Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Thorndike’

Tax Roundup, 11/12/14: IRAs, IRS, and the Liar’s Paradox. And: mass benefit, class tax.

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Bluto20140910

You trusted us.

The Liar’s Paradox, IRS Version. If somebody says “I am lying,” can he be telling the truth? It’s a puzzler. So are many tax law rules, like the rules governing IRA rollovers.

The tax law does not subject an IRA withdrawal to tax if it is reinvested in an IRA within 60 days. It can only be done once each year. The IRS publication on such “rollovers” said from 1984 though 2013 that the one year restriction applied to each IRA, so a taxpayer with multiple IRAs could make multiple rollovers.

Alvin Bobrow made multiple IRA rollovers in 2008 consistent with this guidance. On examination, the IRS said the once-a-year rule applied per taxpayer, not per IRA, and assessed him tax and penalties.  The Tax Court upheld the assessment and penalties, in spite of the published IRS position. This is a classic example of the unfair, penalty-happy nature of the IRS examination process, too often abetted by the courts.

While manifestly unfair, the IRS long ago won the right to bait-and-switch via its publications. As the Tax Court said years ago, “well established precedent confirms that taxpayers rely on such publications at their peril.”

Even the IRS apparently is a little embarrassed by this. On Monday it issued Announcement 2014-32, saying it would not enforce the position it took in Bobrow for distributions before 2015. That seems fair to other taxpayers, if not to the Bobrows.

But here is where the liars paradox comes in. Announcement 2014-32 is mere “administrative guidance,” just like an IRS publication, and it has no more legal standing. Technically, nothing but a sense of self-restraint keeps the IRS from saying “fooled you!” on examination, just like they did in Bobrow. Does that make anyone else a little nervous?

 

The Tax Foundation has issued a wonderful new publication, A Visual Guide to Business, Taxes, and the Economy. It is full of wonderfully-illustrated insights on the economy and taxes. I love this illustration:

 

Source: Tax Foundation, "Business in America Illustrated"

Source: Tax Foundation, “Business in America Illustrated”

The chart shows that most business income subject to tax is reported on 1040s, not on corporate returns. That means every increase in taxes on high-income individuals is a tax on businesses and a tax on employers — not just on some guy lighting cigars with $100 bills.

 

20131209-1Paul Neiffer, Sheldon Iowa is Cold. It is indeed, at least this week.

Andrew Mitchel, New Rules for Canadian RRSPs & RRIFs

Kay Bell, A question for Congress on Veterans Day: Will the business tax break for hiring returning military members be renewed?

Jason Dinesen, Same-sex Marriage, Amended Tax Returns and Filing Status. “So if you’re in a same-sex marriage and you’re amending a 2011 or 2012 tax return, you can file that amended return as married or keep your filing status as single.”

Peter Reilly, Tax Court Goes To Webster For Definition Of Construction – And Watch That NAICS Code. The courts have been placing an undeserved significance on the business code you put on your tax return.

TaxGrrrl, 14 Ways To Show Your Thanks To Our Military On Veterans Day. “Here are 14 ways to show your thanks to our vets – and some of them come with a nice tax benefit to boot.”

 

20130121-2Good. IRS Power To Regulate Tax Practitioners Slipping Away (Christopher Rezek, Procedurally Taxing). The author appears to think this is somehow a bad thing.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 552

 

Joseph Thorndike, Democrats Getting What They Deserve on Medical Device Tax (Tax Analysts Blog):

If Democrats eventually face a funding crisis for Obamacare, they have only themselves to blame. After all, they should have known better. It was a Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt, who conclusively established that broad spending programs deserve broad taxes.

Precisely. You can’t fund a mass entitlement with a class tax, but that’s exactly what Obamacare tries to do.

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/15/14: Extended return do or die day – tips on timely filing, and why you should do that.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130415-1Friends, it’s deadline day. Extended 1040s are due today for U.S. residents. No second extension is available.

What happens if you don’t file?  Nothing good.  A few of the bad things that can happen:

- If you owe money, you can turn a 1/2% per-month late payment penalty into a 5% per month late-filing penalty.

- If you have an election to make that can only be made on a timely-filed return — for example, an election to defer insurance gains, or to carry forward net operating losses – you lose the chance to make that election forever.

- If your return would include a foreign disclosure, such as a Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets;  a Form 5471, disclosing an interest in a foreign corporation; or a Form 3520 if you have a foreign trust or a gift from a foreign personlate filing can trigger a $10,000 penalty.

- You don’t start the statute of limitations, so the IRS can come after you indefinitely for the tax year.

- Not filing can cause you to lose refunds. If you don’t file, you lose your ability to get a refund of withheld taxes after two years.

Failure to file is habit forming, and it’s a costly habit. Even if you owe and can’t pay, you still should file; you have options when you owe and can’t pay.

e-file logoWith so much on the line, it’s worth a little effort to make sure your last minute return is treated as timely-filed.  E-filing is the best way to ensure timely filing. There’s no worry about lost mail, and you get quick confirmation from the IRS.

If you must paper file, either out of conviction or because you are filing a form that can only be filed on paper, you should send it Certified mail, return receipt requestedGet down to your friendly post office and get the postmark hand stamped. And get there early; they often aren’t so friendly, or willing to hand-stamp your certified mail postmark, if you show up at closing time. And sometimes they consider that to be approximately “after lunch.”

If you can’t make it to the post office before closingall is not lost. You can go to a FedEx store or a UPS store and use a designated private delivery serviceBe sure to use one of the specified services. For example, “UPS Next Day Air” qualifies, but “UPS Ground” does not.  Get a shipping receipt with today’s date. And remember to use the street address for the IRS service center, as private services can’t deliver to the post-office box addresses.

 

Kay Bell, Tax Day 2014, the sequel: Oct. 15 Filing Extension Panic

Jason Dinesen, My Response to the IRS Saying I Can’t Speak On My Own Behalf

Peter Reilly, UnFair – One Night Stand Tonight – Exposing IRS Or Fair Tax Infomercial?

 

Keith Fogg, Picking the Wrong Collection Due Process Notice to Petition (Procedurally Taxing)

TaxGrrrl, Ireland Declares ‘Double Irish’ Tax Scheme Dead

 

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William McBride, U.S. Companies Continue to Flee Uncompetitive U.S. Tax System (Tax Policy Blog)

Matt Gardner, The Inversion Parade Continues: Steris Announces Pretend Move to Britain (Tax Justice Blog)

Howard Gleckman, The Small, Happy World of Supersized IRAs (TaxVox)

Joseph Thorndike, Forget Privacy — It’s Time to Tax Miles, Not Gas (Tax Analysts blog).  How do I put this politely? No, it’s not.

 

David Brunori, Schooling the Governors (Tax Analysts Blog) “Back when my libertarianism was still in the closet, I wrote critically of the Cato report card. I now regret my harsh critiques of the project because I believe Cato does the nation a great service by analyzing, assessing, and rating state executives.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 524

The new Cavalcade of Risk is up at Chatswood ConsultingThe ancient and venerable roundup of insurance and risk management posts has many highlights, including Hank Stern on Ebola and your health coverage.

 

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

Friday, September 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This tax cut will pay for itself.”

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

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

“This tax credit created X jobs”

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 498

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/3/14: Fight the power edition. And: another Iowa film credit economic triumph!

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

It’s good to be back.  Sometimes other things take precedence over work.

 

Fight the Power!  Tax Analysts’ Joseph Thorndike defends the corporation income tax as a bulwark against corporate power ($link):

Popular fondness for taxing corporations may reflect an imperfect understanding of the corporate levy’s incidence. But it also reflects a clear-headed view of where the power lies in American society.

That’s interesting.  Lets see where some major institutions stack up in terms of “power,” measured by revenue (an imperfect measure, but one that is at least available for all of them, unlike net worth).

Google: $55 billion.

Apple: $171 billion.

Microsoft: $23 billion.

BP: $379 billion

State of California: $112 billion

United States Government revenue: $2,770 billion.

United States Government spending: $3,450 billion.

 

In handy graph form:

20140902-1

Of course, only one of these outfits can also send in people with guns to settle disputes with all of the others.  So who is going to impose an income tax to rein in the monster on the Potomac?

 

Economic Development, film style: Iowa pays $2 million to settle film lawsuit (Des Moines Register).  But think of the intangible benefits!

 

Kristy Maitre, Kristine Tidgren, ACA’s Thorny Impact On More-Than-2% S Corporation Shareholders

Consequently, in the absence of further guidance, we believe that if an S corporation chooses to increase wages for its employees to make up for its non-ACA-compliant employer payment plan, the more-than-2% shareholders will now have to pay FICA/FUTA taxes on that compensation, just as the other employees will now have to pay income taxes and FICA taxes on the increased wages. These payments are no longer made pursuant to an employer health plan and cannot be excluded from taxation.

You don’t have to have 50 employees to have Obamacare problems.

 

Peter Reilly, IRS Will Not Tax Forfeited Jackpots Of Compulsive Gamblers.  Mighty kind of them.

Kay Bell, Running errands for mom and other September tax moves

TaxGrrrl, Credit Cards, The IRS, Form 1099-K And The $19,399 Reporting Hole

Tony Nitti, Tax Court Says Bank ‘Thank You’ Points Are Taxable Income   

 

 

Scott Hodge, IRS Data Contradicts Kleinbard’s Warnings of Earnings Stripping from Inversions  (Tax Policy Blog)

Ajay Gupta, Yep, Son, We Have Met the Enemy (Tax Analysts Blog).  Mr. Gupta discusses the FIRPTA precedent for the current inversion hysteria:

It turns out that the enemy in the ‘80s was not the pools of offshore money ready to descend on onshore real estate. Nor will the enemy this time be the many offshore tax havens ready to shelter departing onshore companies. The enemy, as always, is closer to home.

Congress would be a good place to look.

 

Robert D. Flach once again gets to the heart of the matter:  “There is absolutely nothing illegal, immoral, or unethical with trying to ‘dodge’ taxes.  By ‘dodge’ I mean ‘avoid’.”

 

20140527-1Joseph Thorndike, When Do-Gooder Taxes Don’t Do Good (Tax Analysts Blog).

I’m no fan of anti-obesity taxes, whether they target soda, candy bars, or any other junk food. They are regressive and arbitrary, not to mention paternalistic and condescending. Supporters have all sorts of genuine good intentions. But ultimately, these taxes are simply an unfair money grab dressed up as a public health initiative.

Now we have some evidence that they may be ineffective, too.

Imagine that.

 

William Gale, Don’t be fooled: America’s deficit is still a problem

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown: Sept. 2 (Tax Justice Blog).  A left-side rundown of “Oil tax ballot fails in Alaska, film tax credits pass in California, and Ohio needs to do more on EITC expansion. Also: updates on Iowa gubernatorial election and a new report on airline gas tax breaks.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 482

 

And New Coke marketing genius award goes to…  From Going Concern, news of the boldest marketing move since the Edsel.  (Adrienne Gonzalez)

 

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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, 8/14/14: Department of Revenue says: no SE Tax, no Iowa gain exclusion on CRP ground. Cash rents also fail.

