Posts Tagged ‘Nina Olson’

Tax Roundup, 5/22/14: IRS teams up with Bernie Madoff. And: more on the new e-file ID rules.

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff

The IRS wants in on Bernie Madoff’s action.  The Tax Court is going to think about it.

Bernard Kessell died in July 2006.  He might have died content believing he was leaving a healthy investment portfolio for his heirs.  After all, just one part of the portfolio had issued its most recent month-end statement showing a value of $3,221,057.  That statement was issued by Bernie Madoff.

Of course Mr. Madoff was arrested in 2008 and is now residing in federal prison on charges arising from the Ponzi scheme that victimized Mr. Kessell and so many others.  The real value of the securities in Mr. Kessell’s Madoff portfolio was zero.

But the IRS isn’t letting that get in the way.  The agency says Mr. Kessell’s estate should pay estate tax on the value that Mr. Kessell died thinking he owned, rather than the zero actual value.  It wants to piggyback on Mr. Madoff’s fraud to tax an estate value that wasn’t there.

The IRS asked the Tax Court for summary judgment that the asset to be taxed was the account itself, not the vaporous underlying assets, and that because Mr. Madoff hadn’t been unmasked, a willing buyer would pay full sticker for the lying value on the Madoff statements.  The Tax Court court wasn’t willing to go along on summary judgement:

We cannot say on the record before us, however, whether that agreement constituted a property interest includible in Decedent’s gross estate separate from, or exclusive of, any interest Decedent had in what purported to be the assets held in the Madoff account. This question is best answered after the parties have had the opportunity to develop the relevant facts at trial. We will therefore deny respondent’s motion on this point.

As to the issue of the value, Judge Kroupa had this to say (citations omitted).:

     Respondent argues that a Ponzi scheme, by its very nature, is not reasonably knowable or foreseeable until it is discovered or it collapses. Respondent notes Mr. Madoff’s particular skill and that his Ponzi scheme was not disclosed until it collapsed in December 2008. Respondent then reasons that Mr. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was knowable or foreseeable only at the point when it collapsed — when the amount of money flowing out of Madoff Investments was greater than the amount flowing in. For purposes of this motion, at least, we disagree.

Some people had suspected years before Mr. Madoff’s arrest that Madoff Investments’ record of consistently high returns was simply too good to be true. Whether a hypothetical willing buyer and willing seller would have access to this information and to what degree this information would affect the fair market value of the Madoff account or the assets purportedly held in the Madoff account on the date Decedent died are disputed material facts.  Thus, we will deny respondent’s motion on this point as well.

The rule on how assets are valued is in Reg. Sec. 20.2031-1(b):

 The fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.

Most folks would consider the fact that the account was invested in a Ponzi scheme to be one of those relevant facts.  I guess that’s why most of us don’t work at IRS.

Cite: Estate of Bernard Kessel, T.C. Memo. 2014-97.

 

20130121-2The AICPA doesn’t care for the “voluntary” IRS preparer regulation proposal.  The Hill.com reports:

That system, the AICPA argues, would create implied government backing for those preparers who comply with the standards, while punishing those who do not.

“The proposed voluntary system would undoubtedly leave the impression among most taxpayers that certain tax return preparers are endorsed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS),” according letter.

Further, nonbinding standards would fail to root out bad actors, according to the group.

“As a practical matter, any voluntary regime constructed would still not address the problems with unethical and fraudulent tax return preparers,” the group contends.

All excellent points.  The AICPA has figured out that the “voluntary” program would eventually be voluntary like United Way contributions were “voluntary” when I was a green staff accountant at a national accounting firm.  They were voluntary, but amazingly, participation in the drive was always 100%.  Maybe the AICPA leaders still remember their staff accountant days.

I would add one more point.  Commissioner Koskinen and Taxpayer Advocate Olson never tire of telling us how underfunded the IRS is.  If so, why are the diverting some of their already inadequate resources to start a new nonessential program?  The obvious answer is they are trying a back door power grab now that the courts have barred the front door.

Going Concern: The AICPA Voiced “Deep Concerns” About the IRS’ Voluntary Tax Preparer Proposal.  “This means war…”

Larry Gibbs, Recent Developments in the IRS Regulation of Return Preparers (Procedurally Taxing).  A long guest post by a former IRS Commissioner about the power grab he never tried.

 

Russ Fox, New Identification Rules Go Over Like a Lead Balloon:

In this morning’s post, Joe Kristan told his readers to call the IRS. I agree; I urge all tax professionals to speak to or email their IRS Stakeholder Liaison.  

Russ quotes a new post by Jason Dinesen, I Was Wrong: We SHOULD Be Outraged About the New IRS E-File Requirements, which Jason followd up with Questions to Ponder About New IRS E-file Requirements.  I love Question 8: “How many ID thieves use a tax pro?”

Robert D. Flach has a special Thursday Buzz!, which includes Robert’s take on “voluntary” preparer regulation and the new IRS e-file requirements.

