Posts Tagged ‘Kay Bell’

Tax Roundup, 11/23/15: Maquoketa! And, bought and paid-for at year-end insufficient for golf-cart credit.

Monday, November 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
A Maquoketa Cave. Picture by Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

A Maquoketa Cave. Picture by Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Maquoketa! The Day 1 team of the  ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools is in the northeast Iowa town of Maquoketa, known for its cave system and the 61 Drive-in theater, “one of the few remaining outdoor theaters in the United States.” We then get two weeks off before the penultimate session in Denison, on the other side of the state, and our December 14 final session in Ames. Register here for one of the final schools or for the webcast of the Ames session.


“Ordered” doesn’t cut it for year-end asset purchases. Among the many silly tax rules enacted in the panicked response to the 2008 financial crisis was the tax credit for “low-speed electric vehicles,” more conventionally known as golf carts. This led to panic buying of golf carts to claim the lucrative tax spiff. Last week the Tax Court disappointed one buyer who tried to get a tax credit purchase in under the wire. It provides a lesson for all taxpayers looking at year-end purchases to get a Section 179 deduction or bonus depreciation.

The credit was available only for carts “placed in service” in 2009. Judge Paris sets the stage (all emphasis mine, footnotes omitted):

Respondent determined a deficiency of $6,253 in petitioners’ Federal income tax for 2009. The issue before the Court is whether petitioners are eligible for a New Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle tax credit (PEVC) of $6,253 pursuant to section 30D for 2009. The notice of deficiency did not determine a penalty.

The electric vehicle at issue, a Spark NEV-48 EX, was manufactured by Zone Electric Car, LLC (Zone Electric). Pursuant to Notice 2009-54, 2009-26 I.R.B. 1124 (June 29, 2009), Zone Electric submitted a request on October 1, 2009, to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to certify that its electric vehicles were qualified plug-in electric vehicles for purposes of section 30D, which as of the date of the notice allowed a tax credit for qualified plug-in electric vehicles placed in service from January 1 to December 31, 2009. On October 7, 2009, the IRS issued a letter to Zone Electric stating that the Spark NEV-48 EX model “meets the requirements of the Qualified Plug-in Electric Vehicle Credit as a Qualified Plug-in Vehicle.

$6,253 off if delivery taken by December 31, 2009!

$6,253 off if delivery taken by December 31, 2009!

So the Spark NEV-48 EX qualified — if it beat the deadline. Back to Judge Paris:

The electric vehicle was delivered to petitioners on June 8, 2010, even though petitioners placed an order for a low-speed electric vehicle reflecting their choice of color, radio, and size from Drive Electric, LLC (Drive Electric), through its Web site on December 21, 2009.

On December 21, 2009, petitioners remitted full payment of $7,786.53 for the vehicle with a credit card and promptly commenced insurance on the vehicle on December 28, 2009.

For charitable contributions and cash-basis business expenses, this would normally be all that is necessary, as a credit card transaction is as good as cash to IRS. But not this time:

Petitioners argue they remitted payment and acquired title to a qualified electric vehicle on December 21, 2009. Petitioners assert that legal title passed to them on the date of purchase and therefore they are entitled to a PEVC for 2009 because the vehicle was acquired before December 31, 2009. However, the statute effective on the date of purchase also required a qualified motor vehicle to be placed in service on or before December 31, 2009. 

Petitioners entered into the transaction for purchase of the vehicle just before the close of the year. As previously discussed, they received a bill of sale, which contained a VIN, and a certificate of origin shortly after they remitted full payment. However, a bill of sale containing a description of the vehicle and a VIN is not sufficient to show the vehicle was ready and available for full operation for its intended use. Petitioners have not offered evidence to show the vehicle was available for their use, much less fully manufactured. In fact, the vehicle was not delivered until June 8, 2010, making it impossible for the vehicle to be available for use until that date. Even if the Court were to assume the vehicle was fully manufactured and operational while awaiting shipment to petitioners, Brown and Noell tell us that the vehicle could not be considered placed in service unless and until the vehicle was readily available to serve its assigned function for petitioners’ personal use on a regular basis. The Court finds that the low-speed electric vehicle was not available for its intended use on a regular basis until it was delivered on June 8, 2010. Consequently, petitioners did not place the vehicle in service in 2009 and are not eligible for a PEVC for that year.

So the taxpayer’s golf cart just went up $6,000 or so in price.

The lesson for year-end tax planning is that the same “placed in service” rule applies to year-end fixed asset purchases by taxpayers wanting Section 179 deductions or bonus depreciation. If your business races to buy a big SUV or a new tractor by year-end, it needs to be in your garage or barn by December 31. A new machine has to be on the shop floor, ready to go.  “Bought and paid-for” isn’t enough.

Cite: Podraza, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-67.



Peter Reilly, Tax Court Denies Exempt Status To Group Using Trading Card Games To Promote Sobriety. Peter has an in-depth exploration of last week’s Gamehearts Tax Court case. It explains that the organization denied tax exemption in the case was involved in non-casino games, including “Magic: The Gathering and similar games such as Pokemon and World of Warcraft Trading Card Game.” I had assumed that it was more of a gambling thing. I have edited my original post on the case accordingly.

Peter does not agree with the decision:

This is another example to me of the IRS EO group being out of touch with the modern world.  Magic the Gathering has been a thing since 1993.  You will also see IRS giving a hard time to not for profits dedicated to open source software.  It also turned down a sorority that wanted to operate on-line and a group planning to provide free wi-fi.

The whole exempt organization function is in disarray.



Kay Bell, Is Alaska getting closer to enacting a state income tax? The oil bust has clobbered Alaska revenues.

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Issuing 1099s to an Incorporated Veterinarian

Jim Maule, Old Tax Returns Have Value. I keep my tax returns forever; Prof. Maule explains why being a tax hoarder can be useful.

Robert Wood, Your Passport Could Be Cancelled If You Owe IRS. Because Congress apparently feels we need one more poorly-considered bill that will hugely inconvenience honest taxpayers and will be impossible to undo.

Russ Fox, The Turf Monster Striketh. With a caution against sending tax ID numbers via e-mail.

TaxGrrrl, Jay Z Loses On Alvarez-Cotto Boxing Bet As Charity Gets Big Win.

Robert D. Flach, YEAR-END TAX UPDATE WORKSHOPS. With some sound year-end planning reminders.


Me, How your calendar might help you beat the IRS. My newest post at, the Des Moines Business Record’s business professional’s blog, covers the importance of keeping track of your time to document “material participation” to take tax losses and to avoid the 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 926Day 927Day 928, Day 926 discusses the ties between Lois Lerner and the architect of Wisconsin’s Kafkaeske partisan “John Doe” witchhunt.


Steven Rosenthal, Treasury Pulls its Punches on Earnings Stripping (TaxVox). “Treasury made only small technical changes to the definition of an inversion.  News reports suggested something much larger—namely limits on earnings stripping, which would have made inversions (and other combinations of U.S. firms with foreign corporations) much less profitable.”


Career Corner. Let’s Enjoy Some Intern Reviews of Various Accounting Firms (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).


Tax Roundup, 11/19/15: Play sober, play taxable (updated). And: Administration says no to permanent bonus depreciation.

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


20150805-2Gaming while sober: maybe halfway right, but not even halfway exempt. See Update Below. Sobering up is hard to do for alcoholics. That’s why they’re alcoholics in the first place.

One of the hard parts is that many of the things you enjoy may be associated with alcohol.  That’s where GameHearts, A Montana Nonprofit Corporation, came in. The Tax Court picks up the story:

On July 14, 2010, GameHearts filed a Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. In the Form 1023 GameHearts provided the following description of its activities:

    GameHearts is a public benefit nonprofit organization committed to providing alternative forms of entertainment to adult members of the Kalispell area for the purpose of promoting adult sobriety. The program achieves its directive by providing free and low cost tabletop gaming activities in a supervised[,] non-alcoholic, sober environment, along with access to gaming accessories that are provided without cost to the participants. In fact, beginning players can learn and obtain free gaming materials solely for playing.


The IRS was unmoved:

In a June 3, 2013, letter respondent notified GameHearts of the conclusion that, on the basis of the information provided, GameHearts did not qualify for exemption under section 501(a) as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) because GameHearts was not organized or operated exclusively for exempt purposes. Respondent based this determination on the conclusion that (1) GameHearts failed to establish that it benefited a charitable class; (2) GameHearts’ nonexempt activities were more substantial than its exempt activities; and (3) GameHearts did not meet the requirements of section 1.501(c)(3)-1(d), Income Tax Regs., “because it did not limit activities to addicts with a low income.”

So the Tax Court got involved. Unfortunately for sober gamers in Montana, the court sided with the IRS:

While it may be laudable, in the light of the administrative record in this case promotion of sober recreation is insufficient justification here for tax-exempt status under a statute that must be construed strictly. The decisive factor here is that the form of recreation offered as therapy also is offered by for-profit entities, and GameHearts even emphasized, in its application for tax exemption, that it would introduce new participants to that for-profit recreational market and “boost the overall market shares of the industry”. We also note that GameHearts received contributions of surplus materials from the industry. While GameHearts itself does not profit from the recreation it offers and could not offer recreational gaming experiences that would compete in the for-profit recreational gaming markets, we conclude nonetheless, consistent with our holdings in Schoger Found. and Wayne Baseball, that recreation is a significant purpose, in addition to the therapy provided, because of the inherently commercial nature of the recreation and the ties to the for-profit recreational gaming industry.

We therefore hold that GameHearts does not operate exclusively for charitable purposes within the meaning of section 501(c)(3). 

In other words, if there’s a market niche for sober gaming in Montana, it should be filled by somebody trying to make money.

Update: Peter Reilly has a well-researched post on this case, and he points out that the “gaming” involved was not casino gambling, which I incorrectly assumed in my initial reading of the article. I have made some modifications to my post to remove implications otherwise, and I thank Peter for his correction and for his in depth story.

Cite: GameHearts, T.C. Memo. 2015-218; No. 20303-13X



Administration opposes extending bonus depreciation. Tax Analysts reports ($link):

The Obama administration does not support a tax extenders package that would make bonus depreciation permanent, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told House Ways and Means Committee Democrats on November 18.

The administration is willing to consider making other tax extenders permanent, including the research credit and small business expensing, as long as the American opportunity tax credit and the expanded child tax and earned income tax credits are made permanent, according to House aides.

Secretary Lew didn’t rule out a “temporary” extension of bonus depreciation, and I suspect that’s what we’ll get.




Russ Fox, IRSAC Report Has Hits and Errors:

IRSAC laments IRS funding. While I agree it would be nice to have the IRS fully funded, the problem was caused by the IRS (and especially Chairman Koskinen) and the IRS scandal. Until the IRS comes clean, Republicans in Congress rightly will not allow full funding.

This is why those who want IRS funding increased should insist on Koskinen’s resignation.

TaxGrrrl, Report Accuses IRS Of Encouraging Illegal Immigrants To File Using False Info, Identity Fraud. Well, increase their budget, then!


Jason Dinesen, Choosing a Business Entity: S-Corporation. “S-corporations share many of the same characteristics of partnerships. The biggest difference is, owners who work in the business day-to-day are paid a salary.”

Kay Bell, Start your retirement planning and saving ASAP. Starting in your 20s makes a huge difference as you approach your 60s. 

Robert Wood, Lawyer Faces Up To 50 Years Prison Over Payroll Taxes. Always remit your payroll taxes, no matter who else you need to stiff.


Dave Nelson, Preparing for a cyberattack or data breach ( “In today’s world of nonstop cyberattacks, companies must prepare for when, not if, they are attacked.”

Leslie Book, International Conference on Taxpayer Rights Kicks off Today. (Procedurally Taxing).

Peter Reilly, Ownership Through LLC Kills Local Charitable Property Tax Exemption. “Disregarded For Federal Purposes Does Not Mean Disregarded For Local Purposes”





David Brunori, Business Entities Pay a Lot of State Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

In 2014 businesses paid about $142 billion in sales tax, or about 20.7 percent of taxes paid. More distressing is that they paid $5.8 billion more than in the prior year. The sales taxation of business inputs remains one of the greatest tax policy failings of the last 100 years. Business entities should not pay sales taxes on their services. Those taxes get passed on to someone else without their knowledge. Hiding the tax burden goes against every principle of transparent good government.

Iowa’s Department of Revenue has taken a small step to reduce the taxation of business inputs, to the outrage of all sorts of goodthinkers.


David Greenberg asks How Has Federal Revenue Changed Over Time? (Tax Policy Blog). This picture sums it up:


The corporation tax continues to decline in importance with the spread in pass-through entities. That won’t change regardless of what economic illiterates would wish.


Howard Gleckman, Would Two Year Budgeting Help Break the Fiscal Impasse? I think it would just reschedule the impasses.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 924

Carl Davis, Congress Searches the Couch Cushions for Road Funding Money (Tax Justice Blog).


News from the Profession. At Least One SEC Commissioner Has a Sense of Humor (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).


20151119-2Things that happened on November 19. Today’s the 152nd anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, when President Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery by saying: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.”

