Posts Tagged ‘maule’

Tax Roundup, 3/31/16: IRS says S corps can still reimbuse 2% owner health premiums. And: partner basis!

Thursday, March 31st, 2016 by Joe Kristan

S-SidewalkS corporation owner reimbursement still good. When the ugly alliance of government agencies overseeing Obamacare blew up small employer health reimbursement arrangements, they spared some S corporation plans.

Because 2% shareholders of S corporations have to deduct their health insurance on line 29 of the 1040s, rather than getting them as a tax-free fringe benefit, many S corporations reimburse their employee shareholders for their health insurance costs. While “The Departments” impose a $100 per employee, per day penalty for anybody else doing that, Notice 2015-17 said such arrangements for S corporation 2% shareholder-employees were OK until further notice.

Yesterday the IRS, in an information letter to Rep. Justin Amash, affirmed that there has been no further notice:

To date, the IRS has not issued any other guidance, so, as stated in Question and Answer 5, taxpayers may continue to rely on Notice 2008-1, 2008-2 IRB 1, for the tax treatment of the health coverage provided to a 2-percent shareholder-employee.

I thought that was still the case, but when you’re talking $100 per-day, per-employee, it’s always nice to get confirmation.

Related: IF IT’S NOT ON THE W-2, S CORP SHAREHOLDERS CAN’T DEDUCT HEALTH INSURANCE

 

How partnership basis is different. As with S corporation shareholders, partners don’t have a shot at deducting their partnership K-1 losses if they don’t have basis in their partnership interests. They still might not be able to deduct the losses because of the at-risk and passive loss rules, but without basis, they don’t have any chance at all.

It’s much easier for partners to get basis than it is for shareholders. While S corporation shareholders can only get basis based on their stock ownership and loans they make themselves to their S corporation, partners get basis from debt inside the partnership. 

Example. Joe and Bob set up a 50-50 partnership to buy a food truck. They each invest $5,000, and the partnership borrows $20,000 to buy the food truck.

Not only do Joe and Bob get basis for their $5,000 investment, they also get $10,000 in basis for their share of partnership debt.

The exact workings of the debt allocations can get unbelievably complex, and they have spawned most of the world’s tax shelters, but your partnership K-1 should tell you what your share of partnership debt is that you can use for your 1040. It’s right there in Part II, item K:

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In our upcoming “at-risk” installment, we will talk about what those three categories of liabilities mean.

Other than the use of partnership debt, partnership basis is pretty much determined the same as S corporation basis. You start with your investment, increase it for income and further investments, and reduce it for losses and distributions.

This is another of our irregular series of 2016 filing season tips, running through the April 18 filing deadline.

 

Lower than Minnesota, much higher than Missouri. How High Are Cigarette Taxes in Your State? (Scott Drenkard, Tax Policy Blog):

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Robert Wood, IRS Allows Some Personal Items Deducted As ‘Business Expenses’ On Your Taxes. “Not everything must be 100% business to be tax deductible, but be careful what you claim and how you claim it.”

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2016): P Is For Paying Your Taxes In Pennies (and Dollars)

Kay Bell, Tax help in finding new work, or what to do differently from Jimmy McGill if you don’t like your job

Hank Stern, O’Care at 6: Fewer, Sicker, Costlier. (Insureblog). “That’s right, not only are the newly-insured sicker, there are even fewer less-sickly folks signing up at all.”

Peter Reilly, IRS Turns To Crowdsourcing To Improve Systems. That seems logical, considering that the hacking is crowdsourced.

Leslie Book, Series of Errors With Installment Agreement and Collection Actions Leads to Taxpayer Victory on Collection Statute of Limitation (Procedurally Taxing).

Paul Neiffer, Where’s Roger. ” Many of you know my now (since we have posted on it already) that Roger McEowen has joined CLA as a half-time tax director for our firm.”

Jim Maule, Tax Fears. Well, they tax everything else… Oh, that’s not what he’s talking about. “If a one in two hundred chance of being audited explains an audit fear rate of 11 percent, then why do 8.5 percent of Americans fear zombies?”

 

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David Brunori, Tampons, Viagra, and Other Important Tax Issues (Tax Analysts Blog) “Nothing should be exempt from sales tax. Good tax policy dictates a broad tax base — tax everything — and low rates.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1057

 

News from the Profession. Survey: Accountants Far Less Deserving of a Knuckle Sandwich Than Donald Trump (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/14/16: Coupling week! And: remember your March 15 federal and state deadlines.

Monday, March 14th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

coupling20160213Coupling! We expect the Iowa General Assembly to pass the 2015 tax coupling bills this week, and the Governor is expected to sign. You can follow their progress at the General Assembly site. The extender bills have been renamed SF 2303 and HF 2433.

We will be following the developments and will post news as it happens.

 

March 15 looms. Tomorrow is the first real big deadline of the filing season. Corporate 1120 and 1120-S corporation returns are due.

If you can file on time, you should extend. The penalties for late filing without an extension can be painful, and you may miss the opportunity to make important elections that are only available on a timely-filed original return.

But it’s not just federal returns. While many states, like Iowa, have April due dates for corporations returns, 23 states  want the returns on March 15. Even if you are filing an S corporation return, where the corporation itself doesn’t file, many states require payment anyway — either as a misbegotten corporation tax, as in California, or as withholding on individual income taxes of non-resident shareholders.

Source: RIA Checkpoint.

Source: RIA Checkpoint.

Extensions can be tricky too. Many states either accept the federal extension or, like Iowa, automatically extend a return if the tax for the year is sufficiently paid by the original due date. But other states require a separate extension filing. States requiring a separate extension filing, even when no payment is due, include Arkansas, Connecticut, D.C., Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, New York City, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia.

It’s already late — don’t put off those extensions any longer.

 

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Gretchen Tegeler, Can taxpayers ever get a break? (IowaBiz.com). “Alas, even the best-intentioned measures can be twisted into an argument to compound the taxpayer burden.”

Kristine Tidgren, Iowa Utilities Board Has Approved Bakken Pipeline (AgDocket).

