checking account) or prepaid debit card to three.”

This seems like a measure that should have been put in place years ago.  The Worst Commissioner Ever apparently had other priorities.

 

Kay Bell, Actor Robert Redford sues NY tax office over $1.6 million bill.  The actor gets dragged into New York via a pass-through entity in which he had an interest — a topic we mentioned last week.

Renu Zaretsky, August Avoidance: Corporate Taxes and Budget Realities.  The TaxVox headline roundup covers inversions, gridlock, and Kansas.

Peter Reilly, Org Tries Exempt Status Multiple Choice – IRS Answers None Of The Above

 

 

20140811-1Ajay Gupta, The Libertarian Case for BEPS (Tax Analysts Blog)  BEPS stands for “Base Erosion and Profit Shifting.”

Matt Gardiner, Inversions Aside, Don’t Lose Sight of Other Ways Corps. Are Dodging Taxes (Tax Justice Blog).  Don’t worry, Matt.  If I did, my clients would take their business elsewhere.

Robert D. Flach, HEY MR PRESIDENT – DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER!  “If there is something wrong with the Tax Code do not blame the accountant or tax professional.  We have a moral and ethical responsibility to bring to our clients’ attention all the legal deductions, credits, loopholes, techniques, and strategies that are available to reduce their federal and state tax liabilities to the least possible amounts.”

 

Roger McEowen, Federal Court, Contrary To U.S. Supreme Court, Says ACA Individual Mandate Not a Tax.

Jack Townsend, U.S. Forfeits Over $480 Million Stolen by Former Nigerian Dictator.  The headline is misleading — the U.S. received the cash in a forfeiture — they seized it, rather than forfeiting it.

 

2140731-3TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 459

Instapundit, GANGSTER GOVERNMENT: Inspectors general say Obama aides obstruct investigations.  The majority of the 78 federal inspectors general took the extraordinary step of writing an open letter saying the Administration is blocking their work as a matter of course.  The IRS stonewalling on the Tea Party scandal is part of the pattern.

 

 

News from the Profession. It’s Completely Understandable Someone Might Sign Over 200 Audit Reports By Mistake (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

You mean they didn’t shift to organic carrot juice?  “From Coke to Coors: A Field Study of a Fat Tax and its Unintended Consequences” (Via Maria Koklanaris at Tax Analysts):

Could taxation of calorie-dense foods such as soft drinks be used to reduce obesity? To address this question, a six-month field experiment was conducted in an American city of 62,000 where half of the 113 households recruited into the study faced a 10% tax on calorie-dense foods and beverages and half did not. The tax resulted in a short-term (1-month) decrease in soft drink purchases, but no decrease over a 3-month or 6-month period. Moreover, in beer-purchasing households, this tax led to increased purchases of beer.

I’m sure the politicians who want to run everyone’s diet will angrily demand higher beer taxes in response.

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/8/14: Get a Room Edition. And: Koskinen, cronyist.

Friday, August 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Flickr image by Ellenm1 under Creative Commons licenseTax Court: Get a room!  If you spend a lot of time on the road, you may have wondered whether it might make sense to buy a Winnebago instead of hopping between motels.  The Tax Court yesterday weighed in on the side of motels.

A California insurance man with an RV found a market for his wares among his fellow tin-can nomads, as the Judge Wherry explains:

Starting in 2004, petitioners began attending RV rallies not just for pleasure but also for business purposes. At or around the same time, they purchased a 2004 Winnebago RV. We reject petitioners’ contentions that they attended RV rallies solely for business purposes from 2004 but instead find that they had mixed purposes. Petitioners would gather sales leads at every rally. To that end, petitioners had a banner that they attached to their RV advertising Dell Jackson Insurance. Petitioners would set up an information table outside of their RV or outside the clubhouse, if the site had one. If they set up a table by a clubhouse, petitioners moved the banner from the RV to the table. Otherwise, the sign remained on the RV from the time they arrived until the time they left. Petitioners would invite potential customers to come to their RV, and they would sit either outside or inside the RV and discuss the prospective client’s insurance needs. It would often take months, if not years, for a relationship with a potential customer, which could begin with a lead, to develop into an actual sale.

Naturally the salesman deducted expenses of his RV in preparing the Schedule C for his insurance business.  The IRS limited his deductions using Section 280A, which limits business deductions for personal residences.  The Court said that the RV was a house, as far as the tax law is concerned (citations and footnotes omitted, emphasis added):

Generally, “a taxpayer uses the dwelling unit during the taxable year as a residence if he uses such unit (or portion thereof) for personal purposes for a number of days which exceeds the greater of — (A) 14 days, or (B) 10 percent of the number of days during such year for which such unit is rented at a fair rental.” “Dwelling unit” is also a defined term and “includes a house, apartment, condominium, mobile home, boat, or similar property”. Sec. 280A(f)(1)(A). This Court has previously held that a motor home qualifies as a dwelling unit within the meaning of section 280A(f)(1)(A).  Although we use the more modern term throughout this opinion, an RV and a motor home are one and the same thing. Petitioners and counsel used the two terms interchangeably at trial. Accordingly, petitioners’ RV is a dwelling unit for purposes of section 280A. 

The Tax Court said that while the expenses were otherwise legitimate, the Section 280A disallowance of business expenses when a residence, or part of one, isn’t used “exclusively” for business overrides the deductions:

This result may seem harsh, but it is the operation of the statute, which reflects Congress’ desire to prevent taxpayers from deducting personal expenses as business expenses.

While the court admitted the result was harsh to begin with, that didn’t stop it from piling on, adding over $8,000 in “accuracy-related” penalties to the $42,000 in additional taxes assessed by the IRS — another example of the unfortunate tendency of the IRS — with the blessing of the Tax Court — to penalize everything, even when the taxpayer used an apparently reputable preparer.

The moral: RVs may be great for retirement travel, but they aren’t the best thing for business deductions.  If they had rented hotel rooms, the deductions apparently would have been just fine.

Cite: Jackson, T.C. Memo 2014-160

 

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

So the IRS Commissioner is just fine with cronyism in tax administration.  John Koskinen Indicates IRS Revolving Door Is A Feature Not A Bug (Peter Reilly).  It will be hard to unseat Doug Shulman as the Worst Commissioner Ever, but John Koskinen is giving it the old college try.

 

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Iowa Tuition and Textbook Credit and Back-to-School Shopping

Jack Townsend, It’s So Easy to Say No — The IRS Often Gets to No for Streamlined Transition Relief in OVDP. “The bottom-line is that the IRS is denying the nonwillful certification in far more cases than practitioners thought would be the case.  And, the process of denial is a bit of a black box.”

Leslie Book, Summary Opinions for 7/25/14 (Procedurally Taxing).  A roundup of recent tax procedure happenings.

 

tax fairyKay Bell, FTC sending $16 million to former American Tax Relief clients. Don’t fall for tax relief scams in the first place:

Federal prosecutors first filed charges against ATR in 2010. In August 2012, a federal court entered a partial summary judgment in favor of the FTC, finding that the defendants falsely claimed they already had significantly reduced the tax debts of thousands of people and falsely told individual consumers they qualified for tax relief programs that would significantly reduce their tax debts.

The court issued a $103.3 million judgment against the company.

Outfits like ATR, J.K. Harris, TaxMasters and Roni Deutsch pulled in lots of revenue from taxpayers desperate to believe in the Tax Fairy.  There is no tax fairy.

 

 

It’s Friday, the Iowa State Fair is underway, and Robert D. Flach is buzzing!  So it’s a good day three ways.

20140808-1

 

TaxGrrrl, normally the soul of restraint, lets loose on the inversion diversion in Obama Joins Blame Game As Companies Flee U.S. For Lower Tax Rates:

But to point fingers at lawyers and accountants as if they are holding all the cards is plain wrong. If we want to talk about responsibility, let’s talk about responsibility.

Let’s talk about a bloated Tax Code that just keeps getting bigger. Let’s talk about a global tax system that encourages companies (and people) to flee. Let’s talk about stalled tax reform efforts.

The tax code is the instruction manual for taxpayers, and their lawyers and accountants, for tax compliance.  And now the politicians don’t like what happens when we read and follow instructions.

 

20120702-2Andrew Lundeen, To Stop Inversions, Fix the Tax Code (Tax Policy Blog).  “But the lack of competitiveness created by the corporate tax isn’t the only issue: at its core, the corporate tax is inherently not neutral. It is highly distortive, opaque, and economically damaging tax.”

Christopher Bergin, Beware the Individual Income Tax Inversion (Tax Analysts Blog)  “The truth is that our tax system is in trouble – all of it: the corporate side, the administration side, and the individual side. And that means the country is in trouble.”

Kelly Davis, Tax Policy and the Race for the Governor’s Mansion: Illinois Edition (Tax Justice Bl0g).  Political wrangling in a doomed state.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 456.  The scandal has been Voxplained. Keep calm, all is well.

 

Art appreciation tip: “Like the folks who believe that the limits on maritime jurisdiction, explained by a talking salamander, holds the key to beating a federal criminal charge, the full tapestry of wacko tax fraud theories is a lovely thing to behold….” (Matt Kaiser, Above The Law).  He covers a “sovereign citizen” from Omaha who learned that filing a phony $19 million lien on a judge is perhaps not the optimal way to handle a tax controversy.

