Posts Tagged ‘megan mcardle’

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

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flickr image courtesy Tim under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Tim under Creative Commons license

This would devastate the already shaky economics of Obamacare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Robert D. Flach brings the fresh Tuesday Buzz!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 446

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/2/14: 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, 6/27/14: IRS tries preparer regulation through the back door. And: why was Lerner at IRS?

Friday, June 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

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

Other coverage:

IRS Offers Voluntary Tax Preparer Education Program (Accounting Today)

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

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

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

 

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Why did Lois Lerner work at the IRS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan McArdle explains why that was a bad idea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 414

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

Funny how nobody is doing that anymore.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

 

This happened in 2008.  It's raining again.

This happened in 2008. It’s raining again.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/19/14: The Roth dilemma. And: risks in enlisting the bookkeeper in your tax crimes.

Monday, May 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

IRAIs it better to get a tax benefit now and pay taxes later on retirement income, or vice-versa?  Bloomberg econobogger Megan McArdle ponders the question in To Roth, or Not to Roth:

In theory, the calculation is easy: Figure out whether your tax rate is likely to be higher now or in the future. If you’re young, the answer is likely to be “future”; if you’re in your peak earnings years, you’re probably looking at a lower tax rate when you’re retired.

But while the theory is simple, in practice, things are considerably more complicated. Personal finance is less about math than psychology . . . and tax policy, in this case. What will the tax rate on your income be when you retire — higher or lower than your current tax rate?

“Roth” IRAs and 401(k)s offer no current tax reduction, but if the account is left untapped long enough, there is never an income tax on the earnings.  It’s not always a tough choice.  Many young people face a marginal income tax rate of zero.  To the extent a low-earning young taxpayer benefits from a 401(k) plan or saves in an IRA, you might as well go with a Roth version, as there is little or no current benefit anyway.

As you climb the income ladder, it quickly becomes a more difficult decision.  When my company first had a Roth option, I opted in for a year.  Then it occurred to me that I was making a bet on much higher tax rates in the future at much lower income levels.  That seemed like a losing bet (but see this) and I switched back to the traditional 401(k) with current tax savings.

Megan also notes a real, if hard to quantify, problem with betting on future benefits (my emphasis):

We’re running some substantial deficits, and we’ve made some big promises to retirees. Those obligations will have to be paid for somehow, and by “somehow,” I mean “With higher taxes on someone.” What are the chances that you’ll be that someone? Pretty high, if you save a lot for retirement.

That makes a Roth sound like a pretty good bet. But unfortunately, the same logic that suggests higher income taxes in the future also suggests that a hungry-eyed Congress might settle on all those fat tax-free retirement accounts as a way to balance the books. What Congress giveth, Congress can taketh away. Can you really count on that income being tax-free when it’s finally time to collect it?

If you think no politician would be so brazen, just remember:  “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.

 

20121120-2Good thing the ACA solved the problem of the uninsured.  Report: 230,000 Iowans still lack health care coverage (Des Moines Register).  Good thing we destroyed the health insurance industry and imposed a whole series of punitive and complicated taxes.

 

Russ Fox, Deadlines for Us, But Not for Them (Part 2), “Later this week it will be seven months since my reply was received. Another nine-week hold has been put on collection activities as the IRS admits that there is correspondence waiting to be reviewed. If we go nine more weeks it will be over nine months since I responded.”

Another reason for a sauce-for-the-gander rule, applying the same rules to the IRS that they apply to us.

Robert D. Flach has a similar state-level example from New Jersey in THE DFBs!

We are told (highlight is mine) -
“New Jersey wrongly notified about 2,000 taxpayers that they underpaid their 2013 taxes, but the state won’t notify them about the error unless the taxpayer asks, possibly causing taxpayers to send the state money that wasn’t owed.”

Tar and feathers.

 

20140507-1Peter Reilly, Real Estate Dealer Or Investor – Can’t Switch At Drop Of Hat.  ” One of the more challenging questions in income taxation of real estate transactions is whether a taxpayer is a dealer or an investor.”  Investors get capital gains, dealers don’t.

TaxGrrrl, Tax Extenders Bill Stalled In Senate.  The latest move in the dance to the inevitable last-minute re-extension of the perpetually-expiring tax breaks.

 

Jack Townsend, Booker Variances are More Common in Tax Crimes. Why? And Do They Disproportionately Benefit the Rich?   He discusses variations from federal sentencing guidelines, including the shockingly-light sentence given Beanie Babies tycoon Ty Warner.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 375

William McBride, Top 10 things to Know about Investment and Tax Policy.  (Tax Policy Blog).

Number 2: “Investment in the U.S. has yet to fully recover from the recession and remains near a record low.”

Number 10: “Of the ways to change tax policy to improve investment, expensing generally provides the greatest “bang-for-the-buck” because it applies strictly to new investment.”

 

Renu Zaretsky, Tax Mistakes, Collections, and Breaks.  Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers a proposal to revive the use of private collectors in federal tax collection and “Affordable Care Act subsidy mistakes now could mean huge tax confusion later.”

Annette Nellen asks What’s missing from Camp’s tax reform proposal?  She has suggestions.

 

20120517-1The new Cavalcade of Risk is up at Waterwayfinancialgroup.com.  The venerable roundup of insurance and risk-management posts includes Hank Stern on the possible perils of ride share. There is risk in letting other people use your car, as anyone who has seen Animal House knows, and those risks may not be covered under your car policy.

 

 

News from the Profession.  Another EY Associate Taking a Stab at Reality TV (Going Concern)

Honor among fraudsters.  Owners of a nostalgia-themed restaurant chain in Pennsylvania and New Jersey went up the river on tax charges last year.  Now comes word that the inside accountant who (allegedly) helped them cheat on taxes also (allegedly) helped himself.  From Philly.com:

An indictment unsealed today charges 58-year-old William J. Frio, of Springfield Township, with conspiracy, filing false returns, loan fraud, and aggravated structuring of financial transactions.

Prosecutors say Frio, who has been providing accounting services to Nifty Fifty’s since 1986, conspired with the popular chain’s owners in a scheme that used skimmed cash to help themselves and associates avoid paying taxes.

He also allegedly used his role as Nifty Fifty’s accountant to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization.

Aside from the obvious risk of going to jail, there are other complications that arise when businesses cheat on their taxes.  Unless your business is tiny, you need some help from your accounting staff.  When your bookkeeper is willing to defraud the government, don’t be shocked if he isn’t perfectly honest with you.

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/21/14: Clearing the wreckage edition. And: Tax Court penalty abuse.

Monday, April 21st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140330-2So I took a five-day weekend.  I needed the sleep, and to see something besides the office, my bed, and my commuting route.  So now to clear the debris of the last few weeks from my desk, and my email inbox.

And I come back to see perhaps the dumbest thing ever to come out of the Tax Court.  Janet Novack reports:

“Taxpayers rely on IRS guidance at their own peril,” Judge Joseph W. Nega wrote in an order entered  on April 15th —an order denying a motion that he reconsider his earlier decision to penalize tax lawyer Alvan L. Bobrow for making an IRA rollover move that IRS Publication 590,  Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), says is allowed.

Which is more astounding: he IRS decision to seek penalties against a taxpayer for following IRS guidance, or the Tax Court going along?  A great deal of what we do as professionals, and what taxpayers do, is in reliance on IRS guidance, because often that’s all there is to go on.  If you can get hit with a penalty for following IRS guidance if the IRS changes its mind, we’re all avoiding disaster only as long as the IRS is in a good mood.

This unwittingly goes to the heart of the IRS non-enforcement of the Obamacare employer mandate. The statute provides that the penalty tax on those with 50 or more employees starts this year if they fail to provide specified health insurance.  Nothing in the statute provides otherwise.  The only thing standing between all these employers and massive penalties is IRS guidance — y0u know, the guidance that Judge Nega just said taxpayers rely on “at their own peril.”

The whole Tax Court should reconsider this order.  If they decide that something that stupid really is the law, Congress should reverse with legislation providing that taxpayers relying on written IRS guidance should never be penalized for it.

 

20130419-1Megan McArdle kindly linked to me last week in You Can’t Fight the IRS – specifically, to Tax season tip: when you owe and can’t pay.  She added some thoughtful commentary, including:

 There are basically three types of tax trouble. There is “I was underwithheld at work because my salary changed over the course of the year but didn’t realize it” or “I’m a freelancer or small-business owner, and I forgot to put away enough money for taxes, or I incorrectly estimated what my tax bill would be.” Then there is “I am a small-business owner or otherwise self-employed, and I am on the brink of financial collapse; the money with which I hoped to pay the taxes had to go to keep my creditors (barely) at bay.” And, of course, though I hope this is not you, there is “I have been cheating on my taxes.”

She notes that different troubles require different solutions.

Thanks to her link, and to one from Instapundit to the same post, last week was the busiest around here all year.  My thanks to them, and to everyone who takes the time to link here.  You rock my little world.  If you ever want to link to just a piece of a Tax Roundup, you can do so if it starts in blue bold letters, like the words “Megan McArdle” at the beginning of this segment.

 

While I was too busy to do Tax Roundups at the end of tax season, I missed some excellent Bozo Tax Tips from Russ Fox, including Bozo Tax Tip #1: The Eternal Hobby Loss

 

Greg Mankiw,Transitory Income and the One Percent:

It turns out that 12 percent of the population will find themselves in the top 1 percent of the income distribution for at least one year. What’s more, 39 percent of Americans will spend a year in the top 5 percent of the income distribution, 56 percent will find themselves in the top 10 percent, and a whopping 73 percent will spend a year in the top 20 percent of the income distribution….  

-Quoting a NY Times article by Mark Rank

Occupy… yourselves!

 

Jason Dinesen, Another Tax Season Down — 2014 Tax Season Recap 

Paul Neiffer, Another Tax Season Bites the Dust.  “This year was actually much easier on myself and I think most of my compatriots since we did not have Congress passing a tax bill on the last day of the year to mess up the IRS computers (although the computers have other issues to deal with).”

TaxGrrrl, IRS Reports Tax Filing Numbers As Expected, Issues Statement On Refund Delays 

Robert D. Flach, THAT WAS THE TAX SEASON THAT WAS.  “43 down – 7 to go!”  I hope to stop before 43, myself.  Robert is tougher than I am.

In case you missed it, you can see my April 15 interview with local TV station KCCI here.

 

 

Locust Street, Des Moines

Locust Street, Des Moines

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Tax Planning For Mergers And Acquisitions, Part I.  “…if we spend the time necessary to uncover and understand our clients’ non-tax and tax goals, we will typically find that choosing an ideal transaction structure is largely a process of elimination, and when the dust settles, there will often be only one option that works.”

Peter Reilly, Sawyer Taxi Heirs Midcoast Fortrend Deal – Could Have Been Worse.  It involves a C corporation attempting to have its cake while eating it too, by paying stock-deal tax on an asset sale.

Christopher Bergin, Tax Day – It Just Isn’t Fair (Tax Analysts Blog)  “I suppose the only good news is that in the last several days, there have been dozens of items in the news reporting that the IRS is doing fewer audits.”