 

20140321-3TaxGrrrl, Still Looking For Your Tax Refund? Errors, 4464C Letters And Other Explanations

Peter Reilly,  Tax Court Threatens To Sanction Courtroom Commando Mac MacPherson.

Kay Bell, NYC arena Madison Square Garden pays no property taxes

Me, IRS Releases Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for June 2014

 

William McBride, High U.S. Corporate Tax Rate Chases Away Companies, Jobs and Tax Revenue (Tax  Policy Blog).  If it didn’t, it would be a fascinating case of economic actors failing to respond to incentives.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 378

Renu Zaretsky, Relief, Credits, Cuts, and Roads.  The TaxVox daily headline roundup talks about new tax relief for Minnesotans and the continuing worthlessness of film tax credit programs for everyone but filmmakers.

Cara Griffith, Should Taxpayers Challenge States if They Fail to Enact Rules? (Tax Analysts Blog):

State regulations are often vague or ambiguous, and authorities can use that to their advantage. But states should not be permitted to simply take the position that is in their best interest. They should be required to provide guidance and clarification on the positions they intend to take and, even better, clear-cut examples of how that position will be applied. And if a position will be applied to an entire industry, the state should issue a rule.

States prefer Calvinball rules.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Junk Economics: New Report Spotlights Numerous Problems with Anti-Tax Economic Model.  I suspect the biggest problem is that TJB doesn’t care for any model that doesn’t justify infinitely-high tax rates.

 

Des Moines, sometimes you are just adorable:

adorable des moines

Des Moines has started posting commute travel times, just like a big city.  On a bad day, it could be as much as 2 minutes to downtown from here.

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/13/13: Is more IRS money what we need? And why I’m hoping against hope!

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013 by Joe Kristan
Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Is more money the answer to “pitiful” IRS service?   That’s what Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson believes, based on a story by Tax Analysts ($link):

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson in a November 9 speech decried as pitiful the level of IRS customer service given to taxpayers, which she attributed to inadequate funding that has forced the Service to automate many of the most important tax administration functions and skimp on training employees on taxpayer rights.

Everything else being equal, you can do more with more money.  Yet we all face limits to our resources, so we prioritize.  The IRS — at the urging of Nina Olson — has directed resources unwisely to its misguided attempt to boss the tax prep industry.  It has been a debacle so far, and it appears headed to oblivion in the courts.

The IRS has another administrative problem that the Taxpayer Advocate has pointed out.  The tax law is too complicated to effectively administer even with a much larger budget.  The tax law is seen as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy, and like a knife with too many gadgets, it becomes hard to work as a knife.  This chart from Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute illustrates the problem:

irs budget cato 20131113

 

Chris Edwards explains:

The chart shows that the IRS has become a huge social welfare agency in recent decades. Handouts have soared from $4.4 billion in 1990 to an estimated $91.1 billion in 2013 (red line). Handouts are down a bit in recent years because some of the refundable credits from “stimulus” legislation have expired. IRS administration costs have grown from $7.7 billion in 1990 to an estimated $15.3 billion in 2013 (blue line). 

How should we reform the IRS budget? First, we should terminate the handout programs. That would save taxpayers more than $90 billion annually and cut the IRS budget by 86 percent. 

The largest IRS handout is the refundable part of the EITC, which is expected to cost $55 billion in 2013.

So true.  Considering that over $10 billion of the $55 billion is stolen or otherwise issued improperly, the EITC is a nightmare.  There would be plenty of funding available for tax administration if EITC could go away.

But the chart also shows something else: if the tax law was no more complicated than it was in 1990 — and believe me, it was plenty complicated — the IRS administrative budget would be adequate.  But with the IRS transformed into a monster multi-portfolio agency charged with healthcare administration, welfare, industrial policy, environmental enforcement, etc., etc., its budget is hopeless.

 

This will work out well:

This article examines the tax collection process to see how the IRS might enforce the individual mandate under the healthcare reform law. It concludes that resistant taxpayers can generally be forced to pay the tax penalty only if they are entitled to receive refundable tax credits that exceed their net federal tax liability. 

From Jordan BerryThe Not-So-Mandatory Individual Mandate, via the TaxProf.

 

Don’t trust the Tax Foundation?  Maybe you’ll trust the Congressional Budget Office.  A commenter yesterday took issue with a chart I reproduced showing not only the tax burden at different income levels, but the amount of government spending benefiting different income levels:

It’s not “the first chart for any tax policy debate,” it’s the last chart you should want to find on your side of the debate if you want to have any credibility.

If that doesn’t work for you, maybe this one from the CBO will be less objectionable:

cbo table

This chart is more focused on direct transfers, but it says pretty much the same thing.  It also covers 2006, and the tax law has hit the high end harder since then. (Via Greg Mankiw).