Related: TaxProf, Nebraska ‘Sovereign Citizen’ Convicted of Filing False Liens Against Federal Officials and Federal Tax Crimes

 

Adrienne Gonzalez, California Might Ditch the Attest Requirement for CPA Licensure.  I’m sure I would have been a better person if I had to waste two years observing inventories and otherwise bothering real auditors.

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/6/14: Telemarketing isn’t an airplane. And: inversion hysteria, always in style.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120529-2Is your airplane any of your business?  The Tax Court yesterday dealt with a problem that will arise a lot as taxpayers struggle with the new 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax: what “activities” can be considered to be part of a single business?

The issue comes up because “passive” activities are subject to the tax, while non-passive activities are exempt.  It is especially important when S corporations are involved because their K-1 income is also exempt from the 2,9 Medicare tax and the .9% Obamacare Medicare surtax.  The status of activities as “non-passive” usually depends on the amount of time spent working in the activity; if you can combine activities they are less likely to be passive.

Tax Court Judge Buch outlines yesterday’s case:

 Mr. Williams is an aviation buff who owns a business that is unrelated to aviation. He purchased an airplane that he made available for rent, used for personal purposes, and used in his other business. On the Williams’ joint tax returns, they offset losses related to the ownership of the airplane against their income from the other business. Respondent disallowed those offsets… 

Passive losses cannot offset non-passive income under the 1986 passive loss rules; they carry forward to offset future income until the activity is sold.  Mr. Williams reported the airplane expenses as part of his business of training telemarketers.  The court reviews the rules on combining activities (footnotes omitted; my emphasis):

Section 1.469-4(c), Income Tax Regs., sets rules for determining what constitutes a single “activity”. That regulation provides: “One or more trade or business activities or rental activities may be treated as a single activity if the activities constitute an appropriate economic unit for the measurement of gain or loss for purposes of section 469.” Whether activities constitute an “appropriate economic unit” depends on the facts and circumstances, giving the following five factors the greatest weight:

(i) Similarities and differences in types of trades or businesses;

(ii) The extent of common control;

(iii) The extent of common ownership;

(iv) Geographic location; and

(v) Interdependencies between or among the activities (for example, the extent to which the activities purchase or sell goods between or among themselves, involve products or services that are normally provided together, have the same customers, have the same employees, or are accounted for with a single set of books and records.)

The judge said the airplane wasn’t part of the same “economic unit” as Mr. Williams’ other business, called WPP:

The fact that there was no meaningful interdependence between the ownership of the airplane and the business of WPP is evidenced in part by the fact that Mr. Williams would rent another airplane for travel because he could earn more from renting WPP’s airplane to other pilots or pilot trainees than he would pay if he or WPP rented another airplane for a trip. Further, most of the airplane’s use and income came from renting the airplane outside WPP, which had no effect on the business of WPP. Likewise, there is no indication that the airplane activity depended on WPP; it was only an occasional user of the airplane. There is no evidence that WPP and the airplane activity had any of the same customers or that the two activities were integrated in any meaningful way.

When the airplane activity was separated his other business, Mr. Williams was unable to muster enough hours to reach “material participation,” making the airplane losses passive and non-deductible.

What does this mean in planning for the NIIT?  Taxpayers get to revisit their activity groupings for 2013 and 2014 returns.  Taxpayers with multiple businesses will want to ponder what things they can realistically combine.  Just because you own both businesses doesn’t mean the tax law will consider them an “appropriate economic unit.”

Cite: Williams, T.C. Memo 2014-158

 

20140805-3Paul Neiffer, IRS Provides Two Optional Methods for SE Health Insurance Deduction.

Jack Townsend, Whistleblower Award for FBAR Penalties?

Jason Dinesen, Kudos to NAEA for Promoting EAs.  Not to sound dumb, but isn’t that what the National Association of Enrolled Agents is supposed to do?

Russ Fox, The IRS Apparently Thinks They Won the Loving Case.  “In Loving v. IRS, the IRS was permanently enjoined from the Registered Tax Return Preparer designation. One would think that the IRS would realize this and remove the designation from forms.”

Keith Fogg, How Bankruptcy Can Create a Pyrrhic Victory out of a Tax Court Win (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Peter Reilly, FAIR Tax Abolishes IRS – Then What?  I have long thought the fair tax was half-baked gimmick, deceptively marketed.  If you want to move to a consumption tax, move to a real consumption tax.

Adam Michel, What is the Consumed Income Tax?  (Tax Policy Blog)

 

 

Allison Christians, Regulating Return Preparers: A Global Problem for the IRS:

The problem of regulating all foreigners in service of U.S. citizenship taxation plagues FATCA in the details, and it will plague the project of tax return preparer regulation as well. It won’t be easily solved unless Congress can accept that the universally practiced norm of residency-based taxation is really the only viable option in a globalized world. If not, as the world adjusts to the ongoing expansion of U.S. regulatory power through more — and more complex — financial regulation, everyone will have to accept that virtually every tax move Congress makes has global implications.

Via the TaxProf.

Just what the world needs: more IRS.

 

nra-blue-eagleDavid Brunori, Keep the Inversion Hysteria Out of the States (Tax Analysts Blog).  “A company’s decision to invert is no different from an individual’s decision to live in a state without an income tax or to buy a house rather than rent to take advantage of a tax break.”  But, but, what about your loyalty oath?  You must hate America!  Or, worse, Iowa!

Scott Hodge, More Perspective on Inversions: Not a Threat to the Tax Base but the Face of U.S. Uncompetiveness (Tax Policy Blog)

Bob McIntyre, Statement: Despite Walgreens’ Decision, Emergency Action Is Still Needed to Stop Corporate Inversions (Tax Justice Blog, where inversion hysteria is always in style).

Eric Toder, How Political Gridlock Encourages Tax Avoidance (TaxVox)

 

Joseph Thorndike, The Origination Clause? Let It Go (Tax Analysts Blog).  Since the courts allow the Senate to strip any house bill of its text and replace it with revenue provisions, it’s pretty much dead already.  And that’s a shame.

 

Your legislators at work: 

Chicago lawmaker pleads to misdemeanor; faced 17 felonies. ““I’m sorry I underestimated my taxes.”

Fattah Jr. released on bail following U.S. indictment on theft, fraud and tax-evasion charges.  The son of a Congresscritter has tax issues? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 454

Career Corner.  Career Limiting Moves: A Beginner’s Guide (Leona May, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/5/14: Personal goodwill is the word. And: more inversion diversion!

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Word.  Tax Court reduces estate value of stock by executive’s “personal goodwill.”  The courts have recognized that the value of a business depend on the contacts and reputation of a key executive — “personal goodwill.”  That concept has enabled business owners to sell their goodwill separately from other business assets — handy in avoiding the double tax inherent in C corporations.

Yesterday the Tax Court applied “personal goodwill” in valuing stock in a decedent’s estate.  Franklin Z. Adell died in 2006 owning all of the stock of STN.Com, a satellite uplink company.  The company had one customer: The Word Network, a religious broadcaster set up as a non-profit and run by Mr. Adell’s son, Kevin.

The arrangement proved profitable to STN.Com, which generated nearly $16 million in revenues in 2006.  That enabled company executives to travel in style, according to the Tax Court (footnotes omitted):

In addition to rent and compensation, STN.Com made several miscellaneous payments that were primarily for the personal benefit of Mr. Adell and Kevin. STN.Com leased luxury cars, including Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, used for personal and work purposes by Mr. Adell, Kevin, and its other employees. STN.Com also helped Mr. Adell and Kevin purchase and maintain real estate. For example, STN.Com gave money to Mr. Adell and Kevin to purchase a condominium in Los Angeles, California, and guaranteed the mortgage. STN.Com purchased high-end furnishings for the condominium and for Mr. Adell’s home in Michigan and paid all expenses, including the mortgage, interest, and insurance, related to Kevin’s second home in Florida. In 2002 STN.Com paid $300,000 toward Kevin’s home in Florida. From July 2002 through June 2003 STN.Com paid between $300,000 and $400,000 of Kevin’s personal legal fees for litigation involving a dispute with a home contractor. In 2006 Mr. Adell paid a $6 million judgment entered against Kevin using funds from Mr. Adell’s salary at STN.Com.

The estate filed a tax return showing a date-of-death value of $9.3 million.  The IRS thought that number was slightly low, coming up with a value of $93.3 million.  By the time of the trial, the IRS number had come down to $26,341,030, and the estate was arguing for a $4.3 million value.  The trial came down to a duel of expert witness appraisers.

The main difference between the appraisals was the  treatment of “personal goodwill” by the estate’s expert, a Mr. Risius.  From the Tax Court decision:

Mr. Risius also adjusted STN.Com’s operating expenses to include an economic charge for Kevin’s personal goodwill. Mr. Risius explained that the adjustment was appropriate because the success of STN.Com depended heavily on Kevin’s personal relationships with the board of directors of The Word. Moreover, Kevin did not have a noncompete agreement with STN.Com, and as a result a potential buyer would acquire STN.Com only to the extent that the company retained Kevin. The economic charge for Kevin’s personal goodwill ranged from 37.2% to 43.4% of sales over the historical period and from 43.7% to 44.1% of sales over the projection period.