81 years later on November 19, another war claimed another young man. A little note and a little remembering here.




Tax Roundup, 11/18/15: A 3% Iowa income tax rate? And: Californians, taxes could be worse!

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

engageiowalogoNew policy group proposes bold Iowa tax reform. In the wake of another Tax Foundation report showing that Iowa’s business tax policy stinks, there is a new proposal to do something about it. Tax Analysts reports ($link):

Iowa’s nine-bracket personal income tax would be flattened to a single rate of about 3 percent under a proposal from a recently formed Iowa policy group.

Engage Iowa, founded in August by Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, is calling for changes to the state’s income tax code that it says would improve the state’s business climate and reduce the outflow of high-income taxpayers to states such as Texas and South Dakota.

Like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Planthe Engage Iowa paper does not advocate a tax cut. It attempts to come up with a rate and tax structure that raises the same amount of tax as the current Iowa tax system. The paper presents several proposals, including one that uses a 1 percentage point increase in the state sales tax rate to reduce the income tax rate.

The plan has a lot going for it. Its one glaring weakness is its omission of any corporation tax reform. Iowa has the highest corporation tax rate in the country, but one so full of loopholes and corporate welfare tax credits that it generates a relatively paltry amount of revenue for the state. Iowa’s 49th place corporation tax rating in the Tax Foundation State Business Tax Climate Index is a big reason for Iowa’s perennially poor ranking.

Naturally the high-tax, high-complexity lobby is unimpressed by the plan. From

Peter Fisher, research director for the left-leaning Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City, on Monday said he applauded Engage Iowa for pointing out that Iowa’s current income tax system is less progressive than it might seem after deductions and credits are factored in. He said the Engage Iowa policy suggestions also might help eliminate “the perception problem” that Iowa has as a higher top income tax rate than it does in practice.

However, Fisher said the Engage Iowa flat tax seems like others of its kind: It lowers taxes for the wealthier and makes up for it with taxes on the lower end of the income earners.

The tax law is a poor vehicle for income redistribution in general, but the state income tax is an awful vehicle in particular, given the ability of high income earners to leave the state. The focus on “the rich” also skates by the reality of who “the rich” are: primarily employers who run their businesses through pass-through entities and pay their business taxes on their 1040s. Bashing “the rich” bashes employment, especially with zero-tax South Dakota right next door.




Russ Fox, Yes, Two States Rank Lower than California. “It’s not all bad news in the Tax Foundation’s 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index for California. You could always be in New York or New Jersey.”

Robert Wood, Man Gets $21.5M Verdict For Door Injury, But IRS Is Biggest Winner. “Damages for physical injuries are tax free, but punitive damages are taxed. For this reason and others, your taxes might be lower if you settle a lawsuit rather than going to verdict.”


Mitch Maahs, Report Highlights IRS Shortcomings Preventing Business ID Theft (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog). “In most cases, an ID thief files a business tax return using an Employer Identification Number (EIN) of an active or inactive business without permission to obtain a fraudulent refund, often claiming extensive refundable tax credits.”

Kay Bell, Tornadoes, other wild November weather: Be ready! “Be ready, on the physical and financial and especially tax fronts, for dangerous weather, this week and any time of the year.”

Janet Novack, After Budget Deal’s Surprise Cuts, Can Boomers Really Count On Social Security? It’s always dangerous to count on a fiscally insane scheme for your retirement security.

Jim Maule, The Fallacy of “Job Creating” Tax Breaks, Yet Again. “Job relocation is not job creation.”




Scott Greenberg, Section 179 Really Does Benefit Small Businesses (Tax Policy Blog). “Ideally, all business investments would be given the same treatment as Section 179 and businesses would be able to deduct all investment costs in the year that they occur. But until the U.S. tax code adopts this ideal, Section 179 remains an important provision that allows some businesses to deduct investment costs as they occur.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 923. And all politicians are honest in Chicago. “President Barack Obama’s public comments appearing to prejudge the outcome of Justice Department investigations don’t affect the decisions in those inquiries, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday.”

Renu Zaretsky, Budgeting, Wooing, and Taxing. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers highway bill politics and Michigan’s entirely unoriginal idea of bribing companies to lure data centers.

Danshera Cords, Unintentionally Undermining Voluntary Compliance: Balancing Accountability and Budget (Procedurally Taxing). Another call to increase the IRS budget. If you want the IRS budget increased, you want Commissioner Koskinen to resign, because it’s not happening otherwise.


Career Corner. The Toll of Travel: An Interview With a Former Big 4 Advisory Road Warrior  (Leona May, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 11/17/15: We’re #40! The new State Business Tax Climate Index comes out today.

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

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

Iowa rises out of bottom ten in State Business Tax Climate index. The Tax Foundation released its 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index today, and Iowa is no longer one of the ten-worst states in the index. Barely.

Maryland and Iowa changed places from last year in the index, making Iowa the 40th state in the annual index of business tax climates. Iowa’s overall score improved slightly, while Maryland got a little worse, especially in its unemployment insurance ranking. Iowa failed to improve its ranking in any of the five components making up the index. Its ranking fell in the sales tax, unemployment tax, and property tax categories, and it maintained its 32nd place individual tax and 49th place in corporation tax. Still, Maryland’s seven-place plunge in its unemployment tax rankings enabled it to crawl underneath Iowa in the index.

The result isn’t surprising, as Iowa’s tax law is nearly unchanged from last year. The split control of the Iowa legislature has blocked any significant tax legislation. I do suspect that the sales tax component will improve in the 2017 index based on the change in the definition of sales tax-exempt manufacturing supplies under an administrative ruling set to take effect July 1 of next year.

Iowa, in short, continues to have a bad system, one changed very little in structure since the 1970s, with high rates and a rat’s nest of feel-good deductions and special interest subsidies producing a hostile system for small businesses lacking expensive advisors and good friends at the statehouse. It’s a system crying for reform. The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would be a huge improvement.

Map by the Tax Foundation

Map by the Tax Foundation


Fresh Buzz! Tuesday again brings a fresh Buzz roundup from Robert D. Flach, covering ground from accounting nostalgia to changes in this year’s W-2.

Robert Wood, Clinton Foundation Amends 4 Years Taxes, Admits Speech Fees Weren’t Donations. Ah, but better keep an eye on those sneaky Tea Partiers. The laundering of speech fees through the foundation, instead of through Clinton 1040s, seems inherently sketchy.

Jay A. Soled, Kathleen DeLaney ThomasThe Nonreporting of Modern Fringe Benefits (Procedurally Taxing). “But there is a strange phenomenon transpiring with respect to this new breed of fringe benefits. While they generally do not fall within the delineated scope of Code section 132’s enumerated exemptions, they are nevertheless not being reported as income by employers (nor by the employees, who follow suit).”

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Review (Of Financial Statements). “In a review, the CPA examines a company’s financials to verify that they are free of deficiencies, but the firm does not review internal controls or fraud risks as in an audit.”

Jack Townsend, Is Jury Unanimity Required as to at Least One Obstructive Act for Tax Obstruction?

Paul Neiffer, Trends in Write-Offs of Farm Assets:

The Tax Foundation periodically comes out with good information on tax statistics.  They recently issued a report on corporate investment in equipment for tax year 2012.  My perception has been that most of the equipment purchased during 2012 was new equipment.  Based on this report, my perception may be in error (or not).

I think Paul is correct in believing that Section 179 is a bigger deal for most farmers than bonus depreciation.

Kay Bell, Cell phone service taxes average 18%, an all-time high




Peter Reilly, Bernie Sanders Less Of A Socialist Than Dwight Eisenhower. Peter bases this (absurd) headline on the Sanders statement that he wouldn’t raise income tax rates to the 90% amount seen in the Eisenhower administration. I suspect Peter was being deliberately provocative or sarcastic, as I think he knows his history too well to actually believe that.

UPDATE: Peter corrects my speculation in the comments: “On the not as Socialist as Dwight Eisenhower thing, I was quoting Sanders (or paraphrasing) as I was live blogging the debates.” Peter has a much stronger stomach than I do to actually watch these things.


Jim Maule, Not a Surprise: Tax Ignorance Afflicts Presidential Candidates and CNN.  While the good professor focuses on the size of the tax code, I think that’s just a reflection of a much bigger problem — one that would be corrected by my proposal that all politicians, and all candidates, be required to do their returns by hand in a live webcast. I would also require a comment bar so we could all help the politicians — “hey, do you really think your used briefs are worth $3 each?”


Annette Nellen, “Abolish the IRS” Distracts from Needed Reforms.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 922. The Attorney General will get to explain why she concludes there were no crimes committed.

Renu Zaretsky, Maybe peace, definitely another patch, and many refunds… Today’s TaxVox headline roundup ranges from prospects for tax legislation this year to refunds of Cleveland’s “Jock Tax.”


News from the Profession. Some Audit Committee Members Just Ignoring Auditors Now (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Well, they’re used to it.



Tax Roundup, 11/16/15: Mason City Monday. And: maybe using that disbarred tax guy isn’t such a great idea.

Monday, November 16th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Right here in River City. The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools are here in Mason City, the town that was the model for Meredith Willson’s “Music Man.” It’s rainy here today.


Still, I’ll take that over what we had here last year:


There remain three sessions in this year’s circuit, in Maquoketa, Denison, and Ames. The Ames school is also available as a webinar, in case the weather continues to deteriorate. Register today!


The Tiffany of tax prep. If you’ve been in the tax prep business for very long, you probably have lost a client along the way to an “aggressive” tax guy who promised much better results than a milquetoast like you would ever have. If a federal injunction order issued last week is to believed, a California preparer is the model for that kind of “aggressive” guy.

The case involves a Mr. Siegel, who the court says never answered the allegations against him. The order describes some amazing tax thinking (my emphasis):

For example, Siegel falsely advises his customers that to treat their home as an out-of-state corporate office for federal tax purposes, the customer’s Nevada “C” corporation (i.e., an entity entirely controlled by Siegel and the customer) must require as a condition of employment that its corporate officers (i.e., the same Siegel customer) live in the customer’s California home while working away from the corporation’s purported home state of Nevada (i.e., a state where the Siegel customer typically has no actual contact). Siegel has falsely advised customers by e-mail that this scheme is valid because: (a) the customers, as business owners, are necessarily “on call 24/7” while living or working from their out-of-state “business office;” (b) the customers can deduct [their] rent and other expenses through [their] corporation when [they] are on call for that corporation”; and (c) while “the internet was just getting hot for being on call” in 2002, “[w]ithout a question in 2013 when we are truly on call 24/7 working at home is a deduction for the corporation”

It takes a special kind of preparer to give that kind of advice. The kind htat has been disbarred, like this one. The Department of Justice press release adds some details:

For example, the complaint states that Siegel deducted on one couple’s tax returns purchases at Tiffany & Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Louis Vuitton and Princess Cruise Lines.  Siegel allegedly attempted to conceal these fraudulent deductions from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by lumping them together and reporting them as large expenses for “supplies” or “medical records and supplies.”

Medical records? I suppose you could stash your medical bills in your Louis Vuitton handbag.

The injunction isn’t a criminal charge, but given the allegations, Mr. Siegel may hear more from the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, his clients may be wishing they had used a less “aggressive” tax guy.

Other coverage:

Russ Fox, Don’t Go to Lawrence Siegel to Have Your Taxes Done

Robert Wood: Court Bars Masquerade, No More America’s Next Top Tax Lawyer


Mason City Sundog Morning, 2014

Mason City Sundog Morning, 2014


William Perez, What to do if you see “RSUs” on Form W-2

Robert D. Flach, TRAPPED BY OUR CAPITAL GAINS ARE WE. “Never let the tax tail wag the economic dog.”

Kristine Tidgren, A Trial Court Has Much Discretion When Divorce Strikes the Farm (Ag Docket): “The court noted that ‘there are no hard and fast rules governing economic issues in dissolution actions.'”

Kay Bell, Cleveland could owe millions in jock tax refunds

Peter Reilly, Former IRS Commissioners Scold Congress For Gutting IRS Budget. If they really want an increased IRS budget, they should also urge Commissioner Koskinen to resign.

TaxGrrrl, Spend It Like Beckham: Tax Deal Could Bring MLS Soccer To Miami. Apparently Miami has solved all of its real problems if it can spend tax money on this.



Scott Greenberg, Bonus Depreciation Covers 2/3rds of Corporate Investment (Tax Policy Blog). Not if an extender bill doesn’t pass for 2015.

Richard Auxier, Marco Rubio’s gas tax cut would give state and local governments flexibility, and political fights (TaxVox).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 919Day 920Day 921

News from the Profession. A Three-Page Tax Code Would Keep Accountants Plenty Busy (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 11/13/15: AirBNB, tax collector. Also: time to overpay for your PTIN!

Friday, November 13th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20151113-1aAir-tax-BNB. Less than two weeks after Iowa issued a policy letter saying short-term home rentals are subject to the Iowa Hotel-Motel tax, the leading internet short-term rental matchmaker announced that it will cooperate in collecting lodging taxes in all jurisdictions where it is allowed to operate:

In those places that respect the right of people to share their home, we will work to ensure that the Airbnb community pays its fair share of taxes while honoring our commitment to protect our hosts’ and guests’ privacy. This includes helping to ensure the efficient collection of tourist and/or hotel taxes in cities that have such taxes. We will work to implement this initiative in as many communities as possible.

