Posts Tagged ‘Paul Neiffer’

Tax Roundup, 2/1/2016: Caucus day, and other plagues.

Monday, February 1st, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20160131-1Is there such a thing as snow locusts? Today is the last day Iowa will be plagued by presidential candidates and their relentless ads and emails. Tonight, blizzard and winter storm warnings across the state.

Lots of things go into choosing a candidate. We kid ourselves if we think it is all rational. Many voters put as much thought into their political preferences as they do into choosing a favorite sports team. Most voters are much more informed about their sports teams than their votes.

But Tax Update readers are different!  You especially want to know about candidate tax policies. Fortunately, the Tax Foundation has an excellent Comparison of Presidential Tax Plans and Their Economic Effects. I like this chart they provide:

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You’ll notice that only one plan is projected to have positive economic effects while reducing the budget deficit over 10 years. I like that one.

 

Other Caucus-related links:

Tax Policy Center Major candidate tax proposals, a center-left analysis.

TaxProf, Clinton (47%), Sanders (54%) Propose Highest Capital Gain Tax Rates (Now 24%) In History

Tyler Cowen, My favorite things Iowa (Marginal Revolution). “The bottom line: Who would have thought ‘jazz musician’ would be the strongest category here?” Speak for yourself, buddy!

 

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Russ Fox, The Liberty to Commit Tax Fraud:

This story does show two things. First, requiring every tax professional to obtain a license won’t stop tax fraud. The alleged fraud here was started by an individual with a PTIN, someone who assuredly could obtain the former RTRP designation or the current AFSP “seal of approval.” Second, the Department of Justice news release notes, “In the past decade, the Tax Division has obtained injunctions against hundreds of unscrupulous tax preparers.” This is absolutely true, and the DOJ should be commended for their work. It also shows that licensing every tax professional isn’t needed to get rid of unscrupulous ones.

Amen.

William Perez, When Does an 83(b) Election Make Sense? 

Paul Neiffer, Pre-1977 Purchases May Get 100% Step-up or Not! Involving old joint interests in property.

Kay Bell, W-2, 1099 forms delivery deadline is here

Jack Townsend, 60 Minutes Exposé on Money Laundering Into the U.S.

Jason Dinesen, Not All Donations to Charity Are Deductible. Time, for example.

Kristine Tidgren, Des Moines Water Works Lawsuit Gets More Complicated (AgDocket)

Peter Reilly, NorCal Tea Party Patriots V IRS – Grassroots Or Astroturf?

Leslie Book, Migraine Caused by Improper IRS Collection Action During Bankruptcy Stay Triggers Damages for Emotional Distress

Robert Wood, Worst Lottery To Win Is IRS Audit Lottery, So Decrease Your Odds

TaxGrrrl, Understanding Your Tax Forms 2016: 1098-T, Tuition Statement

Tony Nitti, IRS Rules On Whether Trade-In Of Private Jet Qualifies For A Tax-Free Like-Kind Exchange

Happy Blogiversary! to Hank Stern for 10 years of Insureblog.

 

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Matt Gardner, International Speedway Reaps Benefits of Revived “NASCAR Tax Break” (Tax Justice Blog). In which the Tax Justice people sctually make a lot of sense: “In the context of our growing budget deficits, the annual cost of the NASCAR giveaway is a drop in the bucket at less than $20 million, making it a small part of the $680 billion extenders package. But because its benefits are narrowly focused on a few privileged companies, the damaging effects of this tax break go way beyond its fiscal cost.”

Donald Marron, What Should We Do with the Money from Taxing “Bads”? (TaxVox)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 996Day 997, Day 998. Day 997 links to  IRS’s New Ethics Chief Once Ordered Records Be Illegally Destroyed. These are the people who think they need to regulate tax preparers to keep us in line.

 

Scott Drenkard, David Bowie: Tax Planning Hero (Tax Policy Blog). “Taxes really matter, especially for an artist like Bowie who had a lot of options for where to reside and earn income.”

Robert D. Flach, THE TWELVE DAYS OF TAX SEASON

 

Finally, in honor of the Iowa Caucuses I quote the great Arnold Kling, who captures my feelings about these proceedings perfectly:

To me, political campaigns are not sacred events, to be eagerly anticipated and avidly followed. They are brutal assaults on reason. I look forward to election season about as much as a gulf coast resident looks forward to hurricane season.

Only the beginning of a wise and profound post. Read it all.

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Tax Roundup, 1/27/16: Sign right here, friend, it’s just paperwork! And: Tax Foundation vs. U of I prof.

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20151124-1What you’re signing isn’t necessarily what the nice salesman says you’re signing. A sad tax story in the Des Moines Register today shows how easy it is for a taxpayer to commit to a bad deal. The story, Misclassified: Iowa won’t refund veteran’s $5K payment, tells how a maintenance worker who was erroneously paid as an independent contractor by a Cedar Rapids furniture store ended up conceding a $5,000 sales tax liability he didn’t owe.

Iowa imposes a sales tax on “Janitorial and building maintenance or cleaning” for non-residential buildings. Because he was paid as an independent contractor, Iowa asserted sales tax on maintenance man James Robertson. He argued that he should have been classified as an employee, which would make the sales tax go away.

According to the story, Iowa was hounding him for unpaid taxes and preventing him from renewing his driver’s license. So he settled with Iowa for a $5,000 payment. From the story:

But he did so believing that the money he borrowed from a friend would be returned once a federal review process he was pursuing verified his claim he was not a contract worker.

The Internal Revenue Service on Oct. 14 determined that Robertson was indeed wrongly classified, documents he provided to The Des Moines Register show.

But that doesn’t mean he gets his $5,000 back, according to the Department of Revenue:

Victoria Daniels, a spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said it’s unlikely Robertson can win an appeal because he participated in what her agency calls its “offer in compromise” program.

Robertson signed a document during the settlement negotiations saying he accepts that “all administrative and judicial protests and actions filed in relation to these taxes and tax periods be dismissed.”

“When a person signs an offer in compromise, one of the things that they are signing their names to is the fact that they are giving up their appeal rights and the rights to get any of that money back,” Daniels said. “When you sign an offer in compromise with the Department of Revenue you are signing away any appeal rights you may or may not have had.”

IMG_1287Mr. Robertson didn’t think that’s what he had signed, according to the story (my emphasis):

Robertson said the documents he signed pertained to unpaid tax liabilities, not to his rights to a refund for taxes he never owed. And he said the department collectors led him to believe a refund would be made in the event it was shown he’d been unjustly classified as a contract employee.

This is why any battle between an unrepresented taxpayer and a tax agency is an unfair fight. The taxpayer drew a distinction between tax liabilities and tax refunds that doesn’t matter here. It’s all just taxes. While the nature of the document he signed may have been obvious to the people at the Department of Revenue who work with these things every day, it was all new and unclear to a taxpayer who had never encountered an offer in compromise. I hope he can find a way to get back his $5,000.

The Moral: In any tax controversy, be very careful what you sign. There are a number of ways you can forfeit important rights. If the dollars are big enough to matter to you, hire a tax pro. It doesn’t appear that Mr. Robertson did. Having a guide to the bureaucracy can be a big equalizer in an unfair fight. It’s not right to have to pay someone to help you avoid a tax you don’t owe in the first place, but it might be necessary to avoid something much worse.

 

 

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Joseph Henchman, Open Letter: Errors on Peter Fisher’s Grading the States Website. The brilliant Mr. Henchman takes on U of Iowa prof and tax complexity advocate Peter Fisher’s attack on the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index.

Like most people who dislike the Tax Foundation’s ratings, Mr. Fisher doesn’t like the Index because it doesn’t measure things he wants to measure. But the Index only tries to measure business tax climate. It doesn’t measure regulatory climate, or quality of education, quality of life, weather, or income inequality. And because it makes states with certain tax policy sets look bad, people with an affinity for high taxes or crony capitalism try to change the subject.

 

Paul Neiffer, What Gets a Step-Up. “I continue to get questions regarding how much of a step-up in cost basis farmland gets when someone passes away.  Again, as with most tax questions, it depends.”

Kristine Tidgren, Iowa Supreme Court Says Ag Lease Violates Iowa Constitution (Ag Docket). “Article I, section 24 of the Iowa Constitution states that no lease of agricultural lands ‘shall be valid for a longer period than twenty years.'”

William Perez, Should Married Couples File Taxes Separately? “The Married Filing Separately filing status provides fewer tax benefits than filing joint returns, but it does protect each spouse from any tax mistakes the other spouse makes.”

Kay Bell, 3 marriage-related tax tips to celebrate Spouse’s Day

Jim Maule, “Who Knows the Tax Code Better Than Me?”. “No, it’s not ME asking that question. Who asked it? According to this story, Donald Trump did.” I suspect Mr. Trump knows just enough to hire someone who really does understand the tax law.

G. Brint Ryan, Fee Arrangements are a Matter between Taxpayers and their Advisors. “In an important win for business against government encroachment, a California Superior Court recently invalidated a rule restricting taxpayers from paying performance-based fees for professional services.”

Robert Wood, Missing An IRS Form 1099 For Your Taxes? Keep Quiet, Don’t Ask!

TaxGrrrl, Executors Seek $100 Million For Work On Estate Of ‘Queen Of Mean’ Leona Helmsley

Robert D. Flach, WHAT IS GOFUNDME?

The circus is in town. A media center takes shape at Capital Square, downtown Des Moines.

The circus is in town. A media center takes shape at Capital Square, downtown Des Moines.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 993. “Citizens Against Government Waste, CAGW Names IRS Commissioner John Koskinen 2015 Porker of the Year

Jacob Sullum, Corny Crony Capitalism in Iowa (Reason.com). “The RFS raises food prices and imposes a hidden tax on motorists because ethanol is more expensive than gasoline and produces less energy per gallon. Between 1982 and 2014, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Robert Bryce found, ethanol cost an average of 2.4 times as much as an energy-equivalent amount of gasoline.”

Howard Gleckman, Tyco, Tax Inversions, Income Shifting, and Lost Revenue (TaxVox)

Stuart Gibson, The Dissonance of European Tax Harmonization (Tax Analysts Blog). “The question: Why do so many Americans, even those new to the country or born to immigrant parents, find it so easy to self-identify as American, while so few Europeans identify primarily as European?”

Meg Wiehe, What to Watch for in 2016 State Tax Policy: Part 1 (Tax Justice Blog)

 

Career Corner. How Will Your Team Air Its Grievances This Busy Season? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

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Tax Roundup, 1/22/16: Tax scams for tax pros. And: How Des Moines got so cool once I moved here.

Friday, January 22nd, 2016 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today Visitors:  Click here for the post on Popular wisdom and tax rates.

 

Gone Phishing. It’s not just taxpayers that get scam emails. Scammers also aim at tax pros. For example:

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Of course the message is a fake. It was sent by the sketchy-sounding email address “info@tablerockbelize.com” and the link goes to something called “otadealsbox.com/irs.” Nothing good would happen from following that link. Be careful out there.

 

Nicole Kaeding, Map: State-Local Tax Burden Rankings for FY 2012 (Tax Policy Blog):

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While Iowa’s tax burden isn’t that out of line — it’s actually a little better than average — our business tax climate is one of the worst. It’s a result of how poorly designed Iowa’s tax system is. The good news is that there’s a lot of room to improve our tax system without increasing the overall tax burden.

 

Start your weekend right with fresh Buzz! from Robert D. Flach. Today’s links cover lots of ground on early filing, and a good explanation of why the talk of how “IRS now has six years to audit your taxes” isn’t right.

Jason Dinesen, Do I Need Form 1095-C to File My Tax Return? The next question: how many taxpayers even know to expect one?

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William Perez reminds readers to Communicate Effectively with Your Tax Preparer

Annette Nellen, Filing 2015 tax returns – help for practitioners

Kay Bell has 4 filing tips to ensure you get your tax refund ASAP

Robert Wood, What To Do If Form 1099 Reports More To IRS Than You Received

Paul Neiffer, Mr. Market Wants Its Excess Profits Back. “We know what happened after the 1970s and now Mr. Market is now trying to grab those excess profits back from farmers from the ‘ethanol’ boom.”  Of course, aging corn state politicians are fighting back by yelling at clouds.

Jim Maule, Deductions Arising from Constructive Payments. “The Tax Court explained that payment by an S corporation of a shareholder’s personal expense is a constructive distribution. It pointed out that this principle had previously been articulated by the court. Thus, explained the court, ‘It also follows that for purposes of claiming the deduction, the shareholder is treated as constructively paying the obligation.'”

Peter Reilly, Tax Planning In Bernie Sanders Land Would Feel Familiar To Elderly CPAs. Older than me, even.

E. Martin Davidoff, New Format of Notice of Intent to Levy Fails to Provide Sufficient Notice (Procedurally Taxing)

Russ Fox, Fail, Caesar! An Update. Implications for poker pros.

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 988. “Tax Agency Erased Hard Drive Despite Litigation Hold.” Don’t try that with your tax records.

Jeremy Scott, Furor Over Extenders and Rising Deficits Disingenuous (Tax Analysts Blog), my emphasis:

So the new CBO report is something of a bitter pill for Obama. But the president isn’t to blame, according to some observers. In fact, the CBO itself points out that about half the cost of rising deficits is from tax legislation enacted since August 2015. The biggest chunk, of course, comes from the extenders compromise, which made some expiring (or expired) tax provisions permanent. That hurts the budget outlook, which always assumed expiring tax provisions would stay expired.

