Posts Tagged ‘megan mcardle’

Tax Roundup, 3/6/15: Crime Watch Edition. Rashia, still 21.

Friday, March 6th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

It’s the time of the year when exasperated taxpayers and preparers are tempted to say, “bugger all this, I’m going to go for the gusto and cheat on my taxes!” That’s when it’s useful to look in on an old friend of the Tax Update to see how well that’s going.

Rashia says "thanks, Commissioner!"

Rashia says “thanks, Commissioner!”

Let’s look in on Rashia Wilson, who proclaimed herself (on Facebook!) the “Queen of IRS Tax Fraud.” Her reign was cut short by federal identity theft tax refund charges, resulting in a 21-year sentence. And with federal sentences, you have to serve at least 90% of the time.

Ms. Wilson naturally was unhappy with this judicial lèse-majesté, so she appealed, citing procedural irregularities. The trial judge was ordered to reconsider. On further review, the call on the field stands. 21 years.  Robert Wood has more.

Iowa has tax ID fraud too. While South Florida may be the kingdom of tax refund fraud, it has colonies everywhere. Even in Iowa: Cedar Rapids woman charged with filing false tax returns (KWWL.com):

The United States Department of Justice says 33-year-old Gwendolyn Murray is charged with twelve counts of filing false claims for tax refunds, seven counts of theft of government property, and two counts of aggravated identity theft.­ The indictment containing the charges was unsealed on Tuesday.

It is alleged that Murray filed 12 fraudulent tax returns in 2012 and 2013 using other people’s names. She received refunds on seven of those tax returns. The court also alleges that Murray stole the identities of two people.

It’s good to prosecute ID thieves, but it’s far better to keep them from thieving. It’s eye-opening that 7 of the 12 alleged attempts allegedly succeeded. Criminals aren’t known for their impulse control or their ability to anticipate long-term consequences. If they see somebody get a bunch of cash just from keying in some numbers on a computer, they’re going to want some of that bling themselves, and they aren’t going to ponder the likelihood of a prison sentence first.  The IRS is pretty much leaving the door unlocked and the cash register open.

 

Megan McArdle says the culture of “getting a big refund” is part of the problem in Fewer Tax Refunds, Fewer Scams:

If all returns were submitted at the same time, and refunds were held until they could be cross-checked against the IRS’s copies of W-2s and 1099s, then this sort of fraud wouldn’t work very well; the IRS would know it had two returns and could start the process of figuring out which one was fraudulent before it mailed the check. But we love our early refunds, and people often count on getting that check as early as possible.

She offers wise advice:

However, there’s one thing you personally can do to fight tax fraud, and that’s make sure that you don’t give the government more money than you have to. You should never get excited about a tax refund; all it means is that you gave the government a substantial interest-free loan by withholding too much tax throughout the year. You should aim for your refund to be as small as possible — ideally, zero.

A system that sends $21 billion annually to fraudsters — and that number is rising rapidly — can’t continue forever. Part of this will be a technological fix.  My wife can’t buy a dress at Nordstrom in Chicago without triggering phone calls from two credit card companies.  Meanwhile, the IRS happily wires wads of cash to Rashia. One would hope the IRS could learn something from Visa and Discover.

But the IRS is bad at technology, so part of the fix will have to be slower (and ideally, smaller) refunds. This could include lower penalty thresholds for underpayments so that taxpayers will be more willing to risk owing a bit on April 15 — perhaps combined with withholding tables that leave taxpayers owing a bit, rather than getting refunds.

 

What else can you do to protect yourself? 

  • Be careful with your tax information. Never divulge your bank account or credit card info to strangers over the phone.
  • Assume any unexpected call from a tax agency is a scam.
  • Don’t send copies of 1099s and W-2s as e-mail attachments to your preparer, and don’t email a pdf of your 1040 to a loan officer. That leaves your information exposed.
  • When you transmit confidential information, use strong encryption, or better yet upload it via a secure file transfer site, like the FileDrop system we use at Roth & Company.

 

 

20150105-2Peter Reilly, IRS Grossly Unqualified To Make Determinations About Software Related Exempt Applications. The IRS is grossly unqualified for any number of things that Congress gives it to do. Just a very few that come immediately to mind:

– Determining what is “qualified research” for the research credit.

– Determining the energy properties of “green fuels” for the biofuel subsidies.

– Running the nation’s healthcare insurance finance system.

– Policing political speech by tax-exempt organizations.

An outfit that can’t keep two-bit grifters from cashing in billions in tax refunds annually shouldn’t be looking for new things to do.

 

Kay Bell, Tax identity thief mistakenly sends fake refund to real filer. The police don’t spend their days chasing geniuses.

Jack Townsend, More on Light Sentencing for Offshore Account Tax Crimes.

 

Russ Fox provides a valuable service with Online Gambling Addresses Updated for 2015. Taxpayers with offshore online gambling accounts are required to report them on the “FBAR” report of foreign financial accounts (Form 114). The FBAR requires a street address for the account, and these can be hard to find for gambling websites.

William Perez offers advice on how to Communicate Effectively with Your Tax Preparer. We aren’t always the best company this time of year. Come prepared, be efficient, and you can leave our office before we do something bizarre. Other than what we do for a living, of course.

Jason Dinesen, Marriage in the Tax Code, Part 3: Big Changes in 1917

Jim Maule, The IRS and the Taxpayer: Both Wrong. “The taxpayer argued that because the distribution from the IRA was less than the his investment in the IRA, it should be treated as a return of investment. The IRS argued that the entire distribution should be included in the taxpayer’s gross income. The Tax Court concluded that both the taxpayer and the IRS were wrong.”

 

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Kyle Pomerleau, The Rubio-Lee Plan Would be Good for Everyone, Especially Low Income Earners (Tax Policy Blog):

If you take all the pieces of the Rubio-Lee tax plan together, it actually produces the largest increase in after-tax income for the lowest income earners, not the highest.

According to our analysis, the bottom decile of taxpayers will see an increase in after-tax income of 44.2 percent, a percentage increase in income nearly four times larger than the top 1 percent’s increase in after-tax income. But the plan doesn’t just increase the after-tax income of the top and the bottom. All taxpayers will see higher after-tax incomes due to this plan.

The Rubio-Lee plan, with its elimination of the double corporate tax and its business rate reductions, is the most promising tax reform plan to surface in a long time. But its opponents can never see wisdom in anything that benefits “the rich,” even when it benefits everyone else.

 

Renu Zaretsky, Expensive Plans, ACA Developments, and Exercises in Futility. Today’s TaxVox roundup has links to folks hating on Rubio-Lee, Spanish film tax credits, and more.

Patrick Smith, Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing Case May Have Great Significance in Anti-Injunction Act Cases (Procedurally Taxing)

 

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Spring will come!

 

 

Cara Griffith, The Use of Big Data in Auditing (Tax Analysts Blog). “For state auditors, big data (like other types of data) could be used to better evaluate and select taxpayers for audit.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, 666

 

Why would he want a job with less power? Former IRS Commissioner Mark Everson To Run For President. Yes, Of The United States (Tony Nitti)

Culture Corner. A Tax Shelter Board Game Is a Thing That Exists (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/5/15: More tax credits! Also: ACA on the dock again, and good tax news for gamblers.

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitorsclick here for the frosty Iowa tax climate post, or go here for a longer treatment.

 

David Brunori has a wise post about Michigan’s disastrous tax credits: Tax Incentives Cause Trouble For More Reasons Than You Might Think (Tax Analysts Blog). “The history of job creation tax credits in Michigan is a story of corporate welfarism.”

20120906-1That’s just as true here in Iowa, where every legislative session seems to bring a new tax credit, to go with the dozens already on the books. From today’s Des Moines Register: New chemical production tax credit bill advances.

For example, companies like Cargill that produce ethanol and other fuels from corn produce corn oil in the process. The tax credit is geared toward companies that take that oil and other byproducts to create higher-value chemicals. Those higher-value chemicals can then be used to produce plastics, paints or pharmaceuticals.

The legislation would provide a credit of 5 cents for every pound of chemical a company produces. It would not apply to chemicals that are used in the production of food, animal feed or fuel.

These byproducts are already used somewhere. That means the credit would do one or more of the following:

– Subsidize companies that are already making the chemicals.

– Divert the byproducts from their current buyers — producers of food and animal feed, for example — to those who would receive subsidies, forcing the current buyers to find more expensive substitutes.

– Create subsidized competition for companies that already produce chemicals from other sources.

In short, they would take money from existing businesses and their customers and give it to someone with a better lobbyist.

The bill is HSB 98. The bill also contains increases in “seed capital” and “angel investor” tax credits, expanding the Iowa’s dubious role as an investment banker that doesn’t care whether it makes money.

 

supreme courtYesterday was the current Obamacare challenge’s day in the Supreme Court. It’s pretty clear that the four liberal justices will vote to uphold the IRS, and the subsidies to taxpayers outside of state exchanges. Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas will vote no. The decision is in the hands of Justices Kennedy and Roberts, who aren’t giving much away.

I’ll defer to others for coverage of yesterday’s hearing, including:

Megan McArdle, Life or Death. “This morning, someone on Twitter explained that this case really is different because if the Supreme Court rules the wrong way, thousands of people will die. I find this explanation wholly unconvincing, for two reasons.”

Jonathan Adler, Oklahoma’s response to Justice Kennedy and Things we learned at today’s oral argument in King v. Burwell.

 

Russ Fox, IRS Proposes Session Method for Slot Machine Play and a Revision to the Regulations on Gambling Information Returns:

There’s a lot to like in IRS Notice 2015-21, the IRS’s proposal for a “Safe Harbor Method for Determining a Wagering Gain or Loss from Slot Machine Play.” The proposal is for a daily session for slot machine play where there are electronic records. Let’s say an individual plays slot machines at Bellagio from 10:00am – 12:00pm and from 3:300pm – 5:00pm. That can all be combined into one session per this revenue procedure (if it is finalized).