One city that fails to “respect the right of people to share their home” is my own town of West Des Moines, which succumbed to a one-man moral panic this summer to outlaw such short-term rentals. The West Des Moines lodging tax is 7%, on top of the state 5% rate. I suspect the Airbnb move will nudge municipalities like West Des Moines towards allowing short-term rentals. Nothing assuages a moral panic like revenue.

More coverage is available to TaxNotes subscribers: Airbnb Pledges to Collect Tourist and Hotel Taxes in All Cities (Jennifer DePaul)


PTIN renewal time. The IRS reminds us that it’s again time for preparers to overpay for their Preparer Tax Identification Numbers. The PTIN renewal page is here.




It’s Friday, it’s Buzz Day! for Robert D. Flach. Today’s links feature year-end planning, mysterious IRS notices, and lots more.

Kay Bell, Extend your tax luck with these 13 year-end moves

Jason Dinesen, Was There Really a Good Old Days of Accounting? “So for accountants, is it really true that things were better with business clients ‘way back when’?”

Robert Wood, Beware Willful, Frivolous, Even Self-Incriminating Tax Filings. “So, can you just write ‘Fifth Amendment’ on your tax return and forget all your FBAR woes? Not hardly!”

TaxGrrrl, Tesla’s License Plate Mystery Raises Questions Ahead Of Tax Changes.


Carl Smith, Willson v. Comm’r: D.C. Cir. Holds Tax Court Lacks Refund Jurisdiction in Collection Due Process Cases. Agreeing with the Tax Court itself.


Gavin Ekins, Assumption About Global Capital Markets Explains the Differences Between the JCT’s and the Tax Foundation’s Estimates of Bonus Expensing (Tax Policy Blog). “The true peril to capital investment is not the U.S. deficits but excessive taxation of capital income and the resulting sluggish economic growth.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 918. Today’s link is on the unwisdom of wasting effort on impeaching the worthless IRS Commissioner.

Jeremy Scott, Netanyahu’s Economic Reforms and the Laffer Curve (Tax Analysts Blog). “A cursory examination of Israel’s financial situation shows that Netanyahu might have succeeded where President Reagan failed. His tax cuts did pay for themselves.”




Peter Reilly, Ben Carson’s Tax Proposal Takes On The Mortgage And Charity Sacred Cows. “That makes the second thing I have learned about having in common with Doctor Carson this week.”

Howard Gleckman, Could We Get the Tax Code Down to Three Pages? Why Would We Want To? (TaxVox). “And keep in mind that the vast bulk of today’s law governs the taxation of businesses, not individuals. And businesses are very complicated.

Bob McIntyre. Ted Cruz’s Tax Plan Would Cost $16.2 Trillion over 10 Years–Or Maybe Altogether Eliminate Tax Collection (Tax Justice Blog).



The second ditty that I heard on NPR was a report in which a member of the DC city council worried aloud that money “will pollute our politics.”  Such a concern is akin to worrying that dropping a moldy bagel into a cesspool will pollute the contents of the cesspool.

Don Boudreaux


Career Corner. Accountants Earn More Than Philosophers (Barely) (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 11/10/15: Sheldon! And: a hard-working mom, plus a sure clue that you aren’t talking to the IRS.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Sheldon! The Day 1 ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools team is in Sheldon, Iowa today, while another crew takes care of Day 2 in Waterloo. Today’s session is at Northwest Iowa Community College, where about 1,900 students study programs ranging from pre-professional accounting to powerline technology. It’s not exactly an urban setting:

View towards the Northwest from the campus of Northwest Iowa Community College.

View towards the Northwest from the campus of Northwest Iowa Community College.

It’s always a great crowd, and it’s good to see everyone again. Especially since it’s not freezing here yet this year.


Accounting firm real estate appraiser flunks real estate pro test. It’s not easy for someone with a day job to be a “real estate professional” under the tax law “passive loss” rules. Passive losses are only deductible to the extent of passive income, and are otherwise deferred until a taxable sale of the “passive activity.” Real estate rental losses are automatically passive for most taxpayers, but an exception allows “real estate professionals” to qualify as non-passive under the same rules that apply to other businesses.

You have to clear two hurdles to be a real estate pro:

  1. You have to work more than 750 hours in real estate businesses in which you have an ownership interest, and
  2. Your real estate time has to exceed the time you spend doing everything else.

The second qualification eliminates most taxpayers with day jobs. But that didn’t stop our intrepid appraiser, who worked for two top-ten accounting firms in their appraisal practices.

The taxpayer and his wife acquired several apartments over the course of their marriage, which they claimed losses based on the real estate pro provision. The Tax Court sets the stage; I change the taxpayers’ names to “Mr. Taxpayer” and “Mrs. Taxpayer” in my excerpts, and all emphasis is mine.

Petitioners were married in 2006. At that time Mrs. Taxpayer owned a single condominium (Unit 918) which she had previously used as her personal residence. Mr. Taxpayer owned two condominiums (Units 522 and 801), one of which he had previously used as his personal residence. Each unit was subject to a separate mortgage. When petitioners married, they pledged the three units as collateral and obtained a loan to purchase an additional condominium (in the same building as Units 522 and 801) for use as their new personal residence.

Beginning in 2006 and throughout the year in issue, petitioners operated Units 522, 801, and 918 as rental properties. The parties stipulated that petitioners did not hire a property manager to assist with their rental properties in 2010.

20151110-2The court quickly rejected the husband’s arguments:

Mr. Taxpayer’s reliance on work that he performed for Grant Thornton and Crowe Horwath to show that he qualified as a real estate professional in 2010 is misplaced. In short, he testified that he did not own an equity interest in either firm, and he did not offer any other evidence in support of the proposition that he met the definition of a “5-percent owner” of either firm within the meaning of section 416(i)(1)(B). Therefore, the personal services that he performed as an employee of those firms may not be taken into account in computing the number of hours that he performed personal services in real property trades or businesses.

The wife had a better argument, but the court was unpersuaded by her evidence of working 750 hours:

Petitioners’ testimony was inconsistent regarding the division of labor between them and the timing of significant events. As to the division of labor, Mr. Taxpayer stated, quite candidly we believe, that Mrs. Taxpayer did little physical labor after the birth of their son in late November 2009. In contrast, Mrs. Taxpayer testified (and her revised log indicates) that she spent many long days in the first weeks of January 2010 cleaning, painting, and repairing Units 522 and 801.

Against this backdrop, we bear in mind that Mrs. Taxpayer did not maintain a contemporaneous log of her rental property activities and instead made handwritten notes on scraps of paper that she did not review in any great detail until a few weeks before trial. A close examination of the revised log that she submitted to respondent’s counsel raises serious doubts about its accuracy… for the period January 2 to January 11, Mrs. Taxpayer’s revised log indicates that she worked at least 154 hours — an average of slightly more than 15 hours per day for the 10-day period — not counting any time that she may have spent showing either unit to prospective tenants. We find it improbable that Mrs. Taxpayer performed all of the work described above.

While I admire anyone who can work 15-hour days within two months of giving birth, the Tax Court’s admiration was at best tempered by poor recordkeeping. Decision for IRS, with 20% “accuracy related” penalties tacked on.

The Moral? If you need to prove your time spent for business activities, there’s nothing better than a current time log. “Scraps of paper” are a poor substitute.

Cite: Calvanico, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-65

Related: Material participation basics.

What the Northwest Iowa Community College looked like on my visit two years ago.

What the Northwest Iowa Community College looked like on my visit two years ago.


Robert D. Flach comes through with an “especially ‘meaty'” Buzz today. LInks to much tax blog goodness, with free analysis of Donald Trump, no extra charge.

Russ Fox, Cleveland Loses on Monday (and They Didn’t Even Play). The Supreme Court rejected an appeal of rulings that its “Jock Tax” is unconstitutional.

Kay Bell, Looking for a holiday job? Employee or contractor status makes a tax difference to you, your boss and the IRS

William Perez, The Key Benefits of Health Savings Accounts


Renu Zaretsky, A Debate, A New Plan, A Vote, and Two Mulligans. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the GOP debate, the Carson tax plan, and TurboTax’s plans for the coming filing season.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 915


A vital clue. While leading the class yesterday in Waterloo, co-presenter Roger’s phone was buzzing frantically in his pocket while he was speaking. As it turns out, Mrs. Roger had received a message on her anwering machine at home saying the IRS needed to talk to her immediately. She called the number that was left, and somebody answered, telling her the police would arrest her right away if she didn’t pay her taxes.

Roger related the story to the class, and one of the attendees immediately pointed out the sure clue that it wasn’t really a call from the IRS:

“Somebody answered the phone.”



Tax Roundup, 11/9/15: Waterloo! And Estonia!

Monday, November 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Day 1: Waterloo! The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools are underway! I am on this morning’s panel in beautiful Waterloo, Iowa, with Roger McEowen and Kristy Maitre. Spaces are available for all of the remaining Iowa sessions, so register today! If you can’t make one of the sessions in person, you can attend the December 14 Ames session via webinar.

The November 9 session of the Farm and Urban Tax School in Waterloo is underway!

The November 9 session of the Farm and Urban Tax School in Waterloo is underway!

The early-rising schedule for the drive up here today requires an abbreviated roundup today, so let’s roll.


Kyle Pomerleau Estonia’s Growth-Oriented Tax Code. (Tax Policy Blog). It excerpts a speech from the Estonian Ambassador to the U.S.:

The main components of the Estonian tax system have been in place since the beginning of the 1990s. After Estonia regained independence in 1991, the country needed a tax system that was compatible both with the limited experience of the taxpayer who came from the Soviet communist controlled society and effective tax administration. It was essential that the tax system should support economic growth, not impede it. Therefore, a tax system was developed with an emphasis on indirect taxes. To keep the system simple, transparent and easy to use, only a few exceptions were allowed, as at the same time, tax rates were kept rather low.

A cornerstone of Estonia’s fiscal policy was corporate and personal income tax reform, which introduced the proportional, or flat tax rate of 26% in 1992, which has been reduced to 20%. Since 1999, reinvested corporate profits are no longer subject to income tax. Today, Estonian income tax system, with its flat rate of 20%, is considered one of the simplest tax regimes in the world

We could do a lot worse than the Estonian system. We certainly do now.


Tony Nitti, Renting Your Home On Airbnb? Be Aware Of The Tax Consequences:

Section 280A of the Internal Revenue Code, which governs the treatment of homes that are used for both personal and rental purposes, is a complicated tangle of definitions, designations, and resulting consequences. But if you’re going to start renting out a property on Airbnb or Craigslist, you’re going to need to know the rules, so let’s take a deep dive into Section 280A and see if we can’t help all of you newly-minted slumlords sort through your tax considerations.

And remember the local lodging tax that may apply.


Still plenty of coffee and juice in Waterloo...

Still plenty of coffee and juice in Waterloo…


Headline of the Day: Colorado county’s pot tax to pay for higher education (Kay Bell). 

Jason Dinesen, What Is Iowa Alternate Tax?

Peter Reilly, Republicans Want IRS To Target Hillary Clinton:

Given the outrage that Republicans have expressed about the “targeting” of the Tea Party by the IRS, you would think that they would be slow to advocate IRS political targeting.  Apparently  it is more a matter of who’s ox is being gored.

That’s why the party in power may regret the way it has politicized the IRS. It isn’t likely to remain in power forever.


Rachel Rubenstein, IRS Announces Procedures for Identity Theft Victims to Request Copies of Fraudulently Filed Tax Returns (Procedurally Taxing).

TaxGrrrl, Austrian Woman Destroys Million Dollar Fortune Rather Than Pay Out Heirs

Robert D. Flach offers A YEAR-END TAX PLANNING TIP on capital gains.


...but the breakfast treats are going fast.

…but the breakfast treats are going fast.


Russ Fox, Chaka Fattah, Jr. Guilty of Tax and Fraud Charges. “Chaka Fattah Jr., son of Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr. (D-PA), was found guilty on Friday of 22 of 23 tax and fraud charges.”

Jack Townsend, Financial Secrecy in the U.S. – A NonTax Example Illustrating the Law Enforcement Problem:

One of the issues is that opacity of U.S. entity structures.  The beneficial owners of corporations and other entities may simply not be known.  And states permitting such entities to be organized usually do not request any representations of ownership.  So, shady actors can easily fly under the law enforcement — including tax enforcement — radar screen.  Hence, the U.S. may facilitate evasion of other countries’ taxes by offering foreign investors secrecy as to their investments in the U.S.

In the FATCA era, it will be more difficult for us to tell foreign tax collectors that U.S. tax structures are none of their business.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 912Day 913Day 914.

Renu Zaretsky, Repeal, Reform, and Maybe Retaliation. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup topics include efforts to repeal the “Cadillac Tax,” the background of the new Ways and Means Chairman, and allegations of retaliatory audits in New Mexico.