 

Scott Hodge, Andrew Lundeen,  54 Million Federal Tax Returns Had No Income Tax Liability in 2011 (Tax Policy Blog)

 

Paul Neiffer,  Sale of CRP Land – Is it Subject to the 3.8% Tax?  It depends a lot on whether an appeals court upholds the Tax Court Morehouse decision imposing self-employment tax on CRP income.  “And if the Morehouse case is overturned on appeal and the CRP is treated as rents, the land sale will also be subject to the 3.8% tax.”

 

Kay Bell, Tax tips for newlyweds saying “I do” on 11-12-13 or any day

Jack Townsend,  U.S. Banks File Long-Shot Litigation to Block FATCA Reciprocal Requirements

Leslie Book,  Disclosure and the 6-Year Statute of Limitation: S Corp Issues (Procedurally Taxing)

Jason Dinesen,  EAs are Partly to Blame for Our Obscurity  “Yes, we are treated as the red-headed stepchild of the tax world. But a big reason for this is that we ALLOW people to treat us this way.”

Russ Fox, Dan Walters with Another Example of California Dreamin’

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 188

 

Hope lives! 

It’s Time to Give Up on Tax Reform” – Joseph Thorndike, October 29, 2013

When Tax Reform Rises From the Dead, What Will It Look Like?Joseph Thorndike, November 12, 2013.

I should note that his vision of resurrected tax reform is hideous.  If that’s what hope for tax reform comes to, I’ll hope against his hope.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/13/2013: Modified limited hangout edition. And a tax blog hijacking!

Monday, May 13th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130419-1If the IRS hoped Friday’s “apology” for giving extra special attention to tax-exemption applications of right-side groups would settle things, they’re very disappointed this weekend.  The Washington Post reports that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration will soon issue a report saying Friday’s apologizer, IRS Director, Exempt Organizations, knew this was going on in 2011.  Meanwhile, in 2012 IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman was still testifying that IRS was not picking on the Tea Party.

So not only was the Shulman era at IRS grasping, incompetent and casually cruel, it was dishonest.

The Tax Prof has a fresh roundup, The Deepening IRS Scandal.

Another Washington Post story has this:

At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service  officials singled out for scrutiny not only groups with “tea party” or “patriot” in their names but also nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.

The documents, obtained by The Washington Post from a congressional aide with knowledge of the findings, show that the IRS field office in charge of evaluating applications for tax-exempt status decided to focus on groups making statements that “criticize how the country is being run” and those that were involved in educating Americans “on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

Yes, we sure need to keep an eye on those wingnuts who want to educate people on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  Dangerous lunatics, they are!

There is so much blog coverage of this that I won’t even try to round it all up.  A few links from our blogroll:

Megan McArdle,  Why Did the IRS Target Conservative Groups?

Going Concern, Footnotes: Tea Party Patriots to IRS: Drop Dead

TaxProf,  Schmalbeck on the IRS ‘Targeting’ of Conservative Groups, where an academic gives a “nothing to see here” take, one that is already largely overtaken by events.

 

And some other coverage:

Connor Simpson,  Why the IRS Abruptly Apologized to the Tea Party  (via Instapundit):

The report doesn’t shay whether or not Shulman was informed about the Tea Party questioning, but it does show the IRS’s chief counsel was. It’s standard procedure for the counsel and commissioner to discuss this  sort of thing before a Congressional hearing.

If so, The Worst Commissioner Ever can only plead incompetence instead of lying to Congress.

Reason.com has a bunch of posts at their Hit and Run blog, including  Matthew Feeney,  IRS Scrutiny Extended Beyond Tea Party Groups (Reason.com); Jesse Walker,  A Brown Scare at the IRS?; Matt Welch,  NY Times: IRS Targeting of Tea Party Only Proves Republicans Are Desperate  “It’s the inability to see discrete news events for what they are, rather than what they might mean for the neverending scrum between Teams Red and Blue.”

Jonathan Adler,  IRS Scrutinized Teaching the Constitution (Volokh Conspiracy)

Professor Bainbridge, Wider Problems Found at IRS – Twisting slowly in the wind

William Jacobson,  IRS anti-Tea Party scandal gets real — senior IRS officials aware of targeting (Update – Chief Counsel knew and targets expanded to groups “educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights”)

Katrina Trinko, Rubio: IRS Commissioner Should Resign Immediately (The Corner)

Ann Althouse has more.

And here’s my take from Friday, if you missed it:   Look at a celebrity return?  You’re fired!  Harass a Tea Party outfit?  Carry on.

 

In other news:

Nina Olson, IRS Taxpayer Advocate, has an article in Tax Analysts (via the TaxProf) affirming her support for taxpayer regulation.  Ms. Olson has done much good work as Taxpayer Advocate, but her support for increased preparer regulation is economically uninformed and hopelessly wrongheaded.

 

Russ Fox,  IRAs and Owning a Business Through an IRA and  What Can Go Wrong?  Nevada Democrats Want to Give Tax Breaks to Movie Industry

Peter Reilly,  Brooklyn Grandmother Wins On Dependency Exemption.   Just in time for Mothers Day!

TaxGrrrl,  IRS Set To Close Next Week.  Bad news: it’s only temporary.