Tax Justice Blog, Partners in Crime? New GAO Report Shows that Large Corporate Partnerships Can Operate Without Fear of Audits

Kyle Pomerleau, Why Many People are Wrong about Executive Pay and the Corporate Tax Code.  “A neutral tax code that properly defines business income would place no restriction on how much a business can deduct in compensation.”

Howard Gleckman, If Congress Lets Firms Expense Investments, It Should Take Away Their Interest Deduction.  Fine, if you let them deduct dividends.

 

Going Concern, Utah Man Discovers Liberty Tax Not as Effective as Maury Povich in Determining Paternity.

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/31/14: A little fire won’t stop us!

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

There was a little disruption around the Tax Update neighborhood over the weekend.  The 115 year-old Younkers Building, kitty-corner from our quarters in The Financial Center, burned over the weekend.  It was being renovated into apartments and shops when it caught fire early Saturday morning.  Here’s how it looked yesterday from one of our conference rooms:

20140330-1

 

While our neighbors in Hub Tower and the EMC Building are closed today, Roth & Company is open for business.  If you need to visit us, you have to enter on the Mulberry Street side; the Walnut side is closed by police order.  You can still reach the parking garage, but you have to come from Mulberry and turn north onto the little stub of Seventh Street left open to allow garage access (it’s normally one-way, Southbound, but it’s one-way northbound until they can re-open Seventh Street, and that doesn’t seem likely for awhile).  We are cut off from the skywalk system, for now. (Update, 8:54: we have Skywalks!  Both to Hub Tower and the EMC building).

Other Tax Update coverage:

Sunday Morning Skywalks.

Goodbye, Younkers Building.

A VISIT(ATION) TO DOWNTOWN YOUNKERS

DOWNTOWN YOUNKERS PICTURES

And some sound advice from Brian Gongol: “Make sure you have an offsite, offline backup of your critical work and personal files. You never know when a catastrophe will strike.”

Roger McEowen, U.S. Tax Court Deals Blow to IRS on Application of Passive Loss Rules to Trusts: “The case represents a complete rejection of the IRS position that trust aren’t “individuals” for passive loss purposes and the notion that only the trustee acting in the capacity of trustee can satisfy the test.”

William Perez, April 1st Deadline to Take Required Minimum Distributions for 2013:

Individuals who reached age 70 and a half years old in 2013 are required to begin withdrawing funds from their tax-deferred retirement plans no later than April 1, 2014. This applies to traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and employer-based retirement accounts, such as a section 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan.

You can get hit with a 50% excise tax on the required distribution amount if you fail to take it.

Jana Luttenegger, FICA Taxes on Severance Payments (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

Kay Bell, Selfies used as tax claim documentation, audit defense.  Not a bad idea.

 

20131206-1Arden Dale, A New Reason to Hoard Assets (WSJ):

In particular, taxpayers are taking advantage of a tax break known as the “step-up in basis,” in which the cost basis of a house, stock or other asset is determined by its current market price rather than when the deceased person acquired it.

Heirs get the step-up when they inherit the asset, and it can save them a lot in capital-gains taxes when they sell.

Gift recipients get only the donor’s basis, while the basis of inherited property is the value at the date of death.  Now that couples can die with over $10 million without incurring estate tax, it often makes tax sense to hold low-basis assets until death so heirs can dispose of them without incurring capital gains taxes.

 

Greg Mankiw,  The Growth of Pass-Through Entities:

Over the past few decades, there has been an amazing shift in how businesses are taxed.  See the figure below, which is from CBO.  Businesses are more and more taxed as pass-through entities, where the income shows up on personal tax returns rather than on corporate returns.  (Here is an article discussing how the mutual giant Fidelity recently switched from one form to the other.)

This phenomenon complicates the interpretation of tax return data.  For example, when one looks at the growth of the 1 percent, or the 0.1 percent, in the Piketty-Saez data, that growth is likely exaggerated because some income is merely being shifted from corporate returns. I don’t know how much.  If someone has already quantified the magnitude of this effect, please email me the answer. If not, someone should write that paper.

This is clearly true.  While I can’t quantify the effect on inequality statistics, it has to make a difference, now that a majority of business income is reported on 1040s:

Source: The Tax Foundation

Source: The Tax Foundation

In 1980, corporate returns reported about 2/3 of all business income; by 2010, the Form 1120-share of business income was down to about 43%.

 

Lyman Stone, Maryland Threatens to Confiscate “House of Cards” Set (Tax Policy Blog).  “High taxes and big incentives don’t seem to be working very well in Maryland right now.”  They should follow Iowa’s example and limit filmmaker subsidies to three hots and a cot.

BitcoinMegan McArdle, The IRS Takes a Bite Out of Bitcoin

Annette Nellen, Guidance on taxation of virtual currency

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 326

Tax Justice Blog, Grover Norquist cares a lot about Tennessee taxes. You should too.

Renu Zaretsky, Tax Reform, Tax Expenditures, and Kevin Spacey (TaxVox).  A roundup of tax headlines.

Jack Townsend, Tenth Circuit Opinion on Mens Rea for Tax Obstruction – What Does Unlawful Mean?

 

The Critical Question.  Am I a Hypocrite on Preparer Regulation?  (Jason Dinesen): 

I oppose regulation of tax preparers. But yet, I will tout my own licensing at the expense of an unlicensed preparer if the situation presents itself.

But nobody makes Jason do this, and if somebody wants to pay less for an unlicensed preparer, Jason isn’t preventing that.  If he replaced “but yet, I will” with “I prefer to,” it would be correct.

 

News from the Profession.  Per Criminal, PwC is Preferred Audit Firm for Criminals (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/13/14: Hatching a tax boost. And: spring training!

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


hatch
Jack Hatch, Candidate for Governor,
yesterday introduced legislative text for his tax plan (SF 2164), which would result in a big tax increase for a lot of voters.

First the good points:  It would increase the minimum income subject to tax from the current $9,000 level to $20,000 for single taxpayers, and to $24,500 from $13,500 for heads of household and surviving  spouses.  It reduces the number of tax brackets from nine to four.  And it eliminates the deduction for federal taxes.  It increases the depended credit to $500, from $40.

Unfortunately, the way he adjusts the brackets will result in a big tax increase for taxpayers at not very high income levels.  His 6.2% bracket would kick it at taxable income of $42,091.  Under current law, 6.2% is roughly the highest Iowa effective rate when you take the deduction for federal taxes into account.  Under current law, that starts at $67,230 for 2014.  With a top rate of 8.8%, the Hatch plan means about a 25% increase in the top rate at the highest brackets — and his top rate begins at taxable income of only $88,822.

I did some quick computations on four very simplified taxpayers — single filers with one item of ordinary income.  The results are below:

 

hatch2014

The result is a small tax cut at the lower brackets, but some big increases in higher brackets.  Remember that much of the income taxed at higher brackets is pass-through business income.  That makes it a big tax increase on employers.  It’s hard to see how this will sell.

 

20121120-2Megan McArdle, Latest Obamacare Delay Is Probably Illegal:

That doesn’t mean that the courts are going to step in. Courts don’t just swoop down and body-check the executive branch or Congress every time one of them oversteps its constitutional powers. They wait for someone to sue. And in order to sue, you need to have legal standing, which, Adler points out, no one seems to. It’s not enough to say that your taxes will be higher, or your government measurably less constitutional, because of the government’s actions. You need to prove that you have been substantially harmed, and it’s not clear that anyone can.

Unlike Megan, I think a successful lawsuit is a real possibility.   There are surely employers just over the 100-employee limit who will be at a disadvantage compared to those who are just under, and who therefore don’t have to comply with the mandate.  While I am not a lawyer and far from a specialist in “standing,” that seems like somebody who would have it.

 

TaxGrrrl, The IRS, The Refund Process and That Pesky 1121 Code.  It appears earned income credit refunds are getting held up.  Considering the level of fraud and error in the program, it’s hard to fault the IRS here.

Jason Dinesen, Iowa Charitable “Checkoffs”

Something that a lot of taxpayers (and tax preparers — including me) in Iowa often overlook is the “charitable checkoffs” a taxpayer can make on their Iowa tax return. Taxpayers can choose to donate money on their Iowa return to these causes:

  1. Fish and Wildlife: donations made here go towards Iowa’s Wildlife Diversity Program, which monitor’s the state’s “non-game” wildlife.

  2. Iowa State Fair Foundation: donations made here help fund improvements to the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

  3. Firefighters/Veterans Trust Fund: donations made here are split 50/50 between helping volunteer fire departments with training and helping veterans with things such as job training.

I like the wildlife one best.

 

Paul Neiffer ponders IRS Data by Zip Code and County.  It’s full of interesting stuff, and I hope to post about our local zip codes and their 2011 tax data.

Kay Bell, IRS options after losing tax preparer regulation appeal. Um, do their job, and don’t try to revive the failed power grab?

William Perez looks at the Percentage of Tax Returns Claiming Itemized Deductions.

 

Andrew Lundeen, The Economics of Senator Wyden’s Tax Reform Plan (Tax Policy Blog):

Though the plan does simplify the individual side of the tax code, the most important measure of tax reform plans should be the growth it produces. On that measure, this plan falls short predominately due to its treatment of capital.

It does go the wrong way.

 

Jack Townsend, Article Analyzes Counter-Intuitive Effects of IRS Offshore Penalty Structure.  “As the authors note, ‘the GAO Report indicates [that] taxpayers with little or no criminal or civil fraud exposure were punished proportionately in higher amounts than those who participated and had true criminal tax exposure.’”

Of course.  You have to shoot the jaywalkers so you can be nice to the real crooks.

 

Peter Reilly, Pilot To Black Panther To Pastor Calls For Financial Transparency In Churches.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 280

 

Career Corner.  If No One Will Hire You, Maybe It’s Because Your Parents Aren’t Offering to Pay Them   (Going Concern).  Probably not, though.

Bleacher Nation, Chicago Cubs Pitchers and Catchers: REPORT!!!  Let’s do this.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/22/14: Let’s pay it for Hollywood! And: choosing a preparer.

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

haroldTaking your money and giving it to Hollywood.  Oscar Nominees Cash In On State Tax Subsidies (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox):

Each of the nine movies nominated for this year’s Oscar for best film may already have taken home a pile of tax subsidies. Seven brought back state goodies from the U.S. and two got cash for their work in the U.K.

And, according to data collected by the Manhattan Institute, the winner is….Wolf of Wall Street. The $100 million black comedy about (irony alert) over-the-top greed among sleazy stockbrokers got a 30 percent tax credit for making the movie in New York State.

The Empire State isn’t even the most generous when it comes to doling out tax incentives to filmmakers. In Louisiana, moviemakers not only get a 30 percent credit against overall in-state production costs but also an additional 5 percent payroll credit. Even better, filmmakers with no state tax liability can monetize the credits by selling them to firms that do owe Louisiana tax or even selling them back to the state at 85 percent of their value.

Iowa used to do this, until its film tax credit program collapsed in scandal and disgrace following revelations that filmmakers were charging fancy cars and personal items to Iowa taxpayers under the guise of “economic development.   Further revelations showed that millions of dollars of pretend expenses were used to claim the credit, taking advantage of credulous administration and almost non-existent oversight.

