Posts Tagged ‘Peter Reilly’

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

Friday, June 27th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

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

Other coverage:

IRS Offers Voluntary Tax Preparer Education Program (Accounting Today)

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

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

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

 

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Why did Lois Lerner work at the IRS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan McArdle explains why that was a bad idea:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 414

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

Funny how nobody is doing that anymore.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

 

This happened in 2008.  It's raining again.

This happened in 2008. It’s raining again.

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/26/14: Misdirected e-mail edition. And: 15 years for tax fairy medium Daugerdas.

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

The IRS scandal finally found a way to get the Des Moines Register’s attention.  Lois Lerner of IRS sought audit of Grassley, emails say:

The emails show Lerner mistakenly received an invitation to an event that was meant to go to Grassley, a Republican.

The event organizer apparently offered to pay for Grassley’s wife to attend the event.

Instead of forwarding the invitation to Grassley’s office, Lerner emailed another IRS official to suggest referring the matter for an audit, saying it might be inappropriate for the group to pay for his wife.

“Perhaps we should refer to exam?” Lerner wrote.

It was unclear from the emails whether Lerner was suggesting that Grassley or the group be audited — or both.

Grassley-090507-18363- 0032A reader who relies on the Des Moines Register for news might be puzzled over who Lois Lerner is.  A search of the word “Lerner” on the Register’s website only uncovers two other stories related to her role in the scandal: “Steve King calls for abolishing the IRS on Tax Day” (4/15/14) and “Critics: Progress scant after IRS scandal” (3/27/13).  It appears that today’s article would have been the first time Register readers would have learned anything about the mysterious mass deletion of emails relating to the Tea Party scandal.  A devoted Register fan might have been puzzled as to why this seemingly important news hadn’t been mentioned before.

I think there’s a hint down in the article (my emphasis):

Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS has acknowledged that agents improperly scrutinized applications by tea party and other conservative groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections. Documents show that some liberal groups were singled out, too.

Nobody buys that last sentence.  While a few “liberal” words were on the list of buzzwords to identify political organizations, no liberal outfits had their donor lists illegally released, or had their exemption applications held up indefinitely with demands for ridiculous detail of the organizations — including the content of their prayers.   Here are the stats:

targetingstats

Now maybe the Register will begin to get its readers up to speed.  If not, the Tax Update is available to Register subscribers at no extra charge!

Meanwhile, the IRS will have to explain to senior Senate taxwriter Grassley just why it needs more resources.  That may be slightly awkward.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 413

Russ Fox, Lerner Appears to Have Targeted Iowa Senator Grassley  “Of course, President Obama said earlier this year just that–that there is not even a smidgen of corruption…”

 

tax fairyThe Tax Fairy fails a true believer.  Paul Daugerdas, the Jenkens & Gilchrist attorney who generated over $90 million in fees selling tax shelters, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison yesterday for his troubles.  Bloomberg reports:

The tax shelters at the center of the case were sold from 1994 to 2004 to almost 1,000 people, creating $7 billion in fraudulent tax deductions and more than $1 billion in phony losses for customers, the U.S. said.

It appears unlikely that Mr. Daugerdas will come out ahead on his tax shelter efforts:

Daugerdas was ordered to forfeit $164.7 million and help pay restitution, with other conspirators, of $371 million. 

While he wasn’t the only Tax Fairy guide during the great turn-of-the-century Tax Shelter frenzy, he was perhaps the most prominent, inventing tax shelters with names like HOMER and COBRA.  The shelters found eager customers among businesses and individuals looking for the Tax Fairy, the legendary sprite believers insist will wave her magic wand and make taxes go away, for a very reasonable fee.    Now Jenkens & Gilchrist is dead, the believers are out their money, plus penalties, and there still is no Tax Fairy.

The Tax Analysts story on the sentencing ($link) had one item that I hadn’t seen before:  “The jurors said that Daugerdas was convicted solely on counts for which the government presented evidence of backdating, when Daugerdas agreed to prepare false tax returns that reported as 2001 losses transactions that occurred in 2002, the defense memo says.”  Way back in 2009, I said this could be his biggest problem at trial: Is backdating the fatal flaw for Daugerdas?:

If the government can prove backdating, it might be much easier for a juror to vote for conviction. Tax is hard, and a good defense lawyer has a lot of opportunities to give jurors a reasonable doubt in a case involving short sales, derivatives and currency options. But anybody can understand backdating.

This sort of thing separates “aggressive tax planning” from plain fraud.

Related: 

Department of Justice Press Release

Jack Townsend, Daugerdas Gets 15 Year Sentence

TaxGrrrl, Daugerdas Sentenced To Prison, Ending Biggest Tax Prosecution Ever

This one is probably coincidental, but Jason Dinesen, 138 Years Ago Today: Custer’s Last Stand

 

IMG_0216Robert D. Flach, A SUMMER TAX TIP FOR SCHEDULE C FILERS

William Perez, Single Filing Status.  “A person is considered unmarried for tax related purposes if on the last day of the year the person is not married to any other person or is legally separated from a spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.”

Kay Bell, Kids, summer camp tax breaks and our personal X Games site

Peter Reilly, Facade Easement Valuation Cannot Be Percentage Rule Of Thumb 

Cara Griffith, Ohio Enacts Legislation Allowing Creation of Captive Insurance Companies (Tax Analysts Blog).

The answer is clearly more tax credits.  The New Jersey Casino That Tax Credits Could Not Save  (Adam Michel, Tyler Dennis, Joseph Henchman, Tax Policy Blog)

Renu Zaretsky, Expanding a Credit, Simplifying a Break, and Cutting Off a Nose to Spite a Face.  Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers  IRS funding, student debt, and same-sex marriage complications.

 

 

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Tax Roundup 6/24/14: Koskinen’s political gifts. And: in case you didn’t think Hitler was bad already…

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Just the man to build bridges to Republicans who fund the IRS.  From Bryan Preston, IRS Chief Koskinen Has Donated Big to Democrats Over the Years:

According to the Washington Free Beacon, Koskinen has donated about $100,000 to Democrat candidates and committees since his first donation in 1979. His donor recipients include Gary Hart, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic nominee in each presidential campaign since 1980 (which would even include Walter Mondale, who stood no chance of beating President Ronald Reagan in 1984), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s campaigns. He most recently donated $2,500 to Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) in 2013.

He has given no money to Republicans.

It’s hard to believe how tone-deaf he is to the Tea Party scandal, but this helps explain it.  (Via Instapundit)

 

Jeremy Scott, Lost Lerner E-mails Latest Example of IRS Death Wish (Tax Analysts Blog), my emphasis:

In contrast to their GOP colleagues, Democrats rushed to Koskinen’s defense. That is, perhaps, understandable, even though much of what the IRS has done during this scandal is indefensible. Democrats probably want to defend their president’s pick to head the IRS, and maybe they want to try to change the narrative heading into a potentially disastrous midterm election. But the reality is that the IRS isn’t doing them any favors. There’s only so much incompetence and disingenuous behavior that can be run through a political spin machine. The Democrats’ reflexive defense of Lerner (whose conduct can’t be excused) and their apparent willingness to accept any explanation from Koskinen (who didn’t even try to adequately explain why he hid information on the lost e-mails from February until late June) is baffling. Democrats weakly attempted to paint the GOP as on a witch hunt for a conspiracy, as though the IRS’s mismanagement and appearance of bias weren’t enough to justify congressional inquiry.

The IRS isn’t doing Democratic congresscritters any favors, nor are they doing any for the IRS.  They are just making the IRS look more like a partisan agency, which could cripple tax administration for years.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 411

 

20140507-1Kay Bell, Save space and trees: Digitize your tax records.  That way if you lose them, the IRS will surely understand.

Russ Fox has some valuable information for online gamblers trying to stay FBAR compliant: Online Gambling Addresses (Updated for 2014)

Robert D. Flach has a Tuesday Buzz for you!

Tony Nitti, How State Taxes Could Play A Role In Carmelo Anthony’s Landing Spot.  Nah, state taxes don’t matter…

Peter Reilly, Step Kids Remain Step Kids After Divorce.  So you may still have a dependent, if not a spouse.

Jack Townsend, Comments by IRS Personnel on New Streamlined and OVDP Procedures.  “The new procedures were designed to ‘encourage folks who are considering quiet disclosures to come in with their hands up’ and avoid taxpayers coming into OVDP with the intention to opt out.”

Annette Nellen, Bitcoin Taxation – Clarity and Mystery, “If you are a tax practitioner and don’t think you need to deal with it, I’d be surprised if none of your clients uses bitcoin.”

William Perez, Backup Withholding.

 

Tyler Dennis, The Clinton’s Estate Tax Planning Demonstrates the Arcane Nature of the Estate Tax (Tax Policy Blog):

When the Clintons created the trust in 2011, their property’s assessed value was $1.8 million.  Without a residential trust, the future appreciation between 2011 and 2021 would count against the gift tax. If the property appreciated at a 4% annual rate and reached $2.6 million by 2021, that’s the amount that would count. With the residential trust, though, the Clintons were able to “lock in” the value of the home at its 2011 value of $1.8 million without actually relinquishing the property to the beneficiary of the trust.

Most supporters of higher taxes assume that they won’t have to pay them.

 

Renu Zaretsky, Disbelief, Devolution, and Death Benefits.  The TaxVox headline roundup talks about the Koskinen appearance before the Issa committee, and about how a surprising proportion of new life insurance is taken out on employees.

Andrew Lundeen, The Average U.S. Worker Pays over $16,000 in Income and Payroll Taxes (Tax Policy Blog):

The tax burden is a combination of income taxes at the federal, state, and local levels as well as the employee and the employer payroll taxes. Of the 31.3 percent tax burden, 15.4 percent is due to income taxes and 15.9 percent is due to payroll taxes, over half of which is paid by the employer on the employee’s behalf. (Workers pay the cost of the employer-side payroll taxes through lower wages.) 

Heck of a deal.

 

Stephanie Hoffer, Kuretski, the Tax Court, and the Administrative Procedure Act (Procedurally Taxing).

 

Another great tax planning idea down the tubes.  Kidnapping Prostitutes Is Not a Good Way to Claim Dependents for Tax Purposes (Greg Kyte, Going Concern)

If you didn’t think he was a bad guy already…  Adolf Hitler: Billionaire tax-dodger?

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/23/14: Making no friends edition.

Monday, June 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

New IRS Commissioner Koskinen isn’t exactly making new friends for the agency in Congress.  His testimony Friday on the implausible rash of hard-drive failures that hit the IRS just as Congress began looking at Tea Party harassment amounted to an insistence that Congress take the IRS at its word, and give it more money.  From Tax Analysts ($link):

     “I don’t think an apology is owed,” Koskinen answered. “Not a single e-mail has been lost since the start of this investigation.”

Regarding the six other IRS employees who have experienced computer failures since the investigation began, Koskinen said technology experts told him that 3 to 5 percent of hard drives can be expected to fail during their warrantied lifetimes. 

It just happened to all the hard drives of the people most involved in beating up on the Tea Party.

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Commissioner Koskinen (correctly) points out that the IRS is underfunded for all of the chores (unwisely) given it by Congress.  With Congressional Republicans understandably reluctant to fund an agency it percieves, with justification, as its opposition, Mr. Koskinen ought to be going out of his way to assure them that he is making sure to eliminate political bias in the agency and to fully cooperate with the investigation.  He is doing nothing of the sort, and he may have already irretreivably lost his opportunity to convince GOP appropriators that he can be trusted.