 

Trish McIntire,  Max and Dave Looking for Reform

Nick Kasprak,  Do Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves?

Patrick Temple-West,  Falling deficit alters budget debate, and more

Linda Beale,  Orrin Hatch on tax reform at the ABA–a predictable right-wing rant

 

Andrew Mitchel,  Barnes Group – Structured Repatriation Was a Dividend.  In spite of the best efforts of national tax firms.

Phil Hodgen,  Decline of American Civilization, Form 8938 Edition.  “Let’s just bury the world in useless paperwork, shall we?”  That does appear to be the plan.

 

Kay Bell,  IRS reports gains in criminal tax, other financial investigations

Jack Townsend, Cheating is Cheating, Except When Offshore Accounts Are The Means, followed up with More on Conviction Rates in Tax Cases.

Janet Novack,  Independent Contractor Enforcement: There’s More Than The IRS To Fear.  Plenty of state rules and taxes also come into play.

Jim Maule,  The Complexities of Tax: Is This Really Necessary?  “A recent IRS private ruling, PLR 201318003, illustrates how the special low rates for capital gain adds layer upon layer of complexity to the tax law.”

 

I’d like to report a hijacking.  It looks like somebody at Tax Analysts forgot to renew their ownership of the  tax.com domain name.  Going there this morning gets this:

20130512-1

Tax.com is (has been?) home to the great group blog featuring, among others, David Brunori, Christopher Bergin, David Cay Johnston, Martin Sullivan, Cara Griffith and Clint Stretch.  I hope this is only a temporary hijacking.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/24/2013: Tax increases for everyone, anyone? And more bad news for tax season!

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

 

Tax Foundation graphic.

TaxProf,  NY Times: it Is Time to Raise Taxes on Everybody — Including the Middle ClassPaul Caron links to a New York Times Op-ed:

To make ends meet, both parties agree, spending must be drastically cut. Under the White House budget proposal, discretionary spending on everything except the military is projected to shrink to its smallest share of the economy since the Eisenhower administration by the beginning of the next decade. Though he has resisted Republican demands to slash entitlements, President Obama remains willing to look for further savings from Medicare.

This is not, however, the only option we have. There is an alternative: raising more money from all taxpayers, including the middle class.

Nobody wants to talk about this. … Yet Americans would benefit from a discussion of this possibility.

It’s not true that “both parties agree” that spending must be drastically cut.  It’s not clear that either party, as a whole, admits it, and at least one party remains in firm denial.  The President’s campaign was all about spending money and sending the bill to the rich guy.  Still, it’s nice that finally somebody at the New York Times admits that the rich guy isn’t buying.  He can’t.

 

Janet Novack,  As IRS Tax Filing Season Begins, Bad News For Honest Taxpayers.  She20130121-2 speaks with Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson.  The article has some depressing truth:

Customer service at the Internal Revenue Service is dismal and deteriorating. (Only 68% of telephone callers who wanted to talk to a human at the IRS last tax filing season eached one, and then only after an average 17 minute wait.)  The epidemic of identity theft refund fraud hasn’t yet been contained.  Hope for a major reform that might simplify the tax code is waning.

The article also has some serious nonsense about last week’s ruling shutting down the IRS preparer regulation power grab:

“If the injunction stands, the taxpayers of the United States will be grievously harmed,” IRS National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson told Forbes. “The practical effect of not having some kind of consumer protection for taxpayers going to return preparers is enormous. And I say that seeing all the return preparer fraud, and the return preparer negligence, and the return preparer inadvertent mistakes that happen.”

Enormous?  More like what we did forever until two years ago.  If anybody has evidence that last year’s tax preparers were significantly more accomplished and accurate than they were before the regulations, they haven’t shared it.  And the idea that the RTRP literacy competency test and minimal CPE requirement would have changed that is silly.

Ms. Olson believes that depriving consumers of choices in preparers is in their interest because the diminished choices would be better.  That flies in the face of all we know about regulation.  The net result would be higher prices, driving more taxpayers to do their returns and driving some on the margins out of the system altogether, while sending more business to the big franchise tax prep outfits.

 

Robert D. Flach, TAX RETURN PREPARER REGULATION, LICENSURE, AND/OR CERTIFICATION.  Robert’s magnum opus on how tax preparers should be regulated.

While I agree that having the Internal Revenue Service regulate tax preparers is not the best option – it is without a doubt a far superior option to having Congress legislate regulation.  My opinion of the intelligence, competence, and ability, or rather lack of intelligence, competence, and ability, of the current members of Congress is well known.
The optimal source of tax preparer regulation/licensure/certification, whether mandatory or voluntary, would be an independent industry-based organization, not unlike the AICPA or ABA, such as the National Institute of Registered Tax Return Preparers that I have proposed.

Robert also calls me out:

As I have asked in response to Joe’s assertion, would you want a “casual” electrician wiring your kitchen, or a “casual” dentist filling a cavity, or a “casual” architect designing your home?