More from Howard Gleckman:

No doubt these credits are good for filmmakers. And I’m sure residents get a kick out of seeing Leonardo DiCaprio shooting a scene in their neighborhood (assuming they are not steamed over the related traffic jam). But is there an economic payoff in return for these substantial lost tax revenues as supporters claim?

Most studies conclude there is not.

It’s amazing that politicians think Hollywood deserves their taxpayers dollars.  Fortunately, Iowa film subsidies now are limited to housing and meal expenses for filmmakers.

 

Jason Dinesen, Deducting Miles Driven for Charity.  “Taxpayers can take a deduction of 14 cents/mile for mileage driven in giving services to a charitable organization, or taxpayers can take a deduction for the actual cost of gas and oil associated with giving services to a charitable organization.”

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: The Sneaky Tax Consequences of Real Estate Repossessions 

 

Choosing a preparer?

Kay Bell, Time to pick the proper tax pro.  She gets one thing wrong about the IRS:  “For years, the agency has been trying to set up a system under which it register and test tax preparers to help ensure that they meet a minimum competency level.”

No, the agency simply wants to expand its control over preparers and help powerful friends in the big tax prep franchises.  The “minimum competency level” stuff is a weak pretext.

Robert D. Flach, IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN – CHOOSING A TAX PREPARER:

Contrary to the popular “urban tax myth”, unfortunately perpetuated by uninformed journalists and bloggers, just because a person has the initials “CPA” after his/her name does not mean that he/she knows his arse from a hole in the ground when it comes to preparing 1040s.  

True.  But a lot of the best prepaers are CPAs.  Not everybody needs a CPA.  Many folks just need somebody who knows a little more than they do to help them put the W-2 income in the right place.  But if you are doing a complex business return — even on a 1040 — a CPA may be your best bet.

That’s not to say only CPAs are competent preparers.  Enrolled Agents can be very good, and there are many very competent unregulated preparers, like Robert.  I think the competence curve between CPAs and unenrolled preparers would look something like this:

competence curve

The more complex your return, the more likely it is that you will want to bring in an Enrolled Agent or a CPA, but if you already have a strong unregulated preparer who is taking care of your tax needs, you’d be foolish to switch.

 

Paul Neiffer, Average is Important for 2013 Tax Filing.  Farm income averaging, that is.  Another example of a provision that would result in frivolous return penalties for anyone but farmers.

Fairmark.com: Share Identification Under Attack

 

20121120-2Tea Party: Resolved: Obamacare Is Now Beyond Rescue.  Oh, wait, that wasn’t the Tea Party.   It was a debate audience on New York’s Upper West Side.  

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 258

William Perez, The Number of Sole Proprietors has been Rising for 30 Years

Tax Justice Blog: CTJ Submits Comments on the Finance Committee Chairman Baucus’ International Tax Reform Proposal.  They have very different, and largely opposite, concerns from the Tax Foundation.

Jack Townsend, Tax Notes Article on IRS 2013 Victories in Offshore Evasion

 

gatsoNext: automated pedestrian jaywalking camera fines, for our own safety:  NYC Cops Allegedly Beat Up Jaywalking Elderly Man, Refused to Tell Son Which Hospital He Was In (Ed Krayewski, Reason.com)

But I thought it was about traffic safety, not money…  Council members: Traffic camera revenue helped keep property taxes down, pay for public safety.

 

The importance of philanthropy: Warren Buffett Offers $1 Billion For Perfect March Madness Bracket  (TaxGrrrl)

 

The Critical Question: A Meat Tax? Seriously?  (Joseph Thorndike, Tax Analysts Blog).

News From the Profession: Guy Who Couldn’t Hack Two Years in Public Accounting Needs Validation He Isn’t a Loser (Going Concern)

It’s Academic!  How Not to Use Your Faculty Laptop (TaxProf)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/7/2014: Koskinen proposes voluntary IRS preparer certification. And: Obamacare, small business incubator?

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

The new IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, would like for IRS to oversee a voluntary preparer certification program if their preparer regulation power grab fails in the courts, reports Accounting Today. But he would still prefer the power grab:

“If you could require certification of preparers and some educational requirements, it would help taxpayers feel some level of confidence that preparers actually know what they’re doing, and the vast majority of them do,” Koskinen said during a conference call with reporters after he was sworn in ceremonially Monday by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew with an audience of many IRS employees in attendance. “My sense is that we should be able to provide that same educational training and that background to preparers. If you can’t require it, offer it, and if you complete the information, you get a certificate that says, ‘I have completed the IRS preparer course.’ I think that could be over time very valuable to preparers, and consumers could ask preparers, ‘Have you gone through the IRS training?’ Whatever happens with the court case, we ought to be able to move forward on that and provide taxpayers with as much assurance as we can that the preparers they are dealing with have met some kind of minimum standards.”

Somebody should point out to him that there already is such a program: the Enrolled Agent Program.  If the IRS runs the now-mothballed Registered Tax Return Preparer literacy test as a voluntary program, it will be a crippling blow to the more rigorous and underappreciated EA designation. Before he worries more about the competence of preparers, Commissioner Koskinen should fix his agency first (my emphasis):

“When I look at the impact of the budget and the implications of further cuts or what happens the next time there’s a sequester, the first thing that happens is the waiting time on a phone call goes up and our service goes down,” he said. “We try to get to 70 or 80 percent, but sometimes it gets as low as 50 or 60, which means at 50 percent that half the people who are calling are getting no answer at all and no satisfaction. It just seems to me that’s intolerable. Taxpayers deserve better, so we need to do whatever we can to provide the services that taxpayers need and expect. They ought to be able to dial the IRS number and get an answer promptly, and they ought to be able to get accurate information.”

Even the shabbiest storefront preparer at least processes more than half of its customers.

 

Why Iowa income tax reform will go nowhere this yearvia the Sioux City Journal:

Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Senate Democrats would formulate a tax-relief approach geared toward income tax cuts for middle-class Iowans, not the two-tiered plan being pushed by Republicans.

“Nobody in my caucus is going to go along with a scheme that leaves middle-class Iowans carrying more than their share of the tax burden in Iowa so rich people can choose whichever one works the best for them,” Gronstal said.

The idea that the state income tax system is somehow a way to fight The Rich Guy is willfully dumb, with zero-income-tax South Dakota right next door.  Oh, and you know what another word for “the rich” is?  Employers. 

Source: The Tax Foundation

Source: The Tax Foundation

 

Megan McCardle poses the question “Will Obamacare Inspire Small-Business Ownership?“:

One theorized benefit of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is that it will unleash a new era of entrepreneurship. Undoubtedly, there are people in the U.S. who wanted to start a business but feared losing their health insurance. Now that they know they can buy it, presumably they’ll be freed to take risks without fearing that they could end up uninsured and uninsurable.

Unfortunately, we just don’t have that much empirical evidence. European nations with more generous social safety nets have lower rates of entrepreneurship than the U.S. does, even though a thought experiment might suggest that generous welfare programs would encourage people to take more risks. Nor did we see a radical unfurling of entrepreneurial energy in Massachusetts after RomneyCare.

She also points out that Obamacare is a kick in the head for businesses that actually succeed:

Meanwhile, of course, the law imposes significant new penalties for growing a company; anyone with more than 50 employees not only has to provide health insurance for their employees, but they also have to meet a substantial regulatory burden to demonstrate that they’re providing affordable coverage. That might discourage people from growing their firms. 

You know, it just might.

 

Russ Fox, Your Mileage Log — Start It Now (2014 Version).  You would not believe how much it helps in an IRS exam.  And doing it retrospectively when the IRS exam notice arrives tends to go badly.

Peter Reilly, Post Divorce Tax Intimacy Can Be Riskier Than Post Divorce Sex   Ewww…

Paul Neiffer, Roger’s Top Ten. “Roger McEowen from Iowa State University and their Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation (CALT) just listed his Top 10 Ag Law and Taxation Developments for 2014.”

William Perez, Resources for Preparing and Filing Form W-2 for Small Businesses

Robert D. Flach tells us WHAT’S NEW FOR NJ STATE TAXES FOR 2013

Kay Bell, Tax Carnival #124: Happy New Tax Year 2014

20120829-1

 

Martin Sullivan, Goodbye Baucus, Hello Wyden (Tax Analysts Blog): “On tax reform the current chair of the Senate Finance Committee has been a laggard. Wyden will be a leader.”

Jeremy Scott, A To-Do List for Wyden (Tax Analysts Blog).  Tax Reform, Extenders, and the Tea Party investigation.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 243

 

Joseph Henchman, Parking and Transit Benefits Tax Exclusion Parity Expires Again; Congress Should Consider Permanent Fix.  (Tax Policy Blog).  “The tax code is probably the wrong place to be subsidizing commuters, and the entire provision ought to be eliminated. If Congress wishes to retain it, it ought to consider a non-expiring unified exclusion of all transportation commuting expenses.”

Tax Justice Blog, Corporate Income Tax Repeal Is Not a Serious Proposal.  Stawmen go up in flames.

Ben Harris, Rethinking Homeownership Subsidies (TaxVox).  He wants to revamp them.  I’d prefer to get rid of them.

 

TaxGrrrl, Cracker Barrel Waitress Serves Up Happiness, Gets Tip & More .  $6,000 more.

The Critical Question: Is College That Guy on eBay Who Never Paid For the Crap You Sent Him? (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/23/2013: The joys of being at-risk. And: commence self-destruction sequence!

Monday, December 23rd, 2013 by Joe Kristan

S imageS image20091210-1.JPG‘Tis the season to be at-risk.  We mentioned yesterday how you can get basis for deducting S corporation losses by making a loan to the corporation.  But not just any loan.  If you borrow from another S corporation shareholder to make your loan, your basis won’t be “at-risk.”

A Monroe, Iowa farmer learned that the hard way with his 1991 loan, as we discussed long, long ago:

Larry Van Wyk, a farmer from Monroe, Iowa, got a taste of the dangers of the at-risk related-party loan rules back when farmers were their primary target. He owned an S corporation farm 50-50 with his brother-in-law, Keith Roorda. On December 24, 1991, Larry borrowed $700,000 from Keith. The loan was fully-recourse, so the brother-in-law could proceed ruthlessly against Larry in the event of non-payment. Larry used about $250,000 to repay money he owned the S corporation and loaned the remainder to increase his basis to enable him to deduct losses.

 Unfortunately, Larry’s brother-in-law had “an interest in the activity” – he owned half of it. This made the deduction not “at-risk,” even though no loan from a brother-in-law is without risk in a very real sense. The efforts of some of the finest tax attorneys west of the Mississippi were unavailing; the Tax Court agreed with the IRS, and Larry lost his losses.

It’s not enough to avoid borrowing from another shareholder; you don’t want to borrow from somebody related to another shareholder.  And as “interest in the activity” isn’t necessarily the same as “shareholder,” you should watch out for borrowing from anybody else involved in the business.  The safe thing is to visit your friendly community banker for your loan.

This is another of our daily year-end 2013 tax tips — one a day through December 31!