Kay Bell, Filing deadline for 2012 taxes — and almost $1 billion in unclaimed tax refunds — is April 18

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Pass-Through Entity, “In tax terminology, a pass-through entity is a business where the end results of operations ‘pass through’ to the owners and are reported on the owners’ personal tax returns.”

Jack Townsend, Tax Obstruction Conviction Permits Inclusion in Tax Loss of Penalties and Interest. “That issue was whether the conviction for obstructing the collection of tax could include penalties and interest within the scope of the financial harm Black intended to inflict on the IRS by his obstructive acts.”

TaxGrrrl, On Pi Day, A Peek At Your Piece Of The National Tax Pie. “You can see your personalized taxpayer receipt by the dollars from the White House by plugging in the tax you paid in 2014 here.”

Andrew Mitchel, Rev. Rul. 2016-8: Tax Aspects of the Cuban Thaw

Robert Wood, As U.S. Passports For Domestic Flights Loom, IRS Can Now Revoke Passports. What could go wrong?

Leslie Book, Using Craigslist to Fish For Bogus Dependents (Procedurally Taxing)

Jim Maule, The Russian Sugar and Fat Tax Proposal: Smarter, More Sensible, or Just A Need for More Revenue?. Come now. Putin is just concerned for the health of his beloved people.

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1038Day 1039Day 1040.

Howard Gleckman, The Challenges of Modeling Presidential Tax Plans (TaxVox) “How much do tax changes affect the economy, and, in turn, what do those economic effects mean for the revenue cost of a reworked tax code?”

 

Just what kind of CPA are you? Take this quiz from the AICPA and find out. You want to know!

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/11/16: Iowa Sec. 179 coupling advances in both chambers. And: the cost of not filing timely.

Friday, March 11th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

IMG_1291To the floor. Identical bills coupling Iowa’s tax law to federal changes enacted in December cleared the taxwriting committees in each house of the General Assembly yesterday, the day after the bills were introduced. The bills (SSB 3171 and HSB 642) will be eligible for floor vote next week.

The sudden breakthrough clears the way for thousands of Iowans to complete their tax returns with the full $500,000 maximum Section 179 deduction. Thousands more will get to take other benefits, including the $250 above-the-line deduction for educator expenses, deductions for student loan interest, and charitable distributions by IRAs for older taxpayers.

The Governor seems to be on board, reports O. Kay Henderson:

Republican Governor Terry Branstad is praising the breakthrough.

“It certainly is a significant step in the right direction,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “…I always reserve judgment until I see it in its final form, but it appears from what I’ve heard to be something that resolves some big differences of opinion between the two houses and hopefully will make it possible to move forward with our other priorities.”

The coupling process is unfolding as I predicted February 26, after Governor Branstad reversed his anti-coupling stand. It’s too bad we couldn’t have gotten this far much earlier, without disrupting filing season. Better late than never, though. Unfortunately, the coupling is for one year only, so we can look forward to a repeat show next year.

Other Coverage:

Jason Schultz, A Victory for Iowa Taxpayers (Caffeinated Thoughts)

Des Moines RegisterLegislators reach pact on key budget issues

TheGazette.com, Iowa tax coupling to benefit ‘tens of thousands’

Me, Tax Roundup, 3/10/16: Coupling deal may trade one-year Sec. 179 coupling for reduced manufacturing sales tax exemption.

Complete Tax Update coverage.

 

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File or extend that 1120-S on time! The returns for calendar-year S corporations are due on Tuesday. If you can’t file on time, be sure you extend, because the penalties have gone up. From the IRS online Form 1120-S instructions:

Late filing of return.   A penalty may be charged if the return is filed after the due date (including extensions) or the return doesn’t show all the information required, unless each failure is due to reasonable cause…  For returns on which no tax is due, the penalty is $195 for each month or part of a month (up to 12 months) the return is late or doesn’t include the required information, multiplied by the total number of persons who were shareholders in the corporation during any part of the corporation’s tax year for which the return is due. 

You can also get in trouble for filing, but not sending the K-1:

Failure to furnish information timely.   For each failure to furnish Schedule K-1 to a shareholder when due and each failure to include on Schedule K-1 all the information required to be shown (or the inclusion of incorrect information), a $260 penalty may be imposed with respect to each Schedule K-1 for which a failure occurs. If the requirement to report correct information is intentionally disregarded, each $260 penalty is increased to $520 or, if greater, 10% of the aggregate amount of items required to be reported.

Extending your return gives you until September 15 to get that information out. A 10-person S corporation incurs a $1,950 fine for being one day late, and it increases each month. The extension, filed on Form 7004, is automatic, and can be e-filed.

Rant: I despise the use of fines like this as a government funding method. Dinging a one-day timing violation is like the red-light cameras that ding you for not quite stopping before turning right at an empty intersection. No harm, no foul, but pay up, peasant.

 

Big companies get phished: Snapchat, Seagate among companies duped in tax-fraud scam:

The scam, which involved fake emails purportedly sent by top company officials, convinced the companies involved to send out W-2 tax forms that are ideal for identity theft. For instance, W-2 data can easily be used to file bogus tax returns and claim fraudulent refunds.

The embarrassing breakdowns have prompted employers to apologize and offer free credit monitoring to employees. Such measures, however, won’t necessarily shield unwitting victims from the headaches that typically follow identity theft.

Be careful out there, kids.

 

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William Perez, Tax Planning for Clergy

Kay Bell, Ways & Means chairman promises more Congressional scrutiny of IRS security procedures

Jack Townsend, DOJ Tax Promotes Employment Tax Criminal Prosecutions. Never “borrow” withheld taxes to pay other vendors. It can get very serious in a hurry, even in Iowa.

Keith Fogg, A Different “Angle” on Recovery of Costs and Attorney’s Fees. “As we have discussed before, allowing the government to wait until the time of trial or even after trial to concede a case and thereby avoid attorney’s fees frustrates the purpose of the qualified offer provisions.”

Robert Wood, Guilty Mo’ Money Tax Preparers Could Face 8 Years. Nothing says “professional” like “Mo’ Money.”

TaxGrrrl, Does The IRS Have Your Money? Nearly $1 Billion In Old Tax Refunds Outstanding

Jim Maule, Why Not Sell Losing Lottery Tickets? “The answer is simple. The person buying those tickets and representing that they lost the face value of those tickets would be committing tax fraud.”

