Posts Tagged ‘Kay Bell’

Tax Roundup, 7/11/14: Wilderness edition. And: the hazards of doing it yourself.

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Photo courtesy Philmontscoutranch.org

Photo courtesy Philmontscoutranch.org

Programming note.  The Tax Update goes untended for the next two weeks, as I head to Philmont Scout Ranch with my younger son and others for a 10-day backpacking odyssey.  It’s my first visit to New Mexico and my first extended backpacking trip.  Horses, carabiners, and black powder rifles will be encountered.  Whatever remains of me will be back here July 28.  The lovely and talented folks in the blogroll to the right will keep the tax world under control in the meantime.

 

Accounting Today visitors: if you followed the newsletter link here, you probably are looking for this: July 5, 1944.

 

Does the tax law cause people to do work on rental properties that they really should hire out?   That’s one conclusion you could draw from a Tax Court case yesterday, where a landlord says she chose do herself work that, based on the time she says she spent, should have gone to a contractor.

The tax law says real estate losses are normally “passive,” and when adjusted gross income exceeds $150,000, they are only deductible to the extent of other passive income.  A special rule lets “materially participating real estate professionals” out of the “per-se passive” rules; these taxpayers test whether their real estate activity is passive under the rules that apply to other business activities, based on time spent.

There’s a serious catch.  To qualify as a real estate pro, you have to work at least 750 hours in real estate, and more hours than in anything else you do.  If you have a full-time day job, this doesn’t work.

20140325-1But taxpayers attempting to get to 750 hours might be tempted to do work they would otherwise outsource.  That would be the generous interpretation of these facts in the Tax Court (my emphasis):

Petitioner claimed to have spent a total of 772 hours working on her rental properties in 2009. In support of her assertion, petitioner provided activity logs purporting to document the time she spent on her rental activities. Some of the activities included painting, cleaning apartments, shoveling snow, communicating with tenants on various issues, placing rental ads in the local newspaper, picking up mail, and paying bills. Although some log entries reference a specific apartment or property, many log activities do not specifically identify a particular rental unit. In addition, the number of hours noted on petitioner’s logs appears to be significantly inflated. For example, in one instance petitioner claims to have spent 8 to 12 hours per day for 10 days staining the “deck and siding” of what appears to be one apartment at the Pulaski property.

Some people just are perfectionists.

The log also indicates that [petitioner's husband] helped stain the deck and siding on those dates. In that instance, petitioners together spent between 160 to 240 hours staining the deck and siding of one apartment. There are several other instances in 2009 where petitioner claims to have spent many hours staining and painting decks and front porches of the rental properties. Petitioner’s log for July 2009 indicates that she spent approximately 77 hours over an eight-day period to paint a back porch. Petitioner’s log for November 2009 indicates that she spent more than 105 hours over a 12-day period on the flooring for one apartment and that on one specific day she worked 16 hours.

While a misguided attempt to reach 750 hourse might have motivated this sort of effort, the judge decided that something else was going on:

 Although petitioner claims she acted reasonably and in good faith with respect to her position that she was a real estate professional in the years in issue, we have concluded that petitioner’s records are not accurate or reliable and likely inflated the hours she spent in real estate activities. We have also concluded that the logs relating to her activity as an employee and her self-employment were not accurate.

If you want to document time for showing an activity is non-passive, it is wise to track it in a daily contemporaneous calendar.  It is also wise to not push the limits of believability.

Cite: Materano, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-64

Material participation hours tests can be found here.

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 428.  It features  from the Wall Street Journal U.S. Judge Orders IRS to Explain How it Lost Lerner’s Emails:

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Internal Revenue Service to explain how it lost two years’ worth of a former official’s emails, and tapped a magistrate judge to find out whether the documents can be obtained from other sources.

At a hearing in a conservative group’s lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan gave the IRS until Aug. 10 to provide a sworn declaration explaining how the email loss occurred. The IRS previously has said that the emails were lost because the top agency official’s computer crashed in 2011, and backup tapes were routinely reused after six months.

These practices violated federal recordkeeping procedures and, likely, federal law.  In spite of Ms. Lerner’s evident concern about the possibility of  her emails being found, Commissioner Koskinen says it’s silly to think anything more suspicious than a remarkable rash of hard-drive failures is to blame.

 

A new study by the Mercatus Institute says state taxes matter.  A summary says “The study finds that higher state taxes correlate with lower economic performance, even when controlling for various factors.”  It says that higher taxes lower economic growth, affect migration patterns, and reduce business startups. (hat tip: Maria Koklanaris, State Tax Notes ($link‘))

 

Carl O’Donnell, How The $1 Billion Kennedy Family Fortune Defies Death And Taxes.  Most politicians who vote for higher taxes do so assuming they won’t have to pay them. (via the TaxProf)

 

Kyle Pomerleau, Bill to be Introduced that Seeks to Reduce EITC Payment Error (Tax Policy Blog).  Unfortunately, fraud and error are baked into this cake.  You might as well try to take the chocolate out of toll house cookies.

 

20140513-1Jim Maule continues his Tax Myth series with Tips Aren’t Taxed Because They Are Gifts.  “Most people who collect tips are paid very little, rely on the tips to make a living, and are unhappy to learn that tips are included in gross income.”

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Head of Household   

It’s Friday, it’s Buzz Day at Robert D. Flach’s place.

Keith Fogg, Revoking the Release of the Federal Tax Lien and Appointing a Receiver (Procedurally Taxing)

 

TaxGrrrl, Who Should Pay For Schools? Answer Remains Unclear As Cigarette Tax Boost On Hold   Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.  For the children!

Renu Zaretsky,  Games, Spins, Ignorance and Patience.  Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers, among other things,  Highway Trust Fund games, corporate inversions.

Steve Warnhoff, House Poised to Throw $276 Billion “Bonus” at Businesses.  (Tax Justice Blog).  He’d rather throw it at the government.

Kay Bell, LeBron ‘King’ James’ return to Cleveland could be a win-win for fans and the so-called Win Tax

 

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A new Cavalcade of Risk is up!  R.J. Weiss hosts this edition of the blog world’s venerable roundup of insurance and risk management posts, including Hank Stern on Kidnap & Ransom Insurance.

I’ll bet he does.  Beanie Babies creator defends sentence of probation, no prison time, for tax evasion (Brandon Sun)

News from the Profession.  Just How Many CPA Roommates Can You Fit In a Single Apartment? (Leona May, Going Concern)

 

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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.

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

 

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

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 425

 

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

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

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/2/14: How to make the least of that office manager job. And: IRS gets around to the obvious!

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan


20140508-2No office manager is paid enough for this.  
The tax law doesn’t like it at all when an employer withholds payroll taxes from paychecks and fails to pass it on to the IRS.  One tool the IRS uses to encourage compliance is the “responsible person” penalty.  If a person with responsibility for remitting payroll taxes knowingly fails to do so, the IRS can assess that person with a 100% penalty — even if that person didn’t get any of the money.

A Virginia federal district court recently drove that lesson home to a Ms. Horne, an office manager for a medical practice:

A. Responsible Person

Horne was a responsible person for the Company for each quarter of 2006 through 2010. First, Horne was the Company’s Officer Manager throughout that time period. Second, Horne had substantial authority over payroll because she prepared and signed the Company’s payroll checks. Third, because Horne was charged with preparing checks to creditors, she necessarily determined which creditors to pay. Fourth, Horne participated in day-to-day management of the Company, including making decisions about employee compensation, maintaining the Company’s books and records, and preparing financial information to be presented at shareholder meetings. Fifth, at all relevant times, Horne had authority to, and did, sign checks drawn on the Company’s bank account. Sixth, Horne participated in decisions regarding the hiring and firing of employees.