The IRS expert, Mr. Burns, admitted the importance of the son’s personal involvement, but took a different approach:

Instead of applying an economic charge for Kevin’s personal goodwill similar to the one found in Mr. Risius’ first valuation report, Mr. Burns concluded that a hypothetical investor would anticipate retaining Kevin as an officer of STN.Com and would need to compensate Kevin at an acceptable rate of 8.1% of sales. Mr. Burns noted that his assumed compensation level for Kevin of nearly $1.3 million in 2006 was significantly higher than Mr. Risius’ estimate of $528,000 in his first valuation report.

20140321-4Tax Court Judge Paris found the estate’s approach more persuasive:

Kevin’s goodwill was personally owned independent of STN.Com. STN.Com’s success was heavily dependent on The Word because of their symbiotic relationship. To launch The Word, it was Kevin who contacted religious leaders in the Detroit area and Rev. Jackson in Chicago. Along with his notable contacts and his father, he went to Los Angeles to meet with DirecTV representatives about broadcasting The Word. His meeting was successful and it eventually led to the national broadcasting of The Word on cable television. Kevin was the face of the operation because he was the individual soliciting content and pursuing broadcast opportunities.

Yes, that Rev. Jackson.

     Further, Kevin did not transfer his goodwill to STN.Com through a covenant not to compete or other agreement. Kevin was free to leave STN.Com and use his relationships to directly compete against his previous employer. If Kevin quit, STN.Com could not exclusively use the relationships that Kevin cultivated; thus, the value of those relationships should not be attributed to STN.Com.

Accordingly, Mr. Risius properly adjusted STN.Com’s operating expenses to include an economic charge of $8 million to $12 million for Kevin’s personal goodwill at an amount high enough to account for the significant value of Kevin’s relationships. Mr. Burns, on the other hand, not only failed to apply an economic charge for Kevin’s personal goodwill but also gave too low an estimate of acceptable compensation for Kevin, i.e., $1.3 million in 2006. This was especially so because Kevin had stepped into the position of Mr. Adell, who had previously made between over $2 million and $7 million of compensation in each of the five years before his death.

The court went with the $9.3 million value on the original tax return: “…the Court concludes that Mr. Risius’ first valuation report on the STN.Com stock included with the original estate tax return was the most creditable because it properly accounted for Kevin’s personal goodwill and appropriately used the discounted cashflow analysis of the income approach to value the STN.Com stock.”

The moral?  Appraisers working with closely-held businesses need to look closely at important customer and vendor relationships and determine whether they actually belong to the corporation, or if they instead belong separately to executives.  The case also is more support for taxpayers wanting to sell personal goodwill separately from corporate assets.

Cite: Estate of Franklin Z. Adell T.C. Memo 2014-155.

 

20140805-2Robert D. Flach offers fresh Tuesday Buzz! Robert has also started a new monthly newsletter, The Tax Professional.  “The purpose of THE TAX PROFESSIONAL is to discuss and debate issues of interest and importance to the profession of preparing income tax returns – such as certification and credentials, dealing with the IRS and state tax agencies, due diligence requirements, ethics and obligations, regulation, representation, tax law complexity, etc.”  While I often disagree with Robert, he’s a smart and entertaining guy, and both his blog and the newsletter are worth regular visits.

 

Kay Bell, August to-do list: Vacation, shopping, school and taxes

 

Peter Reilly, Homeowner Association IRS Ruling Highlights Schizophrenic Nature Of Associations.  “Unless they have vast reserves earning significant investment income, homeowners associations can avoid any significant tax liability by filing Form 1120H, which allows the organization to exclude assessments.  Despite that option, some homeowners associations go to the trouble of applying to be 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations.”

Annette Nellen, Marijuana businesses and ethical issues for tax practitioners.  Can you get in trouble for helping a pot store pay its taxes?

 

Frank Agostino, a veteran Tax Court litigator, guests posts in Procedurally Taxing with Procedural Challenges to Penalties: Section 6751(b)(1)’s Signed Supervisory Approval Requirement.  “In view of the fact that the IRS (and the Tax Court) have so strictly adhered to the Code’s substantiation requirements, one is hopeful that a similar strict compliance standard will be applied when interpreting a statutory provision clearly intended to protect taxpayer’s procedural due process rights.”

Jack Townsend, Williams Yet Again – Court Bows Deeply to Government Claims of Expansive Discretion for FBAR Willful Penalty 

 

 

nra-blue-eagleThe current diversionary panic about corporate inversions has reached its illogical conclusion, reports J.D. Tucille at Reason.com: With Loyalty Oath Demand, Crusade Against Corporate Inversion Gets Even Creepier.

Leave it to Jonathan Alter to jump the already laughably overblown “problem” of corporations seeking friendlier tax jurisdictions elsewhere right past parody. Forget any discussion of why businesses are relocating. At the Daily Beast, Alter wants potential “corporate deserters” to take…wait, I have to check this again…yep…loyalty oaths

The post quotes Mr. Alter’s argument:

For those companies less able to act as Americans or recognize their real interests, there are two ways to make this work. The president should issue an executive order that says any company that wants to keep its federal contracts must sign a new-fangled [non-desertion agreement]…

But other companies with few or no federal contracts might be tempted to desert anyway.

That’s where the rest of us come in. Under my scheme, companies that sign non-desertion agreements would embed a tiny American flag or some other Good Housekeeping-type seal in their corporate insignia for all to see, just as companies during the Great Depression that agreed to Franklin Roosevelt’s recovery plan hung an emblem of a blue eagle in their windows with the legend, “We Do Our Part.”

Mr. Tucille observes:

To make it clear where this all goes, the National Recovery Administration once boasted, “The Fascist Principles are very similar to those we have been evolving here in America.” Its head, Hugh Johnson, noted about the adoption or rejection of the blue eagle symbol and its code, “Those who are not with us are against us.”

There’s a good book about this sort of thing.

Corporations have entirely legitimate purposes other than funneling cash to the IRS.  They have to make payroll, supply desired and needed goods to customers, and provide a return to their owners.  They have no more obligation to pay un-owed taxes than you, me, or Mr. Alter.  Unless Mr. Alter declines to itemize and forgoes his personal exemption in the name of economic patriotism, no blue eagle for him either.

 

20140805-1Kyle Pomerleau, Everything You Need to Know About Corporate Inversions (Tax Policy Blog). “The most obvious benefit is that most countries do not have a worldwide corporate income tax system. The United States taxes income earned by U.S. corporations no matter where they earn that income, domestically or abroad.”

Martin Sullivan, Don’t Count on Tax Reform to Stop Inversions (Tax Analysts Blog)

Rebecca Wilkins, Wall Street a Major Player in Current Wave of Corporate Inversions (Tax Justice Blog).  Maybe because investors like companies that don’t incur unnecessary expenses.

 

Renu Zaretsky, Online Taxes: Searches, Storage, and Sales.  The daily TaxVox headline roundup covers, among other things, an insane attempt to tax websites that link to Spanish newspaper association stories.  “Note to Spanish tax authorities: buena suerte.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/4/14: Will 401(k) deferred annuities catch on? And: about those oil industry “subsidies…”

Monday, August 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

I survived the firm golf day and the Iowa sales tax holiday.  Now back to work.

 

20131206-1Howard Gleckman, A New Way to Invest for Old Age, But How Many Will Buy? (TaxVox).

A few weeks ago, with absolutely no fanfare, the Treasury Department announced what could be a major change in the way we save for retirement. It will now permit people to shift a portion of their 401(k)s or IRAs into a deferred annuity that provides a guaranteed stream of income once you reach old age.

The idea has the potential to fix several flaws in today’s defined contribution retirement plans and it could make it easier for many older Americans to pay for long-term care. But it raises two huge questions: Will consumers understand these complex products, and will insurance companies bother to sell them to a mass market?

It’s an interesting experiment.  There seems to be a belief that taxpayers are dying for a return to the 1950s style defined benefit pension plan, and this provides a way to sort of get there.  Insurance companies can certainly find a way to profit from such products, as deferred annuities are a big business.

But the same arguments that financial advisors often make against commercial deferred annuities likely apply here — you get more security, but only at the cost of cutting your insurance company in on your retirement income.  It remains to be seen whether many people will accept that trade-off.

 

Wind turbineWilliam McBride, Oil and Gas Subsidies or Sensible Cost Recovery? (Tax Policy Blog). Supporters of the mandates and massive subsidies or mandates for ethanol, wind and solar power sometimes say they would give up their subsidies happily if the oil industry gives up its own subsidies.  They rarely identify any actual subsidies.  Mr. McBride exposes the weakness of the renewable fans’ arguments (my emphasis):

However, a new report from Taxpayers for Common Sense seems to suggest it’s all the result of “tax subsidies” that allow oil and gas companies to immediately deduct their investment costs. Titled “Effective Tax Rates of Oil and Gas Companies: Cashing in on Special Treatment”, the report finds that the effective federal corporate tax rate for oil and gas companies is 24 percent on average, “considerably less than the statutory rate of 35 percent, thanks to the convoluted system of tax provisions allowing them to avoid and defer federal income taxes.”

