Posts Tagged ‘Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan’

Tax Roundup, 8/17/15: New directions in Iowa tax policy. And lots more!

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

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

This week may see the start a discussion of the future of Iowa tax policy. The Iowa Association of Business and Industry Tax Committee meets Thursday to discuss proposals for the future of the Iowa income tax.

There’s a lot to talk about. The Tax Foundation puts Iowa among the bottom-ten states in its 2015 Business Tax Climate Index. Iowa has the second worst corporate tax ranking and the highest corporation tax rate of any state. We also have a subpar individual tax ranking. Along with the high rates — and made possible by them — the Iowa income tax is full of special favors for influential and sympathetic interests. This makes the taxes expensive and difficult to comply with and not so good at collecting revenue.

The state legislature has not seriously addressed income tax reform in recent years. There has been no movement against the awful corporation tax that I am aware of. The Republican caucus has pushed an individual “alternative maximum tax,” one with lower rates and a broader base — that would co-exist with the current system. That has an obvious flaw — everyone would compute their tax both ways and pay the lower tax. That makes the system more complex. But all tax reform has been bottled up by the Democrat-controlled Iowa Senate.

What are the ingredients for Iowa tax reform? A good tax reform discussion should consider:

Repeal of the Iowa corporation income tax. The Iowa corporation tax provided $438 million of the the state’s 2014 revenue, out of $7.545 billion. Corporation income taxes discourage in-state growth and are expensive to enforce. The state would be better off without it.

Repeal of all incentive tax credits. The state has many tax credits, some of which are refundable, including the R&D tax credit. Simply eliminating the tax credits would recoup some of the lost revenue from a corporation income tax repeal.

Move the individual income tax to an AGI-based system. Eliminate state itemized deductions and special state deductions and use the savings to lower the rates. Such as system would only retain a few itemized deductions to prevent abuse of taxpayers, principally the deduction for gambling losses.

Don’t be Kansas. That state enacted a poorly conceived tax reform effort a few years ago, and it has been a mess. Ambitions for tax reform have to be reconciled to revenue needs. While I think the state should spend less than it does, we can’t assume it will do so. Tax reformers need to present a plan that is revenue-neutral, or close to it.


Is Iowa’s business tax climate really that bad?

Baby steps towards fixing Iowa’s business tax climate

What an Iowa income tax might look like with a fresh start.

The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan


Jared Walczak, How High Are Property Taxes in Your State? (Tax Policy Blog). With this map:




Iowa still has relatively high property taxes, even after the recent property tax reforms. But we have high income and sales taxes too.


Russ Fox, Two Sets of Returns Aren’t Better than One:

Today I look at the idea of preparing one set of tax returns for clients but using a second set of returns when submitting the returns to the IRS. Of course, those second returns had higher refund amounts with the difference being pocketed by the preparers. After all, what’s a little tax fraud?

This is what Russ might call a Bozo tax offense. It’s not like this sort of thing will go very long without someone noticing.


Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Estimated Tax Payments

Annette Nellen, Innovation box tax reform proposal, A good explanation of a bad idea.

Kay Bell, IRS says free identity theft protection services are tax-free. “That’s very good news for me, since I was part of the huge OPM hack”

TaxGrrrl, IRS Offers Tax Guidance On Free Identity Theft Protection Services

Paul Neiffer is on the road on The ProFarmer Midwest Crop Tour.

Jim Maule, Rebutting Arguments Against Mileage-Based Road Fees. I think an expansion of tolling is more likely, but I don’t think that is very likely either.

Jack Townsend, Ninth Circuit Requires a Filing for Tax Perjury Charge. “Under the facts, Boitana had merely presented the false return to the agent, but that presentation was not a filing.”

Peter Reilly, Let Irwin Schiff Die With His Family Not In Prison:

You don’t have to agree with Irwin Schiff’s views on the federal income tax, to feel sympathy for Peter Schiff’s request that his father be released from prison. Irwin, now 87, has been diagnosed with lung cancer and it seems likely that he will not live to see his July 26, 2017 release date.

I think the government has made its point.


Patrick J. Smith, D.C. Circuit Majority Opinion in Florida Bankers Not Consistent with Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing Decision (Part 1) (Procedurally Taxing):

The weakness of the majority opinion in Florida Bankers, together with the strength of a dissenting opinion filed in the case, as well as the inconsistency of the majority opinion not only with the Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing decision but also with other D.C. Circuit opinions, all make the Florida Bankers case a strong candidate for en banc review. 