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140814-1Cash Rent, failure to pay self-employment tax ruled fatal to Iowa capital gain exclusion.  Iowa has an unusual capital gain exemption on sales of farm and business property for taxpayers meeting both a 10-year holding-period requirement and a ten year “material participation” test.  The Iowa Department of Revenue yesterday released three rulings holding that taxpayers failed to meet the second requirement on sales of farm ground.  The material participation rules are for the most part the same as in the federal “passive loss” rules.

Cash rent.  Document 14201019  holds that you don’t “materially participate” if all you do is rent farm ground:

The issue raised in the protest involves whether a capital gain deduction from the sale of farmland was properly disallowed on the Iowa individual income tax return for the 2009 tax year.  The farmland, which was held in the name of two partnerships, West Side Acres and East Side Acres, was involved in a cash rent arrangement.  There is no dispute that the farmland was held for more than ten years, but the Department contended that the ten year material participation test was not met.

The taxpayers claimed they spent more than 100 hours managing their farm rentals, but the Department said that activity didn’t count (my emphasis):

The Department notes that most of the hours spend by protester in the farming operation that was provided in the January 29, 2014 letter related to maintenance of business financial records, including review of property tax estimates and assessments and payment of expenses.  The Stoos decision stated that actions of paying the mortgage, preparing taxes and other financial work is not materially related to the farming operation, and these hours were considered “investor-type” activities which were not part of the day-to-day operation of the farm.  Therefore, those hours do not count toward material participation, and the 100 hour test has not been met by protester.  

This is the result I would have predicted.  Cash rent of farm land is not normally considered  “farming” under the passive loss rules.

binConservation Reserve and Self-employment Tax.  Documents 14201020 and 14201017 deny the capital gain exclusion to two taxpayers because they failed to pay self-employment tax on CRP payments.  The liability of CRP recipients for self-employment tax is controversial; a pending Eighth Circuit case seems likely to hold that the tax doesn’t apply to CRP recipients who do not otherwise farm.

The rulings say that the Department goes by the treatment of the payments reported on the taxpayers returns: if they taxpayer paid SE tax on CRP payments, they are considered to have materially-participated in those years, but not otherwise.  From Document 14201017 (my emphasis)

The Department first notes that the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Weubker v. Commissioner, 205 F.3d 897 (2000) held that CRP payments were net income from self-employment because they were received in exchange for performing tasks “that are intrinsic to the farming trade or business” such as tilling, seeding, fertilizing and weed control. Subsequently, the Internal Revenue Service issued Notice 2006-108 which states that CRP payments either to a farmer who either personally fulfills the CRP obligations or who isn’t an active farmer and fulfills this obligation through a third party are both includible in self-employment income and are not excludible as rentals from real estate.

Therefore, the Department contends that self-employment tax was clearly due on these CRP payments.

Since protester did not pay self-employment tax on this CRP income, the Department contends that the material participation test was not met. In addition, protester does not meet the retired farmer exception regarding material participation for 5 of the 8 years prior to retirement since self-employment tax was not paid on the CRP acres prior to you receiving social security benefits in 2003. Therefore, the Department contends that you do not meet the qualifications for the capital gain exclusion since you did not materially participate in the CRP activity for ten years.

The liability for SE tax on CRP payments was never as open-and-shut as the Department says. Some commentators have argued that Weubker is wrong, and that CRP, by itself, doesn’t constitute farming (see here and here).  Even so, it is also a stretch to say that the minimal maintenance required on CRP ground rises to the level of “material participation.”

The Department here is saying in effect that they will take your word for it — as shown on your tax filings.  If you paid SE tax on your CRP income, you’re a farmer as far as they are concerned, and you qualify for the exclusion.  Given the stratospheric cost of farm ground nowadays, taxpayers may find it worth paying a little SE tax to qualify for the Iowa gain exclusion.

Related:

Material Participation Basics.

Iowa Capital Gain Deduction: an illustration

 

Canadians born in U.S. sue Ottawa over tax fraud law (TheStar.com):

Canada has violated the charter rights of nearly a million Canadians by agreeing to share their financial details with authorities in the United States, two Ontario women allege in a new lawsuit.

FATCA sponsor Charlie Rangel, D-NY

FATCA sponsor Charlie Rangel, D-NY

They are talking about “FATCA,” the outrageous Congressional overreach into the operations of banks around the world.

Gwen Deegan of Toronto and Ginny Hillis of Windsor, Ont., have launched a claim against the Attorney General of Canada.

In it, they accuse Ottawa of breaching the Constitution by complying with a sweeping new American tax fraud law, known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Under the terms of the legislation that took effect last month, banks must share all personal and joint account details of anyone deemed to be a “U.S. person.” This includes American citizens and people born in the U.S., even those with no existing ties to the country.

I wonder what the reaction in the U.S. would be if, say, Russia demanded the bank account information of every American it said was a “Russian person.”  I don’t think it would be popular. Yet our Congress thinks it is entitled to demand that non-U.S. banks cough up whatever information it feels like asking for.

The response has been to make financial life difficult for Americans overseas, as dealing with U.S. persons becomes more of a hassle than their business is worth.  It also restricts employment opportunities abroad for Americans by making their employment inconvenient.

Charlie Rangel was one of the main sponsors of FATCA.  He would know a little about not paying taxes.

 

20140814-2Paul Neiffer, Sale of Gifted Grain Can Be Tax Free:

When the donee sells this grain, it will be reported as a capital gain.  If time after harvest of the grain and the time of sale is less than a year, it is short-term.  If this time is greater than a year, then it is long-term. 

If the donee is in a low-enough bracket, long-term capital gains are taxed at zero.  But watch out for the “Kiddie Tax.”

 

Jason Dinesen, Proper Documentation of Business Expenses:

In most circumstances, you can prove your expenses even if you don’t have a receipt. But again, I feel that receipts AND other documents are the safest way to go.

Absolutely.  Jason has some tips for keeping track of them.

 

Kay Bell, School’s back. So are some, but not all, education tax breaks

 

Andrew Lundeen, Alan Cole, The Inequality Debate Ignores How Incomes Change Over the Life Cycle (Tax Policy Blog):  “Income data from the IRS and the Census Bureau have their uses, but measuring equality isn’t one of them.”

 

Joseph Thorndike, How ISIS Is Using Taxes to Build a Terrorist State (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxGrrrl, Tax Revenues Still On Pace To Break Records In 2014   

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 462

Career Corner.  Study: Working in a Windowless Cube is Ruining Your Life (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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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, 7/29/14: Whither Halbig and the ACA. And lots more!

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121120-2The Big Tax News while I was on vacation was the Halbig decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  The decision holds invalid the IRS decision allowing tax credit subsidies for policies purchased on federal insurance exchanges.  The impact of the decision was offset by a Fourth Circuit decision the same day coming to the opposite conclusion, but it is still a big deal, especially in light of some subsequent events.

The D.C. circuit has national implications because every taxpayer can come under its jurisdiction by litigating through the Court of Federal Claims.  An alert reader corrects me:

Your post today contains an error.  The  D.C. circuit is not the same as the federal circuit.  The court of federal claims is appealable to the federal circuit. The district court for the D.C. circuit is appealable to the D.C. circuit.  Halbig is a big deal in any event because the dc circuit instructed the district court to vacate the rule.  Vacated means that there is no rule anywhere.  In any event, SCOTUS will make the final call here.

As long as that decision stands — and the IRS will certainly ask the 15-member court to reconsider Halbig, decided by a three-member panel — it threatens not only the tax credits for the 37 states without their own exchanges, but it also invalidates the employer mandate tax in those states and takes much of the bite out of the individual mandate.  The South Carolina Policy Council explains why (my emphasis):

The subsidies are also important for their function as triggers of both the individual and employer mandate portions of the ACA. The ACA imposes a $2,000 per employee penalty for companies with more than 50 employees who do not offer “adequate health insurance” to their workers. This penalty is triggered when an employee accepts an IRS subsidy on a plan purchased through an exchange. If individuals in the 36 states without a state-run exchange are ineligible for subsidies, there will be no trigger to set off the employer mandate.

An absence of subsidies would also allow many people to avoid the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires citizens to maintain health insurance covering certain minimum benefits or pay a fine. This is because the ACA exempts citizens from the individual mandate whose out-of-pocket costs for health insurance exceed 8 percent of their household income. If IRS subsidies are removed, insurance plans offered on exchanges would exceed this cost threshold for many people – thereby providing them an exemption from the mandate.

Flickr image courtesy Tim under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Tim under Creative Commons license

This would devastate the already shaky economics of Obamacare.

The key ruling in Halbig is its finding that statutory language allowing tax credits through exchanges “established by a State” doesn’t cover the federal exchanges that are used in the 36 states without exchanges.   Critics of Halbig say that Congress couldn’t have been that stupid.  For example, Jonathan Gruber, an architect of the ACA, says“Literally every single person involved in the crafting of this law has said that it`s a typo, that they had no intention of excluding the federal states.”

That assertion has been challenged by a number of observers, notes Megan McArdle.  She cites a January 2012 speech by one Jonathan Gruber, an architect of the ACA:

Only about 10 states have really moved forward aggressively on setting up their exchanges. A number of states have even turned down millions of dollars in federal government grants as a statement of some sort — they don’t support health care reform.

Now, I guess I’m enough of a believer in democracy to think that when the voters in states see that by not setting up an exchange the politicians of a state are costing state residents hundreds and millions and billions of dollars, that they’ll eventually throw the guys out. But I don’t know that for sure. And that is really the ultimate threat, is, will people understand that, gee, if your governor doesn’t set up an exchange, you’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens. [emphasis added] 

The 2012 Jonathan Gruber repeated the story that only state-established exchanges qualify for credits in other forums.   It’s remarkable that two ACA architects named Jonathan Gruber have such divergent views of what the bill does.  It’s even more remarkable that they are the same guy.  This seems like strong support for the D.C. Circuit’s approach.

supreme courtIf the ACA were just another tax bill, it would be pretty easy to predict that the Supreme Court would go with the D.C. Circuit’s approach, based on prior rulings involving statutes that reached results the IRS didn’t care for.  In the Gitlitz case, which arguably provided an unintended windfall for S corporation shareholders when the S corporation incurred non-taxable debt forgiveness income, the Supreme Court said in an 8-1 decision (footnotes and citations omitted, emphasis added):

Second, courts have discussed the policy concern that, if shareholders were permitted to pass through the discharge of indebtedness before reducing any tax attributes, the shareholders would wrongly experience a “double windfall”: They would be exempted from paying taxes on the full amount of the discharge of indebtedness, and they would be able to increase basis and deduct their previously suspended losses.  Because the Code’s plain text permits the taxpayers here to receive these benefits, we need not address this policy concern.