First, there is nothing special about a 24 percent effective tax rate. The average for all corporations is about 22 percent, according to the IRS, so if anything oil and gas companies pay an above average tax rate.

Second, the particular “tax subsidy” the report refers to is intangible drilling costs, which as they explain merely allows companies to immediately deduct, i.e. expense, the costs of drilling. That is not a subsidy, it is the proper treatment of a real and legitimate business cost. The corporate tax is a profit tax, and profit equals revenue minus costs. Labor costs are fully and immediately deductible, so why not other costs?

Taxpayers for Common Sense would prefer these companies delay drilling cost deductions for years and years, because otherwise “these companies are financing significant parts of their business with interest-free loans from U.S. taxpayers.” No, in fact it is the government that is getting interest-free loans from businesses by requiring them to delay deductions for legitimate business costs. 

This “subsidy” — a deduction for a business expense, like every other business gets (and rightly so) — pales compared to the requirement that oil companies sell ethanol,  regardless of whether their customers demand it.  It sure doesn’t compare to the actual government checks that are issued to producers of biofuels and wind power.  The renewables industry would be much smaller if it had to play on the “level playing field” it claims to want.

 

Jason Dinesen, Taxpayer Advocate Says IRS Issues Too Many FAQs.  “But the overall point is, things like FAQs and news releases are  no substitute for coherent, authoritative guidance.”

Kay Bell, States see electronic cigarettes as a new tax source.  Surprise, surprise.

Peter Reilly, State Fails To Force Electronic Payments On Taxpayer With Hacking Concerns  “Taxpayer refused to pay electronically because if the Pentagon can be hacked, so can Revenue Department. Court voided penalty.”

Keith Fogg, IRS Treatment of Penalties Following a Substitute for Return (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert D. Flach has some QUESTIONS ABOUT TAX REFORM

 

taxanalystslogoDavid Brunori, Tax Analysts ($link)

Companies invert because the stupid tax laws provide an incentive to do so. A company’s decision to invert is no different from an individual’s decision to live in a state without an income tax or to buy a house rather than rent to take advantage of a tax break. Yet there are people who actually make the moral and patriotic arguments against inversions. The “it may be legal but that doesn’t make it right” argument is laughable. The patriotic argument — usually made by people who had better things to do than serve their country — is even more laughable. People and companies engage in tax planning because they want to keep more of their money. Invoking the Good Book or channeling Nathan Hale won’t change that.

When they play the “patriotism” card first, they don’t have a good hand.

 

Ajay Gupta, Closed Mind on Open Borders (Tax Analysts Blog):

There is, however, one unquestionable benefit that is properly attributable to an inversion—liberation of cash trapped offshore in controlled foreign corporations. Post-inversion, that money can be moved from a CFC to the new foreign parent, which can then put it to virtually any use, including buying back stock or making other investments in the U.S., without U.S. tax consequences. But for the inversion, any such onshore expenditures would have constituted taxable repatriations.

If you think it’s somehow unpatriotic to use legal means to reduce taxes, I hope you don’t take a $500 charitable deduction for all those clothes you thew away, I mean gave to Goodwill.

 

20140506-1 TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 452

Jack Townsend, Article on British Deal with Swiss to Flush Out Evades and Lost Revenue — Not So Good 

 

You say that like it’s a bad thing.  On Highway Bill, Congress Moves to the Right of Grover Norquist  (Steve Warnhoff, Tax Justice Blog)

Government spending has been cut to the bone.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/30/14: Iowa Illustrated! And: an unhappy take on IRS offshore account enforcement.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

iowa-illustrated_Page_01Iowa’s tax system in pictures.  The Tax Foundation yesterday posted “Iowa Illustrated: A Visual Guide to Taxes & the Economy.”  It is a valuable and sobering introduction into Iowa tax policy.  Anybody interested in Iowa’s tax policy mess should start here.

The Tax Foundation summary:

Here are just a few examples of the more than 30 key findings:

  • Iowa relies on federal funding for one-third of its budget
  • Iowa’s sales tax rate has tripled since its creation
  • Iowa’s business taxes rank poorly nationally, and are uncompetitive regionally
  • Iowa has had a net loss of 63,287 people over the last 20 years
  • Effective tax rates in Iowa vary widely across different industries.

By offering a broader perspective of Iowa’s taxes and illustrating some of the lesser-known aspects of Iowa’s business environment, this guide provides the necessary facts for having an honest debate about how to improve the structure of The Hawkeye State’s tax system. 

There’s too much good stuff to summarize, but I will highlight a few items.

This might explain why property tax reform is such a big deal here:

iowa-illustrated_Page_38

 

Raising individual tax rates on “the rich” means taxing employment:

iowa-illustrated_Page_39

 

Despite its highest-in-the-nation corporation tax rate, Iowa’s corporate tax is a sub-par revenue generator:

iowa-illustrated_Page_41

While agriculture is important in Iowa, financial services are a bigger industry:

iowa-illustrated_Page_13

Iowa has a diverse economy, but our tax system still parties like it’s 1983:

iowa-illustrated_Page_40

A lot of the tax receipts go out the back door to the well-connected via tax credits:

iowa-illustrated_Page_42

It’s hard to make a case for the current Iowa tax system.  Maybe the legislature will finally be ready to do something about it next session.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would be a great place to start.

 

Now to our regular programming:

 

20130419-1Jack TownsendTime for an IRS Ass Kicking? Herein of Lack of Honor and a Dumb Decision in OVDI/P and Streamlined:

So, one could ask, why wouldn’t it be an easy decision for the IRS to let taxpayers in OVDI/P who had not yet signed a Form 906 to proceed fully under Streamlined.  Well, it appears, that the IRS wanted to keep all of the income tax, penalties and interest for closed income tax years and penalties for open years that it was not entitled to, while giving a partial benefit of the Streamlined program (the 5% penalty applied to innocents, many of whom should owe no penalty).  Basically, the IRS wanted something that it was not entitled to. 

Bad faith seems to be a part of the IRS culture in dealing with offshore issues.

 

Peter Reilly, Retailer Can Only Deduct Perks When Redeemed  “I suspect that the accrual is probably not what makes or breaks these programs.”

Jim Maule continued his “Tax Myths” series while I was away.   I like his “The Internal Revenue Code Fills 70,000 Pages” post.

 

David Brunori, Lawyers Whining About Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

For the record, I don’t like taxes. But if you’re going to have a government, you should pay for it the right way. Sales tax should be paid by consumers on all their purchases. Business inputs should never be subject to sales tax. Everyone who has ever studied or even thought about consumption taxes knows that. So it makes sense that legal services should be taxed. Lawyers don’t like that because, well, people might use less of their services. That would be a tragedy beyond comprehension.

Not that I’m in a hurry to charge sales taxes to my individual clients, but David is right on the policy.

 

20140730-1Howard Gleckman, Are Tax Inversions Really Unpatriotic? (TaxVox)  “Selling war material to an enemy or financing a terrorist organization is unpatriotic—and illegal. Using legal avoidance strategies to reduce taxes may be distasteful or unseemly, but it is not unpatriotic.”

Kay Bell, Defense Department workers, some with top security clearance, owed $730 million in back federal taxes.  So tell me again about corporate tax “deserters.”

 

Annette Nellen, IRS Voluntary Preparer Regulation System – Worthwhile? Legal?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 447

 

Because Hollywood needs more taxpayer money!  29 Members of Congress Ask California to Boost Film Tax Credits (Joseph Henchman, Tax Policy Blog).  In a just world, this would automatically cost all 29 of these critters their seats.

 

Rebecca Wilkins, Stop the Bleeding from Inversions before the Corporate Tax Dies (Tax Justice Blog).  Darn, I’ll have to stroll into town for a Band-aid.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/10/14: The sordid history of temporary tax provisions. And: NOLA mayor wins 10-year term!

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

taxanalystslogoLindsey McPherson of Tax Analysts has a great, but unfortunately gated, article today, “Things to Know About the Tax Extenders’ History” ($link) Update: Tax Analysts has ungated the article, so read it all here for free! ( It details four points:

1. Two-Year Retroactive Extensions Are Often Passed Late in Election Years

2. Extenders Are Often Attached to Larger Bills

3. Congress Has Never Fully Offset Extenders Legislation

4. Most Extenders Have Been Renewed at Least 3 Times

What does “most” mean? “Of the 55 expired provisions that are the focus of the current debate, 39 have been around since 2008 or longer and thus have been extended at least three times…”

This implies that Congress has no intention of letting the extenders expire.  It only passes them temporarily to hide their real cost, because Congressional funky accounting doesn’t treat them as permanent.  It also requires lobbyists to come to fund-raising golf outings every year to ensure that they get their pet provisions extended.  Honest accounting would at least treat any provision extended twice as permanent, but accounting you and I would do time for is business as usual on the Hill.

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 427.  It has this interesting bit, from the New York Times, Republicans Say Ex-I.R.S. Official May Have Circumvented Email:

Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service official at the center of an investigation into the agency’s treatment of conservative political groups, may have used an internal instant-messaging system instead of email so that her communications could not be retrieved by investigators, Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.