 

Weekend update!  In case you missed it over the weekend:

2013 Winter Solstice Tax Tip: S corporation basis and

Winter Sunday tax tip: loans for S corporation basis.

 

William Perez, Roth Conversions as a Year-End Tax Strategy

Jason Dinesen,  Six Things I’m Talking to My Small Business Clients About at Year-End (Part 2) 

 

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

We have a Commissioner.  Senate Votes 59-36 to Confirm John Koskinen as IRS Commissioner (TaxProf).  A lot of folks have noted that once again we have a Commissioner who hasn’t done taxes for a living.  That doesn’t have to be fatal.  Anybody who has hung around CPA firms can tell you that somebody who is good at taxes can be pretty terrible at running an organization.

Still, it’s not a great sign.  The new guy, John Koskinen, will be 79 years-old when his five-year term runs out.  He got his reputation as a “turnaround guy” at Freddie Mac in the wake of the financial crisis, preserving the bureaucracy as responsible as any for the financial meltdown.  I suspect he was hired to protect the agency, not the taxpayer.

By the way, there is another Koskinen.

 

The crumbling mandate.  Tax Analysts reports ($link):

Individuals whose health insurance plans were canceled by insurers because they did not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act will be eligible for an exemption from the individual mandate penalty that takes effect in 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services said late December 19.

20121120-2Megan McArdle says this means Obamacare Initiates Self-Destruction Sequence:

As Ezra Klein points out, this seriously undermines the political viability of the individual mandate: “But this puts the administration on some very difficult-to-defend ground. Normally, the individual mandate applies to anyone who can purchase qualifying insurance for less than 8 percent of their income. Either that threshold is right or it’s wrong. But it’s hard to argue that it’s right for the currently uninsured but wrong for people whose plans were canceled … Put more simply, Republicans will immediately begin calling for the uninsured to get this same exemption. What will the Obama administration say in response? Why are people whose plans were canceled more deserving of help than people who couldn’t afford a plan in the first place?”

Arnold Kling put it more pithily: “Obama Repeals Obamacare.”

They’re desperately improvising as they go.  Not a good situation, considering the mandate tax is supposed to take effect in less than two weeks.   I’m starting to doubt that it ever gets enforced.

Related: Paul Neiffer, Cancelled Health Insurance Policies

 

20121220-3Kay Bell, Singing the praises of tax-favored retirement savings

Brian Mahany, IRS Ordered To Pay Taxpayer’s Legal Fees 

Russ Fox, The Death of the Death Master File (Sort of)

Peter Reilly,  Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine Has A Tax Lesson.  If you don’t wan’t to stay married to a spouse, you might not want to file a joint return either.

TaxGrrrl,  12 Days Of Charitable Giving 2013: Esophageal Cancer Action Network

Robert D. Flach has a special Monday Buzz!

 

Tax Justice BlogUltra-Wealthy Dodge Billions in Taxes Using “GRAT” Loophole

Michael Schuyler, Why A Death Tax “Loophole” May Make Economic Sense (Tax Policy Blog).

Jack Townsend, Swiss Bank Hype and Over-Hype.  ” Merely having U.S. clients with undeclared accounts is not the problem for those banks; it is those banks actions to become complicit in the U.S. clients’ failure to report the accounts.”

Jim Maule finds his inner libertarian, embracing a Reason Foundation report calling for elimination of the home mortgage deduction in exchange for lower rates.

 

News from the Professon.  PwC Won’t Stop Beliebin’ In Ugly Christmas Sweaters (Going Concern)

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Tax Roundup, 12/18/2013: Have you made your College Savings Iowa gift? And: la loi, c’est IRS!

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 by Joe Kristan


csi logo
Year-end is sneaking up on us.
 So it doesn’t catch us completely unawares, the Tax Update will provide a year-end idea each day through December 31.  Today we pass on a reminder that Iowans can deduct contributions to College Savings Iowa, the state’s Section 529 college savings plan, on their Iowa 1040s — but only if they fund their contributions before year-end.  From the State Treasurer:

Contributions to College Savings Iowa must be made by the end of the year to qualify for the 2013 Iowa state tax deduction. Account holders can deduct up to $3,045 for each open account and can contribute online at www.collegesavingsiowa.com.* Contributions sent by mail must postmark checks by December 31, 2013.

College Savings Iowa lets anyone – parents, grandparents, friends and relatives – invest for college on behalf of a child.  Investors do not need to be a state resident and can withdraw their investments tax-free to pay for qualified higher education expenses including tuition, books, supplies and room and board at any eligible college, university, community college or accredited technical training school in the United Sates or abroad.

It’s a great way to help your kids start out in life without a big student loan.

William Perez is doing yeoman’s work on year-end planning at his place; today he has Donating Cash to Charity at Year-End.  

Kay Bell offers Donating appreciated assets to your favorite charity

 

45R credit chartLa Loi, C’est IRS.  It’s not surprising that the IRS would disregard mere vendor rules when it believes it can pass out tax credits to taxpayers who clearly don’t qualify.  That’s exactly what they did yesterday when they announced that it will allow the (ridiculously complex) Sec. 45R small employer health insurance credit in Washington and Wisconsin in 2014, even though those states won’t have the required “Small Business Health Options Program” exchange in place.

The Code clearly requires allows the credit only to employers buying through the exchange starting in 2014, but the IRS has granted “transition relief” waiving that requirement.  Heck, why not just grant the credit to anybody who just has “health” next year.  You know, as a transition rule.

 

No.  Is Obamacare Really an Improvement on the Status Quo?  (Megan McArdle).  “Bob Laszewski, an insurance industry expert who has become the go-to guy for the news media on the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (because the insurance industry is extremely reluctant to talk), tells the Weekly Standard that he thinks come Jan. 1, more people will have lost private insurance than gained it…”

 

William McBride, Economists Find Eliminating the Corporate Tax Would Raise Welfare (Tax Policy Blog).  That’s why the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan does just that.

 

 

TIGTALeft hand, meet right hand.   The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports “IRS Vendors Owe Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars In Federal Tax Debt“:

Federal law generally prohibits agencies from contracting with businesses that have unpaid Federal tax liabilities.

TIGTA reviewed the IRS’s controls over the integrity and validity of vendors receiving payments from the IRS, including the vendor’s tax compliance and suspension and debarment status. TIGTA also reviewed controls over the IRS’s Vendor Master File (VMF), which contains information about vendors that enables them to do business with the IRS.

The vast majority of vendors that conduct business with the IRS meet their Federal tax obligations. However, TIGTA found that 1,168 IRS vendors (7 percent) had a combined $589 million of Federal tax debt as of July 2012, the most recent data for which information was available at the time TIGTA conducted the review. Few of the vendors had a current tax payment plan.

That means the IRS breaks its own rules in dealing with about one out of 15 of its vendors — another instance where the IRS breaks the rules with no consequence.  A “Sauce for the Gander” rule, one that would penalize IRS personnel who break rules just like they do for taxpayers, might help here.

 

Sometimes the IRS gets it right.  IRS Provided Some Good Tips this Morning (Russ Fox)

 

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Profits Interests, Capital Interests, And Restricted Property:

 

In Crescent Holdings v. Commissioner 141 T.C. 15 (2013), the Tax Court doled out three lessons every tax advisor con learn from:

 

  1. How to differentiate between a profits interest and a capital interest in a partnership.

  2. Section 83 applies to the grant of a capital interest,

  3. If a capital interested in a partnership has not yet vested under the meaning of Section 83, the recipient should not be allocated any undistributed income from the partnership.

  4. The income allocable to an unvested capital interest granted by a partnership must be allocated to the remaining partners of the partnership.

Good stuff.

 

TaxProf, Billionaires’ Use of Zeroed-Out GRATs Blows $100 Billion Hole in Estate Tax.  Paul Caron quotes a Forbes article.

Jack Townsend, Raoul Weil Has First U.S. Court Appearance

TaxGrrrl, 12 Days Of Charitable Giving 2013: Sow Much Good

 

 

Robert D. FlachWOULDN’T IT BE NICE.  He discusses the new IRS Commissioner nominee and asks,  “Wouldn’t it be great to have a person who had actually prepared tax returns for a living in the position?”  What, and have somebody who actually knows something?

20131211-1Robert has a thing about the Tea Party, but I suspect even he would Follow the Tea Party on Stadium Financing Issues (David Brunori, Tax Analysts Blog):

The Atlanta Braves are planning to move their stadium to the suburbs. The Braves blackmailed, threatened, and coerced the backboneless politicians in Cobb County, Ga., to pay for the stadium… As far as I can tell, the only organization to have put up any fight against this insane corporate welfare is the Atlanta Tea Party.”

When the Tea Party movement sticks to the fight for smaller government, there’s a lot to like there.

 

 

Tax Justice Blog, Income Tax Deductions for Sales Taxes: A Step Away from Tax Fairness

Joseph Thorndike, When Is a “Fee” Actually a Tax? When Politicians Say It Isn’t (Tax Analysts Blog)

Peter Reilly,  How To Tax Kody Brown And The Sister Wives And Other Polygamous Families?  He quotes my Twitter feed.  If Peter follows @joebwan, maybe you should too!

 

News From the Profession.  There’s a Hidden Deloitte Auditor in the Airport Cell Phone Crasher Video Making the Rounds (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/13/13: Government by Connections edition. And how not to butter up your tax evasion judge.

Friday, December 13th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20121220-120120906-1A Des Moines Register report on the introduction of the new ownership of the Iowa Speedway in Newton tells us how things work in Iowa:

No one needed super sleuth Sherlock Holmes to figure out one of the first priorities of NASCAR as the new owners of Iowa Speedway introduced themselves Thursday during a press conference.

Three Iowa legislators were parked front and center in a reserved seating area. Multiple times during the news conference, officials thanked Sen. Bill Dotzler and Representatives Dan Kelley and Rob Taylor.

When the event sprinted toward its own finish line, only the trio with desks at the statehouse were publicly asked to jump on stage for a photo with new track president Jimmy Small.

So why do our humble public servants get to hang with big NASCAR celebrities?   Because the ownership group that bought the speedway doesn’t qualify for the special corporate welfare that the legislature enacted just for the speedway a few years ago, and they want it re-enacted:

The law, as it stands, requires Iowa-based ownership. So the spigot that delivers that sales tax benefit, which Dotzler estimates at about $4 million to date, is being shut off as NASCAR grabs the steering wheel.

Dotzler promised to reintroduce the measure when the legislative session roars to life on Jan. 13, adding that he would support extending it beyond the original end date of 2016.

Government by special favor.  And who benefits?  NASCAR is a private company owned by a very wealthy family — one that evidently knows how to play the connections game.    Meanwhile the guy running the pizza joint, the real estate office, the implement dealership, he gets a horribly complicated Iowa tax system with high rates to pay for lots of loopholes for other people.  He gets automatic penalties for every honest mistake made in attempting to comply with this byzantine system.  But hey, NASCAR!

The legislature is just too darn busy to find a way to enact a simple tax system with low rates and low compliance costs for everybody.  But they have plenty of time to go to a press conference to sell a special tax break for a single wealthy out-of-state family.  Priorities.