This is important for gamblers because gambling winnings are included in Adjusted Gross Income, but losses are itemized deductions. If you treat each play as a separate taxable event, then you inflate both the above-the-line winnings and the below-the-line deductions. Increasing AGI causes all sorts of bad things, including making Social Security Benefits taxable, and at higher levels causing a loss of itemized deductions and exemptions and triggering the Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax of 3.8%. Allowing winnings and losses to be netted over a day reduces this inequity.

 

IMG_1219Where red-light cameras take you. The Ferguson Kleptocracy (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution). When the role of law enforcement becomes picking the pockets of the citizenry, bad things happen.

 

 

Scott Drenkard offers a link rich state tax policy roundup: More Research against the Texas Margin Tax, New Kansas Pass-Through Carve Out Data, and Capital Gains Taxes in Washington (Tax Policy Blog). It includes this:

Barbara Shelly at the Kansas City Star has a review of the Kansas income tax exclusion for pass through entities that blew a hole in the budget. Kansas expected 191,000 people to take advantage of the exclusion, but 333,000 people ended up taking it, for a loss of $207 million in revenues. I testified today to the Ohio House Ways & Means Committee on a similar provision being considered by Gov. Kasich.

Imagine that.

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Kay Bell, Alabama’s GOP governor calls for – gasp! – new, higher taxes

Peter Reilly, Government Focusing On Codefendant Hansen As Kent Hovind Trial Commences. More coverage of the young-earth creationist tax case.

Robert Wood, Despite FATCA, U.S. Companies Stash $2.1 Trillion Abroad—Untaxed

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): B Is For Bona Fide Residence Test

 

William McBride, Rubio-Lee Plan Cuts Taxes on Business Investment to Grow the Economy by 15 Percent (Tax Policy Blog):

  1. It cuts the corporate and non-corporate (or pass-through) business tax rate to 25 percent.
  2. It eliminates the double-tax on equity financed corporate investment, by zeroing out capital gains and dividends taxes.
  3. It allows businesses to immediately write-off their investments, instead of requiring a multi-year depreciation.

Also:

Second, the growth in the economy would eventually boost tax revenue, relative to current law. We find after all adjustments (again, about 10 years) that federal tax revenue would be about $94 billion higher on an annual basis. This is our dynamic estimate. Our static estimate, i.e. assuming the economy does not change at all, shows a tax cut of $414 billion per year. We believe the dynamic estimate is much closer to reality.

For another (non-dynamic?) view, there’s Howard Gleckman, The Rubio-Lee Tax Reform Plan Raises Important Issues But Would Add Trillions to the Debt. (Tax Vox)

 

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Accounting Today, Senate Report Blames Tax Pros for Unfair Tax Code. I think that’s a little like criminals blaming their victims for their crimes. I agree with Tony Nitti: Senate Report Blames Tax Professionals For Inequities In The Tax Code; Is Completely Insane.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 665.

Joseph Thorndike, Voters Are Confused About the Difference Between Tax Avoidance and Evasion – Because Politicians Blur the Line (Tax Analysts Blog)

 

News from the Profession. PwC Concludes Female Millennials Are Great For Vague, Pointless Research (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern). “It’s the 3% that don’t care about work/life balance I’m worried about…”

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/4/15: Big week for trusts. And: Iowa gets its own tax phone scam!

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

1041Friday is Day 65 of 2015. Though March 6 is just another day to most people, it has always meant something to me (happy birthday, Brother Ed!). It also means something to trustees. The tax law allows trusts to treat distributions made during the first 65 days of the year as having been made in the prior year. This allows complex trusts to control their taxable income with a distribution, because trust distributions carry trust taxable income out of the trust to beneficiary 1040s.

This has become more important since the enactment of the Obamacare 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax. This tax hits trusts with adjusted gross income in excess of $12,150 in 2014. If a trust has beneficiaries below the much-higher NIIT thresholds for individuals, it can make at least some of that tax go away with 65-day rule distributions.

This affects “complex trusts,” which are trusts that are not required to distribute their income annually and which are not otherwise taxed on 1040s. Distributions from such normally carry out ordinary income, but not capital gains. If the trust has income that is not subject to the NIIT, the distribution will be treated as carrying out some of each kind of income, so trustees have to take that into account in their NIIT planning.

Income subject to the NIIT includes interest, dividend, most capital gains, rents, and “passive” income from businesses or K-1s. Retirement plan income received by trusts is normally not subject to the NIIT. A 2014 Tax Court decision makes it easier for trusts to have non-passive income, but trust income is normally passive.

 

20120920-3An Iowacentric tax scamThe Iowa Department of Revenue warns of a scam targeted at Iowans:

The Iowa Department of Revenue has been made aware of a potential scam targeting Iowa taxpayers. The scam begins through an automated phone call, which shows on caller ID as being from 515-281-3114. That phone number is the Department’s general Taxpayer Services number; however, no automated phone calls can originate from that number.

When answering the call, the taxpayer is informed they are eligible for a refund from the Iowa Department of Revenue. The taxpayer is then asked whether the refund should be deposited into the account the Department has on file or if they’d like to donate the refund to an animal charity.

The Iowa Department of Revenue does not make these types of calls. We believe this is an attempt to steal bank account or other personal information. By fraudulently displaying the Department’s phone number on caller ID, the scammer is attempting to convince the taxpayer of the legitimacy of the call.

The Iowa Department of Revenue doesn’t phone you out of the blue. The IRS doesn’t phone you out of the blue — they barely even answer phones anymore. If you get a call from a tax agency, assume it is a scam. It is, unless you have already been in contact with the agency because of a notice you’ve received in the mail

 

Obamacare is again on the dock in the U.S. Supreme CourtThe IRS decision to allow tax credits for policies in the 37 states that did not set up ACA exchanges is up for debate. The law provides for credits only for exchanges “established by a state.”

In a less politically-sensitive context, one could expect a 9-0 or 8-a decision against the IRS. That’s what happened in Gitlitzwhere the court ruled that the IRS couldn’t regulate away a perceived misdrafting of the tax code’s S corporation basis rules that allowed a windfall to taxpayers whose S corporations had debt forgiveness income. “Because the Code’s plain text permits the taxpayers here to receive these benefits, we need not address this policy concern.” But because a decision against IRS here would invalidate key parts of Obamacare in most of the country, politics is a big part of the process.

Those arguing for the IRS interpretation say the chaos will ensue and thousands of people will dieMichael Cannon, a prime architect of the case against the IRS rule, has a more measured discussion of the consequences of a decision against the IRS rule in USA Today. Aside from upholding the rule of law, a decision against the IRS rule could have many benefits.

Related: Megan McArdle, Obamacare Will Not Kill the Supreme Court. For a roundup of posts on the topic, try King v. Burwell — The VC’s Greatest Hits, from the Volokh Conspiracy’s attorney-bloggers.

Update: From Roger McEowen, Would It Really Be That Bad If the U.S. Supreme Court Invalidated the IRS Regulation on the Premium Assistance Tax Credit?

 

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William Perez, Self-employed? SEP IRAs Help Reduce Taxes and Save for Retirement

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): A Is For Actual Expense Method

Kay Bell, Some Ohio taxpayers stumped by state’s tax ID theft quiz

Jason Dinesen, Is Chamber of Commerce Membership Worth It?. Our local group functions as an alliance of crony capitalists.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 664. Today’s edition mentions my high school classmate and junior class president election opponent, Al Salvi, and his outrageous treatment at the hands of Lois Lerner when she was with the Federal Elections Commission. For the record, Lois Lerner had nothing to do with my electoral triumph.

Robert Wood, Warren Buffett To Al Sharpton, The 1% Makes 19% Of All Income, Pays 49% Of All Taxes

Alan Cole, Most Retirement Income Goes To Middle-Class Taxpayers (Tax Policy Blog).

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Clint Stretch wonders whether it is Time to Retire Income Tax Reform? (Tax Analysts Blog). “With income tax reform out of the way, we could focus the conversation on the important issue – the size and scope of government. If eventually we can agree on how much tax we need to collect, we can always ask tax reform to come out of retirement for a little consulting.”

 

Len Burman, Cutting Capital Gains Taxes is a Dead End, Not a Step on the Road to a Consumption Tax. As someone who thinks the proper capital gain rate is zero, I can’t agree.

Career Corner. Starting a CPA Pot Practice Is Your Next Opportunity (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “Consider a joint venture, at least.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/20/15: Sometimes you just need a new voter edition. Also: time travel for a tax credit!

Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

IMG_1291When the votes don’t go your way, replace the voters. The Iowa House Republican leadership seems all-in on the proposed 10-cent gas tax increase. WHOTV.com reports:

A bill that will raise Iowa’s gas tax by ten-cents per gallon, as soon as March 1, took a big step forward at the statehouse Thursday. That’s thanks in large part to a committee membership shuffle by Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.

Paulsen replaced Jake Highfill, who he says was a ‘no’ vote on raising the gas tax, with Brian Moore, who he says is a “yes” vote, on the committee. Paulsen also removed Zach Nunn from the committee for one day and put himself in Nunn’s place.

That enabled the bill to clear the committee by a 13-12 vote.  So it looks like the powers that be are determined to make the gas tax increase happen.

 

Time travel. Congress reenacted the expired Work Opportunity Credit in December, retroactively to the beginning of the year. The credit provides a tax savings up up to $9,600 for employers who hire people in groups favored by legislation — welfare recipients and veterans, for example. There was a hitch in the retroactive legislation, though. The WOTC requires employers to certify that new hires are eligible within 28 days of their start date. It’s difficult for employers to go back in time to January to comply with legislation enacted in December.