But the crashed hard drive epidemic is perfectly normal, isn’t it, Commissioner Koskinen?

 

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday(?): The IRS Finally Figures Out The Real Estate Professional Rules.  Tony covers the IRS walk-back from its untenable position on the amount of participation required to be a “real estate professional.”  My coverage is here.

Paul Neiffer, Watch Out for Spousal Inherited IRAs.  “Spouses who inherited IRAs have a couple of elections available to them that non-spouses do not have.  However, care must be taken to make sure that the 10% early withdrawal penalty does not apply when distributions are finally taken.”

Kay Bell, Home sales provide most owners a major tax break

 

 

Accounting Today, IRS Loses Billions on Erroneous Amended Tax Returns.  A report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration faults IRS procedures to review amended returns.

 

Cara Griffith, The Criminal Side of Sales Tax Compliance (Tax Analysts Blog):

Imagine this scenario: In the middle of an acquisition deal, the due diligence review of a company being acquired reveals that the company has underremitted its sales tax liability. The deal is never finalized because of the problem. The company approaches its tax adviser with the news that it failed to remit some of the sales tax it collected and asks for advice. On hearing that, most state and local tax practitioners would cringe. It doesn’t matter why the company failed to remit the sales tax it collected from customers — the company is in serious trouble and could face both civil collection penalties and criminal prosecution.

You have to be special to legally keep sales tax you collect.

 

20140505-1Len Burman, “Pension Smoothing” is a Sham (TaxVox):

In a nutshell, here’s what it does: Companies can postpone contributions to their pension funds. This means that their tax deductions for pension contributions are lower now, but the actual pension obligations don’t change, so contributions later will have to be higher—by the same amount plus interest. In present value terms (that is, accounting for interest costs), this raises exactly zero revenue over the long run. 

More of that Congressional accounting.

 

Jack Townsend, Interesting Article from the Swiss Bankers Side.

Leslie Book, Recent Tax Court Case Shows Challenges Administering Civil Penalties and the EITC Ban (Procedurally Taxing)

Overnight, if you leave the cap off.  When Will the Soda Tax Go Flat? (Joseph Thorndike, Tax Analysts Blog)

Scott Eastman, $21,000 Tax Bill Just for Some Potato Salad (Tax Policy Bl0g).  I’ve had potato salad that should have been charged more than that.

Adrienne Gonzalez, Tax Superhero and George Michael Among Those Caught Using Tax Shelter in the UK.  This is a different type of shelter than the one that caused Mr. Michael’s prior legal troubles.

 

When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.  From the Washington Post,  Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin sentenced to 10 years in prison:

“I’m not in it for the money,” Nagin said after he was elected to the first of two terms in 2002.

Mayor Nagin was convicted on 20 charges, including four charges of filing false tax returns.  Mayor Nagin’s indictment tells a story of pervasive fraud involving kickbacks and bribes for city business, and third-party payment of limo rides and private jet services.  But he did a heck of a job with Hurricane Katrina.

20140710-1

One interesting thing about the Post piece: it never mentions that Mayor Nagin is a member of a political party.  Unusual, for a politician.  Someone should look into that.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/8/14: Not in Kansas Anymore edition. And: the latest on bonus depreciation for 2014.

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140409-1What’s the matter with Kansas?  Economist Scott Sumner looks at the controversy over the recent Kansas tax reforms:

The past two years Kansas reduced its state income tax rates. As a result, the top rate of income tax faced by Kansas residents (combined state and federal) rose from 41.45% in 2012 to 48.3% in 2013 and then fell a tad to 48.2% in 2014 (if they don’t itemize.) That’s a pretty tiny drop in the top marginal tax rate in 2014, and a much bigger rise in 2013.


I can’t imagine any serious economist predicting that the Kansas rate cut would boost Kansas GDP by 25% or more. Why did I pick that figure? Because the Kansas state income tax top rate fell from 6.45% in 2012 to 4.8% in 2014, which is roughly a 25% rate cut. In order for that rate cut to boost Kansas tax revenues, you’d have to see Kansas GDP rise by more than 25%. That’s obviously absurd.

The Sumner post is there to refute a straw-man argument made by tax fans:

“Why am I even discussing such crazy ideas? Because Paul Krugman seems to want to convince his readers that lots of supply-siders believe such nonsense…”

Actually, supply-siders do not claim that tax cuts pay for themselves, except in very unusual cases. Kansas is not one of those cases. The Laffer curve effect is typically applied to cases of extremely high marginal tax rates.

kansas flagI have long pushed for a combination of rate cuts for Iowa, combined with comprehensive elimination of deductions and cronyist tax credits.  That would keep the state budget from getting clobbered, while making the tax system much easier and cheaper to run and to comply with.  Kansas couldn’t let go of the loopholes, and in fact added new ones.  Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation discusses the Kansas tax changes in Governing.com (my emphasis):

Good tax reform broadens the tax base and lowers rates. That’s what Gov. Brownback wanted to do. But the legislature took out the “broaden-the-base” part. They just passed a tax cut, which can be justifiable if you want to reduce the size of government or expect other revenue sources to go up. But they didn’t cut spending and they don’t expect revenue to grow, so it’s just a hole. With the exemption for pass-through entities, if you’re a wage earner, you’re taxed at the top rate, which is currently 4.9 percent in Kansas. If you’re a partnership, an LLC or any form of recognized business entity with limited liability that’s not a corporation, your income is taxed at zero percent. That’s an incentive to game the tax system without doing anything productive for the economy. They think things like the pass-through exemption will encourage small business, and to be fair, it might. But they are doing it in a way that violates the tax principle of neutrality.

So what would happen if my Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan were enacted in Iowa?  My plan would eliminate corporation taxation and allow S corporation owners to elect to be taxed on distributions, rather than on pass-through income.  Properly structured, it wouldn’t hurt Iowa’s tax revenue, as the rate cuts would be offset by fewer deductions and elimination of tax credit giveaways.  I like to think that without a corporation tax and without a culture of begging for tax credits, Iowa would over time do well, considering that its regulatory and labor environment is already business-friendly.  But I don’t expect miracles, and I would not want the rate cuts to be so deep as to depend on a short-term economic boom to keep the state solvent.

 

20130113-3Richard Borean, House to Consider Bonus Depreciation (Tax Policy Blog). “It turns out that  adding permanent bonus expensing to the Camp Plan would boost GDP, wages, job creation, and federal revenue.”

Bonus depreciation is one of the many perpetually-expiring provisions that get renewed every year or two, after enough lobbyists make their offerings to the congressional fundraising idols.  The congresscritters love enacting proposals temporarily because that way they don’t appear to cost as much as officially-permanent provisions, and because it makes the lobbyists come and visit them regularly to get yet another extender bill passed.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Camp is calling out this game by trying to get some of these provisions extended permanently, officially.  He notes that they really are permanent, and that pretending that they are temporary isn’t fooling anybody.  His opposition in the Senate wants to keep pretending the provisions are temporary, and that the honest step of treating them as permanent is “budget busting.”

None of this helps businesses pricing investment decisions for 2014.  Anyone buying equipment has to guess at the deduction schedule in order to forecast cash flows from the purchase.  Unfortunately, nothing is likely to happen until after the November elections, when a temporary retroactive extension is likely to pass — but might not.

 

Trish McIntire discusses The New Voluntary Tax Preparer Program.  “I’m interested in seeing the numbers of the Filing Season Program come January 2015. Honestly, I don’t think they are going to be as high as the IRS hopes.”

Roberton Williams, IRS Help Line Is Out Of Service (TaxVox) “I needed to double-check an issue concerning withdrawals from my nonagenarian father’s IRA. IRS Publication 590 wasn’t clear so I decided to call the IRS. The experience was illuminating. Not helpful mind you, but illuminating.”

William Perez, What’s Form W-9?  “Independent contractors and other people who work for themselves will often need to give a Form W-9 to their clients. Clients will then use the information on Form W-9 to prepare Form 1099-MISC to report income paid to the independent contractor.”

Jim Maule continues his Tax Myths series with “I’m Getting a Refund and Not Paying Tax.”  He notes “Whether a person has a tax liability cannot be determined simply from the existence of a refund.”

Kay Bell assigns 5 easy tax tasks to take care of in July.

 

20140708-1Brian Mahany, Are FBAR Penalties Unconstitutional? In Many Cases Yes.  “It’s one thing to assess a 50% or 75% penalty but when penalties exceed the total tax owed by a multiple of 50 times like in the Warner case, we believe the penalties are clearly unconstitutional.”

Martin Sullivan, Will States Get a Multibillion-Dollar Windfall From Corporate Tax Reform? (Tax Analysts Blog).  Only if there is actually corporate tax reform.

TaxGrrrl, The Real Cost Of Summer Vacation: Don’t Get Buried In Taxes

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for 6/27/14. (Procedurally Taxing)  Don’t let the date fool you, this roundup of tax procedure news was posted yesterday.

Peter Reilly, City Taxes Trip Up Investment Advisor Restructuring.  Beware New York City.