 

William Perez has been cranking out lots of good stuff lately, including today’s Donating an IRA as a Year-End Tax Strategy.

Margaret Van Houten,  Do your Digital Assets have Value? Are they Important? (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).  Don’t leave the heirs without the password to your Bitcoin vault.

 

20130419-1Christopher Bergin, Walk the Talk: The IRS Needs a Chief Who Supports Transparency (Tax Analysts Bl0g).  And by that, he means for the IRS, not just for us.

Tax Justice Blog,  New CTJ Report: Congress Should Offset the Cost of the “Tax Extenders,” or Not Enact Them At All.  I like the second alternative best.

Janet Novack,  Congressional Work Undone: Lapse Of Tax Credits Will Hit Job Creators 

Roberton Williams, Where Are Tax Rates Headed? (TaxVox)

 

If you like your kludge, you can keep it.  Obamacare’s Never-Ending Fix-a-Thon (Megan McArdle)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 218.  “IRS Targeting: Round Two; The First Time Around, Targeting Conservatives Was a Secret. Now, Not So Much

Jack Townsend, Judge Rakoff, the Wegelin judge, Is Interviewed on the U.S. Initiative Against Swiss Banks

Phil HodgenRenunciation trends in Auckland “I received an email yesterday from a contact in New Zealand. Renunciations in the Auckland Consulate are apparently way, way up compared to last year.”

Stephen Olsen, Preparer Knappe(s) on the job: Delinquency Penalties, Advisors, and Reasonable Cause (Part 2 — I Finally Get to my point on Thouron). (Procedurally Taxing)

Get your friday Buzz! from Robert D. Flach!

 

ShockerGAO: IRS Lacks Adequate Internal Controls (TaxProf).  Maybe the $5 billion in annual refund fraud tipped them off.

Woo-hoo!  Tax and other fun at deductible office holiday parties (Kay Bell)

News from the Profession.  Aren’t You GLAD For This McGLADrey Holiday Card? (Going Concern)


OtterThe Otter legal strategy.  A tax protester in Texas decided that his already slim chances in federal court would be helped by a really stupid and futile gesture.  It went as you might expect, reports Courthouse News Service:

It took a federal jury just one hour of deliberation to convict a Texas man of hiring a hit man to try to murder the federal judge presiding over his tax-evasion case.

Phillip Monroe Ballard, 72, of Fort Worth, was convicted Wednesday of attempted murder-for-hire, after a two-day trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

It’s not the first time a tax protester has tried to improve his case by going after the judge.  If it worked, though, that would have been a first.

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/12/13: Mason City is cold edition. But: a reprieve!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax School makes its Mason City stop today.  7 degrees and sunny.

20131112

But we have a sold-out house today to keep us warm!  We are also sold out for Thursday in Ottumwa.  Meanwhile Paul Neiffer helps with the second day of the show today in Sheldon and tomorrow here.  Seats are going fast for our remaining sessions in Waterloo, Red Oak, Denison and Ames, so register today!  And if you come to one of the shows, please come up and say hi!

 

The first chart for any tax policy debate is in this post from Andrew Lundeen at the Tax Policy Blog,  Government at All Levels Redistributed $2 Trillion in 2012

 givers and takers

 From the study referenced in the post:

As Chart 1 illustrates, the typical family in the lowest 20 percent in 2012 (with market incomes between $0 and $17,104) pays an average of $6,331 in total taxes and receives $33,402 in spending from all levels of government. Thus, the average amount of redistribution to a typical family in the bottom quintile is estimated to be $27,071. The vast majority of this net benefit, a total of $21,158, comes as a result of federal policies.

Before considering any more taxes on “the rich,” it’s worth stopping to understand what is already happening, and to consider that if this isn’t solving the problem, maybe more of the same isn’t the answer.

 

You don’t get a “reprieve” from something you should look forward to: “Iowa gets Obamacare reprieve.”  Coming from Press-citizen.com, the party newspaper of the People’s Republic of Iowa City, that’s probably not the sort of headline to cheer up the administration.

 

train-wreck Megan McArdle, Hope Is All Obamacare Has Left :

When the tech geeks raised concerns about their ability to deliver the website on time, they are reported to have been told “Failure is not an option.” Unfortunately, this is what happens when you say “failure is not an option”: You don’t develop backup plans, which means that your failure may turn into a disaster.

Great idea!

 

Peter Suderman, Time to Start Considering Obamacare’s Worst Case Scenarios (Reason.com):

But it’s time to start considering the worst-case scenarios: that the exchanges continue to malfunction, that plan cancellations go into effect, that insurers see the political winds shifting and stop playing nice with the administration, and that significant numbers of people are left stranded without coverage as a result. Rather than reforming the individual market, which was flawed but did work for some people, Obamacare will have destroyed it and left only dysfunction and chaos in its wake. 

None of this makes me optimistic for a repeal of the inane 3.8% net investment income tax enacted to finance the debacle.  Cleaning up the disaster will be costly, and they’ll need the money for it.

 

Trish McIntire, The New January 21st.  “Despite the delay in the start of the tax season, taxpayers won’t get extra time to file their returns.”

 

Check out Robert D. Flach’s Tuesday Buzz!

Jack Townsend,  IRS Authority to Settle After Referral to DOJ Tax, a discussion of Ron Isley’s tax troubles.

Brian Mahany,  IRS Makes Important Changes For FBAR Appeals – FBAR Lawyer Blog

Fiduciary Income Tax Blog, Valuation of Indirect Ownership Through a Trust

Norton Francis, Narrow Tax Hikes Win Support in Several States (TaxVox)

 

All the news that’s fit to print.  NY Times: Estate Planning for Sex Toys (TaxProf)

News from the Profession.  Someone With Lots of Spare Time Has Doodled Big 4 Stereotypes (Going Concern).

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/8/13: Kyle Orton gets the bad news about the Tax Fairy. And: how many Lithuanians can you fit into a mailbox?

Friday, November 8th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

tax fairyKyle Orton’s old lawyer fails to find the Tax Fairy, departs the tax business.  From a Department of Justice press release:

A federal court has permanently barred Gary J. Stern from promoting tax fraud schemes and from preparing related tax returns, the Justice Department announced today.  The civil injunction order, to which Stern consented without admitting the allegations against him, was entered by Judge Robert Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  The order permanently bars Stern from preparing various types of tax returns for individuals, estates and trusts, partnerships or corporations (IRS Forms 1040, 1041, 1065, and 1120), among others. 

According to the complaint, Stern designed at least three tax-fraud schemes that helped hundreds of customers falsely claim over $16 million in improper tax credits and avoid paying income tax on at least $3.4 million.  Stern allegedly promoted the schemes to customers, colleagues, and business associates.  The complaint alleges that his customers included lawyers, entrepreneurs and professional football players, and some of the latter, including NFL quarterback Kyle Orton, have sued Stern in connection with the tax scheme, alleging fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and professional malpractice. 

Mr. Stern seems to have led his clients on a merry chase after the Tax Fairy, the legendary sprite who can wave her wand and make your taxes disappear.  Kyle Orton is a graduate of Southeast Polk High School near Des Moines, where the truth about the Tax Fairy apparently was not in the syllabus.

Related: Jack Townsend, Chicago Lawyer Enjoined From Promoting Fraudulent Tax Schemes 

 

20131108-1Maybe Lithuanian apartments are crowded?  USA Today reports:

The Internal Revenue Service sent 655 tax refunds to a single address in Kaunas, Lithuania — failing to recognize that the refunds were likely part of an identity theft scheme. Another 343 tax refunds went to a single address in Shanghai, China.

Thousands more potentially fraudulent refunds — totaling millions of dollars — went to places in Bulgaria, Ireland and Canada in 2011.

In all, a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration today found 1.5 million potentially fraudulent tax returns that went undetected by the IRS, costing taxpayers $3.2 billion.

When your controls don’t notice something like that, you have a lot more urgent problems than regulating preparers.   Yet Congress and the Administration think the IRS is ready to take on overseeing your health insurance purchases.  What could go wrong?

Tony Nitti is moved to offer the IRS a proposition:

MR. IRS,

REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP

FIRST, I MUST SOLICIT YOUR STRICTEST CONFIDENCE IN THIS TRANSACTION. THIS IS BY VIRTUE OF ITS NATURE AS BEING UTTERLY CONFIDENTIAL AND ‘TOP SECRET’.

Heh.

 

 

S-SidewalkCosting taxpayers by not taking their money.  Tax Analysts reports ($link):

Democrats seeking to raise revenue in ongoing budget talks have circulated a list of tax preferences they would like to see eliminated, including a provision that allows some wealthy individuals to avoid large payroll taxes, the carried interest preference, and the tax break for expenses businesses incur when moving operations overseas. 

The “provision that allows some wealthy individuals to avoid large payroll taxes” is called Subchapter S.  Form 1120-S K-1 income has never been subject to payroll or self-employment tax.  This bothers the congresscritters (my emphasis):

Commonly known as the “Newt Gingrich/John Edwards” loophole, it is most often used by owners of Subchapter S corporations to avoid the 3.9% Medicare tax on earnings, which costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.  Many S corporation shareholders receive both wages from the S corporation and a share of the S corporation’s profits, but they pay payroll tax only on their wages.

“Costs” taxpayers?  From my point of view, and from that of my S corporation clients, it saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year — but keeps it out of the hands of grasping politicians, so it’s perceived as a bad thing, by grasping politicians.

The versions of this “loophole closer” proposed in the past have been lame.  When all they have to offer on tax policy is warmed over lameness like these, they aren’t serious.

 

 

TaxProf, Brunson: Preventing IRS Abuse of the Tax System.  The TaxProf quotes a new article by Samuel D. Brunson:

The IRS can act in ways that violate both the letter and the intent of the tax law. Where such violations either provide benefits to select groups of taxpayers without directly harming others, or where the harm to taxpayers is de minimis, nobody has the ability or incentive to challenge the IRS and require it to enforce the tax law as written.

Congress could control the IRS’s abuse of the tax law. Using insights from the literature of administrative oversight, this Article proposes that Congress provide standing on third parties to challenge IRS actions. If properly designed and implemented, such “fire-alarm oversight” would permit oversight at a significantly lower cost than creating another oversight board. At the same time, it would be more effective at finding and responding to IRS abuse of the tax system and would generally preserve the IRS’s administrative discretion in deciding how to enforce the tax law.

Right now the IRS — and by extension the administration in power — can pick and choose what parts of the law it wants to apply.  For example, the current administration has chosen to allow tax credits for participants in federal insurance exchanges, which the law does not authorize, while unilaterally delaying the employer insurance mandate but not the individual mandate.  Somebody should be able to challenge this sort of fiat government.

 

More on the shutdown of Instant Tax Service, a story we covered yesterday:Irwin

Department of Justice press release: Federal Court in Ohio Shuts Down Nation’s Fourth-Largest Tax-Preparation Firm and Bars CEO from Tax-Preparation Business

 

Irwinirwin.jpgPeter Reilly, Ninth Circuit Rules Against Irwin Schiff Sentence Appeal:

Irwin Schiff is probably one of the more famous alternate tax thinkers.  His seminal work “How Anyone Can Stop Paying Income Taxes” is available in hardcover on Amazon for one cent.