But extenders have never been allowed to stay expired. They are always renewed — sometimes late and sometimes retroactively, but without significant exception. And that makes the CBO’s observations about extenders deceptive. It also highlights why previous CBO projections about the deficit were always too rosy. By assuming that extenders would go away once they expired, budget forecasters were always showing too much revenue. If the CBO had used a model that assumed Congress would continually renew popular provisions like the research credit, the deduction for state and local sales taxes, and bonus depreciation, the numbers would look almost identical to what the January 19 report is showing now.

Exactly. The extenders were an ongoing accounting scam, pretending provisions that were permanent in reality would go away. “By making some extenders permanent, Congress has finally allowed the CBO to paint a more realistic portrait of the federal deficit and the long-term budget outlook.”

Matt Gardner, After Years of Shrinking, Nation’s Deficit Set to Grow in 2016; Recent Tax Cuts a Contributor (Tax Justice Blog)

 

Howard Gleckman, What Are the Consequences of a Financial Transactions Tax? (TaxVox). Aside from moving exchanges offshore, damaging markets, erasing wealth, and making it harder for the little guy to close transactions, it’s a great idea.

 

Joseph Thorndike, Do Progressives Hate Tax Reform? (Tax Analysts Blog):

The Tax Reform Act of 1986 was far from perfect, but it made good on the lower rates/broader base mantra. Almost immediately, however, both parts of the bargain began to fray; rates began creeping up within a few years, and preferences (never vanquished entirely in the first place) also began to grow. By the mid-1990s, tax reform was starting to look like a disappointment, to both liberals and conservatives.

Today, classic tax reform has little real support outside the wonk community. So it’s fair to say, as Holtz-Eakin does repeatedly, that liberals don’t care about tax reform.

But neither do conservatives.

I think that’s always true, in a way. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

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News from the Profession. Report: CPAs Exaggerate Their Success at the Bar, Pretty Much Everywhere (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

Fun link: How America’s Dullest City Got Cool. I think they overstate how much of the revival of Des Moines was planned by anyone, but they are right to point out home much this town has improved since I moved here in 1985 (proving that correlation is definitely not causation). Thanks to @lymanstoneky for the link on Twitter.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/21/16: Defying Governor, House conformity bill includes $500,000 Section 179 limit.

Thursday, January 21st, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20151118-1Reason to hope, reasons to despair. The Iowa House Ways and Means Chairman introduced a “code conformity” bill yesterday (HSB 535) that includes the federal $500,000 Section 179 limit. This defies the wishes of Governor Branstad, who says the state can’t afford the expanded deduction. He would only allow a $25,000 deduction for asset purchases that would otherwise have to be capitalized and depreciated.

The bill, as expected, does not adopt bonus depreciation for Iowa.

The Section 179 conformity proposal is is good news. It appears that Ways and Means Republicans sense that their business and farm constituents won’t appreciate a big tax increase, especially in a year that looks like it will be a down year around the state. Now attention will turn to the Senate, where Democratic Majority Leader Gronstal controls what legislation reaches the floor. If he supports the legislation, it is likely to pass. The Governor would probably be able to kill it with a veto, but would he?

That brings up my first reason to despair. Unless the Governor backs down or some compromise is reached, the conformity bill is likely to be delayed. Affected taxpayers will have to wait to file their 2015 Iowa returns until they know what the tax law is; if they guess wrong, they will incur the expense of amending their returns. It compresses the filing season into an ever-narrower window and delays refunds.

The biggest issue is likely to be the budget impact. While I haven’t seen a current figure, last year’s Section 179 conformity bill was estimated to reduce state revenues by $88.5 million.

capitol burning 10904I certainly have a list of possible pay-fors, starting with the newest proposed credit, a $10 million  “renewable biochemical tax credit” (SSB 3001). It is refundable, meaning it isn’t just a tax reduction, but an actual cash subsidy to taxpayers whose credit exceeds their Iowa tax. That easily could happen, as it is based on pounds of qualifying stuff produced. It will only go to taxpayers who “enter into an agreement” with the economic development administration. In other words, for insiders who know where to pull strings.

And here is another reason to despair. It appears this new boondoggle is going to slide right on through. From the Des Moines Register (my emphasis):

More than a dozen lobbyists representing businesses, farm organizations, economic development groups and other expressed support, and there was no opposition. Gov. Terry Branstad has listed renewable chemical manufacturing tax credits as a key item in his 2016 legislative agenda.

Under the bill, the maximum amount of state tax credits available annually to any one business for the production of renewable chemicals would be either $1 million or $500,000, depending how long the company has operated in Iowa.

Even Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), who has in the past voted against corporate welfare tax credits, is on board with this one.

It will be very difficult to get the Governor to go along with the higher Section 179 limits without spending or tax credit cuts to offset the revenue loss. The Governor seems dead set against cutting cronyist tax credits. If the legislature agrees with him, Section 179 has a very difficult fight this session. Failure to adopt the federal Section 179 limit would represent a triumph of a handful of insiders over the businesses and farms in every county that would have their taxes increased to pay for subsidies.

 

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Iowa increases security to prevent tax fraud (thegazette.com):

The Iowa Department of Revenue has upped its security game after seeing more than 10,000 fraudulent tax returns last year.

This tax season, the agency will use technology to better track fraudsters, validate bank accounts before making direct deposits and share information with the IRS, other states, software providers and banks.

The story says Iowa stopped $11.6 million in fake refund claims last year on 10,600 fraudulent returns.

 

Hank Stern, O’Care in Real Life (InsureBlog):

So, one of my small group clients just lost the last person on his group plan. It had gotten so expensive that no one could really afford to stay on it. Shopping around didn’t help: everything we looked at was at least as expensive for comparable benefits. And the plan was pretty much bare-bones, not a lot of fat to trim.

Tom has been a client – and friend – for almost 30 years. A small business owner, he was proud to be able to offer his employees coverage. Now that’s gone.

He said “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” He didn’t say you could afford it.

Kristine Tidgren, Farm Lease Questions Often Arise This Time of Year (Ag Docket)

Robert D. Flach, A VERY IMPORTANT REMINDER. “Don’t listen to a broker, a banker, an insurance salesman, or your Uncle Charlie!   You wouldn’t ask your butcher for a medical opinion, so why would you accept tax advice from your MD?”

Keith Fogg, Public Policy Cases Accepted by the Taxpayer Advocate Service (Procedurally Taxing). “If you have an issue that raises policy issues for a group of taxpayers, you can bring this to the attention of the NTA in hopes that it will make the policy list and open the doors to TAS assistance.”

Paul Neiffer, Top 10 Reasons You Might Need Accrual Accounting. “Although this list is designed to be humorous, the reality is that all farmers should consider using accrual accounting to manage their farm operation.”

Kay Bell, Smooth tax season start? Not for some TaxAct users. “Just a few days before the filing season and Free File opened for business, the tax software manufacturer sent a letter to about 450 customers, notifying them of a data breach.”

Jack Townsend, Should Proof of No Tax Evaded Be Admissible as Defense in Crime Not Requiring Tax Evaded as an Element

 

Tony Nitti, An Ode To Tax Season: How To Bid Farewell To Your Family.

Tax season is here. Tax season is the worst. But don’t just abandon your family for the next three months with no explanation; make them aware of the series of mistakes that were set into motion long ago that led you to this self-imposed hell. And tell them with rhymes! 

That may be why my grown kid is a musician, and the high schooler wants to be one.

 

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David Brunori, Good Government Developments in the Tax World (Tax Analysts Blog). No Iowa items make the list.

David Henderson, The Economics of the Cadillac Health Care Tax, Part IPart II. “But now that I have done a more careful analysis with some plausible numbers, I am seriously undecided.”

Kyle Pomerleau, Senator Hatch To Introduce Corporate Integration Plan (Tax Policy Blog). “Not only does the double tax on equity investment increase the cost of capital, it creates economic distortions. The most obvious one is the distortion towards debt-financed investments.”

Renu Zaretsky, Market Woes and the Price of Breaks. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers stupid things from proposed financial transaction taxes to the ongoing Kansas budget and tax policy disaster.

 

Robert Wood, IRS Wipes Another Hard Drive Defying Court Order…But You Must Keep Tax Records. Darn right, peasant!

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 987.

 

Career Corner. Stop Doing Other People’s Work Because It Saves Time (Leona May, Going Concern). A classic symptom of Senior Accountant’s Disease.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/14/16: Branstad budget omits $500,000 Section 179 deduction for Iowa; no 2015 conformity.

Thursday, January 14th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

IMG_1291Priorities. Governor Branstad yesterday told a business group that he is leaving Section 179 conformity out of the new Iowa state budget. That means Iowans will be unable to claim the $500,000 maximum Section 179 deduction for 2015 returns, assuming the legislature doesn’t override this.

The Governor dropped this little bomb after touting a new $15 million incentive tax credit for “bio-renewable chemical production” to members of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry. He said the new credit will be “revenue neutral,” taking its funding from existing incentive credit programs. (Note: I was there, so this is all firsthand). He said that there just isn’t room for it in the budget.

The Governor has inadvertently highlighted the priorities of a tax policy dedicated to directing economic activity using tax credits. My my count, the Governor budgets $277.3 million in fiscal year 2017 to steer economic activity towards favored activities via tax credits:

Iowa credits fy 2017

Presumably the new bio-renewables credit is buried in here somewhere.

By definition, these credits go to a few lucky taxpayers. The largest one, the refundable research credit, goes overwhelmingly to a few big companies — and mostly as cash grants. The Department of Revenue’s calendar 2014 research credit report showed that $42.1 million of the $56.9 million in credits claimed went to 16 taxpayers. About 2/3 of the 2014 credits were “refunds,” meaning that the credit exceeded the taxpayer’s liability for the year, so the state issued a check for the difference.

20120906-1The Section 179 deduction, by contrast, is available to any non-rental business that buys fixed assets and has taxable income. It requires no negotiation with the Department of Economic Development. It’s available regardless of whether your business is bio-chemical, renewable fuels, or whatever else is the economic development flavor of the month. It’s simple to administer – you just use the number you claim on your federal return. But it has one dreadful flaw: it provides no opportunities for politicians to issue press releases or attend ribbon cuttings.

While I don’t have exact numbers for the tax revenue cost to the state for FY 2017, the Legislative Service Bureau estimated an $88.5 million revenue loss in fiscal year 2015 from the last Section 179 conformity bill.

Of course, all Section 179 revenue losses are a matter of timing. By denying Section 179 deductions, the state has a revenue gain in the first year of the asset’s life, but gives it all back through depreciation over the rest of the asset life. By contrast, tax credits are forever. They never turn around.

There is so much disheartening about this development. Failure to conform on the $500,000 Section 179 limit — after doing so for a number of years — suddenly increases the Iowa tax for thousands of Iowans who purchased equipment in 2015. Because Congress made the Section 179 deduction permanent, it signals that Iowa will permanently de-couple and use its own computation — an inherently bad policy. It requires Iowans to maintain a separate Iowa fixed asset schedule for assets that would otherwise have been written off. And, if the legislature tries to reverse the Governor’s decision, it leaves Iowans uncertain of their 2015 tax law until well into the filing season.

But perhaps most disheartening is the stark way that it shows how Iowa’s tax system, with its high rates and special favors for the well-connected, mistreats the regular taxpayers who are just going about their business, hiring people, and paying their taxes. Lots of taxes.

Related: Hide the spoons, hold your wallets. The General Assembly is back.

 

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Robert D. Flach reports that a certain national tax prep outfit has A NEW GIMMICK.

Robert Wood, Powerball Losers Make Lemonade By Selling Losing Lottery Tickets

Paul Neiffer, Planted Vines and Trees Qualify for Bonus Depreciation

Kay Bell, Final 2015 estimated tax payment is due Friday, Jan. 15

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 980

Cara Griffith, Waiting on the Court to Figure Out How to Tax Remote Sales (Tax Analysts Blog)

Jared Walczak, What Percentage of Lottery Winnings Would Be Withheld in Your State?

Howard Gleckman, Clinton and Sanders Face Off Over Who Should Pay for New Social Programs (TaxVox).

 

Career Corner. An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Team Lunches (Leona May, Going Concern)

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Tax Roundup, 1/12/16: IRS wants to shoot more jaywalkers. And: the benefits of IRS ethics training.

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20120912-1They think it’s expensive because it is. Tax Analysts reports ($link) on a speech given by an IRS international tax deputy commissioner that shows how little the IRS cares about wreaking havoc on the lives of taxpayers who inadvertently fail to comply with the weird and obscure foreign account reporting rules. The talk by David Horton shows that the IRS continues to assume anybody who has failed to file FBAR forms is a bad actor. For example:

The IRS’s 2014 OVDP (Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program) guidance provides transitional rules for non-willful taxpayers who entered the OVDP earlier, but could have been eligible for the streamlined program. [Robert] Panoff wondered why they were incurring lower penalties than similarly situated taxpayers who completed the OVDP. 

Horton explained that these taxpayers are still in the OVDP, so they will get criminal clearance and a closing agreement, while streamlined participants get neither. Criminal clearance and a closing agreement are worth paying for, the thinking goes. A streamlined participant could later get a notice of deficiency for penalties that are assessed as taxes.