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 11/6: Election Day Wrap Up (TAx Justice Blog).
Career Corner. More Accounting Firms Should Let Employees Build Their Own Niche Practices (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 11/6/15: Time to invade rural Iowa! And: IRS backs off valuation discount limits.

Friday, November 6th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Tax School Rampage! In the pre-dawn hours Monday I will rendezvous with Roger McEowen, Director of the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation, for the drive to Waterloo and the first 2015 session of the Iowa Farm and Urban Tax Schools. We will rampage through four Iowa towns this week. The complete schedule:

Nov. 9-10 – Waterloo
Nov. 10-11 – Sheldon
Nov. 11-12 – Red Oak
Nov. 12-13 – Ottumwa
Nov. 16-17 – Mason City
Nov. 23-24 – Maquoketa
Dec. 7-8 – Denison
Dec. 14-15 – Ames

For those of you unfortunate enough to not be in Iowa, or who prefer to study from the comfort of your computer, the Ames session is also available in a live webinar.

I am on the Day 1 schedule for all eight sessions, along with Roger and Kristy Maitre, the former Iowa IRS stakeholder liaison. There are two Day 2 teams. Waterloo, Mason City, Maquoketa and Denison get Dave Bibler, Jim Goodman, and Daniel Fretheim. Sheldon, Red Oak, Ottumwa and Ames get Dave Repp and Paul Neiffer of FarmCPA Today blog fame.

We have lots to cover this year. Details of topics here, and registration information here. Say you heard about it at the Tax Update Blog and get free coffee at any session!



Valuation power grab inoperative. Tax Analysts reports that Treasury officials have disavowed any intention of using forthcoming regulations to crack down on valuation discounts in estate planning. From the Tax Analysts report ($link):

Coming regulations on estate valuation for interests held by family members will follow not the Obama administration’s prior budget proposals, but the statute, an IRS official said November 4, signaling a welcome about-face for practitioners from earlier comments made by Treasury officials.

“There seems to be some confusion as to exactly what the guidance will rely on,” Finlow said. “We are looking to the statute as it is now. . . . We are not looking at the green book,” she said, referring to Treasury’s green book explanation of the president’s proposal on valuation discounts in his fiscal 2013 budget plan.

How do such crazy rumors get started?

In May Catherine Hughes, attorney-adviser, Treasury Office of Tax Legislative Counsel, said practitioners should look to that fiscal 2013 proposal for hints on what would be in store in the regs. The Obama administration asked Congress to amend section 2704(b) to disregard some provisions, such as some transfer and liquidation restrictions, in the valuation of intrafamily transfers of interests in family entities.

This would take the urgency out of some gift tax planning that is going on in anticipation of a crackdown on discounts for minority interests that seemed to be telegraphed by the Hughes comments.


buzz20150804Friday is a good day for so many reasons. Not least of which is that it’s the day Robert D. Flach posts his Friday Buzz roundup. Today his links included his year-end planning guide and bad news about the level of IRS service we can look forward to this coming filing season.


Robert Wood, Surgeon Hid Money In Divorce, Is Convicted Of Tax Evasion, Faces Up To 95 Years Prison:

He left the country without telling friends, family or his workplace, and secretly drove to Costa Rica He opened two bank accounts there, depositing more than $350,000 in cash. He also hid a thousand ounces of gold in a Costa Rican safe deposit box. Crossing into Panama, he opened another account there under the name of a sham corporation, Dakota Investments. By 2008, he had moved $4.6 million into that account.

He was hiding the money from an estranged wife and the IRS. With the benefit of hindsight he may wish he had instead invested in good divorce and tax counsel.


Roger Russell, Taxes in the Sharing Economy (Accounting Today). Includes a discussion of local lodging taxes for AirBNB renters.

William Perez explains Itemized Tax Deductions.

Kay Bell, New Ways and Means chairman Rep. Kevin Brady wants to move tax extenders ‘sooner rather than later’. “Like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan before him, Brady favors making the tax extenders permanent pieces of legislation.”

Paul Neiffer, Does 7 Equal 5? “For most farmers, Section 179 (at the $500,000 level) is much more important than a five-year life for equipment depreciation.”

Keith Fogg, How Does Indexing Federal Tax Lien Impact Its Effectiveness (Procedurally Taxing). “The purchasers in this case did not realize they were purchasing property encumbered by a federal tax lien because the title search did not turn up a lien against a prior owner.”

TaxGrrrl, IRS Announces Lower Fees For 2016 As PTIN Registration Opens




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 911. Today’s link discusses the scandal’s context in the larger effort of “campaign finance reform” advocates to silence their opposition by government power.

Richard Auxier, 2015 Ballot Measure Results: Tax cuts, yes; marijuana, sometimes (TaxVox).

Career Corner. CPA Exam Score Release Anxiety Is the Best Anxiety (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 11/4/15. Taxpayer Advocate: Koskinen demoralizes IRS, IRS breaks law. Koskinen replies: give me more money!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Nina Olson, Taxpayer Advocate

Nina Olson, Taxpayer Advocate

It’s getting bad when the IRS won’t even talk to its own Taxpayer Advocate. Nina Olson, the head of the IRS Taxpayer Advocate office, ripped the state of the IRS and Commissioner Koskinen’s management in a speech to the AICPA annual tax conference yesterday, Tax Analysts reports  (my emphasis, $link):

Olson said that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s oft-repeated mantra — that instead of doing more with less in budget-constrained times, the agency was going to do less with less — was demoralizing the IRS workforce and further eroding customer service.

“What my local taxpayer advocates are telling me is that they have never seen so much resistance to their own work” from the IRS, Olson said. She recounted the story of a local TAS employee who asked the IRS in October to release a taxpayer’s refund that had been held up since February. “The response that [TAS] got back was . . . ‘We have thousands of these cases; get in line,’” Olson said, adding that it was the first time she’d heard such a response from the IRS in her 15 years at the TAS.

The feeling at the IRS that there are some jobs it won’t do because Congress didn’t provide funding, Olson said, “works its way down to the employees, so that they feel like, ‘Well, I’m going to do just this, and I’ve got so much work that I’m only going to be able to get this done.'”

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner, but he'd probably do a better job than the one who is.

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner, but he’d probably do a better job than the one who is.

The Taxpayer Advocate Office is “an independent organization within the IRS” charged with helping taxpayers who can’t resolved their problems within the normal IRS bureaucracy. We only call on them out of desperation, when the IRS just refuses to do its job. It’s a bad sign if even the Taxpayer Advocate can’t get the time of day from the regular IRS.

Ms. Olson says the IRS mistreatment of the TAS office has risen to the level of lawbreaking:

Olson also protested that the IRS is refusing to grant her and her staff access to taxpayers’ administrative files unless they sign agreements barring them from sharing any of the files’ information, even with the taxpayer. Olson noted that she is bound by the same privacy laws as other IRS employees and said she is entitled to access under section 6103.

“My position is that the IRS in those instances has violated the law,” Olson said. “And I do not say that lightly.”

You have problems with the IRS breaking the law? Well, to coin a phrase, get in line.

Commissioner Koskinen responded later in a speech to the same group, in which he did what he always does: ask for more money. “Most of Koskinen’s prepared remarks at the conference were a repeat of his concerns about the IRS’s deteriorating budget position.”

But this Commissioner will never get a budget increase out of this Congress. His glib, arrogant and obstructionist response to the Tea Party scandal, full of denials of the existence of information that subsequently surfaced, has destroyed his credibility. There’s no hope that the IRS will get improved funding as long as he is around to spend it.

Other Coverage: 

Russ Fox, Where I Agree (In Part) With IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Commissioner Koskinen is correct. Congress should get off its duff and pass the extender legislation.”

Accounting Today, IRS Commissioner Sees Budget Cuts Hurting Practitioners, Warns of Delayed Tax Season. A story that weirdly downplays and buries the Taxpayer Advocate’s withering criticisms deep in the article.


Alan Cole, What Places Benefit Most From the Earned Income Tax Credit? (Tax Policy Blog).


It looks like the deep south and Indian country have the biggest proportion of EITC recipients.


TaxGrrrl, Despite Complaints, Past Failures & Opportunities For Fraud, Congress Pushes Private Tax Collection. I think Kelly is too hard on private tax collection. Plenty of preparers deal safely with confidential tax information every day, and I don’t think there’s something special about IRS employees that makes them automatically trustworthy. I think for uncontested and unpaid tax debts, private collection makes sense, especially when the IRS isn’t even trying to collect.

Robert D. Flach emphatically agrees with Kelly, though: NO! NO! A MILLION TIMES NO!. I guess private tax debt collection is one of those unpopular views I hold, like Waylon > Willie.


Wall Street Journal,  IRS Audits of Individuals Drop to 11-Year Low (via the TaxProf, $link).

Kay Bell, Avoid tax turkeys! Check out November Tax Moves

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015: #9 Rental Properties Should Probably Be Rented. “Believe it or not, the IRS doesn’t always require that you rent a home in order to establish that you have converted the home to a for-profit rental activity, but it certainly helps.”




Carl SmithGovernment Inconsistent on Whether Unpublished Tax Court Orders Can Be Cited (Procedurally Taxing). “I’m more a believer in ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’.”

Renu Zaretsky, The Case of the Questionable Tax Incentive: Women and Retirement Savings (TaxVox). “But from what I can tell, the surest way to increase a woman’s savings is to give her a nice raise… and introduce her to my sister.”

David Brunori, Impeaching the IRS Commissioner Is the Wrong Thing to Do (Tax Analysts Blog). “Koskinen may be guilty of being combative with Congress. He may be guilty of caginess during his testimony. He may be guilty of being a lousy commissioner. But none of those are reasons for impeachment.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 909. Today’s link is to an editorial, Yes, the IRS Chief Has Earned Impeachment. I agree, but I still think it’s an unwise exercise when it has no chance of success. Still, the editorial is a concise summary of how awful Commissioner Koskinen has been.

Jim Maule, Taking and Giving Back. “The NFL and its teams, as well as the other professional sports leagues and franchises, do not need financial assistance from the public.”


News from the Profession. Socially Inept Accountant Held Responsible (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Is there another kind?




Tax Roundup, 11/2/15: Iowa says airbnb rentals trigger hotel-motel tax. And: IRS backdoor regulation push suffers setback.

Monday, November 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

wdmlogoAt least West Des Moines homeowners won’t have to pay hotel-motel tax. One of my now-departed uncles was a track and field coach in Illinois. Every April he would get together with some of his fellow coaches and drive to Des Moines for the Drake Relays. They always rented the same house in the South of Grand neighborhood in Des Moines while they stayed here. They had a great time, and the homeowners got a little extra cash.

Short term home rentals are nothing new, in other words. The federal tax law has long accommodated them by excluding income from rentals up to two weeks a year from income tax. The practice has become more widespread now that airbnb and make it easier to match up potential renters and guests.  It shouldn’t surprise us that the tax man has noticed.

An Iowa Department of Revenue policy letter made public last week says short-term home rentals are subject to Iowa’s 5% hotel-motel tax (all emphasis mine):

The Iowa Department of Revenue (“Department”) has received your question about home sharing.  You asked whether a homeowner who occasionally rents the home to others is subject to hotel and motel tax.

You provided the following facts:  A resident of Iowa City owns a home, which is the homeowner’s primary residence.  On the weekends of homecoming and graduation at the University of Iowa—four nights total each year—the homeowner stays with family members and rents the home to visitors.  You asked if the charges for renting the home are subject to hotel and motel tax.

Iowa imposes a hotel and motel tax “upon the sales price for the renting of any lodging” in Iowa.  Iowa Code § 423A.3.  A city or county may also impose a local hotel and motel tax “upon the sales price from the renting of lodging.”  Id. § 423A.4.  “Sales price” is “the consideration for renting of lodging.”  Id. § 423A.2(1)(f). 

“Lodging” means rooms, apartments, or sleeping quarters in a hotel, motel, inn, public lodging house, rooming house, or manufactured or mobile home which is tangible personal property, or in a tourist court, or in any place where sleeping accommodations are furnished to transient guests for rent, whether with or without meals. Lodging does not include rooms that are not used for sleeping accommodations.

Id. § 423A.2(1)(c).

The homeowner’s home is clearly a “place where sleeping accommodations are furnished to transient guests for rent.”  See id.  The statute does not place a minimum number of nights a place must be rented for it to qualify as “lodging.”  See id.  Accordingly, the rental of the homeowner’s home is subject to hotel and motel tax.  Iowa provides a limited number of exemptions from hotel and motel tax, none of which apply to the facts you provided.  See id. § 423A.5.  Therefore, the homeowner must collect and remit hotel and motel tax for renting the home. 

I suspect the next person to remit hotel-motel tax for a short-term home rental will also be the first. I also suspect that the existence of services like airbnb will make it easier for the state to collect hotel-motel taxes for short-term home rentals. Renters need to also tack on any local hotel taxes; your friendly county board and city council will surely want to share.