The suit challenges the FATCA rules on foreign reporting.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 828Day 829Day 830

Matt Gardner, Latest Inversion Attempt Illustrates U.S. Can’t Compete with a 0 % Corporate Tax Rate (Tax Justice Blog). It could with a zer-percent rate of its own.

Renu Zaretsky, Tax plans and presidential candidates: The future [may or may not be] now. The TaxVox headline roundup talks about presidential candidate tax plans and the bleak outlook for the IRS budget under the current Commissioner.


If you think of government programs as technology, they are hopelessly behind. We regulate communications using the FCC, which is 1930s regulatory technology. We address health care for the elderly with Medicare, which is 50-year-old technology.

In the private sector, when an enterprise becomes technologically obsolete, it falls by the wayside. In government, it gets larger.

Arnold Kling


News from the Profession. Yep, Almost All Accounting Firm Partners Are Still White Guys (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Well, I still am, anyway, and I don’t see that changing.



Tax Roundup, 5/12/15: IRS updates list of permitted private delivery services for timely-mailed, timely-filed rule.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

UPS 2nd-dayWhen it absolutely, positively has to be postmarked today. While we live in an electronic age, there are still tax things that can only be submitted the old-fashioned way, on dead tree byproduct. That means the “mailbox rule” — timely-mailed means timely-filed — still means something to those of us facing filing deadlines.

The traditional way to document timely filing has been to use Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, at the good old post office. Sometimes it’s hard to get to the post office before they close — or before they stop bothering to process certified mail for the day — so many taxpayers have come to rely on “designated private delivery services” to document their filings.

The IRS last week updated its list of permitted private delivery options in Notice 2015-38. It is the first update of the list since 2004 and reflects changes in the offerings of the large delivery services. The approved services (effective May 6, 2015) are:



1. FedEx First Overnight

2. FedEx Priority Overnight

3. FedEx Standard Overnight

4. FedEx 2 Day

5. FedEx International Next Flight Out

6. FedEx International Priority

7. FedEx International First

8. FedEx International Economy



1. UPS Next Day Air Early AM

2. UPS Next Day Air

3. UPS Next Day Air Saver

4. UPS 2nd Day Air

5. UPS 2nd Day Air A.M.

6. UPS Worldwide Express Plus

7. UPS Worldwide Express.

This means DHL no longer offers approved services. It’s UPS, FedEx, or the USPS. Also note that the popular “UPS Ground” service is not on the list. If you use a non-designated service, the filing date is the date the IRS receives it.

For the thrifty among us, it’s worth noting that for both UPS and FedEx, 2nd-day service works just as well as overnight delivery. In either case, the key is to make sure your shipping documents show a ship date that beats the deadline. Also, make sure you use the proper street address; the private services can’t deliver to IRS service center post office boxes.

Related: Russ Fox, Not All Private Delivery Services Are Equal




Just time for a few links today:


TaxGrrrl, Tax Deadline Looms For Tax Exempt Organizations

Kay Bell, It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a tax collector!

Robert D. Flach has fresh Tuesday Buzz!


David Brunori, The Highest Corporate Tax Rate Should Be Zero (Tax Analysts Blog):

Since 2002 I have been saying that states should repeal their corporate income taxes. I speak practically and am not furthering some ideological agenda. I said then that (1) the corporate income tax did not raise a lot of money; (2) without combined reporting and other safeguards, it would never make a lot of money; (3) it consumed an inordinate amount of resources (planning, litigating, auditing); and (4) it does not matter and we should stop pretending that it does.

Repeal of Iowa’s highest-in-the-developed-world income tax is a key part of the Tax Update Quick And Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


IMG_1557Andrew Lundeen, Let’s Eliminate the Tax Code’s Bias Against Saving with Universal Savings Accounts (Tax Policy Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 733, discussing a non Tea Party victim of IRS targeting that took it to court: “Last week a panel of three DC Circuit judges heard the IRS appeal. The hearing did not go well for the IRS. Indeed, it was an exercise in righteous humiliation of the Department of Justice.”


News from the Profession. Throwing Money at People Still a Solid Retention Strategy (Going Concern)




Tax Roundup, 3/19/15: Iowa Alternative Maximum Tax advances to its doom. And: The Tax Foundation doesn’t want your 1040!

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

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

Iowa House Ways and Means advances Alternative Maximum Tax. The committee voted to send HSB 215 to the House Floor yesterday.  The bill would let taxpayers choose between the current Iowa income tax and a simpler version with a broader base, lower rates, and no deduction for federal taxes.