B. Willful Action

From 2006 to 2010, Horne was aware of the Company’s unpaid employment tax liabilities as they accrued. However, she continued to prepare and sign checks to pay other creditors in preference over the United States. Accordingly, the Court finds that Horne acted willfully in failing to pay over to the Service the taxes withheld from the wages of the Company’s employees.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the aforementioned reasons, the Court will GRANT the Motion. Horne is, thus, liable to the United States in the amount of $2,926,809.51, plus statutory interest accruing from December 23, 2013. 

 

It’s hard to save $2.9 million even on the best office manager salary.

Update:  An excellent point made in the comments:  “I feel for anyone placed in the tough position of losing a job to avoid liability for an employer’s inability to pay its tax liability to the IRS, but the 100% penalty imposed by Section 6672 on responsible persons makes it clear that the job is not worth the tax problem arising from a company’s failure to pay its trust fund taxes.”

 

Cite: Miller v. United States et al.; No. 3:13-cv-00728

 

 

20130723-3IRS takes obvious measures to fight refund fraud five years late.  From Tax Analysts ($link)

     Starting in January 2015, the IRS will no longer make direct deposits of more than three tax refunds into one financial account, Commissioner John Koskinen told tax return preparers at the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum in Chicago July 1.

The move is meant to enhance the IRS’s efforts to combat stolen identity refund fraud, Koskinen explained in prepared remarks for his address to the forum.

Any refund after the third will automatically be converted to a paper check and mailed to the address on the tax return, Koskinen told preparers. “We will send out notices to those taxpayers that their refunds are being mailed and they should expect to receive them in about four weeks from the time of mailing,” he said.

That’s a good start.  Perhaps next the IRS can flag multiple refunds being sent to the same address – like the 655 refunds to a single apartment in Lithuania.  Baby steps.  Like this:

The IRS also plans to end the practice of a small number of preparers who serve as banker to their clients or who take fees from the refunds, Koskinen said. “We’ve identified about 4,400 personal accounts held by tax preparers where multiple refunds were deposited,” the commissioner said. “We’re putting a stop to that, too.”

No doubt some of these are full service firms that do your taxes, collect your refund — and spend it for you.

 

William Perez, Divorce and Taxes.  “We take a look at tax planning principles for property settlements, alimony and child support.”

Howard Gleckman, A Payroll Tax Math Error Adds $5 Billion To The Deficit (TaxVox).  “But the current law for the self-employed allows the full deduction of 7.65 percent—not only for earnings below the Social Security cap but, remarkably, even for earnings subject only to the 1.45 percent Medicare tax.”

Kay Bell, State tax law changes — from gas to sales to businesses and even soccer — take effect July 1

 

taxanalystslogoDavid Brunori, A Revenue Department Behaving Badly (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Documents (except for taxpayer information of course) produced by the “government” belong to the citizens.”

Kelly Davis, Kansas: Repercussions of a Failing Experiment (Tax Justice Blog).  “But the Governor’s experiment now appears to be in meltdown mode: revenues for the last two months have come in way under projections and may leave the state short of the cash needed to pay its bills.”

Lyman Stone, Scott Eastman, Liz Emanuel, Tyler Dennis, Courtney Michaluk, Independence Day Brings Fireworks Taxes to Light (Tax Policy Bl0g).  Hey, Iowa, if they aren’t legal, it’s harder to tax them.

Janet Novack, U.S. Taxpayers With Secret Offshore Money Face New Risks And Options 

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Iowa Deduction Finder — Insurance Premium Tax Deduction

Peter Reilly, Military Housing Allowance Much More Limited Than Clergy’s

TaxGrrrl, IRS Announces Shorter, Faster Application For Some Tax Exempt Organizations

Robert D. Flach, MORE INFO ON THE NEW IRS ANNUAL FILING SEASON PROGRAM.  “I still think in its current form it is stupid, and that very few tax preparers will actually ‘volunteer’.”

Robert is right.

 

Megan McArdle ponders the version of the email erasure story from Lois Lerner’s attorney:

This weekend, William Taylor III, Lerner’s lawyer, went on television and described Lerner’s experience. Lerner came in one morning in 2011, he said, turned on her computer and got a blue screen.

That interested me, because the description is quite specific. What he seems to be describing is the famed Microsoft Windows “blue screen of death.”

Well, because as I mentioned above, the Blue Screen of Death is an operating system error. The operating system lives on the hard drive. Which raises a question: If Lerner’s hard drive was so thoroughly malfunctioning that no one could even get the data off of it, how was it booting up far enough for the operating system to malfunction?

She comes up with some potential explanations — which mostly assume it didn’t quite happen the way the lawyer describes.

 

20140516-1John Hinderaker,  More on the IRS’s Illegal Destruction of Evidence

True the Vote’s brief points out that the first lawsuit alleging discriminatory targeting of conservative groups was filed by a pro-Israel group called Z Street, Inc., on August 25, 2010. On that date, at the very latest, the IRS had a legal duty to take measures to ensure that no emails, correspondence, memoranda, notes, or other evidence of any sort that could be relevant to the case was lost or destroyed…

But, according to IRS representatives who have testified before Congressional committees, the IRS ignored the law. Instead of making sure that relevant information was preserved, the IRS blithely continued erasing back-up email tapes every 90 days. Further, the IRS continued its policy of assigning each employee a ridiculously small space on an email server, and then authorizing employees (like Lois Lerner) to delete at will to keep space open. And, finally, when Lerner’s hard drive crashed ten months after the Z Street case was commenced, the IRS made no effort to preserve it, but rather, by its own account, recycled the hard drive in a business-as-usual manner.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 419

 

You should never be to busy to file correct tax returns.  Appeals court upholds Beavers’ tax conviction.

 

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

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

 

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

IRS total 20140701 cato

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

IRS budget cato 20140701

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Under the new policy:

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

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

(Hat tip: Kristy Maitre).

 

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

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

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

 

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

Robert D. Flach starts out July with a Buzz!

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 418

 

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, that’s illegal?

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

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

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

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

 

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

Monday, June 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

 

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 417

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

The Hill, IRS staredown not going away.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

Friday, June 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

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

Other coverage:

IRS Offers Voluntary Tax Preparer Education Program (Accounting Today)

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

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

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

 

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Why did Lois Lerner work at the IRS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan McArdle explains why that was a bad idea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 414

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

Funny how nobody is doing that anymore.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

 

This happened in 2008.  It's raining again.

This happened in 2008. It’s raining again.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

targetingstats

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 413

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: 

Department of Justice Press Release

Jack Townsend, Daugerdas Gets 15 Year Sentence

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Tax Roundup 6/24/14: Koskinen’s political gifts. And: in case you didn’t think Hitler was bad already…

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Just the man to build bridges to Republicans who fund the IRS.  From Bryan Preston, IRS Chief Koskinen Has Donated Big to Democrats Over the Years:

According to the Washington Free Beacon, Koskinen has donated about $100,000 to Democrat candidates and committees since his first donation in 1979. His donor recipients include Gary Hart, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic nominee in each presidential campaign since 1980 (which would even include Walter Mondale, who stood no chance of beating President Ronald Reagan in 1984), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns. He most recently donated $2,500 to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) in 2013.

He has given no money to Republicans.

It’s hard to believe how tone-deaf he is to the Tea Party scandal, but this helps explain it.  (Via Instapundit)

 

Jeremy Scott, Lost Lerner E-mails Latest Example of IRS Death Wish (Tax Analysts Blog), my emphasis:

In contrast to their GOP colleagues, Democrats rushed to Koskinen’s defense. That is, perhaps, understandable, even though much of what the IRS has done during this scandal is indefensible. Democrats probably want to defend their president’s pick to head the IRS, and maybe they want to try to change the narrative heading into a potentially disastrous midterm election. But the reality is that the IRS isn’t doing them any favors. There’s only so much incompetence and disingenuous behavior that can be run through a political spin machine. The Democrats’ reflexive defense of Lerner (whose conduct can’t be excused) and their apparent willingness to accept any explanation from Koskinen (who didn’t even try to adequately explain why he hid information on the lost e-mails from February until late June) is baffling. Democrats weakly attempted to paint the GOP as on a witch hunt for a conspiracy, as though the IRS’s mismanagement and appearance of bias weren’t enough to justify congressional inquiry.