Dang. Tax Court Holds That Family Vacations Are Not Deductible As Book-Writing Research (Tony Nitti).

 

Richard Auxier, Is your state’s tax system punching above or below its weight? (TaxVox).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1037

 

News from the Profession. CPA Accused of Jamming Cell Phones Just Wanted to Commute in Peace, YOU MONSTERS (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/9/16: A College Savings Iowa contribution today can reduce 2015 Iowa tax. And: Shoot more jaywalkers!

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

csi logoYou can still make a College Savings Iowa 2015 contribution. While Section 529 plans provide tax-free earnings for college for taxpayers in all states, Iowans can get an extra tax break for them. 2015 contributions to College Savings Iowa or Iowa Advisor Sec. 529 plans can generate a deduction on Iowa state 1040s up to $3,163 per donee.

For the first time, Iowans can make their 2015 contributions as late as the April 30, 2016 due date of their 2015 tax return. In prior years you had to make the contribution by December 31 to get the deduction.

The $3,163 limit is per donee, per donor. That means a couple with 2 children can get four full deductions for 2015 529 contributions totaling up to $12,652. For a couple at the 8.98% top Iowa rate, that’s a savings of $1,136 on their Iowa return.

This is another of our occasional series of 2016 filing season tips. Collect them all!

 

Jack Townsend, Report on Remarks of AAG Tax and Practitioner Regarding Nonwillfulness and Foreign Account Enablers:

Ciraolo and Bryan Skarlatos questioned whether foreign account holders can remain nonwillful about foreign account reporting obligations at this stage.  The article quotes from her prepared comments (linked above) as follows:

After three very well-publicized voluntary disclosure programs, nearly 200 criminal prosecutions, ongoing criminal investigations and the increasing assessment and enforcement of substantial civil penalties for failure to report foreign financial accounts, a taxpayer’s claims of ignorance or lack of willfulness in failing to comply with disclosure and reporting obligations are, quite simply, neither credible nor well-received. 

This is so wrong. Something that is a big deal in the IRS enforcement bureaucracy can be invisible to a person going about their business, maybe taking a temporary position overseas or getting a U.S. green card.

People get in IRS trouble for having an interest in a foreign account they aren’t even aware of. One practitioner I know had to deal with an immigrant from India who paid thousands of dollars in penalties for not reporting an interest in a foreign bank account that her parents back home put her name on as a joint owner without her knowledge, and without her receiving any income from it. Others find themselves in hot water after get an inheritance overseas that they don’t learn about until after the reporting deadline.

The IRS remains clueless about how many people go through their daily financial lives without pondering whether there is an obscure form lurking to ruin them for non-compliance. The system is broken, but the only answer the enforcers have is to continue the beatings until morale improves.

 

20120906-1David Brunori speaks wisely: If You Need Tax Credits, You Shouldn’t Be in Business (Tax Analysts Blog)

Here’s what got me thinking. Iowa — no paradise when it comes to good tax policy — gave 186 companies tax credits worth more than $42 million last year. Those credits were handed out as an incentive to conduct research and development. There are other credits available for businesses. Oh, and the credits are refundable because, like with poor families receiving the earned income tax credit, R&D credits provide a critical safety net. All right, I’m being facetious.

Iowa’s biggest welfare recipient was technology company Rockwell Collins Inc., which received $12 million. Rockwell is a great company, but it has $5 billion in revenue. Giving money to Rockwell isn’t quite the same as giving money to a shoestring nonprofit feeding the homeless in Des Moines.

In all, 20 companies claimed more than $500,000 in R&D credits, including DuPont Co., Deere & Co., and Monsanto Co. I ask them, where is your pride? Do you really want a government handout?

For a full-throated defense of tax credit corporate welfare, today’s IowaBiz.com blogger, Brent Willett, offers Job creation fuel: R&D policy move is important for Iowa. Not surprisingly, the cost of paying these subsidies in increased taxes on less fortunate and less influential Iowa businesses never comes up. The “job creation” part is also weakly defended.

 

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Russ Fox, Online Gambling Addresses Updated for 2016. Russ performs a valuable service in gathering street addresses of offshore online gaming websites. Online gaming accounts at these sites are “foreign financial accounts” for FBAR purposes, and you need a street address to fill out Form 114. They can be hard to find. Hat’s off to Russ.

TaxGrrrl, Tax Season Proving Confusing (Again) For Taxpayers Affected By Obamacare

Kay Bell, Have you received your Obamacare coverage forms yet? “Recipients of the B or C versions want to hang onto these forms as verification that they did have ACA required coverage, which they tell the Internal Revenue Service about by checking the appropriate box on their 1040EZ, 1040A or long form 1040.”

Michelle Drumbl, The Automated Substitute for Return Procedures (Procedurally Taxing) “The ASFR assessment process takes into account all income reported as earned by the taxpayer, but it ignores reported items that would reduce taxable income.”

Robert Wood, Erin Andrews Wins $55M Peephole Verdict But Faces Heavy IRS Tax Hit

Jim Maule, Buying and Selling Dependency Exemptions for Tax Purposes. “It’s too bad Congress cannot be indicted, convicted, and punished for making a mess of the tax system, continuing to make it worse, and refusing to clean it up.”

 

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Annette Nellen, AICPA Advocacy on IRS Funding. It’s hard to see how the IRS gets more funding when it does such an awful job with the funding it has.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1035. “The IRS doesn’t know if its data backups are deleted or not created, and doesn’t test to ensure backups can be used if information is lost, even after a “significant” December 2014 incident, according to a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report.”

Alan Cole, Tax Policy Must Be Proportionate to Spending Policy (Tax Policy Blog). “This gets to the heart of one of the principles of good tax policy: your tax policy should actually be able to fund the government you want. One way or another, Donald Trump will have to assent to this principle.”

Elaine Maag, Complicated Families: Complicated Tax Returns (TaxVox):

The law is built on the idea that a child lives in a traditional family – married parents with only biologically related siblings. The tax unit it is presumed to include the adults supporting the child.