So a non-willful failure to file still benefits from “criminal clearance?” That’s a funny thing to need for a non-willful violation, and it shows an “it’s all criminal” mindset. Shoot all the jaywalkers!

The article has this:

Every practitioner hopes to shoehorn his offshore-account-holder clients into the streamlined program. Indeed, the only taxpayers who don’t welcome the streamlined program are recent immigrants who think that 5 percent of a home-country bank balance is a stiff price to pay for a green card.

That’s because it is ridiculously expensive.

Nowhere in the piece is any evidence that they (or the author) are aware that accidental Americans and compliant taxpayers can be financially ruined for failing to meet a requirement unknown to 95% of the populace. There’s certainly no awareness of the fundamental injustice of hitting taxpayers with 5-figure fines for committing personal finance abroad without an FBAR.

There is a crying need for foreign financial reporting reform. Two good first steps:

  1. Increase the FBAR foreign account thresholds to the amounts that apply for reporting foreign financial assets on Form 8938. These don’t begin to apply until the assets exceed $50,000, or $200,000 for taxpayers abroad. Using this threshold for foreign financial account filing would eliminate the vast majority of filings, leaving them only for taxpayers who actually have enough income to justify the hassle.
  2. Provide an automatic and penalty-free option to enable taxpayers to come in out of the cold, as long as they file before they are contacted by the IRS and any unreported tax required is relatively small. This would work much like the programs states have for businesses who want to come into compliance. The states benefit from getting the taxpayers in the system, and the taxpayers get in from the cold without financial ruin.

Unfortunately, the IRS apparently wants to go the other way: “Horton reported that while the IRS is still getting a steady flow of offshore voluntary disclosure program filings every month, that program has to end eventually.” Then it will be a choice to either stay out of compliance and risk financial disaster, or come into compliance and guarantee it.

 

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But preparer regulation will help prevent preparer fraud! From a U.S. Attorney press release:

Yolanda Castro, 48, an employee of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in Fresno, pleaded guilty today to aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false tax return, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, Castro was employed by the IRS for approximately 20 years, including as a tax examiner and contact representative. Between 2007 and 2013, she prepared and filed false federal income tax returns for herself, her family members and others in which she fraudulently claimed tax deductions and credits. For instance, on her own 2008 tax return, Castro claimed a credit for education expenses that she did not incur, and provided the IRS phony textbook receipts to support the claim. Likewise, in tax returns she prepared for herself and others, Castro claimed child care expenses that had not been incurred.

Surely some ethics continuing education would have saved her.

 

Robert D. Flach has a little Buzz for your Tuesday. “Not much BUZZ today – but, as I always say, some BUZZ is better than no BUZZ.”

Russ Fox reminds us that it’s 1099 Time for 2016. “The best way to check whether or not you need to send a 1099 to a vendor is to know this before you pay a vendor’s invoice.”

William Perez, What You Need to Know about Reporting Payments Using Form 1099-MISC

TaxGrrrl, No, You Can’t Actually File Your Tax Return Early (And More Info About Tax Refunds). “Some tax preparers are suggesting in ads and on social media that they can somehow help you skip the line and get you a refund before anyone else. Don’t be fooled.”

Robert Wood, 12 Surprising Items IRS Says You Must Report On Your Taxes. You won’t believe number 2!

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Social Security Wage Base. “The term Social Security Wage Base refers to the maximum amount of wages or self-employment income on which the 6.2% Social Security tax is based.”

Paul Neiffer, Relief for Older Farmers with IRAs. And not just farmers.

 

Keith Fogg, Improving Payroll Tax Compliance (Procedurally Taxing). “From my perspective working on these cases within the IRS, the failure of employers to pay over the collected taxes usually resulted from poor cash management.”

Renu Zaretsky, New Taxes, Excess Profits, and a Windfall. Lots of cynical posturing by desperate politicians in today’s TaxVox headline roundup.

 


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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 978. The process of running out the clock continues.

Scott Greenberg, Which Tax Extenders are Left? (Tax Policy Blog):

Looking over the list below of remaining tax extenders, none of them seem like “must-pass” policies. As a result, the pressure is off of Congress to renew all of the tax extenders as a package. Instead, Congress should take the time to evaluate the remaining tax extenders one by one, making the good provisions permanent and letting the bad ones expire. Temporary tax policy is bad tax policy, and it’s about time that Congress laid the ritual of tax extenders to rest once and for all.

Let’s hope so.

 

The Critical Question. Would a cuddly mascot make the IRS lovable? (Kay Bell). That would look like a stuffed Cthulhu

The Critical Question II: Accounting Firms Allowing Side Gigs: Good Idea or Independence Mine Field? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/7/16: Taxpayer Advocate report describes IRS “pay to play” plans. And: IRS nixes plan to make charities collect tax ID numbers.

Thursday, January 7th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20150107-2Have you heard about the IRS “Future State Plan?” Or “CONOPS?” Me neither.

The latest annual Taxpayer Advocate Report to Congress is the first I’ve heard about this mostly-secret IRS initiative. The report explains (my emphasis):

During the past year-and-a-half, the IRS has devoted significant resources to creating a “future state” plan that details how the agency will operate in five years. The plan is explained and developed in a document known as a Concept of Operations (CONOPS). There are many positive components of the plan, including the goal of creating online taxpayer accounts through which taxpayers will be able to obtain information and interact with the IRS.

However, the CONOPS also raise significant questions and concerns. Implicit in the plan — and explicit in internal discussion — is an intention on the part of the IRS to substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face interaction with taxpayers. The IRS is hoping that taxpayer interactions with the IRS through online accounts will address a high percentage of taxpayer needs. It is also developing plans to enable third parties like tax return preparers and tax software companies to do more to assist taxpayers for whom online accounts are insufficient — an approach that will increase compliance costs for millions of taxpayers.

Nina Olson, Taxpayer Advocate

Nina Olson, Taxpayer Advocate

The IRS, as usual, is cooking this all up in secret, with only well-connected insiders in on the plan. Tax Analysts describes the report ($link):

A major concern is the aura of secrecy around the CONOPS documents. Despite the fact that the IRS is conducting internal discussions about its “future state” plans, Olson’s report says the Service has repeatedly declared CONOPS data elements and documents “official use only” and not for public dissemination. “Never before has the IRS made this assertion in so many instances,” the TAS report says. One area where the IRS has shared its CONOPS plans — the Large Business and International Division — caters to a group of taxpayers that can afford to “pay to play,” the TAS said, while future service plans remain under wraps for the roughly 150 million individual taxpayers and 54 million small business taxpayers.

If you look at it from the viewpoint of most taxpayers, this plan seems incomprehensible. But if you believe that the IRS is really trying to serve the interests of the national tax prep franchise outfits, national accounting firms, and the biggest law firms, it completely makes sense.  It actually fits in well with the IRS preparer regulation efforts to eliminate competition for the national tax prep firms — a regulation effort that the Taxpayer Advocate still regrettably and unwisely supports. Those who are drafting the new taxpayer service labyrinth can be expected get nice raises by going out into the tax industry to help their new employers navigate through it.

Related: Leslie Book, The National Taxpayer Releases Annual Report to Congress (Procedurally Taxing); Accounting Today, Taxpayer Advocate Concerned about IRS Plans for ‘Pay to Play’ Taxpayer Service,

 

Another IRS screw-up averted. I just received a Tax Analysts breaking news email saying:

The IRS has withdrawn proposed regulations that would implement the statutory exception to the contemporaneous written acknowledgement requirement for substantiating charitable contribution deductions of $250 or more.

These rules would have required donors to provide charities with their social security numbers — a horrible idea in the identity theft era. Expect the IRS to try to sneak them back in when they think people aren’t looking.

 

Nicole Kaeding, American Migration in 2015 (Tax Policy Blog).
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Four of the ten states with the most inbound migration have no personal income tax. Most of the states where the population is fleeing have very hign income taxes, including Illlinois, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. To be fair, high-tax Vermont seems to be attracting people, probably from dysfunctional New York.

This won’t help inbound migration. Illinois Announces Plans To Delay Tax Refunds Through March (TaxGrrrl)

Kay Bell, Delayed state tax refunds in Illinois, Louisiana & Utah because of tougher tax identity theft procedures. And because Illinois is broke.

Robert Wood, Obama Executive Action? Tax Hikes Could Be Next. “President Obama has stretched executive authority with immigration and gun law changes. And he is “very interested” in executive action on taxes too.”

Jack Townsend, Government Asserts Wylys’ Fraud in Bankruptcy Court. It’s a multibillion dollar tax case involving offshore trusts and a “blame the tax pro” defense. Mr. Townsend goes deep on the cases being made by both sides.

Paul Neiffer, “BIG” Might Not Be a Problem. Paul discusses the now-permanent five year “recognition period” for S corporation built-in gains.

William Perez lists Tax Deadlines for 2016

Robert D. Flach posts MY ANNUAL POST FOR JOURNALISTS AND BLOGGERS, reminding us all that he doesn’t care for conflating “tax professional” with “CPA.”

Peter Reilly, No Foreign Income Tax Exclusion For Army Civilian In Afghanistan

Tony Nitti, Love In The 21st Century: Bad Breakup Leads To Form 1099, Lawsuit. I’m not a trained relationship professional, but I think its safe to observe that issuing a 1099 to your ex-girlfriend burns all the bridges.

 

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Megan McArdle, Closing Tax ‘Loopholes’ Would Choke the Middle Class. “If you want to pay for any major new program by “closing the loopholes,” it is these loopholes that you will need to close, because the amount of revenue raised by, say, doing away with carried interest treatment of sweat equity partnership stakes works out to a rounding error on the federal budget.”

David Brunori, Taxing Guns Is Just Wrong (Tax Analysts Blog). “The fact is that a gun tax will have no effect on gun violence.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 973. A dispatch from the denialist front.

 

News from the Profession. #BusySeason Has Arrived (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/6/16: Oh, I meant that other year. And: IRS won’t rule on truck rehab “glider kits.”

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

20160106-1Better increase their budget. The IRS provides a special “Identity Protection Personal Identification Number,” or “IP-PIN,” to identity theft victims to help them with future tax filings. The IP-PIN lets them tell the IRS that the return being filed is being filed by the real taxpayers, rather than by some grifter in Tampa (Florida) or St. Petersburg (Russia).

Now, after the IRS has already screwed up things for innocent taxpayers by sending their refunds to thieves, they have added insult to the injury. TaxGrrrl reports IRS Sends IP PIN Letters With Wrong Tax Year, Stresses It Will Not Affect Returns Filed In 2016.

Letters sending out IP PINs for the 2016 filing season (for the 2015 tax year) were mailed out at the end of December 2015 (but dated January 4, 2016) marked with the incorrect year. The letter, also referred to as a CP01A Notice, incorrectly indicates the IP PIN issued is to be used for filing your 2014 tax return when the number is actually to be used for your 2015 tax return. 

The IRS isn’t sending correction letters.

The funny thing: the IRS gets really mad if impatient taxpayers use forms for the wrong year and cross off the year at the top of the form, writing in the right year. Do as we say, not as we do…

Related:

IRS Notice on Your Identity Protection PIN.

Russ Fox, IRS Errs on Identity Theft PIN Letters. “One would think that the IRS proofed important letters and notices before they’re finalized.”

 

ice truck“Glider kit” guidance grounded. The IRS will decline to issue rulings on whether the excise tax on over-the-road tractors applies when a new cab, chassis, frame and axle — a “glider kit” is applied to an old engine and power train. Tax Analysts reports ($link):

Section 4052(f)(1) provides that if a modification to the chassis or body doesn’t exceed 75 percent of the retail price of a comparable new chassis or body, then it won’t incur the section 4051 tax. The IRS decided that it will not rule on whether a modification using a glider kit qualifies for the 75 percent exception under section 4052(f)(1).

A more recent legal memorandum (ILM 201403014) makes clear that the IRS has evolved its thinking on the issue, determining that when an outfitter combines an old engine and transmission with a new cab, chassis frame, and axles, the excise tax applies and the exception isn’t applicable. It also explains that taxpayers must include a 4 percent markup in the price of the refurbished truck for purposes of computing the tax, minus the value of used components if they’re customer provided.

The article adds:

The Iowa Motor Truck Association, in an alert (http://goo.gl/IXnYaS) issued to its members following the release of ILM 201403014, also warned that “the memo probably indicates that IRS auditors will now be more aggressive about glider-kit transactions, and that at least some transactions that have been regarded as exempt may turn out not to be.”

This is obviously a big deal to dealers and their customers. It’s terrible that the IRS is making this sort of policy by internal memos rather than through published guidance, leaving taxpayers hanging.

 

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.

Megan McArdle has some wise thoughts on the tax law in Why We Fear the IRS (my emphasis):

Legal complexity does not accumulate linearly; it accumulates exponentially. When you have one law on the books, and you add a second, the new law may (or may not) have some unexpected interaction with the old law. This would be one complexity point for regulators to manage. But with each new law, the number of potential interactions grows quickly, until it passes the ability of any layman to grasp it (and eventually, surpasses the professionals as well, which is why they’re increasingly specialized in narrow areas). We are long past that point with the tax code.

That’s a point universally ignored by politicians who use the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy. A Swiss Army Knife the size of a railcar is interesting, but it’s not much good as a knife.

Her post also covers important ground on why the tax law has gotten so bad. Recommended.