If I do, what business is it of anybody else?  If I want to pay a talented handyman neighbor or cousin to install a ceiling fan for me, why is it anybody’s business?  Why should he be not allowed to take my money just because he doesn’t have an electrician card from the Bureau of Electrical and Mortuary Science?  As TaxGrrrl noted yesterday, occupational licensing is taking over the economy, and that’s not a good thing.

 

TaxGrrrl, With A Week To Go, IRS Talks Opening Day and Refunds

 

Cara Griffith, Have State Income Taxes Run Their Course? (Tax.com)

The corporate income tax is inefficient and a not sufficiently stable source of revenue for states. It should be eliminated. The individual income tax is likewise not a particularly stable source of revenue for states, and while counterintuitive, progressive tax systems do not work well at the state-level. Income redistribution, to the extent that it should be a goal at all, should not be undertaken at the state-level. So  in a perfect world, yes, the state individual income tax should be eliminated as well.

Christopher Bergin agrees.

 

Good. Another bid to ban traffic enforcement cameras in Iowa. (O. Kay Henderson, via The Beanwalker).  Traffic cameras are your local government’s most sincere way of showing their contempt for you.

 

Trish McIntire,  Form 8332 and Fairness.  How the IRS enables bitter ex-spouses.

Paul Neiffer,  Why Imputed Interest Matters For 2013 (And Beyond)

Kaye A. Thomas,  Another Demutualization Case

Robert W. Wood, Golfer Phil Mickelson Is Not Alone In Fleeing Taxes (Via Kerry Kerstetter)

Peter Reilly, Why Phil Mickelson’s Remark Was Really Dumb

Brian Mahany, Is FATCA In Trouble? Unfortunately, NO

Joseph Henchman,  CBPP’s Misleading Chart on Debt Stabilization (Tax Policy Blog).  A study in cherry-picking.

Jen Carrigan, Should Capital Gains Be Taxed Differently? (Guest post at The Missouri Taxguy blog).

Patrick Temple-West,  Firms keep stockpiles of ‘foreign’ cash in U.S., and more

Tax Trials,  District Court Decision Prevents IRS from Regulating Certain Tax Return Preparers

Kay Bell,  Fiscal cliff tax provision could help stem fraudulent refund claims by prisoners

 

News you can use:  Passing the CPA Exam While Billing Over 2500 Hours in a Year Is Way Harder Than Having a Baby(Going Concern).  Also less useful and not as smart.

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Tax Roundup, 1/10/2013: Taxpayer Advocate says we need tax reform. No kidding!

Thursday, January 10th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130110-1So preparer regulation wasn’t really the solution?  Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson says tax complexity is the biggest problem for taxpayers in her annual report:

The most serious problem facing taxpayers — and the IRS — is the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code (the “tax code”). Among other things, the tax code:

-Makes compliance difficult, requiring taxpayers to devote excessive time to preparing and filing their returns;

- Requires the significant majority of taxpayers to bear monetary costs to comply, as most taxpayers hire preparers and many other taxpayers purchase tax preparation software;

- Obscures comprehension, leaving many taxpayers unaware how their taxes are computed and what rate of tax they pay;

- Facilitates tax avoidance by enabling sophisticated taxpayers to reduce their tax liabilities and by providing criminals with opportunities to commit tax fraud;

- Undermines trust in the system by creating an impression that many taxpayers are not compliant, thereby reducing the incentives that honest taxpayers feel to comply; and

- Generates tens of millions of telephone calls to the IRS each year, overburdening the agency and compromising its ability to provide high-quality taxpayer service.

What do you suppose clued her in?

The byzantine complexity of the tax law is indeed the biggest problem facing the taxpayer.  She also prominently mentions the identity theft epidemic, preparer fraud and IRS funding.  One item not identified as a serious problem?  Unregistered tax preparers.

Just a few short years ago, Nina Olson had this to say:

 I have recommended the regulation of unenrolled return preparers since my 2002 Annual Report to Congress, and reiterated and supplemented that recommendation in successive reports.  My office was very much involved in  the analysis and discussions resulting in the IRS report, and I applaud Commissioner Shulman’s leadership in undertaking this significant review.

So what has that accomplished?  The IRS has tacitly admitted the program isn’t working by waiving the continuing education requirement.  The population of preparers is poised to crash.  That will raise the cost of tax preparation, forcing many to self-prepare and driving others out of the system entirely.  Meanwhile, one reason IRS resources are unavailable for taxpayer service is that they are directed to mismanaging preparer regulation.

The problem has always been tax complexity, and it continues to get worse.  No preparer regulation will change that.  The Taxpayer Advocate’s previous preparer regulation efforts only served to enrich the national tax prep franchises and distract from the real problem of complexity while damaging the ability of the IRS to serve taxpayers.