Jack Townsend, Convicted Politician Did Not Lay a Proper Foundation For Proferred Indirect Testimony of Lack of Intent.  “How does a defendant unwilling to testify as to his intent — thus invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege — introduce indirect evidence of his lack of intent to blunt the Government’s indirect proof of his intent?”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 425

 

Robert D. Flach brings the Tuesday Buzz.  I like this:

Item #10 on the new IRS-issued Taxpayer Bill of Rights is “The Right to a Fair and Just Tax system”.

In order to assure this right to taxpayers the Tax Code would need to be totally rewritten and all current members of Congress would have to be replaced by competent and intelligent legislators who actually give a damn about the American public.

It’s right as far as it goes, but some members of the executive branch would also need to go, starting with the Commissioner.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/7/14: IRS stands down on imaginary 750-hour rule for real estate pros. And: the real IRS budget problem.

Monday, July 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

No Walnut STA newly-released memo indicates that the IRS will no longer hold real estate professionals to an illegal standard in determining passive losses.  

ILM 201427016 addresses how the “750-hour test” of Section 469 applies when you have multiple real estate activities.  Under the passive loss rules of Section 469, rental real estate losses are normally passive; that means the losses are normally deductible only to the extent of other passive income, until the activity is sold.

A special rule allows real estate professionals to apply the normal passive loss rules, which are based on time spent in the activity, to rental real estate losses.  To qualify as a real estate pro, you have to meet two tests:

You have to spend more than 750 hours in the taxable year working in real estate trades or business in which you materially participate, and

You have to spend more time in your real estate activity than in any other kind of activity (this test means that few people with non-real estate day jobs qualify as real estate pros).

In some cases the IRS has applied the 750 test to each activity — making it almost impossible for many taxpayers to qualify, absent an election to treat all rental real estate activities as a single activity under Reg. Sec. 1.469-9(g).  The Tax Court issues a couple opinions that seemed to agree — opinions that I insisted were wrong.

Now the IRS seems to have come around.  From the new IRS memo (my emphasis):

Therefore, whether a taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer within the meaning of section 469(c)(7)(B) and Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(b)(6) depends upon the rules for determining a taxpayer’s real property trades or businesses under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(d), and is not affected by an election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g). Instead, the election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g) is relevant only after the determination of whether the taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer. However, some court opinions, while reaching the correct result, contain language which may be read to suggest that the election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g) affects the determination of whether a taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer. See, for example, Jafarpour v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2012-165, and Hassanipour v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2013-88. However, other court opinions recognize that the election under Treas. Reg. § 1.469-9(g) is not relevant to the determination of whether a taxpayer is a qualifying taxpayer. See, for example, Trask v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2010-78. 

One hopes the IRS will no longer raise this false issue on examination.

Related: Did the Tax Court just abandon the ‘750 hours for every rental activity’ test?

 

20130426-1Paul Neiffer, IRS Modifies Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP).  “I have personally worked with clients that were involved in the old voluntary disclosure program and I can tell you it is not a pleasant experience.”

Jack Townsend, Rumors on the Workings of Streamlined Programs (Including Transitioning in OVDP).  Reading this, it sounds more like a diabolical bureaucratic torture than a serious attempt to bring the non-compliant into the system.

 

Robert D. Flach, A RANDOM THOUGHT ABOUT THE NEW VOLUNTARY AFSC PROGRAM.  A pithy lesson on the difference between qualifications and credentials.

 

Jason Dinesen, Life After DOMA: A History of Marriage in the Tax Code 

Keith Fogg, When and Where to Make Your Arguments (Procedurally Taxing).  In tax controversies, making the right argument does no good unless you make it at the right time.

 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 424.   The New York Times thinks the real scandal is that GOP appropriators won’t give the IRS more money to use against them.

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.

Scott Hodge, The IRS Needs Tax Reform Not a Bigger Budget:

The relentless growth of credits and deduction in the code over the past 20 years had made the IRS a super-agency, engaged in policies ranging from delivering welfare benefits to subsidizing the manufacture of energy efficient refrigerators.

I would argue that were we starting from scratch, these are not the functions we would want a tax collection agency to perform. Tax reform would return the IRS to its core function—simply collecting revenues to fund the basic operations of government.

Amen.  I’ve said much the same thing: “Every year Congress gives the IRS more to do.  It has become a sprawling superagency administering programs from industrial policy (R&D credits, export subsidies, manufacturing subsidies) to historic preservation, housing policy to healthcare.”

If Congress stopped using the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy, the current IRS budget would be plenty.

 

20120503-1Christopher Bergin, What’s Behind the Brain Drain at the IRS?  (Tax Analsyts Blog):

So what’s going on? Is this an internal war at the tax agency, specifically in LB&I – a power struggle, if you will? Or is it the more predictable result of competent IRS leaders, who could easily make more money in the private sector, deciding to escape an agency that is being treated like a political piñata? Or is this the new IRS commissioner cleaning house? For me, the latter is the least likely.

Yeah, the new Commissioner is more into closing the blinds to the house so we don’t see the mess, rather than cleaning it up.

 

TaxGrrrl, European Commission Broadens Tax Inquiries To Include Amazon: Google, Microsoft & McDonald’s May Follow   

Renu Zaretsky, Congress Is Back with Much To Do and Consider (TaxVox).  Today’s tax headline roundup covers this week’s Congressional agenda, inadequate retirement savings, and the EU’s efforts to crack down on multinationals.

 

Russ Fox, Pop Goes the Tax Fraud  A rapper, a Canadian, and a football player walk into before the bar…

The 70th anniversary of a red letter day for my Dad.  July 5, 1944.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/1/14: Where the IRS budget really goes. And: IRS ends automatic expiration of foreign tax ID numbers.

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Dang.  “We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can ‘opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.'” — from the majority opinion in yesterday’s Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision.

Had they allowed a religious exception to the tax law, all the world religions would quickly develop wildly-popular sects with a doctrinal allergy to tax, and, well,  lots of things.

 

Instapundit links to this chart where it looks like IRS spending is out of control

IRS total 20140701 cato

And I think it is — but not in the obvious way.  The Cato Institute, source of the first chart, also provides this:

IRS budget cato 20140701

It shows that almost all of the massive increase in IRS spending is from refundable credits, which are counted as part of IRS spending in the first chart.  But money given away through the Earned Income Tax Credit is not available for auditing taxpayers or buying additional backup tapes.

That, of course, doesn’t excuse the IRS malfeasance in the Tea Party scandal.  It does show that even as Congress has piled more responsibilities on the IRS — especially via Obamacare — it hasn’t provided additional resources.  Now that one party has seen that the IRS has been acting institutionally as its opposition, the agency is unlikely to get significant new resources as long as that party controls one house of Congress — even less so if the GOP takes the Senate, too.

Meanwhile, rather than trying to conciliate and reassure Congressional Republicans, Commissioner Koskinen has been defiant and tone-deaf in his response to the Tea Party and email erasure scandals.  The results for tax administration will not be good.

 

Jeremy Scott, IRS Strategic Plan Highlights Effects of Budget Cuts (Tax Anlaysts Blog):

A crippled tax collector means a damaged tax system. And a damaged tax system only hurts taxpayers and the federal government as a whole. Congress should focus more on punishing those responsible for the various missteps at the IRS and less on gutting the nation’s revenue collection and tax administration system as a whole.

That will require the IRS as a whole to stop acting like a partisan agency.

 

20130419-1IRS does something very sensible.  Credit where credit is due:  the IRS has decided to no longer make non-resident aliens renew their tax ID numbers every five years.   From IR-2014-76:

Under the new policy:

  • An ITIN will expire for any taxpayer who fails to file a federal income tax return for five consecutive tax years.
  • Any ITIN will remain in effect as long as a taxpayer continues to file U.S. tax returns. This includes ITINs issued after Jan. 1, 2013. These taxpayers will no longer face mandatory expiration of their ITINs and the need to reapply starting in 2018, as was the case under the old policy.
  • To ease the burden on taxpayers and give their representatives and other stakeholders time to adjust, the IRS will not begin deactivating unused ITINs until 2016. This grace period will allow anyone with a valid ITIN, regardless of when it was issued, to still file a valid return during the upcoming tax-filing season.
  • A taxpayer whose ITIN has been deactivated and needs to file a U.S. return can reapply using Form W-7. As with any ITIN application, original documents, such as passports, or copies of documents certified by the issuing agency must be submitted with the form.

Very welcome, and long overdue.  Obtaining an ITIN is an inconvenient and burdensome process, involving either mailing passports or national ID cards to the IRS — and trusting them to return the documents — or making the often long trip to a U.S. consulate to apply in person.  For foreign residents with long-term U.S. financial interests, the requirement to renew ITINs every five years was a gratuitous and expensive burden.

(Hat tip: Kristy Maitre).

 

BitcoinRobert Wood, What IRS Calls ‘Willful’ May Surprise You–And Mean Penalties, Even Jail.  The lingering IRS threat to impose fines for “willful” FBAR noncompliance for small amounts is unwise; it seems that they are more concerned with missing a few lawbreakers than in bringing foot-fault violators into compliance.