In other words, if Congress doesn’t like what it has done, it’s up to Congress to fix it, not the IRS.  Congress did just that with the Gitlitz result within a year of the decision.

Of course, the ACA isn’t typical tax legislation.  Chief Justice Roberts tied himself in knots to find a way to uphold Obamacare in 2012.  Politics makes it unlikely that the Gitlitz approach will be followed by the left side of the Supreme Court, and who knows how Justice Roberts will rule.  But it does appear at least possible that Halbig will be upheld.

What should taxpayers do?  My thought is to assume the mandates remain in effect and pay tax (or reduce your withholding) accordingly.  Then be prepared to file a refund claim if Halbig is upheld by the Supreme Court.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

At least one thoughtful commentator says that ultimately if Halbig is upheld, holdout states will fall into line and establish exchanges.  For the reasons laid out here, I don’t think that will happen, and Congress will be forced to clean up its mess.

 

Paul Neiffer, ACA Subsidies: One Court Strikes Down, Another Upholds

Kristy Maitre, IRS Releases Additional ACA Revenue Procedures and Draft Forms  (ISU-CALT)

 

20140729-2Jason Dinesen, Don’t Be “That” Business Owner.  “I see too many with preconceived notions of what they can “get by with.” I’ve seen and read about too many people whose life got turned upside-down when they ended up NOT “getting by with it” after all.”

Russ Fox,  2:42.  “That’s how long I spent on hold on the IRS Practitioner Priority Service (PPS) yesterday–two hours, forty-two minutes.”   It’s a good thing Practitioners are a “Priority,” or who knows how long he’d have been on hold.

Phil Hodgen, Green card holders, treaty elections, and exit tax

Stephen Olsen, Ct. of Fed. Claims Holds Merger Results in “Same Taxpayer” for Net Zero Interest Rate (Procedurally Taxing)

Peter Reilly wonders if it is Time To Let Kent Hovind Go Home?  Peter thinks the former owner of a theme park based on the idea that hominids and dinosaurs co-existed may have suffered enough for his tax misdeeds.

Robert D. Flach brings the fresh Tuesday Buzz!

Well, these things are never tidi.  Spanish Court Moving Forward With Messi Tax Evasion Case  (TaxGrrrl)

 

taxanalystslogoDavid Brunori, Who Wants to Tax a Millionaire? Lots of People (Tax Analysts Blog).  This is full fo good observations about the unwisdom of states soaking the “rich.”  Highlights include:

States do not (and should not) do a lot of redistributing to the very poor.

When states jack up taxes on the “rich,” the money doesn’t exactly go to people sleeping under bridges, as David explains (my emphasis):

I have written about this before.  I noted that “the real beneficiaries of most government spending, certainly at the state level, never come up. No one ever says that we need higher taxes because my friends in the construction business want new contracts. No one ever says that they want new taxes to expand bloated public employee union bureaucracies. Yes, crony capitalism and union bosses drive most calls for higher taxes.” My right-wing friends often criticize liberals calling for higher marginal taxes as delusional. But they know exactly what they’re doing. Often they want higher taxes just so they can give money to their friends.

The money taken from “the rich” goes to the well-connected.  Iowa’s highest-in-the-nation system fleeces those without pull to pay rich subsidies to well-connected politicians and corporations.  Better to throw out the crony subsidies and lower rates for the rest of us — like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Tax Reform Plan would do.

 

Elaine Maag, The “Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act” Would Help, but Doesn’t Solve the Timing Mismatch (TaxVox).  “Making the CDCTC refundable and increasing allowable expenses is a huge step in improving child care assistance for low-income families.”

 

20140729-1Joseph Thorndike, The Corporate Income Tax Will Never Be ‘Fixed.’ And That’s OK. (Tax Analysts Blog):

Again, I think the corporate income tax is on the way out. But that’s a long-term problem. It doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel right away. The corporate tax may, as McArdle suggests, be an “insane, unwinnable chess game” pitting lawyers against tax collectors. But for the time being, the game is still worth the candle.

I think Megan McArdle has the better case, that the corporation income tax needs to go away, one way or the other.   I like the idea of doing so via a corporation dividends-paid deduction, combined with an excise tax on dividends for otherwise-exempt stockholders, as a way to get there.

Scott Hodge, More on Inversions and the Effective Tax Rates of Foreign-Owned Firms.   “The administration may want to think twice about taking unilateral action without considering the consequences.”

Clint Stretch, Dreams of Tax Reform (Tax Analysts Blog).  Patsy Cline is invoked.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 446

 

Greg Kyte, Clarifying Sex and Auditor Independence After the EY and Ventas Affair (Going Concern).  Can an auditor be “independent” while sleeping with a CFO?  Well, auditors are supposed to have hearts of stone…

 

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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, 6/23/14: Making no friends edition.

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

New IRS Commissioner Koskinen isn’t exactly making new friends for the agency in Congress.  His testimony Friday on the implausible rash of hard-drive failures that hit the IRS just as Congress began looking at Tea Party harassment amounted to an insistence that Congress take the IRS at its word, and give it more money.  From Tax Analysts ($link):

     “I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen answered. “Not a single e-mail has been lost since the start of this investigation.”

Regarding the six other IRS employees who have experienced computer failures since the investigation began, Koskinen said technology experts told him that 3 to 5 percent of hard drives can be expected to fail during their warrantied lifetimes. 

It just happened to all the hard drives of the people most involved in beating up on the Tea Party.

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Commissioner Koskinen (correctly) points out that the IRS is underfunded for all of the chores (unwisely) given it by Congress.  With Congressional Republicans understandably reluctant to fund an agency it percieves, with justification, as its opposition, Mr. Koskinen ought to be going out of his way to assure them that he is making sure to eliminate political bias in the agency and to fully cooperate with the investigation.  He is doing nothing of the sort, and he may have already irretreivably lost his opportunity to convince GOP appropriators that he can be trusted.

IRS stonewalling isn’t a new thing.  As the many lawsuits filed by Tax Analysts to get the IRS to release its internal documents show, covering up is a way of life in the agency.  Christopher Bergin, in The Coverup Is Usually Worse Than the Crime (Tax Analysts Blog), gives some background:

Maybe it’s just sloppy record-keeping, which would be bad enough. Most of the government’s business is now conducted digitally, and those records need to be properly handled. Or is it worse? Is the IRS deliberately keeping things from the public? Excuse my cynicism, but the IRS’s penchant for secrecy is what led Tax Analysts, using the new Freedom of Information Act, to sue the agency in the 1970s to force it to release private letter rulings. There have been several subsequent lawsuits to pry records that should have been public out of the agency’s hands.

The idea that IRS emails are public records requiring preservation is nothing new, and was well-established at the time Ms. Lerner was busy.  It’s either negligent and outrageous incompetence or criminal destruction of public records, and to say that the IRS owes no apologies is to say that at least one of these unpleasant choices is just fine with him.

 

 

20140623-1TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 410

Megan McArdle, An IRS Conspiracy? Not Likely … Yet.  “To be clear, of course six tragic hard drive failures in a relatively short period of time would make it very hard to believe in a benign explanation.”

Brian Gongol, Backing up your email isn’t hard to do.  “Someone should tell the IRS, which is making excuses for losing administrative emails — excuses that wouldn’t pass muster in an IRS audit

Russ Fox, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Backups

 

TaxGrrrl, Raking It In At Summer Yard Sales: Does Uncle Sam Get A Cut?   

Roger McEowen, U.S. Supreme Court Says Inherited IRA’s Not Exempt in Bankruptcy

Jason Dinesen, Bedside Manner is Important for Tax Pros, Too

Peter Reilly, Does Sixth Circuit ABC Decision Give Tenants Incentive To Buy?  “ABC Beverage Corporation is entitled to deduct the premium portion of the price it paid for the real estate as a cost of terminating the lease.”

 

Keith Fogg, D.C. Circuit Upholds the Constitutionality of Presidential Removal Powers of Tax Court Judges (Procedurally Taxing)

I think it’s only half-baked.  Stick a Fork in It: Is the Corporate Income Tax Done? (Joseph Thorndike, Tax Analysts Blog)

It’s not just a problem in Florida.  Seven indicted in Minnesota identity theft ring (TwinCities.com).

 

Wind turbineQuad City Times, Tax credits boost solar power in Iowa

David Henderson, Low-Carbon Alternatives: Solar and Wind Suck (Econlog).  “[A]ssuming reductions in carbon emissions are valued at $50 per metric ton and the price of natural gas is $16 per million Btu or less–nuclear, hydro, and natural gas combined cycle have far more net benefits than either wind or solar.”

 

Roberton Williams, U.S. Taxes Have Changed A Lot Since 1929 (TaxVox)

Steve Wamhoff,  Good and Bad Proposals to Address the Highway Trust Fund Shortfall (Tax Justice Blog).  The TJB has started putting individual author names on their posts, so I’ll do so too.

David Brunori, Tax Policy Is Not the Way to Deal With an Ass (Tax Analsyts Blog).  Not every problem is a tax problem.

Going Concern, IRS Can’t Afford to Upgrade to Windows 7 But Can Afford to Pay Microsoft to Use XP

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/4/14: IRS to ease up on FBAR foot-faulters? And: nanny-state taxes!

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: The Tax Update will take Thursday and Friday off this week to tend to a family wedding.  We’ll be back as usual Monday.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Maybe we shouldn’t be shooting jaywalkers?  The IRS may be declaring a cease-fire in its long war on inadvertent foreign account violators.  Tax Analysts reports ($link) that IRS Commissioner Koskinen told a tax conference that it will be modifying its Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative:

“We are well aware that there are many U.S. citizens who have resided abroad for many years, perhaps even the vast majority of their lives,” Koskinen told a luncheon audience at the 2014 OECD International Tax Conference in Washington. “We have been considering whether these individuals should have an opportunity to come into compliance that doesn’t involve the type of penalties that are appropriate for U.S.-resident taxpayers who were willfully hiding their investments overseas.”

Gee, you think so?  You really think 25%-300% penalties might not be appropriate for the crime of committing personal finance while living abroad?  What could possibly have given him that idea?

     Koskinen also pointed to taxpayers residing in the United States with offshore accounts “whose prior noncompliance clearly did not constitute willful tax evasion but who, to date, have not had a clear way of coming into compliance that doesn’t involve the threat of substantial penalties.”

“We believe that re-striking this balance between enforcement and voluntary compliance is particularly important at this point in time, given that we are nearing July 1, the effective date of FATCA,” Koskinen said. 

One of the things that made Doug Shulman the Worst Commissioner Ever was his brutal treatment of trivial inadvertent offshore paperwork filing violators.  Hopefully his successor will make coming into compliance voluntarily a transparent, predictable process designed primarily to ensure future compliance.  Something like state programs for non-resident non-filers, where taxpayers pay back taxes, if any, and interest for a limited number of open years would make sense  People are understandably reluctant to come into compliance when it can mean financial ruin.