IRS stonewalling isn’t a new thing.  As the many lawsuits filed by Tax Analysts to get the IRS to release its internal documents show, covering up is a way of life in the agency.  Christopher Bergin, in The Coverup Is Usually Worse Than the Crime (Tax Analysts Blog), gives some background:

Maybe it’s just sloppy record-keeping, which would be bad enough. Most of the government’s business is now conducted digitally, and those records need to be properly handled. Or is it worse? Is the IRS deliberately keeping things from the public? Excuse my cynicism, but the IRS’s penchant for secrecy is what led Tax Analysts, using the new Freedom of Information Act, to sue the agency in the 1970s to force it to release private letter rulings. There have been several subsequent lawsuits to pry records that should have been public out of the agency’s hands.

The idea that IRS emails are public records requiring preservation is nothing new, and was well-established at the time Ms. Lerner was busy.  It’s either negligent and outrageous incompetence or criminal destruction of public records, and to say that the IRS owes no apologies is to say that at least one of these unpleasant choices is just fine with him.

 

 

20140623-1TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 410

Megan McArdle, An IRS Conspiracy? Not Likely … Yet.  “To be clear, of course six tragic hard drive failures in a relatively short period of time would make it very hard to believe in a benign explanation.”

Brian Gongol, Backing up your email isn’t hard to do.  “Someone should tell the IRS, which is making excuses for losing administrative emails — excuses that wouldn’t pass muster in an IRS audit

Russ Fox, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Backups

 

TaxGrrrl, Raking It In At Summer Yard Sales: Does Uncle Sam Get A Cut?   

Roger McEowen, U.S. Supreme Court Says Inherited IRA’s Not Exempt in Bankruptcy

Jason Dinesen, Bedside Manner is Important for Tax Pros, Too

Peter Reilly, Does Sixth Circuit ABC Decision Give Tenants Incentive To Buy?  “ABC Beverage Corporation is entitled to deduct the premium portion of the price it paid for the real estate as a cost of terminating the lease.”

 

Keith Fogg, D.C. Circuit Upholds the Constitutionality of Presidential Removal Powers of Tax Court Judges (Procedurally Taxing)

I think it’s only half-baked.  Stick a Fork in It: Is the Corporate Income Tax Done? (Joseph Thorndike, Tax Analysts Blog)

It’s not just a problem in Florida.  Seven indicted in Minnesota identity theft ring (TwinCities.com).

 

Wind turbineQuad City Times, Tax credits boost solar power in Iowa

David Henderson, Low-Carbon Alternatives: Solar and Wind Suck (Econlog).  “[A]ssuming reductions in carbon emissions are valued at $50 per metric ton and the price of natural gas is $16 per million Btu or less–nuclear, hydro, and natural gas combined cycle have far more net benefits than either wind or solar.”

 

Roberton Williams, U.S. Taxes Have Changed A Lot Since 1929 (TaxVox)

Steve Wamhoff,  Good and Bad Proposals to Address the Highway Trust Fund Shortfall (Tax Justice Blog).  The TJB has started putting individual author names on their posts, so I’ll do so too.

David Brunori, Tax Policy Is Not the Way to Deal With an Ass (Tax Analsyts Blog).  Not every problem is a tax problem.

Going Concern, IRS Can’t Afford to Upgrade to Windows 7 But Can Afford to Pay Microsoft to Use XP

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/17/14: Hiring witnesses to your tax crimes. And: some folks just aren’t into Valentines Day.

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note:  The Tax Update will be on the road the rest of this week, so this is probably the last tax roundup this week.  Unless I change my mind.

 

Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

Sure, the more witnesses to my crime the merrier.  What could go wrong?  Every time I see a case in which an employer gets in trouble for evading payroll taxes by paying employees in cash, I have to wonder how much they thought things through.  Every employee becomes a potential informant, and it’s hard to imaging not having either a disgruntled employee turn you in or a careless one reveal the secret in the wrong place.

The Department of Justice yesterday announced a guilty plea yesterday:

   Sonny Pilcher of Casper, Wyoming, pleaded guilty to tax fraud today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced.  The sentencing hearing was set for Oct. 28, 2014 before U.S District Judge Alan B. Johnson.

 According to the charging document, Pilcher attempted to obstruct and impede the IRS.  Pilcher did this by claiming a false bad debt expense of $258,000 on his 2008 Form 1040 tax return, and by paying his employees in cash to evade paying employment taxes.  Pilcher faces a statutory maximum sentence of 36 months in prison, a $250,000 fine and may be ordered to pay restitution to the IRS. 

The inclusion of the “bad debt” in the charge is interesting.  You frequently see cases where people claim a non-business bad debt — which is a capital loss — as an ordinary fully-deductible business bad debt.  While you might see a civil penalty in such a case, I have never seen that called a criminal matter.  This presumably was something more serious than an argument over what kind of bad debt it was.

 

20120801-2If you have a full-time job, you probably aren’t a “real estate professional” who can deduct rental losses.  And if that’s so, don’t embarrass yourself in front of a Tax Court judge.  A taxpayer from California made that mistake in a Tax Court case issued yesterday.

Real estate rental losses are normally passive, meaning that they only are deductible to the extent of passive income (there is a special allowance for taxpayers with adjusted gross income under $150,000).  If you are a “real estate professional,” the losses are not automatically passive, but you have to meet two difficult tests to be one:

– You have to work at least 750 hours in the year in a real estate trade or business which you own, and

– your real estate business has to consume more of your time than anything else you do.

If you have a full-time day job, it is nearly impossible to rise to that standard (unless you have a pretty undemanding day job).  That didn’t keep the intrepid Californian who had three rental properties — all single-family houses — from giving it a try, as the Tax Court judge explains (my emphasis):

Even if we assume that petitioner worked 1,760 hours and 1,752 hours in 2009 and 2010, respectively, for Northrop Grumman, we do not accept his activity log coupled with this testimony relating to the rental activities as reliable or credible. A review of the activity log and testimony relating to the rental activities leads us to the conclusion the petitioner did not spend more hours at the real estate activity than at his full-time employment at Northrop Grumman. According to petitioner’s logs he spent almost every spare hour in those years working on the rental properties, including 10 hours on July 4 of each year, 12 and 10 hours on February 14, 2009 and 2010, respectively, and 9 and 10 hours, respectively, on December 25 of each year.

Hey, not everybody is a romantic.  And I’ll keep Christmas in my own way, thank you very much!

Although he managed three rental properties in each year, throughout 2009 alone petitioner’s records reflect that he repaired or worked on the sprinkler systems on any of the given properties on 64 separate occasions, and throughout 2010 he worked on sprinkler systems on 20 separate occasions. In addition, on March 16 and 17, 2009, the records reflect eight hours to prepare and deliver an eviction notice to be filed in court. Coincidentally, on March 15 and 16 of the next year, petitioner’s records reflect that he performed the very same activity for the same exact amount of time. A review of petitioner’s activity logs leads to the conclusion that the logs are inaccurate and exaggerated.

Maybe he just wasn’t very good at sprinkler systems?  Whatever you might think of Tax Court judges, you can be sure that they didn’t get their jobs by being gullible.

Cite: Bogner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-53.

 

 

20130114-1Kristy Maitre, Treasury Issues Changes to Circular 230 (Treasury Decision 9668):

Many individuals currently use a Circular 230 disclaimer at the conclusion of every e-mail or other writing.  Often the disclaimers are inserted without regard to whether the disclaimer is necessary or appropriate.

Treasury said they anticipate that the removal of the requirement will eliminate the use of a Circular 230 disclaimer in e-mail and other writings because Section 10.37 rules on written opinions don’t include the disclosure provisions in the covered opinion rules.

Good news.  I always thought the routine disclaimers were futile and I never used them.  They seemed like the email equivalent of a rabbit’s foot — it might make you feel better, but it still was mere superstition.  Yet I bet that we’ll still be getting emails from our fellow practitioners with the Circular 230 disclaimer years from now.

Russ Fox, Soon: No More Circular 230 Notices

 

Jason Dinesen, Iowa Taxes: Filing Separately and Allocating Dependents.  “In general, a typical married couple can allocate the dependency exemptions in whatever manner they choose.”

William Perez, Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Peter Reilly, Paul Reddam’s KPMG Tax Shelter Stunk In More Ways Than One 

TaxGrrrl, World Cup Mania: Figuring Out FIFA, Soccer & Tax.  So there’s a soccer tournament, I hear.

Robert D. Flach starts Tuesday with a Buzz!

 

20140513-1Martin Sullivan, Big Deal by Low-Tax Medtronic Has Even Bigger Implications (Tax Analysts Blog).  “The main benefit to Medtronic after the inversion will be that the billions of profits it generates outside the United States each year can now be deployed to pay dividends and to buy other U.S. companies without paying U.S. tax.”   Sounds like good corporate stewardship to me.

William McBride, Medtronic Embarks on Self-help Tax Reform (Tax Policy Blog).  “The high U.S. corporate tax rate is causing serious economic distortions, chasing away businesses, investment and jobs. The only way to deal with it effectively is to bring the corporate tax rate down to competitive levels, which is the path chosen by virtually every other country.”

 

Renu Zaretsky,  Tax Freedom, Tax Avoidance.  The TaxVox headline roundup covers the Medtronic inversion and internet taxes.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 404

Kay Bell, IRS says possible Tea Party emails lost in computer crash. “Conspiracy or clowns?”

 

News from the Profession.  Here’s Your Authoritative Guide for Likening Game of Thrones to Public Accounting (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/16/14: The dog ate my email edition. And: mail those estimates!

Monday, June 16th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Mail your second quarter 1040 and 1041 estimates today! (Or pay them online).

 

Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

Rose Mary Woods checks her e-mail in the Nixon administration.

If the IRS demanded your emails, and you said the computer “crashed” and ate them, they’d buy that, right?  

The IRS expects us to believe that they so monumentally incompetent at information technology that they can’t produce Lois Lerner’s emails from January 2009 through April 2011.  No backups?  No RAID duplication?  No way to reconstruct them out of the bad hard drive?

Even the best possible interpretation of this — taking the IRS at its word — is a damning indictment of the agency.  It would show that basic network hygiene used by the private sector since the last century still is too advanced for the biggest taxing agency in the world.

But you may be excused for suspecting evil instead of incompetence here.  Congressional investigators have been looking for these emails for months.  Evidence has been building of an interagency effort between the IRS and the Justice Department to shut down, and even prosecute, unfriendly organizations.  Now, suddenly, poof, no more emails.  I don’t buy it.

The IRS statement says “In the course of collecting and producing Ms. Lerner’s additional emails, the IRS determined her hard drive crashed in 2011.”  What email system does the IRS use where the emails live on individual hard drives, rather than an email server?  Do any of you readers use your PC as your email server?  If so, do you never back it up?

And if you buy the IRS story, then tell my why on earth this exceptionally inept agency should be responsible for administering the nation’s health insurance system through the ACA.  Or even the income tax, for that matter.

Sheryl Attkinson has some follow-up questions for the IRS:

Please provide a timeline of the crash and documentation covering when it was first discovered and by whom; when, how and by whom it was learned that materials were lost; the official documentation reporting the crash and federal data loss; documentation reflecting all attempts to recover the materials; and the remediation records documenting the fix. This material should include the names of all officials and technicians involved, as well as all internal communications about the matter.