 

Paul Neiffer, Is Section 179 a Ticking Tax Time Bomb?. The ability to deduct up to $500,000 in new equipment may have unintended consequences:

On the face, this sounds like a great tax deduction for farmers, however, with continued low commodity prices, might this be a ticking tax time bomb for many farmers.  This is due to a farmer having to liquidate some farm equipment due to the bank requiring additional liquidity be put into the farm operation or perhaps the farmer has lost some ground and no longer needs the equipment.   This sale of equipment causes the Section 179 to be “recaptured” as ordinary income and since the farmer probably does not have sufficient liquidity to prepay additional farm expenses, causes the farmer to be in a high tax bracket.  This leads to a large tax bill which then requires the farmer to sell additional equipment or grain to cover the tax bill.  This is especially harsh when the equipment was financed 100%.

In theory, the tax savings from the original deduction should be available to cover that tax bill, but if you are having to liquidate to pay the bank, the savings have already been spent on other things.

 

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Robert D. Flach, THE PATH ACT OF 2015 AND TAX PLANNING FOR 2016

William Perez, What Is the Alternative Minimum Tax? “Essentially, this is a tax based on a person’s adjusted gross income if they aren’t itemizers.”

Kay Bell, Seattle gun & ammo taxes drive gun seller out of town.  The criminals, they get to stay.

Jason Dinesen, What is Form 1023-EZ? “Form 1023-EZ is a new IRS form used by some not-for-profits to apply for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization.”

Jim Maule, Is This Proposed Tax Necessary or Even Sensible?:

Several days ago, in a New York Times editorial, Max Frankel proposed “a relatively simple new tax – officially called a user fee – “ based on “the grandeur of each lofty view” from the apartments being built in very tall luxury skyscrapers along the southern edge of Central Park. He suggested it could informally be called a “window tax” and he suggested various dollar amounts for windows and doors based on height, the existence or absence of obstructions, and the nature of what can be seen.

Gee, what could go wrong? A little history shows some problems with Mr. Frankel’s proposal:

The window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house. It was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, France and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To avoid the tax some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or reglazed at a later date).

Prof. Maule rightly criticizes the proposal.

 

Robert Wood, As Offshore Banks Agree To U.S. Tax Evasion Deal, Account Holders Must Deal With IRS. Betting on foreign bank secrecy is a bet against the odds.

Keith Fogg, Fulfilling the Requirements of Section 6751 When the IRS Imposes a Penalty (Procedurally Taxing). “In Legg v. Commissioner, the Tax Court issued a division opinion concerning this little known provision that serves as a gatekeeper to the assertion of many penalties.”

Peter Reilly, Tax Court Sorts Out Basis On Russian Fast Food Merger. “The IRS can argue that what you said you did – the form – is not what actually happened – the substance.  You can’t generally do that yourself, because you got to choose the form, so you are stuck with it.”

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Renu Zaretsky, The Case of Tax Scams, Private Debt Collectors, and Wishful Thinking (TaxVox). “There is one way Congress could make tax compliance and collection easier and tax avoidance harder, while improving the public’s perception of the IRS. It could simplify the tax code. Unfortunately, that’s a call Congress has not chosen to make.”

Stephen J. Entin, Michael Schuyler, Are Dividend Taxes Harmless? Don’t Bet On It!

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 972

 

Career Corner. New Year’s Resolutions That Will Make Busy Season Less Awful (Leona May, Going Concern). It’s hard to argue with “Stop stealing co-workers’ lunches”

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/30/15: What needs to be paid by tomorrow. And: NY Times has fun with a chart.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20141226-1Things that have to be paid for by the end of the day tomorrow. The unforgiving calendar is nearly ready to turn, and that leaves only today and tomorrow to do some things to help lower 2015 taxes. Some expenses are only deductible if they are paid by the deadline.

For cash basis business taxpayers, payment needs to be made for most business expenses by the end of the day tomorrow. “Payment” means the check is written and postmarked, or a wire transfer is completed, or a legitimate liability has been incurred. If it’s on the credit card by the end of the day tomorrow, it’s considered paid for.

The only business expenses that normally can be paid and deducted after year-end for cash-basis taxpayers are pension and profit-sharing contributions. these are deductible this year if paid by the due date of the 2015 tax return, including any extensions.

For accrual-basis taxpayers, any expenses owed related parties are deductible only if paid by the end of the day tomorrow (Section 267). For C corporations, this generally includes expenses owed to 50% owners and their family members, and to corporations and partnerships owned by 50% owners. For S corporations and partnerships, any ownership at all makes you “related,” and the definition of “family” goes beyond ancestors, descendants and siblings to include aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces.. These rules can get complicated, so be sure to pay by tomorrow or consult your tax advisor if you aren’t sure.

Gifts are a different story. It’s not enough to mail a check by tomorrow to count as a 2015 gift; the check actually must be cashed. If you are trying to get an annual exclusion gift under the wire by tomorrow, consider a wire transfer or a cashiers check.

Charitable contributions can deducted this year if mailed this year, but be sure to get a certified mail postmark if it’s a big one — or better yet, use a credit card. If you are making a gift of appreciated stock, it has to be in the charity’s brokerage account by the end of the day tomorrow to count.

Finally, if you are spending money on depreciable property, even if you plan to use the Section 179 deduction, it’s not enough to buy and pay for the property by tomorrow. It must be “placed in service.” That means on-site, ready to go, not at the dealership or in crates on the dock.

This is the penultimate entry of our 2015 year-end planning tips series. Come back tomorrow for the finale!

 

The New York Times yesterday ran an article headlined For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions: The Very Richest Are Able to Quietly Shape Tax Policy That Will Allow Them to Shield Billions in Income. It offers a lot less than it promises. It pretty much establishes that really rich people can afford expensive tax advice, and they buy it.

The article includes this misleading chart:

 

nytchart20151229

This shows that those 400 people are really putting one over on the IRS with their clever planning, doesn’t it?  Well, not really. I’ll superimpose the top capital gains rates that applied for the years on the chart (sourced here):

 

nytchart20151229-7

Funny how that income tax rates of those sneaky 400 people correspond with the top capital gain rates. Why would that be — because those dastardly 400 rich people conspire to incur capital gains?

No. As we’ve pointed out here, capital gains are what get people on that top 400 list. They normally hit the top 400 only once, by having a once-in-a-lifetime capital gain, like the sale of a business.

You also may notice that the New York Times cuts off the chart conveniently right before two big increases in the capital gain rate — the 2013 expiration of the Bush 15% capital gain rates and the 2013 effective date of the 3.8% net investment income tax. You can bet that the line goes right back up starting in 2013.

Update, 12/30/15, 4:25 pm, from The Washington Post:

On Wednesday, the Internal Revenue Service published an update to its annual assessment of how much the 400 highest-earning Americans pay in taxes. It showed that the effective tax rate paid by those Americans jumped in 2013 to nearly 23 percent.

Gee, amazing how that works! I’ve updated the chart to show the new number.

Correction: this post originally stated in error that the Net Investment Income Tax took effect in 2014, instead of 2013.

Related: Scott Hodge, New Treasury Data Shows How Progressive America’s Tax Code Really Is (Tax Policy Blog):

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More coverage: TaxProf, NY Times:  How The Ultra Wealthy Buy Tax Policy

Robert D. Flach, THE YEAR IN TAXES 2015

TaxGrrrl, 12 Days Of Charitable Giving 2015: The Innocence Project

Robert Wood, Tax Double Whammy: IRS Can Revoke Passports And Uses Collection Agencies

Peter Reilly, World Class Rider Does Not Insure Allowable Tax Losses In Horse Case

Kay Bell, IRS seeks tax pros’ input on fighting tax ID theft fraud

William Perez, Forgiven or canceled mortgage debts could be nontaxable

Paul Neiffer, 50% Bonus Depreciation Applies to More Property. “Any interior improvement made to non-residential real estate will qualify for bonus depreciation with certain exceptions for (1) elevators and escalators, (2) internal structural framework, and (3) enlarging a building.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 965:

Donors listing the IRS as their employer have donated roughly $453,800 to Democratic candidates and causes and $221,400 to Republican candidates and causes since 1990. About one in four of the dollars for Democrats, or roughly $117,500, went to President Barack Obama.

But IRS employees since 1990 have also donated $203,000 to the National Treasury Employees Union, which in turn has given about 95 percent of its $6 million in political contributions to Democrats over the last 25 years, OpenSecrets.org data shows.

Yet we are asked to believe the IRS operates in a fair and neutral manner towards all political persuasions.

 

Harvey Galper, Five Questions to Ask When You Look at a Presidential Candidate’s Tax Plan (TaxVox). How about, “Should I seek counseling?”

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/28/15: Harvesting without a combine. And: Tax Credits as a fiscal trap.

Monday, December 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

harvestThe corn’s in, but the harvest isn’t over. The tax law taxes capital gains for almost all individual taxpayers when you sell an appreciated asset, even though it shouldn’t. Still, if you’re like most of us, not everything you buy goes up.

The tax law allows individuals to deduct capital losses when they cash out a money-losing investment, up to the amount of capital gains plus $3,000. That means paying capital gain taxes is optional to the extent you have unrealized capital losses in your taxable portfolio. That’s a silly option to exercise. Here are some thoughts on loss harvesting:

You have to take the loss in a taxable account. A loss in an IRA or 401(k) plan doesn’t help you.

Normally the “trade date” is the effective date for tax purposes, so you can sell a stock as late as December 31 this year and still deduct the loss on your 2015 1040.

If you have a loss on a short sale, the tax law treats it as closing on the settlement date, not the trade date, so you can’t wait until the last minute to close a short sale to get a deduction. (See also Russ Fox, Harvesting Capital Losses: Act Quickly on Shorts!)

You don’t need to overdo it.  You can deduct your capital losses only to the extent of your capital gains, plus $3000.  But if you do overdo it, individual capital losses carry forward indefinitely.

Long-term losses can offset short-term gains, and vice-versa.

Harvesting losses helps taxpayers subject to the Obamacare/ACA Net Investment Income Tax to the extent it helps for regular taxes.

– Watch out for the wash sale rules. If you buy the same stock within the 30 days preceding or following the sale of a loss stock, your loss is disallowed. This is true even if you sell from a taxable account and buy in an IRA, according to the IRS.

See also

This is another installment of our 2015 year-end planning tips series running through December 31. 

Related — weekend tax tips:

Altaring your tax planning

Keep on giving! A high-end tax planning tip.

 

1916 Spaulding by The editors of Horseless Age. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

1916 Spaulding by The editors of Horseless Age. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Tax Credits as a trapThe Sunday Des Moines Register this week told the story of a tax credit deal gone awry, leaving the small college town of Grinnell, Iowa in a financial pickle.

Grinnell once housed Spaulding Manufacturing Company, one of many small early Midwest automakers. The Spaulding story is told in my college buddy Curt McConnell’s fine book, Great Cars of the Great Plains.

There is only one known surviving Spaulding vehicle. It was to be a crown jewel of a transportation museum to be built around the dilapidated remains of the old Spaulding plant. But it hasn’t gone well, according to the Register:

Three years after it opened, the Iowa Transportation Museum has hit a dead end, losing its building to foreclosure and leaving the city of Grinnell on the hook to repay more than $4 million in federal aid for the project.

The museum, which had operated in a renovated portion of the old Spaulding manufacturing plant in downtown Grinnell, closed in October, unable to pay its mortgage to Iowa City’s MidWestOne Bank. The bank even took possession of the museum’s crown jewel, a rare 1913 Spaulding automobile built at the Grinnell plant.

It sounds as though the business plan of attracting auto tourists to Grinnell was hopelessly optimistic, but it was tax credit failure that finished things off:

The museum built its budget around receiving $900,000 in federal historic tax credits that never arrived. A 2012 federal appeals court ruling about a real estate project in New Jersey shook up the market for historic tax credits. A subsequent IRS memo explaining the ruling said, essentially, that investors should not stand to profit from historic tax credits without shouldering some of the risk. As a result, investors backed away from historic tax credit projects.

“That is where things really started to come apart on us, and it was just kind of a chain reaction from there,” Brooke said.

This is where I find myself puzzled. By their terms, federal historic rehab credits have never been transferable. A transferable tax credit can be sold by the original recipient to cash in on a tax break too big to use by itself. Tax credit middlemen tried to make them transferable by setting up “partnership” structures where investors were nominal partners, but really were in it only for the tax credits, with economic gains and losses from the rehab project allocated elsewhere.

To my surprise, the Tax Court had gone along with that structure, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed them in Historic Boardwalk Hall LLC (CA-3, No. 11-1832). The court held that because the tax credit investor didn’t share meaningfully in either potential income or loss from the project, it wasn’t a partner eligible for tax credits.

That was the risk I had always seen in these deals, and it came home to Grinnell.

The Moral? When it takes tax credits to make a deal work, it doesn’t really work. It’s just crony capitalism.

Enjoying a short Des Moines winter commute.

Enjoying a short Des Moines winter commute.

Robert D. Flach has started a new organization, TAX PROFESSIONALS FOR TAX REFORM. “We believe that the one and only purpose of the Tax Code is to raise the money necessary to fund the government.” A worthy cause.