But increasingly, children live in arrangements that belie that traditional family; children move between homes of divorced or never-married parents in formal and informal custody arrangements; children live with unmarried, cohabiting parents; children live in multigenerational households. In short, children are supported by adults in multiple tax units.

But only one tax unit gets to claim the earned income credit for each child.

 

News from the Profession. Apparently Accountants Are Terrible on the Phone (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

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Tax Roundup, 3/7/16: “Only” 25,000 Iowa filers hit by not coupling Sec. 179. And more late news!

Monday, March 7th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

Note: Our web server has been having a bad day, which is why this is “late” news.


coupling2016021325,000 to 8.
The Des Moines Register covered the Section 179 coupling controversy over the weekend, but missed a big part of the story:

The debate pits two conflicting priorities against each other.

On one hand is the legislature’s
desire to support small business owners and farmers who could use any extra money from the tax break to buy more equipment, make renovations or hire more employees.

On the other hand is the concern that Iowa needs to tighten its belt financially and focus on bolstering other priorities such as school funding, rather than giving away tax revenue.

What other priorities might there be for the $95 million or so “lost” to Section 179 besides school funding? How about this:

Iowa credits fy 2017

The Register article includes this item that attempts to show that Section 179 isn’t a big deal:

Only about 25,000 Iowa taxpayers in 2014 made a Section 179 claim of more than $25,000, according to numbers from the Iowa Department of Revenue. About 12,000 were farmers.

By comparison, the state Department of Revenue processed 1.58 million individual income tax returns for 2014.

“Only” 25,000? That works out to 252 businesses in every county that are seeing a tax increase to feed that $95 million to the Iowa treasury. Meanwhile, the state pays about $42 million in actual cash subsidies through the Iowa Research Activities Credit to a handful of businesses that each claim over $500,000 in credits. Of that, about $29.5 million goes to only eight taxpayers. 25,000 is a lot more than 8.

With its focus on spending, the Register story misses a huge point: the Iowa income tax favors well-connected insiders who know how to play the tax credit game, to the detriment of the 25,000 smaller businesses that would benefit from Section 179 coupling. Rather than remedying the inherently corrupt tax credit game, the state is giving out more special interest credits left and right.

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TaxGrrrl, Understanding Your Tax Forms 2016: SSA-1099, Social Security Benefits

Peter Reilly,How Much Personal Use Of Airplane Is Too Much For Tax Free Exchange? “One of the tricky things about 1031 is the ‘trade or business or held for investment requirement’ – let’s call it the ‘held for’ requirement for short.”

Kay BellIRS ‘Future State’ plans and service, security concerns “The IRS is working on what it calls its Future State plan, an outline of agency activities in five years and beyond. One of the plan’s central components is online taxpayer accounts.”

Jim Maule, What Gets Taxed If the Goal Is Health Improvement? Trick question. The goal is moral preening and revenue-raising, not public health.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1031, 1032, 1033. Day 1032 covers the bizarre award given to awful Commissioner Koskinen: “IRS Chief John Koskinen Honored With an Award For ‘Excellence in Public Service’. Yes, That Guy. Yes, Really.”

Russ Fox, Koskinen Wins Public Service Award; Chaffetz Gets It Right:

I have to ask the NAPA: What were you thinking? Yes, Mr. Koskinen has served for many years, and he may have generosity of spirit. But as Congressman Jason Chaffetz said, “If obstructing a congressional investigation and misleading Congress merits an award, then it seems like they have the right guy. I guess I define excellent public service differently.”

In fairness, I think he’s doing exactly what the man who appointed him wants him to do.

Scott Greenberg, Four Million Taxpayers are Subject to the AMT. Who Are They? (Tax Policy Blog). “As these statistics show, the AMT basically functions as a surtax on high-income taxpayers in high-tax states with children.”

Norton Francis, The Perils of Tax Incentives for Economic Development (TaxVox). “And if every state is offering subsidies, one wonders whether they are engaged in a form of economic mutually-assured destruction, where the subsidies are pure windfalls to firms that have little effect on their decisions to move.”

News from the Profession. Let’s Review: Performance Art, Productivity, Binge-Watching (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/1/16: Iowa-only preparer regulation dies unmourned.

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20151124-1Bwahahaha! Tax pros across Iowa can continue to pillage their poor unsuspecting clients, and there’s nothing you can do about it!

What? You aren’t being pillaged? You are free to hire and fire a tax preparer or consultant who is incompetent, or who charges more than you want to pay? Then maybe it’s not such a tragedy that a bill to license and regulate tax preparers in Iowa, SSB 3135, died in the Iowa legislature at the “funnel week” deadline. The bill, sponsored by the Chairperson of the Iowa Senate State Government committee, “requires the Iowa accountancy examining board to license all persons who wish to practice as tax consultants or tax preparers.” As Russ Fox and Jason Dinesen note, it would exempt attorneys and CPAs while covering enrolled agents.

The proposal has all of the bad features of the abortive federal tax practice regulation, plus the additional flaw of making tax preparation in Iowa more expensive than in other states.

Occupational licensing is a crony capitalist job killer, and observers across the spectrum, from The Des Moines Register to the Koch Brothers have figured this out. SSB 3135 dies unmourned.

 

Russ Fox, Frivolity Has a Price: $19,837.50. In case you’re wondering why your attorney won’t help you argue that you don’t have to pay taxes because the judge has gold fringe on his flag, Russ can help you.

TaxGrrrlFiguring Out Taxes, Pay And More On Leap Day: Are You Working For Free Today?

Peter Reilly, Colorado Can Force Vendors To Rat Out Residents On Use Tax. Oh, boy.

Keith Fogg, Judge Paige Marvel Will Become New Chief Judge of the Tax Court on June 1 (Procedurally Taxing).

Robert Wood, 9 IRS Audit Tips From The Trump Tax Flap. I’m not sure how universal these tips are.

Kay Bell, Cruz & Rubio release taxes, challenge Trump to do same

Jim Maule, Should Candidates Be Required to Release Tax Returns?  I think they should be required to prepare them by hand on a live webcast.

 

Scott GreenbergThe Most Popular Itemized Deductions (Tax Policy Blog):

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“Out of the 44 million households that itemize deductions, almost 43 million deduct the taxes they pay to state and local governments.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1027

David Henderson, Henderson on the Case Against a VAT (Econlog).