Please provide all documents and emails that refer to the crash from the time that it happened through the IRS’ disclosure to Congress Friday that it had occurred.

Please provide the documents that show the computer crash and lost data were appropriately reported to the required entities including any contractor servicing the IRS. If the incident was not reported, please explain why.

Please provide a list summarizing what other data was irretrievably lost in the computer crash. If the loss involved any personal data, was the loss disclosed to those impacted? If not, why?

Please provide documentation reflecting any security analyses done to assess the impact of the crash and lost materials. If such analyses were not performed, why not?

Please provide documentation showing the steps taken to recover the material, and the names of all technicians who attempted the recovery.

Please explain why redundancies required for federal systems were either not used or were not effective in restoring the lost materials, and provide documentation showing how this shortfall has been remediated.

Please provide any documents reflecting an investigation into how the crash resulted in the irretrievable loss of federal data and what factors were found to be responsible for the existence of this situation.

For a phony scandal, it’s amazing how real they’re making it look.

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Other Coverage:

Russ Fox, The Two Year Gap. “Either the IRS is deliberately lying or they have the worst IT department and policies of any company, organization, or government entity in the world.”

Ron Fournier, Did The IRS Really Lose Lois Lerner’s Emails? Let a Special Prosecutor Find Them.  “The announcement came late Friday, a too-cute-by-half cliche of a PR strategy to mitigate backlash. ‘The IRS told Congress it cannot locate many of Lois Lerner’s emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year,’  The Associated Press reported.

Althouse, “Did The IRS Really Lose Lois Lerner’s Emails? Let a Special Prosecutor Find Them.”  “Give us a special prosecutor, because it’s not acceptable to tell us we’re supposed to believe this story of disappearing evidence….”

The Blaze, Veteran IT Professional Gives Six Reasons Why the IRS’ Claim That It ‘Lost’ Two Years of Lois Lerner’s Emails Is ‘Simply Not Feasible’

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 403, rounding up blog and big-media coverage.

Peter Reilly, Personal Goodwill Avoids Corporate Tax Exposure:

The IRS does not like the concept of “personal goodwill”, but courts have often approved it.  In the Tax Court decision in the case of Bross Trucking, the concept was confirmed again, helping to save the taxpayer from what appears to me to be a real overreach on the part of the IRS. 

An interesting case involving a group of family businesses.

 

Younkers ruins 20140610Robert D. Flach, FINE WHINE: WHY MUST WE PUT UP WITH LATE ARRIVING CORRECTED 1099-DIVs EACH TAX SEASON?

Kay Bell, A Father’s Day gift for single dads: 5 tax breaks

Jack Townsend, 11th Circuit Holds Clear and Convincing Evidence Required for Section 6701 Penalty; Can Reasoning be Extended to FBAR Willful Penalty?

Phil Hodgen, Maximum account value determination for trust beneficiaries for FinCen Form 114.   Useful information ahead of the June 30 FBAR deadline.

Andy Grewal, TEFRA Jurisdiction and Sham Partnerships — Again? (Procedurally Taxing).  A guest post by a University of Iowa law prof.

 

Howard Gleckman, The Strange Fruit of the House’s Bonus Depreciation Bill (TaxVox).  “If I had read the bill more carefully, I would have noticed that while it applied to fruit that grows on trees and vines, it inexplicably excluded fruit that grows on bushes. As a blueberry lover, I am shocked and outraged.”

TaxGrrrl, House Votes To Make Small Business Tax Break Permanent.  “The bill would make the [$500,000] cap retroactive to January 1, 2014.”

Scott Drenkard, Donald Sterling Might Not Be Able to Write Off $2.5 Million Fine as a Business Expense (Tax Policy Blog).

Going Concern, What’s a Day in the Life of a Typical Audit Intern?  You’ve been dying to know!

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/13/14: Extenders advance, estimates loom.

Friday, June 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Remember, second-quarter estimates are due Monday.  If you are a business paying through EFTPS with a payment due Monday, you need to set your payment up today to have it go through on time.

Kay Bell, Second estimated tax payment of 2014 is due June 16

 

S imageS imageS-SidewalkExtenders for Sec. 179, S corporations advance in House.  

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to make permanent $500,000 Section 179 expensing, a five-year built-in gain tax recognition period for S corporations, and the basis adjustment for S corporation contributions of appreciated property.

The President has said he will veto these permanent items, so this is more symbolic.  The Democrats want to keep pretending these are temporary measures to avoid counting their cost in long-term budget computations.   It is interesting, though, that it appears that these items are expected to be extended indefinitely, whether a year at a time or honestly.  They were initially passed in an anti-recession “temporary” measure.  It just shows that there are few things as permanent as a temporary tax break.

Still, until the Senate and the House agree on a bill, none of these provisions are in effect this year, so don’t spend your savings from these provisions just yet.

 

Jason Dinesen, HRAs and the Affordable Care Act:

An insurance agent recently asked me the following question: can a small business that currently offers insurance to its employees drop the insurance and instead form a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA, sometimes called a “Section 105 plan”) to reimburse employees for medical expenses?

The short answer to the question is: NO.

This is an issue that came up a lot in our Farm and Urban Tax Schools last fall.

 

Jordan Yahiro, The Obamacare Cadillac Tax and its Mixed Bag of Consequences (Tax Policy Blog):

Roberton Williams, Good And Bad News About The ACA Penalty Tax (TaxVox). “So what’s the bad news? Of the 7 million people who will owe tax, CBO says more than 40 percent won’t pay.”  And of those who do pay, about 60 percent won’t qualify for subsidies.

billofrightsChristopher Bergin, Taxpayer Bill of Rights or Mission Statement? (Tax Analysts Blog):

Is the taxpayer bill of rights a “Bill of Rights”? I don’t think so. If it were, Congress would need to provide remedies. The best thing I can say is that the IRS’s statement this week may be a good start at articulating principles the IRS should plan to follow.

Exactly.  My clients have already received notices since it was issued that violate this “bill of rights” by assessing penalties without offering explanation or appeal — and which are erroneous.  If we could turn around and make IRS pay us penalties when they erroneously assess us, or otherwise violate our supposed rights, it might mean something.

Keith Fogg, The Taxpayer Rights the IRS Says We Have (Procedurally Taxing).  “I am ready to be pleasantly surprised by the results of IRS TBOR and see little downside in this administrative effort to set out its view of the rights and expectations citizens should have of their tax administrators.”

 

Joseph Thorndike, Congress Should Abolish All Tax Breaks for Higher Education (Tax Analysts Blog):

There are at least 12 tax preferences targeting higher education, Guzman notes. Many are complex in their own right. When combined, however, they became a hopeless nightmare of complexity.

And it’s probable that the colleges just hoover up the subsidies with higher tuitions.

 

Cara Griffith, Tax Analysts Files Suit to Demand Transparency in California (Tax Analysts Blog).  Sometimes the bureaucracy likes the dark best.

 

TaxGrrrl,  Seattle Area Biz Tacks ‘Living Wage Surcharge’ Onto Receipts In Response To $15/Hour Minimum Wage.  Price controls always fail, and minimum wages are price controls.

Anthony Kim, Curtis Dubay, FATCA Hurts Law-Abiding Americans Living Abroad.  Sometimes you have to sow chaos and despair on the innocent break a few eggs to score some cheap political points make an omelet.

Tax Justice Blog, Senate Democrats, Joined by Three Republicans, Come Up Short on Buffett Rule, Student Loan Bill.  Too bad, so sad.

 

20140613-1

Looking north on 6th Street.

The new Cavalcade of Risk is up!  This edition of the venerable roundup of insurance and risk-management posts comes from France, but is assembled from U.S.-made parts — like Hank Stern’s post on a Ballsy Insurance Carrier Trick.  Global warming is involved.

Peter Reilly, Will National Grid Try Dumping Its Electrons Into Boston Harbor? 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 400

Robert D. Flach starts your weekend early with a Friday Buzz!

 

Going Concern, Listen to a Fake IRS Agent Try Telling Ex-Crazy Eddie CFO He’s About to Be Arrested.  It’s hard to scam a scammer.

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/12/14: Tax Credits run for governor. And: bad day for IRS in CRP tax case?

Thursday, June 12th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Crony tax credits have become an issue in Iowa’s race for Governor, reports The Des Moines Register:

The Republican Governors Association is out today with another TV ad attacking Jack Hatch.

The new ad accuses Hatch of sponsoring legislation to increase the availability of development tax credit while applying for tax credits for a real-estate project in Des Moines.

“Jack, isn’t that a conflict of interest?” the narrator asks.

It’s true that Mr. Hatch has been a successful player in the tax credit game.  It may be the merest coincidence that an awful lot of tax credits go to political insiders like Mr. Hatch and the spouse of Governor Branstad’s opponent in his first election.  But that’s not the way to bet.

While I’m all for anything that spotlights the inherent corruption of targeted tax credits, the Republican Governors Association may be inadvertently bringing friendly fire uncomfortably close to its own man.  For starters, the Governor is a five-term incumbent. If the system is set up to be played by political insiders, the Governor has had plenty of time to do something about it.

More importantly, political insiders can benefit richly from crony tax credits without claiming them on their own tax returns.  They benefit by claiming credit for the “jobs” generated by well-connected businesses that play the system to get the tax credits.  The Governor has played this game tirelessly.  Just off the top of my head

The $80 million+ in tax breaks for fertilizer companies.

The sales tax giveaway to the NASCAR track in Newton.

The rich tax breaks for data centers.

MP branstad

Governor Branstad, pre-mustache

In deals like this, the politicians claim credit for the jobs “created,” with no regard whether the lucky recipients of the breaks would have behaved differently without them, or for the jobs lost by other companies who compete with the winners for resources and customers, or for the jobs that would have been created had the funds been left with taxpayers to use without direction from politicians.

So yes, Governor, by all means call down the artillery on crony tax credits.  Just be sure to keep your helmet on.

Related:

The joys of cronyism

LOCAL CPA FIRM VOWS TO SWALLOW PRIDE, ACCEPT $28 MILLION

Governor’s press conference praises construction of newest great pyramids

 

20130114-1Roger McEowen, Eighth Circuit Hears Arguments in CRP Self-Employment Tax Case. “It would appear that the oral argument went well for the taxpayer.” 

Jana Luttenegger,  IRS Releases Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  “ These rights have always existed, but now the IRS has put the rights together in a clear, understandable list to be distributed to taxpayers.”  If they’ve always existed, they sure haven’t always been respected.

Peter Reilly, Your Son The Lawyer Should Not Be Your Exchange Facilitator.  Peter talks about the case I mentioned earlier this week, including another issue I left out.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Reid-Paul “Transportation Funding Plan” is No Plan at All:

Instead of taking the obvious step of fixing the federal gas tax, Reid and Paul propose a repatriation tax holiday, which would give multinational corporations an extremely low tax rate on offshore profits they repatriate (profits they officially bring back to the United States). The idea is that corporations would bring to the United States offshore profits they otherwise would leave abroad, and the federal government could tax those profits (albeit at an extremely low rate) and put the revenue toward the transportation fund.

Yeah, not a real fix.

Scott Hodge, Likely “Solutions” to Highway Trust Fund Shortfall Violate Sound Tax Policy and User-Pays Principle (Tax Policy Blog)

 

No Walnut STAndrew Lundeen, Higher Marginal Tax Rates Won’t Improve the World (Tax Policy Blog). “The Upshot and Dave Chappelle may be right that for someone with a $100 million that next dollar might not means as much as the first dollar. But that money doesn’t sit collecting dust. It is invested in the broader economy.”