The IRS has not released any details of this kinder, gentler approach, so curb your enthusiasm for now.

Related: IRS Commissioner Koskinen Announces that Changes — Liberalizations — Are In the Offing for OVDP 2012  (Jack Townsend)  “All in all, this is good news, at least from a hope perspective.”

 

20140409-1Robert D Flach offers YET ANOTHER POST CALLING FOR A VOLUNTARY TAX PREPARER DESIGNATION.  Robert makes his case for a “voluntary” designation for preparers who meet some standard.

Robert says something I agree with:

  Having the IRS oversee the designation is not the best idea.  I have suggested that the voluntary RTRP-like designation be administered by an independent industry-based organization like an American Institute of Registered Tax Return Preparers (see “It’s Time for Independent Certification for Tax Preparers“).

If the IRS has nothing to do with it, fine.  If it does, it will inevitably do special favors for its “voluntary” friends and make like difficult for others.

Robert is a little like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, looking for a brain.  The movie quickly makes clear that the Scarecrow already has a perfectly good brain; all he lacks is a diploma.  Robert, a perfectly good (if old-fashioned) preparer, doesn’t need a diploma to save his clients from the Wicked Witch.

 

TaxGrrrl, After TIGTA Report, Expect More Tax Refund Delays,  The IRS is encouraged to expand its refund offset programs.

Paul Neiffer, Portability Revisited. “With the “permanent” changes in the estate tax laws from about 2 years ago, we now have a permanent provision called portability.  This allows for the unused portion of someone’s estate to be “ported” over to the surviving spouse to be used on their final estate tax return.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 391

 

 

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.

Joseph Thorndike, Democrats Just Love Their Nanny-State Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

The Tax Foundation recently spotlighted a Democratic tax proposal that gives substance to the name-calling: the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act, introduced last month by Sens. Tom Harkin, and Richard Blumenthal.

According to its champions, the act would protect children from the predations of junk food purveyors. In particular, it would deny manufacturers any sort of tax deduction “for advertising and marketing directed at children to promote the consumption of food of poor nutritional quality.” It would use the resulting revenue to help fund the Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

That all sounds great. Except for the fact that it’s arbitrary, capricious, and an egregious misuse of tax policy.

The tax law – is there anything it can’t do?

Joseph adds, wisely:

Reasonable people can disagree about what qualifies as a loophole. But by almost any definition, the deduction for advertising junk food is not one.

Once you decide the tax law is a public policy Swiss Army Knife, there’s no logical place to stop.

 

20140411-1Kay Bell, Calories or volume: Which is the better tax on sugary drinks?  Neither.  Some problems just aren’t tax problems.

David Brunori’s righteous anger at taxes on e-cigarettes is now freely available at Tax Analysts Blog: Taxing E-Cigarettes Seems Crazy.  “Yet politicians routinely say that e-cigarettes will lead people to start smoking, or worse — use drugs! Are they daft?”  No, just greedy.

 

Renu Zaretsky, In the Midwest, Across the Pacific, and Down Under.  Tax Custs in Ohio and a rejected tax boost in Missouri are part of the TaxVox headline roundup today.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Will Anti-Tax Yogis Sink Tax-Reform in D.C.?.  If that’s what it takes to get the pic-i-nic basket.

 

This will make the homecoming in 2042 a little less awkward.  WMUR.com reports:

The woman who, along with her husband, held police at bay during a nine-month standoff in 2007 over tax evasion has apologized to the community.

Elaine Brown’s apology appeared in Plain Facts, a monthly publication written by Plainfield residents.

She said she and her husband Ed were trying to advance the “cause of justice.” She went on to say they “failed to take into account the impact we were having on others in the town. We failed to realize the fear, anxiety and impact we were causing these good people.

She was unable to apologize in person because she has been detained — until November 2042, according to the Bureau of Prisons inmate locator.  She should be home in time to invite her neighbors to her 102nd birthday party.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/2/14: Tax moralism and moral panics. And: IRS, abetter of theives, scourge of victims!

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

taxanalystslogoTax Analysts’ Tax Notes and State Tax Notes are part of my healthy breakfast, and today they are especially delicious.  The only bad part, for me, is that they are subscription publications, making them hard to share in full.  I can give you morsels, though.

Joseph Thorndike has an excellent discussion of the hollow moralism of tax debates, though he ends up defending it.  In the course of discussing an article by Allison Christians on the role of moralism in tax debates, he comes up with gem after gem.  He quotes Learned Hand’s discussion of the issue, which I find conclusive:

Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.

That never stops politicians, as Joseph points out:

     More recently, President Obama’s proposal for a “Buffett rule” clearly falls within that tradition of tax moralism (although in this version of the morality play, the billionaire plays the hero rather than the villain). Like the AMT, the Buffett rule is a rear-guard action to defend the fisc against the predations of aggressive avoiders.

But those sorts of Rube Goldberg tax contraptions are an admission of failure. They take for granted that the existing tax base and its statutory rate structure cannot be defended. But the efficacy of those second-best tax systems — at least when measured in terms of fairness — is anything but self-evident. And their costs in terms of complexity and opacity are substantial. 

If you move away from the law, to a system of “morality” in paying taxes, you lose your way.  Who decides what is moral?  Politicians?  Don’t make me laugh.  It’s hard enough to follow the law, given its ridiculous complexity.  If you then require taxpayers to meet subjective standards of whatever pressure group feels like calling a press conference that day, you make taxes pretty much impossible.

One point not mentioned is the conflicting moral obligations of taxpayers.  A rich individual has moral responsibilities to his children, his business and his own community.  The IRS can’t be the supreme moral agent.  And a corporation has moral and legal obligations to its shareholders, customers and employees that conflict with any “moral” obligation to the fisc.  Given that pensions are mostly invested in corporation stock and bonds, their “moral” obligation to give politicians more money for buying votes is hard to take seriously.

 

e-cigFor dessert, David Brunori chimes in on e-cigarettes and politicians

 I get the rationale for tobacco taxes. You smoke, you get sick, society has to pay for your medical care. That’s consistent with the classic rationale for excise taxes. Those taxes are legitimate only if used to pay for externalities — that is, the societal costs that aren’t borne by the market.

Of course, cigarette taxes in particular have never really been about externalities. If they were, every penny of revenue would go to smoking-related healthcare. Instead, dozens of states earmark some cigarette tax revenue for education (I still can’t believe teachers who rely on cigarette tax revenue for their raises aren’t leaving cartons of Lucky Strikes on their kids’ desks). 

Ah, but giving away cartons of cigarettes on a teacher’s salary?  Of course, my mom was a teacher, and I remember as a kid buying her cigarettes at the store.  But she never shared them, and I never picked up the habit.

David adds:

Taxing e-cigarettes is a money grab. If people use e-cigarettes instead of real cigarettes, the state loses money. The vested interests like the public employee unions and the myriad government contractors can’t have that. But proponents won’t admit the money-grabbing motive.

Iowa, like many other states, is a partner in the tobacco industry as a result of a shakedown settlement agreement with the big tobacco companies.  The industry continues to operate, with the politicians getting a cut of the revenue (nice vice racket you got there, hate to see something bad happen to it).  The moral panic over e-cigarettes is really about protecting this franchise.

 

20130419-1We’ll let them steal your money, and then we’ll punish you for it.  IRS freezes tax ID theft victims’ return – then hits them with late penalties. (Cleveland.com)

Pat Pekarek and her husband, Roger, discovered someone filed taxes using Roger’s Social Security number last year, after the IRS rejected their e-filed joint return.

The Pekareks, who live in Parma Heights, dutifully followed the IRS’ instructions to send their return by mail with documentation proving they were the real Pekareks. The IRS immediately froze their account, along with a credit that Pat Pekarek expected to use toward this year’s taxes.

A year later, the account remains in the IRS deep freeze – along with the credit. And now, even though it was the IRS freeze that kept the credit on ice, the agency is demanding the Pekareks cough up back taxes and pay late penalties.

The IRS has let identity theft get completely out of control, while spending its time and energy trying to regulate law-abiding preparers and harassing uncongenial political groups.  And they’ve managed to neglect and abuse the victims while doing so.  Good thing they are responsible for our health insurance system too.

 

William Perez, Foreign Bank Accounts due June 30th.  New form, and now you have to e-file.

TaxGrrrl, Las Vegas Man Cheated IRS, Taxpayers Using False Home Buyer Credits:  “Refundable credits are traditionally a magnet for fraudulent claims and this one was no different: initial reports indicated that nearly 100,000 refunds were perhaps inappropriately distributed, with $600 million of taxpayer credits labelled “suspicious” in 2009 (despite those numbers, Congress kept extending the credit).”

Jack Townsend, Accountant Sentenced For Tax Crimes; Conduct Included FBAR violations .  “The gravamen of Duban’s conduct is that he assisted the persons related to the automobile dealership in running nondeductible personal expenses through the corporation.”

Scott Schumacher, Winning the He-Said-She-Said Case (Procedurally Taxing)

Tony Nitti, S Corporation Shareholder Must Reduce Basis For Non-Deductible Corporate Loss 

 

20140401-1Lyman Stone, Response to Politico: Taxes and the Texas Miracle (Tax Policy Blog):

But long-term tax policies do matter. Stable, neutral, non-distortionary tax policies, offering low tax rates on broad tax bases, can support economic growth. Firm site selection is one channel, through which taxes affect economic decisions on the margin. There is robust evidence that taxes (while certainly not the only or even the largest factor) do matter for site selection. And, as one of the few site selection variables policymakers can directly control, it makes sense for them to be concerned about the role of taxes.

But not in the form of paying people to be your friends via tax credits.

 

Annette Nellen, Is tax reform on or off? Odd activities in the House last week

Kay Bell, Debate continues about tax havens and punishment fairness

 

Renu Zaretsky, Holes, Holidays, Hurricanes, and Tax Bills (TaxVox).  “The Illinois legislature passed a budget with revenue holes and no spending cuts.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 388

Me, 2 million served.  An arbitrary milestone, achieved!

 

Russ Fox, No, Fido & Lulu Can’t Own Your Business:

All corporations have to have a Board of Directors. That board handles various business items of the corporation. Now, in a tightly controlled corporation you might just have one board member–yourself. But Mr. Zuckerman elected a strategy that I haven’t seen before (and I doubt I’ll see again): He named his pets as board members.

They were probably as independent as any number of human board members.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/28/14: Tax Fairy isn’t handicap-accessible. And: Why you should let your tax guy do the talking.

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


tax fairy
Audit defenders can’t defend themselves.  
There is something deep in our DNA that enables us to believe in the supernatural, at least when it comes to taxes. Otherwise sensible people act as if they believe in a Tax Fairy who can wave a magic wand to make taxes go away.  Operators offer themselves as intermediaries to the tax spirit world, taking real money to generate pretend tax breaks.