Greg Mankiw, Misunderstanding Marco. “The Rubio plan is essentially the X-tax designed by the late Princeton economist David Bradford.  It is a progressive consumption tax.”

Tyler Cowen, The regulatory state and the importance of a non-vindictive President. That ship sailed seven years ago, and its return isn’t on the horizon, given the polls.

Renu Zaretsky, Disputes, Development, Filing, and FuelToday’s TaxVox roundup covers ground from Google’s international tax issues to lax security protocols from IRS “free file” providers.

 

Career Corner. Crackin’ Under Pressure: Making Mistakes During Busy Season (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “Regardless, mistakes are always mortifying to those who make them and, regardless of what you think, EVERYONE MAKES THEM.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/26/16: Gronstal hints at approach to Section 179 coupling deal. And: Yes he can! (Release his returns)

Friday, February 26th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

couplingInteresting, if true. In opening hostage negotiations over the fate of Section 179 coupling, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Gronstal may have hinted at a “Main Street vs. Walnut Street” approach. From wcfcourier.com:

If the choice is between offering tax relief to a limited number of manufacturers “or taking care of 30,000 farmers, 25,000 small businesses,” Gronstal said he would “gravitate more toward the 50,000 or 60,000 effort to help those folks (rather) than something that is much more narrow in terms of its impact.”

I say “may have” because I think he is hinting at trying to get the Governor to reverse its regulatory change to sales tax rules on manufacturing supplies.

By “Walnut Street,” I refer to downtown Des Moines, where several of the big law/lobbying firms in town have their offices (Nothing against Walnut Street — that’s where Tax Update World Headquarters is located, too).  Whether or not Sen. Gronstal realizes it, the coupling issue is ultimately about whether to benefit a handful of insiders and big companies benefitting from special tax benefits, or whether to further the interests of the rest of the taxpayers who pay for any special deals.

The revenue cost from adopting the $500,000 Section 179 limit for Iowa is estimated around $90 million. Eight taxpayers by themselves claimed $35 million in research credits in 2015, of which around $30 million were paid to the companies in cash because they exceed the claimants income tax bills. Just last week the state promised $15 million to DuPont as a location incentive. The potential loss of Section 179 deduction is making its many beneficiaries suspicious of the multi-million dollar “economic development” tax credits that benefit relatively few insiders with lobbyists.

Walnut Street back in the day.

Walnut Street back in the day.

While Senator Gronstal will insist on concessions for passing the bill, I expect he will reach a deal without insisting on his full pound of flesh. More than anything else, he wants to remain Majority Leader, with control over whether legislation lives or dies. He has only 26-24 control of the Senate. If he is perceived as blocking coupling, it may be just enough to tip a close race or two against his party. I think his reference to the “50,000 or 60,000” shows he’s aware of this. That’s why I think an agreement to couple with the federal limit is now likely in the next two or three weeks. I have no insider information to confirm this guess.

Related: Me, Tax season impasse: why your 2015 Iowa tax return may be on hold. My new post at IowaBiz.com, the Des Moines Business Record Business Professional’s Blog.

Other coverage: Des Moines Register, Gronstal opens door to Iowa tax-coupling deal

 

Yes he can! Trump says he can’t release tax returns because he’s being audited (marketwatch.com). That’s not true, of course. While it’s illegal to release someone else’s returns without their permission, you can make your own returns public any time. The IRS doesn’t make you sign some sort of confidentiality agreement when they audit you.

Like every other silly thing he says, this probably will probably increase his standing in the polls.

Related: TaxGrrrl, Trump Won’t Release Tax Returns, Citing IRS Audit: Is It A Legitimate Excuse? “Trump could absolutely release those returns now – even in the middle of an audit.”

 

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Tony Nitti, Beachbody Coach? Rodan & Fields Consultant? At Tax Time, Beware The Hobby Loss Rules. “If your Facebook feed is anything like mine, videos of clumsy toddlers and unlikely animal pals have recently given way to a relentless string of friends pushing side businesses.”

Kay Bell, Penalty for late tax filing increases in 2017. “Starting in 2017, if you send in your Form 1040 (and additional forms and schedules) more than two months after the return is due, you’ll be slapped with a penalty of $205 or 100 percent of your due tax, whichever amount is smaller.” Another example of the ugly practice of funding the government through penalties instead of taxes.

Keith Fogg, Discharging the Failure to File Penalty in Bankruptcy (Procedurally Taxing).

Somehow I missed this: WHAT’S THE BUZZ, TELL ME WHAT’S A HAPPENNIN’ – SPECIAL TAX SEASON EDITION (Robert D. Flach). “An unprecedented tax season BUZZ!  Some good stuff that needs to be spread around now – and could not wait until April.”

Andrew Mitchel, Charts of Examples in Rev. Proc. 91-55: Form 5472 & Direct and Ultimate Indirect 25% Shareholders. A big issue when you have foreign owners of a U.S. corporation.

Robert Wood, Kanye West Could Still Get $1 Billion Tax Free. Why?

Jim Maule, Section 280A and the Tree House. “The reader asked, ‘Can a tree house qualify under the Section 280A rules? Can a tree house be depreciated?’ Though there’s no direct authority, careful reading of the applicable statute provides an answer.”

Party on Walnut Street.

Party on Walnut Street.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1023

Renu Zaretsky, Times get taxing for candidates… Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers last night’s debate, candidate tax returns, and the lost credibility of the IRS under Shulman and Koskinen.

 

News from the Profession. Password Inundation: Password Policies We Love to Hate (Megan Lewczyk, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/22/16: DuPont spurns Iowa, as tax rates would predict. And: What Sec. 179 decoupling will cost Iowa farmers.

Monday, February 22nd, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20160222-1Taxes aren’t everything, but they are a thing. With the merger of DuPont and Dow, Iowa hoped the headquarters of the merged company would be in Central Iowa, home of the big DuPont Pioneer seed operation. It didn’t work out that way. It did work out the way you would think it would, though, if you looked only at tax rates.