More on the Taxpayer Advocate report:

Robert D. Flach, NINA OLSEN ON THE DREADED AMT

Russ Fox, “The IRS Has Failed to Provide Effective and Timely Assistance to Victims of Identity Theft”

Jack Townsend,  TA Report Identifies IRS’ OVDP / OVDI As Problem

 

20130110-2Scott Drenkard, Nobel Laureate James Buchanan Passes Away at 93 (Tax Policy Blog):

Buchanan’s model of government action was based on a theory of “politics  without romance,” which contended that policymakers act in their own self-interest the same way that market actors do. This means that politicians are not enlightened, selfless despots, and respond to the incentives of the political sphere, making policy that will help get them re-elected. Often the best way to do that is by catering to special  interests. The longer I work in this city, the more I see this observation as true to life.

This is (to me) the essence of the “Public Choice” analysis of government, created by Mr. Buchanan and Gordon TullockIt explains why passing a law or creating a regulation rarely solves the problem, and instead enables the well-connected to use the government as a club against their rivals.  The tax preparer regulations, literally authored by a former H&R Block CEO, are a classic example.  James Buchanan’s legacy is a valuable and too-little-heeded caution against increasing the role of government.

More: Alex Tabarrok,  James Buchanan (1919-2013), Appreciations; David Henderson, Further Notes on James Buchanan

 

TaxGrrrl, Leadership Shakeup At Treasury May Signal Change in Obama’s Fiscal Strategy

Courtney Strutt Todd:  Buying a House in 2013? You Could Qualify for a Federal Tax Credit up to $2,000 a Year for the Life of Your Mortgage! (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

Paul Neiffer,  IRS Announces When Returns Can Be Filed

Kay Bell, IRS will begin accepting 2012 tax returns on Jan. 30

William Perez, When Can You Begin Filing Your 2012 Federal Tax Return?

Brian Strahle,  Medical Device Excise Tax:  Ready or Not, It’s Here!

Nanette Byrnes, Virginia plan to end gas tax quickly panned (Tax Break)

The Critical Question: What Is It About Hollywood? (Cara Griffith, Tax.com)

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Tax Roundup, 11/30/2012: IRS makes life difficult for ID-theft victims and Americans abroad, but they make compliance hard for foreigners too!

Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

When your identity is stolen, the IRS will be happy to bounce you around the bureacracy.  The Taxpayer Advocate testified yesterday at a House hearing on identity theft.  The IRS, which does a bang-up job of rapidly mailing fraudulent refunds, is less streamlined when it comes to helping taxpayers whose identities are stolen:

“Yet today the IRS is moving backward toward a decentralized approach, creating specialized identity theft units within 21 separate functional areas,” Olson told the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Organization, Efficiency and Financial Management. “If, as seems likely, the IRS reduces the role of the IPSU and directs taxpayers to deal directly with the 21 specialized units, I am deeply concerned that we will revert to back where we were in 2008, with large numbers of taxpayers that have cross-functional issues unable to get their problems resolved without multiple contacts with multiple functions, and that would in my opinion be a disaster for the victims.”

She says that the IRS will have to choose between fast refunds and stopping fraud:

Specifically, we may need to ask all taxpayers to wait longer to receive their tax refunds, or we may need to increase IRS staffing significantly. Under current circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that it is simply not possible for the IRS both to process legitimate returns rapidly and to combat refund fraud effectively at the same time.

So it’s too much to ask for the IRS to make better use of existing resources by not wasting them on the futile and expensive return preparer registration program — a program unwisely supported by the Taxpayer Advocate.


IRS makes doing business in the U.S. even more of a hassle for foreigners.  The IRS and Congress are doing their best to make it impossible for Americans to do business abroad with FATCA and the offshore compliance jihad.  Now they are doing a bit of the same for foreigners trying to do business here with new rules for International Tax Identifiction Numbers (ITINs).

ITINs are needed when foreigners invest in US real property or other assets where a US tax identification number is needed.  U.S. taxpayers just use their Social Security numbers.  The process is a hassle, with exacting documentation requirements that often require applicants to send passports to the IRS for extended periods while the IRS processes the paperwork.

While the new rules provide more options for applying for the paperwork, they now make the ITINs expire after five years, requiring taxpayers to repeat the whole process to stay in tax compliance.  This hassle isn’t just an issue for offshore taxpayers; it also makes compliance more difficult for U.S. taxpayers with offshore investors.  Just another little effort by the IRS does to make staying legal as difficult as possible.

Related: Trish McIntire,  Finalized ITIN Rules

 

The injunction didn’t go through, so on to the indictment.  A few years ago the IRS tried to close down the practice of a St. Louis-area tax preparer after making spectacular allegations of malfeasance.  The effort ended in a settlement that looked much like a victory for the preparer.  The IRS apparently didn’t take that well.  Stltoday.com reports:

Frank L. “Tiger” Zerjav, Jr., 39, of Wildwood, has been indicted for allegedly submitting four years of false tax returns and trying to dodge $182,000 in taxes, the U.S. Attorney’s office said Thursday.

Zerjav was indicted on four charges of federal income tax evasion for the returns covering 2001-2004. He also faces an obstruction of justice charge for allegedly producing altered computerized accounting records after receiving a grand jury subpoena.

