Posts Tagged ‘Kay Bell’

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

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

But, but, deserters!  Traitors!

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Oops.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/25/14: Tax Credits for not killing a puppy. Well, another puppy. And: mind your spelling!

Monday, August 25th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Flickr Image courtisy Llima under Creative Commons license

Flickr Image courtesy Llima under Creative Commons license

Wisconsin finds a new frontier in incentive tax credits.  From madison.com:

The board overseeing the state’s flagship job-creation agency has quietly approved a $6 million tax credit for Ashley Furniture Industries with a condition allowing the company to eliminate half of its state workforce.

As approved by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board, the award would allow the Arcadia-based global furniture maker to move ahead with a $35 million expansion of its headquarters and keep 1,924 jobs in the state.

Stop me with tax incentives, or I’ll fire some more people!

Of course, all of these tax credits are paid for by people who, by definition, aren’t getting their taxes wiped out with special tax breaks that allow politicians to show up for a ribbon cutting.  Politicians know that they’ll get attaboys for “creating jobs,” and nobody will call then out for the jobs they cost by taxing people to give money to their special friends.

Thanks to an alert reader for the tip.

Related: IF TRUTH IN ADVERTISING APPLIED TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCIES

 

Peter Reilly reports on tax pro who thinks a case we discussed last week may have been wrongly decided.  I think the court probably got it right, but it’s a good read.  If the taxpayer wins on appeal, it will be very helpful for tax planning.

 

Does that make this a tax shelter?

Does that make this a tax shelter?

Audit the Pope, then?  New Tax Head Says She Knows Why Italians Don’t Pay Taxes: They’re Catholic (TaxGrrrl)

Kay Bell, Coverdell Education Savings Account’s pre-college options.

Jason Dinesen, Bridging the Gap Between What Clients Want … And What They’ll Pay For. “Sure, people “want” a proactive approach. But it seems to me like few are actually willing to PAY for the service.”

Russ Fox, Tax Preparers Behaving Badly, “There’s a common thread among these tax professionals: You’ll be getting a refund. That sounds good until you realize that you really shouldn’t have, and that you will likely get in trouble later.”

Robert D. Flach,  OOPS! THEY DID IT AGAIN.  “The State wants taxpayers, and preparers, to submit income tax returns electronically – but when they do the returns and payments therefor are not properly processed.”

Jack Townsend, Criminal Justice Article of U.S. Global Tax Enforcement

Tony Nitti, Your Complete Guide To Every Tax Reference In ‘The Simpsons’ Marathon 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 473

Ajay Gupta, Carbon Taxes and the White Man’s Burden (Tax Analysts  Blog):

 China, which surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of CO2 in 2006, has made it clear that it has no intention of agreeing to any reduction quotas “because this country is still at an early stage of development.” India, which now ranks third, behind China and the United States in total CO2 emissions, has similarly rejected the notion of subjecting itself to binding reductions.

Yet the carbon tax lobby in the West remains unfazed in the face of this repudiation of responsibility by the developing world. Among the grounds advanced for pressing ahead with unilateral action is one that relies on the residence time of CO2. For several decades, the West pumped much more CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere than China, India, or any other developing county. Unilateralists argue that those historical emissions and their persisting warming effects ensure that the West will remain the largest contributor to climate change for years to come.

That argument has more than a whiff of reparations.

Frack away.

 

2140731-3Matt Gardiner, Kinder Morgan Doesn’t Want to Be a Limited Partnership Anymore–But They’re One of the Few (Tax Justice Blog).  Paying one tax is better than paying two, other things being equal.

William McBride, More Jobs versus More Children:

I, like most humans, think that children are blessing. I am also one to think we as a society should have more kids. I also think that in the very long run, say decades, demographics are destiny, i.e. we cannot expect to be a large, flourishing economy a generation from now if our birth rate continues to be at or below the replacement rate.

However, boosting the birth rate is not as simple as boosting the child credit. 

Not every problem can be solved with a tax credit.

 

Howard Gleckman, How Much Would An Individual Tax Rate Cut Add to the Deficit, and Who Would Benefit? (TaxVox).  “A one percentage point across-the-board reduction in tax rates would add $662 billion to the budget deficit over 10 years—about $40 billion in 2015 rising to more than $85 billion by 2024.”

 

Donald Boudreax is not a happy taxpayer:

 I pay what I “owe” in taxes not because I have a “responsibility” to do so but, instead, only because government threatens to use violence against me if I don’t pay what it demands.  I stand in the same relation to the tax-gatherer as I stand in relation to any common thug who points a gun, knife, or fist at me demanding my money.  [I actually prefer the common thug, for he neither insults my intelligence by telling me that his predation is for my own good nor spends the money he takes from me to fund schemes to further interfere in my life.] 

I suppose that illusion-free approach probably applies to most of us, if you think about it.

 

Career Corner.  Use All Your Vacation Days, Even If It Means Making Less Money (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

 

dictionarySpelling is important.  Even for identity theives.  From Dispatch.com:

A $3.5 million bogus tax-refund scheme that unraveled because the conspirators couldn’t spell the names of well-known cities has resulted in a federal-prison sentence of more than eight years for the scam’s mastermind.