Mr. Schiff appealed his sentence on tax crimes on the basis that his attorney failed to raise a “bipolar disorder” defense and what an attorney I know calls the “good faith fraud” defense — the Cheek argument that you really thought the wacky stuff you were saying is true.  Peter wisely notes:

The problem with the Cheek defense is that you have to be smart to raise it, but if you show that you are too smart, then it does not work.

Its a fine line — smart enough to spend “thousands of hours” researching the tax law, but not smart enough to avoid a massive misunderstanding of it.

 

Jana Luttenegger,  IRS Change to Use-Or-Lose Rule for FSA Accounts (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog): “New IRS rules permit employers to allow participants in a health Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) to carry over unused amounts up to $500 from one plan year to the next.”

 

Paul Neiffer, Trusts Get Hit with New 3.8% Tax too. And hard.

Kay Bell, It could be time to harvest capital gains and future tax savings

Rush Nigut,  Careful Planning Necessary When Using Retirement Monies to Fund Startup Business

Brian Strahle, IGNORANCE MAY NOT BE BLISS WHEN IT COMES TO ‘ZAPPERS’  These are software apps designed to hide point-of-sale receipts from the taxman.

Phil Hodgen’s Exit Tax Book: Chapter 9 – Estate and Gift Tax for the Covered Expatriate

Catch your Friday Buzz with Robert D. Flach!

TaxGrrrl,  Former NFL Star Cites Concussions, Receives Prison Sentence For Role In Tax Fraud 

Leslie Book,  TIGTA Report on VITA Errors (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Howard Gleckman,  Can Expiring Tax Provisions Save the Budget Talks? (TaxVox).  “Sadly, it is hard to see how.”

 

Not strictly tax-related, but good reading anyway:  How to Put the Brakes on Consumers’ Debt(Megan McArdle).  Megan points out the wisdom of spending less than you take in, in preference to trying to get the government to cover your shortfalls.

 

News you can use: 3 ways to screw up your next website (Josh Larson at IowaBiz.com)

News from the Profession: Failed PwC Auditor Finds Success in Burning Bridges With This Ridiculous Farewell Email (Going Concern)

 

Quick thinking.  From The Des Moines Register:

A Des Moines man awoke to find a stranger in his living room Thursday afternoon, police said. When the victim confronted the burglar, the suspect reportedly offered to mow the victim’s lawn for $5.

Guy needs to work on his pricing model.

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/24/13: Payroll tax grief in Cedar Rapids. Also: suits, geeks, and Obamacare.

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

bureauofprisonsNever borrow withheld taxes. A little story out of Cedar Rapids this morning has a big lesson for business owners: Former owner of Cedar Rapids security firm sentenced on tax charge (Dar Danielson, Radio Iowa).  In its entirety:

A former eastern Iowa business owner will spend over two years in prison on a tax violation. Forty-six-year-old Eric Holub of Clarence pled guilty to failing to forward withholding taxes he took out of his employee’s checks to the IRS.

Holub admitted to failing to send $460,000 in withholding taxes from January 2008 to December of 2009 for Premier Security, a private business he owned in Cedar Rapids. Holub was sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years supervised release.

Two paragraphs – just enough to tell an alert reader a story of financial catastrophe.    Court documents tell a bit more of the defendant’s story.  He had to use a public defender, so he’s broke.  He’s married with six kids, three under 10.  Even though he’s going away for 2 1/2 years, he still has to pay the IRS $438,426.17 somehow.  Small wonder he’s being treated for depression.

What we don’t learn is why he didn’t pay over his payroll taxes.  I handled payroll in the early days of our firm, and there were times when it sure would have been handy to not remit the payroll taxes right away, given other pressing cash needs.  Maybe cash was tight, and it seemed like a good way to pay vendors.  Maybe he figured he’d get caught up someday, but when the IRS didn’t react immediately, catching up seemed like it wasn’t so important.

In any case, it’s a huge mistake to not remit payroll taxes on time.  Penalties start running up immediately, and bankruptcy or using a corporation will not make the liability go away.  And more and more, the government isn’t satisfied the with getting the cash; they want jail time too.  30 months plus principal, interest and penalties for “borrowing” payroll taxes makes car title loans look like a bargain.

Links:

Indictment

Judgement

 

20130320-1Iowa R.V. Owners come in from the cold.  Iowa’s amnesty for R.V. owners who had skipped Iowa registration fees by registering their vehicles in Montana ended yesterday with “dozens” of settlements and “just over $100,000″ in fees collected, reports the Des Moines Register.  The idea that you could use a Montana LLC to skip registration fees in Iowa never seemed remotely plausible to me, but people will believe just about anything if it might save them a few bucks.

 

 

Arnold Kling, The Obamacare Suits/Geeks Divide:

In response to the WaPo story, I wrote a letter to the editor, which they published (mine is the third letter on this page). This is not a technical screw-up, and it will not be fixed by technical people. It is an organizational screw-up. And until that is recognized, it probably will get worse. I write,

In my experience, communication failures between technical staff and management reflect an atmosphere of fear and lack of mutual respect.

I call this the suits-geeks divide. I saw it during the financial crisis, when it was evident that many mortgage credit-risk geeks warned of problems at their firms but management went out of the way not to listen. Merrill Lynch and Freddie Mac were particularly well-documented cases.  

It’s starting to look like a delay of the individual mandate — the key tax provision that holds Obamacare together — is inevitable.   It may take some time yet for the administration to swallow this bitter pill, just after they shut down the government rather than accept a GOP-sponsored delay.

 

Megan McArdle,  Why Obamacare Is Like Three Mile Island. “All the pieces are interdependent, so a failure in one part is apt to cascade throughout the market. This is not a system where you want to start pulling out one piece to see how well the rest can get along without it.”

 

Des Moines Register, Lawmakers are warned of unfunded liabilities in pensions:

Iowa’s public employee pension funds face billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, and tough scrutiny is needed to ensure taxpayers and public employees are protected, state lawmakers were told Wednesday.

Public defined benefit plans are lies.  The only question is whether the beneficiaries are being lied to with promises that won’t be kept, or the taxpayers are being lied to by politicians hiding the real cost of government payroll.  Probably both.

20130419-1TaxGrrrl,  IRS Issues More Guidance On Post-Shutdown Operations 

Kay Bell, IRS seeks volunteers for tax-exempt advisory panel.  I bet they get some Tea Party applicants.

 

William Gale,  The Illogic of the McConnell Debt Limit Rule (TaxVox)

TaxProf, TIGTA: Hundreds of Employees of IRS Contractors Owe Millions in Taxes

Dan Mitchell, Welfare Fraud Is another Reason to Replace the IRS with a Flat Tax.  More on the TIGTA EITC report we mentioned yesterday.

William McBride,  Ripe for Reform: Improper EITC Payments Exceed $11 Billion per Year (Tax Policy Blog)

Tax Justice Blog,  Illinois Ruling Strengthens Case for a Federal Solution to Online Tax Collection

Cara Griffith, In Defense of State Treasurers (Tax Analysts Blog)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/22/13: Birthday edition! And an unappealing appeal.

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 by Joe Kristan

The Internal Revenue Code of 1986 celebrates its 27th birthday today.

President Reagan signs PL 99-514, the Tax Reform Act of 1986.

The authors of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 felt so good about their work amending the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 that they gave it a new name.  And it had some wonderful features compared to what we have now:

- Top marginal rate of 28%, with no stupid phase-outs of itemized deductions or exemptions.

- No capital gain-ordinary income rate differential – tolerable with low marginal rates, and a great simplifier of tax planning.

- It eliminated a whole bunch of complexity, including investment tax credits, and it simplified the life of preparers everywhere by making miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to a 2% of AGI floor, saving us the pain of telling clients they can’t deduct the Swimsuit Issue as an investment expense.

Sure, it had more complexity than I’d care for.  The complicated passive loss rules came in then, on top of existing complicated at-risk rules.  Phase-outs of the passive loss rules imposed hidden marginal tax brackets that helped inspire many awful imitations, like the phase-outs reenacted this year of itemized deductions and personal exemptions.   The 1986 Act brought us inventory capitalization rules, and it left in place the alternative minimum tax.  But at the time, it looked like a good start at much better tax policy.  Now it looks like a high-water mark.

 

Martin SullivanTax Policy In a Knowledge Based Economy (Tax Analysts Blog):

The skeptical accounting profession rarely allows worker training, brand-building, software, and business restructuring to be capitalized, but in so doing it is unwittingly keeping the most important sources of value out of view of managers and stockholders.

Actually, smart managers and investors know about these things, but financial statements aren’t very good at measuring them.

 

20120801-2Tax Court leaps back to work, releasing seven new cases on its first day back after the shutdown.  They include a Judge Holmes case illustrating how good news on the estate tax return can mean bad news on a later income tax return; that case will get its own post this week.

 

TaxGrrrl, Losing Your Identity In Five Easy Steps. Step One: Go To The Doctor.  “And it can all start out with something as simple as handing out your Social Security number at the doctor’s office”

Jason Dinesen, Incorporate Your Life? Not So Fast  “…simply having a business entity DOES NOT make everything in your life tax deductible.”

William Perez, Payment Plan Options. “The IRS will automatically grant a payment plan if your balance owed is under $50,000 and the monthly payments will fully pay the outstanding balance in 72 months or less.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 166

Jack Townsend,  Ex Top UBS Banker Arrested; Likely to be Extradited

Kay Bell, Amazon tax now out in Illinois, coming Nov. 1 to Wisconsin

 

Not only is it the birthday of The Code, it’s Buzz Day at Robert D. Flach’s place!

The Critical Question (Really): Is Obamacare in a Death Spiral? (Megan McArdle): “Another week has passed, which apparently means that it’s time for another terrifying article from Sharon LaFraniere, Ian Austen and Robert Pear on the federal health-care exchanges.”

 

SuccessDetermined Iowa City man may be first in state to buy insurance via glitch-plagued public exchange (Des Moines Register):

Voss said Monday that he tried more than 100 times before finally being able to sign onto healthcare.gov, type in his personal information, compare insurance plans, and purchase a policy. 

I wonder if Amazon.com ever tried that?

 

20121226-1Speaking of train wrecks,  McCoy gives up on train funds (Des Moines Register).  An Iowa legislator gives up on spending $310 million to build a money-losing, slower and more expensive competitor to the Megabus.  Now he can concentrate on getting that downtown zeppelin port that is so critical to the economic future of Des Moines.

 

The Cougars of Madison County. No, Francesca Johnson isn’t back on the prowl.

 

Hey, I said I’m sorry!  That you want to put me in jail.  A New Mexico man convicted of tax crimes and of collecting fraudulent farm payments maybe should have left well enough alone, if you can think a five-year prison sentence is well-enough.  But Billy Melot appealed, with potentially dire consequences.  DailyJournal.net reports:

A southern New Mexico farmer and businessman could face more time in prison because a federal appeals court on Monday tossed out his five-year sentence for failing to pay more than $25 million in federal taxes and fraudulently collecting farm subsidies.