Jack Townsend, Good Article on the Non-Willfulness Certification for Streamlined and Related Issues

TaxGrrrl, IRS Says Bitcoin Not Reportable On FBAR (For Now)   

 

Paul Neiffer, IRS Releases Final Regulations on ACA Small-Business Tax Credit

Robert D. Flach starts out July with a Buzz!

Kay Bell, Supreme Court finds contraceptive tax costs ‘substantially burdensome’ in its ruling for Hobby Lobby stores

 

 

Martin Sullivan, States Should Cede Some Taxing Power to the Feds (Tax Analysts Bl0g):

Given that states’ corporate taxes are here to stay, we should consider making them as painless and low-cost to businesses as possible. One way to do that is for Congress to exercise its authority under the commerce clause of the Constitution and require states to entirely piggyback their corporate taxes on the federal system.

Canada does this, and it does help, but getting rid of state corporate income taxes would help much more.

Liz Emmanuel, Millionaires’ Tax Clears New Jersey Legislature, Faces Likely Veto (Tax Policy Blog)

Renu Zaretsky,The Tax Man Cometh, But Sometimes Collects Less.  The TaxVox headline roundup covers the formal effective date of FATCA (today), Kansas budget woes, and a link to an interactive tool to track state budgets.

 

Russ Fox, IRS Didn’t Tell a Court About the Missing Lerner Emails

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 418

 

20140508-1I wouldn’t try asking one this question.  What Type of Fruit is a Polar Bear? Petaluma and Interpretive Choice (Andy Grewal, Procedurally Taxing)

Career Corner.  How to Create a CPA Exam Study Schedule That Guarantees Failure (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

News from the Profession.  San Diego CPA convicted in elaborate tax evasion scheme:

A federal jury deliberated for 30 minutes before finding Lloyd Irving Taylor, 71, guilty of all 19 counts against him, including aggravated identity theft, making false statements to a financial institution, evading taxes, corruptly impeding the Internal Revenue Service and making false statements on U.S. passport applications.

According to evidence presented at trial, Taylor, who has been in custody since April 2013, stole the identities of deceased minors, used them as aliases and obtained fraudulent passports and other identification papers.

Oh, that’s illegal?

According to witnesses who testified, Taylor failed to report $5 million in income during the span of the fraud and owed the IRS about $1.6 million. During his 42 years of working, Taylor had filed a total of seven tax returns, according to trial testimony.

That’s one every six years.  It took awhile, but the IRS eventually notices something was amiss.

At a bond hearing last year, a judge ordered Taylor detained pending trial based on a number of factors, including his international travel on his false passports, the millions of dollars he controlled through dozens of bank accounts and his numerous false statements to banks.

I suppose the man felt invincible, given how long he apparently went without drawing IRS attention.  Eventually that comes around, though he had quite a 42-year run.  But he did get caught, possibly because of better computer matching and more comprehensive bank reporting.  Don’t count on stringing the IRS out for 42 years yourself.

 

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Tax Roundup, June 30, 2014: FBAR due date edition. And: links from all over.

Monday, June 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130426-1Remember, today is the deadline for electronically-filing Form 114, the “FBAR” disclosure of foreign financial accounts totalling over $10,000 at any time during 2013.  The penalties for failure to file are ferocious — up to 50% of the account balance.

 

Roger McEowen, Valuing Minority Interests in Closely-Held Businesses – The Business Judgment Rule, Fiduciary Duties and Reasonable Expections. ” Clearly, the decisions point out that a well-drafted buy-sell agreement can go far in protecting the rights of minority shareholders in closely-held corporations.”

Laura Saunders, The Hazards of Offshore-Account Disclosure: Here’s What Taxpayers Need to Consider Before They Confess (Via the TaxProf).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 417

Noah Rothman, ‘Phony scandals’ and an election year ‘demon’: Lois Lerner’s unconvincing defenders (Hot Air).

The Hill, IRS staredown not going away.

 

Elaine Maag, Misguided Expansion of the Child Tax Credit (TaxVox).  The Maag version, with phaseouts at higher incomes and their accompanying poverty-trap high marginal tax rates, would be worse.

Kay Bell, Congress wants to consolidate the many education tax breaks

Jack Townsend, Sentencing Tales Told in Spreadsheet. “I offer today three spreadsheets offered in two sentencing proceedings from prominent convictions of Beanie Babies founder, Ty Warner, and of lawyer/tax shelter promoter, Paul Daugerdas.”

20130530-2Cara Griffith, Live Free and Be Censored: What’s New Hampshire Hiding? ($link).  A disturbing case of the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration trying to control the content of a blog covering New Hampshire taxes.  From the article:

The New Hampshire DRA has crossed the line into tyranny by attempting to suppress information regarding how it administers the state’s tax system. The tax community shouldn’t stand by while the DRA shrouds itself in secrecy and threatens to punish those who exercise their First Amendment rights.

It looks like the Free State Project has some work to do.

 

Jordan Yohiro, Business Tax Incentives in Nebraska: Is There a Better Way? (Tax Policy Blog)  Hmm.  How about a low-rate, simple system that is easy for everyone to understand and inexpensive to obey?

 

20140411-1Robert D. Flach takes to the pixels of Accounting Today to explain why There Are So Many Things Wrong with the Annual Filing Season Program.  “The announcement of the “Annual Filing Season Program” is a clear indication that the IRS should not be the organization to offer and maintain a voluntary tax preparer designation.”

 

Well, that’s a relief.  Marion Barry Doesn’t Want To Tax Your Yogurt  (TaxGrrl)  ” The question posed to Barry was about a proposed tax on yoga.”

News from the Profession.  Retire From EY, Receive a Free Scrapbook of Career Highlights (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/27/14: IRS tries preparer regulation through the back door. And: why was Lerner at IRS?

Friday, June 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130121-2IRS tries “voluntary” end run around the law.  The IRS yesterday announced that it doesn’t need no stinking law (IR-2014-75):

The Annual Filing Season Program will allow unenrolled return preparers to obtain a record of completion when they voluntarily complete a required amount of continuing education (CE), including a course in basic tax filing issues and updates, ethics and other federal tax law courses.

“This voluntary program will be a step to help protect taxpayers during the 2015 filing season,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “About 60 percent of tax return preparers operate without any type of oversight or education requirements. Our program will give unenrolled return preparers a way to stay to up-to-date on tax laws and changes, which we believe will improve service to taxpayers.”

Tax return preparers who elect to participate in the program and receive a record of completion from the IRS will be included in a database on IRS.gov that will be available by January 2015 to help taxpayers determine return preparer qualifications.

The database will also contain information about practitioners with recognized credentials and higher levels of qualification and practice rights. These include attorneys, certified public accountants (CPAs), enrolled agents, enrolled retirement plan agents (ERPAs) and enrolled actuaries who are registered with the IRS.

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

So the Commissioner is keeping a little list of his friends.  And if you aren’t on his list of friends, you are on his list of not-friends.  It’s obvious what is going on here.  Through PR and subtle or non-so-subtle IRS preference for those on the Friends List, they will make life unpleasant for the non-friends, encouraging them to submit to “voluntary” CPE, testing, and ultimately, IRS control.  The IRS is trying to achieve its preparer regulation, ruled illegal by the courts, through other means.  This eagerness to take on a new program that nobody wants must mean the IRS is adequately funded, and its cries for more resources can safely be ignored.

Other coverage:

IRS Offers Voluntary Tax Preparer Education Program (Accounting Today)

Adrienne Gonzalez, IRS Goes Ahead With Voluntary Tax Preparer Program Despite AICPA Objection (Going Concern)

Leslie Book, IRS Announces Voluntary Education Program For Return Preparers (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert D. Flach, IT’S JUST STUPID  “This program will do little to ‘encourage education and filing season readiness’. ”

 

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Why did Lois Lerner work at the IRS?

This question came to mind in discussing the Lerner emails with a reader, who noted how a Politico piece about the Grassley email chain revealed this week pointed out this high-level IRS leader’s evident lack of tax skills:

Former ex-IRS tax exempt division chief Marcus Owens said the email chain shows Lerner knew very little about tax law, as there would have been nothing wrong with Grassley and his wife attending such an event, so long as the income was reported.

“It is nothing that rises to the level of referral for examination,” Owens said.

It is a mystery.  Her Wikipedia biography shows that she was a cum laude graduate of Northeastern University and the Western New England College of Law.  She worked as a high-level attorney at the Federal Election Commission, but moved to IRS as “Director Rulings and Agreements” in the exempt organizations branch of the IRS.  She rose to Director of Exempt Organizations in 2006.

Her resume, then, is that of a bureaucrat, rather than a tax practitioner or specialist.  She apparently never practiced tax law before moving into her important policy position — important in the tax world, anyway.

This sort of thing may be common in the federal bureaucracy.  It’s likely that she got a raise for the move, or something.  But it seems that while you could take the girl out of the FEC, you couldn’t take the FEC out of the girl.  She took it upon herself to monitor the electoral process with the tools of the tax law.

Megan McArdle explains why that was a bad idea:

This exchange suggests that Lois Lerner not only didn’t have a good, basic grasp of the tax law she was supposed to be administering, but also viewed her job as an extension of her work at the Federal Election Commission.