Sims and Towns misspelled the names of several cities when they listed return addresses, including “Louieville” and “Pittsburg.” That caught the attention of Internal Revenue Service investigators.

I love how they call somebody who committed a stupid crime in a stupid way — and showed up for a sentencing hearing drunk, apparently —  a “mastermind.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/21/14: IRS says saving the company still “passive;” Tax Court says otherwise And: the $105.82 c-note!

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: No Tax Roundup will appear tomorrow, August 22.   I will be up in Ames helping teach the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation class “Affordable Care Act (ACA): What Practitioners Need to Know in the morning.  Webinar registration is closed, but you can still  attend as a walk-in.

 

S imageS imageS-SidewalkYou saved the company.  Big deal.  Apparently pulling the company you started from the brink of failure wasn’t enough to convince the IRS that a taxpayer “materially participated” and could deduct losses on his tax return.

Charles Wade was a founder of Thermoplastic Services, Inc. and Paragon Plastic Sheeting, both S corporations.  After his son Ashley took over daily management of the business, he still owned a significant stake in the company.  He never really retired, though.  From the Tax Court (my emphasis, footnotes omitted in all Tax Court quotes):

With Ashley there to handle day-to-day management, Mr. Wade became more focused on product and customer development. He did not have to live near business operations to perform these duties, so petitioners moved to Navarre, Florida. After the move he continued to make periodic visits to the facilities in Louisiana and regularly spoke on the phone with plant personnel.

In 2008 TSI and Paragon began struggling financially as prices for their products plummeted and revenues declined significantly. Mr. Wade’s involvement in the businesses became crucial during this crisis. To boost employee morale, he made three trips to the companies’ industrial facility in DeQuincy, Louisiana, during which he assured the employees that operations would continue. He also redoubled his research and development efforts to help TSI and Paragon recover from the financial downturn. During this time Mr. Wade invented a new technique for fireproofing polyethylene partitions, and he developed a method for treating plastics that would allow them to destroy common viruses and bacteria on contact. In addition to his research efforts, Mr. Wade ensured the companies’ financial viability by securing a new line of credit. Without Mr. Wade’s involvement in the companies, TSI and Paragon likely would not have survived.

Slacker.  At least according to the IRS, who said that this participation failed to rise to the level of “material participation” and disallowed over $3 million in pass-through losses on Mr. Wade’s return.

The Tax Court took a different view.  Judge Goeke explains :

A taxpayer materially participates in an activity for a given year if, “[b]ased on all of the facts and circumstances * * * the individual participates in the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis during such year.” A taxpayer who participates in the activity for 100 hours or less during the year cannot satisfy this test, and more stringent requirements apply to those who participate in a management or investment capacity.  The record reflects that Mr. Wade spent over 100 hours participating in TSI and Paragon during 2008, and his participation consisted primarily of nonmanagement and noninvestment activities. Ashley managed the day-to-day operations of the companies; Mr. Wade focused more on product development and customer retention.

Although Mr. Wade took a step back when Ashley became involved in the companies’ management, he still played a major role in their 2008 activities. He researched and developed new technology that allowed TSI and Paragon to improve their products. He also secured financing for the companies that allowed them to continue operations, and he visited the industrial facilities throughout the year to meet with employees about their futures. These efforts were continuous,  regular, and substantial during 2008, and we accordingly hold that Mr. Wade materially participated in TSI and Paragon. 

20120801-2It’s notable that the judge did not require Mr. Wade to produce a daily log.  Apparently there was enough testimony and evidence to show that his participation crossed the 100 hour threshold.

The 100 hours might not have been considered enough under some circumstances.  Usually the IRS holds taxpayers to the default 500-hour test for material participation.  This case is unusual in its use of the fall-back 100-hour “facts and circumstances” test. It’s good to see the Tax Court use it, as the IRS seems to think this test never applies.

It’s also interesting that the efforts at “customer retention” were counted.  This could be useful in planning for the 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax.  The NIIT taxes “passive” income, defined the same way as the passive loss rules.  A semi-retired S corporation owner who still calls on some of old accounts after turning daily operations over to successors might be able to avoid the NIIT under the logic of this case.  If so, though, it would be wise to keep a calendar to prove it.

Cite: Wade, T.C. Memo. 2014-169

Related:

Russ Fox, A Passive Activity Case Goes to the Taxpayers.  “Hopefully the IRS can get more of these cases right at audit and appeals–they’ll be dealing with many more of these over the coming years.”

Paul Neiffer, More than 100 but Less than 500.  “It is nice to see that a subjective test went in the taxpayer’s favor.”

Material participation basics.

 

How far does $100 go in your city?  Last week the Tax Foundation issued a map showing how far $100 goes in different states.  Now they have issued a new map in The Real Value of $100 in Metropolitan Areas (Tax Policy Bl0g).  It is wonderful — just scroll your cursor over your town.

In Des Moines, $100 is good for $105.82.  In New York, it gets you $81.83.

 

TaxGrrrl, Anna Nicole Smith’s Estate Loses Yet Another Run At The Marshall Fortune

Tony Nitti, Could The IRS Disallow Ice Bucket Challenge Charitable Contributions?  Go ahead, IRS, just try it.  You’re just too popular.