First, O. Kay Henderson brings us up to date:

DuPont bought Iowa-based Pioneer Hi-bred International in 1999. Now, as the merger of chemical giants DuPont and Dow continues, company executives have decided the corporate headquarters will be in Wilmington, Delaware.

Iowa officials had offered the company millions if it had picked Johnston, where DuPont Pioneer has been based.

An agricultural unit of the newly-merged company will remain in Johnston. State officials are giving the company $14 million in research activities tax credits and a two million dollar forgiveable loan. It appears up to 500 people will work in the research facilities. More than 2600 people currently work at DuPont Pioneer in Johnston.

In short, the corporate headquarters will be in Delaware, but the company will continue to do seed research here, and collect taxpayer money too. That’s precisely the result one would anticipate based on The Tax Foundation’s Location Matters report on effective state taxes on different activities. The key numbers in choosing between Delaware and Iowa:

Iowa v Delaware 20160222

Iowa has one of the worst tax structures for corporate headquarters. Iowa’s 20.4% effective rate on a “mature” corporate headquarters is half-again higher than the rate in Delaware. Iowa’s highest-in-the-nation 12% corporate tax rate has something to do with that, as does its bad habit of subjecting business inputs to sales tax.

Because Iowa subsidizes research activities generously through the refundable research activities credit, its taxes on R&D facilities are significantly lower.

I don’t believe that taxes are the only thing corporations look at in location decisions, but to say they don’t matter defies basic economics and common sense. If you think taxing cigarettes and soda pop affects individual choices, it’s weird to say that taxing corporate headquarters doesn’t affect corporate choices.

20120906-1The DuPont decision is the natural consequence of Iowa’s policy of paying to lure and subsidize new companies, using high taxes from existing businesses. It’s like a guy bringing his wife’s purse to the tavern to buy drinks for the girls. The girls may take his money, but they realize he’ll do the same thing to them that he’s doing to his wife, so the smart ones aren’t going home with him. And any girls he “wins” aren’t likely to be great prizes.

Some of the politicians are figuring this out: Senate GOP Leader says DuPont Pioneer move shows need to eliminate income tax (O. Kay Henderson, again):

Bill Dix of Shell Rock, the Republican leader in the Iowa Senate, suggests this should be a wake-up call for state policymakers.

“Really shines a beacon on the fact that we are a very high-tax state,” Dix says, “one of the highest taxing states in the country.”

The State of Iowa is providing the company $14 million in research tax credits for the retention of up to 500 high-paying “R-and-D” jobs in Johnston. Dix says this corporate decision shows it’s time for a discussion of eliminating the state income tax.

“We tend to have had a policy of looking at what we can do to pick winners and losers and bring certain industries to our state and to some degree that has been successful,” Dix says. “…The states that are growing the fastest are the states that recognize that an income tax is a tax on productivity, hard-work, investment.”

Exactly. Unfortunately, the Governor and his unlikely Democratic allies in the state Senate are doubling down on their commitment to fund targeted tax breaks with high taxes on existing businesses. They are surprising Iowa businesses with a 2015 tax increase by refusing to adopt the increased Federal $500,000 Section 179 deduction and other federal tax breaks renewed in December.

Related: 

Corporate giveaways hurt Iowa (Steve Corbin). While I share his feelings about Iowa’s economic development bureaucracy, they don’t control most research credits.

Taxpayers May Lose Deductions Due to Legislative Inaction (Public News Service)

 

Paul Neiffer, How Much Will Farmers Pay to Iowa For Low Section 179:

Therefore, we would estimate that not coupling with federal Section 179 will cost Iowa Farmers between $40 and $75 million in 2015.  Since Iowa says this will be a permanent non-coupling, Iowa Farmers will face similar costs in the future (although it may get smaller each year due to increased depreciation deductions on amounts not allowed for Section 179).

I’m sure they’ll feel better about that when they think of the $14 million going to DuPont.

 

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Institute for Justice, Victory Over the IRS: IRS Returns N.C. Man’s Entire Life Savings After Seizing It Through Civil Forfeiture. Good. But why did he have to fight so hard when the IRS never said that he had cheated on his taxes?

Rose Heaphy, Internal Revenue Service scam haunts Des Moines woman (KCCI.com). If the caller says he’s from the IRS, he isn’t.

Kay Bell, Driving down your tax bill with auto-related deductions

Jason Dinesen, How is the Iowa Trust Fund Tax Credit Calculated?

Jim Maule, Yes, Damages for Emotional Distress Are Gross Income. “It is time for the distinction to be eliminated, but until and unless that happens, taxpayers are caught by it and must file their returns in compliance with what section 104 provides.”

Kenneth Weil, Will Bankruptcy Get Your Passport Back? (Procedurally Taxing).

Peter Reilly, Should enQ Get To Sell Spots In IRS Phone Queue? “Long wait times on calls to the IRS are nothing new.  But now there is something you can do about it – maybe.  Only it will cost you.  And the whole notion has me angry.” Weird and fascinating.

TaxGrrrl, Fraud Allegations At Liberty Tax Franchises Raise Questions

Russ Fox, Where I Became the “Messenger of Doom” (My Final Comments on Turf Rebates). Nice work if you can get it.

Robert WoodCrazy Sounding Tax Deductions That IRS Says Are Legit. “Cosmetic surgery costs are usually non-deductible, but an exotic dancer named Chesty Love tested this rule.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1017Day 1018Day 1019. I’m featured on Day 1016, and Peter Reilly is spotlighted on Day 1018.

Alan Cole, Which Places Benefit Most from State and Local Tax Deductions? ( Tax Policy Blog). It has a wonderful map where you can find the answer county by county:

 

Map by Tax Foundation.

Len Burman, The GOP Proposed Tax Cuts Would be Unprecedented (updated) (TaxVox)

Career Corner. Bonus Watch ’16: Underachievers. (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “Good news for the lion’s share of you who are unexceptional: you’re getting paid!”

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Tax Roundup, 2/15/16: President’s Day. Bah. Humbug. And more Monday news!

Monday, February 15th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20160215-1Today is President’s Day. I don’t care to honor presidents, as a class. They range from remarkable to vile, and they are in the end, just men with a job and great responsibility, often exercised badly.