That’s not what the IRS is for. The IRS is not given power over nonprofit status in order to root out electoral corruption or the appearance of it. It is given power over nonprofit status in order to make sure that the Treasury gets all the revenue to which it’s entitled

Unfortunately, politicians see the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy, and it’s unsurprising that an IRS bureaucrat would see it the same way.

Moreover, Lerner’s overbroad instincts also seemed to kick into high gear when Republican politicians were involved. Of course, such reports might well be survivor bias — Republicans are complaining about Lerner, while Democrats who also had run-ins with her may be keeping quiet for fear of fueling the fire. At this point, however, the fire is burning merrily on its own. If Democrats who encountered Lerner’s overzealous use of her powers are out there, they’d do well to come forward and tell their stories to reassure Americans that even if her actions were overbroad, they weren’t broadly partisan.

They would have emerged by now.  The stats, as we noted yesterday, demonstrate one-sided enforcement.

It’s unlikely that Ms. Lerner came to the IRS with the idea of using her position to harass the opposition.  She just happened to be in a position to do so when applications from groups she didn’t like — perhaps that she even saw as dangerous and wrong — came across her desk.  It’s possible that she did it entirely on her own.  And that’s the scariest thing — a bureaucracy that moves on its own to squash ungoodthinkers is much more dangerous than a top-down conspiracy.  It may be hard to replace an administration, but it’s almost impossible to replace a bureaucracy.

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, The IRS Has Been Set Up (Tax Analysts Blog):

I don’t know if the IRS has been politicized. Until recently that possibility would have been unthinkable. But the potential of the 501(c)(4) rules to be a setup for the politicization of the IRS is enormous. You simply can’t have the tax collector refereeing the people who provide it with its budget. 

Christopher calls for the repeal of 501(c)(4).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 414

Johnnie M. Walters, Ex-IRS Chief, Dies at 94 (New York Times):  “Johnnie M. Walters, a commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service under President Richard M. Nixon who left office after refusing to prosecute people on Nixon’s notorious “enemies list,” died on Tuesday at his home in Greenville, S.C. He was 94.”

Funny how nobody is doing that anymore.

 

Jason Dinesen, I Can’t Do Much to Help You Once the Transaction Is Completed.  “The point is: the time to ask for tax advice about something that will generate a massive tax bill is beforehand, not afterwards.”

Russ Fox, FBAR Deadline Is June 30th, but It’s Not a Midnight Deadline.  “My advice is simple: File the FBAR asap–it at all possible by Saturday.”

TaxGrrrl, Kentucky Fried Hoax: What Happens To The Cash?

Peter Reilly, Kuretski – Was Legal Dream Team Really Trying To Help The Taxpayers?

Jack Townsend, False Statements Crime Element of “Knowingly and Willfully” Requires Proving Knowledge that Making False Statement Is Illegal

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

 

This happened in 2008.  It's raining again.

This happened in 2008. It’s raining again.

 

Lyman Stone, Pennsylvania House of Representatives Passes Suspension of Tax Credits (Tax Policy Blog). “Most of these credits amount to narrow carve-outs for favored industries and firms, and thus their elimination would generally be good tax policy as a way to make the tax code more neutral.”

Richard Phillips, Clinton Family Finances Highlight Issues with Taxation of the Wealthy (Tax Justice Blog).

Scott Eastman, Tax Inversions are a Symptom, Corporate Tax Reform is the Cure (Tax Policy Blog).

Howard Gleckman, CRFB’s New Online Budget Simulator (TaxVox).  “Neither Congress nor the White House seem to care much about the budget deficit these days, but if you do, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has created an updated online budget simulator that lets you try to get a handle on fiscal policy.”

 

The new Cavalcade of Risk is up at Worker’s Comp Insider.  Good stuff always at the blog world’s roundup of insurance and risk management — including Hank Stern on a potential diabetes breakthrough.

Oops. U.K. tax system errors mean 3.5 million unexpectedly owe (Kay Bell)

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/26/14: Misdirected e-mail edition. And: 15 years for tax fairy medium Daugerdas.

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

The IRS scandal finally found a way to get the Des Moines Register’s attention.  Lois Lerner of IRS sought audit of Grassley, emails say:

The emails show Lerner mistakenly received an invitation to an event that was meant to go to Grassley, a Republican.

The event organizer apparently offered to pay for Grassley’s wife to attend the event.

Instead of forwarding the invitation to Grassley’s office, Lerner emailed another IRS official to suggest referring the matter for an audit, saying it might be inappropriate for the group to pay for his wife.

“Perhaps we should refer to exam?” Lerner wrote.

It was unclear from the emails whether Lerner was suggesting that Grassley or the group be audited — or both.

Grassley-090507-18363- 0032A reader who relies on the Des Moines Register for news might be puzzled over who Lois Lerner is.  A search of the word “Lerner” on the Register’s website only uncovers two other stories related to her role in the scandal: “Steve King calls for abolishing the IRS on Tax Day” (4/15/14) and “Critics: Progress scant after IRS scandal” (3/27/13).  It appears that today’s article would have been the first time Register readers would have learned anything about the mysterious mass deletion of emails relating to the Tea Party scandal.  A devoted Register fan might have been puzzled as to why this seemingly important news hadn’t been mentioned before.

I think there’s a hint down in the article (my emphasis):

Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS has acknowledged that agents improperly scrutinized applications by tea party and other conservative groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections. Documents show that some liberal groups were singled out, too.

Nobody buys that last sentence.  While a few “liberal” words were on the list of buzzwords to identify political organizations, no liberal outfits had their donor lists illegally released, or had their exemption applications held up indefinitely with demands for ridiculous detail of the organizations — including the content of their prayers.   Here are the stats:

targetingstats

Now maybe the Register will begin to get its readers up to speed.  If not, the Tax Update is available to Register subscribers at no extra charge!

Meanwhile, the IRS will have to explain to senior Senate taxwriter Grassley just why it needs more resources.  That may be slightly awkward.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 413

Russ Fox, Lerner Appears to Have Targeted Iowa Senator Grassley  “Of course, President Obama said earlier this year just that–that there is not even a smidgen of corruption…”

 

tax fairyThe Tax Fairy fails a true believer.  Paul Daugerdas, the Jenkens & Gilchrist attorney who generated over $90 million in fees selling tax shelters, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison yesterday for his troubles.  Bloomberg reports:

The tax shelters at the center of the case were sold from 1994 to 2004 to almost 1,000 people, creating $7 billion in fraudulent tax deductions and more than $1 billion in phony losses for customers, the U.S. said.

It appears unlikely that Mr. Daugerdas will come out ahead on his tax shelter efforts:

Daugerdas was ordered to forfeit $164.7 million and help pay restitution, with other conspirators, of $371 million. 

While he wasn’t the only Tax Fairy guide during the great turn-of-the-century Tax Shelter frenzy, he was perhaps the most prominent, inventing tax shelters with names like HOMER and COBRA.  The shelters found eager customers among businesses and individuals looking for the Tax Fairy, the legendary sprite believers insist will wave her magic wand and make taxes go away, for a very reasonable fee.    Now Jenkens & Gilchrist is dead, the believers are out their money, plus penalties, and there still is no Tax Fairy.

The Tax Analysts story on the sentencing ($link) had one item that I hadn’t seen before:  “The jurors said that Daugerdas was convicted solely on counts for which the government presented evidence of backdating, when Daugerdas agreed to prepare false tax returns that reported as 2001 losses transactions that occurred in 2002, the defense memo says.”  Way back in 2009, I said this could be his biggest problem at trial: Is backdating the fatal flaw for Daugerdas?:

If the government can prove backdating, it might be much easier for a juror to vote for conviction. Tax is hard, and a good defense lawyer has a lot of opportunities to give jurors a reasonable doubt in a case involving short sales, derivatives and currency options. But anybody can understand backdating.

This sort of thing separates “aggressive tax planning” from plain fraud.

Related: 

Department of Justice Press Release

Jack Townsend, Daugerdas Gets 15 Year Sentence

TaxGrrrl, Daugerdas Sentenced To Prison, Ending Biggest Tax Prosecution Ever

This one is probably coincidental, but Jason Dinesen, 138 Years Ago Today: Custer’s Last Stand

 

IMG_0216Robert D. Flach, A SUMMER TAX TIP FOR SCHEDULE C FILERS

William Perez, Single Filing Status.  “A person is considered unmarried for tax related purposes if on the last day of the year the person is not married to any other person or is legally separated from a spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.”

Kay Bell, Kids, summer camp tax breaks and our personal X Games site

Peter Reilly, Facade Easement Valuation Cannot Be Percentage Rule Of Thumb 

Cara Griffith, Ohio Enacts Legislation Allowing Creation of Captive Insurance Companies (Tax Analysts Blog).

The answer is clearly more tax credits.  The New Jersey Casino That Tax Credits Could Not Save  (Adam Michel, Tyler Dennis, Joseph Henchman, Tax Policy Blog)

Renu Zaretsky, Expanding a Credit, Simplifying a Break, and Cutting Off a Nose to Spite a Face.  Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers  IRS funding, student debt, and same-sex marriage complications.

 

 

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