It had to take a real leap of faith to pay good money to the National Audit Defense Network.  Members of this Nevada group were convicted in Las Vegas yesterday of tax charges that included an implausible tax credit scheme.  They set up a “shopping” web site called Tax Break 2000 that was inaccessible to handicapped users.  They would then sell Tax Fairy adherents a “modification kit” to make the web site handicap-accessible for $10,475 — 20% down, and the rest payable on a promissory note “when they had no expectation that the customers would make payments on the promissory notes.”  They then told their clients that this generated a $5,000 tax credit.

How many Taxafarieans paid the $10,475 tithe?  According to the indictment, they sold 21,610 kits.  Assuming they collected 20% of the sales price, that grossed them $45,272,950.

Any attempt to commune with the Tax Fairy runs into snags.  The first big snag here was a letter from their own internal “dream team” of tax advisors telling them this wouldn’t work.  The indictment says the NADNers went opinion shopping and found accommodating attorneys who said it might work.  Good enough!

They had more difficulty clearing the next obstacle: a permanent injunction against selling Tax Fairy access.  But that’s the least of their problems now.

This case has attracted a little extra attention because of the involvement of a former NFL punter, who apparently decided to ignore his professional training and go for it.  When trick plays fail, they fail badly, and the participants now may face long prison terms.

And there is no tax fairy.

 

Wind turbineTony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Hot Assets And The Sale Of Partnership Interests

Kay Bell, Federal workers, including members of Congress and Treasury employees, owe Uncle Sam $3.3 billion in back taxes

No.  Does Warren Buffett Practice What He Preaches? (Paul Neiffer)  “The cost to Warren individually of raising his individual income tax bracket by 10% annually may cost him personally a couple of million or less, while his company saves over $400 million in tax by using energy tax credits.  I would make the trade-off any time.”

 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 384

Joseph Thorndike, Bad Ideas Are Like Bad Pennies (Tax Analysts Blog).  He’s talking about private collection of IRS debts.  Considering that the IRS isn’t exactly blemish-free in its debt collection practices, I don’t share the objections to private collection of undisputed tax debts.

Joseph also raises this point: “But it’s also expensive to pander, since every dollar invested in IRS collection can return up to $20 in new revenue.”  I think that’s hugely unlikely as a marginal return, based on what I see in the field and the way the IRS misdeploys resources (preparer regulation, anyone?).

 

Not Senator Wyden

If there is something wrong with our tax exemption, then there is something wrong with America.  I won’t stand here while you badmouth our country!

David Brunori, Taxing Togas and Keggers (Tax Analysts Blog).  “States should consider ending the absurd practice of granting property tax exemptions to charitable organizations.”

Andrew Lundeen, The Economic Effects of Bonus Depreciation (Tax Policy Blog). “Permanently extending bonus depreciation would spur investment, lift wages, grow the economy, and increase federal revenue.”

Howard Gleckman, Turning Carbon Tax Theory Into Reality (TaxVox).  Don’t hold your breath for this to be enacted, even if it would keep that carbon in your lungs.

 

Do you ever wonder why practitioners like to do the talking when the IRS gets involved? Yes, by all means stand up for your rights when dealing with the IRS.  But there’s a line where you should stop.  Going Concern tells us of a Mr. Calcione who went way over the line:

Three days after the agent left the voicemail, Calcione left a couple voicemails of his own. One of the messages contained a threat made by Andrew Calcione that if the agent called him again he would show up at the agent’s home and torture the agent, then rape and kill his wife and injure his daughter while the agent watched, before killing the agent. A second message left by Calcione requested that Calcione disregard the first message, which Calcione said was left in error.

Oh, you didn’ t mean my wife and daughter?  Well, OK, then!

Mr. Calcione was convicted of threatening an IRS agent.  Whatever tax problems he had before, that voice mail made things much, much worse.

Related: Man Convicted Of Threatening To Assault & Kill IRS Agent, Family Over Audit Proceedings  (TaxGrrrl)

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/7/14: How to keep from beating up the poor with high marginal rates? And: priorities!

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

Arnold Kling ponders solutions to the hidden high tax rates on the poor in SNEP Solution: Flexible Benefits and Extreme Catastrophic Health Insurance.  The problem arises because many welfare benefits phase out as income rises.  For example, the phase-out of the Earned Income Tax Credit means Iowans who qualify can face a combined federal and state tax rate of over 50% on additional income.  The problem is finding a way to means-test benefits without turning the inevitable reduction of benefits as income rises into a poverty trap.  Some Kling thoughts:

One approach would be to replace all forms of means-tested assistance, including food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, and the EITC, with a single cash benefit. For this purpose, we might also think of unemployment insurance as a means-tested benefit.

The classic approach is the negative income tax. What I would suggest is a modification of the negative income tax, in which recipients are instead given flexdollars. These would be like vouchers or food stamps, in that they can be used only for “merit goods:” food, health care/insurance, housing, and education/training. One way to think of this is that it takes the food stamp concept and broadens it to include the other merit goods.

Flexdollars would start at a high level for households with no income and then fade out at rate of 20 percent of the recipient’s adjusted gross income. This “fade-out” would act as a marginal tax rate on income, so we should be careful not to set the fade-out rate too high.

This would give recipients some power over their benefits, and the ability to choose which ones are more important to them — like normal people do with their earnings.  Unused  flexdollars would go into a savings account, which “could be used for medical emergencies, down payments when buying a home, or to save for retirement.”  This would reduce the incentive for “use it or lose it” spending binges.

Implicit marginal ratesImplicit marginal ratesThis seems like a much more promising approach than the current system with its overlapping benefits and multiple phase-outs that sometimes result in effective marginal rates over 100% for the working poor.   Modifying the income tax to provide a standard deduction up to the amount at which the phase-outs end would complement this system, keeping the income tax from adding a layer of explicit marginal tax rates to the rate implicit in the phase out.

Mr. Kling is a brilliant and underappreciated thinker.  I’m re-reading his Unchecked and Unbalanced, which among other things ponders ways to move decision-making on government services to the household and neighborhood level.

 

O. Kay Henderson, About 91 percent of Iowans e-filed their state income taxes:

A dwindling number of Iowa taxpayers submit paper income tax returns to the State of Iowa. Victoria Daniels of the Iowa Department of Revenue has preliminary results for all but the last three days of the tax season, which ended April 30 for Iowa income taxpayers.

“E-filing is up about 4.1 percent and approximately 91 percent of Iowans, to date, have filed electronically,” Daniels says.

I’ve been a fan of e-filing, but the IRS is doing its best to change my mind.

 

 

20140507-1Paul Neiffer, Payments to Veterinarians Require 1099 (Even If Incorporated)!

Peter Reilly, IRS Cannot Levy Tribal Payments

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 363.  This Washington Post Op-ed linked in today’s scandal roundup gets it right: “The very idea that the administration would protect someone who is hiding behind the fifth when there is not only smoke, but there is actually a clear glow of flames, is insulting.”

Annette Nellen, Taxes and Deficits in the Highway Trust Fund.  “Certainly, if we have more electric cars on the road, which don’t generate anything for the HTF, but still use the roads, a funding mechanism tied only to gasoline purchases is outdated.”

Kay Bell, Home prices, construction outlook up. So are property tax bills

 

Alan Cole, US International Tax System is Fundamentally Unserious (Tax Policy Blog):

The United States is one of the last six remaining countries in the OECD – along with Chile, Ireland, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico – to use a “worldwide” system of corporate taxation. The other twenty-eight countries in the OECD use the much sounder territorial system.

A territorial tax system ends at its country’s borders. In contrast, the United States tries to levy taxes on profits earned in countries other than the United States. The tax system sees an auto assembly plant in Craiova, Romania, built using international funding, staffed by Romanian workers, building a vehicle – the Ford B-Max – that isn’t even sold in the United States – and says “Aha! This is economic activity the United States should be able to tax!”

While it may seem unserious, worldwide taxation is deadly serious to Americans abroad and to U.S. Green Card holders.  Serious, and sometimes catastrophically costly.

 

taxanalystslogoTax Analysts Blog is on an equality kick:

Martin Sullivan, Piketty, Zuckerberg, and a Plan to Tax Wealth That Conservatives Can Support.  “David Miller, a tax attorney at Cadwalader,Wickersham & Taft in New York, has proposed that the federal government tax stock gains of the wealthy whether or not those stocks are sold.”   So they get to deduct losses, too?

David Brunori, Tax Follies in Pursuit of Equality.  “The fact that rich people are rich bugs the heck out of folks on the left.” David points out the folly of a California tax scheme that would try to control CEO compensation by hitting CEOs with punitive California tax rates.  That would make sure no corporate headquarters stay in California.

Joseph Thorndike, Piketty Is Wrong: Americans Don’t Have a ‘Passion for Equality’.  This strikes me as correct.  Patrick Henry said “give me liberty or give me death,” not “Give me liberty or give me equality.”  That contrasts with the “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” of Picketty’s France.

Renu Zaretsky, Retirement, Driving, Greenhouse Gases and Tax Burdens.  The TaxVox tax headline roundup covers a disturbing increase in retirement plan early withdrawal penalties and the Missouri override of its governor’s tax cut veto.

 

Sadly, this may compare favorably with all adults.  According to This FINRA Foundation Quiz, 76% of Millennials Have Absolutely No Clue (Going Concern)

 

Priorities.  From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

George W. Curtis, 77, of Pickett, who practices law in Oshkosh, was charged with willfullly failing to pay taxes he owed for 2007, 2008 and 2009, a period when his law practice generated profits of more than $1 million. Curtis has been designated a “Super Lawyer” several times and has practiced for more than 50 years.

77?  Some people just love the law.  Except maybe not the tax law:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Jacobs, the prosecutor, said Curtis testified that his income wasn’t steady, that he had to front many expenses, and that he had higher financial priorities at times than paying taxes. In fact, Curtis did file returns that showed his income, but just didn’t pay.

But the government argued Curtis could have paid. During the period he wasn’t, he was paying his wife’s children’s college tuitions and a wedding, a new Lincoln SUV and buying $17,000 on wine.

You need a nice SUV to transport high-class wine.  Have you ever tried to get your wine home in a tax payment?

 

 

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Tax Roundup: April 30, 2014: Force of nature edition. And: Extenders move in U.S. House.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Iowa 1040s are due today!  If you are 90% paid in, they extend automatically with no filing.  If you need more time and need to pay in something, use IA 1040-V.

 

20130113-3House votes to make permanent six “expiring” provisions.  The House Ways and Means Committee voted to permanently extend six of the perpetually-expiring tax breaks that Congress renews every year or two.  They include:

  • A simplified version of the research credit
  • The five-year built-in gain tax recognition period for S corporations
  • The $500,000 Section 179 deduction limit
  • A provision reducing the net basis reduction for S corporation donations of appreciated property to the basis of the property.