Howard Gleckman, Did Multinationals Use a Foreign Earnings Tax Holiday To Burnish Their Financials Rather Than Reduce Taxes? (TaxVox)

Keith Fogg, Supreme Court’s Decision on Monday in Arkison Could Impact Kuretski Case and Constitutionality of the Removal Clause for Tax Court Judges (Procedurally Taxing)

Jack Townsend, BDO Seidman Personnel Sentenced for B******t Tax Shelter Promotion 

Kay Bell, NBA beats NHL in this year’s jock tax championship 

 

TaxGrrrl, Waffle House Refuses To Allow Waitress To Keep $1,000 Tip   

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/10/14: When doing a like-kind exchange, keep the kids away. And: Iowa biofuel credit claw-backs?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Keep your friends close, and your relatives far away.  The tax law often assumes that any financial transaction between relatives is untrustworthy.  Many transactions that work just fine with a stranger become tax disasters when family is involved.  A New York man got a hard education in this yesterday in Tax Court.

The man was selling property at a $1.5 million gain, and he wanted to use the Section 1031 “like-kind exchange” rules to defer the gain by using the proceeds to acquire new property.  The tax regulations let you do so under the right facts as long as you follow rules on escrowing funds or using a “qualified intermediary,” and you meet deadlines for identifying and closing on the new “replacement property.”

For example (a very simplified example), if you sell an investment property and the proceeds are held by a “qualified intermediary,” and you identify the property within 30 days and close on it within 180 days, using the funds held by the intermediary in the purchase, the gain on the original property is transferred to the new property, to be only recognized if and when that property is sold.  But the IRS insists you go by the book.

These deals only work if you use a “qualified” intermediary.  The taxpayer in this case used his son.  Game over, said the Tax Court:

Petitioner acknowledges that there was no direct exchange of like-kind property; property A was sold and property B was purchased with proceeds from the sale of property A. Petitioner also acknowledges that the intermediary used in the transaction was his son. However, petitioner asserts that he meets the requirements of the regulation’s safe harbor because (1) his son is an attorney; (2) the funds from property A were held in an attorney trust account; and (3) the real estate documents refer to the transaction as a section 1031 exchange. We do not accept petitioner’s argument. The regulation is explicit: A lineal descendant is a disqualified person, and the regulation makes no exception based on his/her profession. Consequently, petitioner’s disposition of property A and subsequent acquisition of property B is not a deferred exchange within the purview of section 1031, and he must recognize income on the gain from the sale of property A.

There are a number of reputable firms that specialize in serving as intermediaries and escrow agents in like-kind exchanges.   They can make a potentially complicated deal go much more smoothly.  And they are probably not your son. Yes, they charge for their services, but when a $1,512,000 taxable gain is at stake, as it was here, it can be a real bargain.

Cite: Blangiardo, T.C. Memo 2014-110.

 

In other legal news, the Supreme Court declined to hear Wells-Fargo’s appeal of a 2013 decision striking down a lease tax shelter designed to generate a $423 million capital loss.

 

20120906-1Iowa wants some tax credits back.  Agweek reports:

 The Iowa Department of Revenue has warned at least one investor who owns shares in Energae LP of Clear Lake, Iowa, that tax credits for the company’s green energy production couldn’t be verified for 2012, and the credits must be paid back.

In a letter dated May 20, 2014, David Keenan, a revenue examiner for the compliance division of the Iowa Department of Revenue, told an unidentified taxpayer from Iowa to pay back $1,131.73. Victoria Daniels, public information officer for the agency, declined to comment on what might have disqualified the credits, or whether the denial affects only 2012. She also declined to comment on whether the department’s decision was focused on just one audited person or whether it will be extended to others who used the credits.

The Department has clawed back credits in cases where ethanol producers have failed or otherwise not met the requirements for the credits.

The article shows that the state subsidies encourage careless investing.  An attorney in a lawsuit on the matter is quoted:

“They offered a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, so people thought, ‘How can you lose?’ They may find out. I hope things come to a head soon because it seems to me there’s a lot of confusion and misinformation in the investing public. I think there needs to be some clarity.”

While this is only one side of the story, it’s easy to see where an investor might overlook due diligence when a “dollar-for-dollar tax credit” makes the deal seem like a free play.

 

The Onion is a satirical publication, but it’s hard to tell sometimes:   States Now Offering Millions In Tax Breaks To Any Person Who Says ‘High-Tech Jobs’

ST. PAUL, MN—In an effort to spur their local economies, many state governments are now offering tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to any person who simply says the words “high-tech jobs,” according to a survey by the Pew Research Center published Monday. “We must do what it takes to draw potential innovators to the great state of Minnesota, which means granting lucrative tax credits and loan guarantees to any individual—whoever they may be—who utters the phrase ‘high-tech jobs’ in any context whatsoever,” said Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, whose office has reportedly joined numerous other states in doling out tax exclusions, low-interest municipal loans, full income tax exemption for 10 years or more, and other valuable incentives to thousands of people who have spoken such phrases as “biotech,” “innovation center,” “high-skilled workers,” and “tomorrow’s economy.”

If the story were written about Iowa, the magic words would include “renewables,” “wind-energy,” and “fertilizer.”

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 397.  The stories today mostly cover a huge illegal transfer of confidential 501(c)(4) taxpayer data to the FBI.  The House committee investigating the Tea Party scandal revealed  communications between Lois Lerner and FBI representatives arranging the illegal transfer.  This is a big deal, making it clear that the activities involving Ms. Lerner weren’t accidental, and were far more sinister than the “phony scandal” crowd would have you believe.

Russ Fox, Perhaps This Is Why Lois Lerner Is Taking the Fifth.  “Based on what I just read, if anyone is expecting the IRS’s budget to increase this year, well, that has as much chance as it snowing here in Las Vegas tomorrow. (The high is expected to reach just 105 F.)”

Leslie Book, Exploding Packages and IRS Disclosure of Confidential Tax Return Information (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Robert D. Flach brings your fresh Tuesday Buzz!

Kay Bell, Lowest U.S. property tax bill? Probably $2 in coastal Georgia

 

Jack Townsend, Court Holds Online Poker Accounts are FBAR Reportable:

The two issues were:  (1) whether the accounts with the three entities were “bank, securities or other financial account[s]” that must be reported on an FBAR; and (2) whether each of the three accounts was in a foreign country  The Court answered both questions yes.

A potentially expensive result for a lot of folks, if it holds up.

 

Gerald Prante, Deductions for Executive Pay Is Not a Subsidy. (Tax Policy Blog)  “Essentially, IPS and ATF are starting from a baseline that assumes all executive pay should be capped at $1 million and any deviation from this is a subsidy.”

 

taxanalystslogoJeremy Scott, Whistleblower Highlights Undue Influence at the IRS (Tax Analysts Blog)  “He claimed that granting credits for the use of black liquor was opposed by most of chief counsel, but that a few senior managers changed the policy, allowing paper manufacturers to take advantage of a true tax loophole.”

But we are supposed to trust them to regulate preparers without fear or favor.

 

Tax Justice Blog, State News Quick Hits: Keeping Score? Real Tax Reform 0. Tax Cuts 2

Martin A. Sullivan, How Not to Tax the Rich (Tax Analysts Blog).  “The liberal case for corporate taxation has been severely weakened by capital mobility.”

Renu Zaretsky, Repatriation, Havens, and Tax Reform Abroad.  The TaxVox daily headline roundup talks about extenders, tax havens and the costs of repatriation tax holidays.

 

Peter Reilly, Confidence Games – How The Most Prestigious Accounting Firms Raided The Treasury: 

 Now thanks to Tanina Rostain and Milton C. Regan, Jr. you can read all about it in “Confidence Games – Lawyers, Accountants, and the Tax Shelter Industry”. It is a sad story with no heroes and only one villain, who is colorful enough to be engaging – Paul Dauugerdas, who is still awaiting sentencing on his second conviction (He got a do-over on his trial due to juror misconduct).  The book is a must read for all tax professionals and others may enjoy it too.  

Sounds like a buy to me.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/9/14: The great Illinois privatized tax shakedown. And lots more!

Monday, June 9th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The wedding was beautiful, and great fun.  Introducing the new married couple.

 

Illinois sealGreat moments in state taxation.  Tax Analysts has a disturbing story ($link) about how an Illinois law firm is using the “qui tam” recovery procedures of the state’s False Claims Act against out-of-state taxpayers.  In a “qui tam” proceeding, an outside party, known as a “relator,” can file a lawsuit alleging fraud against the state and then share in the recovery — up to 25%, according to the story.

And they actually may be hurting state tax collection efforts, according to the story:

“The cases have clearly interfered with the administration and enforcement of tax law and may have even ultimately cost the state money, though it’s impossible to quantify how much,” said Mark Dyckman, the Illinois Department of Revenue’s deputy general counsel for sales tax litigation.

The story says the firm involved “is responsible for 99 percent of the qui tam tax litigation in Illinois.”

The story says Illinois may encouraged the suits initially, apparently thinking it could get some easy money out of the deal.  In other states where the firm tried the same thing, state Attorneys General won dismissals of the initial suits, discouraging further efforts.  The firm is also incentivized by the ability of a relator to share in outsized false claim penalties:

Second, while the treble damages for back taxes under false claims acts naturally attract the most attention, [taxpayer attorney Jordan] Goodman said the civil penalty — generally $5,000 to $10,000 per false claim under the federal law and $5,500 to $11,000 per false claim under the Illinois statute — can be just as oppressive, depending on what counts as a false claim. If each monthly sales tax return is a false claim carrying a $10,000 penalty, and 12 returns are filed in one year, that’s a $120,000 penalty. If every failure to collect taxes on shipping and handling is a false claim, and the business averages 10 sales into the state per month for 120 false claims, that’s a $1.2 million penalty for the year, which can turn into $12 million for the 10-year period covered by the false claims act.

Wikipedia image of Tams

Wikipedia image of Tams

The story says that one tactic used by the Illinois law firm is to make out-of-state purchases over the internet, and then to file suits if no sales tax is collected.  As the law covering remote sales remains unclear, it’s difficult to consider these items “false claims.”  That’s especially true in suits in which the taxpayer either was following published guidance or an audit settlement with Illinois.

These cases have apparently been going on since 2002, and the legislature and the state have yet to stop what would appear to be a purely abusive and parasitic practice.  If there ever was a case for universal application of a “sauce for the gander” rule, in which a losing plaintiff had to pay the same amount of penalties asserted against the winning defendant, this would be it.

 

Alligator bait.  The New Orleans Advocate reports on a Film tax credit promoter sentenced to 70 months.  It’s remarkable what high quality entrepreneurs these state tax giveaways attract.

 

20130114-1The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Education is setting up a “Tax Place” feature on its website.  They seek your input.

Paul Neiffer reminds us that FBAR Filing Deadline is Near

Peter Reilly, CPA Faces Prison For Letting Client Deduct Personal Expenses.  It makes you want to carefully consider the work you want to take on.

Russ Fox, Back to the Past: Poker Sites and FBARs. Poker Sites Are Again Reportable Foreign Financial Accounts.  More incomprehensible foreign tax enforcement.