They couldn’t put Mr. Zerjav out of business through civil procedures.  A tax fraud conviction would do the trick.  They’ll need to make a much more convincing showing than they apparently were able to do on the injuction effort.   This does remind us that if you get on the bad side of the IRS, your own filings had better be squeaky clean.

 

Better this fiscal cliff than the next, bigger one?  Bring On the Fiscal Cliff! (Megan McArdle):

Unless something changes, we’re headed toward one of two uncomfortable places. Either we veer over the fiscal cliff and the economy crashes—or we keep going down the road we’ve been taking for more than a decade, delaying hard choices while assuring voters that no really hard choices need to be made. That road probably ends in an even nastier smashup.

So how are Iowa’s congresscritters dealing with this nasty reality?  “Senator Harkin says the “fiscal cliff” doesn’t exist.” (Radio Iowa)

Howard Gleckman,   What to Read While Hanging Out at the Fiscal Cliff (TaxVox)

Richard Morrison,   The Tax Rate Paid by the Top 1% Is Double the National Average (Tax Policy Blog)

Martin Sullivan,  How To Limit the Deduction for State and Local Taxes (Tax.com)

Jim Maule, Tax Rates and Deduction Caps

 

Jack Townsend,   Major CA2 Decision on E&Y Tax Shelter Convictions.  Two E&Y guys go free.

Jana LutteneggerTax Implications of Holiday Bonuses (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)  Don’t think that Wal-mart gift card for the employees is tax-free.

Kay Bell,  Lottery dreams and tax realities

The Critical Question:   How Much Tax Would You Owe On A $550 Million Powerball Jackpot? (Janet Novack)

Brian Strahle,   DC Combined Reporting and the Real Estate Investment Industry:  Unintended Consequences?

Tax Trials,  Michigan Court of Appeals Rejects IBM’s MTC Election

 

Robert D. Flach, at his “The Tax Professional” blog, is not thrilled with the “due dilegence” requirements for returns with the Earned Income Tax Credit:

I just posted about the fact “that the IRS is getting more out of hand with its ‘due diligence’ requirements for tax preparers who are claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit for clients” here in “WE ARE NOW NOT ONLY TAX PREPARERS, BUT SOCIAL WORKERS AS WELL!”, which was a response to Trish McIntire’s post “EITC Checklist Expanded” at OUR TAXING TIMES.

At the seminar we reviewed in detail the new Part IV “Due Dilligence Requirements” on Pages 3 and 4 of the form.  In my opinion the new hoops that we are required to jump through are TOTALLY RIDICULOUS!

Like with the preparer regulations, honest preparers are saddled with rules they don’t need in response to tax cheaters who will ignore the rules anyway.

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IRS Commissioner Shulman: you obey the law. Me, that’s different.

Monday, February 20th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

The IRS hasn’t been known for sympathy for inadvertent violators of the foreign account reporting rules. Americans inheriting foreign property from distant relatives, young Americans who moved abroad to start a career, children born in the U.S. who have lived abroad since infancy — all face stern wrath, and big fines, for not filing foreign financial account disclosures that they had no idea existed.
You would think that a Commissioner so stern about punishing foot-faults would be extra careful about obeying the rules itself, if he had a smidgen of shame or self-awareness. Apparently not.
Tax Analysts reports that IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman will simply ignore his statutory duty to respond to a Taxpayer Advocate Directive on abuses of offshore taxpayers in the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure program. From the story ($link):

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman has no plans to respond in writing to National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson’s taxpayer advocate directive (TAD) on the IRS offshore voluntary disclosure program (OVDP) despite a statutory requirement that taxpayer advocate recommendations be responded to within 90 days, Olson said February 17.
According to Olson, who spoke at the Individual and Family Taxation session of the American Bar Association Section of Taxation meeting in San Diego, Shulman told her that section 7803(c), which requires the commissioner to formally respond to any taxpayer advocate recommendation within three months of its submission, applies only to the taxpayer advocate’s annual report and not to recommendations made through TADs or taxpayer assistance orders (TAOs).

How convenient for him. Let’s see what Section 7803(c) says:

(3) Responsibilities of Commissioner
The Commissioner shall establish procedures requiring a formal response to all recommendations submitted to the Commissioner by the National Taxpayer Advocate within 3 months after submission to the Commissioner.

That’s “all recommendations.” Not “all recommendations submitted in the annual report of the Taxpayer Advocate.” Not “all recommendations under this Section.” Just “all recommendations.” If there was a 50% annual penalty assessed on the balance of the Commissioner’s bank and retirement accounts for failing to respond on time — the same penalty that he is gleefully assessing on offshore account non-reporters — I bet he would have responded. After all, unlike the unwitting victims of the offshore compliance jaywalker hunt, it’s clear the Commissioner is well aware of this requirement.