20151102-1Except in West Des Moines. I live in this Des Moines suburb, and the City Council has saved me the trouble of collecting hotel-motel tax by banning short-term rentals. The Des Moines Register explains:

In July, the city council passed an ordinance prohibiting the rental of single family homes, including condos, for 31 days or less. Owners can rent their properties only if they are “on-site and present at the time of and for the duration of the rental.” In other words, if someone attending the World Food Prize wants to rent a home in the suburb for a week, the owner must be there, too.

Was West Des Moines cowering in terror from rioting short-term visitors brazenly cutting across our lawns? No. From the Register piece:

Were the few short-term rentals available in West Des Moines creating problems? Were numerous residents lodging complaints with city officials? No. The ordinance was prompted by one complaint from one person.

One person, one moral panic. The resident said there ought to be a law, and in practically no time, the West Des Moines city council enacted one:

[The complaining resident] suggested the council consider adopting an ordinance to address the issue. Within about one month, it did exactly that. It didn’t survey residents. It didn’t contact the Ashworth homeowner. It didn’t do a comprehensive search of other properties that may be listed on several websites. It quickly passed an ordinance that applies to 60,000 residents because a man showed up at a meeting to complain about his neighbor. One man. One complaint.

It passed unanimously. The minutes of the meeting are here. West Des Moines city council elections are tomorrow, but the elections appear to be uncontested.




Russ Fox, AICPA Has Standing Per DC Court of Appeals; IRS’s Annual Filing Season Program In Jeopardy:

The original lawsuit claims by the AICPA look very accurate to me. And there’s a new one: Unenrolled preparers who do not participate in the AFSP will be denied the ability to represent taxpayers’ whose returns they prepared in examinations (as of January 2016). This makes the program look a lot more mandatory than voluntary.

I always assumed the “voluntary” program was preparer regulation by the back door, and that it would be just as voluntary as the United Way contributions were back at my first CPA job.

Robert D. Flach notes Russ’s piece and comments: “The bottom line – the AICPA fears that any government, or other, credential or designation that identifies a person’s competence and currency in 1040 preparation will take business away from CPAs.”

Elaine Maag, The IRS Could Improve EITC Compliance by Regulating Tax Preparers. (TaxVox). Ms. Maag is a big believer in hope over experience.


Paul Neiffer, File & Suspend Will Be No More:

The budget bill that was finalized this week eliminates a strategy for social security recipients called “File and Suspend”.  Under this strategy, the high income earner could file for benefits, allow his lower earning spouse to get benefits before full retirement age and then “suspend” their benefits until age 70 to lock in the additional 8% increase per year in benefits. 

Paul links to additional articles on what this means for retirement planning.


Peter Reilly, Redstone Family Saga Writ Large In Favorable Tax Court Decision. “Being in the movie business and all you would think the Redstones would have been familiar with the remark attributed to Samuel Goldwyn – ‘A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.'”


William Perez discusses Employee Stock Purchase Plans.

Kay Bell, IRS uses cell phone surveillance only in criminal cases. And everybody trusts the IRS.

Jason Dinesen, Corporate Tax Status Determined By Federal Law, Not State Law

Robert Wood, How IKEA Billionaire Legally Avoided Taxes From 1973 Until 2015. In Sweden.

TaxGrrrl, No ‘Candy Tax’ At My House On Halloween. “The candy tax – which is a variation on what parents used to do back in the day and just didn’t call it a tax – is a parenting trend where you purport to teach your kids about responsibility by stealing some of their candy levying a “tax” on their trick or treat loot.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 905Day 906Day 907. Day 906 covers blogger reactions to the resolution to impeach Commissioner Koskinen. This from the Day 905 link describes the larger problem, of which the IRS scandal is only a part:

The federal bureaucracy has always been bad at policing employees, but President Obama bears direct responsibility for the problem getting immeasurably worse. Last year, 47 of the 73 federal inspectors general signed a letter decrying the Obama administration for stonewalling their investigations and in some cases actively intimidating investigators.

The policy has been to fight all transparency and oversight, whether there’s something to hide or not. If there is, the long struggle will make it easier to spin bad news as “old news” by the time the facts emerge. If there is nothing to hide, then it makes the investigators look bad for investigating.


Scott Drenkard, Which States Have the Worst Sales Tax Administration? (Tax Policy Blog). It looks like Louisiana, Arizona and Colorado are pretty bad.


Bottom story of the day. The New York Times Advances a Poor Argument For Tax Hikes (Alan Cole, Tax Policy Blog).

Career Corner. Survey: Performance Reviews Cause Millennials to Complain, Curse, Cry (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 10/30/15: IRS: we didn’t overcharge you, and we won’t do it again. And: Beggars’ Night!

Friday, October 30th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

The IRS yesterday issued rules reducing the fees charged for giving tax preparers for Preparer Tax Identification Numbers, or PTINs. The rules reduce the annual fee from $50 to $33, but raise the fee charged by a third-party vendor that collects the fee from $13 ($14.25 for first time applications) to $17 for all applications.

It’s an interesting move, considering that the IRS is fighting a lawsuit arguing that the IRS has been overcharging preparers for the numbers, which are required for preparers signing tax returns. The IRS claims that the reduction reflects reduced costs for the program.

Dan Alban of the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm that led the successful fight against the IRS preparer regulations, says that it is an admission that the IRS has been overcharging, and that the IRS cost reduction argument doesn’t hold up. From his Twitter feed:


The IRS has never been straight with us about either preparer regulation — really, a power grab and a move to assist the big tax prep franchise outfits — or the PTIN fee. I look forward to seeing how the judge hearing the PTIN lawsuit reacts to this news.

Related: PTIN User Fee Will Be Lowered (Sally Schreiber, The Tax Adviser).




I’m back from the Santa Monica TIAG conference. TIAG is an international alliance of independent accounting firms that Roth & Company joined last year. There were great sessions on technical and practice management topics, but the best part is to meet and get to know lawyers and accountants around the world. It’s nice to know people in other countries to call when our clients need professional services aboad, and it’s fun to compare notes with our offshore counterparts.


Friday – Buzz Day! Robert D. Flach rounds up interesting tax stuff from all over.

William Perez talks about Itemized Tax Deductions..

Annette Nellen, Poor recordkeeping – complexity or too busy. “Every year there are several tax cases where taxpayers think they’ll get a better result in court despite poor records. They almost always lose.”

Kay Bell, Obama and House reach budget, debt ceiling deal

Jack Townsend, Movie Review of Film on Corporate Offshoring

Jim Maule,Where Do the Poor and Middle Class Line Up for This Tax Break Parade? Properly decrying corporate welfare, the good Professor asks and answers:

So could it be time for “if you can’t beat them, join them”? Not for those of us who lack the resources to sign up for the parade, or perhaps what should be called the corporate gravy train.

What the good Professor hasn’t realized is that this is exactly what we can expect when we give the government more and more authority to run and regulate things. Those with the means and the connections win.


20151030-3TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 903Day 904. This from the Day 904 link sounds about right to me regarding the idea of impeaching Commissioner Koskinen:

The evidence against Koskinen will be convincing, but Democrats and the media will claim that because it all involves his defiance of congressional directives – and in their opinion Congress shouldn’t have been investigating in the first place – he really didn’t do anything wrong. They used the same argument in defense of Bill Clinton. Sure, he lied under oath and obstructed justice, but there never should have been an investigation in the first place.

I think it’s a poor use of limited time and political capital.

Peter Reilly, IRS Commissioner Koskinen Impeachment Trial Would Be Historic. A long but worthwhile discussion of the history and process of impeachment, and its prospects.

Keith Fogg, Notification of IRS as a Junior Creditor (Procedurally Taxing). “Two recent lien decisions demonstrate the power of the federal tax lien and the specific steps that parties must take when trying to address that lien.”

Robert Wood, Last Chance To Report Offshore Accounts To IRS, Penalties Climb To 50%

TaxGrrrl. 5 Things You Need To Know About Paul Ryan’s Rise To House Speaker & Tax Reform.

Jeremy Scott, Paul Ryan Punts on Tax Reform (Tax Analysts Blog). “Paul Ryan is moving on to become speaker, and tax reform might be in a worse spot than it was when Dave Camp’s H.R. 1 went over like a lead balloon.”

Cara Griffith, Why Do We Still Have Unpublished Opinions? (Tax Analysts Blog). “Now unpublished opinions readily appear in online databases. As a result, unpublished opinions are not unpublished in the sense that no one has access to them, but are simply not published in an official reporter and hold less or no precedential value with courts.”


Greg Mankiw, Keep the Cadillac Tax. Better idea — scrap the ACA altogether, give a capped health insurance tax credit for individuals, eliminate interstate barriers to health insurance sales, and let nature take its course.

Career Corner, It’s Time for the Accounting Profession to Get Serious About Mental Illness (Leona May, Going Concern). They aren’t the same thing?




Beggars’ Night! Des Moines and its suburbs don’t trick-or-treat on Halloween. Instead our little goblins go forth on October 30 – “Beggars’ Night.” An explanation: What’s up with Beggars’ Night?:

An article in The Des Moines Register on October 28, 1997, says “Blame World War II.” as well as rowdy youths in the early history of Des Moines. According to this article and other sources, Beggars’ Night was created in 1938 by the Des Moines Playground Commission (later the Parks and Recreation Department) because Halloween night had become a night of vandalism and destructive “tricks” such as setting fires and breaking windows.

Kathryn Krieg, director of recreation for the commission, in 1938 began a campaign to encourage less violent forms of Halloween fun. She declared Beggars’ Night to be October 30 in Des Moines, and further required that children would only receive their treat after earning it by performing a trick or telling a riddle. This too is the opposite of the rest of the country, which traditionally provides the treat in order to avoid being tricked!

So if you need a joke for tonight, you can always rely on the classics, like “What’s the pirate’s favorite restaurant? Arrghhhh-bys!”




Tax Roundup, 10/28/15: Tax Court blocks IRS assessment of Gremlin-era gift tax. And: Impeachment is too good for him.

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Wikipedia image ploaded by GrapedApe under Creative Commons license.

Wikipedia image uploaded by GrapedApe under Creative Commons license.

Closing the book on tax disputes arising in the Nixon administration, the Tax Court ruled this week that a taxpayer — the brother of Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone — did not make a taxable gift in 1972 when he transferred corporation shares to a trust as part of a lawsuit settlement.

The facts are confusing. Sumner Redstone’s father Mickey capitalized a business in 1959 but named his sons Sumner and Edward as 1/3 owners. When Edward wanted out and tried to sell his shares, the father refused to provide the certificates, saying that they were held in trust for Mickey’s children. Tax Analysts ($link) explains the result:

Mickey claimed that in 1959, when he created NAI, the shares had been held in an oral trust created at the same time. After months of negotiations, the parties agreed to settle by giving one-third of Edward’s shares to trusts in the benefit of his two children. His remaining shares were sold back to NAI for $5 million.

Edward didn’t consider this a gift, and he never filed a gift tax return for 1972. This left the statute of limitations open on the gift, and the IRS assessed gift tax on Edward’s estate after he died in 2011.

The tax law says there is no gift when property is transferred for full consideration and with no benevolent intent. The IRS says that because the beneficiaries of the trust, Edward’s children, paid nothing for the shares they received in the settlement, the transfer was a taxable gift. The Tax Court disagreed:

The evidence clearly established that Edward transferred stock to his children, not because he wished to do it, but because Mickey demanded that he do it…

Respondent’s argument focuses on whether the transferees provided consideration. But that is not the question the regulation asks. It asks whether the transferor received consideration, that is, whether he made the transfer “for a full and adequate consideration” in money or money’s worth. Sec. 25.2511-1(g)(1), Gift Tax Regs. (emphasis added). We have determined that Edward received “a full and adequate consideration” for his transfer — namely, the recognition by Mickey and Sumner that Edward was the outright owner of 66 2/3 NAI shares and NAI’s agreement to pay Edward $5 million in exchange for those shares. Section 2512(b) and its implementing regulations require that the donor receive “an adequate and full consideration”; they make no reference to the source of that consideration.

Decision for taxpayer.

The Moral? First, there’s no gift to the thief who points a gun at you, and there’s no gift when you transfer shares because you have to.

Perhaps more importantly, gift tax can be assessed forever if you don’t file a gift tax return. If there is any question on whether a gift might have happened, or realistic risk that the IRS will challenge the amount of a gift, it’s wise to file a gift tax return even when it doesn’t appear gift tax is owed. Otherwise the statute of limitations never starts running, and you might be fighting a forty-years war with the tax man.

Cite: Estate of Edward S. Redstone, 145 T.C. No. 11




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 902. A resolution has been introduced to impeach IRS Commissioner Koskinen. While his conduct in office has been awful, I hope they don’t really try to make it happen. It could backfire, and even if he were impeached, there will never be a conviction. I would rather they spend the time and energy reducing the powers of all IRS commissioners by reducing the power of the IRS through tax reform.

Russ Fox, Chaffetz Introduces Impeachment Resolution of IRS Commissioner Koskinen. “My view of this is simple: Mr. Koskinen has become a mouthpiece of the Administration rather than an independent head of the IRS… The IRS’s budget does need to be increased, but that’s not happening until Mr. Koskinen leaves the agency (and the scandal is resolved).