William McBride, Earnings Stripping, Competitiveness, and the Drive to Further Complicate the Corporate Tax (Tax Policy Blog)

Roberton Williams, One Downside Of Inversions: Higher Tax Bills For Stockholders (TaxVox)

Kay Bell, How does the U.S. corporate tax rate compare to other countries?  Poorly.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 469

 

David Brunori, Using Local Cigarette Taxes for Schools Is Silly (Tax Analysts Blog).  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.  For the children!

Cara Griffith, Was Oregon’s Tax Incentive Deal With Intel Unnecessary? (Tax Analysts Blog).  No, it was absolutely necessary to enable the Governor of Oregon to issue this press release and YouTube announcement.  That’s the point, after all.

 

Quotable:

The United States gets little tax from Americans overseas today. Most of them live in high-tax countries and have no U.S. income tax in any event because of FTCs and the section 911 foreign earned income exclusion. But as we all know, Congress couldn’t care less about this subject, and this is all a non-starter. Better to place your money on a genetically modified flying pig.

Robert L. Williams in Tax Analysts ($link)

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/20/14: Keeping time reports isn’t just for CPAs anymore.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Track your hours now, not when you get audited.  Doing time reports is no fun.  If I had a nickel for every CPA who left public accounting and told me how fun it is to not do time reports, I’d have multiple nickels.

Unfortunately, the tax law might make time sheets necessary for people who don’t charge by the hour.  The passive loss rules disallow losses if you don’t spend enough time on a loss activity to “materially participate.”  Obamacare uses the same rules to impose a 3.8% “Net Investment Income Tax” on “passive” income.

It’s up to the taxpayer to prove they spent enough time to “materially participate,” as a Mr. Graham from Arkansas learned yesterday in Tax Court.

The taxpayer wanted to convince Judge Nega that he met the tax law’s stiff tests to be a “real estate professional,” enabling him to deduct real estate rental losses.  If you are not a “professional,” these losses are automatically passive, and therefore deferred until there is passive income.  To be a real estate professional, the taxpayer has to both:

- Work at least 750 hours in real estate trades or businesses, and

- performs more than one-half of all personal services during the year in real property trades or businesses in which the taxpayer materially participates.

That’s a high bar to clear for a taxpayer with a day job.  Mr. Graham gave it a good try, providing a judge with spreadsheets to show that he did that work.  The judge remained unconvinced:

Mr. Graham did not keep a contemporaneous log or appointment calendar tracking his real estate services. His spreadsheets were created later, apparently in connection with the IRS audit. 

There were other problems:

Furthermore, the entries on the spreadsheets were improbable in that they were excessive, unusually duplicative, and counterfactual in some instances. As all petitioners’ rental properties were single-family homes, reporting 7 hours to install locks or 30 hours to place mulch on a single property (amongst other suspect entries) are overstatements at best. Performing maintenance for a tenant that did not pay rent for an entire year with no record of “past due rent” or any attempt to collect rent (as Mr. Graham would note on entries for other rental properties) seems dubious.

The judge ruled that the taxpayer failed to meet the tests.  Worse, the court upheld a 20% penalty: “We conclude that the exaggerated entries in petitioners’ spreadsheets negate their good faith in claiming deductions for rental real estate losses against their earned income.”

The Moral?  Maintain your time records now.  When the IRS comes calling, it’s too late.  And play it straight; the Tax Court didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

Cite: Graham, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-79. 

 

20130426-1Russ Fox, FBAR Filing Follies:

Joe Kristan reported last week that you cannot use Adobe Acrobat to file the FBAR; you must use Adobe Reader. In fact, if you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer and use Adobe Reader it won’t work either. Well, I have some mild good news about this.

Mild is right.

 

Peter Reilly, Robert Redford’s New York Tax Trouble Provides Lessons For Planners.  “You dodge non-resident state taxes, either on purpose or by accident, at the peril of missing out on a credit against the tax of your home state.”

Jason Dinesen, S-Corporation Compensation Revisited.  “But what should the salary be? And what if the year has ended and the W-2 deadlines have passed, but the corporate tax return still needs filed?”

Keith Fogg, Postponing Assessment and Collection of the IRC 6672 Liability (Procedurally Taxing).  Issues on the “trust fund” penalty imposed for not remitting withholding.

TaxGrrrl, Flipping Through History: Online Retailers Owe Popularity And Tax Treatment To Mail Order Catalogs:

Online shopping is again changing the way that we look at nexus but for now, more or less the same kinds of principles that ruled in the day of mail order catalogs are still good law. The law remains settled that in states that impose a sales tax, retailers that have established nexus must charge sales tax to customers in that state.

And just like in the old days, states want to extend their reach no matter how flimsy the nexus.

20140729-1Lyman Stone, New Upshot Tool Provides Historical Look at Migration (Tax Policy Blog):

Prominent changes in the data suggest that taxes may have a role in affecting migration, though certainly taxes are just one of many important variables, and probably not even the biggest factor. As always, talking about migration isn’t simple: migration data is challenging to measure and represent, and even more difficult to interpret.

I will be seeing Mr. Stone speak at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry Tax Committee this morning.  I’m geeking out already.