 

Cara Griffith, Protecting Confidentiality When Information Is Exchanged Between Tax Authorities  (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxGrrrl, As NBA Finals Continue, Tax Incentives Lure 76ers Into New Jersey   

 

 

20140321-3TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 396

Kyle Pomerleau, CTJ and U.S. PIRG Mislead with New Report on Corporate Taxes (Tax Policy Blog):  “USPIRG also doesn’t mention that their ideal corporate tax code has been tried in other countries with negative results. New Zealand attempted ending deferral as USPIRG suggested. The results were devastating to their economy.

Tax Justice Blog, Tax Foundation’s Dubious Attempt to Debunk Widely Known Truths about Corporate Tax Avoidance Is Smoke and Mirrors.  Never let the facts get in the way of what is “widely known.”

 

Howard Gleckman, Are Domestic Partnerships A Way For Heterosexual Couples To Avoid The Marriage Tax Penalty?   (TaxVox) This sort of thing makes makes me question the usefulness of “nudge” strategies to use the tax code to encourage behavior.  There are always perverse unintended consequences.

 

News from the Profession.  Public Accounting Firms, Ranked by CEO Hotness (Going Concern).  A tallest midget competition.

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Tax Roundup, 5/29/14: Supreme Court ponders crediting city income taxes on state returns. And: more jeers for “voluntary” preparer regulation.

Thursday, May 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

supreme courtThe U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case on whether states must allow a credit for taxes paid to municipalities.  The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear an appeal of Maryland v. Wynne, where a Maryland court ruled that the state must allow a credit against Maryland taxes for taxes paid in non-Maryland cities by Maryland residents.

State generally allow their residents credits for taxes paid to other states, to the extent the taxes don’t exceed resident-state tax on the same income.  Iowans compute this credit on Form 130.  This keeps residents with out-of-state income from doubling-up their state taxes.  Municipal taxes don’t necessarily get the same treatment.  An Iowa Department of Revenue representative outlined the state’s position:

Iowa Code section 422.8(1), which provides for the out-of-state tax credit, only refers to tax paid to another state or foreign country.  “State” is defined in Iowa Code section 4.1(32) as including the District of Columbia and its territories.  Therefore, based on the Iowa statute, Iowa would take the position that the out-of-state tax credit is not allowed for municipal taxes.

I have no idea how the court will rule on this.  Both Maryland and the Obama administration urged the court to take the case, which might indicate the court is sympathetic to them.  Or it might not.  For its own reasons, the Court may be looking for a vehicle to clarify the law of multistate income tax.

A brief from an organization of municipality attorneys describes the Maryland holding being appealed:

1. First, in order to avoid substantial interference in interstate commerce, the dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution requires every state and subdivision thereof to give its residents a full tax credit for all income taxes paid in another state or subdivision; and

2. Second, the receipt of Subchapter S pass-through income in Maryland is “interstate commerce” which is being substantially affected by Maryland’s tax structure, in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.

Both of those points seem perfectly reasonable to me.  If the court rules against the taxpayer, states may try to raise money be limiting their credit for taxes paid to other states.

In any case, it would be prudent for Iowans who have paid taxes to non-Iowa municipalities to file protective refund claims for open years.  For taxpayers who extended 2010 returns, that year is still open; otherwise, 2011 is the earliest open year.  The court will hear the case in its term beginning in October.

The TaxProf has a coverage roundup.  TaxGrrrl reports in Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Landmark Case On Whether States May Tax Income Earned In Other States, with a good discussion of the history of the case.

 

20130121-2Another supporter of preparer regulation comes out against “voluntary” certification.  The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants came out against the IRS “voluntary” preparer certification system this week.  Now the National Association of Enrolled Agents, which like the AICPA was a fan of the now-defunct IRS mandatory preparer regulation scheme, has also come out against the “voluntary” program proposed by Commissioner Koskinen.  Robert D. Flach reports:

It appears that the main objection of NAEA to the current IRS proposal is the replacement of the original initial competency test used in the pre-Loving mandatory RTRP program with a “50-question ‘knowledge based comprehension test’ to be created by individual CE providers”.

It goes on to say -

“CE by itself, even in combination with a ‘knowledge based comprehension test’, fails to provide a taxpayer with any assurance that the person preparing his or her return is even minimally competent to do so.”

I think this is just another way for the IRS to help its friends at the national tax prep franchises to get something to put on their windows without helping taxpayers.  Considering its limited financial resources, it is absurd for the IRS to be taking on a new program.  Taxpayers can already choose CPAs or Enrolled Agents if they want “certified” preparers, and nothing stops unenrolled preparers from setting up their own system.  You have to have a lot of unwarranted faith in IRS goodwill to believe that the “voluntary” program won’t really be mandatory, as the IRS gives little perks to the “volunteers” and little hassles to everyone else.

 

 

Kay Bell, Actual auto expenses or standard mileage rate? Which business deduction method will cut your taxes more?

William Perez, IRS.gov’s Direct Pay.  “Unlike the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), people using Direct Pay do not need to register to use the service.”

 

20140328-1Russ Fox, Punt Blocked; National Audit Defense Network Heading to ClubFed.

Cara Griffith, How Much Knowledge Is in an Audit Manual? (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Yet while the IRS and several states make their audit manuals available online, other states, including Louisiana, do not. Taxpayers should not have to make a public records request to obtain manuals that will provide guidance on how a state conducts an audit. ”

Leslie Book, TEFRA Outside Basis and Tax Court Jurisdiction (Procedurally Taxing). “Periodically, like a kid forced to eat spinach, I will tackle TEFRA developments.”

Peter Reilly, Z Street Suit On IRS Israel Targeting Can Move Forward. “This lawsuit much like Teapartygate confirms me in my view, that the evaluation of whether an organizations purposes should allow it exempt status is not something that the IRS should be doing.”

Jack Townsend, Zwerner Jury Verdict — FBAR Willfulness for 3 Years

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 385

 

guillotineAndrew Lundeen, France’s 75 Percent Tax Rate Offers a Lesson in Revenue Estimating (Tax Policy Blog):

Since elected, French President Francois Hollande has raised the income tax, corporate tax and VAT. The government forecasted that these tax increases would lead to an increase in revenue of 30 billion euros.

As reported by the BBC, those estimates were off by about half:

“The French government faces a 14bn-euro black hole in its public finances after overestimating tax income for the last financial year.”

You can’t expect people just to stand still for something like that.

 

Adele Morris, Three Options for Better Climate Policy (TaxVox) Carbon Taxes, State carbon taxes, or no carbon tax.

 

Going Concern, IRS Throws Hissy Fit About Not Being Able to Regulate Preparers, Gives Up On Everything.

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/23/14: We’re sorry. Can we have our funding now?

Friday, May 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

The IRS wants its budget back.  The agency has withdrawn the proposed regs that would institutionalize its mistreatment of Tea Party groups.  Accounting Today reports:

The announcement Thursday came in response to the unprecedented number of comments—over 150,000—the IRS received on the proposed rules, which were supposed to govern the types of political activity that would be permissible for groups to maintain tax-exempt status as “social welfare” organizations under Section 501(c)4 of the Tax Code (see Treasury and IRS Issue Guidance for 501(c)4 Tax-Exempt Social Welfare Organizations). The issue has roiled the IRS since last year, when the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations unit, Lois Lerner, admitted that the IRS had used terms such as “Tea Party” and “Patriot” to screen applications from conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Those revelations led to the departures of Lerner and a number of other high-ranking officials at the IRS, along with a series of contentious hearings, subpoenas and contempt of Congress charges against Lerner.

The new commissioner, John Koskinen, indicated back in February that the proposed regulations are not likely to be finalized anytime soon and would be subject to heavy revision in response to the thousands of comments the agency received (see IRS Commissioner Koskinen Says Proposed Tax-Exempt Rules Won’t Be Finalized Soon). Republican lawmakers in Congress introduced legislation in February to block the proposed regulations (see Congress Considers Legislation to Block IRS’s Proposed 501(c)4 Regulations).

I suspect it will be a loooong time before they come out with a new set of proposed regulations — comparable to the wait for the final regulations on self-employment taxation of LLC members, which have been “proposed” now since 1997.  This is probably a necessary first step for the IRS to get its full funding restored, given how much it has done lately to demonstrate that it is institutionally opposed to the GOP.  Maybe it would help also to demonstrate some fiscal discipline by dropping its costly pursuit of preparer regulation by “voluntary” means.

 

Related: TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 379

 

Jim Maule, No Deduction If Entitled to Reimbursement.  “It is a long-established principle of federal income tax law that a taxpayer is not permitted to deduct an otherwise deductible expense to the extent that the taxpayer is entitled to reimbursement from the taxpayer’s employer.”

Kay Bell, Summer travel time is prime tax time

Peter Reilly, American Atheists Denied Standing To Challenge Church Tax Breaks.

Robert D. Flach come’s through with the week’s third Buzz!

 

20140523-2

 

Christopher Bergin, The Punishment of Credit Suisse Is Not Enough (Tax Analysts Blog). “People need to start going to jail for these types of abuses.”  No, our tax authorities prefer to shoot jaywalkers so we can gently chastise the international money-launderers.

Jack Townsend, Credit Suisse Update – The Aftermath for Credit Suisse #1.  The Federal Tax Crimes blog rounds up coverage of the Credit Suisse plea.

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for 5/16/14 (Procedurally Taxing). The most interesting item to me in this roundup of tax procedure posts is “IRS is doing limited audits on Section 409A plans, and Winston and Straw has some coverage here.”  The horrible Section 409A rules haven’t triggered many audits.  That may be ending, and 20% penalties, plus income taxes, on funds never received will then be on the way as a result of foot-fault violations of the insanely-complex rules governing non-qualified deferred compensation plan distributions.

 

Joseph Henchman, IRS Considering Change in Tax Treatment of Travel Loyalty Points (Tax Policy Blog). What could go wrong?

Len Burman, Why Not Ditch the Medical Device Excise Tax and Boost Cigarette Taxes? You know, if we really wanted to promote public health, we should consider promoting e-cigarettes to get people off the real thing.  Instead, the government wants to tax and restrict them just like real coffin nails.

 

Adam Weinstein, Why Our Political System’s Screwed, in One Very Basic Chart:

20140523-1

 

Via Nick Gillespie.

 

News from the Profession: Ex-KPMG Partner Who Gave Insider Tips to His Former Golf Buddy Is Going to Talk About Ethics Before He Goes to Prison (Going Concern)

 

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

 

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

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

Bernie Madoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 378

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

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

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

States prefer Calvinball rules.

 

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

 

Des Moines, sometimes you are just adorable:

adorable des moines

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/20/14: Credit Suisse, felon. And: yes, tax credits are subsidies.

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

 

credit suisse logoThe big news in the tax world today is the Credit Suisse guilty plea.  From the Wall Street Journal:

Credit Suisse Group became the first financial institution in more than a decade to plead guilty to a crime Monday when the Swiss bank admitted it conspired to aid tax evasion and agreed to pay $2.6 billion to settle a long-running probe by the U.S. Justice Department. The criminal charge filed Monday in federal court outlined a decades-long, concerted attempt by Credit Suisse to “knowingly and willfully” help thousands of U.S. clients open accounts and conceal their “assets and income from the IRS.”

This has to make some folks nervous:

While Credit Suisse isn’t turning over names of account holders as part of the agreement, they are handing over information that Deputy Attorney General James Cole said would lead to specific account holders.

Swiss bank secrecy is dead, and bank secrecy anywhere is pining for the fjords.  Proceed accordingly.

The TaxProf rounds up coverage.