Fortunately, the IRS yesterday issued Notice 2015-13, giving employers until April 30 to obtain employee signatures on Form 8850 and submit them to the local job service to qualify 2014 hires for the credit.

Wages may qualify for the credit if paid to employees who were on public assistance or food stamps in the period before their hire date, certain veterans, or ex-felons. Details can be found on Form 8850 and its instructions.

 

No Walnut STTax Season is Saved! Obamacare Inflicts IRS Paperwork on New Victims (J.D. Tucille, Reason.com). “Perhaps the Affordable Care Act’s most-resented wrong against the American people will be initiating those previously exempt to the dull, often incomprehensible grind of Internal Revenue Service paperwork.”

Tax Season is Saved! State tax refund troubles spreading (Kay Bell).

Tax Season is Saved! IRS Paid $5.8 Billion In Fraudulent Refunds, Identity Theft Efforts Need Work (Robert Wood)

 

Megan McArdle, Will Obamacare Join Tax Season Chaos?:

Apparently, there is a movement afoot to get the Barack Obama administration to line up the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period with tax season. The reason: Many people are going to find out in March or April that they owe a penalty for not having the minimum essential insurance coverage. Those unlucky people, who may decide they’d like to buy health insurance after all to avoid next year’s penalties, will be too late to go through that year’s open enrollment.

Oh, goody.

IMG_1274William Perez, Reconciling Advance Payments of the Premium Tax Credit. Though the results might not be pleasant.

Jason Dinesen, Tips For Financing a Small Business: Part 2 of 5 — Use Your Accountant as a Resource

Peter Reilly, Tom Brady’s MVP Truck Even More On The Tax Implications

Carl Smith, The Empire Strikes Back on Excessive Refundable Credit Claim Penalties (Procedurally Taxing)

TaxGrrrl, Taxpayers Sue Treasury, SSA, Alleging Improper Refund Seizures. “As the stories became more sensational – in part due to reports filed by The Washington Post – SSA was forced to announce that it would stop trying to collect debts that were more than ten years old. But by “stop,” they apparently meant ‘slow down… a little.'”

 

Kyle Pomerleau, Richard Borean, The Dual Tax Burden of S Corporations (Tax Policy Blog):
Top marginal tax rates for active shareholders then vary based on whether the last dollar is profit or wage. The following map shows the top marginal tax rate in each state for an active shareholder, assuming that their last dollar earned was a profit.
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Passive shareholders do not pay any payroll tax on their income since they do not draw a wage from the business. Instead, they are liable for the ACA’s Net Investment Income Tax of 3.8 percent, which only hits income over $200,000 ($250,000 for married filing jointly).

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I think this will motivate some S corporation owners to become surprisingly active in their retirement.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 652

 

Kristine Tidgren ponders The Irony of Yesterday’s Limited ACA Penalty Relief (ISU-CALT). She notes that some employees whose employers terminated these plans in the face of the $100 per-day-per employee penalty end up worse off than those whose employers continued the plans and whose penalties were waived by the IRS in Notice 2015-17. “Bottom line, the employee of the compliant employer walks away with only about 60% of the benefit received by the employee of the noncompliant employer.”

And that is true, as far as it goes. The apparent purpose of these rules is to force employers to either sponsor a group health insurance plan under the employer SHOP marketplace (good luck with that in Iowa right now), or to send the employees to the individual exchange. So it wasn’t about whether employees were covered, it was about whether their coverage was done under the right government supervision.

But the Obamacare drafters were careless. While they imposed a $100-per-day, per employee penalty for sponsors of plans that reimburse employee premiums, they also left the tax incentives for such plans under Section 105 in place. So while one code section punished employers for reimbursing individual health premiums, another rewarded employees for receiving the reimbursements. Given the mixed message, no wonder many employers didn’t realize that their long-time employee benefit was suddenly a bad thing.

Of course, absent the waiver, many of the employees receiving a premium reimbursement would be much worse off — their employers would go broke paying a $36,500 non-deductible fine for each employee for the crime of covering their individual premiums. As bad results go, this is a lot worse than the loss of a tax benefit by the compliant employer’s employee.

 

Caleb Newquist, #BusySeasonZen: The Train Snowblower (Going Concern). In case you think you’re having a tough winter.

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/10/15: Iowa House may vote on conformity today. And: pass-through isn’t the same as “small.”

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

IMG_1284Iowa Conformity Update: No action yesterday in the Iowa House on SF 126, the Senate-passed bill that conforms Iowa income to federal rules, except for bonus depreciation. The house version of the bill, HF 125, is scheduled for debate today in the Iowa House. That means we may have a vote today.

Update, 9:15 a.m. SF 126 passes Iowa House, 94-0. The Senate-passed bill was substituted for HF 125 on the floor and approved. It now goes to the Governor, who is expected to sign.

 

Kyle Pomerleau, Some Pass-Through Businesses are Significant Employers (Tax Policy Blog):

In the United States, most businesses are not C corporations. 95 percent of businesses are what are called pass-through businesses. These businesses are called pass-throughs because their income is passed directly to their owners, who then need to pay individual income taxes on it. Contrast this with C corporations that need to pay the corporate income tax on its income before it passes its earnings to its owners. Combined, pass-through businesses employ 55 percent of all private-sector workers and pay nearly 40 percent of all private-sector payroll.

When business income is taxed on the 1040 and income tax rates are raised, the business has less income to hire and grow.

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Not recognizing the fact that pass-through businesses can be large employers can bring about poor policy choices. For example, increases in the top marginal individual income tax rate will not only hit individuals with high wage income or business income, it may hit a significant number of large employers who are organized as pass-through businesses. Conversely, some policies that are aimed at helping small businesses, such as state-level pass-through business income tax exemptions, could incidentally benefit large established businesses.

Unfortunately, no individual rate is ever high enough for some people.

 

younker elevatorsHoward GleckmanTax Subsidies May Not Help Start-Ups as Much as Lawmakers Think (TaxVox):

But the biggest reason startups may be unable to take advantage of tax subsidies is that they often lose money in their early years. In theory, generous preferences such as Sec. 179, the research and experimentation credit, or even the ability to deduct interest costs are all available to startups. In reality, many cannot use them because they make no profit and, thus, pay no tax.

Firms can carry net operating losses forward for up to 20 years but these NOLs are far less valuable than immediate deductions for three reasons—money loses value over time, some firms never generate enough income to take full advantage of their unused losses, and some lose their NOLs when they are acquired. A 2006 Treasury study found that at least one-quarter of these losses are never used and others lose substantial value.

One way to help this problem would be to increase the loss carryback period. Businesses can only carry net operating losses two years. Corporations in Iowa and some other states can’t carry them back at all.

Consider a business that has income in year one, breaks even in years 2 and 3, and loses enough to go broke in year four. It never gets the year 1 taxes back, even though over its life it lost money.

An increased loss carryback period would be especially useful to pass-through owners, enabling some of them to get tax refunds to keep their businesses alive. But once the government has your money, they hate to give it back.

Loosening the “Sec. 382″ restrictions on loss trafficking would also help. A struggling business would be more likely to get investment funds if the investor could at least count on using some otherwise wasted tax losses. But the government is more interested in protecting its revenue than in helping struggling businesses.

 

Department of Foreseeable Unintended ConsequencesTax Analysts Jennifer DePaul reports ($link):

 While a joint session of the New York State Legislature on February 9 heard Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal, the governor released more details about several tax measures included in his budget plan.

Among them was a proposal designed to crack down on tax scofflaws by suspending the driver’s licenses of debtors who owe the state as little as $5,000.

This means taxpayers with relatively small balances due will be deprived of their legal transportation to get to work. This means some taxpayers will have to quit their jobs and never get caught up with their debt, leading to a financial death spiral. Others will try to get to work, get locked up for driving on a suspended license, lose their jobs because they didn’t show up, and go into a financial death spiral. It’s a recipe for locking more people into the underclass because their Governor wants their money faster.

Related: Brian Doherty, Drivers License Suspensions Slamming the Working Poor for No Particular Good Reason in Florida  (Reason.com); Megan McArdle, Cities Dig for Profit by Penalizing the Poor

 

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Russ Fox, Harassing IRS Agents Isn’t a Bright Idea. “Speaking of ways to get in trouble with the IRS, one is to harass an IRS agent. They don’t like it (and it’s a crime).”

Tony Nitti, Are You Exempt From The Obamacare Insurance Penalty?

Robert Wood has 7 Reasons Not To File Your Taxes Early, Even If You’ll Get A Refund. “Measure twice, cut once.”

Paul Neiffer, How Do Repair Regulations Affect My Farm Operation? It does. Find out more when Paul helps present a webinar on the topic for the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation February 18.

William Perez, How Dividends Are Taxed and Reported on Tax Returns

 

Peter Reilly, Tax Court Hammers IRS CI Who Went Out Into The Cold. The strange, sad saga of Joe Banister.

Leslie Book, Some More Updates on IRS Annual Filing Season Program and Refundable Credit Errors. Leslie thinks that preparer regulation would help. I believe the persistent high rate of incorrect EITC payments in spite of increasing IRS initiatives to bug preparers and force them to document due diligence for EITC clients shows that preparer regulation won’t solve this problem.

Jason Dinesen, Send a 1099-C to a Non-Paying Customer? Updated. Probably unwise.

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Jeremy Scott, Finance Committee Review of 1986 Act Smacks of Desperation (Tax Analysts Blog):

The Senate Finance Committee will try to use history as a guide to break the logjam on tax reform. The Republican-led body will hold a February 10 hearing featuring former Finance Chair Bob Packwood and former Sen. Bill Bradley, who will talk about the process that led to the historic legislation that redefined the tax code and has left its imprint on the minds of would-be tax reformers for almost three decades now. However, looking back at 1986 appears more desperate than inspired because most of the factors that existed then are almost totally absent now.