William Perez, Understanding Canceled Debt Income and Taxes

Kay Bell, Uncommon charitable gifts still provide donors the typical tax deduction. A discussion of property donations. “As with all tax deductible donations, you also need to make these more uncommon ones by Dec. 31 in order to claim them on this year’s taxes.”

Paul Neiffer, Farm and Ranch Provided Housing. A partnership, sole proprietor or S corporation cannot provide and deduct employee related housing for any of its owners (unless they own less than 2% AND are not related to any other owners).”

TaxGrrrl, 12 Days Of Charitable Giving 2015: Fender Music Foundation

 

Seventh Avenue, Des Moines, this morning.

TaxProf, Hemel:  Taxes To Cause Vanguard Fund Fees To ‘Quadruple’? Not So Fast. We know the nosy busybodies would punish Vanguard’s small saver base with higher fees to feed the federal black hole. The only dispute is how much.

Tax Policy Blog, Apple CEO Tim Cook: We Need a Tax Code for the Digital Age. “The solution to ‘profit shifting’ is not a new patch to an already complicated tax code. The solution that the U.S. needs is a comprehensive tax reform that reduces both the corporate tax rate and the complexity of the entire tax code.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 961Day 962Day 963. The Day 961 post notes the obvious problems of giving one of the most aggressively secretive agencies power over passports. Day 962 inadvertently confirms one of the driving forces of the IRS scandal — ongoing bitterness over the Citizens United decision preventing bureaucrats from selectively restricting free speech rights.

Robert Wood, More Calls To Impeach IRS Chief Over Targeting, Bonuses, Obstruction

 

Stuart Gibson, Unlikely New Year’s Resolutions (Tax Analysts Blog). Like these:

-Citizens of Greece: Pay all the taxes they owe.

-Greek tax collectors: Pay all taxes they collect into the Greek treasury.

Unlikely indeed.

 

Peter Reilly, Did You Hear The One About Bernie Sanders And Kent Hovind Walking Into A Tax Blog? Well, Bernie is evidence of the co-existence of dinosaurs and hominids.

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/21/15: Winter’s here, along with a new tax law. Fixed-asset planning time!

Monday, December 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20151211-1It’s the darkest day of the year, but with the signing of the Extender Bill, H.R. 2029, we are no longer in the dark for year-end fixed asset tax planning. The “PATH” act has some important fixed-asset provisions:

A permanent (and inflation-indexed) $500,000 annual limit for Section 179 deductions. This provision lets qualifying taxpayers deduct currently fixed asset costs that would otherwise have to be capitalized and depreciated over multiple years.

“Bonus Depreciation” is extended through 2019. This provision allows taxpayers to deduct 50% of the cost of depreciable property in the first depreciable year, with the remaining cost depreciated over the property’s normal tax life. Unlike Section 179, it cannot be taken for used property, but unlike Section 179, it can be used to generate net operating losses.

-15-year depreciation is made permanent for “Qualified Leasehold Improvement Property , Qualified Restaurant Buildings and Improvements, and Qualified Retail Improvements. These rules enable taxpayers to depreciate these items over 15 years, rather than the usual 39 year life for commercial buildings.

In theory, this provides a great opportunity to knock down your 2015 tax bill with last-minute purchases of fixed assets. But there’s a catch. It’s not enough to buy and pay for new fixed assets to deduct them this year. They also have to be “placed in service” by year end. From the IRS publication on depreciation:

You place property in service when it is ready and available for a specific use, whether in a business activity, an income-producing activity, a tax-exempt activity, or a personal activity. Even if you are not using the property, it is in service when it is ready and available for its specific use.

Example 1.

Donald Steep bought a machine for his business. The machine was delivered last year. However, it was not installed and operational until this year. It is considered placed in service this year. If the machine had been ready and available for use when it was delivered, it would be considered placed in service last year even if it was not actually used until this year.

It’s not enough to have a new machine in crates on the loading dock. It has to be set up and ready to go. If you are buying a farm building, having it in pieces waiting for assembly doesn’t get you there.

That’s why year-end purchase of vehicles and farm equipment are popular. Once they arrive, they are pretty much ready to go. But you have to actually take delivery. “On order” isn’t enough. And remember that there are limits on the amount of Section 179 deduction and depreciation for passenger vehicles.

This is the first installment of our 2015 year-end planning tips series

 

6th avenue 1910

 

Russ Fox, Once Again, the IRS Doesn’t Start by Calling You:

My mother received a phone call on Saturday morning at 6 am from “Agent Smith” of the IRS demanding immediate payment of her taxes or she would find herself “thrown in jail.” Yes, the scamsters are still out there.

Now imagine you’re a senior citizen, and you get a phone call waking you up telling you to pay the IRS or you’ll find yourself in prison. It doesn’t take a genius to know that these scamsters can intimidate their victims.

Remember, if the caller demanding payment and saying the police are coming says he’s from IRS, he’s not from IRS.

Tony Nitti, Tax Court: Luring Pigs To Untimely Demise With Kool-Aid Counts As Material Participation. Sooey!

Robert D. Flach, THERE IS STILL TIME TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF A “QCD” FOR 2015!

 

Paul Neiffer, Wind Energy Credits Extended and Phased-Out

Annette Nellen is counting down the “Top Ten Items of Tax Policy Interest for 2015.” #1 is non-tax bills used to change the tax law; #2 is IRS Funding Challenges. Anybody who is serious about improving IRS funding should be demanding the resignation of Commissioner Koskinen. Nobody’s going to trust him with extra funding.

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Insolvency and Canceled Debt: Make Sure You Can Prove It!

Jim Maule, Winning Back Your Tax Payments. “A reader made me aware of a recent suggestion that every taxpayer who files a timely and honest tax return, along with timely payment, be entered into a lottery.” It a way, that’s already true.

Leslie Book, Extenders Bill Gives IRS Additional Powers to Impose Penalties on Preparers and Disallow Refundable Credits (Procedurally Taxing). “Under the new law,  the accuracy-related penalty can be applied to any part of a reduced refundable credit subject to deficiency procedures.”

Peter Reilly, Bernie Sanders And The 90% Income Tax Rate That He Does Not Call For. ” Bernie Sanders wants us to have an economy like it was in the sixties and early seventies, when a summer of hard work could pay a year’s tuition and there were plenty of factory jobs that would support a family.” Maybe Bernie should reconsider his nostalgia.

Robert Wood, New Law Says Money For Wrongful Convictions Is Tax Free

TaxGrrrl, 12 Days Of Charitable Giving 2015: Wounded Warrior Project

Kay Bell gets into the holiday spirit with Christmas gifts for tax and financial geeks

 

old walnut

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 954Day 955Day 956. Coverage of the limits on IRS power included in the extender and omnibus legislation.

Alex Tabarrok, Subsidies Increase Tuition, Part XIV (Marginal Revolution):

Remarkably, so much of the subsidy is translated into higher tuition that enrollment doesn’t increase! What does happen is that students take on more debt, which many of them can’t pay.

So naturally the Extenders bill made the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent.

Jared Walczak, The Opening Salvo of 2016’s Soda Tax Battle (Tax Policy Blog). “Soda taxes are poised to be on the agenda in many cities in 2016, an effort spearheaded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.” I propose a tax on people who can’t mind their own business.

Renu Zaretsky, Promises, Hopes, and Complaints. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers Hillary promises, Nevada trolling for ribbon-cuttings with taxpayer money, and Apple’s CEO tax code thoughts: “He wants changes to the US tax code, which ‘was made for the Industrial Age, not the Digital Age… It’s backwards. It’s awful for America.'”

 

News from the Profession. Let’s Help Deloitte Global CEO Punit Renjen With His First Tweet (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/17/15: President supports extenders; bill stops IRS from taxing political donations as gifts. And: More ACA stuff!

Thursday, December 17th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

whitehouse logoWhite House announces support for extender bill. Things seem to be falling into place for passage of the extender bill with an announcement of support from the White House.

The bill has to pass Congress first, but Tax Analysts reports ($link) that passage is eased by splitting the extender bill from the “omnibus” spending bill:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said he expects the House to vote on the extenders package on December 17 and an omnibus spending bill, also introduced as an amendment to H.R. 2029, on December 18.  GOP leaders apparently decided to split the bills into two separate amendments to generate enough support for passage in the House. The spending bill may lose votes from conservative Republicans while the tax bill may lose votes from House Democrats. Those concerns are not shared in the Senate, where Democrats like both bills.

Losing votes from House Democrats doesn’t threaten the extender bill, as there are so few of them. So House vote tomorrow.

 

20150925-2Extender bill ends attempts to tax political donations as gifts. Before it was chastened by the Tea Party scandal, the IRS made moves to treat contributions to Sec. 501(c)(4) political organizations as taxable gifts. The legal justification for treating contributions to independent organizations was weak to begin with, but a provision in the extender bill (Sec. 408) settles the issue going forward by explicitly excluding such contributions from gift tax effective for gifts made after enactment.

What about old gifts?

Nothing in the amendment made by subsection (a) shall be construed to create any inference with respect to whether any transfer of property (whether made before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act) to an organization described in paragraph (4), (5), or (6) of section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is a transfer of property by gift for purposes of chapter 12 of such Code.

So the IRS could continue to assert its weak position that pre-enactment gifts are taxable. I don’t think they will.

Related: TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 952. Today’s link goes to an op-ed complaining that the extender bill will make it too difficult for the IRS to restrict First Amendment rights by starting gift tax audits of political donors.

 

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IRS addresses more HRA and ACA questions. Yesterday the IRS issued Notice 2015-87, a 31 page bag of buzzwords addressing ACA issues. Disappointingly, the Notice doesn’t back off the extreme position that reimbursement of individual medical insurance premiums paid by employees will normally trigger a $100 per-day, per-employee penalty.

The bill does clarify that “opt-out” payments are normally not subject to the penalty, though they are taken into account to determine the employee cost in calculating whether an employer’s coverage is “affordable” (Q&A 9 of the Notice).

 

Paul Neiffer, Looks Like $500,000 Section 179 is Now Permanent. “One of the key provisions for farmers is to make Section 179 permanent at the $500,000 level.”

Kay Bell, Tax extenders 2015 winners and losers. “It’s a Christmas miracle! Weeks are left in 2015 and Congress has reached a deal on the 50+ tax breaks known as extenders.”

Howard Gleckman, The Hidden Agenda Behind This Year’s Tax Extender Bill (TaxVox):

What is going on here? Why would House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put so much effort into making permanent a package of tax breaks that could be back on the chopping block a year from now?

Like much of what happens in Congress, it’s all about budget accounting. And in this case, it turns out you can buy bigger tax rate cuts by repealing permanent tax breaks than by swapping out temporary versions of the same subsidies.

I’d like to think this is all a 3-D chess play by geniuses to move the country closer to a better tax system, but I have nagging doubts, somehow.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Casualty and Theft Loss. “A casualty and theft loss is a deduction allowed on tax returns for people who suffer property damage or theft.”

Andy Grewal, The Management Fee Waiver Regulations May Be Doomed (Procedurally Taxing). “Prop. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i) may reflect a good policy (a debatable point), but it does not square with the law.”

Robert Wood, Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino’s Accountant Admits Tax Fraud Conspiracy. All over America, millions who don’t watch television ask, “who is Michael Sorrentino?”

 

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David Brunori, Some things worth pursuing in 2016 (Tax Analysts Blog). I don’t agrere with his support for the earned income tax credit, but he is correct on the importance of independent state tax tribunals, which Iowa lacks. And I think this is absolutely right:

Oppose tax incentives. I know — incentives are seemingly invulnerable in our political system. But the difficulty of the task should not deter the righteous. Tax incentives violate every principle of sound tax policy. They are unnecessary. They are unfair. Liberals should hate them because they waste money that could be used for schools and healthcare. Conservatives should hate them because they are the antithesis of a free market.

The cronies and insiders partnership of Central Iowa disagrees, which pretty much proves David correct.

 

I’m pretty sure the opposite wouldn’t help. Could Having a ‘Pro-CPA Culture’ Backfire on Accounting Firms Desperate for Talent? (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

Today is the big Star Wars release day. Blogger Syd Gernstein explains that WE HAVE TAXES TO THANK FOR STAR WARS:

To summarize briefly: This first episode of Star Wars started with a tax dispute. The “trade federation” did not like the fact that the republic had imposed a tax on its trade routes, and protested the tax by staging a blockade, and ultimately an invasion, of the peaceful planet of Naboo. Dissatisfied with the Republic’s inability to defend the planet, Naboo’s queen—at the urging of the planet’s then-Senator Palpatine—moved for a vote of no confidence in the Galactic Senate’s Chancellor. Palpatine then exploited the sense of sympathy for Naboo to get himself elected as Chancellor. Over the course of the next movies, Palpatine would then, essentially, transform the republic into a dictatorship, declare himself Emperor, convince Anakin Skywalker to become Darth Vader, build a couple Death Stars, and, evidently, abolish the galactic yellowpages, because it otherwise surely would have occurred to Darth Vader to streamline his epic quest to find his son, the “young Skywalker,” by looking under “S.” 

It’s a plot line convoluted enough to be worthy of The Code.

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/16/15: Extender deal! Permanent R&D, $500,000 Sec. 179 limit; Bonus depreciation extended through 2019.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150915-1It looks like we get a year off the extender watch. While normal people were asleep, someone posted the text of an extender bill agreement on the House Ways and Means Committee website. The bill would permanently several key provisions that have been only enacted for a year or two at a time up until now. It extends a few other of the Lazarus provisions through 2020, and the rest through 2016.