Jack Townsend, Credit Suisse Pleads to One Count of Conspiracy to Aiding and Assisting 

 

Wind turbineI hate it when I have to disagree with somebody I respectbut I have to disagree with this from A. Barton Hinkle, writing about wind energy credits:

A tax credit is just that: a credit against the amount a taxpayer owes. As the IRS explains, a tax credit “reduces the amount of tax for which you are liable.” That is vastly different from a direct grant, in which the government takes money from Jones and gives it to Smith. In the case of a tax credit, none of Jones’ money goes into Smith’s pocket. Rather, Smith gets to keep more of his own money. Smith’s tax credit doesn’t cost Jones a cent.

Let’s assume that Jones and Smith are competitors.  Because of the tax credit, Smith can charge less than he otherwise would and still makes more than Jones.  Jones finds his margins are squeezed.  This tax credit absolutely costs Jones money.  A big enough credit to Smith can put Jones out of business.  And in a free market, there’s a Jones for every Smith.

Yes, some tax credits are more egregious than others.  Refundable credits, like the Iowa research credit, and transferable credits, like the defunct Iowa film credit, are the worst.  They are little more than government scrip generated by filing tax returns.

Non-refundable credits are slightly less bad, because they are only available to people who actually pay taxes.  Still, they are economically equivalent to special-purpose vouchers issued by governments that can be applied to pay taxes — limited purpose subsidies.  If the government issued vouchers that could only be used to, say, buy housing or cell phones, nobody would dispute they are subsidies.

Special purpose deductions are less distortive still.  But all special tax favors have a common flaw — they all involve the government allocating investment capital.  The 20th Century proved that to be a poor idea.  And running the subsidies through a tax return doesn’t make them any less subsidies; they only become easier to hide.

Related: Governor’s press conference praises construction of newest great pyramids

 

20140520-2Jason Dinesen, If You’re a Sole Proprietor, There’s No Such Thing as a “Salary” for Tax Purposes:

When a sole proprietorship accounts for its net income, it does so by taking gross income minus expenses. Those expenses DO NOT include draws. So, the proprietor is taxed on the net income of the business and gets no deduction for the draws.

You may think that’s obvious, but I’ve had to explain this to clients.

 

Russ Fox, One Good Crime Deserves Another.  “Oft evil will shall evil mar.”

Kay Bell, I’ll take tax code section 179 for $500, Alex

Peter Reilly, TIGTA Alimony Report May Cause Crisis Of Conscience Among Tax Professionals .  “I have to tell Terry that the IRS will notice the discrepancy, but the odds are 25 to 1 that they won’t do anything about it.”

Robert D. Flach is right on time with his Tuesday Buzz.  He notes the AICPA oppostion to the proposed “voluntary” preparer regulation system:

Clearly the AICPA is afraid, and rightfully so, that a voluntary RTRP certification would take 1040 business away from its members – because the designation would identify individuals who have proven competence specifically in 1040 preparation.  Currently the taxpayer public erroneously thinks that the initials CPA are an indication of a person’s competence in 1040 preparation, which is simply not true. 

I can’t speak for the AICPA, but I think they are right to oppose it.  In addition to destroying whatever is left of the Enrolled Agent brand, I think the “voluntary” program will be voluntary in the same way that donations to United Way were voluntary at a prior employer.  “It’s voluntary, and we always have 100% participation.”  And considering how bad the IRS is at what it is supposed to be doing, it really doesn’t need to take on new tasks.

 

Keith Fogg, Private Debt Collection – An Idea Whose Time Will Never Come (Procedurally Taxing).  “My concerns about the proposal fall into four broad categories mentioned above: training, accountability, system impact and proper incentives.”

I would permit private collection in limited circumstances —  for undisputed debts that the IRS isn’t bothering to collect.  With proper controls, I think it could work.  There is nothing magical about having official government employees do it.   But the Treasury Employees Union will make sure it never happens.

 

taxanalystslogoJeremy Scott, The Medical Device Excise Tax Derails Extenders (Tax Analysts Bl0g).  “Political games involving the medical device excise tax threaten to completely derail the passing of an extenders package in the near future.” Come on, the extenders are just a political game to begin with, using Calvinball rules.

Renu Zaretsky, A Pleading Bank, a Rejected Offer, and Taxing Gas and Pot.  The TaxVox headline roundup covers Uruguay’s nurturing a surprising local industry.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 376

Alan Cole, When Broad Bases Are Actually Narrow Bases (Tax Policy Blog):

If I rent out my property to you, I pay taxes income used to buy the property, and I pay taxes on the rental income derived from it. In contrast, if I lived in the property myself, I would not have to pay the additional layer of taxes. It’s the same house either way, but because people are eager to “broaden” the base, they end up taxing it twice in some circumstances, and only once in others. A true “broad” base is a tax on personal expenditures – one that ultimately falls on the people who actually consume.

That’s precisely why “preferential” capital gain rates are really just piling on, and why the proper rate for them is probably zero.

Going Concern, The AICPA Has Nuked The CPA2Biz Brand in Favor of CPA.com.  Now if they can just do something about that disturbing mascot.

 

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

Monday, May 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Tar and feathers.

 

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

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 375

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/16/14: Iowa Alt Max Tax resurfaces. And: Alimony madness.

Friday, May 16th, 2014 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.

The Iowa Alternative Maximum Tax Trial Balloon rises again.  From O. Kay Henderson, ‘Flat tax’ likely on GOP legislators’ agenda in 2015:

The top Republican in the Iowa House says if Republicans win statehouse majorities in the House and the Senate this November, one item on his wish list for 2015 is a “flat” state income tax. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, spoke early this morning at a breakfast meeting of central Iowa Republicans.

Paulsen and his fellow House Republicans endorsed a “flat” tax proposal last year, but it was not considered in the Democratically-led Iowa Senate. The proposal would have allowed Iowans to continue filing their income taxes under the current system or choose the alternative of a 4.5 percent flat tax on their income, with no deductions.

I call this an “alternative maximum tax” because taxpayers will compute the tax both ways and pay the smaller number.  That contrasts with the alternative minimum tax, where you compute taxes two ways and pay the higher amount.  It has the obvious drawback of adding a new layer of complexity to the current baroque Iowa income tax.

20120906-1The proposal is likely an attempt to enact a lower rate system in a way that doesn’t upset fans of Iowa’s deduction for federal income taxes — particularly the influential Iowans for Tax Relief.  Because the deduction would rarely provide a better result than the alt max tax, support for the old system would wither away, maybe.

I’m probably too much of a tax geek to read the politics correctly, but I’m not convinced adding a new computation to the Iowa 1040 will fire up the electorate.  I think something like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would be easier to run on.  Eliminate all the crony tax credits and well-intended but futile tax breaks.  Get rid of the job-killing, worst-in-the-nation Iowa corporation income tax.   Drastically lower rates, increase the standard deduction, and limit the role of the income tax to funding the government.   This would get my vote anyway, and it would at least be awkward to argue instead for the current system that sends millions to some of Iowa’s biggest corporations as subsidies on the backs of you, me and small businesses.

Related: The Iowa flat tax proposal: a good deal for middle class and up, but not for lower incomes.

 

I always thought enforcing the tax rules for alimony would be about the easiest job the IRS could have.  When you pay alimony, you get an above-the-line deduction, but only if you list the name and social security number of the recipient ex-spouse.  Just match the deduction with the income and generate notices when they don’t match.

This information systems problem is apparently too much for the IRS.  Peter Reilly reports:

According to the TIGTA report there were 567,887 Forms 1040 for 2010 that had alimony deductions.  The total claimed was $10 Billion.  When they compared the corresponding returns that should have recorded the income, there were discrepancies on 266,190 returns including 122,870 returns that had no alimony income at all reported.  There were nearly 25,000 returns where the income recognized was greater than the deduction claimed which produced a bit of an offset ($75 million).  On net, deductions exceeded income by $2.3 billion.  In her piece “Alimony Tax Gap is $1.7 BillionAshlea Ebeling goes into more details on the report, so I’m going to get a little more into what I see as the big picture here.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of the IRS, over my career I had developed a grudging respect for the organization’s competence and professionalism.  That’s been mostly drawn down over the last few years.

 

taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, A Warning About the IRS That We Should Heed (Tax Analysts Blog):

As I wrote almost a year ago, the IRS is in trouble. Punishing it will do no more good than ignoring what has happened over the last year. The former seems to be the plan of House Republicans; the latter appears to be the White House plan. We need to fix it, and that is harder than either of the above two approaches.

This is correct.  Unfortunately, the IRS became a partisan organization in the Tea Party scandal, and it’s proposed 501(c)(4) regulations only make that official.  The impasse won’t be broken until the IRS does something to reassure Republican congresscritters.  Withdrawing the proposed rules is probably a necessary start.

 

Kay Bell, Johnny Football’s Texas residency can cut his NFL income tax.

Lyman Stone, The Facts on Interstate Migration: Part Five (Tax Policy Blog):

On the whole, these high-inward migration states tend to have lower tax burdens. North Carolina and Idaho have periodically had higher than average tax burdens, but most, like Tennessee and Nevada, have consistently low tax burdens. Again, this doesn’t conclusively prove that taxes drive migration, as no doubt other living costs are lower in these states too: but it does suggest that taxes cannot be discounted out of hand.

 

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Asset

TaxGrrrl, Tesla Continues To Roll Out Tax Strategies For Consumers .  An auto company with a marketing pitch built around tax credits seems like a bad thing to me.

Stop by Robert D. Flach’s Place for a solid Friday morning Buzz!

 

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Howard Gleckman, Are Multinationals Getting Tired of Waiting for Corporate Tax Reform? (TaxVox).  They seem to be taking a do-it-yourself approach more and more.

Tax Justice Blog, States Can Make Tax Systems Fairer By Expanding or Enacting EITC.  I think this is wrong, at least the way the earned income tax credit works now.  Arnold Kling has a much-more promising proposal that would replace the EITC and other means-tested welfare programs.

Kyle Pomerleau, Flawed Buffett Rule Reintroduced in Senate (Tax Justice Blog).  Of course, that’s the only kind.

 

Cara Griffith, In Search of a Little Guidance (Tax Analysts Blog). “If informal guidance is the only guidance available to practitioners and taxpayers, can they rely on it?”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 372.  Guess what?  It wasn’t just a few rogues in Cincinnati.

 

News from the Profession.  Alleged “Touch It For a Buck” Creeper CPA Got His License Revoked For Felony Creepiness (Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/14/14: Earned income credits, still busted. And: extenders advance.

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

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

Nope.  Still busted.  From WashingtonExaminer.com comes an update on what some call America’s most successful anti-poverty program:

The Treasury Department has released its latest report  on the fight against widespread fraud in the Earned Income Tax Credit program. The problem is, fraud is still winning. And there’s not even much of a fight.

“The Internal Revenue Service continues to make little progress in reducing improper payments of Earned Income Tax Credits,” a press release from Treasury’s inspector general for Tax Administration says. “The IRS estimates that 22 to 26 percent of EITC payments were issued improperly in Fiscal Year 2013. The dollar value of these improper payments was estimated to be between $13.3 billion and $15.6 billion.”

Wait.  Didn’t the President sign a bill in 2010 to fix all this?

The new report found that the IRS is simply ignoring the requirements of a law called the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act, signed by President Obama in 2010, which requires the IRS to set fraud-control targets and keep improper payments below ten percent of all Earned Income Tax Credit payouts.