 

Jim Maule, “Give Us a Tax Break and We’ll Do Nice Things.” Not.  It seems the subsidized Yankees parking garages don’t stop with picking taxpayer pockets.

Kay Bell, Is it time for territorial taxation of businesses and individuals?  “Territorial taxation advocates hope that long local journey has at least now started.”

 

Howard Gleckman, Is Treasury About to Curb Tax Inversions on Its Own? (TaxVox).  If the law is whatever the current administration says it is, I look forward to the $20 million estate tax exclusion next time the GOP takes power.

Daniel Shaviro, The Obama Administration’s move towards greater unilateral executive action.  “And the conclusion might either be that one should tread a bit lightly after all, or that we are in big trouble whether one side unilaterally does so or not, given the accelerating breakdown of norms that, as Chait notes, are no less crucial than our express constitutional and legal structure to ‘secur[ing] our republic.’”

20130422-2The best and the brightest in action.  TIGTA: ObamaCare Medical Device Tax Is Raising 25% Less Revenue Than Expected, IRS Administration of Tax Is Rife With Errors (TaxProf)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 468

 

News from the Profession.  AICPA Celebrates 400,000th Member Just Because (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

I can verify that a Kindle absorbs less coffee than paper.  Do readers absorb less from a Kindle than from paper? (Tyler Cowen)

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/19/14: Will people just quit paying taxes? And how far does your $100 go in Iowa?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

Some folks are worried that we’ll all suddenly stop paying taxes, according to a Tax Analysts story today (subscriber link only):

Richard Lavoie of the University of Akron School of Law, who studies tax ethics, says voluntary compliance rates have remained relatively high because paying taxes is an accepted social norm. Withholding plays a large role in compliance, but it does not explain everything, according to Lavoie.

Lavoie said the recent controversies surrounding the IRS, such as accusations that the agency targeted conservative groups for political reasons, and other factors such as worsening income inequality have all eroded the public’s trust in a fair tax system. If those pressures continue, it could cause taxpayer attitudes to change virtually overnight, he said. “At some point that all adds up, and what was a stable norm that we collect 83 or so percent of taxes voluntarily could flip,” he said.

I think Mr. Lavoie is identifying things he doesn’t like, such as “income inequality” and the Tea Parties, and dreaming up dreadful consequences.  For example, “Lavoie argued in his 2012 paper that antitax rhetoric such as that espoused by the Tea Party also has the potential to unbalance the tax system.”

Mr Lavoie talks about “accusations” of IRS malfeasance and “anti-tax rhetoric” as the dangers — not the well-documented abuses themselves, or the IRS stonewalling of investigations into the abuses, or the former Commissioner’s dishonest response to the scandal, or the current Commissioner’s intransigence, or the President’s “joke” about auditing his opponents.  These damage faith in the IRS much more than anything the Tea Party could come up with.

The article finds some people who get closer to identifying the real problem:

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson in recent remarks also warned that the habit of voluntary compliance may be at risk. Like Koskinen, she cited the IRS’s budget situation, saying that if Congress continues to restrict the agency’s budget, it may lead to a downward spiral in voluntary compliance rates.

While the poor customer service and declining enforcement are related to funding, funding still isn’t the real problem.  The IRS budget would be just fine if the IRS were treated as just a revenue agency.  Instead Congress has made the tax system into the Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  The IRS has a portfolio that ranges from industrial policy to education to retirement security to, famously, health care.  The IRS policy roles can dwarf those of agencies with nominal responsibility for policy areas.  Giving so many jobs to the IRS necessarily makes it less capable of doing its real job, tax collection.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign that anybody is going to take away the agency’s many non-revenue tasks.  And a GOP Congress isn’t about to increase funding for the IRS as long as it seems unapologetic about going after groups opposed to the administration.  To the extent IRS intransigence causes a compliance crash, the agency has only itself to blame.

 

Alan Cole, Lyman Stone, Richard Borean, The Real Value of $100 in Each State (Tax Policy Blog):

 

20140819-1

 

This map makes Iowa look pretty good.  When you consider average incomes compared to the cost of living, Iowa looks even better.

 

Robert D. Flach’s Tuesday Buzz covers inheritance taxes, tax robots, and the large number of people who seem to rely on lottery winnings for retirement funding.

 

20140728-1TaxGrrrl, Investment Opportunity: Possibly Booby-Trapped Property Remains Unsold.  Ed and Elaine Brown forfeited their property after their armed stand-off with the IRS, but the agency can’t find anybody willing to buy it.  There is some fear of booby traps, but I suspect potential buyers would also be a bit concerned about the reaction of Brown supporters.

Peter Reilly, The OID Fraud And Criminal Gullibility:

I have to say that I have some sympathy with the perspective that a reasonable person seeing the refund checks might want to take another look at the scheme.  If they were incapable of understanding the reasoning behind the scheme and what OID actually is, it could be hard to resist.

The OID scheme is absurd.  I realize some people really are gullible enough to believe in it — but only with a leap of faith that is, literally, criminally stupid.

 

Kay Bell, Pot tourism’s potential tax payoff for states with legal weed.  Iowa’s Governor just says no.