I think all this Congress can accomplish is to not make things work, and to lay the groundwork for a tax reform that might be enacted in a more congenial political climate.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 642.

 

Career Corner. Let’s Discuss: Wearing Headphones at the Office (Jesstercpa, Going Concern). You can tell you are moving up in the CPA world if you get an office with a door, and you can use actual speakers. Unless you are in one of those hideous “open offices,” of course.

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/3/15: President announces fresh new hopeless tax proposals!

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Economic supergenius

160 tax proposals. Close to 160 doomed tax proposals. The President released the details of the tax proposals for his 2015 budget yesterday. Tax Analysts Reports ($link):

The added details on international reforms the administration is seeking serve as “a significant step forward” to flesh out its business tax reform framework and see if there is an “opportunity for movement” on business reform with Congress, a senior Treasury official told reporters at a February 2 briefing on the release of the Treasury’s green book explanation of the revenue proposals in the budget.

Overall, the fiscal 2016 budget includes roughly 160 tax proposals, of which about 30 are new, 45 are modifications or combinations of old proposals, and 85 are the same or similar to the administration’s fiscal 2015 budget, the Treasury official said.

Almost all of these proposals are doomed for this Congress. As most of these couldn’t pass when Democrats controlled the Senate, they’re hardly likely to pass now that they don’t. A GOP Congress is also not about to pass some of the more publicized class warfare proposals, like the increase in the capital gain rate, the taxation of capital gains at death, increase the estate tax rate to 45% (from 40$) and lowering the estate and gift tax lifetime exclusion to $1 million (from $5+ million).

No Walnut STA few proposals might get a sympathetic hearing on their own from GOP taxwriters. These include:

– Cash basis accounting and repeal of Section 263A inventory capitalization for companies with up to $25 million in gross receipts.

– Permanent extension of the Section 1202 exclusion for qualifying small C corporation stock gains.

– Permanent extension of the refundable Child Tax Credit.

– Increasing the maximum Section 179 deduction from $500,000 to $1 million.

A few other corporate welfare gimmicks that might get a hearing include permanent research credits and permanent New Markets Tax Credits.

While there are a few items that might attract GOP support, overall this batch of proposals is more extreme than the ones that went nowhere before. The President probably won’t let Congress just pick out the tasty bits from his proposals, so I expect little to none of this to actually pass.

Flicker image courtesy Michael Coghlan under Creative Commons license.

Flicker image courtesy Michael Coghlan under Creative Commons license.

Other Coverage:

TaxProf, Tax Provisions in President Obama’s FY2016 Budget

WSJ, Obama Would Block Strategies to Pump Up Roth IRAs

Accounting Today, Obama Proposes Sweeping Tax Changes in 2016 Budget

Jeremy Scott, Obama’s Foreign Earnings Tax: 19 Percent Minimum DOA but Deemed Repatriations Key (Tax Analysts Blog)

Kyle Pomerleau, The President’s Tax on Offshore Earnings Represents the Worst of Retroactive Policy (Tax Policy Blog)

Len Burman, Are Accrued Capital Gains Income in the Year You Die? (TaxVox). “But reclassifying exceptionally thrifty middle-class families to the top of the income distribution by counting a lifetime of unrealized gains in income when they die clearly overstates their well-being.”

Tony Nitti, Tax Aspects Of The President’s FY2016 Budget

TaxGrrrl, Obama Budget Proposal Tackles Small Business, Changes To IRS

Kay Bell, Tax highlights in Obama’s FY2016 budget proposal

Annette Nellen, President Obama’s 2015 Tax Proposals

 

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Megan McArdle, Government Blinks Again on Obamacare, a discussion of the IRS announcement that it won’t impose the failure-to-pay penalty on exchange policy purchasers who have to repay some subsidy:

The IRS emphasizes that this is a one-time-only deal, just for 2014. But I’m not sure if you should believe that. This emphasizes one of the problems we’ve spoken about a lot in this space: The political will to impose the costs of the Affordable Care Act is a lot less strong than the will to distribute the benefits.

It also telegraphs that the IRS expects that a lot of taxpayers who are anticipating a refund will be instead writing a check on April 15.

 

20140925-2Peter Reilly, Repair Regs And Tax Pros Are Like Headlights And Deer:

For the most part, the people who have been really looking at these regulations have had a large firm perspective.  To be a just a little cynical, they actually kind of like all this complexity, since they can make a case for sending out big bills to entities that can afford to pay them.  My brief time at the national level, not Big 4, but with many former Big 4 people made me realize there is a radically different perspective at that level.  They are used to having a very small number of competitors for any client who more or less sing from the same hymn book.  The client people that they deal with are quite likely fellow members of the Big 4 cult rather than tight fisted entrepreneurs who resent every penny they spend on professionals.

Regulation always favors the big, and the “repair regulations” are no exception.

 

Russ Fox, Fake Interest Income, Fake Withholding, Real Fraud at the Tax Court. “What is amazing to me is that the petitioner has not, as far as I can tell, been criminally indicted.”

Robert Wood, The Truth About Lying On Your Tax Return.  “…as with your resume, making up something on your tax return is a terrible idea.”

Martin Sullivan, JCT Report Provides New Insight on Competitiveness (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 635

 

News from the Profession: How Internal Controls Will Keep You Safe From Velociraptors (Leona May, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/27/15: IRS waives late payment penalty for ACA tax credit recapture. And more!

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20140413-1Be thankful for small favors. Perhaps millions of taxpayers will face an unhappy surprise this tax season thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The ACA provides a tax credit to help taxpayers up to 400% of the poverty level pay for insurance purchased on an ACA exchange. The credit is computed based on an estimate of the taxpayer’s household income and paid directly to the insurance company; the premium paid by the taxpayer is reduced by the same amount.

At tax time, the policyholder-taxpayers have to compare their actual income to the income they estimated when they bought the policy. If the actual income is higher than what was estimated, they may have to repay thousands of dollars in credits paid to the insurers.

Yesterday the IRS provided some cold consolation (Notice 2015-9) for these folks, for 2014 returns only. If they can’t come up with the cash to pay the tax on April 15, the IRS will waive the penalty for late payment of taxes if the amount is reported on a timely return. They are also waiving penalties for underpayment of estimated tax attributable to the credit.

20121120-2Taxpayers claiming the waiver are just supposed to file the return without the payment for the recaptured excess credit. Then when the IRS sends an underpayment demanding payment with penalties, they are supposed to respond with a letter saying “I am eligible for the relief granted under Notice 2015-9 because I received excess advance payment of the premium tax credit.” That will go over well, I’m sure. They also have pay up by April 15, 2016, with interest.

These waivers don’t cover the separate penalty for failing to carry health insurance — the “individual mandate” — because the IRS can’t assess penalties for not paying it in the first place.

Unfortunately, the IRS has not yet issued a blanket waiver for the much more severe penalties on employers with non-compliant premium reimbursement arrangements (“Section 105 plans“). We’ll see if the IRS wants to tangle with the thousands of 2014 waiver requests they will receive if they don’t issue a blanket waiver, one-at-a-time.

Related:

Tony Nitti, IRS: No Penalties For Late Repayments Of The Premium Tax Credit

Megan McArdle, Reality Check on Obamacare Year Two

Me: The ACA and filing season. Be afraid.

 

Robert D. Flach brings you your fresh Tuesday Buzz, including advice about checking information returns and choosing a preparer.

TaxGrrrl, Credit Cards, The IRS, Form 1099-K And The $19,399 Reporting Hole. “Tucked in the middle of the housing bill was a provision that had absolutely nothing to do with housing: a new requirement that banks and credit card merchants to report payments to the IRS.”

Kay Bell, Don’t become a tax identity theft victim. Good idea.

William Perez, A First Look at TaxACT Free File Edition

Russ Fox, The Form 3115 Conundrum: “This year there’s a conundrum faced by tax professionals: Do we need to file a Form 3115 for every taxpayer who has equipment, depreciation, rental property, inventory, etc.?”

I think we will need many 3115 filings, but I don’t think they are required for everyone. As Russ notes, nobody seems to know for sure.

Robert Wood, How Yahoo’s Alibaba ‘Sale’ Skirts Tax Billions, Buffett-Like.

Peter Reilly, A Free Kent Hovind Might Have Backing For A Bigger Better Dinosaur Theme Park. It really is an amazing world.

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Stephen Entin, The President Proposes a Second Tax on Estates (Tax Policy Blog):

The step-up in basis is no loophole. The step-up is needed to prevent double or triple taxation of the same assets. Without it, the president’s plan could result in a 68 percent tax rate on capital gains upon death (the inheritance would be taxed at the 40 percent estate tax rate plus the proposed 28 percent tax rate on capital gains).

It’s worse than that, considering inflation and the fact that those assets were purchased with after-tax income in the first place.

Jeremy Scott, Three Early Signs of What to Expect From Congress (Tax Analysts Blog): “It will be unpredictable.”

IMG_1116TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 628 “The pattern begins with blatant denials — bald lies — and stonewalling. … Next in the pattern, when the lies fail, comes the attribution of responsibility to the lowest level of bureaucrat. …”

Martin Sullivan, Is There Now a Window of Opportunity for Tax Reform? (Tax Analysts Blog). Spoiler: “We will have to wait until 2017 for any real progress on tax reform. And by no means is there any guarantee of movement then.”

Howard Gleckman, Is Dynamic Scoring of Tax Bills Ready For Prime Time?

Sebastian Johnson, Sam Brownback’s White Whale. “Little did Kansas voters know that in reelecting Sam Brownback they were actually voting for a vengeful old sea captain obsessed with one issue above all others – eliminating the state’s personal income tax.”