Whatever the EITC does to help the working poor, it is a boon to the Grifter-American community.  Fraudulent EITC claims are a staple of ID theft fraud and low-tech tax cheating in general.

It’s worth noting that the high rate of improper EITC payouts has not gone down in spite of the ever-increasing IRS requirements for preparers who issue returns claiming the credits.  This should give pause to folks who think IRS preparer regulations will stop fraud, though it won’t.

It’s also notable that Iowa recently increased its piggyback EITC to 15% of the federal credit — increasing the annual cost of the credit by an estimated $35 million.  Assuming Iowans are just as honest as other Americans, that means about $8 million of additional stimulus to the Iowa grifter economy.

Finally, the phase-out of the EITC functions as a hidden high marginal tax rate on the program’s intended beneficiaries, the working poor.  The effective marginal rate in Iowa exceeds 50% at some income levels.  Combined with other income-based phase-outs, the EITC becomes a poverty trap.

 

Related: Arnold Kling,  SNEP and the EITC. “My priors, which I think are supported by the research cited by Salam, is that trying to use a program like the EITC for social engineering is a mug’s game.”

 

 

Extenders advance in Senate.  Tax Analysts reports ($link)

Legislation that would extend for two years nearly all the tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013 cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate May 13.

Senators voted 96 to 3 to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 3474, a bill to exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate employees with healthcare coverage through the Veterans Benefits Administration or through the military healthcare program TRICARE.

The bill is the legislative vehicle for the tax extenders. It will be amended to include the text of the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency (EXPIRE) Act of 2014 (S. 2260) and likely that of the Tax Technical Corrections Act of 2014 (S. 2261), both of which the Senate Finance Committee passed April 3 via voice vote.

The bill that passes will probably look much like the Senate bill.  The House has advanced bills to make some of the perpetually-expiring provisions permanent, but the President, pretending that they won’t get passed every year anyway, says permanent extension is fiscally irresponsible.

Among the provisions to be extended yet again, mostly through 2015, are the research credit, new markets credits, wind and biofuel credits, bonus depreciation, and increased Sec. 179 deductions.  The five-year built-in gain tax recognition period is also extended through 2015.

Related: TaxGrrrl, Senate Moves Forward To Extend Tax Breaks For 2014

 

20120906-1O. Kay HendersonKnoxville Raceway ceremony for state tax break of up to $2 million:

Governor Terry Branstad went to Knoxville today to sign a bill into law that gives the Knoxville Raceway a state tax break to help finance improvements at the track.

“This is a great facility,” Branstad told Radio Iowa during a telephone interview right after the event. “Last year, in 2013, they attracted 211,000 visitors, so it’s a big tourism attraction and it’s a good investment and it’s great for the state to partner with the community for a project of this magnitude.”

Here’s how that partnership works: the racetrack will charge sales tax to its customers, and keep the money.  Only two other businesses are special enough to get this sweet deal.  Tough luck for the rest of us who don’t have the good connections and lobbyists.

 

Walnut st flowersJana Luttenegger, Updated E-Filing Requirements for Tax Preparers (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).  “The handbook is not exactly clear.

Jason Dinesen, Things Tax Preparers Say: S-Corporation Compensation.  “But too many business owners — and their accountants — treat S-corps like a magic wand that can just make taxes disappear completely.”

Kay Bell, IRS fight to regulate tax preparers officially over…for now

Peter Reilly, Can Somebody Explain Tax Shelters To Thomas Piketty?  In the unlikely event that the Piketty recommendations are ever enacted, Peter notes that “there will be a renaissance of shelter activity.”  Peter provides a “Cliff Notes” summary of this year’s big forgettable book I’ll never read, which I appreciate.  Also: Peter uses the tax-law-as-Swiss Army Knife analogy that I am so fond of.

Robert D. Flach, STILL MORE CLIENTS SCREWED BY THE TAX CODE.  “The list of taxpayers screwed by our current Tax Code is not a short one.  Today I add taxpayers with gambling winnings.”

 

20130110-2Howard Gleckman, How “Dead Men” Fiscal Policy Is Paralyzing Government (TaxVox).  He reviews a new book, Dead Men Ruling, by Gene Steurle:

“We are left with a budget for a declining nation,” Gene writes, “that invests ever-less in our future…and a broken government that presides over archaic, inefficient, and inequitable spending and tax programs.”

All this has happened due to a confluence of two unhappy trends: The first is what the late conservative writer Jude Wanniski memorably described almost four decades ago as the “Two-Santa Theory.”

The Santas are the two parties, each of whom pick our pockets to fill our stockings.

 

Alan Cole, The Simple Case for Tax Neutrality (Tax Policy Blog).  “When states give preferential rates of sales tax to certain goods, the most visible result is the legal bonanza that follows from trying to re-categorize goods into the preferred groupings. ”

David Brunori, Repealing the Property Tax Is an Asinine Idea (Tax Analysts Blog). “Public finance experts are almost unanimous in their belief that the property tax is the ideal way to fund local government services… Most importantly, the property tax ensures local political control.”

William McBride, What is Investment and How Do We Get More of It? (Tax Policy Blog).  “Full expensing for all investment, according to our analysis, would increase the capital stock by 16 percent and grow GDP by more than 5 percent.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 370

News from the Profession.  AICPA Tackling the Important Issue of Male CPAs Wanting It All (Going Concern). 

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/9/14: Worst-ever edition. And: It’s Scandal Day 365!

Friday, May 9th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

I was grumpy yesterday when I noticed Tax Analysts correspondent @Meg_Shreve’s live-tweeting of a speech by Doug Shulman, the Worst IRS Commissioner Ever.  So I tweet-grumpted, adding “#worstcommissionerever (fixed)” to one of her posts — the “(fixed)” as a perhaps inadequate attempt to inform the Twitterverse that the tag was my addition, not hers (apologies to Meg Shreve).  That earned this response:

 

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Ah, where to begin?  How about with identity theft?  Doug Shulman took office with a reputation as an information systems maven.  He then presided over an historic IT debacle.  Tax refund fraud — fundamentally a systems failure —  has let two-bit grifters like Rashia Wilson steal tens of billions of dollars in fraudulent refunds over the years.

This problem has been ramping up for years, and only now, with Shulman gone, is the IRS beginning to take effective action to prevent it.  My wife can’t go shopping in Chicago without me getting a call from the credit card company warning me of a suspicious transaction, but Doug Shulman’s IRS could send 655 refunds to the same apartment in Lithuania without batting an eye.

Rashia says "thanks, Commissioner!"

Rashia says “thanks, Commissioner!”

While the theft of taxpayer billions is outrageous enough, the inept treatment of ID theft victims makes it even worse.  Only after Doug Shulman left did the IRS even begin to get this right.

The Worst Commissioner Ever was just too darned busy to stop ID theft.  He was busy trying to increase IRS power over preparers with a useless, expensive and unilateral preparer regulation regime.  He reversed the longstanding IRS position that the agency had no such regulatory power, only to be unceremoniously slapped down by the courts.   In the meantime, the prospect of the regulations drove thousands of preparers out of the business, increasing taxpayer costs and driving many taxpayers to self-prepare — and surely causing some to fall out of the system altogether.  The IRS wasted enormous resources on this futile power grab — resources that might have been better-devoted, to, oh, maybe the fight against identity theft.

 

He was also busy shooting jaywalkers.  International tax enforcement is considered Doug Shulman’s greatest success — but there was no reason the pursuit of wealthy international money-launderers had to also terrorize American expatriates whose offenses were to commit everyday personal finance.  Many folks have been hit with ridiculous penalties for not filing FBAR reports that they had no idea existed.  These folks are often people who married overseas or moved out of the U.S. as children, but were presumptively treated as international money-launderers when they tried to come into the system, and were hit with enormous penalties — often when little or no tax had been avoided.

It’s hard to imagine that an agency that can find ways to simply wave away the ACA employer mandate couldn’t find a way to allow expats and individuals without criminal intent to come into the international reporting system without risking financial disaster.  The states that allow non-resident non-filers to come in by paying five years of back taxes provide an obvious model.

 

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how big is legacy is.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how big is legacy is.

Then there is the scandal.  When Tea Party groups complained about absurd and abusive IRS information requests, sympathetic Congresscritters asked Doug Shulman if the IRS was targeting Tea Party groups.  The Worst Commissioner Ever testified before Congress that the IRS was doing nothing of the sort:

“There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman said.

That statement, of course, became inoperative when the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reported that the IRS was, in fact, picking on the Tea Party groups.  Subsequent revelations have shown that it was exactly a partisan attempt to fight anti-administration groups.  So Doug Shulman either was too lazy and ineffective to know what his own agency was doing, or he knew, or he didn’t care.  He destroyed the credibility of the agency as a nonpartisan enclave of competent technicians.

Now the party controlling the House of Representatives is on notice that the agency wants to see it lose.  That agency can hardly expect generous appropriations as long as that perception remains (and the new Commissioner has done nothing reassuring on that score).   This will damage the agency’s effectiveness for years — all because The Worst Commissioner Ever was unwilling or unable to run a professional, non-partisan agency.

This is a record of administrative ineptitude and negligence that is unbeaten.  No IRS commissioner has so squandered agency resources and reputation.  If another Commissioner has even come close, I’d sure like to know who it was.

 

Meanwhile, the TaxProf has reached a milestone: The IRS Scandal, Day 365.  The biggest item in this edition is the report that the IRS had not destroyed Tea Party donor lists — after saying it had — and that the IRS has audited 10% of Tea Party donors.  This is a staggering audit rate, if true, and is a tremendous scandal in itself if the IRS doesn’t come up with a good explanation.

TaxGrrrl, House Finds Lerner, Central Figure In Tax Exempt Scandal, In Contempt Of Congress

 

20140509-2Jana Luttenegger, Deadline Approaching to Avoid Losing Tax Exempt Status (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog). Get those 990-series reports filed!

Trish McIntire, EFTPS – Inquiry PIN.  “The Inquiry PIN will allow taxpayers to check and make sure that their federal tax deposits have been made and catch a problem before it becomes a major issue.”  This should be used by all employers.

Peter Reilly, Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Owner Scores Touchdown In Tax Court.  “It may seem odd to look at a case that ends up with a charitable deduction dis-allowance of nearly $4 million as a victory, but when you consider how taxpayers generally fare in easement cases it really is.”

Leslie Book, Tax Court Jurisdiction to Determine its Jurisdiction: Foreign Taxes and Credits (Procedurally Taxing)

Mindy Herzfeld, International Tax Trending (Tax Analysts Blog)

 

Richard Borean, Tax Freedom Day Arrives in Final Two States: Connecticut and New Jersey (Tax Policy Blog)

Howard Gleckman, Taxing Employer-Sponsored Insurance Would Hike Social Security Benefits But Boost Federal Coffers (TaxVox)

 

Kay Bell, IRS employee arrested after inadvertently following Obama daughters’ motorcade onto White House grounds.  Oops.

Tax Justice Blog, Déjà vu: Oklahoma Enacts Tax Cut Voters Don’t Want.  I’m not sure about the “don’t want” part.

Robert D. Flach has your Friday morning Buzz!

 

News from the Profession.  Deloitte CEO Prefers Traditional Photo Op Over Selfie  (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/8/14: No, Virginian, there is no travel expense Santa Claus. And more!