The committee also voted for two international extenders.

The votes were mostly along party lines, which means they are unlikely to be passed in this form by the Democratic-controlled Senate. The Senate Finance Committee has already approved its own temporary extender package, and my guess is the final extenders package will look like the Finance Committee bill.

Tax Analysts reports ($link) that the committee isn’t done with extenders, but it isn’t clear when it will look at Bonus Depreciation.

The “no” votes for the House package objected to the lack of offsets to the revenue “lost” by the package.   I’m less upset.  While I oppose the research credit on principle, these provisions are permanent anyway; the whole “extender” process is a sham, conducted only to pretend that the tax breaks aren’t permanent so they “cost” less under Congressional accounting rules.  It’s the sort of thing that would be a felony in the private sector, but just another day for our leaders.  At least the House bill drops the pretense that these things won’t get passed every time they expire.

 

Additional coverage available at Accounting Today.

Related:

Tax Justice Blog, Rep. Dave Camp’s Latest Tax Gambit Is “Fiscally Irresponsible and Fundamentally Hypocritical”

Clint Stretch, Dreams of Tax Reform (Tax Analysts Blog)

 

 

20130117-1No gas tax boost this year.  Sioux City Journal reports that a last-gasp attempt to boost Iowa gasoline taxes died last night as the General Assembly continues its pre-adjournment frenzy.

 

David Brunori, Sad Pragmatism and Tax Incentives (Tax Analysts Blog).  “If tax incentives are an unavoidable reality, we should make them as transparent and accountable as possible.”  True, but that doesn’t excuse the politicians who take your money and give it to their special friends.

 

The Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation has released its 2014 summer seminar schedule.  It includes a slate of webinars on topics from Ethics to ACA mandates.  There will also be two big out-of-town events, in West Baden Springs, Indiana, and West Yellowstone, Montana.  I’m not able to participate this year, but they are a hoot and a great learning experience.

 

TaxGrrl, Widow Loses House Over $6.30 Tax Bill.  “A Pennsylvania woman has lost her home for little more than the cost of a Starbucks Frappuccino.”  The law in all its majesty.

Kay Bell, File IRS Form 1040X to correct old tax mistakes

Peter Reilly, Graduation Contingency Kills Alimony Deduction.  It’s very easy to screw up an alimony deduction with bells and whistles, as Peter explains.

 

20120531-1Jason Dinesen, Preparer Regulation and Judging Preparers Based on Size of Refund.  “Anyone who’s worked in this business has experienced the irate client who thinks the preparer screwed up because their refund was less than their friend/co-worker/hair dresser, etc.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 356

Jack Townsend, U.S. Congressman Indicted for Tax Related Crime

Joseph Thorndike, Airlines Say Ticket Taxes Would Be More Visible if They Were Better Hidden (Tax Analysts Blog)

Alan Cole, What Gift Cards Can Teach Us About Tax Policy (Tax Policy Blog)

Renu Zaretsky, Funding Tax Breaks, the IRS, and Public Pensions, Safety, and Schools.  The TaxVox headline roundup.

 

News from the Profession.  EY Is Tackling the Important Issue of Dudes’ Need for Flexibility (Going Concern)

 

Clear error is a standard used by appellate courts to review some lower court decisions.  A Tax Court case decided by Judge Paris dealing with horse losses yesterday involved purported destruction of records by an old girlfriend.  Here’s where the clear error comes in:

The wrath of a former girlfriend may be a formidable force, but it is not analogous to a hurricane-like natural disaster, and it does not constitute a reasonable cause outside petitioner’s control.

I’ve met Judge Paris, and I strongly suspect she’s never dealt with a bitter former girlfriend. Anyone who has would never have written such a thing.  But as she pointed out that the petitioner provided no evidence that such destruction occurred, so you oughta know that the case probably still is on solid ground.

 

Cite: Roberts, T.C. Memo 2014-74.  Additional coverage from Paul Neiffer, Partial Taxpayer Victory on Horse Farm Case

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/23/14: The Tax Fairy isn’t named “VEBA.” And: frivolous IRS notices!

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

tax fairyThe Tax Fairy, that fickle goddess of painless massive tax reduction, is often sought in the misty fens of the welfare benefit sections of the tax law.  A U.S. District Court in California has deprived the Tax Fairy’s believers of one guide for their hunt.

CPA Ramesh Sarva and Kenneth Elliot led Tax Fairy seekers to Section 419, which provides for VEBAs — “Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association” plans.  Properly operated, VEBAs enable employers to make deductible contributions to a plan that buys insurance for employees.

A company associated with Mr. Sarva and Mr. Elliot, Sea Nine, told employers that they could use VEBAs to get around the tax law rules against deducting most life insurance premiums.  Their customers deducted contributions to VEBAs and used them to buy whole-life insurance policies with high cash value accumulation on the business owners’ lives.  The owners then borrowed the cash values.  The purported result was a deduction, followed by tax-free access to the deducted cash via borrowing cash values.

Tax Fairy guides can always find willing customers: “…small business owners with high net worth (often doctors with small but lucrative medical practices),” according to the IRS complaint. It has not gone well for the Tax Fairy adherents:

Sarva has successfully marketed at least 33 separate VEBAs plans to a variety of small business owners.  All of these participants have been or are currently being audited by the IRS.  13 of these participant audits have been completed and have resulted in total tax adjustments of $3,500,519.

In other words, it doesn’t work.  The IRS warned people off of such plans as early as 1995, and the scheme was firmly shot down by a U.S. Court of Appeals in 2002 in the Neonatology Assoc. P.A. case.  In fact, Neonatology  was a Sea Nine client.  Undaunted, Sea Nine kept selling the idea, selling the plans through “a network of affiliated third parties” including “independent certified publica accountants (“CPA”) and financial planners.”   At least they did until yesterday, when they consented to a permanent injunction yesterday against further Tax Fairy hunts.

Sea Nine had clients all over the place; the complaint lists clients in California, Florida, Alabama, and Hawaii, all with big IRS exam adjustments.

A side note: This is another example of why preparer regulation will be little use in keeping practitioners on the straight and narrow.  The defendant was a CPA and as such faced much stricter credentialing than anything contemplated by the IRS.  Yet he continued to sell these plans for years after it should have been obvious that they didn’t work.

The Moral?  There is no Tax Fairy, and just because somebody has gotten away with something for a long time doesn’t mean they’ve found her.  Also: you can make somebody take a test.  You can make them somebody take CPE.  But you can’t make a bumbler competent or a scammer honest.

 

20130419-1Russ FoxIRS Prematurely Asking for Money:

A few years ago, the IRS routinely sent notices to taxpayers who filed tax returns prior to April 15th but didn’t pay their taxes until April 15th. After complaints from taxpayers and tax professionals, the IRS supposedly stopped this practice. Unfortunately, they’ve started it up again.

Another illustration of why we need a “sauce for the gander” rule that would require the IRS to pay a penalty to taxpayers when it takes such frivolous positions, same as a frivolous taxpayer would pay to IRS.

 

TaxProf, TIGTA: IRS Gave $1 Million in Cash Bonuses to 1,100 Employees Who Owe Back Taxes.  Trust me, they won’t do that for you.

Lyman Stone, More Film Tax Incentives Not a Solution for California (Tax Policy Bl0g).  No, not for California, but certainly for its filmmakers, fixers and middlemen.

Howard Gleckman, Should Congress Curb Donor Advised Funds?  They are a much more convenient and cost-effective than their alternative, private foundations, so Congress can be expected to put a stop to that.

 

Jim Maule, When It’s Too Late to Change One’s (Tax) Story

Kay Bell, Rough roads ahead as Highway Trust Fund runs out of money

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 349

Joseph Thorndike, It’s Good to Be the (Ex) President. But It Wasn’t Always. (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Until 1959, retiring chief executives got precisely nothing in the way of retirement benefits: no Secret Service protection, no administrative support, and certainly no money.”

News from the Profession.  McGladrey’s Latest PCAOB Inspection Reveals McGladrey Is Not Grant Thornton (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/11/14. Why we extend. And: Tax Doctor, Tax Fairy?

Friday, April 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

4868Some folks just don’t like extensions.  Maybe they want their refund NOW.  Maybe they have never extended their return before, and they think it is somehow against the rules.  Some people believe an extension invites the IRS to come in and audit them.  And some people think they are just so special that they can bring in a complex return missing K-1s on April 10th and the preparers should just drop everything and get them filed somehow.

There isn’t much to do for the last category, except perhaps medication, or a thrashing by a crazed sleep-deprived preparer, but for more sensible folks, a basic understanding of extensions might help.

Extensions aren’t against the rules; the rules specifically provide for them.  Even in simpler times, tax administrators knew that it isn’t always possible for a busy person to put together all of the pieces of a tax return by April 15.

You still should pay up.  While extensions give you more time to file your tax return, they don’t give you extra time to pay.  The tax law asks you to estimate your tax liability and penalizes you  if you don’t have at least 90% of your taxes paid in by the April 15 deadline; the penalty is 1/2 percent per month.

Why bother with an extension if I can’t delay payment?    Probably the most important one is that if you are short of cash, the penalty for late payment on a return that you didn’t bother to extend is 5% per month — ten times the penalty for late payment on an extended return.  It forces you to at least take a stab at guessing your liability, helping you identify what pieces you have to gather to complete your extended return.  It also keeps you in compliance, and once you stop filing on time, it can be a hard habit to break.

But won’t it get me audited?  There’s no evidence that an accurate extended return filed during the extension period is any more likely to be audited than it would be filed on April 15.  The IRS selects returns based on what’s on them, now on whether they are extended.

There’s plenty of evidence that returns with errors are more likely to get extra IRS attention.  A return thrown together at the last minute is more likely to have errors than an extended return done during normal working hours by somebody who’s had some sleep.    For what it’s worth, I have extended my own return every year since 1991 with no IRS examination (knock wood).

Efile logoEfile logoe-file logoHow do I extend?  You file Form 4868 either on paper or electronically, along with any necessary payment, by April 15.  The IRS has more details here. It’s common to pay in enough to also cover your first quarter estimated tax payment with the extension.  It gives you some cushion in case you find more 2013 income while completing your return, and you can apply your return overpayment to your  2014 estimated tax when you do file your 2013 1040.

States have their own rules.  Iowa automatically extends your return without the need to file an extension form if you are at least 90% paid-in by the April 30 due date.  If you need to send them some money to get to 90%, you send it with Form IA 1040-V.

Our series of 2014 Filing Season Tips goes right through April 15.  Check back tomorrow for another one!

Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #3: Be Suspicious!