The IRS isn’t doing Democratic congresscritters any favors, nor are they doing any for the IRS.  They are just making the IRS look more like a partisan agency, which could cripple tax administration for years.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 411

 

20140507-1Kay Bell, Save space and trees: Digitize your tax records.  That way if you lose them, the IRS will surely understand.

Russ Fox has some valuable information for online gamblers trying to stay FBAR compliant: Online Gambling Addresses (Updated for 2014)

Robert D. Flach has a Tuesday Buzz for you!

Tony Nitti, How State Taxes Could Play A Role In Carmelo Anthony’s Landing Spot.  Nah, state taxes don’t matter…

Peter Reilly, Step Kids Remain Step Kids After Divorce.  So you may still have a dependent, if not a spouse.

Jack Townsend, Comments by IRS Personnel on New Streamlined and OVDP Procedures.  “The new procedures were designed to ‘encourage folks who are considering quiet disclosures to come in with their hands up’ and avoid taxpayers coming into OVDP with the intention to opt out.”

Annette Nellen, Bitcoin Taxation – Clarity and Mystery, “If you are a tax practitioner and don’t think you need to deal with it, I’d be surprised if none of your clients uses bitcoin.”

William Perez, Backup Withholding.

 

Tyler Dennis, The Clinton’s Estate Tax Planning Demonstrates the Arcane Nature of the Estate Tax (Tax Policy Blog):

When the Clintons created the trust in 2011, their property’s assessed value was $1.8 million.  Without a residential trust, the future appreciation between 2011 and 2021 would count against the gift tax. If the property appreciated at a 4% annual rate and reached $2.6 million by 2021, that’s the amount that would count. With the residential trust, though, the Clintons were able to “lock in” the value of the home at its 2011 value of $1.8 million without actually relinquishing the property to the beneficiary of the trust.

Most supporters of higher taxes assume that they won’t have to pay them.

 

Renu Zaretsky, Disbelief, Devolution, and Death Benefits.  The TaxVox headline roundup talks about the Koskinen appearance before the Issa committee, and about how a surprising proportion of new life insurance is taken out on employees.

Andrew Lundeen, The Average U.S. Worker Pays over $16,000 in Income and Payroll Taxes (Tax Policy Blog):

The tax burden is a combination of income taxes at the federal, state, and local levels as well as the employee and the employer payroll taxes. Of the 31.3 percent tax burden, 15.4 percent is due to income taxes and 15.9 percent is due to payroll taxes, over half of which is paid by the employer on the employee’s behalf. (Workers pay the cost of the employer-side payroll taxes through lower wages.) 

Heck of a deal.

 

Stephanie Hoffer, Kuretski, the Tax Court, and the Administrative Procedure Act (Procedurally Taxing).

 

Another great tax planning idea down the tubes.  Kidnapping Prostitutes Is Not a Good Way to Claim Dependents for Tax Purposes (Greg Kyte, Going Concern)

If you didn’t think he was a bad guy already…  Adolf Hitler: Billionaire tax-dodger?

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/17/14: Hiring witnesses to your tax crimes. And: some folks just aren’t into Valentines Day.

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note:  The Tax Update will be on the road the rest of this week, so this is probably the last tax roundup this week.  Unless I change my mind.

 

Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

Sure, the more witnesses to my crime the merrier.  What could go wrong?  Every time I see a case in which an employer gets in trouble for evading payroll taxes by paying employees in cash, I have to wonder how much they thought things through.  Every employee becomes a potential informant, and it’s hard to imaging not having either a disgruntled employee turn you in or a careless one reveal the secret in the wrong place.

The Department of Justice yesterday announced a guilty plea yesterday:

   Sonny Pilcher of Casper, Wyoming, pleaded guilty to tax fraud today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced.  The sentencing hearing was set for Oct. 28, 2014 before U.S District Judge Alan B. Johnson.

 According to the charging document, Pilcher attempted to obstruct and impede the IRS.  Pilcher did this by claiming a false bad debt expense of $258,000 on his 2008 Form 1040 tax return, and by paying his employees in cash to evade paying employment taxes.  Pilcher faces a statutory maximum sentence of 36 months in prison, a $250,000 fine and may be ordered to pay restitution to the IRS. 

The inclusion of the “bad debt” in the charge is interesting.  You frequently see cases where people claim a non-business bad debt — which is a capital loss — as an ordinary fully-deductible business bad debt.  While you might see a civil penalty in such a case, I have never seen that called a criminal matter.  This presumably was something more serious than an argument over what kind of bad debt it was.

 

20120801-2If you have a full-time job, you probably aren’t a “real estate professional” who can deduct rental losses.  And if that’s so, don’t embarrass yourself in front of a Tax Court judge.  A taxpayer from California made that mistake in a Tax Court case issued yesterday.

Real estate rental losses are normally passive, meaning that they only are deductible to the extent of passive income (there is a special allowance for taxpayers with adjusted gross income under $150,000).  If you are a “real estate professional,” the losses are not automatically passive, but you have to meet two difficult tests to be one:

- You have to work at least 750 hours in the year in a real estate trade or business which you own, and

- your real estate business has to consume more of your time than anything else you do.

If you have a full-time day job, it is nearly impossible to rise to that standard (unless you have a pretty undemanding day job).  That didn’t keep the intrepid Californian who had three rental properties — all single-family houses — from giving it a try, as the Tax Court judge explains (my emphasis):

Even if we assume that petitioner worked 1,760 hours and 1,752 hours in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for Northrop Grumman, we do not accept his activity log coupled with this testimony relating to the rental activities as reliable or credible. A review of the activity log and testimony relating to the rental activities leads us to the conclusion the petitioner did not spend more hours at the real estate activity than at his full-time employment at Northrop Grumman. According to petitioner’s logs he spent almost every spare hour in those years working on the rental properties, including 10 hours on July 4 of each year, 12 and 10 hours on February 14, 2009 and 2010, respectively, and 9 and 10 hours, respectively, on December 25 of each year.

Hey, not everybody is a romantic.  And I’ll keep Christmas in my own way, thank you very much!

Although he managed three rental properties in each year, throughout 2009 alone petitioner’s records reflect that he repaired or worked on the sprinkler systems on any of the given properties on 64 separate occasions, and throughout 2010 he worked on sprinkler systems on 20 separate occasions. In addition, on March 16 and 17, 2009, the records reflect eight hours to prepare and deliver an eviction notice to be filed in court. Coincidentally, on March 15 and 16 of the next year, petitioner’s records reflect that he performed the very same activity for the same exact amount of time. A review of petitioner’s activity logs leads to the conclusion that the logs are inaccurate and exaggerated.

Maybe he just wasn’t very good at sprinkler systems?  Whatever you might think of Tax Court judges, you can be sure that they didn’t get their jobs by being gullible.

Cite: Bogner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-53.

 

 

20130114-1Kristy Maitre, Treasury Issues Changes to Circular 230 (Treasury Decision 9668):

Many individuals currently use a Circular 230 disclaimer at the conclusion of every e-mail or other writing.  Often the disclaimers are inserted without regard to whether the disclaimer is necessary or appropriate.

Treasury said they anticipate that the removal of the requirement will eliminate the use of a Circular 230 disclaimer in e-mail and other writings because Section 10.37 rules on written opinions don’t include the disclosure provisions in the covered opinion rules.

Good news.  I always thought the routine disclaimers were futile and I never used them.  They seemed like the email equivalent of a rabbit’s foot — it might make you feel better, but it still was mere superstition.  Yet I bet that we’ll still be getting emails from our fellow practitioners with the Circular 230 disclaimer years from now.

Russ Fox, Soon: No More Circular 230 Notices

 

Jason Dinesen, Iowa Taxes: Filing Separately and Allocating Dependents.  “In general, a typical married couple can allocate the dependency exemptions in whatever manner they choose.”