Thursday, May 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120801-2News Flash: Tax Court Judges didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.  That insight might have occurred to a Virginian after yesterday’s Tax Court decision denying $64,775 in 2010  “car and truck expenses” for a “mobile advertising business” that grossed $7,200 in revenue.

The Virginian worked full-time for Verizon while traveling up a storm — 129,550 miles in 2010, by his own account.  Special Trial Judge Dean questioned The Virginian’s work ethic (my emphasis):

The number of hours petitioner worked for Verizon and purportedly drove for his mobile advertising business simply strains credulity. Petitioner’s monthly mileage for 2010 ranged from 7,419 miles to 17,864 miles. Petitioner testified that he drove at approximately 60 miles per hour. If it is possible that he could average 60 miles per hour in the month that he drove 17,864 miles, he spent at least 300 hours on the road that month or almost 10 hours a day. All this while working full time for Verizon.

The judge also has doubts about the business model:

Furthermore, petitioner’s extensive driving does not appear to be ordinary and necessary to his mobile advertising business. Petitioner claims that he drove all over the United States to post fliers and to advertise his own mobile advertising business, even though most of his clients were local clients except one online refinancing company. All the while, petitioner had very little income in relation to the excessive costs he incurred driving to put up flyers. Furthermore, the advertising for his own business appeared to be fruitless, as he never made a profit in any of the six years he engaged in the business, despite incurring great costs traveling to advertise mobile advertising business.

20140508-2But ultimately none of that mattered, because The Virginian failed to cross the initial threshold for deducting any sort of travel expenses — Section 274:

Notwithstanding whether petitioner’s excessive driving was ordinary and necessary for his mobile advertising business, he simply did not satisfy the strict substantiation requirements of section 274(d) for claiming car and truck expenses… Petitioner had no backup receipts and no beginning and ending mileage for the automobile he allegedly used. 

Section 274(d) requires taxpayers to document travel expenses “by adequate records or sufficient evidence”

-the amount of expense,

-the time and place of the travel, and

-the business purpose of the trip.

For travel, that means receipts where possible (e.g., hotels), and contemporaneous calendars or logs documenting mileage.  Without that, your work ethic and business model doesn’t even come into play.

Cite: Abelitis, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-44.

 

20130114-1Roger McEowen, IRS Says Agents Acting Under Power of Attorney Subject to FBAR Reporting.  “The agent (along with the principal) is subject to the FBAR filing requirements if the POA gives the agent signature authority over a foreign account that exceeds the dollar threshold.” 

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 364.  Big day tomorrow.

TaxGrrrl, UPDATED: Timeline Of IRS Tax Exempt Organization Scandal.  It started with a planted question to try to blunt the impact of the impending TIGTA report that pointed out the targeting.

Kay Bell,  Lois Lerner held in contempt of Congress, ramping up next phase of midterm election year political posturing.  Yes, posturing is occurring — that’s what politicians do.  But Sam Ervin’s posturing — and he did his share — didn’t make Watergate less a scandal.

 

Cara Griffith, Transparency Versus Disclosure of Taxpayer Information (Tax Analysts Blog)  “…the disclosure of documents that contain taxpayer information, whether required by state law or the result of litigation, does not encourage transparency in tax administration.”  I agree; unfortunately, the IRS hides behind dubious assertions of confidentiality to cover up its own questionable behavior.

 

Jason Dinesen, Hold the Phone on the IRS E-file Outrage Machine.  No, don’t.  It’s still outrageous.

20140508-1Peter Reilly, Nonrecognition On Divorce Transfers Hurts Receiving Spouse .  It did in this case, when the recipient spouse had to pay tax.   Taxpayers receiving property in divorce receive the other spouse’s basis, and the other spouse doesn’t have a taxable sale.  But it’s still good policy.  Property settlements are contentious enough without hitting somebody giving up property with income tax on that dubious privilege.  Also, if the IRS got a cut, there would be less marital property to split in the first place.

Alan Cole, Failing by its Own Standard: What DC’s Insurance Tax Tells Us About its Obamacare Exchange (Tax Policy Blog)

Tax Justice Blog, What’s the Matter with Kansas (and Missouri, and …). “An anti-tax, Republican super majority in the Missouri Legislature claimed victory yesterday in a year-long battle with Gov. Jay Nixon over taxes by voting to override Nixon’s veto of a $620 million income tax cut.”

Do tell.  California Legislative Analyst’s Office Raises Concerns with Film Tax Credits (Lyman Stone, Tax Policy Blog).

Renu Zaretsky rounds up tax headlines for TaxVox with Contempt, Audits, Health Care, and Highways.

Janet Novack, Mansion Tax Kills Some Million Dollar Home Sales, Study Concludes.  Taxes always matter.

Jack Townsend, Another Foreign Account Sentencing.

 

Quotable:

The practice of regularly renewing the extenders package is unfortunate and should be stopped. It distorts the budget process, encourages legislative rent seeking, and invites highly particularistic legislative provisions that are better characterized as windfalls and wasteful government spending rather than well-targeted tax incentives.

Victor Fleischer,  Tax Legislation in the Contemporary U.S. Congress (Via the Taxprof)

News from the Profession: Grant Thornton Tries to Motivate With the Human Centipede, or Something (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/7/14: How to keep from beating up the poor with high marginal rates? And: priorities!

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The EITC as a poverty trap: phaseouts of the benefit impose stiff marginal tax rates on the working poor.

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

Arnold Kling ponders solutions to the hidden high tax rates on the poor in SNEP Solution: Flexible Benefits and Extreme Catastrophic Health Insurance.  The problem arises because many welfare benefits phase out as income rises.  For example, the phase-out of the Earned Income Tax Credit means Iowans who qualify can face a combined federal and state tax rate of over 50% on additional income.  The problem is finding a way to means-test benefits without turning the inevitable reduction of benefits as income rises into a poverty trap.  Some Kling thoughts:

One approach would be to replace all forms of means-tested assistance, including food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, and the EITC, with a single cash benefit. For this purpose, we might also think of unemployment insurance as a means-tested benefit.

The classic approach is the negative income tax. What I would suggest is a modification of the negative income tax, in which recipients are instead given flexdollars. These would be like vouchers or food stamps, in that they can be used only for “merit goods:” food, health care/insurance, housing, and education/training. One way to think of this is that it takes the food stamp concept and broadens it to include the other merit goods.

Flexdollars would start at a high level for households with no income and then fade out at rate of 20 percent of the recipient’s adjusted gross income. This “fade-out” would act as a marginal tax rate on income, so we should be careful not to set the fade-out rate too high.

This would give recipients some power over their benefits, and the ability to choose which ones are more important to them — like normal people do with their earnings.  Unused  flexdollars would go into a savings account, which “could be used for medical emergencies, down payments when buying a home, or to save for retirement.”  This would reduce the incentive for “use it or lose it” spending binges.

Implicit marginal ratesImplicit marginal ratesThis seems like a much more promising approach than the current system with its overlapping benefits and multiple phase-outs that sometimes result in effective marginal rates over 100% for the working poor.   Modifying the income tax to provide a standard deduction up to the amount at which the phase-outs end would complement this system, keeping the income tax from adding a layer of explicit marginal tax rates to the rate implicit in the phase out.

Mr. Kling is a brilliant and underappreciated thinker.  I’m re-reading his Unchecked and Unbalanced, which among other things ponders ways to move decision-making on government services to the household and neighborhood level.

 

O. Kay Henderson, About 91 percent of Iowans e-filed their state income taxes:

A dwindling number of Iowa taxpayers submit paper income tax returns to the State of Iowa. Victoria Daniels of the Iowa Department of Revenue has preliminary results for all but the last three days of the tax season, which ended April 30 for Iowa income taxpayers.

“E-filing is up about 4.1 percent and approximately 91 percent of Iowans, to date, have filed electronically,” Daniels says.

I’ve been a fan of e-filing, but the IRS is doing its best to change my mind.

 

 

20140507-1Paul Neiffer, Payments to Veterinarians Require 1099 (Even If Incorporated)!

Peter Reilly, IRS Cannot Levy Tribal Payments

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 363.  This Washington Post Op-ed linked in today’s scandal roundup gets it right: “The very idea that the administration would protect someone who is hiding behind the fifth when there is not only smoke, but there is actually a clear glow of flames, is insulting.”

Annette Nellen, Taxes and Deficits in the Highway Trust Fund.  “Certainly, if we have more electric cars on the road, which don’t generate anything for the HTF, but still use the roads, a funding mechanism tied only to gasoline purchases is outdated.”

Kay Bell, Home prices, construction outlook up. So are property tax bills

 

Alan Cole, US International Tax System is Fundamentally Unserious (Tax Policy Blog):

The United States is one of the last six remaining countries in the OECD – along with Chile, Ireland, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico – to use a “worldwide” system of corporate taxation. The other twenty-eight countries in the OECD use the much sounder territorial system.

A territorial tax system ends at its country’s borders. In contrast, the United States tries to levy taxes on profits earned in countries other than the United States. The tax system sees an auto assembly plant in Craiova, Romania, built using international funding, staffed by Romanian workers, building a vehicle – the Ford B-Max – that isn’t even sold in the United States – and says “Aha! This is economic activity the United States should be able to tax!”

While it may seem unserious, worldwide taxation is deadly serious to Americans abroad and to U.S. Green Card holders.  Serious, and sometimes catastrophically costly.

 

taxanalystslogoTax Analysts Blog is on an equality kick:

Martin Sullivan, Piketty, Zuckerberg, and a Plan to Tax Wealth That Conservatives Can Support.  “David Miller, a tax attorney at Cadwalader,Wickersham & Taft in New York, has proposed that the federal government tax stock gains of the wealthy whether or not those stocks are sold.”   So they get to deduct losses, too?

David Brunori, Tax Follies in Pursuit of Equality.  “The fact that rich people are rich bugs the heck out of folks on the left.” David points out the folly of a California tax scheme that would try to control CEO compensation by hitting CEOs with punitive California tax rates.  That would make sure no corporate headquarters stay in California.

Joseph Thorndike, Piketty Is Wrong: Americans Don’t Have a ‘Passion for Equality’.  This strikes me as correct.  Patrick Henry said “give me liberty or give me death,” not “Give me liberty or give me equality.”  That contrasts with the “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” of Picketty’s France.

Renu Zaretsky, Retirement, Driving, Greenhouse Gases and Tax Burdens.  The TaxVox tax headline roundup covers a disturbing increase in retirement plan early withdrawal penalties and the Missouri override of its governor’s tax cut veto.

 

Sadly, this may compare favorably with all adults.  According to This FINRA Foundation Quiz, 76% of Millennials Have Absolutely No Clue (Going Concern)

 

Priorities.  From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

George W. Curtis, 77, of Pickett, who practices law in Oshkosh, was charged with willfullly failing to pay taxes he owed for 2007, 2008 and 2009, a period when his law practice generated profits of more than $1 million. Curtis has been designated a “Super Lawyer” several times and has practiced for more than 50 years.

77?  Some people just love the law.  Except maybe not the tax law:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Jacobs, the prosecutor, said Curtis testified that his income wasn’t steady, that he had to front many expenses, and that he had higher financial priorities at times than paying taxes. In fact, Curtis did file returns that showed his income, but just didn’t pay.

But the government argued Curtis could have paid. During the period he wasn’t, he was paying his wife’s children’s college tuitions and a wedding, a new Lincoln SUV and buying $17,000 on wine.

You need a nice SUV to transport high-class wine.  Have you ever tried to get your wine home in a tax payment?

 

 

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