 

tax fairyBelief in the Tax Fairy peaks at tax time.  The Tax Fairy is that magical sprite who will make all of your taxes go away painlessly while your sucker friends still send checks to the tax man.  It’s amazing what Tax Fairy adherents will believe.  Consider a Californian who worked as a software consultant.  He was put in touch with a “Tax Doctor” (my emphasis):

Early in 2006 petitioner’s friends recommended that he talk to the “Tax Doctor Corporation” (Tax Doctor) operated by a person representing himself to be Dr. Lawrence Murray (Murray). Petitioner spoke with Murray and members of Murray’s staff. Petitioner’s discussions with Murray and his staff consisted mostly of “a bit of a sales pitch”. They explained how they would handle his tax return preparation, what the tax savings would be, and the “structure” they would use.

Murray proposed setting up two corporations and preparing petitioner’s individual and corporate Federal income tax returns. Murray explained to petitioner that one corporation would be “operational” and the other would focus on “management”. Petitioner was unsure at trial which corporation was the operations entity and which was the management entity. Under the agreement with Murray petitioner would pay the Tax Doctor, as a fee for setting up the structure, the amount of the tax savings generated by the use of the structure. 

What could go wrong?

His C.P.A. told him that she was willing to incorporate his business activity but she would not do what the Tax Doctor had proposed because it was very aggressive. Petitioner, despite the advice of his C.P.A., decided to accept the proposal of the Tax Doctor.

I don’t need a CPA, I have a Tax Doctor!

Petitioner filed his 2006 Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, showing taxable income of zero. Nev Edel, one of the corporations the Tax Doctor formed for petitioner, filed a Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return, for the fiscal year ending (FYE) November 30, 2007. Nev Edel reported gross receipts of $285,785, total income of $291,669, and total deductions of $295,214. The largest single deduction was $237,600 for “contracted services”. Smoge Corp., the other corporation the Tax Doctor formed for petitioner, filed a 2006 Form 1120S, U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation. Smoge Corp. reported total income of $186,640 and total deductions of $188,644. The largest single deduction was $172,166 for “contracted services”.

Somehow things went awry.

Murray was prosecuted and convicted in 2010 of Federal crimes associated with the preparation of his own returns and the returns of others.

This presumably led to IRS attention to our consultant’s returns, and a big assessment.  The taxpayer tried to avoid penalties because he relied on the Tax Doctor in good faith.  The Tax Court thought otherwise:

The advice of the C.P.A., who had no financial stake in the outcome of petitioner’s return positions, should have put petitioner on notice that additional scrutiny of Murray’s advice was required.

The moral?  If your tax professional, who does this for a living, says something is bogus, they just might be right.  And there is no Tax Fairy.

Cite: Somogyi, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-33.

 

20140411-1William Perez, Six Things to Do Before April 15th

Kay Bell, What are ordinary & necessary business expenses? It depends

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 337.  More a boatload than a smidgen today.

That’s OK, you can just send me a gift card. Christopher Bergin, The Gift That Is Lois Lerner (Tax Analysts Blog):

Something bad happened here. And however bad her behavior, the problem isn’t Lerner. The problem is a culture that allows what she did to continue and that probably allows behavior that’s much, much worse.

Andrew Lundeen, What Could Americans Buy with the $4.5 Trillion They Pay in Taxes? (Tax Policy Blog).  A nice gift card, perhaps.

TaxGrrrl, House Committee Votes To Hold Lerner In Contempt, Others Push For Criminal Prosecution

Joseph Thorndike, How Dave Camp’s Failure Might Be Michael Graetz’s Victory (Tax Analysts Blog)

Peter Reilly, Clergy Out In Force To Defend Their Housing Tax Break   

Sports Corner: David Cay Johnston vs. Tax Girl on Twitter: PLACE YOUR BETS (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/26/14: Using Bitcoins regularly will get you a really long Form 8949. And: underpants!

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


Bitcoin
Bitcoins may act like money, but IRS says they aren’t.  
The IRS yesterday announced how that it will treat Bitcoin “virtual currency” as property, rather than currency, for tax purposes.  Notice 2014-21 lays out the IRS treatment of Bitcoin and similar virtual money.  Some key points:

- As property, gains and losses on Bitcoin are normally capital gains and losses, unless the taxpayer is a dealer in Bitcoins.  That means losses are limited to capital gains plus $3,000 for individuals.  This contrasts with currency transactions, which normally generate ordinary income and loss under Section 988.

– Transactions in virtual currency will normally generate gains and losses:

If the fair market value of property received in exchange for virtual currency exceeds the taxpayer’s adjusted basis of the virtual currency, the taxpayer has taxable gain. The taxpayer has a loss if the fair market value of the property received is less than the adjusted basis of the virtual currency.

That makes using Bitcoins a hassle for taxpayers who try to follow the law.  Everytime you buy something with Bitcoin, you will have a capital gain or loss, depending on fluctuations in the Bitcoin market.  Imagine if you had to record a little capital gain or loss based on the currency markets anytime you bought anything with cash.  If you use Bitcoins every day you’ll have a horrifying Form 8949 to report all of your gains and losses.

– The basis in virtual currency is its value on date of receipt, if you acquire it in a transaction.  That same value is the amount you use to compute income if you are paid in virtual currency

They point out the obvious:  “A taxpayer who receives virtual currency as payment for goods or services must, in computing gross income, include the fair market value of the virtual currency, measured in U.S. dollars, as of the date that the virtual currency was received.” Also, payments in virtual currency are subject to information reporting, same as cash.

– Virtual currency “miners” generate ordinary income.  If they do it as a trade or business, it’s subject to self-employment tax.

The TaxProf has more; Accounting Today also has coverage.  Peter Reilly has Bitcoins Not Tax Fairy Dust – Second Life Still A Tax Haven?, wisely noting that the virtual currency isn’t generated by the Tax Fairy.  And TaxGrrrl weighs in with IRS Says Bitcoin, Other Convertible Virtual Currency To Be Taxed Like Stock .

 

Ashlea Ebeling, Supreme Court Says FICA Tax Due On Severance Pay:

What the Supreme Court decision means for employers is that what had long been the case –severance pay is subject to FICA tax—remains the case. And for employees who are laid off, it means that they will continue to get a little less in “take-home” severance because it’s dinged for their share of FICA tax.

It seemed like a reach to say otherwise, but now it’s not even that.

 

 

A hard-working fictional student.

A hard-working fictional student.

O. Kay Henderson, Legislators ponder tax credit for student loan payments.  A truly awful idea.  This credit doesn’t encourage getting higher education; it encourages borrowing to pay for higher education.  As an unintended but obvious consequence, it discourages saving to pay for college — there’s no tax credit for foregoing current consumption to pay for college later.  It’s stunning that lawmakers actually want to encourage more student debt when many students already are entering a brutal job market with crushing loan obligations.

Joseph Henchman has two posts at Tax Policy Blog that should be read together: Wisconsin Approves Income Tax Reduction, Business Tax Reforms and Who Would Pay a Higher Illinois Income Tax?  Not the folks that move to Wisconsin, for sure.

 

Jason Dinesen, More on the 0.9% Medicare Tax and Iowa Tax Returns

Paul Neiffer, Schedule F Reporting Update:

I got some feedback on my previous post on Tax Reform and low Schedule F reporting of income. Several sources of farm income does not show up on a Schedule F. This includes many common sales of farm assets such as breeding stock and equipment. Most of the expenses associated with this income is deducted on Schedule F, however when these assets are sold, none of the gains appears on Schedule F.  Rather, this income is usually reported on Form 4797.

That still doesn’t change the fact that these simple farmers play the cash method like a violin to achieve tax results other businesses can only dream of.

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Demystifying The Deduction Rules For Accrued Liabilities   

William Perez, Identity Theft and Your Income Taxes

Kay Bell, IRS gives Colorado flood victims until Oct. 15 to file 2012 or 2013 tax returns claiming disaster losses

Janet Novack, Gotcha! Tax Court Penalizes IRA Rollover That IRS Publication Says Is Allowed   

 

David Brunori, Hang On to Your Wallets (Tax Analysts Blog)

Howard Gleckman, Dave Camp’s Plan for the Expired Tax Provisions: An Almost-Good Idea (TaxVox)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 321

Tax Justice Blog, State News Quick Hits: To Cut or Not to Cut?

 

Joseph ThorndikeRaising Taxes on the Rich Won’t Balance the Budget — But It’s Still Important (Tax Analysts Blog):

 The modern American fiscal state is predicated on a bargain. During World War II, lawmakers were forced to expand the personal income tax to help pay for the fighting. Over the course of just a few years, they added millions of middle-class Americans to the tax rolls for the first time, transforming the income tax from a rich man’s burden to a middle-class millstone. In return, however, these same lawmakers offered the middle class an implicit (and sometimes nearly explicit) guarantee — rich people would be asked to pony up, too.

Cool story.  Let’s see how that works nowadays:

Top 1 pays more than bottom 90

Chart by Tax Foundation

So now the “rich” aren’t paying their “fair share,” they’re picking up most of the tab.  How does it work if you break it down further?

20131030-2

So not only do “the rich” pay their share of the freight, they pay a lot more than their share of earnings.  And when you take government benefits into account, the whole “fair share” argument is tough to support:

givers and takers

Chart by Tax Foundation

I don’t buy Joseph’s “social contract” thinking.  The whole emphasis on inequality being peddled by the administration is a diversion, an attempt to change the subject from the manifest failures of Obamacare and foreign policy blundering.  No matter how hard they hit “the rich,” or how bad doing so is for the overall economy, there is never a point where the politicians will say the rich are being hit enough.

To the extent “inequality” persists, it’s clearly not a direct function of the tax code or government spending.  Politicians, though, find it useful to encourage the belief that they can spend on whatever pleases the crowd by just by making the rich pay their “fair share” — as if they weren’t already.  It’s the flip side of the widespread belief that the government can just balance the budget by cutting foreign aid.   It’s just an attempt to fool the gullible long enough to win another election.

 

Going Concern, Thrift Shops Issue Specific Guidance on Deduction Amounts for Used Underpants.  I didn’t know there was a deduction for toxic waste.

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/12/14: Hundreds of Panthers fear ID-theft. And: more smidgens!

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

uni-logoID Theft may affect 200 University of Northern Iowa employees.  KWWL.com reports:

In February, when the issue was first discovered, about 50 people had reported issues filing their federal income taxes. Now, University officials say 200 employees have come forward, and but not all of those are fraud. Still, that has psychology department secretary Jan Cornelius concerned. She said her social security number was stolen.

The problem was identified by taxpayers whose returns were rejected because somebody else had already filed under their numbers.  You need to be careful with your Social Security Number, and you should never transmit tax documents as unencrypted email attachments.  Use a secure file transfer portal, like Roth & Company’s Filedrop, to send tax files electronically.