 

Career Corner. Stop Using These Played Out Words in Your LinkedIn Profile Immediately (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/26/15: Is Iowa 2014 tax season in jeopordy? And: how “trust fund tax” encourages trusts.

Monday, January 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitors: Here is the accounting method post mentioned by “in the blogs.”

 

20130117-1Uh-oh. Is there a holdup on passing the annual “conformity” bill at the statehouse? This from Republican State Senator Bill Anderson in the Sioux City Journal is a bad sign:

Senate Democrats are playing politics with the issue. The Department of Revenue is recommending accountants tell clients to delay filing their taxes until a decision is made. Senate Democrats’ indecisiveness to pass legislation in a timely manner creates uncertainty for taxpayers and tax professionals, preventing them from filing returns.

I had not heard there was any difficulty here. I hope it’s not serious, but I will be watching it more closely now.

This is another example of why Iowa should have a “floating conformity” rule. I don’t understand why they can’t say they will automatically adopt federal extender changes. If they want to leave out bonus depreciation, that could be done with language excluding that from the automatic conformity. We shouldn’t have to go into February without knowing what the state tax law is for the prior year.

 

Janet Novack, Obama Attack On “Trust Fund Loophole” Could Increase Tax Advantage Of Trusts. “Without step-up, there would, for example, be an even greater tax advantage to putting assets that are likely to explode in value—such as founders’ stock in a hot start-up—into an irrevocable trust for children or grandchildren.”

 

Kay Bell, Capital gains gain in income reporting, but tax hike unlikely

Jack Townsend, Fifth Circuit Rejects Attempt on Direct Appeal to Withdraw Guilty Plea in False Claims Conspiracy Case

Jim Maule, No Agreement? No Alimony Deduction. In divorce, paperwork is everything.

Robert Wood, 10 Crazy Sounding Tax Deductions IRS Says Are Legit. My favorite is “free beer.”

20130607-2Anthony Nitti, IRS Futher Limits Deductions For State-Legal Marijuana Facilities:

Most notably, Section 280E provides that “no deduction is allowed for any amount incurred in a business that consists of trafficking in controlled substances.” Because marijuana finds itself on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the IRS has the ammunition necessary to deny the deductions of any facility that sells the drug.

And it does. Regularly.

I hope nobody really believes this actually prevents any drug crimes. What it does is add a crushing tax debt that helps ensure that anybody who gets involved in drug traffic can never reform and become a productive member of society.

 

Robert Goulder, Should the Mayor of London Pay U.S. Taxes? (Tax Analysts Blog):

True, there are tax treaty protections at play and foreign tax credits available. But the point of the story isn’t double taxation; it’s jurisdictional overreach. Many will argue that a citizenship-based tax regime is unfair and heavy-handed.

The U.S. is the only country that does it. Oh, Eritrea, too.

Stephen Olsen, The Gift that Keeps on Taking–Does Section 6324(b) Limit Gift Tax to the Value of the Gift or Can the IRS Take More? (Procedurally Taxing)

 

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

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

Alan Cole, The IRS Has Too Many Responsibilities (Tax Policy Blog):

On one hand, the IRS’s basic responsibilities have gotten less onerous over the years. More and more taxpayers file electronically, which means that everything just zips straight into the IRS’s computer system with little need for human oversight. This should mean that the IRS really doesn’t need to grow, and if anything it could stand to shrink.

But on the other hand, the IRS has been overloaded with all sorts of additional responsibilities. It’s acting as an extension of the Department of Health and Human Services in enforcing the Affordable Care Act. It’s acting as an extension of the Federal Election Commission and regulating political speech (an authority it has perhaps not used so well.) It’s acting as an extension of the Department of Energy with its residential energy credits, and it’s acting as an extension of the Department of Education in offering deductions and credits for teachers and students. It has to figure out who has health insurance and who has children and where the children live. It even has to try to get data from foreign banks, due to the complexity of our worldwide system of taxation. The more arbitrary things find their way into the tax code, the more verification systems the IRS has to put in place.

These are only a few of the non-revenue responsibilities dumped on the IRS that uses the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Beyond the bottle opener and the screwdriver, every gadget you add makes it harder to use it as a knife, and now we have a Swiss Army Knife the size of a railcar.

 

20140919-2Gretchen Tegeler, Benefits and Costs of DARTing Forward  (IowaBiz.com), on the troubling financial structure behind Des Moines’ public tansportaiton:

Despite a nearly 20 percent increase in ridership over this period, there has been no associated increase in fare-based revenue.  If more millennials are riding the bus, why aren’t we seeing an increase in operating revenue?  The absence of growth in operating revenue suggests that all of the recent improvements in service and ridership have been funded by non-users, i.e. from increases in property taxes.  Are we okay with this model? How far should we go with it?

Maybe if they had to rely more on farebox revenue, they would spend less on things like the downtown Palace of Transit.

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 627

Glenn Reynolds, Middle-class Savings Like Blood in the Water. Paying for “free” college and student loan subsidies by taking money out of the pockets of those who save for college sets up a strange incentive structure.

Megan McArdle, Uncle Sam Is Coming After Your Savings. They need it to buy you “free” stuff.

 

Career Corner. The Public Accountant’s Definitive Guide to Disclosure of Past Convictions (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/9/15: Senators: preparers aren’t doing a good enough job on the tax law we’ve butchered.

Friday, January 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
wyden

Senator Wyden

Senators get behind IRS preparer regulation power grab. Accounting Today reports:

Two Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee have introduced legislation to regulate paid tax preparers in response to the federal court decision that found the Internal Revenue Service had exceeded its statutory authority in regulating preparers.

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., unveiled legislation Thursday that provides the Treasury Department and the IRS explicit authority to regulate paid tax return preparers. Wyden chaired the committee until control of the Senate changed after last November’s elections.

They call their yet unnumbered bill the “Taxpayer Protection and Preparer Proficiency Act of 2015.” A better name would be “A Bill to Boost the Revenue of the Major Franchise Tax Preparation Outfits.”

Whatever idealistic motives might be behind this bill (though I don’t give senators the benefit of the doubt for a second), the effect will be to protect and enhance the market share of the national tax prep firms. It was no coincidence that the overturned IRS preparer regulation program was drafted by a former H&R Block executive who came out the other side of the revolving door as a Treasury employee.

Regulation always favors the big. The national firms can spread the costs of compliance over a much bigger base of work, while a sole practitioner has to be her own regulation compliance department. A paperwork hangup or computer burp in the preparer regulation database can wreck a year’s business for a sole practitioner, but wouldn’t stop H&R Block or Liberty Tax for a moment.

It is argued that such regulation is needed to protect us from incompetents by imposing a “competency test.” As the test administered under the abortive IRS regulation program was more a literacy test than a competency test, this is hard to credit.  And anybody who has practiced in a regulated profession like accounting or law knows that while you can make someone pass a test, you can’t make him competent.

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

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

The list of bills introduced this week in Congress in today’s Tax Notes shows what the real tax prep problem is: Congresscritters like Senator Wyden. In addition to his preparer bill, the Senator introduced a bill:

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide a tax incentive to individuals teaching in elementary and secondary schools located in rural or high unemployment areas and to individuals who achieve certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and for other purposes. 

This is just one more example of legislators using the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy. As the knife gets more unwieldy with every new gadget added to it, the tax law gets a little less better at collecting revenue with every new program added to it. Picture a Swiss Army Knife the size of a railcar.

 

And it’s not like Congress isn’t already doing enough for the national tax prep outfits, as Megan McArdle explains in Latest Tax Season Headache? Obamacare:

There’s been a lot of talk about the “hidden taxes” in the Affordable Care Act, but here’s one I hadn’t thought of before or seen mentioned anywhere: the sudden need for folks with simple tax returns to avail themselves of the services of a paid professional. If you have no income outside a modest salary, and not much in the way of potential deductions such as huge mortgage interest or state tax bills, then there was really no reason to use a tax preparer. Even the mathematically challenged should, with the aid of a calculator, be able to fill out their 1040EZ forms just fine. But Obamacare has introduced a significant level of complexity into the taxes of lower-middle-class wage earners.

That’s true. And a lot of folks who have used preparers will find their costs going up to pay for the extra work that will be required.

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Kay Bell, IRS contacts tax preparers about filing mistakes; Thousands warned of Schedule C business income & child tax credit errors. Funny, I thought preparers weren’t regulated at all.

Jason Dinesen, The IRS’s Preparer Directory Will Be Bad News for Enrolled Agents. EAs have less lobbying clout than CPAs or the national tax prep outfits, and it shows.

 

Paul Neiffer, Should I File By March 1? “Therefore, if your tax for 2013 was very low and your tax for this year will be very high, talk this over with your tax advisor to see if it makes sense to pay an estimated tax payment on January 15 and wait until April 15 to make the final payment.”

Remember, only farmers get this break, and many are finding that the need to wait on K-1s from other investments makes filing a correct March 1 return impossible.

William Perez, Tips for a Tax-Efficient Divorce, Plus a List of What to Do First. From what I’ve seen, it’s even more tax-efficient to stay married.

In spite of the cold, we can count on Robert D. Flach for a fresh Friday Buzz roundup of news from around the tax blog world.

 

20130130-4Tim Worstall, Tax Avoidance And Tax Evasion Are To The Benefit Of Us All, picking up on David Henderson’s post that we mentioned earlier this week:

The crucial point is really how one views the activities of government. And there’s two views that seem to be held. One that I regard as hopelessly naive and simplistic, the second something very much closer to reality. That first is that all of the things that government does for us are beneficial to us and that limiting what it does do harms us all. The second is that some parts of what government does are things which both must be done and can only be done by government, but that a rather large part of what it attempts to do shouldn’t be done at all, whether by government or not.