House Speaker Ryan requires that a bill be available for three days prior to a vote, which means the House won’t send anything to the Senate until at least Friday. The Hill reports that it’s not clear how the votes will fall, but the bill is expected to pass.

The provisions to be enacted permanently, retroactive to the beginning of 2015, include, among others:

-The $500,000 Section 179 deduction limit

-The five-year “recognition period” for built-in gains taxes for C corporations electing to be S corporations.

-The ability of IRAs of taxpayers reaching age 70 1/2 to make $100,000 annual charitable contributions that will not be included in the IRA holders income.

-The 100% exclusion for gains on certain original issue C corporation stock held for five years.

-The research credit.

-The alternative deduction for state and local sales taxes.

Other provisions to be made permanent include special breaks for conservation easements, the deduction for state and local taxes, and the above-the-line deduction for out-of-pocket educator expenses.

To get the Democratic leadership to sign off on the deal, Republican negotiators agreed to make permanent the child tax credit, the enhanced earned income tax credit, and the “American Opportunity Tax Credit” for college costs.

50% bonus depreciation is to be extended from the beginning of 2015 through 2019, along with the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Also enacted through 2019 is the “New Markets Tax Credit,” a great geyser of corporate welfare.

Wind turbineI count 29 other provisions extended through 2016. The credits for biodiesel, renewable diesel, wind energy and residential solar are among these, along with the exclusion for qualified mortgage forgiveness and the above-the-line deduction for qualified college costs. These shorter-lived extenders also include special interest confections such as the 7-year depreciable life for speedways and special film expensing rules. I don’t know whether any extenders missed the cut.

There’s more than extenders here. This thing has 233 pages of stuff, much of which has nothing to do with extenders. A few of the major items I note at first glance are:

-A moratorium on the Obamacare medical device tax.

-Acceleration of the deadline for filing W-2s with the government to January 31, from the current February 28 deadline for paper copies and March 31 for electronic filers. This is to make it easier to match refund claims to W-2s before refunds are issued.

-Exclusion from income for payments made to wrongfully-incarcerated individuals.

-Allowing the purchase of computers for students as a qualified Section 529 plan expenditure, effective for 2015.

-A new charitable deduction for contributions to “agricultural research organizations.”

-Restrictions on tax-free REIT spin-offs.

-New restrictions on the ability to qualify as a tax-exempt small insurance company.

-Technical amendments to the new partnership audit rules.

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

While the tax bill doesn’t include a delay on the ACA “Cadillac tax” on high cost health insurance, The Hill reports that such a delay is included in the “Omnibus” spending bill that was also agreed to yesterday.

One item I hoped to find, but didn’t, is a provision providing relief to the ridiculous Obamacare $100 per day, per employee penalty for non-integrated health reimbursement plans. Also absent is any of the long-overdue penalty relief for non-willful compliance failures for owners of foreign bank accounts and foreign assets.

Failure remains an option. Something could happen in Congress to, or the President could stop the bill with a veto threat. Still, I expect the thing to pass as-is.

Other coverage:

Tony Nitti, Permanent R&D Credit, Increased Section 179 Expensing Highlight Tentative Deal On Tax Extenders.

Wall Street Journal, Congressional Leaders Reach Sweeping Deal on Tax and Spending Legislation

New York Times, House Reaches Accord on Spending and Tax Cuts

 

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Russ Fox, That’s A Lot of Roast Beef Sandwiches. “Nick’s Famous Roast Beef is in Beverly, Massachusetts. You can get a roast beef sandwich for $4.50 to $6.95, definitely a reasonable price. The Department of Justice is alleging that one reason the prices are low is that the owners skimmed $6 million from the business to lower their taxes.”

Robert D. Flach, YEAR-END AND HOLIDAY CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS – PART II

Paul Neiffer, Iowa Land Values Drop 3.9% from 2014

Kay Bell, GOP presidential candidates’ final 2015 debate tonight. Written yesterday, of course.

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

Robert Wood, Why You Should Never Ask, ‘Where’s My IRS Form 1099?’

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 951. The Wall Street Journal notes the risk of political targeting in the proposed IRS rules requiring donors to supply social security numbers.

Harvey Galper, Why You Should Pay Attention to the Presidential Candidates’ Tax Proposals (TaxVox)

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Tax Roundup, 12/15/15: Is today the day we see an extender bill? And: carrybacks and other legends.

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
This happened in 2008. It's raining again.

It’s flooding again!

We may see extender legislation today. Or tomorrow. Or maybe never. Congressional negotiators haven’t given up on passing a “permanent extension” of some of the perpetually-expiring tax breaks. The breaks died at the end of 2014, and Congress needs to re-enact them to enable taxpayers to claim them on 2015 returns.

The only people who really know the status of negotiations are in Washington back rooms. The Hill, a publication whose business is to haunt those back rooms, reports that negotiations on a permanent extender package are coming to conclusion at the same time as a trillion-dollar “omnibus” spending bill:

The debate has become intermingled with the battle over the separate tax extenders proposal. After a series of short-term extensions, lawmakers in both parties want to make many of those tax breaks permanent. But Pelosi and House Democrats say the tax package, in its current form, is both too big and tilts too heavily in favor of corporations at the expense of individuals and federal revenues.

Pelosi has pushed to index the child tax credit to inflation, which Republicans oppose. Even then, Pelosi has warned, the package would have trouble finding support among House Democrats.

Tax Analysts reports ($link)

Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters December 14 that the omnibus bill and the extenders bill could pass Congress by December 18 — or December 17, “if we are lucky.” He added that he thinks the two will remain separate, but that ultimately, that is up to congressional leadership.

Hatch said he was still hoping for a permanent extenders deal. “We are assiduously working on it. I think we will get it done. I think it will be fair to both sides,” he said. “And hopefully it will be a very important bill.”

According to The Hill, House Speaker Ryan promises to offer legislative language three days before any vote. The report that may see such language today, with a vote Thursday or Friday. If a bill becomes available, I will update this post with a link.

Failure is always an option. There seem to be many ways to sink a permanent extender bill. A two-year extender bill has been introduced as a Plan B, but even that isn’t a sure thing. A Senate staff member was at the Ames tax school yesterday, and he said he expects a two-year extender bill, for what that’s worth. I still think that is the most likely result, but I would sure prefer to be proved wrong by a permanent bill.

Related: Paul Neiffer, One Year Later:

We are hearing from various sources that the tax extender bill will not be done until likely this Saturday which will be December 19.  Last year, the bill was signed on December 19, so if Congress passes it on the 19th and heads home, the tax extender bill this year will be even later than last year.  However, the good news that we continue to hear that it will be a two-year extension for both 2015 AND 2016.

A one-year bill is plan C. Complete failure is Plan D.

 

Jared Walczak, Corporate Net Operating Loss Carryforward and Carryback Provisions by State (Tax Policy Blog):

Net operating loss deductions are important because many businesses operate in industries that fluctuate greatly with the business cycle. They might experience considerable profits one year, but then be in the hole the next year. Net operating loss carryforwards and carrybacks help those businesses to “smooth” their income, so that the tax code is more neutral with respect to time.

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Iowa unfortunately doesn’t allow carrybacks. This increases the possibility that a corporation could pay state taxes in excess of its income over its lifetime. An easy example would be a corporation that makes $1 million in year 1, loses $2 million in year 2, and closes. The corporation would have paid around $100,000 to IOwa in year 1 and would never get it back, even though its lifetime income was negative.

Iowa does allow a 20-year loss carryforward, if the loss corporation lives that long.

 

buzz20150827Buzz! Today’s Buzz roundup from Robert D. Flach covers extenders and reasonable comp, and offers a trivia challenge and a Trumpian devotion.

William Perez, Moving? How to Tell the IRS about a Change of Address

Russ Fox, If a Professional Prepares Your Return, Are You Exempt from the Accuracy-Related Penalty? “If you’re signing a return with $1 million of income, isn’t it worth more than a few seconds to review it? I would certainly think so.”

Jason Dinesen, The EIC Isn’t the Only Place Tax Fraud Happens. “EIC clients who are trying to commit fraud are indeed dangerous to us tax pros … but so is the small business client who’s trying to commit fraud.”

 

Robert Wood, Foreign Banks Pay To Avoid Tax Evasion Charges As More Americans Disclose Offshore Accounts.

Peter Reilly, Solid Due Dilgence Shields Trucking Heirs From IRS Attack. “The Tax Court decision in the case of the John Alterman Trust  is one of the best positive examples I have seen of Reilly’s Fourth Law of Tax Planning – Execution isn’t everything, but it’s a lot – in a while.”

Christine SpeidelReview of the First Tax Year of the Affordable Care Act and Look Ahead: Part 1 (Procedurally Taxing).

Matt McKinney, 3 key differences between an Iowa LLC and a corporation (IowaBiz.com)

It’s not just Iowa. Another CO-OP foundering. “As the list of failing CO-OPs continues to grow, it’s beginning to seem like the model may, in fact, be fatally flawed.”

21st Century tax problems. Lawsuit Alleges IRS Denied Deduction For Fertility Treatments Because Being Gay Is A ‘Choice’. (TaxGrrrl)

 

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Donald Marron, Should Governments Tax Unhealthy Foods and Drinks? (TaxVox). “We find that a US tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would be highly regressive, imposing more than four times as much burden, relative to income, on people in the bottom fifth of the income distribution as on those in the top fifth.”

Sin taxes are sacrifices imposed on the poor to flatter the consciences of the nosy rich.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 950

Joseph Thorndike, How Profit Sharing Sent Captain Ahab in Search of Moby Dick (Tax Analysts Blog). While Ahab had his problems, ERISA compliance wasn’t one of them.

News from the Profession. Don’t Worry Tax People, You Have a Lame Hashtag, Too (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

Every Bride dreams of this. Tax Profs Christine Allie  And Stuart Lazar Find Love At AALS, Marry At Tax Court (TaxProf)

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/14/15: Ames! And, fine happy! Government is just how we take money from one another.

Monday, December 14th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20140513-1Ames! Today is the last and biggest Day 1 of the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools. 275 or so people drove through the rain to Ames for the two-day session, and another 150 are participating via Webinar. I learn a lot from the participants and their questions, and it’s a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone who has attended.

Run a red light. The use of penalties to fund government operations is an ugly development in public finance. At the local level, the use of the police department as a revenue generator via petty fines and traffic cameras contributes to distrust and hostility towards law enforcement. At the national level, it leads to unfair and sometimes ruinous penalties for paperwork failures by law-abiding taxpayers. In either case, it leads to perverse incentives. The government has the incentive to make compliance difficult so that it can impose more penalties, while the citizenry learns to avoid getting government help for fear of stumbling into an obscure fine.

So naturally Congress is doing more of it. The “Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015” (HR 644) bill is largely “paid for” by an increase in fines for file timely returns.

The failure-to-file penalty is normally 5% per month, up to 25%, for late filing, based on the amount of unpaid tax required to be shown on the return. But there is a floor. The tax cannot be less than the lesser of

-$135, or

-100% of the amount required to be shown on the return.

if the return is filed more than 60 days late.

So if a taxpayer files a return showing a $250 balance due 2 1/2 months late, the penalty for failure to file is $135, instead of the $37.50 you would get under the normal computation.

But there’s more! Penalty, there is. The short-term spending bill increases the $135 penalty to $205 for returns due after 2015 (Amended Sec. 6651(a)).

This penalty is practically targeted at small filers. Big taxpayers will  usually exceed the floor if they file late. So to “pay for” a speculative cost of a trade bill, small taxpayers will get hit a little harder if they are out of compliance and try to get back in the system. It operates as a fine for coming into compliance — which will make it just a little harder for taxpayers who are trying to clean up their finances to do so.

While Congress just gets done in a few days, the fines will remain on the books forever. This is why I am not a fan of tax “pay fors” for legislation. The damage to the tax law will continue long after this Congress is forgotten.

Related: Kay Bell, Tax-free Internet access, tougher non-filing penalties closer to enactment as trade bill clears House

 

Extenders. As of this morning, it seems to be up in the air. The Hill reports that the leader of House Democrats says she isn’t happy with the permanent extender bill being negotiated. At least one Ways and Means Democrat wants to go with a one-year extension of the Lazarus provisions, including the Research Credit, Bonus Depreciation, and the $500,000 Section 179 limit. The Republican Ways and Means Chairman has proposed a two-year bill if Congress can’t pass a permanent extender bill. A one-year extension would mean another extender fight in 2016.

In any case, it will all be passed at the last minute, and we can count on bad tax policy as a result.

Prior Tax Update coverage:

Extender battle extended to next week; efforts to make some breaks permanent continue.

 

Related: Paul Neiffer, Inflation-Indexed Child Tax Credit Stymies Extender Bill

 

terrace hill 20150321

 

Peter Reilly, Sumner Redstone Liable For Tax On Long Ago Gift. The bill on the 1972 assessment is a testimony to the power of compound interest.

Russ Fox, Six Month Vacation Leads to Four and Eight Years at ClubFed. You aren’t allowed to take a vacation from your prison sentence.

Robert Wood, Why ‘Pay Me Next Year’ May Not Convince IRS On Your Taxes. “On a cash basis, you probably assume you can’t be taxed until you receive money. Yet if you have a legal right to payment but decide not to receive it, the IRS can tax you nonetheless.”