However, the court said a federal district court judge erred in calculating Melot’s sentence by concluding that he had accepted responsibility for his crimes. Judges have the discretion of imposing a less severe sentence when they make that determination.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, the court said, Melot had potentially faced more than 20 years in prison.

The appeals court opinion noted that if Mr. Melot accepted responsibility, he had a funny way of showing it:

Since his conviction, Melot has tenaciously opposed the Government’s efforts to collect the restitution he was ordered to pay by the district court, attempting to thwart the collection of more than $18 million in outstanding income tax assessments and more than $6.5 million in outstanding excise tax assessments. In 2012, a federal magistrate judge issued a certification of criminal contempt against him in the ancillary collection proceedings, finding he “actively and intentionally participated in a scheme to fraudulently create a third party interest in his properties with the intention of defrauding the Court, sabotaging the orderly administration of justice and delaying the United States’ lawful efforts to recover the judgment as ordered by the Court.”

Mr. Melot is 61 years old.  If his sentence is stretched to 20 years, he won’t have much time to enjoy any money he keeps away from the feds.

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/21/2013: Obamacare and Iowa small business. And the spiritual side of tax credit fraud!

Monday, October 21st, 2013 by Joe Kristan

Tomorrow is the 27th Anniversary of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.  I assume many of you will leave work early today to prepare for the festivities.

20121120-2Things may not be going well for Obamacare when the Des Moines Register finds itself  coping with the concept of unintended consequences, in Few small businesses sign up for tax credits:

 The Affordable Care Act offers a tax credit to entice more small businesses to offer health insurance. But few small-business owners have taken advantage of it so far. And the law could have the unintended effect of prompting small businesses to drop coverage, which would make their employees eligible for individual subsidies on the new health insurance exchanges, insurance experts and business owners told The Des Moines Register.

The article gives a surprisingly realistic view of how Obamacare looks to employers, and why the much-touted small employer tax credit doesn’t work for many employers:

Jesse Patton, a West Des Moines insurance broker and president-elect of the Iowa Association of Health Underwriters, said the tax credit’s confusing rules narrow its appeal.

The credit is available for employers that have fewer than 25 employees making an average of less than $50,000.

“But you start to get a reduction in that credit if you’re over 10 employees and over $25,000 income,” he said.

Also, business owners can’t take the credit for any family members, and many small firms include relatives. Patton’s eight employees include himself, his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law.

“That’s typical for a small business,” he said.

And jumping through the hoops isn’t free:

“Unfortunately, when everybody gets through all of that formula, which is complicated, and pay their accountant $600 to do it, they’d be better off to just take the normal tax deduction versus the credit,” Patton said.

When even the Des Moines Register is starting to get the point about the unintended consequences of Obamacare, it’s in trouble.

 

Megan McArdle has an excellent summary of the current state of the Affordable Care Act in Four Things We Think We Know About Obamacare.  It’s worth reading the whole thing, but this tax nugget is important:

The penalty for being uninsured next year is $95. Again, this is partly true. In fact, the penalty for being uninsured next year is $95 or 1 percent of your income, whichever is higher. So if you make $75,000 a year and you decide to go without insurance, the penalty will be $750. There are a number of things you can do to avoid having to pay it, from deliberately getting your utilities shut off to under-withholding taxes from your paycheck so that they don’t have a refund from which to take out the penalty. But that number is what will go on the books at the Internal Revenue Service, not the $95 you’ve probably heard.

If it remains somewhere between difficult and impossible to buy through the exchanges, this poses an obvious problem.

 

amazon

Joseph Henchman, Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down “Amazon Tax” (Tax Policy Blog):

Most of the legal challenges to these laws have focused on whether the state power exceeds constitutional limits under the Commerce Clause, but the Illinois Supreme Court focused on this disparity between Internet advertisers and traditional advertisers. Ultimately, the court concluded that because the law requires Internet-based performance marketers to collect tax, but does not require that of traditional performance marketers, it is a discriminatory tax on Internet-based commerce in violation of the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act…

Janet Novack, Illinois High Court Shoots Down Amazon Sales Tax Law; Will SCOTUS Step In?   

 

Paul Neiffer, IRS Releases List of Counties Eligible for Another Year of Livestock Deferral

Kay Bell,  IRS is back and asks for patience as it reopens its doors.  Hey, IRS, do unto others…

Jana Luttenegger, IRS Back to Work, What to Expect (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog):

After 16 days of not opening mail, not processing returns, and not answering phone calls, the IRS is expecting it will take some time to get back to “normal” operations. In fact, the IRS issued a statement urging taxpayers with non-urgent matters to wait to call the IRS. I can only imagine what the call traffic will be like after a 16-day shutdown.  

Not to mention whether the answers you get when you call will be any more accurate.

 

Howard Gleckman, One Modest Path to a No-Drama Budget Deal (TaxVox)

Jack Townsend, Swiss Bank Frey to Close

Brian Mahany, FATCA, FBAR and Opt Outs

 

Leslie Book, Larry Gibbs on Loving v IRS.  Shockingly, a former IRS commissioner thinks IRS commissioners should have all the power they want.

Russ Fox,  One Down, One to Go: DOJ Gets an Injunction, Asks for Another.

One of the more humorous (to me) aspects of the Loving case was hearing the IRS argue that it has no means of disciplining rogue tax preparers. That’s just not true. If I deliberately prepare a bad return, I can be sanctioned and penalized. If I prepare a series of bad returns, the Department of Justice can attempt to have me barred from preparing federal tax returns. As noted at the end of one of the two press releases I’m linking to in this article, “In the past decade, the Justice Department’s Tax Division has obtained more than 500 injunctions to stop tax fraud promoters and tax return preparers.”

They just want to be able to do it by themselves without any of that messy due process stuff.

 

Peter Reilly, Was JD Salinger Facing A Major Estate Tax Problem ? 

TaxGrrrl, How Twitter Hopes To Reduce Its Tax Bill (In 140 Characters Or Less)   
The cobbler’s children always go barefoot.   Attorney Who Claimed Tax Expertise Sentenced to 20 Months in Jail for Understating His Income (TaxProf)

The Critical Question:  Would You Prepare Your Home For A Disaster If It Were Tax Deductible? (Tony Nitti)

 

 

Flickr image courtesy Natesh Ramasamy under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image courtesy Natesh Ramasamy under Creative Commons license.

The sacred side of earned income tax credit fraud.  A Washington tax preparer found an unusual way to get in touch with the spirit world, reports seattlepi.com.  Cleo Reed is scheduled to be sentenced today for preparing fraudulent returns claiming imaginary earned income credits:

Writing the court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlen Storm noted Reed had many of his clients claim income for “household help” while claiming to be self-employed. Reed did so for two undercover IRS agents and three fake clients.

During their encounter, Reed explained he pays his recruiters $500 for each young woman with a new child they bring to him, Storm told the court. Agents identified three recruiters who’d brought Reed dozens of clients.

Investigators later determined Reed filed at least 1,305 fraudulent returns in three years, and that the IRS paid out $4.3 million on those claims, Storm continued.

Refundable tax credits are a magnet for fraud, but they are also a path to holiness, it seems:

Writing the court, Reed has denied paying others to recruit clients and claimed he operated in “an ethical manner.” He went on to claim he was only helping his clients “achieve the American dream.”

“I had a spiritual calling to give aid, support, and guidance to the underemployed, disabled, and veterans of this great land,” Reed said in his letter to the court.

Somehow I think this is one religious belief system that the Bureau of Prisons won’t feel compelled to accommodate.

 

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Tax Update, 10/8/13: One week left! What to do if the K-1 never comes. And: money for Harold Hill!

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130311-1Extended 1040s are due one week from today.  There is no second extension available.

I know, the timing might not be good.  But if it hasn’t been good enough to get your tax information together since January, it will probably never be good.   If you don’t scrape up every loss at the slots or every item you dropped off at Goodwill, it doesn’t matter.

You probably aren’t waiting on K-1s anymore.  Tax returns for partnerships, S corporations and Trusts with income reportable on 1040s  were due September 16.  You should have all of your information in hand, and it’s just a matter of spending an hour or two getting it together and to your waiting preparer.  If you are still “working on it,” you’re either overdoing it or not really working on it.

If you don’t have all of your information — if, for example, you are still missing a K-1 — get ready to file as best you can without it.  If it’s a small K-1, you probably can just ignore it.  If it’s a big one, then talk to your preparer.  If it will only generate a passive loss that you can’t use, just go ahead and file without it by October 15, as it won’t affect the amount of your 2012 tax.  If you believe the K-1 will show taxable income when it is finally released, you should talk it over with your preparer.  Use any information you have to take a shot at what the tax will be.

Big or small, income or loss, be sure to file Form 8082 with your return to tell the IRS that you are filing using numbers that aren’t on a K-1.  It helps protect you from penalties.

In any case, don’t ignore the K-1, or pretend it will be zero when you know better.  That doesn’t work.  File by the extended due date.  You’ll get much better results by filing on time and amending if necessary than by filing late.  The penalties for late payment if you owe on an amended return — if any — won’t exceed 1/2% of the underpayment per month.  The penalties on a late-filed return run to 5% per month.

 

hh44.jpg

Harold Hill gets a check.  The Iowa Film Tax Credit is repealed, but it is still stimulating the economy for Iowa attorneys and small-time filmmakers.  The Des Moines Register reports that the state has agreed to pay $225,000 to a Rhode Island man miffed that Iowa stopped the film credit gravy train:

The settlement is with financers of the movie “2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams,” which is available on Netflix.

The settlement will partially resolve a lawsuit brought by Anthony Gudas of Providence, R.I., who said his company, Tax Credit Finance, invested money in four film projects based on contracts with the state where tax credits were never paid.

The lawsuit for the three other film projects continues.

The film credit program caused a brief frenzy of production activity before it collapsed following revelations of taxpayer funds buying luxury cars for filmmakers.  A state audit showed that about 80% of the $36 million in credits issued by the program were improper and that oversight was almost non-existent.  Seven film figures ultimately copped pleas or were convicted at trial for cheating on the program, with two filmmakers earning 10-year prison terms.

And the three remaining lawsuits?  From the Register story:

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Thompson in December said for three of the films, producers had not submitted documentation the state needed for the projects to qualify for the credits.  And, in the fourth, state officials said the producer, Harel Goldstein of California, had created false invoices. Goldstein later pled guilty to felony fraud and forgery charges in connection to the invoices.

So the program was looted; “But some benefits can’t just be measured on a dollar-for-dollar basis.” Don’t you wish we were giving more money to Hollywood?

 

Grover’s coming to town.   Tax opponent Grover Norquist to speak in Iowa Wednesday.  (Des Moines Register). I won’t be able to attend, but it should be interesting.

 

Wikipedia image courtesy Tallent Show under Creative Commons license

Wikipedia image courtesy Tallent Show under Creative Commons license

TaxGrrrl, The View From The Trenches: What The Shutdown Has Meant So Far For Taxpayers:

My advice to taxpayers: pretend things are normal. Yes, that feels nearly impossible. But to the extent possible, file as usual and make payments as usual. But don’t get too complacent: all of those meetings, calls and audits will be rescheduled eventually: it’s a delay, not a complete reprieve.