I think this point is correct, though I’m sure Jim Maule would disagree with vigor. I also agree with this point that he quotes: “Government maximizes revenues; it does not levy revenues only to produce genuine public goods.” I also believe tax avoidance and evasion can serve as a check on overreach, but I suspect it only works in pretty bad situations.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 610

Renu Zaretsky, Taxes: To Be Considered, Rejected, or Collected. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the upcoming federal budget proposal, Cadillac taxes on health plans, and an “impossible dream” bill that purports to both abolish the imcome tax and balance the budget.

 

IMG_2535Cara Griffith, Mississippi Needs a Dose of Transparency (Tax Analysts Blog). “The Mississippi Department of Revenue does not publish opinions and decisions resulting from its audit appeals process, even though it may use those opinions and decisions as precedent.”

I notice Iowa hasn’t published any new rulings in two months now.

Liz Malm, Taxplainer: The State and Local Tax Impact of the Keystone Pipeline. “According to the analysis, property taxes collected during construction would amount to just under $4 million and would be spread out over seven counties in the three impacted states. ”

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 1/8: All Eyes on the Governors (Tax Justice Blog)

 

Career Corner. Make the Best of Busy Season, You Big Babies (Amber Setter, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/8/15: Tax shelter turned upside down: S Corp – ESOP structure produces pretend income. And: you are the 1%!

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

tack shelterFlaky tax shelters are supposed to generate pretend losses. You know a shelter has gone very bad when it generates pretend income instead. Yet that’s how it worked out for an “S corporation ESOP management company” plan considered by the Tax Court yesterday.

The plan involved a partnership, a C corporation, an S corporation, and an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The ESOP owned 100% of the S corporation. S corporation income is taxed to its owners. As a tax-exempt entity receiving special treatment from the tax law, ESOP-owned S corporations can achieve Tax Fairy-like results. The ESOP’s can earn non-taxed business income passing through from the S corporation (though this gets very tricky and dangerous when there are few ESOP beneficiaries).

The plan was hatched by A. Blair Stover, who has shown up in these pixels before. Mr. Stover started his tax career with a national firm in Nebraska, moving on from there to Kansas City and then to California, leaving questionable tax shelters in his wake. He was barred from promoting shelters like the one in this case in an injunction affirmed by the Eighth Circuit in 2011.

This plan involved the payment of “management fees” and other purported expenses by a partnership owned by the taxpayer and his spouse that ended up in his ESOP-owned S corporation. The partnership appears to have had no other purpose than to gin up deductions by paying pretend management fees and other expenses. The taxpayers deducted the “expenses” on their 1040, with the idea that they would avoid tax because they flowed through the S corporation to the ESOP.

tax fairyWhen the IRS went after Mr. Stover’s shelters, his clients received unpleasant IRS attention. In yesterday’s Tax Court case, the taxpayers signed a settlement agreeing to include in income on their 1040 the purported management fees paid to the ESOP.

So far, so good. But the agreement didn’t address the other side of the deal – the deduction for the payment of the purported fees by the partnership. The taxpayers claimed that if they had to pick up the pretend fees in income, they should get to deduct them too. Fair’s fair.

But if you want fairness, the tax law might not be the place to seek it.  The court held that while they agreed to pick up the extra income, their settlement said nothing about a deduction, and they were stuck with the results (my emphasis, citations omitted):

Generally, recognition of income does not inexorably prove a corresponding deductible expense. For example, payments to a promoter in furtherance of a tax avoidance scheme constitute income to the promoter, but they are not deductible under section 162 by the payor.  Furthermore, that petitioners might otherwise be obliged to recognize phantom income does not relieve them of their obligation to identify some legal authority for the deduction, nor does it permit the Court to manufacture such authority from whole cloth.

Petitioners’ phantom income argument amounts, in essence, to a plea for fairness. This Court strives to avoid unjust results, but “we are not a court of equity and cannot ignore the law to achieve an equitable end.” Moreover, the parties’ recent stipulation assuages our fairness concerns. In our order of July 1, 2014, we directed the parties to stipulate if possible, or to otherwise brief, the source of and factual and/or legal basis for the income inclusions required by the SOSI. The parties stipulated that the required income inclusions represent “the amount of taxable income petitioners avoided reporting” for tax years 2001 through 2003 because of their use of the management S corporation/ESOP structure. Taxable income is a term that is defined in the Code. Section 63 generally defines taxable income as gross income less allowable deductions. The parties’ chosen language thus implies that the $84,837 of income petitioners must include for 2003 pursuant to the SOSI represents not “phantom income” but bona fide, net taxable income that petitioners received and should have reported. So interpreted, the stipulation is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with petitioners’ theory for deducting the administration fee.

The result: a reverse tax shelter, generating only phantom income.

I’m not sure this too-bad-to-be-true result would hold up on appeal, but it does serve a warning. The Tax Fairy is a fickle sprite, and she can magically generate income for those seeking magical deductions. And if you agree to include phantom income when the IRS comes after you, make sure they allow the offsetting phantom deduction in writing.

Cite: Wakefield, T.C. Memo 2015-4.

 

IMG_0598Leslie Book, Bank of America on Hot Seat For Issuing Allegedly Incorrect 1099C to Disabled Veteran (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert D Flach explains WHAT’S NEW FOR THE 2014 FORM 1040?

Kay Bell, Daily Tax Tip #2: A tax quiz!

Robert Wood, The 1031 Exchange That Ate New York City. A lesson on the scalability of swaps.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 609. The Worst Commissioner Ever comes out the other side of the revolving door.

 

The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

Scott Sumner on low-income use of untraceable cash at Econlog:

College professors who advocate the elimination of currency are often unaware of how important currency is for those with low incomes, many of who lack bank accounts. For instance, consider someone getting government benefits that are conditional on income (food stamps, EITC, disability, welfare, Medicaid, etc.) This group often faces relatively high implicit marginal tax rates. However currency allows them to supplement their meager benefits with additional earned income, perhaps doing home repair for neighbors, or working as a nanny. Lots of those jobs are paid in cash. If we eliminate physical cash then all transactions will be easily traceable by the government… That’s bad for two reasons; low-income people would see reduced incomes (increasing inequality), and the rest of us will be denied the services that they might have produced in the underground economy. Economists who advocate the elimination of currency need to consider those side effects.

This highlights one of the dangers of the earned income tax credit: its phase-outs serve as a hidden high tax rate on low incomes, resulting in a poverty trap on those earning their way out of poverty.

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Russ Fox, The Tax Court Looks for $1,410 in Dividends. Sometimes you can fight a small injustice and win.

 

We are the 1% Admit It: You’re Rich (Megan McArdle):

The cutoff for the global 1 percent starts quite a bit lower than the parochial American version preferred by pundits. I’m on it. So is David Sirota. And if your personal income is higher than $32,500, so are you.  

It’s all a matter of perspective.

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/29/14: Why AMT matters in year-end planning. And: Laffering it up.

Monday, December 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitors! Click here to find the capital gains planning item from “In the Blogs.”

IMG_1944How AMT can make prepaying state and local taxes a false move. Prepaying state and local taxes is a venerable year-end tax planning move. It can also be a costly one, thanks to the Alternative Minimum Tax. If you are in AMT this year — perhaps thanks to a big non-recurring capital gain — but you won’t be next year, prepaying your state and local taxes might result in your taxes actually being much higher over the two-year period.

An example involving a fictional Iowa married couple shows how this works. The couple has one earner with $150,000 in self-employment earnings in 2014 and 2015. In 2014 the couple generates $300,000 in a one-time capital gain.

If the couple prepays their 2014 state tax on the capital gain, they get a federal tax benefit of precisely zero in 2014; the capital gain causes them to be in AMT whatever they do because the capital gain rates are the same for AMT and regular tax.

In 2015, the couple has no AMT on their $150,000 of self-employment income. Nor do they have AMT even after paying both their 2014 Iowa balance due and their 2015 Iowa estimates. My projection software comes up with these numbers (yes, oversimplified, but the concepts hold):

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This shows that prepaying the taxes would be a $6,043 mistake for the couple.

There are cases where prepaying state taxes makes sense. There are also cases where AMT makes doing so a blunder. Make sure you run the numbers before you mail that check.

 

In case you missed it over the holidays, central Iowa’s only SHOP marketplace insurance provider was taken over by Iowa’s insurance regulators last week.  Read about it here.

 

Younkers ruins 20140610William Perez offers A First Look at ABLE Savings Accounts. These accounts, included in this month’s “extender” bill, allow Section 529-like benefits for accounts set up to pay disability costs.

Robert D. Flach, THE CLOCK IS TICKING. For 2014 Qualified Charitable Distributions from IRAs.

Mitch Maahs, Summary of the Tax Extenders in the Tax Increase Prevention Act (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

Kay Bell, Look out for phishing scam from fake Treasury Secretary

Jack Townsend, Tax Return Preparers Convicted of Conspiracy and Failure to File FBARs. They chose badly.

Cara Griffith, Crowdfunding and State Taxation (Tax Analysts Blog). Is Kickstarter funding taxable income or taxable sales?

Tim Todd, 4th Cir. Rejects Conservation Easement with Substitution Provision

Peter Reilly, Phantom Mares And Real Trucks Don’t Make For A Winning Horse Loss Tax Case. Plus, it’s really hard to find good phantom breeding studs.