Richard Auxler, Do Sales Tax Holidays Ever Make Sense? (TaxVox).  “In some situations, sales tax holidays can make sense. But generally, they’re bad tax policy unless the alternative is large tax cuts with dubious growth assumptions, and not just for a weekend but for the whole year.”

Erica Brady, Final Whistleblower Regulations Create Administrative Review of Rejected and Denied Claims (Procedurally Taxing)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 467

 

News from the Profession: TIL: Ancient Greeks Used Slaves as Auditors So They Could Be Beaten When They Screwed Up (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern).

 

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

Monday, August 18th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

20140816-1

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Jack Townsend, Tidbits on the New Streamlined Procedures

Annette Nellen, Better identity theft efforts – S. 2736

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Thursday, August 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related:

Material Participation Basics.

Iowa Capital Gain Deduction: an illustration

 

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

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

FATCA sponsor Charlie Rangel, D-NY

FATCA sponsor Charlie Rangel, D-NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Jason Dinesen, Proper Documentation of Business Expenses:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 462

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/13/14: Tax Fairies in the graveyard? And: another payroll service goes bad.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Funeral home signOf course cemetery lots are shooting up in value.  People are dying to get in!  Taxpayers seek the Tax Fairy in the strangest places.  The Tax Fairy is the mythical spirit who can make taxes go away magically, for a reasonable price to a tax wizard who claims to be able to summon her.  A Tax Court case yesterday found taxpayers looking for her in cemeteries (Emphasis mine; slightly edited for readability).

Judge Nega’s overview:

Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-2, Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-3 , and Heritage Memorial Park Associates 1995-4 (collectively, partnerships) are Maryland general partnerships. The partnerships were established to acquire cemetery sites, to hold the sites for over one year, and then to contribute the sites to qualified charitable organizations, with the aim to provide individuals who invested in the partnerships with charitable contribution deductions equal to the appraised values of the sites as of the times of the contributions. Glenn R. Johnston and his colleagues promoted the partnerships to wealthy individuals as a way for them to receive a return of tax benefits in the form of passthrough deductions or losses worth significantly more than the amounts invested. 

What sort of deductions?

…(petitioner) invested $37,500 in each partnership. He made these investments to increase the amounts of his charitable contributions for the subject years and, more particularly, to receive promoted tax benefits worth significantly more than his investments. He expected that his investments would return him tax benefits worth $50,000 for each subject year. 

HMPA 1995-2 claimed the $1,864,850 charitable contribution deduction on that return. Petitioner was allocated $135,127 of that deduction, and petitioners deducted the $135,127 on their 1996 individual return as a charitable contribution. HMPA 1995-2 reported on its 1996 Form 1065 that HMPA 1995-2 had no income or expenses for 1996 (but for the charitable contribution deduction).

So: invest $35,000, deduct $135,000, save (conservatively) 1/3 of $135,000, or $45,000.  What could go wrong?

On September 29, 2005, Mr. Johnston was indicted on (1) one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by selling, claiming, and causing others to sell and claim millions of dollars in false and fraudulent tax deductions for charitable contributions and concealing from the IRS income from the sales of the fraudulent deductions and (2) multiple counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false returns by investors in the partnerships so that the investors claimed charitable contribution deductions in amounts substantially greater than allowable. These charges involved the partnerships, among one or more other entities. Mr. Johnston pleaded guilty to the first count on April 12, 2007.

Sure, it’s a criminal enterprise, but the deductions are still good, right?  And didn’t the statute run?  Nope.  The court ruled that the IRS met the procedural requirements to keep the statute of limitations open by properly initiating partnership-level proceedings.  The court also ruled that the taxpayer couldn’t claim a business loss for the partnership investments:

tax fairyPetitioners argue secondarily that they may deduct a $37,500 loss for each year as to petitioner’s investments in the partnerships. To that end, petitioners assert, petitioner’s ownership interests in the partnerships were worthless as of the end of the corresponding years in which the partnerships operated, and he knew that the interests were worthless as of those times and abandoned his interests as of those times. Petitioners add that petitioner invested in the partnerships to make a profit and in furtherance of a legislative intent to encourage charitable contributions.

But the court ruled that seeking charitable deductions isn’t a “trade or business,” and that no business loss was available.  $35,000 spent to net a tax savings of nothing.

The Moral?  This thing should never have passed the “too good to be true” test.  The deductions depended on incredible post-contribution appreciation in graves.  Anybody thinking this sort of thing might actually work really needs to get out more.  And there is no tax fairy.

Cite: McElroy, T.C. Memo 2014-163.

Related:  Three Years is the Normal Statute of Limitations, But Not Always (Paul Neiffer).

 

EFTPSAnother payroll service makes off with employers’ payroll tax payments.  From emissourian.com:

 

A Washington man pleaded guilty this week to federal mail fraud and money laundering charges.

Bradley Ferguson, 48, owner of Paymaster Business Solutions in Fenton, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 6 in U.S. District Court. 

He pleaded guilty to one felony count of mail fraud and one felony count of money laundering before U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber.