Scott Greenberg, A Federal Tax Credit for Refineries Would Probably Be a Bad Idea (Tax Policy Blog).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 947Day 948Day 949.

 

News from the Profession. Not Even ISIS Immune to Shortage of Accounting and Finance Talent (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

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Tax Roundup, 12/8/15: Extenders, fourth and long. Also: No Iowa tax reform expected in 2016. And: Finland!

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150811-1Time to punt? Congressional taxwriters may be on the verge of giving up on passing any permanent extensions of the perpetually-expiring tax provisions this year. It is reported they may go for a two-year extension this week. Tax Analysts reports on comments from House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady ($link):

House Ways and Means Republicans are expected to introduce a two-year tax extenders bill as talks continue on a permanent extenders package without a clear solution, committee Chair Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told reporters on December 7.

“The clock is ticking. We are not going to let the extenders fail before we leave town,” Brady said. Republicans want to make sure they are ready this week with a “fallback” if an agreement isn’t reached between the parties, he said earlier.

They are scheduled to adjourn and leave town Friday, so things will need to happen quickly. The story reports that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch expects the House to pass a two-year extension.

They had been working to permanently extend at least the research credit and the $500,000 Section 179 deduction, but the Democratic negotiators insistence on expansion of the earned income credit as part of any deal may doom the permanent effort.

Some of the Lazarus provisions that died at the end of 2014 and need to be extended to be available for 2015 filings include:

-The $500,000 limit for Section 179 deductions for otherwise capitalized capital expenditures. The limit will otherwise be $25,000.

-The research credit.

-Bonus depreciation

-The ability to roll up to $100,000 from an IRA directly to charity without it going through the 1040 first.

The full list is here.

Failure, of course, remains an option. The pre-recess crush makes getting anything done uncertain. House Majority Leader McCarthy is quoted as saying that he has a “fear” that the extenders won’t pass. In that case, we may have a retroactive package passed in January, delaying filing season, or no extender bill at all.

Related: Kay Bell, Uncle Sam faces another shutdown if Congress doesn’t reach spending agreement by Dec. 11

 

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No Iowa Tax Reform again this year. That’s the word from the Iowa Taxpayers Association annual legislative forum, reports the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier:

At the Iowa Taxpayers Association’s annual legislative leadership forum, held Friday at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Democratic and Republican leaders said there is not sufficient state revenue to support new tax breaks or policy changes that would remove money from the budget pie.

“Obviously, when you’re working on tight budget margins, the opportunity for tax reform becomes increasingly difficult,” said Rep. Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, the new House Majority Leader.

“I’m just going to be very frank: I don’t see this session producing any tax policy changes,” Jochum said. “In terms of any big, new policy changes in taxes … I truly do not see any of that happening.”

That’s no surprise. The continuing split of control between the parties, the resulting ability of either side to veto any tax reform efforts, and seemingly irreconcilable views on tax policy would probably doom any tax reform effort regardless of the budget numbers. The best we can hope is that work continues behind the scenes for when the political climate for tax reform improves. The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan is ready whenever they are.

 

buzz20150804Robert D. Flach has fresh Tuesday Buzz, with links including discussion of the futility of regulating the law-abiding to stop the crooks, a lesson with broad application.

Paul Neiffer, Additional De-Minimis Election Update. “Therefore, if a sole proprietor farmer or rancher purchases a large amount of assets that individually cost less than $2,500 AND these assets are likely to appreciate in value, it may be better to not make the de-minimis election for that year.”

Tony Nitti, Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015: #5- The Role Partnership Liabilities In Foreclosures,

Robert Wood, IRS Private Debt Collectors Are Now Legal: 10 Things You Should Know

TaxGrrrl, Wal-Mart Sues Puerto Rico Over ‘Astonishing And Unsustainable’ Tax Increase. To go with astonishing and unsustainable government spending.

Leslie Book, Summons Enforcement For Undisclosed Offshore Accounts: The I Don’t Have Em Defense Is Not an Easy One to Win

Jack Townsend, New Transportion Bill, FAST, Adds Some Tax Provisions

Of course it does. State Wants Its Share Of The Sharing Economy (Peter Reilly) “This appears to be one of the rare instances where I am providing you breaking news on a matter otherwise neglected by the tax blogosphere.” Au contraire, Pierre Peter!

 

20150731-1Finland is considering replacing its vaunted welfare regime with a guaranteed annual income;

The Finnish government is currently drawing up plans to introduce a national basic income. A final proposal won’t be presented until November 2016, but if all goes to schedule, Finland will scrap all existing benefits and instead hand out €800 ($870) per month—to everyone.

This would deal with the problem of high implicit marginal tax rates that make it too expensive for low-income Finns to go to work — a problem that also exists in the U.S., as Arnold Kling and others have noted.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the proposal is meant to tackle unemployment. Finland’s unemployment rate is at a 15-year high, at 9.53% and a basic income would allow people to take on low-paying jobs without personal cost. At the moment, a temporary job results in lower welfare benefits, which can lead to an overall drop in income.

Related: Tyler Cowen, A guaranteed annual income for Finland?Arnold Kling, Libertarian Scandinavian Welfare State?

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 943. Paul Caron telegraphs an end to this important series. Even when the Tax Prof’s daily coverage ends, the scandal remains unresolved, and Commissioner Koskinen and the administration continue to run out the clock, to the continuing damage of the IRS and to taxpayer service.

Scott Greenberg, A Lesson of Hanukkah: It’s Difficult to Determine Asset Lives: “To spell out the lesson of the story more slowly – the Maccabees came into possession of an asset (a jar of oil). They thought it would lose its value over a certain time period (a single day). However, the asset actually took much longer to depreciate (eight days).”

 

Stop the presses. Donald Trump Tweeted Something About Tax Shelters (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/3/15: Bedbugs and Cadillacs, and tax uses for old-fashioned index cards.

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
CDC image

CDC image

Drive all night. Mr. Charley told me so. An old joke says that you should spend for nice wheels because after all, while you can’t drive a house, you can always sleep in a car.  A case in Tax Court yesterday involves a taxpayer who may have taken that advice to heart. Fortunately, he also took to heart the tax rules that require you to document your business miles.

The taxpayer, a Mr. Charley, had a business (“LubriDyne”) that involved devices used to clean hydraulic oil used by injection molders. He bought a used Cadillac with a trunk big enough to hold his demonstration equipment and traveled in it far and wide, according to Judge Paris (my emphasis):

The most effective way for Mr. Charley to pitch LubriDyne was to drive to clients and demonstrate how the equipment worked. He began most trips from his home where he officed and stored his equipment. All of Mr. Charley’s business trips were made in the Cadillac. Many of LubriDyne’s clients were within a four- to five-hour radius of Mr. Charley’s Missouri home although he also visited clients in Colorado, California, and Wisconsin. If Mr. Charley did not return home at the end of each day, he would either spend the night in his car or drive through the night.6When he did stay overnight somewhere, he stayed with friends at their houses. Mrs. Charley did not accompany Mr. Charley on any of his business trips in 2010.

Footnote six explains the aversion to motels:

6 Mr. Charley testified that petitioners had spent $2,500 to rid their home of bed bugs after one hotel stay. Since then, he does not stay at hotels when he travels.

Whether or not you sleep in your car, the tax law requires extra substantiation for travel expenses. From the Tax Court opinion (citations omitted):

Under section 274(d), a taxpayer must satisfy strict substantiation requirements before a deduction is allowed. To deduct expenses related to travel, meals and entertainment, gifts, or listed property, the taxpayer must “substantiate by adequate records or by sufficient evidence corroborating the taxpayer’s own statement”: (1) the amount of the expense (i.e., mileage); (2) the time and place of the expense; (3) the business purpose of the expense; and (4) in the case of entertainment, the business relationship between the taxpayer and the person being entertained. Listed property includes passenger automobiles. To satisfy the requirements of section 274(d) by adequate records, a taxpayer must maintain records and documentary evidence that in combination are sufficient to establish each element of an expenditure or use.

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

This means the “Cohan Rule,” which enables courts to estimate expenses that are otherwise inadequately documented, cannot be used for car expenses. The IRS said Mr. Charley’s substantiation fell short. The Tax Court explained the taxpayer travel records:

Mr. Charley recorded the point-of-contact, telephone number, date he visited the client, and the client’s business address on an index card. Each index card was created at the time of the travel to that client. Although the mileage from Mr. Charley’s home to each client was not included on the index cards, most of his client’s business addresses included the city and State where the client was located. Some of the index cards record visits to multiple clients in the same geographical area.

The opinion doesn’t say why the IRS objected to the records — perhaps because he didn’t keep an actual travel log in the car? In any case, Judge Paris said the records were good enough (citations again omitted):

The Court finds that Mr. Charley substantiated that he had business mileage expenses for 2010 through his index cards and testimony — although not the amount reported on petitioners’ return.While Mr. Charley’s travel schedule may have been extreme, such extremity is not a bar to deducting otherwise properly substantiated expenses.

Mr. Charley left from his home office to begin each business trip. He would return home that day, drive through the night to return home the following day, or continue to another client in the same geographic location as the first client on the  business trip. Mr. Charley’s index cards contain the business address for almost every client his visited in 2010. Allowing Mr. Charley the mileage for the shortest routes between his home office and his clients’ addresses, the Court finds that petitioners are entitled to car and truck expenses for 13,731 business miles for 2010.

While fewer miles than claimed on the return, it was 13,731 miles more than the IRS allowed.

The Moral: You have to be able to substantiate your travel to deduct it, but there’s more than one way to skin a Cadillac. While IRS loves auto logs, a detailed calendar  or a smartphone app capturing the same information will work. So will old-fashioned 3×5 cards.

Cite: Charley, T.C. Memo 2015-232.

 

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Gang Truce. Congress Reaches Deal on Five-Year Highway Funding Bill (Kyle Pomerleau, Tax Policy Blog). I find bipartisanship often is as helpful to the rest of us as an agreement to split crime proceeds between rival street gangs. The Highway bill is that sort of bipartisanship, with awful revenue raisers including a provision to revoke passports of “delinquent” taxpayers.

Anybody who has worked with the IRS knows that IRS recordkeeping is only getting worse. It can take years to fix an IRS mistake. Inevitably, some taxpayer will fall victim to a computer burp while overseas and be stranded and unable to sort out the mess for weeks. I just hope it’s a Congressman.

 

Robert D. Flach, YEAR-END AND HOLIDAY CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS. “You can no longer say you put a five or ten dollar bill in the collection plate each week.” Not if you want a deduction, anyway.

Russ Fox, Third Party Transcript Requests Reportedly Will No Longer be Processed by the IRS. ” This policy has not been officially published anywhere by the IRS, but based on IRS actions it appears that this policy was put in place because of identity theft concerns.”

Robert Wood, EU Hunts McDonald’s No-Tax Secret Sauce, Could End Love For Tax-Free Royalties

 

Keith Fogg, Legitimate Claim of 5th Amendment on Tax Return Should not Result in Frivolous Return Penalty (Procedurally Taxing). “Citing the 5th amendment on a tax return is something that a tax protestor might do which is why such an assertion makes the list, but it is also something that someone with a legitimate fear of prosecution should do.”

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Section 179. “As usual, Congress continues to dither on any tax extender bill for 2015.”

Paul Neiffer, A Slow Slog to the Finish Line on Section 179

Jack Townsend, In Summons Enforcement Proceeding, Court Rejects Taxpayer’s Lack of Possession Defense For Foreign Account Documents

Kay Bell, December! Time for shopping, holiday parties and taxes! A good discussion of some standard year-end planning techniques.

 

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Roberton Williams, The ACA Penalty Tax Is Going Up If You Don’t Get Health Insurance. (TaxV0x).

Peter Reilly, What Art Of The Deal Tells Us About Donald Trump And His Tax Views

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 938

 

The Critical Question. What’s Next for Microsoft After Some Expensive Table Pounding? (Tax Analysts Blog)

News from the Profession. Fake Occupants Caused Some Problems in Grant Thornton’s Audit of Assisted Living Concepts (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Yeah, fake customers are probably not a good thing to find in an audit.

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/30/15: Solar-powered tax fairies, and other signs and wonders.

Monday, November 30th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
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Flickr image courtesy Ashley Van Haeften under Creative Commons license

Tax Fairy signs and wonders. The time is always right for a revival for the Cult of the Tax Fairy, the wonderful mythical being that can make your taxes go away with a wave of her wand, for an entirely reasonable up-front fee. These revivals are often accompanied by signs and wonders, several of which appear in request for a federal injunction filed earlier this month with respect to a solar energy operation. Being alert for these signs and wonders can save would-be Tax Fairy believers from a bad experience when the IRS folds up the revival tent.

The injunction request complaint deals with tax benefits alleged for “solar thermal lenses.” As I understand it, the basic technology is familiar to every little kid who has used a magnifying glass to burn things, but on a bigger scale. The real technical magic lies in the tax breaks.

We’ll discuss the tax breaks are described in the injunction request, which we should remember are the government’s allegations. The defendants may dispute the allegations, which have not been proven in court. The alleged facts do include signs and wonders often seen in Tax Fairy revival tents, though, and may be of instruction to those not wanting to be burned by Tax Fairy false prophets.