Kay Bell, House GOP seeks impeachment of IRS commissioner

Robert Wood, Impeach IRS Chief, Say Republicans Alleging Lies, Obstruction


William Perez, What Every Small Business Owner Should Know About the Health Care Tax Credit

Peter Reilly, Maureen O’Hara’s Ill Fated Cuban Oil Tax Shelter


20151028-2Joseph Henchman is Remembering the Deceased Iowa Pumpkin Tax You Helped End (Tax Policy Blog). “It’s a weird tax system that taxes the same item differently depending on the buyer’s intent. I’m sure Iowa pumpkin patches have better things to do than quiz their customers on future pumpkin uses.”

David Brunori, Billionaires Who Want to Tax Poor People (Tax Analysts Blog) “Second, and just to show you that it really is all about the money, the initiative will impose significant taxes on electronic cigarettes. If people really cared about the health risks of smoking, they would be encouraging — indeed subsidizing — electronic cigarettes.”

Howard Gleckman, Gimmicks Galore Litter the Boehner/Obama Budget Deal (TaxVox) “But one thing seems certain: This deal is far worse for fiscal conservatives that the Grand Bargain that Boehner and President Obama nearly reached in July 2012, a deal the speaker never could sell to his restive caucus.”

Caleb Newquist, Florida Still Cranking Out Unsophisticated Tax Schemes (Going Concern): “If you or someone you know is thinking about concocting a haphazard tax fraud, it may be tempting to go with a tried and true method that goes something like this…”


Programming Note: My travel schedule will keep me from posting a Tax Roundup tomorrow. See you Friday!



Tax Roundup, 10/26/15: No surprise, no Tea Party charges. And: the proposed Iowa graduate tax break.

Monday, October 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Toby Miles, IRS.

Toby Miles, IRS.

You break news on Friday when you want to bury it. And that’s what the Department of Justice did when it told Congress that it would not prosecute Lois Lerner, or anybody else in IRS, as a result of the Tea Party Scandal.

Not that anybody would expect otherwise. The Justice Department continues to act as the Administration’s scandal goalie. The fix was in once the President changed his tune from “this is terrible” to “not even a smidgen of corruption.”

Throughout the investigation, not a single IRS employee reported any allegation, concern, or suspicion that the handling of tax-exempt applications — or any other IRS function — was motivated by political bias, discriminatory intent, or corruption. Among these witnesses were several IRS employees who were critical of Ms. Lerner’s and other officials’ leadership, as well as others who volunteered to us that they are politically conservative. Moreover, both TIGTA and the IRS’s Whistleblower Office confirmed that neither has received internal complaints from IRS employees alleging that officials’ handling of tax-exempt applications was motivated by political or other discriminatory bias.

The Investors Business Daily gets this right:

This is absurd. Lerner was caught red-handed targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups, wrote partisan emails to prove it, then engaged in a massive cover-up effort — with a suspiciously crashed server, an oddly missing BlackBerry and plenty of excuses.

She evaded even more accountability by shielding herself with the Fifth Amendment in Congress.

It was only Tea Party groups that had to wait years for approval. Considering the destroyed emails, “lost” backups, and Ms. Lerner’s peculiar interest in communication methods that could not be traced, there’s too much smoke and ash to believe there was no fire.

TaxProf has more: The IRS Scandal, Day 898Day 899Day 900. The fix is put in, and we’re told that means that there is no scandal.


Robert Wood, Obama Administration Learned From Lois, Dodging IRS Scandal. “Deny, stonewall, deny.”

TaxGrrrl, DOJ Says No Criminal Charges For Lerner, Others In IRS Scandal, Closes Investigation




Jana Luttenegger Weiler, IRS Releases Inflation Adjustments for 2016 (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).

Kay Bell, Securing taxpayer data is the IRS’ biggest challenge

Russ Fox, Over 1,100 Returns Filed from Two Addresses Lead to Two Heading to ClubFed

Robert D. Flach, WHO MUST FILE A 2016, or 2015, TAX RETURN? “FYI, based on the new inflation adjustments recently announced by the Internal Revenue Service, you do not have to file a 2016 Form 1040, or 1040A, unless your “gross income” is at least…” Visit Robert to find the numbers.


Hank Stern, Easy come, easy go:

“[T]he GAO report found that … at least $1.6 billion [is] unaccounted for.”

That’s out of over $5 billion in “loans” sent to states, most of which went for state-based Exchanges (which, per SCOTUS, don’t actually exist).

That must be the “affordable” part of the Affordable Care Act.”




Joseph Thorndike, Mexico Is Having Second Thoughts About the Soda Tax – And So Should Everyone Else (Tax Analysts Blog). “If a big tax dissuades people from drinking Mountain Dew, maybe they will lose weight. But maybe they will continue to scarf down their Twinkies with a cupful of untaxed water – and keep packing on the pounds.”

Scott Greenberg, Reviewing Paul Ryan’s Short Term as Chairman of Ways and Means (Tax Policy Blog). “In the last 10 months, the Ways and Means Committee has brought 52 bills to the House floor, tied for most with the Energy and Commerce Committee. Out of these bills, 15 were passed into law, the most out of any committee.”

Howard Gleckman, Little Difference Between the Cadillac Tax and a Cap on the Tax Exclusion for Employer Health Plans (TaxVox).


Caleb Newquist, Accountant Won’t Be Taking a Walk in the Woods Anytime Soon. “James Hammes, who spent 6 years on the lam walking the Appalachian Trail, pleaded guilty earlier today to wire fraud.”


David Brunori discusses ($link) a tax break proposed by Iowa graduate students for… themselves.

The idea is that if you graduate from any college or university in Iowa and stay in the state, you would get a 50 percent tax break for five years. If you move to a rural part of the state, you get a 75 percent tax reduction. As an Easterner, I learned everything I know about Iowa from Joe Kristan’s blog. But I could have sworn most of the state is rural.

In any event, kids, this is a terrible tax policy idea. It will solve no brain-drain problem — although employers may pay less since these graduates won’t be paying taxes. Here is just one problem: If you’re not paying taxes, someone else is. That someone else is probably a poor guy or gal who didn’t graduate from college and is making a lot less than you. I thought college kids would be more empathetic than that.

While most of the state is rural, but most of the jobs for college graduates aren’t.

David gets the policy exactly right. It’s tough to justify a special deal for a young prosperous couple with accounting or law degrees while the people building their suburban house and watching their kids pay full fare.



Tax Roundup, 10/23/15: Tax Court dispenses with pot dispensary deductions. And: IRS scam call, captured on tape!

Friday, October 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today newsletter visitors: click here to go directly to the rental loss story


Cannabis leaf image via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Cannabis leaf image via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Deductions get stoned. Not in a good way. Attitudes towards marijuana have changed a lot in the last 33 years. A recent Gallup Poll shows that 58% of respondents favor weed legalization. But a tax provision enacted in 1982 continues the Reefer War with full vigor, as the operators of a legal California medical marijuana dispensary learned yesterday.

Section 280E, enacted early in the Reagan Administration, is one of the more clear provisions of the income tax. It reads in full:

No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.

Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, despite its growing legalization at the state level. That means the only deduction allowed to state-legal weed dispensaries and dealers is their cost of goods sold — their direct cost of their inventory. No rent, salaries, benefits, security, depreciation, or any of the other obvious costs of doing business can be deducted.

Canna Care, Inc., a California dispensary, claimed about $870,000 in business deductions over a three-year period. The Tax Court explains (my emphasis, ditations omitted):

Petitioner argues that its actions cannot be considered “trafficking” for purposes of section 280E because its activities were not illegal under California law. Petitioner claims that this conclusion is supported by memoranda issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on October 19, 2009, and August 29, 2013, and guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) on February 14, 2014.

We have previously held the sale of medical marijuana pursuant to California law constitutes trafficking within the meaning of section 280E… DOJ memoranda and FinCEN guidance released after the years at issue that represent exercises of prosecutorial discretion do not change the result in this case. Petitioner regularly bought and sold marijuana. This activity constitutes trafficking within the meaning of section 280E even when permitted by State law.

The taxpayer also argued that its business activities weren’t entirely about marijuana, and that at least some of the activities should therefore be deductible. The Tax Court said that the taxpayer’s evidence wasn’t sufficient to make that case:

Aside from the sale of medical marijuana, petitioner’s only other source of income was the sale of books, T-shirts, and other items. On the basis of the evidence presented, we cannot determine what percentage of petitioner’s income was from the sale of medical marijuana and what percentage was from the sale of other items. Because of the parties’ stipulation, we find that the sale of medical marijuana was petitioner’s primary source of income and that the sale of any other item was an activity incident to its business of distributing medical marijuana.

No deductions. Victory for IRS.

The Moral: Sometime in the next few years I suspect weed will either cease to be a controlled substance or Section 280E will be amended to allow legal pot sellers to deduct their expenses. Until then, dealers will need to mark up their product a lot to cover the taxes on phantom income. If they have other business activities, they need keep records sufficient to separately track the non-pot profits.

The other moral: Don’t use the tax law to do anything other than measure income and collect taxes. Special carve-outs, whether punitive or beneficial, linger long after the moral panic surrounding their enactment passes. In addition to Section 280E, we remain stuck with other moral panic tax provisions. These include Section 409A, enacted in the Enron panic but punishing ordinary businesses and non-profits trying to compensate their employees, and FIRPTA, enacted to combat the threat of Japanese buying up our precious golf courses. The Japanese have moved on to other things, but FIRPTA still clobbers U.S. real estate buyers who fail to realize they need to withhold taxes on purchases from non-U.S. sellers.

Cite: Canna Care, Inc., T.C. Memo 2015-206.

Related: Russ Fox, Up In Smoke, Again. For more on taxes in the early ’80s, TaxGrrrl has Back To The Future: Taxes Now & Then.


Ed Brown’s fortress-house sells at auction, reports The winning bid was $205,000, though the story makes it appear that the winning bidder may also need to pay some accumulated property taxes.


buzz 20151023-1

It’s Friday, so celebrate with fresh Buzz from Robert D. Flach. Year-end planning, IRS inflation adjustments, and the S corporation vs. partnership conundrum figure prominently.

William Perez reports on the updated 401(k) Contribution Limits.

Tony Nitti, IRS Redefines ‘Husband’ And ‘Wife’ In Response to Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Decisions.

Caleb Newquist, Company Accused of Being ‘Pharmaceutical Enron’ Doesn’t Appreciate the Sentiment (Going Concern).

Robert Wood, Stock Options 2.0: Twitter CEO Gives His Own Stock To Employees

Peter Reilly, IRS Should Be Asking For Cooperation Not Volunteering. “Audits of non-compliant taxpayers will have them “busted” which is unpleasant, whereas non-compliant taxpayers not being audited make the rest of us feel like chumps.”

Kay Bell, As Ryan gets ready to take on House Speaker role, Ways & Means members jockey for tax-writing chairmanship




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 897. Administration partisans urge continued political administration of the IRS, as they needed the encouragement.

Alan Cole, This Bill to Repeal Obamacare Taxes Would Grow the Economy (Tax Policy Blog). Just eliminating the ridiculous and costly paperwork of the ACA would be an economic boost.


Ever wonder what it sounds like to get a phone call from a scammer claiming to be from IRS? Well, you are in luck! A scammer was kind enough to leave a message on my phone at home, which I recorded and uploaded to the link in this sentence.  I believe it is typical of the recorded-message version of the scam, telling me that the IRS “is filing a lawsuit against you” and telling me to call a number to “get more information on this case file.”

The IRS does not call you to tell you they are suing you. They use the old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service, and if they can’t find you, they will use genuine U.S. Marshals to serve you papers. Believe me, if the IRS is after you, you will know you have a problem, and that knowledge won’t come over the phone.



Tax Roundup, 10/22/15: Iowa to credit municipal taxes in other states, allow out-of-state credit against school surtaxes. Plus: 2016 numbers!

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150925-2City taxes eligible for credit; school district surtaxes must be counted. Like other states, Iowa gives its residents a credit for taxes paid in other states. The credit is supposed to be the lesser of the tax imposed by the other state on the income taxed by that state or the Iowa tax on the same income.

Iowa has excluded the surtaxes applied by many Iowa school districts from the total Iowa tax against which the taxes paid in the other states are compared. Iowa has also excluded out-of-state municipal income taxes, like the Kansas City Earnings Tax, from the list of taxes eligible for the credit.

The Department of Revenue has announced that the Wynne decision earlier this year requires the tax credit to be applied taking the surtax into account:

The Iowa Department of Revenue’s (“the Department”) previous practice was to calculate the surtax prior to applying the out-of-state tax credit.  This produced a similar result to Maryland’s; that is, Iowa’s out-of-state tax credit was only being applied to state income tax liability, not local tax (surtax) liability.  Because this practice is inconsistent with the Supreme Court ruling, the Department must change its practice.  The result is that the out-of-state tax credit calculated on form IA 130 must be applied prior to other nonrefundable Iowa tax credits and before calculation of any school district surtax or EMS surtax. 