William Perez, Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Peter Reilly, Paul Reddam’s KPMG Tax Shelter Stunk In More Ways Than One 

TaxGrrrl, World Cup Mania: Figuring Out FIFA, Soccer & Tax.  So there’s a soccer tournament, I hear.

Robert D. Flach starts Tuesday with a Buzz!

 

20140513-1Martin Sullivan, Big Deal by Low-Tax Medtronic Has Even Bigger Implications (Tax Analysts Blog).  “The main benefit to Medtronic after the inversion will be that the billions of profits it generates outside the United States each year can now be deployed to pay dividends and to buy other U.S. companies without paying U.S. tax.”   Sounds like good corporate stewardship to me.

William McBride, Medtronic Embarks on Self-help Tax Reform (Tax Policy Blog).  “The high U.S. corporate tax rate is causing serious economic distortions, chasing away businesses, investment and jobs. The only way to deal with it effectively is to bring the corporate tax rate down to competitive levels, which is the path chosen by virtually every other country.”

 

Renu Zaretsky,  Tax Freedom, Tax Avoidance.  The TaxVox headline roundup covers the Medtronic inversion and internet taxes.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 404

Kay Bell, IRS says possible Tea Party emails lost in computer crash. “Conspiracy or clowns?”

 

News from the Profession.  Here’s Your Authoritative Guide for Likening Game of Thrones to Public Accounting (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/16/14: The dog ate my email edition. And: mail those estimates!

Monday, June 16th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Mail your second quarter 1040 and 1041 estimates today! (Or pay them online).

 

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

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

If the IRS demanded your emails, and you said the computer “crashed” and ate them, they’d buy that, right?  

The IRS expects us to believe that they so monumentally incompetent at information technology that they can’t produce Lois Lerner’s emails from January 2009 through April 2011.  No backups?  No RAID duplication?  No way to reconstruct them out of the bad hard drive?

Even the best possible interpretation of this — taking the IRS at its word — is a damning indictment of the agency.  It would show that basic network hygiene used by the private sector since the last century still is too advanced for the biggest taxing agency in the world.

But you may be excused for suspecting evil instead of incompetence here.  Congressional investigators have been looking for these emails for months.  Evidence has been building of an interagency effort between the IRS and the Justice Department to shut down, and even prosecute, unfriendly organizations.  Now, suddenly, poof, no more emails.  I don’t buy it.

The IRS statement says “In the course of collecting and producing Ms. Lerner’s additional emails, the IRS determined her hard drive crashed in 2011.”  What email system does the IRS use where the emails live on individual hard drives, rather than an email server?  Do any of you readers use your PC as your email server?  If so, do you never back it up?

And if you buy the IRS story, then tell my why on earth this exceptionally inept agency should be responsible for administering the nation’s health insurance system through the ACA.  Or even the income tax, for that matter.

Sheryl Attkinson has some follow-up questions for the IRS:

Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.

Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.

Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.

Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?

Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?

Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.

Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.

Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.

For a phony scandal, it’s amazing how real they’re making it look.

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Other Coverage:

Russ Fox, The Two Year Gap. “Either the IRS is deliberately lying or they have the worst IT department and policies of any company, organization, or government entity in the world.”

Ron Fournier, Did The IRS Really Lose Lois Lerner’s Emails? Let a Special Prosecutor Find Them.  “The announcement came late Friday, a too-cute-by-half cliche of a PR strategy to mitigate backlash. ‘The IRS told Congress it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner’s emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year,’  The Associated Press reported.

Althouse, “Did The IRS Really Lose Lois Lerner’s Emails? Let a Special Prosecutor Find Them.”  “Give us a special prosecutor, because it’s not acceptable to tell us we’re supposed to believe this story of disappearing evidence….”

The Blaze, Veteran IT Professional Gives Six Reasons Why the IRS’ Claim That It ‘Lost’ Two Years of Lois Lerner’s Emails Is ‘Simply Not Feasible’

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 403, rounding up blog and big-media coverage.

Peter Reilly, Personal Goodwill Avoids Corporate Tax Exposure:

The IRS does not like the concept of “personal goodwill”, but courts have often approved it.  In the Tax Court decision in the case of Bross Trucking, the concept was confirmed again, helping to save the taxpayer from what appears to me to be a real overreach on the part of the IRS. 

An interesting case involving a group of family businesses.

 

Younkers ruins 20140610Robert D. Flach, FINE WHINE: WHY MUST WE PUT UP WITH LATE ARRIVING CORRECTED 1099-DIVs EACH TAX SEASON?

Kay Bell, A Father’s Day gift for single dads: 5 tax breaks

Jack Townsend, 11th Circuit Holds Clear and Convincing Evidence Required for Section 6701 Penalty; Can Reasoning be Extended to FBAR Willful Penalty?

Phil Hodgen, Maximum account value determination for trust beneficiaries for FinCen Form 114.   Useful information ahead of the June 30 FBAR deadline.

Andy Grewal, TEFRA Jurisdiction and Sham Partnerships — Again? (Procedurally Taxing).  A guest post by a University of Iowa law prof.

 

Howard Gleckman, The Strange Fruit of the House’s Bonus Depreciation Bill (TaxVox).  “If I had read the bill more carefully, I would have noticed that while it applied to fruit that grows on trees and vines, it inexplicably excluded fruit that grows on bushes. As a blueberry lover, I am shocked and outraged.”

TaxGrrrl, House Votes To Make Small Business Tax Break Permanent.  “The bill would make the [$500,000] cap retroactive to January 1, 2014.”

Scott Drenkard, Donald Sterling Might Not Be Able to Write Off $2.5 Million Fine as a Business Expense (Tax Policy Blog).

Going Concern, What’s a Day in the Life of a Typical Audit Intern?  You’ve been dying to know!

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/11/14: IRS Bill of Rights: just words? And: when your state got its income tax.

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

billofrightsTalk is cheap.  The North Korean constitution has a whole bunch of rights,  per Wikisource.  For example:

Article 70. Citizens have the right to work. All able-bodied citizens choose occupations in accordance with their wishes and skills and are provided with stable jobs and working conditions. Citizens work according to their abilities and are paid in accordance with the quantity and quality of their work.

Article 75. Citizens have freedom of residence and travel.

Article 78. Marriage and the family shall be protected by the State. The State pays great attention to consolidating the family, the basic unit of social life.

 

So written declaration of rights are just empty words when there is nothing behind them. That’s why I can’t get too excited about the big Taxpayer Bill of Rights announced by IRS Commissioner Koskinen and Taxpayer Advocate Olson yesterday.

Nothing to disagree with on the list, but what will the IRS do to make it more than empty words?  Going down the list:

The Right to Be Informed.  The IRS is infamously secretive.  Will they no longer require Tax Analysts to sue them to make public their positions and procedures?  Will the required compensation for S corproation employee- shareholders be only known to the whim of the examining agent?

The Right to Quality Service.  The IRS continues to get worse at answering taxpayer questions.  It seems like they are worse than ever at dealing with correspondence.  It has become nearly impossible to reach IRS personnel in D.C. by phone to ask technical questions. Is the Commissioner going to change any of this?

The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax.  The nearly-automatic assertion of penalties for every asserted deficiency will have to end for this to mean anything.

The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard.  The consolidation of appeals offices and their seeming loss of independence will have to be reversed for this to mean something.

The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum.  See you in Tax Court…

The Right to Finality.  Does this mean IRS will enable offshore FBAR foot-faulters to come into compliance without facing financial ruin?

The Right to Privacy and The Right to Confidentiality. These are a big ones, and the IRS hasn’t been doing so well at them lately.

The Right to Retain Representation.  Yet the IRS wants to choose who gets to do this for you. When the IRS can shut down your representative, he may not be a really zealous advocate.