Ferguson is accused of withdrawing money from the bank accounts of business clients to pay federal, state and local taxes but did not make the payments, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

While it makes sense for many taxpayers to outsource payroll functions, the tax law still holds the employers responsible for getting withholdings to the IRS.  If you outsource your payroll taxes, you should use Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) online access to make sure your payroll tax remittances are actually hitting your account.  If you use a service that doesn’t allow you to do this — like many “professional employer organizations” who “co-employ” their clients’ workers — you need to make other arrangements, like bonding, to protect yourself.

 

Peter Reilly, Alimony Deduction Requires Good Substantiation.  “It turns out that taxpayers are routinely whipsawing the IRS.”

William Perez, How to Get a Federal Tax Credit for the Cost of Child Care.

Kay Bell, James-Love NBA combo is tax boon to two Cleveland towns.

TaxGrrrl, Think Before You Post: The Dangers Of Seeking Tax Advice On The Internet:

I was pretty shocked at how much information folks were willing to share on the internet about their tax evasion questions, strategies and justifications. Sometimes, these folks are regular forum posters who happily share their location and other identifying information while others clearly try to remain somewhat anonymous.

In case you were wondering, the IRS has internet access.

 

Jason Dinesen, Rare Home Office Deduction Win in Tax Court

Carl Smith, In Some Cases IRS Seeks to Conflict Out Lawyers Who Represented Taxpayers in CDP Hearings (Procedurally Taxing).  CDP stands for “collections due process.”  The IRS is bigger than you, peasant.

 

Tony Nitti, Final IRS Rules On Partnership Technical Terminations Will Surprise Some Tax Pros

 

20140813-1David Brunori: Congress Shouldn’t Make State Tax Systems Worse (Tax Analysts Blog)

As my colleague Maria Koklanaris reported, 29 Democratic members of Congress asked leaders of the California State Legislature to reauthorize and expand the state’s film tax credit. Led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., the federal lawmakers asked California to extend a very bad tax policy, saying that if it doesn’t, film jobs will be lost forever to other states. 

Why film credits? Why not some other industry? Politicians are the worst at determining what’s best for the marketplace. Despite the studies funded by the Motion Picture Association of America that say otherwise, film tax credits don’t work. In virtually every state that has them, there’s no discernible economic effect — that is, the tax giveaway did not result in more economic activity than would have occurred without it.

Iowa has some lessons to teach here.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 461

 

There’s only one left? Owner of the Pickle pleads guilty to federal tax fraud.

Because you invited clients?   PwC’s Bob Moritz on Why You Shouldn’t Miss Your Kid’s Birthday Party for Work (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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

Monday, August 11th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

2140731-3TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 459

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, August 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cite: Jackson, T.C. Memo 2014-160

 

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

20140808-1

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/7/14: Imitation and Flattery edition. And: How to get California to want your $800.

Thursday, August 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130819-1You might be surprised just how easy it can be to get sucked into tax in another state.  Cara Griffith explains how easy it is to get California to come after you for their $800 minimum return fee in Doing Business in California (Tax Analysts Blog):

The California Franchise Tax Board recently issued Legal Ruling 2014-01, which addresses when a business entity with a membership interest in a limited liability company is required to file a California return and pay applicable taxes. The ruling comes while a case is pending on that very issue.

The case is Swart Enterprises Inc. v. California Franchise Tax Bd. (Fresno County Superior Court, Case No. 13 CE CG 02171 (July 9, 2013)). Swart operates a farm in Kansas and provides farm labor contractors. The company is incorporated in Iowa, has estimated annual revenues of $280,000, and has three employees.

Swart has no physical presence in California. It doesn’t have employees in California and it doesn’t own real or personal property there. Swart did, however, own a 0.02 percent interest in a California limited liability company that invested and traded in capital equipment. Swart was not the manager of the fund and was not involved in the management or operation of the fund. Yet its status as a member is enough for the FTB to allege that Swart is doing business in California. 

The post explains that California would have let Swart off the hook if they owned in interest in a limited partnership, rather than an LLC.  So if your business sneezes in the general direction of California, make sure you stick an old-fashioned limited partnership in the ownership chain somewhere, or California will shake you down for $800, or maybe a lot more.

This should especially make businesses wary about buying interests in publicly-traded or broker marketed LLCs.  Most of these have at least a little bit of California income, and they might just make a California filer out of your LLC or corporation.  And it’s not just California — wherever the LLC might be, so might you be also.  It can mean increased state taxes, not to mention increased tax return prep fees.

 

TaxGrrrl, Son Of Powerful Congressman Charged With Bank & Tax Fraud.

Howard Gleckman, Does Congress Really Care About the Deficit? Not When It Comes to Vets and Highways (TaxVox).  The answer would have been correct if it stopped after the first two letters.

Annette Nellen, Push for state film credits from Congress.  They don’t care about state solvency either.

 

Peter Reilly, FAIR Tax Abolishes IRS – Then What?

Paul Neiffer, Another Conservation Easement Tax Court Case – Mostly in Taxpayer’s Favor:

When valuing a conservation easement, you must determine the value of the property before the easement and the value after the easement.  The difference in value becomes the charitable deduction amount.  In the case of the Schmidt’s, their apprisal determined the before easement value was $1.6 million and the after easement value was $400,000 for a net contribution deduction of $1.2 million…

The IRS appraiser valued the property at $750,000 for the before easement value and $270,000 for the after easement value for a net deduction of $480,000. 