Tax benefits as a multiple of the cash paid. Real tax benefits rarely exceed the amount paid out for them. A deduction by definition provides a tax benefit of less than the amount paid — the tax rate times the amount of the expense. A tax credit could in theory provide more than a 100% benefit when combined with a deduction — the Iowa school tuition tax credit can come very close — but even that is a rare creature. By leveraging through borrowings, the up-front payment can be minimized, but real borrowings have to be repaid.

According to the government’s injunction request, the defendants sell solar lenses at a stated price of $3,500. But only $105 is due on the down payment, with $945 due the following year, after the tax fairy has magically provided tax savings from the investors. $3,500 in benefits for $105 would be a sweet deal.

Pretend loans. The remaining $2,450 is supposedly payable over 30-35 years. Most importantly, “the customer is not personally liable for the remaining $2,450. There is no provision for remedy in case a customer defaults, other than ‘repossession’ of the lens…”

This reminds me of cattle shelters of the early 1980s, when a $1,000 cow would be “sold” to Tax Fairy believers for, say, $5,000, or more, with $1,000 down and the rest in super-easy payments. The investors would claim depreciation of the cattle for the state price, but the loan was a wink and a nudge, with no real expectation of repayment. The solar lens shelter described by the injunction complaint would work the same way, promising $3,500 worth of tax benefits for $105 down.

tax fairyCasual Business operations. You can only deduct business expenses for a real business trying to make money. As described in the injunction request, at least, the don’t seem to be trying too hard. The lenses are described as “solar energy” property to generate a tax benefit, yet:

…neither the lenses, nor any other equipment on the installation, are (or have been) generating electricity, heating or cooling a structure, providing hot water for use in a structure, or providing solar process heat.

Also:

47. Defendants’ “lenses” consist of thin sheets of plastic. 
48. There are some lenses mounted on towers at the Installation in Millard County.
49. The thin plastic lenses that have been mounted have been exposed to desert conditions. Many are broken and dangling out of their frames. The ground near the Installation is littered with shards of plastic from lenses which have broken and fallen.
50. In this state, the lenses cannot capture or direct sunlight such that it could be used for any purpose that Congress intended to encourage through tax deductions or credits.
51. The vast majority of lenses purportedly sold – if they even exist – have not been  mounted. Defendants claim the lenses are in storage.

So many signs and wonders. We’ll just note that there is no deduction for an asset unless it’s “placed in service,” which is not the same thing as “placed in storage.”

Tax benefits are all that make the deal profitable. The injunction request says that the investors will get a small annual payment for the use of the lenses, but that the IRS says doesn’t actually get paid. The promotional material instead focuses on the ability to “zero out” taxes, according to the complaint.

Implausibility. Really, if somebody has a revolutionary technology, what’s more likely: that they would find venture capital to ramp it up and syndicate the tax benefits to large investors, or that they would finance it $105 at a time via multi-level marketing?

The web site for at least one defendant company remains up, so you can check it out for yourself.  But when pondering the signs and wonders touted by someone with something to sell, always keep one scientific fact in mind: there is no tax fairy.

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Paul Neiffer, Happy Thanksgiving and CRP reporting:

Roger McEowen of the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation just posted a brief on whether you need to file a Form 8275 with your tax return if you are reporting CRP payments and not paying self-employment tax on the rents received.  The Morehouse appeal was finalized last year in favor of the taxpayer.  However, the IRS recently issued a non-acquiescence and asserts that it will assess self-employment tax on any CRP payments where the taxpayer is not receiving social security benefits even if they are passive landlord.  Even though they did not appeal the Court’s decision, they still disagree with the Court (typical IRS).

Roger does a good job of breaking down the details of the issue and provides guidance on whether you need to file the form or not. 

I agree with Roger that the IRS is wrong in imposing self-employment tax on non-farmers. I am more willing to disclose than Roger, and I think preparers should discuss disclosure with clients.

 

Russ Fox, De Minimis Rule Change Is Better than I First Thought. “Normally when you read something that’s from the IRS, you expect to find ‘gotchas.'”

William Perez, Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Investors

Robert D. Flach, FINE WHINE! “Forced ethics CPE will not reduce tax fraud!”

Kay Bell, Hunters’ game plan: donating meat to feed the hungry

Peter Reilly, Hobby Lobby Owners Win First Round In $3 Million Tax Refund Case

 

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Take the Money and Run? The Tax Consequences of Winning a Home in a Giveaway, Part 2

 

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Alan Cole, Universal Savings Accounts Introduced in Congress (Tax Policy Blog). “The bill, sponsored by Senator Jeff Flake and Representative Dave Brat, would allow Americans age 18 or older to open an account to which they could contribute $5,500 of after-tax money. The money could be invested in bonds and equities, and grow tax free.”

Renu Zaretsky, On Highways and Tax Bases. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers efforts to pass an elusive permanent highway funding bill, among other things.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 931Day 932,Day 934Day 935. Day 934 is probably the best of this holiday weekend’s crop, with discussion of the systematic weakening of inspectors general by the administration. “Last year, 47 of the nation’s 73 federal IGs signed an open letter decrying the Obama administration’s stonewalling of their investigations.”

Robert Wood, Wesley Snipes Sues IRS Over Abusive $17.5M Tax Bill, False Promise Of ‘Fresh Start’. Mr. Snipes has not previously shown good skill with the tax law, and I don’t think he’s starting now.

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/25/15: Don’t bother depreciating things up to $2,500. And: Have a great Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20141226-1$2,500 is the new $500. The IRS yesterday announced (Notice 2015-82) that it was increasing the maximum “safe harbor” expensing amount from $500 per item to $2,500 for taxpayers without an “applicable financial statement” — that is, most taxpayers. Taxpayers with an AFS can elect to expense items up to $5,000. These safe harbors enable taxpayers to not worry about capitalizing and depreciating items up to these amounts.

The new safe harbor takes effect for years starting January 1, 2016 and later.

The safe harbors are authorized by treasury regulations for taxpayers who have in place at the beginning of the tax year “accounting procedures treating as an expense for non-tax purposes” that expense such “per invoice (or per item as substantiated by invoice)” So make sure you write down somewhere that you have a policy of expensing everything up to $2,500 before December 31.

This is a good, if small, step towards allowing taxpayers to expense capital costs. I object to the “applicable financial statement” requirement for the $5,000 amount, as the tax law shouldn’t care whether you have a CPA-certified audit or that you have to report your financials to a government agency, but at least this closes the gap some.   I should be happy, I suppose, that it gives my auditing brethren a small sales tool.

Related: Russ Fox, IRS Increases De Minimis Expense Threshold to $2,500 from $500 for 2016 OnwardTony Nitti, IRS: Taxpayers May Immediately Deduct The Purchase Of Assets Costing Less Than $2,500.

 

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William Perez, Year End Tax Planning Ideas for Self Employed Persons.

Robert Wood, Passports Required For Domestic Travel In 2016, But IRS Can Revoke Passports For Taxes. Giving IRS control over passports is a horrible idea. They make so many errors, and the errors can be so hard to fix.

Robert D. Flach, MORTGAGE INTEREST LIMITATIONS. “But the Court of Appeals ruled that [unmarried] co-owners of one primary residence can each claim mortgage interest on up to $1 Million in acquisition debt and $100,000 of home equity debt.”

 

Annette Nellen, Sales Tax as a Penalty? “A proposed California initiative may surprise you.  It calls for a 1000% sales tax on ‘political advertisements.'”

Kay Bell, IRS should focus tax audit efforts on richer taxpayers. Willie Sutton might agree. 

Paul Neiffer, FAFSA Reporting Changes. “The Department of Education has issued new rules that make this process be much less of a hassle; however, you have to wait until 2017 to take advantage of it.  Beginning in that year, your required FAFSA income tax return will be a whole year in arrears.” About time.

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Home Offices, Principal Place of Business, and Mileage Deductions

Carl Smith, New, Additional Proposed Innocent Spouse Regulations Issued (Part 1), (Part 2) (Procedurally Taxing)

TaxGrrrl, Don’t Try This At Home: Avoid These 10 Money Missteps That Landed Reality TV Stars In Trouble.

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 930. Today’s link on the “investigation” of the scandal by the Justice Department.

 

Scott Hodge, The Simple Solution to the Pfizer Deal: Cut the Rate and Move to a Territorial Tax System (Tax Policy Blog). So, you could actually do something like this that makes sense, or you could listen to….

Richard Phillips, Congress Must Act Now to Stop Pfizer and Other Companies from Inverting (Tax Justice Blog). The “continue the beatings until morale improves” approach.

News from the Profession. A Surprising Number of Accountants Think Accountants Are Incredibly Corrupt (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

Programming Note: The Tax Update will be taking the rest of the week off to celebrate Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the many fine tax bloggers I get to read when putting the Tax Roundups together, and I am especially thankful for those of you who stop by to read the Tax Update. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and maybe start with Jim Maule’s holiday musings: Thanks Again! “For as long as I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been sharing a Thanksgiving post to express my gratitude for a variety of people, events, and things.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/17/15: We’re #40! The new State Business Tax Climate Index comes out today.

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

If Iowa’s income tax were a car, it would look like this.

Iowa rises out of bottom ten in State Business Tax Climate index. The Tax Foundation released its 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index today, and Iowa is no longer one of the ten-worst states in the index. Barely.

Maryland and Iowa changed places from last year in the index, making Iowa the 40th state in the annual index of business tax climates. Iowa’s overall score improved slightly, while Maryland got a little worse, especially in its unemployment insurance ranking. Iowa failed to improve its ranking in any of the five components making up the index. Its ranking fell in the sales tax, unemployment tax, and property tax categories, and it maintained its 32nd place individual tax and 49th place in corporation tax. Still, Maryland’s seven-place plunge in its unemployment tax rankings enabled it to crawl underneath Iowa in the index.

The result isn’t surprising, as Iowa’s tax law is nearly unchanged from last year. The split control of the Iowa legislature has blocked any significant tax legislation. I do suspect that the sales tax component will improve in the 2017 index based on the change in the definition of sales tax-exempt manufacturing supplies under an administrative ruling set to take effect July 1 of next year.

Iowa, in short, continues to have a bad system, one changed very little in structure since the 1970s, with high rates and a rat’s nest of feel-good deductions and special interest subsidies producing a hostile system for small businesses lacking expensive advisors and good friends at the statehouse. It’s a system crying for reform. The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would be a huge improvement.

Map by the Tax Foundation

Map by the Tax Foundation

 

Fresh Buzz! Tuesday again brings a fresh Buzz roundup from Robert D. Flach, covering ground from accounting nostalgia to changes in this year’s W-2.

Robert Wood, Clinton Foundation Amends 4 Years Taxes, Admits Speech Fees Weren’t Donations. Ah, but better keep an eye on those sneaky Tea Partiers. The laundering of speech fees through the foundation, instead of through Clinton 1040s, seems inherently sketchy.

Jay A. Soled, Kathleen DeLaney ThomasThe Nonreporting of Modern Fringe Benefits (Procedurally Taxing). “But there is a strange phenomenon transpiring with respect to this new breed of fringe benefits. While they generally do not fall within the delineated scope of Code section 132’s enumerated exemptions, they are nevertheless not being reported as income by employers (nor by the employees, who follow suit).”

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Review (Of Financial Statements). “In a review, the CPA examines a company’s financials to verify that they are free of deficiencies, but the firm does not review internal controls or fraud risks as in an audit.”

Jack Townsend, Is Jury Unanimity Required as to at Least One Obstructive Act for Tax Obstruction?

Paul Neiffer, Trends in Write-Offs of Farm Assets:

The Tax Foundation periodically comes out with good information on tax statistics.  They recently issued a report on corporate investment in equipment for tax year 2012.  My perception has been that most of the equipment purchased during 2012 was new equipment.  Based on this report, my perception may be in error (or not).

I think Paul is correct in believing that Section 179 is a bigger deal for most farmers than bonus depreciation.

Kay Bell, Cell phone service taxes average 18%, an all-time high

 


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Peter Reilly, Bernie Sanders Less Of A Socialist Than Dwight Eisenhower. Peter bases this (absurd) headline on the Sanders statement that he wouldn’t raise income tax rates to the 90% amount seen in the Eisenhower administration. I suspect Peter was being deliberately provocative or sarcastic, as I think he knows his history too well to actually believe that.

UPDATE: Peter corrects my speculation in the comments: “On the not as Socialist as Dwight Eisenhower thing, I was quoting Sanders (or paraphrasing) as I was live blogging the debates.” Peter has a much stronger stomach than I do to actually watch these things.

 

Jim Maule, Not a Surprise: Tax Ignorance Afflicts Presidential Candidates and CNN.  While the good professor focuses on the size of the tax code, I think that’s just a reflection of a much bigger problem — one that would be corrected by my proposal that all politicians, and all candidates, be required to do their returns by hand in a live webcast. I would also require a comment bar so we could all help the politicians — “hey, do you really think your used briefs are worth $3 each?”

 

Annette Nellen, “Abolish the IRS” Distracts from Needed Reforms.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 922. The Attorney General will get to explain why she concludes there were no crimes committed.

Renu Zaretsky, Maybe peace, definitely another patch, and many refunds… Today’s TaxVox headline roundup ranges from prospects for tax legislation this year to refunds of Cleveland’s “Jock Tax.”

 

News from the Profession. Some Audit Committee Members Just Ignoring Auditors Now (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Well, they’re used to it.

 

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