The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System.  This is something that the IRS can’t ultimately reach on its own — Congress designs the system — but it could sure do a lot better.  When the IRS routinely assesses $10,000 penalties for filing Form 5271 one day late, when they effectively loot foreign pension accounts of expats for inconsequential paperwork violations, it’s hard to see the fairness and justice.

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Other coverage:

TaxProf has a roundup.

Kay Bell, Would the newly adopted Taxpayer Bill of Rights have prevented the IRS Tea Party scandal?

Robert W. Wood, IRS Reveals Taxpayer Bill Of Rights

Joseph Henchman, IRS Approves List of Taxpayer Rights (Tax Policy Blog).  “My own addition is that much as requiring police to know and inform arrestees of “Miranda” warnings has increased awareness of those rights, so too will this.”

TaxGrrrl,  IRS Releases Much Anticipated ‘Taxpayer Bill Of Rights’  “With the wrap up of filing season, the IRS is now in its peak correspondence mailing season. This was, according to Koskinen and Olson, the perfect time to introduce the rights since they will be mailed out together with those correspondences.”

Russ Fox, IRS Adopts “Taxpayer Bill of Rights;” Will Anything Change?  “Until the IRS comes clean on the IRS scandal, what was released today makes a great sound bite but is otherwise nothing new. The IRS appears to have violated six of the ten rights, and is still stonewalling Congress on the scandal. The IRS’s budget won’t be increased because of today’s press release.”

 

Scott Drenkard, Richard Borean, When Did Your State Adopt Its Income Tax? (Tax Policy Blog):

20140611-1

No, they haven’t been around forever, it just feels that way.  Wisconsin was first.

 

Jason Dinesen, Same-Sex Marriage and Amending Prior-Year Returns.  “A broader way of asking the question is: if someone who’s in a same-sex marriage amends a prior-year return that they had previously filed as a single person due to the Defense of Marriage Act, must that amended return show a filing status of married?”

Tony Nitti, District Court: Lone Sale Of Undeveloped Land Generates Ordinary Income, Jeopardizing Land Banking Transactions   

William Perez, Home Office Deduction

Keith Fogg, Government Drops Appeal in Rand Case (Procedurally Taxing).  This is the case where the Tax Court ruled that a recovery of refundable credits in excess of income tax was not a “deficiency” for computing penalties.

Jack Townsend, Reminder: Category 2 Banks Will Serve Up Their U.S. Depositors .  Consider banking secrecy dead.

Brian Strahle provides a list of state and local tax blog resources. 

 

20140611-2Alan Cole, Japan’s Tax Reforms and its Blockbuster GDP Growth (Tax Policy Blog):

Paired together, theory would predict that these two tax changes create a structural shift in the Japanese economy; the more favorable corporate tax climate would encourage investment, and some income would be spent on that new investment instead of immediate consumption. Over the long term, this will boost Japanese wealth and productivity, and eventually allow for a higher standard of living than before.

The data fit this theory so far; private nonresidential investment grew at a “blockbuster” rate of 7.6% in the first quarter of 2014. 

 

David Brunori, A Coke and a Smile and a Tax (Tax Analysts Blog). ” It would tax a can of Coke, but if you went to Starbucks and dumped five teaspoons of sugar into your latte, there would be no additional tax.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 398

Going Concern, Ex-BDO Vice Chairman Given 16 Months to Think About His Choices. He will retire to a Bureau of Prisons meditation facility.

He was ashen after the sentence was announced.  Gray man sentenced to 18 months for tax evasion

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/10/14: When doing a like-kind exchange, keep the kids away. And: Iowa biofuel credit claw-backs?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Keep your friends close, and your relatives far away.  The tax law often assumes that any financial transaction between relatives is untrustworthy.  Many transactions that work just fine with a stranger become tax disasters when family is involved.  A New York man got a hard education in this yesterday in Tax Court.

The man was selling property at a $1.5 million gain, and he wanted to use the Section 1031 “like-kind exchange” rules to defer the gain by using the proceeds to acquire new property.  The tax regulations let you do so under the right facts as long as you follow rules on escrowing funds or using a “qualified intermediary,” and you meet deadlines for identifying and closing on the new “replacement property.”

For example (a very simplified example), if you sell an investment property and the proceeds are held by a “qualified intermediary,” and you identify the property within 30 days and close on it within 180 days, using the funds held by the intermediary in the purchase, the gain on the original property is transferred to the new property, to be only recognized if and when that property is sold.  But the IRS insists you go by the book.

These deals only work if you use a “qualified” intermediary.  The taxpayer in this case used his son.  Game over, said the Tax Court:

Petitioner acknowledges that there was no direct exchange of like-kind property; property A was sold and property B was purchased with proceeds from the sale of property A. Petitioner also acknowledges that the intermediary used in the transaction was his son. However, petitioner asserts that he meets the requirements of the regulation’s safe harbor because (1) his son is an attorney; (2) the funds from property A were held in an attorney trust account; and (3) the real estate documents refer to the transaction as a section 1031 exchange. We do not accept petitioner’s argument. The regulation is explicit: A lineal descendant is a disqualified person, and the regulation makes no exception based on his/her profession. Consequently, petitioner’s disposition of property A and subsequent acquisition of property B is not a deferred exchange within the purview of section 1031, and he must recognize income on the gain from the sale of property A.

There are a number of reputable firms that specialize in serving as intermediaries and escrow agents in like-kind exchanges.   They can make a potentially complicated deal go much more smoothly.  And they are probably not your son. Yes, they charge for their services, but when a $1,512,000 taxable gain is at stake, as it was here, it can be a real bargain.

Cite: Blangiardo, T.C. Memo 2014-110.

 

In other legal news, the Supreme Court declined to hear Wells-Fargo’s appeal of a 2013 decision striking down a lease tax shelter designed to generate a $423 million capital loss.

 

20120906-1Iowa wants some tax credits back.  Agweek reports:

 The Iowa Department of Revenue has warned at least one investor who owns shares in Energae LP of Clear Lake, Iowa, that tax credits for the company’s green energy production couldn’t be verified for 2012, and the credits must be paid back.

In a letter dated May 20, 2014, David Keenan, a revenue examiner for the compliance division of the Iowa Department of Revenue, told an unidentified taxpayer from Iowa to pay back $1,131.73. Victoria Daniels, public information officer for the agency, declined to comment on what might have disqualified the credits, or whether the denial affects only 2012. She also declined to comment on whether the department’s decision was focused on just one audited person or whether it will be extended to others who used the credits.

The Department has clawed back credits in cases where ethanol producers have failed or otherwise not met the requirements for the credits.

The article shows that the state subsidies encourage careless investing.  An attorney in a lawsuit on the matter is quoted:

“They offered a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, so people thought, ‘How can you lose?’ They may find out. I hope things come to a head soon because it seems to me there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation in the investing public. I think there needs to be some clarity.”

While this is only one side of the story, it’s easy to see where an investor might overlook due diligence when a “dollar-for-dollar tax credit” makes the deal seem like a free play.

 

The Onion is a satirical publication, but it’s hard to tell sometimes:   States Now Offering Millions In Tax Breaks To Any Person Who Says ‘High-Tech Jobs’

ST. PAUL, MN—In an effort to spur their local economies, many state governments are now offering tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to any person who simply says the words “high-tech jobs,” according to a survey by the Pew Research Center published Monday. “We must do what it takes to draw potential innovators to the great state of Minnesota, which means granting lucrative tax credits and loan guarantees to any individual—whoever they may be—who utters the phrase ‘high-tech jobs’ in any context whatsoever,” said Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, whose office has reportedly joined numerous other states in doling out tax exclusions, low-interest municipal loans, full income tax exemption for 10 years or more, and other valuable incentives to thousands of people who have spoken such phrases as “biotech,” “innovation center,” “high-skilled workers,” and “tomorrow’s economy.”

If the story were written about Iowa, the magic words would include “renewables,” “wind-energy,” and “fertilizer.”