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Taxpayer Advocate starts blog

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 by Joe Kristan

The TaxProf and Peter Pappas note that Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, has a blog.
Ms. Olson has done good work pointing out the absurdity complexity of the tax law and the foolish ways in which the rules are enacted. Her record is marred by her advocacy of increased preparer regulation, which the IRS is botching with gusto.
So far she has made two posts since the blog opened on January 11. That’s one more than Clarissa Potter has managed since she started Academically Taxing, one of the early tax blogs, in 2004, but she’s a long way short of the TaxProf’s productivity.

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Taxpayer advocate tries to distract the jaywalker shooters

Friday, January 6th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Practitioners, including me, have been saying that the IRS administration of the offshore disclosure “amnesty” has been cruel and incompetent. Apparently Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen agrees, reports Tax Analysts in a shocking, and unfortunately gated, report:

Arguing that IRS examiners treated some participants in the 2009 offshore voluntary disclosure program (OVDP) unfairly, the national taxpayer advocate has invoked a rarely used administrative tool to try to force the IRS Large Business and International and Small Business/Self-Employed divisions to change their audit procedures. That dispute has escalated and now awaits a final decision by IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.
At issue is whether the IRS must revoke a March 1, 2011, memo directing examiners to stop accepting less than the 20 percent offshore penalty as apparently permitted in OVDP FAQ 35 and instead instruct those examiners to assume a violation was not willful unless they can prove otherwise.

It’s not encouraging that the decision rests in the hands of Commissioner Shulman, who hasn’t lifted a finger to intervene in a process that has infamously treated Americans abroad and U.S. residents with foreign accounts as presumed criminals, hitting minor and harmless violations of obscure rules with absurd fines.
The Tax Anaysts story explains that the Taxpayer Advocate Directive is the biggest gun in the Taxpayer Advocate’s arsenal, and is rarely used. It says the IRS overrode a provision in its own amnesty with a secret (now released) memo ruling out leniency towards inadvertent violators.
It remains to be seen whether Commissioner Shulman will start to undo the damage. It’s a big job. From the Tax Analysts story:

Practitioners echoed Olson’s concerns that the missteps in the OVDP have implications beyond the program participants. “It’s all about long-term compliance,” said [tax attorney Mark E.] Matthews. As a result of the hard-line approach in the OVDP and the OVDI, as well as the coming Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act reporting requirements, foreigners have become convinced that the IRS is liable to be unreasonable. “It is not going to be easy to fix that,” he said.

Once you start shooting jaywalkers, it’s hard to get the others to cooperate.
Related: We will continue to execute jaywalkers ruthlessly, for their own good.

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Two Taxpayer Advocates in one!

Thursday, January 7th, 2010 by Joe Kristan

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson came out with her annual report yesterday. She says of the IRS, “This level of service is unacceptable.”
Funny. Not long ago she led the charge to shut down the pilot program to have private collection agencies collect some overdue federal taxes. Based on her criticisms of private collection, you’d have thought IRS was the gold standard of customer service.

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Taxpayer advocate calls for raising taxpayer costs, reducing preparer supply

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009 by Joe Kristan

The National Taxpayer Advocate has issued her annual report. Along with a number of sensible recommendations is this clunker:

The Advocate reiterates her longstanding recommendation that the government do more to protect taxpayers by regulating unenrolled federal tax return preparers, including by requiring initial testing and continuing professional education, and recommends that the IRS step up enforcement actions against preparers who fail to perform due diligence or consciously facilitate noncompliance.

The report has a critical unstated assumption: that such regulation would do more good than harm. Not bloody likely. The predictable unintended consequences:
- The supply of preparers would go down as folks will not want to screw around with the bureaucracy for what is for many just seasonal work.
- Unenrolled tax preparers will go underground, not signing returns. It is, after all, legal for folks to do their own returns (for now, anyway). These folks will be very difficult to track. A single mom trying to figure out her earned income credit in a housing project isn’t going to lose sleep over whether the lady helping her with the paperwork in her apartment is licensed.
- Honest preparers will get caught up in paperwork mistakes of their own making, or made by the new IRS preparer bureaucracy, and will lose their seasonal income before the problems get ironed out.
- Resources that could be used to develop computerized enforcement tools to identify dishonest filing patterns will instead be used shuffling CPE paperwork and harassing preparers.
Finally, it is highly unlikely that all of this will result in a better product. We all remember when Fortune magazine would have a tax return preparered by different preparers and get as many results as preparers. The real reason for poor return prep quality is a poor quality of tax law. That root problem will exist until my modest reform proposal is finally adopted:

I have the answer to this problem, of course — require that all Congresscritters do their returns in public themselves via a live webcast. They can use Turbotax or the software of their choice, as long as all input screens and output are broadcast live on the web, with a sidebar for running viewer commentary. Or, perhaps, selected tax pros could do the kibitzing – think “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” tax geek version. Naturally, the whole comedy should also be available for playback on YouTube. I think this would have two useful results: Congresscritters would have a stake in tax simplification, and they would learn the difference between a deduction and a credit.

For a contrary view on the Taxpayer Advocate report, see Peter Pappas. Dan Meyer also has more.

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