Sound advice.

William Perez, IRS Shut Down, Week 2

 

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Medical Dependent 

 

Kay Bell, Tax Carnival #121: TaxtoberFest 2013.  Looks delicious!

 

20131003-1Andrew Lundeen,  Obamacare Raises Marginal Tax Rates above 50 Percent.  Not just for “the rich,” either.

Megan McArdle,  Republicans Didn’t Sabotage Health Exchanges, Obama Did.  “In short, the administration passed a law with an unrealistically aggressive implementation schedule. And because of the way it passed it, it had no way to finesse that deadline.”  But it would be horrible blackmail for Congress to delay it for a year.

 

 

 

Clint Stretch, Tax Reform Is on Furlough (Tax Analysts Blog).   “As long as Congress is fighting over a continuing resolution and the debt limit, there is no oxygen in the room for other initiatives. Members will be stuck on their talking points, and constituents won’t be thinking about tax reform.”

Robert W. Wood, Bitcoin Is Biggest Loser In Silk Road Meltdown—IRS Wins Big

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 152

Jeremy Scott, It Isn’t Time to Bury the Income Tax Just Yet (Tax Analysts Blog)

Tax Justice Blog,  State News Quick Hits: Brownback Under Fire, and More

 

The Critical Question: Should Small Business Have Veto Power Over Corporate Tax Reform? (Martin Sullivan, Tax Analysts Blog)

Robert D. Flach has his Tuesday Buzz on!

 

Note: There will be no Tax Roundup tomorrow.  See you Thursday!

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Tax Roundup, 9/13/2013: Good luck and honey traps edition.

Friday, September 13th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130415-1It’s Friday the 13th.  Do you know where your extended 1041, 1065, 1120, or 1120-S is? They’re due Monday!  If you have a pass-through return due, late filing penalties start at $195 per K-1.  E-file, or use certified mail, return receipt requested.  It makes for good luck if the IRS says you filed late.

 

 

Christopher Bergin, Tax Avoidance Just Isn’t What It Used To Be:

Setting aside for now the place of moral scruples in a tax rate, some are arguing that corporations have a higher duty to the countries where they do business and the citizens they sell to than simply paying the lowest amount of tax possible. That argument challenges other well-established theories, among them that corporations have a duty to maximize the investment of their shareholders. Well, is it the only duty of a multinational corporation to maximize value for its shareholders?  

Well, it sure isn’t to maximize value for its tax collectors.

 

Jason Dinesen,  Same-Sex Marriage and Minnesota Taxes.  “Effective with 2013 tax returns, same-sex married couples who file Minnesota tax returns will be required to file those returns as married.”

Phil Hodgen,   Electing Resident Alien Status Under Section 7701(b)(4).  “This election is used by nonresident aliens who become residents of the United States after the middle of the year, and do not hold a green card.”

 

csi logoTaxGrrrl,  Back To School: Paying For College With 529 Plans:

For federal income tax purposes, putting money in a 529 plan won’t result in a deduction (as it would with, say, an IRA). However, neither the earnings nor the distributions in 529 plans are taxable for federal income tax purposes.

I like Iowa’s Sec. 529 plan, College Savings Iowa.  You get  a deduction for contributions up to $3,045 per donor, per donee on your Iowa 1040; it works like a 6% negative load, and you get the usual federal Sec. 529 benefits too.

 

Russ Fox,  Bankruptcy Trumps a Deemed Sale.  California’s tax authorities don’t get to decide the tax implications of a bankruptcy by themselves.

Leslie Book,  CDP: When is a Document Establishing Liability Received? (Procedurally Taxing)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 127

Kay Bell,  IRS investigations are baaaaack!

 

Tax Justice Blog,  State News Quick Hits: Missouri Legislature Fails to Override Governor’s Tax Cut Veto and More

Jack  Townsend, Swiss Bank Rahn & Bodmer Under DOJ Criminal Investigation 

William McBride,  “Red” China Taxes Capital Relatively Lightly (Tax Policy Blog)

Howard Gleckman,  Eight in Ten U.S. Households Pay Social Security and Medicare Taxes.   Yet those two programs are actuarial disasters, so they don’t even cover their benefits.  Mr. Gleckman’s use of this as a defense of exempting them from all income taxes is unconvincing.

Robert D. Flach has your Friday Buzz roundup of tax news!

 

No, it’s about restricting guild membership to keep salaries up.  Getting a PhD in Accounting Isn’t Really About Teaching (Going Concern)

News you can use.  To Enjoy Driverless Cars, First Kill All the Lawyers (Megan McArdle)

 

Sometimes taxes aren’t the most interesting part of the story.  Certainly not in a case reported by the Contra Costa Times about an attorney who apparently will plead guilty to tax charges:

Mary Nolan, 61, of Oakland, was indicted by a grand jury in September 2012 on six counts related to accusations that she failed to report $1.8 million in earnings to the Internal Revenue Service and placed eavesdropping equipment on the cars of her clients’ spouses with disgraced former Concord private investigator Christopher Butler. Court records show that she’s scheduled to enter a guilty plea before Judge Charles Breyer on Sept. 27, although no details as to her plea agreement have been made public.

Illegally bugging cars?

Nolan also is a defendant in two of the half-dozen civil lawsuits pending in state and federal court lodged by the targets of Butler’s “dirty DUI” stings in 2011 and 2012.

Butler’s employees, usually attractive women, would entice the estranged spouses of Butler’s clients to get drunk and drive, at which time Butler would encourage police to arrest the targets for DUI, giving his clients leverage in divorce and child-custody proceedings.

Nolan is accused of helping arrange the arrests of Concord aeronautics engineer Dave Dutcher and Clayton contractor Declan Woods, whose ex-wives, Susan Dutcher and Louise Woods, were represented by Nolan in family law court.

Somewhere a Mr. Dutcher and a Mr. Woods could be excused for enthusiastically toasting this turn of events alone and at home.

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/19/2013: You may already be a Californian! And the amazing tax secrets of Jeff Bezos.

Monday, August 19th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130819-1California is so short of cash, they aren’t just looking under their sofa cushions for spare change.  They’re looking under yours, too. Paul Neiffer reports that California is Out of Control!

In Swart Enterprises, Inc. v. Franchise Tax Board, the taxpayer was an Iowa  corporation with a farming activities in Kansas and Nebraska.  They also had various passive business investments including an .02% interest in a California LLC (Cypress) that acquired, held, leased and disposed of capital equipment in various states.  This LLC had 435 members of which 384 members were out-of-state.

The Franchise Tax Board asserted that Swart had enough business activity through their .02% interest in the Cypress LLC to require the filing of a California LLC tax return.  Normally LLC’s filed as a partnership do not owe any state tax, however, California charges $800 simply for the privilege of filing a return.  In addition, based upon the gross revenue of the LLC an additional fee is owed.  Since Swart was a corporation, that particular fee would not apply, but they would owe the $800 filing fee plus interest and penalties plus paying a person to prepare the tax return.

 That’s one of the dangers of investing in a partnership.  You buy the chance to pay state taxes in any state where the partnership does business.  In most states it may not matter because it the tax may round down to zero, but even a whiff of California can cost you $800.

Russ Fox has more at California Goes After Flow-Throughs with Passive Investments in California.

 

Stephen J. Dunn, Fraudulent Tax Returns?:

The IRS most commonly learns of alleged fraud in a tax return from an insider—a disgruntled former employee, spouse, or romantic interest of the taxpayer.  In one case, the taxpayer’s estranged daughter came to the taxpayer and asked him for a job.  The taxpayer hired her, and eventually placed her in charge of a business.  But the daughter mismanaged the business, and the taxpayer closed it.  The prodigal daughter became enraged, and reported her father to the Internal Revenue Service. 

Business tax fraud is hard to do without accomplices.  Each “helper” is one more chance for the IRS, one more potential informer.  Payroll fraud, where you pay employees “in cash,” with no taxes, may be the worst, as it gives every employee an opportunity to snitch.

 

Is the concept of “deadweight loss” a right-wing conspiracy?  “I am sorry, but this is absurd” (Tyler Cowen).  

Deadweight loss” is economic loss from tax, as  Megan McArdle explains here.  Mr. Cowan says it exists, even if fellow economist Charles Manski doesn’t care for it:

Manski also ignores that a belief in deadweight loss is fully compatible with the view that government spending may bring economic benefits.  In fact you often cannot understand the benefits of (some) government spending without first grasping the deadweight loss concept.

If you don’t think taxes have a cost, then there’s no helping you.

 

Kay Bell,  Employers in 17 states could face higher unemployment taxes

 

Missouri Tax Guy,  DOMAs Death, There Are Questions.  “It’s been nearly two months since the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, but there are still many things we don’t know when it comes to how this affects the taxes of couples in same-gender marriages.”

 

Jack Townsend,  Simon’s Last Hurrah / Fizzle?  “So I am not sure what lessons it teaches except as a variation of the old saying, ‘Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered.’”

Phil Hodgen, Email and Encryption.  An interesting discussion of the problem of preserving email confidentiality in a world of hackers and NSA snooping.

TaxGrrrl, Death & Taxes: Elvis Presley Topped Charts And Tax Brackets  

Janet Novack,  IRS Agent Faked Pastor’s Letter To Claim Charity Deduction 

Russ Fox, IRS Scandal Update

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 101

 

Martin Sullivan, A Dark Cloud Over Silicon Valley (Tax Analysts Blog)

 Nobody in Washington D.C. has a wish to make enemies with tech companies that are the crown jewels of the American economy. Nobody is deliberately targeting them. But there is a basic dynamic of corporate tax reform that will be hard even for the tech sector to overcome: those who are the biggest winners under the current system have the most to lose from tax reform.

Of course.

 

Alan Cole, The Standard Deduction Undermines Itemized Deductions (Tax Policy Blog):

The standard deduction makes a lot of sense, though, if you believe itemized deductions are arbitrary and confusing. In that case, the standard deduction restores some fairness and reduces paperwork, bringing the tax code more in line with our Principles of Sound Tax Policy – particularly, neutrality and simplicity.

The standard deduction is an interesting half-step towards eliminating itemized deductions, suggesting that America is actually quite ambivalent about them.

There’s something to be said for eliminating itemizing.  It adds a lot of complexity, especially with AMT and phaseouts.  If a deduction is really needed, move it above the line and make it available to everyone.

 

Robert D. Flach, WHAT CONGRESS SHOULD DO, BUT PROBABLY WON’T.  “I have recommended limiting the mortgage interest deduction to acquisition debt on a principal primary residence.”

Me, Walnut Street is back! For lunch, anyway and Because your safety is the most important thing.

 

Tax Justice Blog,  Washington Post Owner Jeff Bezos Does Not Believe in Taxes:

As an organization that follows tax policy, we went looking for the track record on taxes and, as it turns out, Bezos and his company have consistently demonstrated a contempt for taxes and an aggressive interest in avoiding them.  

Sounds suspiciously like almost every client ever.

 

 

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