It seems as good a day as any to ponder a well-buried scandal of the current presidency, the Tea Party scandal. It came to light with a staged admission by Lois Lerner that Tea Party groups had been singled out for special treatment” by the IRS. The admission was intended to get in front of an Inspector General report exposing the partisan mistreatment.

Peter Reilly has followed it closely, from a viewpoint more sympathetic to the IRS than mine. He recently mused, in a post on Day 1000 of the scandal:

The narrative that seems most plausible to me is Lois Lerner as the Agent From Hell.  AFH is my term for a certain type of IRS agent that I have thankfully only encountered a couple of times in my career.  AFH is not that technically astute, but AFH is dogged.  And AFH is certain that your client is up to no good.  AFH just hasn’t quite figured out what that no good is.  That was Lois Lerner and the Tea Party applications, only she had to do her work through minions.  Lois Lerner was passionate about the dark money issue and nobody else seemed to care. So she tortured her line agents to get them to torture bewildered applicants who were already pumped up on conspiracy theories. A perfect storm of bureaucratic bumbling coming across as brilliantly subtle conspiracy.

Toby Miles, IRS.

Toby Miles, IRS.

It was never realistic to think the scandal would bring down the administration, considering how carefully the media cheerleaders avoided the subject. But the lack of presidential involvement only leads to a more disturbing conclusion, one I discussed way back when the scandal was only in single digits:

I doubt the White House left fingerprints on IRS efforts to harass political opponents (though it didn’t lift a finger to stop it).   That leads to an even more depressing possibility: that the IRS went out its way to beat up on the President’s opponents on its own.  Nobody blew the whistle.  That means IRS management is so corrupt and political that it would go after the administration’s political opponents with only a wink and a nudge.  And anybody who doesn’t think this was politically-motivated is kidding themselves.

James Taranto puts it well:

And the IRS scandal was a subversion of democracy on a massive scale. The most fearsome and coercive arm of the administrative state embarked on a systematic effort to suppress citizen dissent against the party in power. Thomas Friedman is famous for musing that he wishes America could  be China for a day. It turns out we’ve been China for a while.

The self-weaponization of the bureaucracy against its political opponents is hugely depressing. The government workforce is overwhelmingly on the side of the political party that favors an ever-larger state. There are plenty of Lois Lerners in the IRS and throughout the Leviathan. The Tea Party scandal, and the complete lack of accountability for its perpetrators, gives no reason to hope those who don’t share that worldview can expect a fair shake. That’s especially true when the sitting president shows no interest in discouraging such behavior.

 

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Arnold Kling, David Brooks Sends a Valentine. “Brooks claims that the Obama Administration was scandal-free. I think it was more of a case that the mainstream press had his back. Could George Bush have survived the IRS scandal?”

David HendersonIs David Brooks Right about Obama? (Econlog):

But that’s not the worst. Among the worst is his administration’s use of the Internal Revenue Service to go after Tea Party groups. After claiming in May 2013 that any IRS targeting of political groups, if true, was outrageous and that he would hold the relevant people accountable, he has not. Lois Lerner has not been charged. That’s a scandal. It’s true that the scandal did not swallow years from Obama. Is the relevant criterion for a scandal whether it uses up a president’s years or whether the president’s employees use their discretionary power to go after political scandals? If the former, then a president can avoid a scandal by being evasive and shifting the topic, as Obama has done. That’s not integrity, by the way.

And it was true. Whether you believe the IRS was told to do it, or whether you believe the bureaucracy took it on itself to pursue ideological enemies, it was a dangerous ideological abuse of the tax agency that is going unpunished.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1010Day 1011Day 1012. Don’t recall major network coverage of the scandal? Day 1011 says that it’s not because you weren’t paying attention.

 

William Perez, Understanding Form W-2, the Annual Wage and Tax statement. “An overview of common problems with Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, plus a description of various items, codes and amounts shown on Form W-2.”

Annette Nellen, Video – What’s New for 2016 Filing Season

Jason Dinesen, When Are Purchases Made With a Credit Card Deductible?

Kay Bell, ‘Pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli facing $4.6 million tax lien

Jim Maule, Relying on Incorrect IRS Advice Spares Taxpayer Penalty. “The question of how to deal with incorrect advice from IRS employees has befuddled the tax practice community for decades.”

Robert Wood, Atkins Doctor Tax Evasion Conviction Upheld (How Not To Deal With IRS). Sometimes bad examples are the most useful ones.

Russ Fox, North Carolina Added to Bad States for Gamblers. “There’s no longer a deduction for gambling losses, so an amateur gambler residing in North Carolina who has $100,000 of wins and $100,000 of losses owes tax on the $100,000 of wins.”

TaxGrrrl, On Valentine’s Day: Getting A Tax Break After The Big Break-Up. “A Sarasota area Goodwill has your answer: make yourself feel better by donating your ex’s stuff to charity.” Well, compared to leaving it on the curb for the garbage man, it has its attractions.

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Tyler Cowen, Do higher marginal tax rates reduce income mobility? Marginal Revolution). “The idea that taxes matter is making a comeback in economics, though I am not sure you would get that impression from most of the economics blogosphere.”

Joseph Henchman, Justice Scalia’s Legacy and What Happens Next (Tax Policy Blog).

Don Boudreaux, Evidence that Donald Trump Is As Ignorant of Economics As Is Bernie Sanders (Cafe Hayek). File under “longest books ever written.”

Scott Greenberg, Checking Bernie Sanders’s Math (Tax Policy Blog). “However, under the Sanders tax plan, households in the middle of the economy would also be subject to two new indirect taxes: a 6.2 percent payroll tax paid by employers (for healthcare) and a 0.2 percent payroll tax paid by employers (for family leave). Virtually all economists agree that, even though payroll taxes are remitted to the government by employers, the burden of the payroll tax is born entirely by wage earners.”

 

News from the Profession. The ‘Everyday Jeans’ Policy Backlash Has Begun (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/10/16: Tax Court rules out super-duper bureaucrat deduction. And: Don’t rob the preparer!

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20120801-2You are fined $50 court costs. My accountant prefers it that way.  A good lawyer can make you seriously consider a position that seems absurd at first glance. An Arizona judge whose case showed up in Tax Court yesterday must be a good lawyer.