The Department also is expanding the credit to apply to municipal income taxes (my emphasis):

Any Iowa resident who has paid taxes on income earned in any other state, a local jurisdiction of any other state, or the District of Columbia may be eligible for a refund. 

This will apply to many S corporation and partnership owners whose businesses are involved in other states. I suspect the Kansas City earnings tax may be one of the more commonly municipal taxes paid by Iowans, but such taxes are also commonly seen in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky. Some localities collect these taxes through “composite” returns filed by the S corporations or partnerships on behalf of their owners, so partners and shareholders should review their K-1 information to see whether they contain municipal taxes that can generate Iowa refunds.

Iowans will have to file amended returns under the normal IA 1040X refund claim process:

The 2015 IA 1040 and IA 130 will reflect these changes; however, prior year Iowa forms will not.  For taxpayers filing 2013 or 2014 returns for the first time or amending those returns using the IA 1040, rather than the IA 1040X, the out-of-state tax credit calculated on form IA 130 should be entered after line 49 on the IA 1040, rather than on line 57 as shown on the form for those prior years. For tax years 2007 through 2012, the out-of-state tax credit calculated on form IA 130 should be entered after line 52 on the IA 1040, rather than on line 62.

The period to claim 2011 refund may still be open until October 31 for Iowans who filed their 2011 returns at the extended return deadline. Otherwise refunds may be avaialable for 2012 and later filings.


Joseph Henchman, Iowa to Refund Local Income Taxes After Wynne Decision (Tax Policy Blog)

Des Moines Register, Court ruling gives 32,000 Iowa households tax refunds

Prior Coverage: Is yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision an Iowa refund opportunity?




Kay Bell, IRS issues 2016 tax inflation adjustments

Me, 2016 401(k) max remains $18,000; most other qualified plan limits unchanged and FICA Max remains unchanged for 2016 at $118,500.


William Perez discusses Various Types of Individual Retirement Accounts.

Hank Stern, Two more CO-OPS down the tubes (Insureblog). The Colorado and Oregon co-ops follow Iowa’s Co-Oportunity into co-oblivion.

Alan Cole, The CBO Thinks Repealing Obamacare Mandates Would Lower the Deficit. Here’s Why. (Tax Policy Blog):

The numbers tell the same story that the paragraph above tells: some people respond to the penalties by paying them, but others respond to the penalties by purchasing (often-subsidized) insurance. The subsidies paid to the latter group actually outweigh the revenue the government earns from the penalties.

What a disaster.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 896


Aidan Russell Davis, New ITEP Brief: A Primer on State Rainy Day Funds (Tax Justice Blog). “Rather than waiting for another crisis to occur, ITEP’s new policy brief explains why states should make structural improvements to their rainy day funds right now.”


Because they’re not hiring? Six Percent of People Looking for Talent Not Sure What All the Complaining Is About (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).


The Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is 29 years old today. 


My, how you’ve grown.



Tax Roundup, 10/21/15: The tax law doesn’t care where you are on the autism spectrum. And: Iowa sales tax rule change praised.

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20151014-1No Asperger exception to Section 475. It’s heads they win, tails you lose for capital gains and losses. If you have capital gains, they’re happy to tax them, no matter how many you have. If you have capital losses, you are limited to gains plus $3,000 per year, with the remainder carrying forward — even if you have to outlive Methuselah to use them up at $3,000 annually. Many sadder-but-wider former day traders have found themselves with this problem.

Section 475 offers some taxpayers a way out. If you qualify as a “trader,” a Section 475 election makes your losses fully deductible. It makes your gains ordinary, rather than capital, and it requires you to recognize gains and losses on your open positions at year-end, but that’s not a big deal for day traders. They tend to trade short-term, and short-term gains are taxed at ordinary rates anyway, and marking-to-market isn’t normally a big deal to them.

But Section 475 has a strict election requirement. You have to make the election no later than the April 15 of the year you want the election to take effect. For example, a taxpayer wanting to make the election effective for 2015 tax returns would have to make the election on his 2014 timely-filed 1040 due April 15, 2015.

A New York man claimed he made the election on his 2003 1040. Unfortunately, he made two serious mistakes. See if you can spot them in the Tax Court’s summary:

In 2003 on the advice of his accountant, petitioner intended to file a section 475(f) mark-to-market election. Petitioner, however, did not retain a signed copy of any election or any evidence of mailing it. Petitioner filed his Federal income tax return for the tax year 2003 on July 25, 2005. The 2003 tax return contained a statement that petitioner had made an election pursuant to section 475(f), but did not have a copy of Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, attached to it.

Error 1: Not keeping a copy of the election (assuming he made it).

Error 2: Not filing until over a year after the due date.

Other cases have shown that the IRS enforces the timely-filing requirements of Section 475 strictly, to keep taxpayers from making the election with the benefit of hindsight.

The Court ruled that he traded enough to qualify as a “trader” under the tax law, but that he blew the election (my emphasis):

We find that petitioner failed to comply with the requirements for the mark-to-market election set out in Rev. Proc. 99-17, supra. The evidence does not show conclusively whether petitioner signed or mailed a Form 3115 in 2003. Petitioner did not submit a copy of any executed version of Form 3115 or any evidence of mailing it. Respondent did not find any record of petitioner’s Form 3115 in his electronic database, but also admitted that in some years not all Forms 3115 received were actually entered in the database. Next, petitioner filed his Federal income tax return for 2003 on July 25, 2005, failing to comply with the filing deadlines.

There’s a lot in that paragraph. Perhaps the most important thing is that the IRS admits that it doesn’t always know what you file, so it’s wise to keep your returns forever in case something like this happens. The other thing is that the deadlines matter.

The taxpayer made an unusual argument to get out of penalties: that his Asperger Syndrome made it impossible to meet deadlines. The Tax Court wasn’t convinced:

For a number of years, including 2002 and 2003, petitioner worked as a high school teacher. There is no evidence in the record that at any time from 2001 through 2006 petitioner filed for a disability accommodation while he was employed as a school teacher. In 2007 petitioner was trading in securities. Petitioner’s work station was equipped with six monitors showing the status of his trades. Petitioner was able to collect, analyze, and organize information to base his trades on. Petitioner understood he had a duty to file tax returns but claims that in 2007 he was “despondent” because of the losses he suffered and could not organize himself to file a tax return timely.

We are sympathetic to petitioner’s plight. We cannot find, however, under these circumstances that petitioner’s mental condition prevented him from managing his business affairs.

This is consistent with other cases where the courts have found that if you are able to deal with the challenges of daily life, you are presumed to be able to file your returns on time.

The Moral: File your returns on time, and keep copies of your filings forever.

Cite: Poppe, T.C. Memo 2015-205

Related: TaxProf, Tax Court: Asperger’s Syndrome Does Not Excuse Taxpayer’s Failure To File Tax Return




David Brunori calls the Iowa proposal to broaden the definition of manufacturing supplies subject to exemption from sales tax The Best Tax Policy Proposal of the Year (Tax Analysts Blog):

Taxing what business entities buy is wrong for two important reasons. First, businesses will try to pass the tax they pay on to their customers in the form of higher prices. Almost all succeed. The customers incur the tax burden without knowing it. That’s wrong. Even for those companies that don’t pass the tax along to customers, some person is unwittingly paying the tax. Second, when consumers pay higher prices, they are sometimes subject to tax. Thus, the sales tax is imposed on a value that includes previous sales tax. You may know it as cascading or pyramiding. But it’s wrong.

And that’s why the Iowa proposal is so refreshingly right. It would expand the types of business purchases exempt from sales tax. My understanding is that there is a debate in Iowa about whether the Department of Revenue can expand the number of exempt business purchases administratively. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that the proposal represents sound tax policy.

Governor Branstad says expects the proposal to be enacted, reports the Sioux City Journal in Branstad: House GOP won’t buck rule change.


Russ Fox, The Wagering Excise Tax and DFS:

I’m focusing on the tax aspects of daily fantasy sports (DFS) this week. It’s beneficial for DFS participants for the activity to be considered gambling. For political reasons (“gambling is a sin”) and regulatory reasons (gambling is regulated, skill contests are not), the DFS sites want to be considered skill games sites. There’s another reason that DFS sites don’t want to be considered gambling: the wagering excise tax.

Picking the right horse at the track is a skill, too, but I’m pretty sure it counts as gambling.


Paul Neiffer, What is a Marginal Tax Bracket. A useful explanation for the non-specialist of how tax brackets work.

Kay Bell, Increased e-filing security planned for 2016 filing season. Better at least five years too late than never, I suppose.

Jim Maule, Beachfront House Rental Deduction Washed Out. When you try to deduct what looks like a beach party, you’d better have excellent documentation.

Eric Rasmusen, Law Suit for Billions Against Citigroup Because of Treasury’s 2009 Waiver of Section 382’s Rule about Losing NOL’s after an Ownership Change. The Administration put the fix in for its friends at Citigroup, and now another taxpayer is suing.




Tax Policy Blog, A Comparison of Presidential Tax Plans and Their Economic Effects.

Renu Zaretsky, “There’s no cut like a tax cut… There’s no cut like a tax cut…” Today’s TaxVox tax headline roundup covers the continuing fiscal pain in Kansas and the IRS patting itself on the back on ID theft after letting it spiral out of control for years.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 895



Our media outlets dismiss the opponents of the Ex-Im bank or people who want to wind down Freddie and Fannie as Tea Party nut cases. If you want to stop crony capitalism, what we need are fewer influential media outlets and more Tea Party nut cases.

Arnold Kling



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

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Regulation always favors the big. So do state business incentives. Left-side think tank Good Jobs First demonstrates the big-player bias of state “incentive” tax deals in a new report Shortchanging Small Business: How Big Businesses Dominate State Economic Development IncentivesMaria Koklanaris summarizes the report for State Tax Notes ($link):

Using its own databases and other programs, [Good Jobs First] weeded out awards targeting companies of a specific size, focusing only on those purportedly available regardless of company size. Of those “facially neutral” awards, 90 percent of the dollars went to big businesses, the report said.

“The deals, worth more than $3.2 billion, were granted in recent years by programs that on their faces, are equally accessible to small and large companies,” the report said. “Yet big businesses overall were awarded 90 percent of the dollars from the programs analyzed, indicating a profound bias against small businesses.”

While Iowa’s incentives weren’t among those studied, I am confident the exact same thing is true here. It’s the big and well-connected taxpayers who know how to play the system. They can hire the attorneys and accountants to navigate the system, and the lobbyists to make sure the taxpayer money is steered their way. And it’s the big projects — inherently done by big taxpayers — that attract the politicians. You’ve never heard of a Governor calling a press conference for some little business hiring two people.

A real Iowa tax reform, like the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan, would get rid of all of these breaks for insiders and lower the rates and compliance costs for everyone.


New York Times, What Could Raising Taxes on the 1% Do? Surprising Amounts.

Scott Greenberg, No, Raising Taxes on the 1% Will Not Lead to “Surprising Amounts” of Revenue (Tax Policy Blog):

Let’s say, for instance, that Congress decided to raise the effective tax rate of the 1% by increasing the top rate on ordinary income. Currently, the top tax bracket on ordinary income is 39.6%. How high would Congress have to raise this rate, in order to raise the effective tax rate of the 1% to 45 percent?

According to our estimates, Congress would have to raise the top rate on ordinary income to 74 percent, in order to raise the effective rate of the 1% from 33.4 percent to 45 percent. This would be a rate hike of over 34 percentage points, or an 87 percent increase in the top rate.

Oh, I think the amounts of revenue raised would be surprising, to the Times. And disappointing. As I’ve noted many times, the rich guy isn’t picking up the tab, because he can’t.




TaxGrrrl, 11 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self About Taxes. Plenty of good advice here. It’s all worth reading, but I especially like #7, Planning is important:

Tax planning is important. You should take advantage of tax strategies that can help you lower your tax bill, like seeking out tax credits you might have overlooked or making a contribution to a tax-deferred retirement account. And knowing what’s coming down the pike is also important when it comes to payment: having a good idea of what you might owe and making estimated payments will help you avoid writing a big check at the end (trust me) and possibly being subject to underpayment penalties.

This is true for all taxpayers, but it is especially true for the self-employed, who are much more numerous with the growth of the “gig economy.”


buzz20150804Robert D. Flach is up and running with a fresh and pungent Tuesday Buzz roundup. He covers the recent tax season and the right response to callers claiming to be from the IRS demanding payment, among other things.

Jason Dinesen, Choosing a Business Entity: S-Corporation vs. C-Corporation. “The ‘C’ and ‘S’ refer to how that corporation is taxed, not to its legal standing.”

Tony Nitti, Apple To Issue Restricted Stock To Employees: Siri, What Are The Tax Consequences?

Russ Fox, The Future of DFS. “If you watch any sports television, you’ve almost certainly seen commercials for the two leading daily fantasy sports (DFS) sites, DraftKings and FanDuel.”

Robert Wood, Chef Jamie Oliver Calls For Sugar Tax, While Mexico Eyes Soda Tax Cut. We actually already have a pretty high sugar tax.