The deduction came down a little, but the IRS lost its bid for penalties.

Me, Obamacare mandates: What’s a taxpayer to do? (IowaBiz.com, where I discuss what the Halbig decision on tax credits for policies purchased on federal exchanges means now for taxpayers subject to the individual and employer mandates.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 455

 

There’s a new Cavalcade of Risk.  This edition of the venerable roundup of insurance and risk-management posts is up at The Population Health Blog. Among the worthy posts is Hank Stern’s Rideshare Tricks – An Update, on the insurance implications of participating in ride-share services like Uber.

 

nra-blue-eagleBut Mr. President, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!  Accounting Today reports on yesterday’s presidential press conference in Obama Blames Accountants for Inversion Trend:

During a press conference Wednesday following a summit with African leaders, Obama said, “You have accountants going to some big corporations—multinational corporations but that are clearly U.S.-based and have the bulk of their operations in the United States—and these accountants are saying, you know what, we found a great loophole—if you just flip your citizenship to another country, even though it’s just a paper transaction, we think we can get you out of paying a whole bunch of taxes.”

Wherever would anyone get the idea to do such a thing?  Well, Accounting Today points to a suspect: Obama Aides Let Delphi Avoid Taxes with Tactic President Assails:

 President Barack Obama says U.S. corporations that adopt foreign addresses to avoid taxes are unpatriotic. His own administration helped one $20 billion American company do just that.

As part of the bailout of the auto industry in 2009, Obama’s Treasury Department authorized spending $1.7 billion of government funds to get a bankrupt Michigan parts-maker back on its feet—as a British company. While executives continue to run Delphi Automotive Plc from a Detroit suburb, the paper headquarters in England potentially reduces the company’s U.S. tax bill by as much as $110 million a year.

One might almost get the impression that this whole inversion panic isn’t really a serious policy effort, but instead a desperate diversion by a foundering politician and his partisans.

Kay Bell, Walgreens decides to keep U.S. tax residency

 

The problem might be the tax system, not wobbly patriotism.  Record Numbers of Americans Are Renouncing Their U.S. Citizenship (TaxProf).  Paul Caron links to Andrew Mitchel’s report on the latest quarterly numbers of published expatriates, which includes this chart:

20140807-1

 

Our worldwide tax system makes it difficult, dangerous and expensive to be a U.S. taxpayer abroad.  Rather than impugning their patriotism, the President ought to try to make it affordable.

 

Bob McIntyre of the Tax Justice Blog makes perhaps the worst appeal to authority ever seen in the tax literature: Woody Guthrie on Corporate Tax Inversions.  Woody Guthrie’s economic gurus weren’t exactly cutting-edge .

 

The Iowa State Fair Starts today!  

20120829-1

If you show up on Saturday, look for me at the Sertoma booth at the Varied Industries Building from 1-5; I will be distributing educational hearing safety info and ear plugs, and you may even be able to get a free hearing screening from a trained audiologist.  And you might want some music to fire you up for a really big show!

 

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

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, that Rev. Jackson.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

The post quotes Mr. Alter’s argument:

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

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

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

Mr. Tucille observes:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Monday, August 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Robert D. Flach has some QUESTIONS ABOUT TAX REFORM

 

taxanalystslogoDavid Brunori, Tax Analysts ($link)

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

20140506-1 TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 452

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

 

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

Government spending has been cut to the bone.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/31/14: Tax Holiday Weekend! And: how defined benefit plans hurt Iowa municipal services.

Thursday, July 31st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140731-1You’ve had your calendar’s marked for a long time, and here it is: Iowa’s annual sales tax holiday is tomorrow and Saturday.  From the Iowa Department of Revenue:

If you sell clothing or footwear in the State of Iowa, this law may impact your business.

  • Exemption period: from 12:01 a.m., August 1, 2014, through midnight, August 2, 2014.
  • No sales tax, including local option sales tax, will be collected on sales of an article of clothing or footwear having a selling price less than $100.00.
  • The exemption does not apply in any way to the price of an item selling for $100.00 or more
  • The exemption applies to each article priced under $100.00 regardless of how many items are sold on the same invoice to a customer

“Clothing” means…

  • any article of wearing apparel and typical footwear intended to be worn on or about the human body.

“Clothing” does not include…

  • watches, watchbands, jewelry, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, sporting equipment, skis, swim fins, roller blades, skates, and any special clothing or footwear designed primarily for athletic activity or protective use and not usually considered appropriate for everyday wear.

Stylish tax-savvy shoppers can combine holidays across states.  For example, you can pick up a cute new outfit in Iowa this weekend and wear it to Louisiana for their September firearms tax holiday.

Related:  

Kay Bell, 12 states kick off August 2014 with sales tax holidays

Joseph Henchman, Sales Tax Holidays: Politically Expedient but Poor Tax Policy

 

Robert D. Flach has some sound ADVICE FOR A NEW GRADUATE STARTING OUT IN HIS/HER FIRST FULL-TIME JOB.  One nice bit: “If you have any cash from graduation gifts left over open a ROTH IRA account and use this money to fund your 2014 contribution.”