The case is based on the difference between the tax treatment of business expenses and employee expenses. Business expenses are normally fully deductible. In contrast, expenses incurred by an employee, and not reimbursed by the employer, are only deductible as itemized deductions, and then only to the extent they — when added to other “miscellaneous” deductions — exceed 2% of adjusted gross income. Worse, even if you have enough employee expenses to show up on Schedule A, they are non-deductible in computing alternative minimum tax. That often makes them useless.

Arizona state judge Michael Jones had a clever accountant who saw a potential way around this problem. According to the Tax Court, Judge Jones incurred some out-of-pocket expenses to run his chambers when state budget cuts began to pinch. His tax preparer, a CPA, said that Section 62(a)(2)(C) made these “above the line” business expenses:

(C)Certain expenses of officials

The deductions allowed by section 162 which consist of expenses paid or incurred with respect to services performed by an official as an employee of a State or a political subdivision thereof in a position compensated in whole or in part on a fee basis.

So how did that affect Judge Jones? From Tax Court Judge Holmes (my emphasis, citations omitted):

Maricopa County Superior Court is funded in part by the collection of fees. Individuals must pay the superior court clerk fees for various case filings, petitions, writs, the filing of any documents, and the issuance of any licenses or certificates. The county does not, however, receive fees paid for wedding ceremonies — judges are allowed to collect those directly (although Judge Jones himself did not charge for weddings during the years at issue).

Judge Jones argues that “in a position compensated in whole or in part on a fee basis” means something like “a position funded in whole or in part by fees paid by members of the public for services rendered by judges.” Neither the Code nor the regulations define what “fee basis” means, and the case law is similarly stubborn in its silence.

Judge Holmes ponders the arguments and reaches his decision:

We also have to conclude that the Commissioner’s position is the more reasonable one. An enormous number of government agencies, courts, departments, and boards receive fee income. If Judge Jones’s construction of section 62(a)(2)(C) were correct, all the positions in all these government bodies would be “position[s] compensated in whole or in part on a fee basis.” This would create a caste of employees — those employed as government “officials” — who would be exempt from the rule Congress chose to enact that limits the deductibility of unreimbursed employee expenses. Maybe Congress could do that, but it didn’t do so plainly. Business expenses are also usually thought deductible because they are an ordinary and necessary requirement for producing income. But Judge Jones’s reading of section 62 would uncouple the deductibility of an expense from the income it produces — once a position was funded in part by fees, any employee holding that position would be entitled to unlimited deduction of his unreimbursed business expenses regardless of whether those expenses had anything to do with those fees.

I think Judge Holmes comes to the right conclusion dealing with this obscure provision. If he concluded differently, every public official would be running to their preparers to amend all the open years. Though when it comes to a privileged “caste” of public employees, we’re further down that road than we should be already.

The moral? It’s important to handle business expenses properly. Many taxpayers who own S corporations, for example, pay some business expenses themselves without being reimbursed by the S corporation. Such expenses become “employee” expenses and are routinely lost. By submitting the costs to the employer — their own S corporation — for reimbursement, they become corporation expenses and fully deductible.

Cite: Jones, 146 T.C. No. 3

 

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Accounting Today, Obama Budget Includes Tax Increases and Tax Preparer Regulation. Of course it does.

We need IRS employees to oversee preparers to prevent fraud. IRS Employee Pleads Guilty to $1 Million ID Theft Tax Fraud Scheme (Department of Justice).

Kay Bell, Obama’s final budget is full of big, but unlikely to be fulfilled, tax and spending ideas. It will go over well as his prior budgets.

 

Paul Neiffer, We Knew It Was Coming!:

In doing various tax classes over the last few years, I almost always stated that it would only be a matter of time before the President would ask for this net investment income tax to be applied to S corporation and partnership income whether passive or material.  In the new budget proposal issued by the President, that time has come.

His budget proposes that all income of S corporations and partnerships be subject to the net investment income tax of 3.8%.  This would include any gains from selling any assets inside of these entities or selling the stock or partnership interest.  This will affect farmers who have large gains in the future.

Somehow I don’t think the momentum is there to expand Obamacare taxes.

 

Russ Fox, Can a Resident of a Non-Tax Treaty Country (With Respect to Gambling) Get His Withheld Funds Back? “Canadians are allowed to file a Form 1040NR and claim gambling losses up to the amount of wins, and get a refund. New Zealanders are not.”

Peter Reilly, Is Tax Foundation Unfair To Bernie Sanders? Only if it’s unfair to focus on the destruction that would result from his confiscatory taxes, rather than the magical results he promises when he gives you some of your money back through those wonderful and always efficient government programs.

Lany Villalobos, Patrick Tohomas, The Struggle to Obtain Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (Procedurally Taxing). The government is doing its best to increase tax burdens on offshore investors, while at the same time making it hard for them to even start complying.

TaxGrrrl, Ask The Taxgirl: The Child Tax Credit

Robert Wood, New Excuse: ‘Fear Of IRS Audit Made Me Cheat On My Taxes’ Huh?

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 1007. After five years, one of the prominent 501(c)(4) applications slow-walked through the IRS process is finally approved. Nope, no politics here.

Tax Policy Blog, 2015 Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform Awards. None awarded to Iowans, unsurprisingly.

Ajay Gupta, Hillary Clinton’s Wall on the Border (Tax Analysts Blog):

Turns out the inevitable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, would also build a great, great wall. Unlike Trump’s wall, hers would not deter foreign individuals lacking proper documentation from coming into the country. Instead, it would dissuade U.S. corporations stuck with domestic charters from leaving. And she would have U.S. investors and workers pay for that wall.

Something about grasping politicians loves a wall.

 

Career Corner. Which Popular Accounting Hashtag Should You Use? An Explainer (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

Jim Maule, Stupid Criminals, Tax Version. “According to several reports, including this one, a woman and her son walked into a Liberty Tax Services office in Toledo, Ohio, pointed what appeared to be a gun over which a towel was draped, demanded money, and made off with $280… It turned out that the “gun” was a curling iron. And it also turned out that the staff recognized the two as customers who had used Liberty’s services a few days earlier.”

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