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

More Smidgens.  The House Oversight Committee investigating the Tea Party Scandal issued a report yesterday blasting the idea that the IRS stall on right-side 501(c)(4) groups was just a non-political coincidence involving bumblers in Cincinnati.  Using IRS documents and e-mails, the report paints a picture of an effort driven by a highly-political bureaucrat to “do something” through IRS regulation to administratively reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  From the report’s conclusion:

Evidence indicates Lerner and her Exempt Organizations unit took a three pronged approach to “do something about it” to “fix the problem”of nonprofit political speech:

1) Scrutiny of new applicants for tax – exempt status (which began as Tea Party targeting);

2) Plans to scrutinize organizations, like those supported by the “Koch Brothers,” that were already acting as 501(c)(4) organizations; and

3)“[O]ff plan” efforts to write new rules cracking down on political activity to replace those that had been in place since 1959. Even without her full testimony, and despite the fact that the IRS has still not turned over many of her e-mails, a political agenda to crack down on tax-exempt organizations comes into focus. Lerner believed the political participation of tax-exempt organizations harmed Democratic candidates, she believed something needed to be done, and she directed action from her unit at the IRS. Compounding the egregiousness of the inappropriate actions, Lerner’s own e-mails showed recognition that she would need to be “cautious” so it would not be a “per se political project.”

Committee Democrats continue to insist that there is no “political motivation,” and no evidence of White House involvement.  To deny that targeting “Tea Party” and “Koch-funded” organizations is political is to insult our intelligence.  As far as White House involvement, the Chicago Way isn’t for the Boss to pick up the phone and call the Cincinnati service center.  The President’s public in-your-face criticism of the Supreme Court for Citizens United at a State-of-the-Union address gave his supporters in the bureaucracy all the guidance they needed.

The TaxProf has a roundup.

 

roses in the snowWilliam Perez, Deductions for Self-Employed Persons.  “Deductions that go on Schedule C reduce both the self-employment tax and the federal income tax.”

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): E Is For EE Bonds   

Russ Fox, The Moral Climate may have Changed but the Law Hasn’t. “Thus, until Congress changes the law a professional gambler cannot deduct gambling losses in excess of wins.”

Kay Bell, Beware tax break bait and switch.  “Yes, gifts to your favorite charity can be deducted, but only if you itemize on Schedule A.”

Paul Neiffer, Permanent Means Permanent:

North Dakota law regarding easements is unique.  It appears to be the only state in the country that limits easements to 99 years by law.  Since the Tax Code requires that the conservation easement be of a permanent nature, the Tax Court ruled in favor of the IRS and disallowed all of the easement charitable donations.

Oops.  Still, I think anything “permanent” should be looked at skeptically.  Nobody knows whether it will seem wise to lock up a parcel 100 years from now.

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Tackling The Dreaded Section 754 Adjustment   

 

20120906-1David Brunori, Where Is the Outrage? (Tax Analysts Blog):

According to Good Jobs First, there are 514 economic development programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. More than 245,000 awards have been granted under those programs. I ask again, where is the outrage? The system is antithetical to the idea of free markets. A quarter of a million times, state governments decided what is best for producers and consumers. That should make us cringe. First, the government is inefficient at providing public goods, and it is terrible at manipulating the markets for private goods. But more importantly, those 514 economic development programs are almost all the result of insidious cronyism. Narrow business interests manipulate government policymakers, and those interests prosper to the detriment of everyone else. Free markets be damned.

And while I’m looking for outrage, where are the liberals? The 965 companies in the report received over $110 billion of public money. Berkshire Hathaway, a company with $485 billion in assets and $20 billion in profits, received over $1 billion of that money. Its chair, William Buffett, is worth about $58 billion. Buffet, by the way, is still a darling of the left. He has some nerve to call for higher taxes. The billion dollars his companies took would pay for a lot of teachers, healthcare, and other public goods. 

They take just a little bit at a time from all of us so we don’t notice, and they give it in big chunks to their well-connected friends, who certainly do notice.   The report David refers to is here.

 

Joseph Henchman, State Sales Tax Jurisdictions Approach 10,000 (Tax Policy Blog).  Small wonder online sellers don’t want to collect everyone’s sales tax.

Elaine Maag, The Many Moving Parts of Camp’s Tax Reform for Low-Income Families (TaxVox)

 

Joseph Thorndike, The Last Time Everyone Gave Up on Tax Reform, It Actually Happened (Tax Analysts Blog).  But not this time:

Ultimately, Reagan agreed to make tax reform a priority. And his support was crucial. No lawmaker, no matter how exalted, well intentioned, or energetic, can move the ball like a president.

Which is one very important reason why 2014 is different from 1984. President Obama has no discernible interest in fundamental tax reform. So conventional wisdom is right: The Camp tax plan is going nowhere fast.

I think that’s right.

 

All it needs is a little pasta and fresh lemon.  Argentina: Authorities investigate tax evasion via garlic exports through shell companies

Career Corner.  It Is Almost Certain You Will One Day Be Replaced by Machines (Going Concern).  

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/5/14: President proposes $1 million Sec. 1031 cap. And: other doomed stuff!

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Economic supergenius

0-99, 0-414

The President trotted out his old petty tax increases in his 2015 budget yesterday, and a few new ones.  The  new taxes would go towards, among other spending increases, an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit welfare program for childless taxpayers.

If history is a guide, the Obama budget isn’t going to do well in Congress.  His own party leadership in the Senate has already pledged to pass no budget at all.  When his 2013 budget plan came up for a vote in Congress, it was rejected 99 -0 in the Senate and 414-0 in the House.

Still, it is worth mentioning some of the tax proposals, just so you are aware of them and their low likelihood of passage anytime soon.  Also, in light of the recent Camp “tax reform” proposal, apparently no tax provision is too dumb to get bipartisan consideration, so some of these might even pass someday.

– S corporations: the bill would tax as self-employment income 100% of K-1 income from professional S corporations and partnerships of materially-participating owners.  Businesses covered would include health, law, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, investment advice or management, brokerage services, and lobbying.  For some reason, regular compensation would no longer be wages, but would instead be self-employment income.  That would wreak havoc on everybody’s 401(k) and profit-sharing plans.

- Like-kind exchange benefits would be capped at $1 million per taxpayer per year.  That won’t be popular with the real estate industry.

The bill also drags out dozens of the old proposals from his prior budgets, including LIFO repeal, ordinary income treatment for carried interests, capping the value of deductions at 28%, and capping build-ups in retirement plans.  Nothing at all is likely to happen before the next election on these proposals, but as many Obama proposals are also included in some form in the GOP Camp plan, they all have to be considered viable next time a major tax bill shows signs of moving.

The TaxProf has a good link-filled roundup.  The official explanation of the revenue-raisers is here.

Other coverage:

Kay Bell, Obama budget proposes more child care help for younger kids

Leslie Book, President’s Budget Proposes Major Procedural and Administrative Changes (Procedurally Taxing).  “The popular media has generally described the plan overall the way Reuters did in reporting that it ‘stands little or no chance of being approved as is by Congress, where Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, disagree with the president’s policy priorities.'”

 

Des Moines Register, Voters OK increasing franchise fee in Des Moines.  The vote is the result of the city being ordered to repay an illegally-collected utility tax:

The money raised by increasing the franchise fee to 7.5 percent from 5 percent for seven years will be used to pay off about $40 million in bonds issued by the city to pay for the refund and administrative costs.

Among the “administrative costs” is $7 million in legal fees Des Moines was ordered to pay to the winning taxpayer attorneys after a scorched-earth court battle by the city to avoid repaying the illegal tax.  Next time, don’t collect an illegal tax, and pay up if you’re called on it.

 

Alan Cole, True Marginal Tax Rates under Chairman Camp’s Proposal (Tax Policy Blog).  Full of high-income phase-outs, it creates all sorts of goofy marginal rate anomalies:

Marginal Tax Rates Camp Tax Reform

Note the spike in rates at the low-end as a result of the earned-income tax credit phase-out.  That doesn’t even include the effect of the state EITCs that piggyback on the federal credit.  All of this is the opposite of tax reform.  Apparently neither party is ready for reform.

William Gale and Donald Marron, The Macro Effects of Camp’s Tax Reform (TaxVox): “How would Camp’s plan increase growth, and why is the range of estimates so wide?”

 

Paul Neiffer, Additional Tax Reform Items.  “Remember, this is just a proposal and nothing will happen this year.”

Gene Steurle, A Camp-ground for Tax Reformers (TaxVox).

 

20130419-1Russ Fox, Deadlines for Us, but Not for Them:

For practitioners, the current state of the IRS is such that you can expect a lot of delays in responding to notices. Think months instead of weeks. Expect to have to call the IRS to verify that your response was received, and make sure clients are aware that the IRS is moving like molasses rolling uphill. Make sure anything you send is documented: certified mail with proof of receipt if by mail; if faxing, make sure you have the proof of receipt. Given the lengthy delays our clients are going to be in fear for far longer…

For taxpayers, you need to be aware that expediency is not part of today’s IRS. You have to be expedient in responding to notices but don’t expect the IRS to be expedient in getting back to you. Do not worry if it takes a long, long time to resolve something with the IRS. That’s just par for the course today.

Unfortunately, clients generally assume that if the IRS has sent a letter, that means the practitioner screwed up.  Many people, especially old folks, just pay up when they get an IRS notice.

 

William Perez, Tax-Deductible Relocation Expenses

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): B Is For Basis   

David Brunori, Taxing Coca Cola while Exempting Broccoli is Bad Policy Even for Native Americans (Tax Analysts Blog):

 In any event, several newspapers reported that one of the sponsors of the proposal was himself obese. He decided to change his life and lost 100 pounds. And he did it without any tax increases or help from the government.

Like so many reformed smokers/overeaters/drinkers, he has become annoying about it.

Tax Justice Blog, State News Quick Hits: State Policy Makers Need a Tax History Lesson

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 300.

 

Cheer up!  Filing Your Tax Return Is Terrible — But It Was Worse 100 Years Ago (Joseph Thorndike, Tax Analysts Blog).

News from the Profession.  The Real Loser at the Oscars This Year Was PwC.  (Going Concern)

20140305-1Jason Dinesen shares his Tax Season Tunes:

Here’s a sampling of other tunes I listen to while working when not getting my Gordon Lightfoot fix:

  • Neil Diamond. Generally not his “famous” songs. I detest — and I mean absolutely revile — “Sweet Caroline,” for example. The original recording is okay, but he’s turned it into a hokey, over-the-top, karaoke show-tune over the last few decades. Blech. I like the more introspective songs like “Shilo,” “If You Know What I Mean,” “Stones,” pretty much anything from his relatively new “12 Songs” and “Home Before Dark” albums,  and a host of other Neil Diamond songs that most people have probably never heard of.

  • An mix of songs that include Billy Joel, pop rock from the 60s and early 70s, Elvis, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, AC/DC, Juanes, Bon Jovi, CCR, Johnny Cash and Jimmy Buffett.

In case you were wondering, I believe Jason works alone.

 

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