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Renu Zaretsky, Will Tax Reforming Be Forgot and Never Brought to Mind? This TaxVox headline roundup covers the Kansas struggles with careless tax reform, among other things.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 599

 

Stephen MooreThe Laffer Curve turns 40: the legacy of a controversial idea:

To punctuate his point, he grabbed a pen and a cloth cocktail napkin and drew a chart showing that when tax rates get too high, they penalize work and investment and can actually lead to revenue losses for the government. Four years later, that napkin became immortalized as “the Laffer Curve”…

Laffer Curve, via Wikipedia

Laffer Curve, via Wikipedia

The idea that tax rates can become so high that they actually reduce net revenue shouldn’t be controversial. If you have a 100% tax rate on an activity, you will avoid that activity, or at least letting the government know about it. Of course, a zero rate will also generate no tax revenue. The revenue-maximizing rate is somewhere in between.

Unfortunately, some people on the right have taken this point and jumped to the conclusion that tax cuts will always cause such increased taxable activity that tax revenues will increase. That’s as much a fallacy as left-side assumptions that increasing taxes can never be economically-harmful or revenue-reducing.

The real issues should be identifying the point at which the harms to economic activity and to revenues occur. It seems likely that the economically-damaging rate is lower than the revenue-maximizing rate, as Megan McArdle discusses here. These points have to differ for different kinds of tax. A 30% income tax rate might not be very destructive to economic activity, but a 30% sales tax would hurt, and a 30% gross receipts tax would be ruinous. The results also differ for state and federal taxes, given how much easier it is for activity to to move between states than between countries.

All this, of course, ignores the obvious question of how much revenue the government needs in the first place. I would argue that a well-run government limited to its proper sphere wouldn’t have to ask these questions all the time.

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/20/14: ACA and filing season pessimism revisited.

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: The Tax Update will take tomorrow off. I will be in Phoenix tomorrow on a panel on state film tax credits sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislators.  The panel will include, among others, Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation. Normal programming resumes Monday.

 

guillotineACA frenzy! Thanks to a kind Twitter mention from Megan McArdle (who you really should follow at @asymmetricinfo), my Tuesday post on ACA and filing-season dread made it to a wider audience than usual, including the readers of Real Clear Politics. A cousin who I normally only see at family weddings and funerals saw it and sent me a note (Hi, Bob!), so I know it really got around.

It has also generated questions in the comments and the Twitterverse that are worth addressing. We’ll start with this from Alan in the comments:

In a few months when people receive their W2’s they will get a real shock when all the employer paid share of the company paid share of health care plan is included in their gross pay and now they must pay taxes on all that extra income.

Obamacare is ugly, but it isn’t that ugly. While many (but not all) employers will disclose the cost of coverage on W-2 box 12 (code DD), it will not be included in W-2 Box 1, “taxable wages.” From IRS.gov, Employer-Provided Health Coverage Informational Reporting Requirements: Questions and Answers:

Q1. Does the cost of an employee’s health care benefits shown on the Form W-2 mean that the benefits are taxable to the employee?

A. No. There is nothing about the reporting requirement that causes or will cause excludable employer-provided health coverage to become taxable. The purpose of the reporting requirement is to provide employees useful and comparable consumer information on the cost of their health care coverage.

20121120-2From Ms. McArdle on Twitter:

Any chance it won’t be that bad?

I suppose that depends on what “that bad” means. Blood seeping from the walls, shape-shifting brain-eaters from Planet Zargon, cats and dogs living together– probably not that bad. But there’s still plenty of bad to go around. The things that worry me:

- Many taxpayers will not have the information handy to determine their health insurance status for all 12-months of 2014. Only those who buy insurance on the exchanges will have Form 1095, the information return on insurance status.  Others are supposed to get information from employers, but they are likely to lose track of it, especially this first year.

- Lacking any matching documents, taxpayers will be tempted to claim coverage where there is none, or maybe wasn’t for part of the year, to avoid penalties. There won’t be an easy way to verify this. Preparers will either have to take taxpayers at their word or send them back for proof (or, inadvertently, to another preparer). It’s always bad when taxpayers feel they should lie to preparers. Yet as the IRS will often have no way to detect false claims of coverage, they will feel like chumps for telling the truth.

- Taxpayers with penalties for non-coverage will be irate when they find they get no refund. As Ms. McArdle wisely put it, “I do not have hard figures on this, but my basic experience in personal finance and tax reporting suggests that approximately zero percent of those affected will be expecting the havoc it will wreak on their tax refund.” Experience shows that the taxpayer’s first instinct is that the preparer screwed up.

- It will be even worse when we have to tell people to repay advance health-care tax credits paid to insurers to lower consumer out-of-pocket costs. This can happen when actual taxable income exceeds the amounts estimated when coverage was obtained on the exchanges. As the taxpayer never “saw the money” — it was paid to the insurer, not to the taxpayer directly — she may not be easily convinced that she has an excess benefit to repay.

20140521-1- Preparers haven’t had to deal with this before. Any new tax provision has a learning curve, and this is a complicated one that will apply to almost everyone. In many cases, preparers will mess up, being human. Getting it right will take extra time that is hard to come by during tax season.

- This doesn’t even touch the problems that many small employers are going to be dealing with as they realize their Section 105 individual coverage premium reimbursement plans, and their cafeteria plans funding premium payments on individual policies obtained by employees, are considered non-compliant under the ACA “market reforms.” At $100 per employee, per day, the penalties could be ruinous. While taxpayers are encouraged to report the penalties on Form 8928 and zero them out with a “reasonable cause” claim, we don’t know yet how generous the IRS will be in granting reasonable cause relief. Figuring out what to do here will be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for taxpayers and preparers, unless the IRS issues a blanket penalty waiver for 2014 (as it should).

On top of all this, we will probably have another late “extender” bill like we had two seasons ago, which made for an awful tax season by itself. Maybe things will go well this season, but so many things seem likely to go wrong that it’s hard to be optimistic.

 

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2014: #6-The IRS (Finally) Figures Out The Real Estate Professional Rules. It’s an excellent lesson on the tax rules covering “real estate professionals” and passive losses — and by extension, the 3.8% net investment income tax.

TaxGrrrl, Al Sharpton Denounces Claims He Owes Millions In Taxes To IRS, New York.

Jack Townsend, Another UBS/Wegelin Related Indictment in SDNY

Peter Reilly, Kent Hovind And Creation Science Evangelism – How Not To Run A Ministry. When it gets you imprisoned, you may well be doing it wrong.

Kay Bell, Former GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan to head House tax panel

Jason Dinesen, I Don’t Have Time to Write Grant Proposals or Meet with Donors … But Give Me Money Anyway!  OK, then…

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Work proceeds in clearing the ruins of the Younkers department store, which burned in March.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 560.

Cara Griffith, Bad News for State Public Pension Plans (Tax Analysts Blog). “New research has come out revealing the level at which state public pension plans are underfunded, and it’s not good news.”

The denial of reality in administering public pensions is amazing. Public defined benefit plans are a lie. Either the public is being lied to about how much current public services cost, or current employees are being lied to about their retirement benefits. Maybe both.

 

20140910-1Alan Cole, Extenders and the Opportunity for Tax Reform (Tax Policy Blog):

The Examiner characterizes many of the extenders as “repugnant carve-outs.” This is undeniably true, but it is also the case that some – but not all – of the tax extenders are genuinely good policy. Particularly, Bonus Depreciation and Section 179 are important for moving the tax code towards proper treatment of new investment.

In any case, the current system of pretending tax provisions are “temporary” to hide their true cost is dishonest and should end.

Renu Zaretsky, “Dead Reform Walking:” On Fairness, Immigration, and Spending. The TaxVox headline roundup covers developments in the Marketplace Fairness Act, extenders and immigration, among other things.

 

News from the Profession. KPMG Gives the Department of Homeland Security a Clean Audit Opinion Because of Course They Did (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern). “I don’t know about you but I feel safer already.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/18/14: The ACA and filing season. Be afraid.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20121120-2Megan McArdle, Reality Check on Obamacare Year Two:

Another thing to keep in mind, however: This open enrollment period isn’t the biggest test for Obamacare in the next 12 months.  The biggest test will be what happens on or around April 15th.  That’s the first time all the people who didn’t buy insurance will get hit with the individual mandate penalty, and the ones who thought that it was a nominal $95 fee are in for a nasty shock .  April 15th will also be the first time that people who got too much in subsidies are going to be asked to pay back some of that money.  I do not have hard figures on this, but my basic experience in personal finance and tax reporting suggests that approximately zero percent of those affected will be expecting the havoc it will wreak on their tax refund.  Brace for a wave of taxpayers angrily complaining to congressmen and their local newspapers.  

After completing the first six sessions as a panelist in continuing education for tax preparers around Iowa, I completely agree. Preparers learning about the process of computing the individual mandate penalty and the tax credit adjustments are appalled.

The first question we receive is: how are we going to get people to pay for this? The taxpayers who will have the biggest issues here will be the ones who formerly had the simplest returns and who will not be excited about paying for an extra 1-4 hours of preparer time.  A chart prepared by the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation to guide preparers through the client interview process for ACA return issues looks like this:

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Courtesy Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation. Full-size version available to TaxPlace subscribers.

 

But it’s worse than even Ms. McArdle knows. It’s not just individual taxpayers who look to get clobbered by this. Based on what I’ve seen at our sessions, dozens or hundreds of Iowa small businesses are starting to figure out that they have had non-compliant health insurance plans so far in 2014 as a result of the ACA “market reforms.”  Non-compliance carries a penalty of $100 per day, per employee. At $36,500 per employee per year, it doesn’t take too much of this to bankrupt a small business. And it’s not as though these employers are doing something abusive; they have just continued funding employee insurance the way they always had, but in ways the “Departments” that run Obamacare no longer like. Or they just might have done all the right things, except for properly notifying employees of their coverage options in writing. Trivial violations, crushing penalties.