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 397.  The stories today mostly cover a huge illegal transfer of confidential 501(c)(4) taxpayer data to the FBI.  The House committee investigating the Tea Party scandal revealed  communications between Lois Lerner and FBI representatives arranging the illegal transfer.  This is a big deal, making it clear that the activities involving Ms. Lerner weren’t accidental, and were far more sinister than the “phony scandal” crowd would have you believe.

Russ Fox, Perhaps This Is Why Lois Lerner Is Taking the Fifth.  “Based on what I just read, if anyone is expecting the IRS’s budget to increase this year, well, that has as much chance as it snowing here in Las Vegas tomorrow. (The high is expected to reach just 105 F.)”

Leslie Book, Exploding Packages and IRS Disclosure of Confidential Tax Return Information (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Robert D. Flach brings your fresh Tuesday Buzz!

Kay Bell, Lowest U.S. property tax bill? Probably $2 in coastal Georgia

 

Jack Townsend, Court Holds Online Poker Accounts are FBAR Reportable:

The two issues were:  (1) whether the accounts with the three entities were “bank, securities or other financial account[s]” that must be reported on an FBAR; and (2) whether each of the three accounts was in a foreign country  The Court answered both questions yes.

A potentially expensive result for a lot of folks, if it holds up.

 

Gerald Prante, Deductions for Executive Pay Is Not a Subsidy. (Tax Policy Blog)  “Essentially, IPS and ATF are starting from a baseline that assumes all executive pay should be capped at $1 million and any deviation from this is a subsidy.”

 

taxanalystslogoJeremy Scott, Whistleblower Highlights Undue Influence at the IRS (Tax Analysts Blog)  “He claimed that granting credits for the use of black liquor was opposed by most of chief counsel, but that a few senior managers changed the policy, allowing paper manufacturers to take advantage of a true tax loophole.”

But we are supposed to trust them to regulate preparers without fear or favor.

 

Tax Justice Blog, State News Quick Hits: Keeping Score? Real Tax Reform 0. Tax Cuts 2

Martin A. Sullivan, How Not to Tax the Rich (Tax Analysts Blog).  “The liberal case for corporate taxation has been severely weakened by capital mobility.”

Renu Zaretsky, Repatriation, Havens, and Tax Reform Abroad.  The TaxVox daily headline roundup talks about extenders, tax havens and the costs of repatriation tax holidays.

 

Peter Reilly, Confidence Games – How The Most Prestigious Accounting Firms Raided The Treasury: 

 Now thanks to Tanina Rostain and Milton C. Regan, Jr. you can read all about it in “Confidence Games – Lawyers, Accountants, and the Tax Shelter Industry”. It is a sad story with no heroes and only one villain, who is colorful enough to be engaging – Paul Dauugerdas, who is still awaiting sentencing on his second conviction (He got a do-over on his trial due to juror misconduct).  The book is a must read for all tax professionals and others may enjoy it too.  

Sounds like a buy to me.

 

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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, 6/3/14: The joys of cronyism. And why Warren’s math is off.

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

20120906-1When states “target” tax breaks, the little guy gets caught in the crossfire.  That’s the conclusion of a terrific new study on why special tax favors to special friends of the government hurt state economies and corrode good government.  The paper, by the free-market think-tank Mercatus Institute, is the best distillation of the case against luring businesses with special tax favors.

The study describes how big companies skillfully play state politicians for subsidies.  It shows how Wal-Mart has received at least 260 special tax breaks worth over $1 billion.  It describes the $370 million in North Carolina subsidies to Apple to create a whopping 50 jobs — $7.4 million each.  These come at the expense of small companies who pay full-ride on their tax bill as they lack the lobbyists and clout to play the system.

It discusses how the only way states can make a case for their special breaks is to ignore opportunity costs.  States assume that money spent to lure a well-connected company would otherwise be buried or something, generating no economic activity.  As the study says, “Labor and capital are scarce resources and they are rarely left idle.”  It’s a point Tax Update readers may be familiar with.

The study notes how the subsidies hurt the companies who don’t get the benefits, even if they are not direct competitors of the corporate welfare recipients: “When new companies receive extra money to invest, they raise the price of capital and drive up wages, which imposes an additional cost on unsubsidized companies in the state.”  This refutes the fallacy that “Smith’s tax credit doesn’t cost Jones a cent.”

microsoft-apple

They also point out how targeted tax breaks create a crony culture in statehouses.  The study cites the example of Texas (citations omitted, emphasis added):

As companies direct more of their resources to securing special benefits, they need more people who can lobby or who have other rent-seeking skills.  There is already a whole industry of “location consultants,” some of whom demand a commission of up to 30 percent on the subsidies that they can negotiate with local governments.  Consultant G. Brint Ryan in Texas is a good representative of this industry.  Texas allocates corporate benefits exceeding $19 billion per year, more than any other state.  Ryan realized the profit opportunity in serving as a consultant to companies seeking to obtain these benefits.  He has since secured benefits for ExxonMobil, Samsung, and Wal-Mart, among others.  Ryan also illustrates the importance of having political networks for securing targeted benefits.  In 2012, the Texas legislature set up a commission to evaluate the impact of state investments in development projects.  Ryan, who donated more than $150,000 to the campaign of the state’s lieutenant governor, was appointed to the commission by the lieutenant governor.

The same dynamic is playing out in Iowa, as the economic development bureaucracy has spawned a cottage industry of attorneys and consultants to tap into taxpayer funds.

What should states do?  The report says:

Four policy implications for state governments follow from our analysis:

- Allow for current targeted benefits to expire, and abolish state programs that grant them on a regular basis.

- Make sure that targeted benefits cannot be granted by individual policymakers on an ad hoc or informal basis

- Broadly lower tax rates to encourage company investments and obtain a more efficient allocation of resources.

- Cooperate with other states to form an agreement about dismantling targeted benefits.

Sounds a lot like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.

Other coverage:

Joe Carter, How Enterprise Zones Lead to Cronyism

Kenric Ward, Study: Cronyism Increasingly Lucrative for Politicians and Businesses

Related:  Governor’s press conference praises construction of newest great pyramids.

 

20140603-1Tax Justice Blog, State News Quick Hits: Gas Taxes, NJ Budget Woes, Madison Square Gardens’ Sizable Tax Break

 

Jason Dinesen has Yet Another Post About Regulation of Tax Preparers.  “Preparer regulation is a bad idea. ”

Kay Bell, Tax moves to make in June 2014

Robert D. Flach has your fresh Tuesday Buzz!

 

Andrew Lundeen, The Common Misconception about the Lower Rate on Capital Gains and Dividends (Tax Policy Blog):

What is not easily seen is that the $100 that Mr. Buffett earns in dividends has already been taxed at the corporate level. In fact, Mr. Buffett’s $100 didn’t start at $100, it started as $153.85.

To receive his $100 dividend payment, Mr. Buffett must own shares in a corporation, which we will call Company A. Company A earned $153.85 in profits on Mr. Buffett’s behalf. This $153.85 is then subject to the federal corporate tax of 35 percent, or $53.85.

The corporation pays the $53.85 to the federal government on behalf of Mr. Buffett and then passes the remaining $100 to him in the form of a dividend. This is the $100 we discussed earlier, on which, Mr. Buffett pays $23.80 in dividend taxes.

Warren Buffett knows this.  But raising individual rates helps keep down those small guys whose businesses report their taxes on the owner 1040s — and, incidentally, makes it easier for Warren’s insurance business to sell tax-advantaged products.

 

Jeremy Scott, Camp Waves the White Flag (Tax Analysts Blog). “Camp tried to reform the tax system — and failed.”

Martin Sullivan, Corporate Expatriations: More Deals Are Likely (Tax Analysts Blog).  ” It is unlikely that any known or yet-to-be-made-public deals will be slowed by Democrats’ efforts.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 390

 

TaxGrrrl, John Daly Relied On Tax Records To Figure $90 Million Gambling Losses.  “Despite tens of millions of dollars in gambling losses, Daly doesn’t seem to regret his behavior, saying, ‘I had a lot of fun doing it.’”