Keith Fogg, Contesting the Merits of the Underlying Tax in a Collection Due Process Case – A Convoluted Fact Pattern Leads to Wrong Decision (Procedurally Taxing).

Peter Reilly, Massachusetts Hits Staples For $10 Million On Sham Interest Deductions. “This case is a beautiful illustration of my fourth law of tax planning – Execution isn’t everything, but it is a lot.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 894. On how the President signals Justice Department investigators to back off.

Brian Doherty, Irwin Schiff, R.I.P. ( “He was indeed a jolly warrior for a cause he obviously very sincerely believed in, even when it became completely obvious that the federal government was not going to be daunted by his arguments and indeed was going to keep arresting him for practicing them and advocating them.”

Kay Bell, Infamous tax protester Irwin Schiff has died. “His anti-tax tactics live on, as do penalties for those who insist on using them.”


Howard Gleckman, Presidential Candidates, “Free Stuff,” and Pixie Dust (TaxVox):

Even in its early stages, the 2016 presidential race looks like it will be remembered for two depressing superlatives. The candidates will spend more money than ever before, and they will promise more costly give-aways than any politicians in history.

Once again demonstrating the wisdom of Arnold Kling.


Tax Roundup, 10/19/15: Keeping a calendar pays off big for Brooklyn apartment owner. And: Irwin Schiff dies in prison.

Monday, October 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150811-1Marking time pays. If you ever think owning income property is easy money, a Tax Court case last week might make you think twice. But the case also shows how keeping track of the time you spend can make a big difference if the IRS questions your rental losses.

The taxpayer couple owned “a four-floor mulifamily house” in Brooklyn. The couple lived on the first two floors, and rented out the two remaining floors as two apartments. He had a day job involving construction, but he also had his hands full with the apartment.

The couple claimed just under $70,000 of rental losses between 2010 and 2011. The IRS challenged the losses. The IRS has a good track record in rental loss cases because the tax law sets a high bar for deducting them. Such losses are automatically “passive,” and deductible only to the extent of “passive income,” unless you are a “real estate professional.” To be a real estate professional, you have to

  1. work more than 750 hours in a real estate trade or business during the year, and
  2. Your real estate work has to take more time than anything else you do.

It’s that second test that usually trips up people with day jobs. The taxpayer here, though, had an advantage, as Special Trial Judge Panuthos explains:

For purposes of the requirement in section 469(c)(7)(B)(i) [the real estate professional test], a real property trade or business includes construction and reconstruction. Sec. 469(c)(7)(C). 

So that meant the rental activity didn’t have to take more time than the day job. But the real estate professional rule doesn’t automatically make a rental loss deductible. The taxpayer still had to show that he “materially participated” to avoid the passive loss rule. Material participation is generally based on time spent working on the activity during the year, with 500 hours annually being the most common threshold used.  Fortunately, the taxpayer kept track of his time:

We used petitioner’s contemporaneous activity log to calculate the amount of time that he spent on the rental property. We included the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the tenants’ apartments and two-thirds of the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the common areas. On the basis of these calculations, we conclude that petitioner spent 1,008 hours performing services with respect to the rental activity for 2010. Because the 1,008 hours meets the more-than-500-hour requirement of section 1.469-5T(a)(1), Temporary Income Tax Regs., supra, petitioner meets this requirement for the 2010 taxable year. Accordingly, petitioner materially participated in the rental real estate activity for 2010, and petitioner’s 2010 rental real estate activity was not a passive activity.

That’s a lot of time. So much for the idea that rental income is easy money. The taxpayer’s records also carried the day for 2011. In total, the recordkeeping saved the taxpayer $25,174.60 in taxes and penalties that the Tax Court overturned.

The Moral? Keeping a daily calendar of your time is the best antidote to an IRS passive loss examination. It may seem like a hassle, but as this case shows, it can turn out to be the best investment of time you can make if the IRS comes for a visit.

Cite: Simmons-Brown, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-62.


Irwin SchiffTax Protester Schiff dies in prisonIrwin Schiff, a prominent figure among those denying the general application of the income tax, died in prison last week, reports Peter Reilly. Mr. Schiff, 87, had been diagnosed with lung cancer while serving a 13-year sentence for practicing what he unwisely preached. Peter’s humane and thoughtful coverage includes this:

When I first encountered Schiff’s arguments in the nineties I was so impressed by how well put together they were, that I found it difficult to believe that they were constructed by someone who believed them, as citations always checked out, but were wildly out of context.  Irwin, however, has proved his sincerity.  That doesn’t make his arguments right, but it does merit some grudging admiration.

Mr. Schiff’s story shows that however sincerely you believe that the income tax doesn’t apply to you, your sincerity does little good when the IRS, the U.S. Marshals, the federal judges, and the Bureau of Prisons think it does. And they do.



Russ Fox, That Was the Year that Was. Russ reflects on the filing season ended last week:

Calling the IRS was almost a joke. The “Practitioner Priority Service” hold times were so bad that I’d hate to think of what they were for regular numbers. Unfortunately, I see no improvement possible with the IRS budget until the IRS scandal is resolved. That’s not going to happen until we have a new President, so we have probably two more years of misery in dealing with the IRS.

At least.


William Perez, Where to Find and How to Read Tax Tables

Annette Nellen, Responsible Governance – Tax break bills vetoed! “What happened – On 10/10/15, Governor Brown vetoed nine bills that either created or expanded a tax credit or exclusion or exemption.”




Alan Cole, How Do Property Taxes Vary Across The Country? (Tax Policy Blog). The post feature a handy interactive map showing the average property tax deduction taken in each U.S. county in 2013.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 891Day 892ay 893. Day 892 covers the connection between Lois Lerner and a bureaucrat behind the outrageous Wisconsin “John Doe” investigations of conservative organizations.

Howard Gleckman, The Debt Limit: Here We Go Again (TaxVox).

Kay Bell, GOP presidential candidates tax trash talk on Twitter

Robert Wood, Execs Get 10 Years Prison Over Company Taxes? Yes, Here’s How. Robert covers the Arrow Trucking saga.

TaxGrrrl, As TIGTA Continues To Warn On IRS Scams, New Treasury Scams Surface. “In one version, scammers advise that an individual has been awarded a grant or a similar sum of money and in order to collect, the individual needs to provide personal information or a sum of money to ‘release’ the funds. It sounds a little bit like those lottery scams making the rounds but the use of the name of the Office of the Treasury seems to make individuals believe that it’s more legitimate”


News from the Profession. A Noncomprehensive List of Morale Boosters for Accounting Firms (Leona May, Going Concern). “Accounting firms, who generally eat their young, are all competing for ‘who has the best perks’ in race to scoop up all of the competent new hires.”



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

Friday, October 16th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150929-1Can a program that wastes 25% of its cost be worthwhile? While many economists left and right say the Earned Income Credit is a great poverty fighting tool, some of us who do tax for a living aren’t so sure. Now two scholars at the libertarian Cato Institute have published a report that fleshes out some of these doubts: Earned Income Tax Credit: Small Benefits, Large Costs. The report provides this background:

While the EITC is administered through the tax code, it is primarily a spending program. The EITC is “refundable,” meaning that individuals who pay no income taxes are nonetheless eligible to receive a payment from the U.S. Treasury. Of the $69 billion in benefits this year, about 88 percent, or $60 billion, is spending.

Articles by liberal and conservative pundits regarding the EITC often make it seem as if there are few downsides to the program. The EITC is aimed at reducing poverty and encouraging work. Who could be against that?

Alas, there is no free lunch with subsidy programs. The EITC has a high error and fraud rate, and for most recipients it creates a disincentive to increase earnings.

The waste and the “disincentive effects” are the things that bother me the most. The phase out of the benefits makes it very expensive to earn a little more, after a certain low-income point. My computation of the Iowa marginal rates on EITC recipients is in chart:eic 2014

That’s a 55% tax on every dollar earned, which doesn’t exactly encourage you to earn more dollars. And I don’t try to account for the hidden tax resulting from the loss of other welfare benefits as income increases.

Unfortunately, the study doesn’t really address what should replace the EITC, other than calling for generic good tax policy: “For example, cutting the corporate income tax rate would boost business capital investment. That would generate higher demand for labor, and thus raise wages and create more opportunities for American workers over time.”

I wish they had discussed the “universal benefit” that Arnold Kling and others have set forth. Arnold describes this version:

For a universal benefit, I propose something like $6000 for each adult in a household and $4000 for each child. [Charles] Murray proposed $10,000 per adult and zero per child.

Murray described the program as a cash grant. I describe it as flex-dollars that can only be used for “merit” goods, meaning health care, food, housing, and education.

Each of us presumes that people will purchase health insurance. I am explicit that catastrophic health insurance would be mandatory.

I propose something like a 20 percent marginal tax rate, or phase-out rate, for the universal benefit.

Arnold would have the phase-out as an addition to the income tax; I would couple it with the standard deduction so it phases out as part of the income tax, not as an addition to it. In any case, it would address many of the fraud and administration problems we see in the EITC.


honey princesses 2014


Robert D. Flach has your fresh Friday Buzz! Last minute filing, neglected beneficiary designations, and Dance Moms are highlighted.

Laura Saunders, Beware of Tax Surprises Lurking in Mutual Funds (Wall Street Journal). “Here’s why: By law, each year mutual funds must pay out to investors nearly all their income, which includes interest, dividends and net realized capital gains—in short, the profits on their trades minus offsetting losses… Already, one fund has announced the largest capital-gains payout some experts can remember.”

William Perez, I don’t make too much money, does the new health insurance rule apply to me?

Annette Nellen, Worker Voice, Classification and Taxes. “One of many things the “on demand” economy means is more clear and consistent rules on worker classification.”

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: S-corporation. “S-corporation is a tax term that refers to a corporation or an LLC that elects to be taxed under the rules of Subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code.”

Jim Maule, Taxes, Consumption, Soda, and Obesity. “It is not unlikely that people who find soda to be too expensive because of the tax will spend their dollars on pies, cakes, candy, doughnuts, cookies, ice cream, and similar items.”

Leslie Book, Tax Court Holds Preparer Who Placed Truncated Social Security Number on Returns Subject to Penalties. He didn’t use a PTIN or Social Security Number on the returns he signed. The penalty is $50 per return. He prepared 134 returns in 2009. I’ll leave the math as an exercise for the reader.

TaxGrrrl, ‘Dance Moms’ Star Abby Lee Miller Accused Of Hiding Income, Indicted On Fraud Charges. So many TV shows I’ve never seen, so many indictments.

They both eat brains. Presidential candidate debates outdraw zombies (Kay Bell)




Howard Gleckman, The Debt Limit: Here We Go Again (TaxVox):

The House is largely leaderless and a significant minority of its Republican caucus will oppose any increase in the federal borrowing limit. In the Senate, CNN reports that GOP leader Mitch McConnell wants major concessions from the White House on such hot button issues as Social Security and Medicare before he moves a debt bill. And a lame-duck President Obama seems increasingly disinclined to negotiate with Hill Republicans on any issue. 

Pass the popcorn.


Jeremy Scott, Democrats Offer Nothing Much on Tax Reform (Tax Analysts Blog):

Taxes were discussed. Bernie, of course, wants to use them to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, something it’s not clear his plan even addresses. Chafee wants a new 45 percent bracket on higher incomes. And Hillary talked some about the numerous small tax provisions she would like to enact to accomplish extremely specific, targeted goals. But nothing said onstage Tuesday night should give any tax reform observers hope that a Democratic White House in 2017 will be any more behind a broad tax reform effort than President Obama has been.

A complicated tax code that meddles in everything is exactly what you would expect from big government fans. There’s no reason to expect reform from the avowed party of big government.


Kyle Pomerleau, Governor Lincoln Chafee’s Modest Tax Proposal (Tax Policy Blog).

Bob McIntyre, Although He Left out Key Details, It’s Clear Kasich’s Tax Plan Is a Deficit-Busting Giveaway to the Wealthy (Tax Justice Blog). We don’t need no stinking key details.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 890

News from the Profession. Will the CPA Exam Become Optional? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)


The Brown house. Photo from IRS Auction web site.

The Brown house. Photo from IRS Auction web site.

6,000 Sq. Ft., Handyman’s and Ordnance Clearance Specialist’s Dream! The IRS is going to once again try to auction the home of Ed and Elaine Brown, the couple serving loooong prison terms as a result of an armed standoff following their conviction on tax charges. It has some unusual features, reports

In the back of a closet, a hidden door can be found. A ladder leads to a small bunker with a passageway that leads just outside. Dirt hides the manhole cover that provides an exit to the passage.

Admit it, you’ve always wanted one of those.

“There’s a lot of stuff that you need to look at and say, ‘Do I want to finish it that way? Do I want to go a different direction?'” said Roger Sweeney, liquidation specialist for the IRS. “But it also comes with 100 acres, and with that price, it’s a heck of a deal.”

There are solar panels and a wind turbine on the land, but investigators have found explosive devices, as well. A warning is included in the notice of sale.

The article has a little photo tour of the property. You can learn more at the IRS auction website. The starting bid is only $125,000.

Related: Tax Update Blog Ed Brown coverage.