While there is a provision to have the penalty waived for reasonable cause, that’s not very comforting in a state where the IRS is willing to loot a restaurant’s bank account without any indication of wrongdoing.  In addition to dealing with a parade of irate individuals with sticker shock from their return fees, let alone their new taxes and penalties, preparers also have to tell noncompliant business-owning clients that they suddenly have a potentially devastating tax liability.

If taxpayers are upset after tax season as practitioners are before it, Obamacare will be about as popular as Ebola by April 15.

 

 

Today in Red Oak.Kay Bell, IRS offers tax relief in certain Ebola situations

Robert D. Flach discusses TAX EFFICIENT INVESTING

Leslie Book, Living With Your Decisions: Delinquent Mortgage Debt (Procedurally Taxing). “Courts and IRS put the kibosh on deductions when the new loan comes from the same lender as the old delinquent loan; the theory in those cases is that the taxpayer has not really gone out of pocket and that there is just a shuffling of papers.”

 

Martin Sullivan, Why the Upcoming Battle Over Expiring Tax Provisions Matters — A Lot (Tax Analysts Blog). “Extenders legislation is not just about the fate of a grab bag of miscellaneous tax provisions this year. If Republicans can get expensive expiring provisions permanently extended, the chances for enactment of tax reform will be significantly improved.”

Steve Warnhoff, New CBO Report: Yes, the Rich Are Paying “a Bit” More (Tax Justice Blog). How much more, Steve?  “New CBO study shows that ‘the rich’ don’t just pay their ‘fair share,’ they pay almost everybody’s share.” (Via Instapundit):

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Kyle Pomerleau, CBO: Overall Federal Taxing and Spending is Progressive (Tax Policy Blog)

 

Donald Marron, Spin Alert: DOE Loans Are Losing Money, Not Making Profits (TaxVox). Of course they are losing money. If they were profitable, they wouldn’t need the feds to make the loans.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 558

 

News from the Profession. You’re Not Really as Busy as You Claim (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/28/14: Back-to-school edition! And: IRS says it will stop stealing.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The 2014 tour of Iowa begins. I am helping Roger McEowen and Kristy Maitre teach Day 1 of the Farm and Urban Tax School this year, and this morning we are starting the first of eight sessions in Waterloo. We hit Maquoketa Thursday.  Other sessions will be in Sheldon, Red Oak, Ottumwa, Mason City, Denison and Ames. It’s two great days of CPE, and it’s a bargain. Get your details and sign up for a convenient session at the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation today.  Here is the crowd this morning:

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Looks like fun, no?

f you are a Tax Update reader, come see me (Hi, Kevin!). You qualify for a discount! Well, not really, but I can get you a free postcard from the DNR Chickadee Checkoff booth…

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Have a nice day. We’re All Flies in the IRS’s Widening WebMegan McArdle on the IRS’s sudden turnabout on asset seizures stealing from innocent businesses after the New York Times reported on it:

It’s as if the IRS just noticed that they were grotesquely abusing their power in order to punish people who appear to have done nothing actually wrong. Did this not occur to them when the victims’ lawyers pointed it out? Did none of their thousands of employees wonder aloud whether they really needed to make war on America’s college funds?

I’m sure it was forced on them by budget cuts.

So think about what has happened to our government agencies. We passed a law, to raise taxes, or curb the usage of addicting drugs. That law didn’t work as well as we wanted, because a lot of people were evading it. So we passed new laws, to make it easier to enforce the original one, like requiring banks to report all transactions over $10,000. And then people evaded that, so we made another rule … and now people who had no criminal intent find themselves coughing up tens of thousands of dollars they shouldn’t owe. 

There’s a lot of that in the tax law. FATCA and the FBAR foreign financial account reporting requirements are classic examples of laws nominally aimed at big-time tax evaders that destroy the finances of thousands of innocent foot-faulters.

As in the case of the fly, we were better off leaving the original ailment alone. No, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to catch tax evasion. I’m saying we shouldn’t try so hard that we end up criminalizing a lot of innocent behavior. There are worse things than a country with some tax fraud. And one of those things is a government with vast and arbitrary power to punish people who have done no wrong. 

And a willingness to use it carelessly.

Joseph Henchman, IRS Promises to Curtail Property Seizures After Abuses Come to Light (Tax Policy Blog)

Kay Bell, IRS seizes honest taxpayers’ assets under forfeiture program. “Oh my Lord, IRS. What in the hell were you thinking?”

 

buzz20140909Paul Neiffer, IRS Disagrees With Morehouse Ruling (Of Course). It looks like they will continue to assess SE tax on non-farmers with CRP income outside the Eighth Circuit.

Robert D. Flach has fresh Tuesday Buzz!!

Tax Prof, Tax Revolving Door Enriches Former IRS Officials Who Cash in by Navigating Inversions Through Rules They Wrote. And Commissioner Koskinen approves.

 

Leslie Book, A Combo Notice of Deficiency Claim Disallowance Highlights Tax Court Refund Jurisdiction (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Jeremy Scott, Will a Graduated Income Tax Sink Martha Coakley? (Tax Analysts Blog)

Steve Warnhoff, Senators Defend LIFO, a Tax Break that Obama and Camp Want to Repeal (Tax Justice Blog)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 537. Today’s scandal roundup features Bob Woodward saying “If I were young, I would take Carl Bernstein and move to Cincinnati where that IRS office is and set up headquarters and go talk to everyone.

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Tax Roundup, 10/24/14: IRS attorney says revolving door spins away billions. And: pass-through isn’t always small.

Friday, October 24th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130129-1Taxes are for the little people without connections. A sensational open letter to the top Treasury tax brass from an IRS attorney alleges that the agency routinely shuts off promising examinations of big well-connected taxpayers. From Raw Story (via the TaxProf):

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, IRS commissioner John A. Koskinen, and IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, Jane J. Kim, an attorney in the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel in New York, accused IRS executives of “deliberately” facilitating multi-billion dollar tax giveaways. The letter, dated October 19, will add further pressure on the agency, which is under fire for allegedly targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.

The letter describes three cases where Ms. Kim says the IRS walked away from large well-founded assessments of big corporate taxpayers raised by whistleblowers. The story implicates the revolving door between big law and accounting firms and the top levels of the IRS as a key to the strange taxpayer friendliness.

Bill Henck, who has worked for over 26 years in the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel, agreed. “The senior executives drive the train on all this and pal around with lobbyists,” he said. “Treasury was involved with both the Elmer’s Glue scam and the black liquor taxability issue. IRS executives look out for themselves, which usually means protecting corporate interests, since they hire lobbyists and are close to politicians.”

Backing up Henck’s concerns, the private sector lawyer and ex-IRS attorney explained that since 1998, IRS restructuring has focused on bringing in “outside people.” This led to the employment of an extra layer of executives who were previously “partners from big accounting firms.” Citing active IRS criminal agents, the ex-IRS attorney said: “Almost every large firm or corporation has a person inside the IRS. It’s a revolving door, with the top two or three management layers all from big accounting and law firms, and this is why they won’t work big billion-dollar cases criminally. Private bar attorneys are, in effect, controlling the IRS. It’s a type of corruption – that’s the word used by one IRS agent I’m in touch with whose case was shut down by higher ups without cause.”

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

That brings to mind Commissioner Koskinen’s view of the revolving door:

So I’ve always said the best testimonial to a good place to work is people are forever coming in and trying to steal your people. And so I would be delighted to have young people come here for two or three years and some of them get recruited away because they were so good and the training is so good, because the more of that that happens, the more people are going to stand in line to get here. And as I say, the experience is, because it would be a great place to work, is the capture rate would be terrific.

So the Commissioner thinks the revolving door is a good thing. That probably means Ms. Kim’s letter isn’t exactly going to trigger reforming zeal from Mr. Koskinen. And don’t expect that you can skip out on taxes without your own mole in the IRS, chump.

 

 

Robert D. Flach has your fresh Friday Buzz! Including depressing news that Congresscritters are going to wait until January 2015 to enact the tax laws for 2014.

Kay Bell, Some retirement plan contribution, AGI limits go up in 2015

Brett Bloom, Dismantling a Partnership: The IRS’s Toolbox (Tax Litigation Survey)

William Perez, How to Plan for, Minimize, and Report the Self-Employment Tax

TaxGrrrl, IRS Gets Big Win In Court As Judge Dismisses Tea Party Targeting Cases

Peter Reilly, National Organization For Marriage – No Recovery Of Attorney Fees In Case Against IRS

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 533

 

Kyle PomerleauPass-Through Businesses are not Always Small Businesses (Tax Policy Blog). This article is a good read for anyone who thinks increases in top rates don’t hurt business because most pass-throughs are small. While that may be true, there a lots of large ones:

Compared to c corporations, pass-through businesses are still much smaller on average. The same Census data shows that 1.6 percent of corporate businesses employ 100 or more employees and 0.36 percent employ 500 or more employees. 44 percent employ between 1 and 100 employees.

However, in absolute terms, there are about as many pass-through businesses with 500 or more employees than there are traditional c corporations. According to the Census, there are approximately 9573 pass-through businesses with 500 or more employees and 9434 c corporations with 500 or more employees.

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Source: Tax Foundation

So when you increase taxes on high-income individuals, you are also increasing taxes on employers, which isn’t likely to do good things for employment.

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Robert Goulder, FATCA Envy Spreads Across Hemisphere (Tax Analysts Blog) Other countries just might want to poke into foreign accounts the way we do.

Howard Gleckman, Why Tax Lawyers and Tax Economists Can’t Communicate (TaxVox)

 Megan McArdle,  Can’t Afford a House? Don’t Buy One. Wise advice, but politicians think we should have a program to buy a pony for everyone.

Tax Justice Blog asks What Horrors Await Us in Congress after the Election?  And will they be better or worse horrors than the current bunch of congresscritters?

 

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

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

But, but, deserters!  Traitors!

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Oops.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 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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