 

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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, 5/29/14: Supreme Court ponders crediting city income taxes on state returns. And: more jeers for “voluntary” preparer regulation.

Thursday, May 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case on whether states must allow a credit for taxes paid to municipalities.  The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear an appeal of Maryland v. Wynne, where a Maryland court ruled that the state must allow a credit against Maryland taxes for taxes paid in non-Maryland cities by Maryland residents.

State generally allow their residents credits for taxes paid to other states, to the extent the taxes don’t exceed resident-state tax on the same income.  Iowans compute this credit on Form 130.  This keeps residents with out-of-state income from doubling-up their state taxes.  Municipal taxes don’t necessarily get the same treatment.  An Iowa Department of Revenue representative outlined the state’s position:

Iowa Code section 422.8(1), which provides for the out-of-state tax credit, only refers to tax paid to another state or foreign country.  “State” is defined in Iowa Code section 4.1(32) as including the District of Columbia and its territories.  Therefore, based on the Iowa statute, Iowa would take the position that the out-of-state tax credit is not allowed for municipal taxes.

I have no idea how the court will rule on this.  Both Maryland and the Obama administration urged the court to take the case, which might indicate the court is sympathetic to them.  Or it might not.  For its own reasons, the Court may be looking for a vehicle to clarify the law of multistate income tax.

A brief from an organization of municipality attorneys describes the Maryland holding being appealed:

1. First, in order to avoid substantial interference in interstate commerce, the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution requires every state and subdivision thereof to give its residents a full tax credit for all income taxes paid in another state or subdivision; and

2. Second, the receipt of Subchapter S pass-through income in Maryland is “interstate commerce” which is being substantially affected by Maryland’s tax structure, in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.

Both of those points seem perfectly reasonable to me.  If the court rules against the taxpayer, states may try to raise money be limiting their credit for taxes paid to other states.

In any case, it would be prudent for Iowans who have paid taxes to non-Iowa municipalities to file protective refund claims for open years.  For taxpayers who extended 2010 returns, that year is still open; otherwise, 2011 is the earliest open year.  The court will hear the case in its term beginning in October.

The TaxProf has a coverage roundup.  TaxGrrrl reports in Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Landmark Case On Whether States May Tax Income Earned In Other States, with a good discussion of the history of the case.

 

20130121-2Another supporter of preparer regulation comes out against “voluntary” certification.  The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants came out against the IRS “voluntary” preparer certification system this week.  Now the National Association of Enrolled Agents, which like the AICPA was a fan of the now-defunct IRS mandatory preparer regulation scheme, has also come out against the “voluntary” program proposed by Commissioner Koskinen.  Robert D. Flach reports:

It appears that the main objection of NAEA to the current IRS proposal is the replacement of the original initial competency test used in the pre-Loving mandatory RTRP program with a “50-question ‘knowledge based comprehension test’ to be created by individual CE providers”.

It goes on to say -

“CE by itself, even in combination with a ‘knowledge based comprehension test’, fails to provide a taxpayer with any assurance that the person preparing his or her return is even minimally competent to do so.”

I think this is just another way for the IRS to help its friends at the national tax prep franchises to get something to put on their windows without helping taxpayers.  Considering its limited financial resources, it is absurd for the IRS to be taking on a new program.  Taxpayers can already choose CPAs or Enrolled Agents if they want “certified” preparers, and nothing stops unenrolled preparers from setting up their own system.  You have to have a lot of unwarranted faith in IRS goodwill to believe that the “voluntary” program won’t really be mandatory, as the IRS gives little perks to the “volunteers” and little hassles to everyone else.

 

 

Kay Bell, Actual auto expenses or standard mileage rate? Which business deduction method will cut your taxes more?

William Perez, IRS.gov’s Direct Pay.  “Unlike the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), people using Direct Pay do not need to register to use the service.”

 

20140328-1Russ Fox, Punt Blocked; National Audit Defense Network Heading to ClubFed.

Cara Griffith, How Much Knowledge Is in an Audit Manual? (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Yet while the IRS and several states make their audit manuals available online, other states, including Louisiana, do not. Taxpayers should not have to make a public records request to obtain manuals that will provide guidance on how a state conducts an audit. ”

Leslie Book, TEFRA Outside Basis and Tax Court Jurisdiction (Procedurally Taxing). “Periodically, like a kid forced to eat spinach, I will tackle TEFRA developments.”

Peter Reilly, Z Street Suit On IRS Israel Targeting Can Move Forward. “This lawsuit much like Teapartygate confirms me in my view, that the evaluation of whether an organizations purposes should allow it exempt status is not something that the IRS should be doing.”

Jack Townsend, Zwerner Jury Verdict — FBAR Willfulness for 3 Years

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 385

 

guillotineAndrew Lundeen, France’s 75 Percent Tax Rate Offers a Lesson in Revenue Estimating (Tax Policy Blog):

Since elected, French President Francois Hollande has raised the income tax, corporate tax and VAT. The government forecasted that these tax increases would lead to an increase in revenue of 30 billion euros.

As reported by the BBC, those estimates were off by about half:

“The French government faces a 14bn-euro black hole in its public finances after overestimating tax income for the last financial year.”

You can’t expect people just to stand still for something like that.

 

Adele Morris, Three Options for Better Climate Policy (TaxVox) Carbon Taxes, State carbon taxes, or no carbon tax.

 

Going Concern, IRS Throws Hissy Fit About Not Being Able to Regulate Preparers, Gives Up On Everything.

 

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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, 5/23/14: We’re sorry. Can we have our funding now?

Friday, May 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

The IRS wants its budget back.  The agency has withdrawn the proposed regs that would institutionalize its mistreatment of Tea Party groups.  Accounting Today reports:

The announcement Thursday came in response to the unprecedented number of comments—over 150,000—the IRS received on the proposed rules, which were supposed to govern the types of political activity that would be permissible for groups to maintain tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations under Section 501(c)4 of the Tax Code (see Treasury and IRS Issue Guidance for 501(c)4 Tax-Exempt Social Welfare Organizations). The issue has roiled the IRS since last year, when the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations unit, Lois Lerner, admitted that the IRS had used terms such as “Tea Party” and “Patriot” to screen applications from conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Those revelations led to the departures of Lerner and a number of other high-ranking officials at the IRS, along with a series of contentious hearings, subpoenas and contempt of Congress charges against Lerner.

The new commissioner, John Koskinen, indicated back in February that the proposed regulations are not likely to be finalized anytime soon and would be subject to heavy revision in response to the thousands of comments the agency received (see IRS Commissioner Koskinen Says Proposed Tax-Exempt Rules Won’t Be Finalized Soon). Republican lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation in February to block the proposed regulations (see Congress Considers Legislation to Block IRS’s Proposed 501(c)4 Regulations).

I suspect it will be a loooong time before they come out with a new set of proposed regulations — comparable to the wait for the final regulations on self-employment taxation of LLC members, which have been “proposed” now since 1997.  This is probably a necessary first step for the IRS to get its full funding restored, given how much it has done lately to demonstrate that it is institutionally opposed to the GOP.  Maybe it would help also to demonstrate some fiscal discipline by dropping its costly pursuit of preparer regulation by “voluntary” means.

 

Related: TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 379

 

Jim Maule, No Deduction If Entitled to Reimbursement.  “It is a long-established principle of federal income tax law that a taxpayer is not permitted to deduct an otherwise deductible expense to the extent that the taxpayer is entitled to reimbursement from the taxpayer’s employer.”

Kay Bell, Summer travel time is prime tax time

Peter Reilly, American Atheists Denied Standing To Challenge Church Tax Breaks.

Robert D. Flach come’s through with the week’s third Buzz!

 

20140523-2

 

Christopher Bergin, The Punishment of Credit Suisse Is Not Enough (Tax Analysts Blog). “People need to start going to jail for these types of abuses.”  No, our tax authorities prefer to shoot jaywalkers so we can gently chastise the international money-launderers.