Jason Dinesen makes it easy to follow his excellent series on one client’s ID theft saga: Find All of My Identity Theft Blog Posts in One Location.

 

 

taxpayers assn logoGretchen TegelerFallout from Iowa public pension shortfalls (IowaBiz.com):

The increase in public spending for pensions has impacted the ability of our state and local governments in Iowa to pay for other services.  The result is a decline in the quality of public services and an increase in property taxes.  For example, all Des Moines libraries have closed an additional day each week just to help cover the cost of police and fire pensions.  Urbandale is raising property taxes.  Some have questioned whether it’s worth the substantial public cost to pay such a generous benefit to so few individuals.  Police and firefighters in our largest 49 cities can retire at age 55, and receive 82 percent of their highest salary each year for the remainder of their lives.  Almost all of the retirees in this system will have a higher standard of living post-retirement than they did during their highest earning years.

This is true even though Iowa’s public-sector pensions are better-funded than those in many other states.  The problem won’t be fixed until public employees go on the same defined contribution model as the rest of us — you get paid the amount that has been funded.  Defined benefit plans are a lie – to the taxpayers about what current public services cost, or to the employees about what they can expect as pension income, or to both.

 

20140731-2Paul Neiffer, Another Cattle Tax Shelter Bites the Dust:

Essentially, Mr. Gardner would issue a promissory note to these entities for the purchase of cattle and/or operating expenses and equipment.  The promissory notes totaled more than a $1 million, however, it appears that Mr. Gardner effectively paid less than $100,000 on any of these promissory notes.  Also, in almost all cases, Mr. Gardner defaulted on all notes and no collection efforts were made to collect.

This is almost quaint.  When I first started working in the 1980s, I saw a few shelters like this.  A cow worth, say, $2,000 would be sold for $50,000, $2,000 down and the rest on a “note” that would never be collected — but the “farmer” would depreciate $50,000, rather than $2,000.  I’m a little surprised it still going on, considering the at-risk rules, passive loss rules, and hobby loss rules against this sort of thing.

 

 

Jim Maule’s “Tax Myths” series includes “Children Do Not Pay Tax.”  He notes “A child of any age, with gross income exceeding whatever standard deduction is available, has federal income tax liability.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 448.  Read this and tell me again how the Tea Party targeting was just a non-partisan, unbiased attempt to clear a backlog of application that was driven by low-level functionaries in Cincinnati.

Jack Townsend notes UBS Continuing Woes, Including Settlement with Germany

 

2140731-3Cara Griffith, Access to Public Records Isn’t a Fundamental Right – But It Should Be (Tax Analysts Blog).  But bureaucrats everywhere prefer to work without witnesses.

Leslie Book, The Tax Law, EITC and Modern Families: A Bad Mix (Procedurally Taxing).  “I read a summary Tax Court case from a few weeks ago that reminds me that the tax laws in general– and the EITC and Child Tax Credit rules in particular– can sometimes lead to unfair results, especially in light of the complicated and at times messy modern family lives.”

Len Burman, What Ronald Reagan Didn’t Say About the EITC (TaxVox).  I bet he didn’t say it was a floor wax or a dessert topping, either.

Peter Reilly, Obamacare Upheld Against Another Challenge – Court Rules Against Sissel.  The origination clause argument was never more than a forlorn hope.

 

Lyman Stone, Kentucky Considers Tax Rebate for Creationist Theme Park (Tax Policy Blog).  Considering how many legislators think they can play God with state economies by means of tax credits, this has a sort of perverse logic going for it.

Adrienne Gonzalez, PwC Report Declares a Future Free From Nine-to-Five Work (Going Concern).  When I worked at PriceWaterhouse, a PwC predecessor, they were already free from nine-to-five work.  Nine-to-five would have been wimp work for a Sunday.

 

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

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

The Tax Foundation summary:

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

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

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

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

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

iowa-illustrated_Page_38

 

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

iowa-illustrated_Page_39

 

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

iowa-illustrated_Page_41

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

iowa-illustrated_Page_13

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

iowa-illustrated_Page_40

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

iowa-illustrated_Page_42

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

 

Now to our regular programming:

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 447

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Photo courtesy Philmontscoutranch.org

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Some people just are perfectionists.

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

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

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

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

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

Material participation hours tests can be found here.

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Head of Household   

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

20140711-2

 

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

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

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

 

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

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

2. Extenders Are Often Attached to Larger Bills

3. Congress Has Never Fully Offset Extenders Legislation

4. Most Extenders Have Been Renewed at Least 3 Times

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

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

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

More of that Congressional accounting.

 

Jack Townsend, Interesting Article from the Swiss Bankers Side.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

20140710-1

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

 

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

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 425

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan


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

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

A. Responsible Person

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

B. Willful Action

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

IV. CONCLUSION

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert is right.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Don’t try this at home, kids.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 419

 

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

 

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

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

 

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

IRS total 20140701 cato

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

IRS budget cato 20140701

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Under the new policy:

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

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

(Hat tip: Kristy Maitre).

 

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

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

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

 

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

Robert D. Flach starts out July with a Buzz!

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 418

 

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, that’s illegal?

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

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

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

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

 

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