Jack Townsend, Credit Suisse Update – The Aftermath for Credit Suisse #1.  The Federal Tax Crimes blog rounds up coverage of the Credit Suisse plea.

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for 5/16/14 (Procedurally Taxing). The most interesting item to me in this roundup of tax procedure posts is “IRS is doing limited audits on Section 409A plans, and Winston and Straw has some coverage here.”  The horrible Section 409A rules haven’t triggered many audits.  That may be ending, and 20% penalties, plus income taxes, on funds never received will then be on the way as a result of foot-fault violations of the insanely-complex rules governing non-qualified deferred compensation plan distributions.

 

Joseph Henchman, IRS Considering Change in Tax Treatment of Travel Loyalty Points (Tax Policy Blog). What could go wrong?

Len Burman, Why Not Ditch the Medical Device Excise Tax and Boost Cigarette Taxes? You know, if we really wanted to promote public health, we should consider promoting e-cigarettes to get people off the real thing.  Instead, the government wants to tax and restrict them just like real coffin nails.

 

Adam Weinstein, Why Our Political System’s Screwed, in One Very Basic Chart:

20140523-1

 

Via Nick Gillespie.

 

News from the Profession: Ex-KPMG Partner Who Gave Insider Tips to His Former Golf Buddy Is Going to Talk About Ethics Before He Goes to Prison (Going Concern)

 

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/22/14: IRS teams up with Bernie Madoff. And: more on the new e-file ID rules.

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff

The IRS wants in on Bernie Madoff’s action.  The Tax Court is going to think about it.

Bernard Kessell died in July 2006.  He might have died content believing he was leaving a healthy investment portfolio for his heirs.  After all, just one part of the portfolio had issued its most recent month-end statement showing a value of $3,221,057.  That statement was issued by Bernie Madoff.

Of course Mr. Madoff was arrested in 2008 and is now residing in federal prison on charges arising from the Ponzi scheme that victimized Mr. Kessell and so many others.  The real value of the securities in Mr. Kessell’s Madoff portfolio was zero.

But the IRS isn’t letting that get in the way.  The agency says Mr. Kessell’s estate should pay estate tax on the value that Mr. Kessell died thinking he owned, rather than the zero actual value.  It wants to piggyback on Mr. Madoff’s fraud to tax an estate value that wasn’t there.

The IRS asked the Tax Court for summary judgment that the asset to be taxed was the account itself, not the vaporous underlying assets, and that because Mr. Madoff hadn’t been unmasked, a willing buyer would pay full sticker for the lying value on the Madoff statements.  The Tax Court court wasn’t willing to go along on summary judgement:

We cannot say on the record before us, however, whether that agreement constituted a property interest includible in Decedent’s gross estate separate from, or exclusive of, any interest Decedent had in what purported to be the assets held in the Madoff account. This question is best answered after the parties have had the opportunity to develop the relevant facts at trial. We will therefore deny respondent’s motion on this point.

As to the issue of the value, Judge Kroupa had this to say (citations omitted).:

     Respondent argues that a Ponzi scheme, by its very nature, is not reasonably knowable or foreseeable until it is discovered or it collapses. Respondent notes Mr. Madoff’s particular skill and that his Ponzi scheme was not disclosed until it collapsed in December 2008. Respondent then reasons that Mr. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was knowable or foreseeable only at the point when it collapsed — when the amount of money flowing out of Madoff Investments was greater than the amount flowing in. For purposes of this motion, at least, we disagree.

Some people had suspected years before Mr. Madoff’s arrest that Madoff Investments’ record of consistently high returns was simply too good to be true. Whether a hypothetical willing buyer and willing seller would have access to this information and to what degree this information would affect the fair market value of the Madoff account or the assets purportedly held in the Madoff account on the date Decedent died are disputed material facts.  Thus, we will deny respondent’s motion on this point as well.

The rule on how assets are valued is in Reg. Sec. 20.2031-1(b):

 The fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.

Most folks would consider the fact that the account was invested in a Ponzi scheme to be one of those relevant facts.  I guess that’s why most of us don’t work at IRS.

Cite: Estate of Bernard Kessel, T.C. Memo. 2014-97.

 

20130121-2The AICPA doesn’t care for the “voluntary” IRS preparer regulation proposal.  The Hill.com reports:

That system, the AICPA argues, would create implied government backing for those preparers who comply with the standards, while punishing those who do not.

“The proposed voluntary system would undoubtedly leave the impression among most taxpayers that certain tax return preparers are endorsed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS),” according letter.

Further, nonbinding standards would fail to root out bad actors, according to the group.

“As a practical matter, any voluntary regime constructed would still not address the problems with unethical and fraudulent tax return preparers,” the group contends.

All excellent points.  The AICPA has figured out that the “voluntary” program would eventually be voluntary like United Way contributions were “voluntary” when I was a green staff accountant at a national accounting firm.  They were voluntary, but amazingly, participation in the drive was always 100%.  Maybe the AICPA leaders still remember their staff accountant days.

I would add one more point.  Commissioner Koskinen and Taxpayer Advocate Olson never tire of telling us how underfunded the IRS is.  If so, why are the diverting some of their already inadequate resources to start a new nonessential program?  The obvious answer is they are trying a back door power grab now that the courts have barred the front door.

Going Concern: The AICPA Voiced “Deep Concerns” About the IRS’ Voluntary Tax Preparer Proposal.  “This means war…”

Larry Gibbs, Recent Developments in the IRS Regulation of Return Preparers (Procedurally Taxing).  A long guest post by a former IRS Commissioner about the power grab he never tried.

 

Russ Fox, New Identification Rules Go Over Like a Lead Balloon:

In this morning’s post, Joe Kristan told his readers to call the IRS. I agree; I urge all tax professionals to speak to or email their IRS Stakeholder Liaison.  

Russ quotes a new post by Jason Dinesen, I Was Wrong: We SHOULD Be Outraged About the New IRS E-File Requirements, which Jason followd up with Questions to Ponder About New IRS E-file Requirements.  I love Question 8: “How many ID thieves use a tax pro?”

Robert D. Flach has a special Thursday Buzz!, which includes Robert’s take on “voluntary” preparer regulation and the new IRS e-file requirements.

 

20140321-3TaxGrrrl, Still Looking For Your Tax Refund? Errors, 4464C Letters And Other Explanations

Peter Reilly,  Tax Court Threatens To Sanction Courtroom Commando Mac MacPherson.

Kay Bell, NYC arena Madison Square Garden pays no property taxes

Me, IRS Releases Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for June 2014

 

William McBride, High U.S. Corporate Tax Rate Chases Away Companies, Jobs and Tax Revenue (Tax  Policy Blog).  If it didn’t, it would be a fascinating case of economic actors failing to respond to incentives.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 378

Renu Zaretsky, Relief, Credits, Cuts, and Roads.  The TaxVox daily headline roundup talks about new tax relief for Minnesotans and the continuing worthlessness of film tax credit programs for everyone but filmmakers.

Cara Griffith, Should Taxpayers Challenge States if They Fail to Enact Rules? (Tax Analysts Blog):

State regulations are often vague or ambiguous, and authorities can use that to their advantage. But states should not be permitted to simply take the position that is in their best interest. They should be required to provide guidance and clarification on the positions they intend to take and, even better, clear-cut examples of how that position will be applied. And if a position will be applied to an entire industry, the state should issue a rule.

States prefer Calvinball rules.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Junk Economics: New Report Spotlights Numerous Problems with Anti-Tax Economic Model.  I suspect the biggest problem is that TJB doesn’t care for any model that doesn’t justify infinitely-high tax rates.

 

Des Moines, sometimes you are just adorable:

adorable des moines

Des Moines has started posting commute travel times, just like a big city.  On a bad day, it could be as much as 2 minutes to downtown from here.

 

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