The ideas in the alternative bill are all good policy. But just adding this to the current awful income tax is like spray painting a car that’s half rusted-through. It’s extra work that does no good.

In the real world, taxpayers would compute both taxes and pay the lower one. This is the opposite of the current alternative minimum tax, where you pay the higher of the regular or alternative tax base. That’s why I call it an Alternative Maximum Tax.

If you want to simplify taxes, simplify the tax system; don’t just tack a simplification module on the existing code.

Really, though, this proposal is just for show, as they know Senator Gronstal will never let it move in the Iowa Senate. If it reinforces the idea that you can lower rates with a broader base and by taking out the deduction for federal taxes, it could even do some good. It might even get them thinking about the  Tax Update Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


Filing season tip: Please Don’t Mail Your Tax Returns to the Tax Foundation (Joseph Henchman, Tax Policy Blog):

Someone mailed us their tax returns and documents today. We quickly sent it back to that individual, as we neither process tax returns nor assist individuals with tax planning or preparation. Tax documents contain a lot of private information and everyone should be very careful about to whom they send this information.

We are here for taxpayers but we are unable to assist individuals with tax planning or preparation. Our staff includes scholars who study tax policy and data, not tax preparation professionals.  

Another inadvertent argument for e-filing: those returns are pretty sure to end up in the right place.


TPC logoRoberton Williams, Who’s Afraid of Income Taxes? New Interactive TPC Tools To Help You Understand the 1040. A cool new feature at TaxVox:

In bite-sized pieces, Who’s Afraid of the Form 1040? discusses the main tax form, explaining the different filing statuses, who counts as a dependent, and what income is taxed (and what income isn’t). How do deductions and credits cut your tax bill and how does the AMT boost it? And how does the income tax help you pay for college, health care, and retirement?

With tax trivia (we used to file our returns on the Ides of March) and facts (just 2.9 percent of taxpayers will owe AMT for 2014 but they’ll pay an average of $6,500), the new feature explains many aspects of the income tax. It won’t make it easier to file your taxes but it might make the process a bit more interesting.

We have also updated our Interactive 1040. Inaugurated last year, this web tool allows users to examine each individual line of the 1040 and Schedule A (itemized deductions). Pop-up boxes contain brief explanations and links to distributional tables and other TPC resources on each topic.

It might be a good way to help you understand why that refund you thought you had coming didn’t.


IMG_1322TaxGrrrl, It’s Not A Scam: IRS Is Really Sending Out Identity Verification Letters. Letters, people, not phone calls, not emails. They don’t call without sending a letter first.

Kay Bell, What should be on the IRS’ taxpayer service to-do list? I would start with not sending billions of dollars to ID-fraud scammers.

Me, IRS issues Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for April 2015.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 679.


David Brunori, A Very Good Tax Reform Idea in Louisiana (Tax Analysts Blog).

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has a tax plan that should be creating buzz all around the country. He wants to convert some of the state’s individual and business tax credits from refundable to nonrefundable. Let’s be clear: Refundable tax credits are government transfers. They are welfare. They merely use the tax code as a vehicle to take money from some people and give it to others. And apart from the earned income tax credit, no refundable credits represent sound policy.

Given that over 25% of the EITC ends up in the wrong hands, I’m not sold on that one either. David is absolutely correct on the unwisdom of refundable credits, and transferable credits are just as bad.




Tony Nitti, AICPA Sends 34 Tax Proposals To Congress

Annette Nellen posts on Need for greater tax literacy and regulation of preparers. Tax literacy, sure. Preparer regulation? Not so much. Massive simplification? Definitely.

Joseph Thorndike, Mike Lee’s Tax Plan Was Promising. Until It Wasn’t. (Tax Analysts Blog). “Are the reformicons done for?”

Matt Gardner, GOP Budget Proposal Once Again Punts Tough Questions (Tax Justice Blog)

Career Corner. Busy Season Zen: The Swish Montage (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Ommmm.



Tax Roundup, 1/22/15: Business-only tax reform: do-able, or doomed? And: Are Iowa taxes all that bad?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
paul ryan

Paul Ryan

Business-only tax reform? Tax Analysts reports ($link) that the chief taxwriter in the GOP-controlled House is exploring tax reform ideas with the Obama administration:

As Republican taxwriters look for a way to advance tax reform in the face of White House ambivalence, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he would explore a business-only compromise with the Obama administration, as long as it includes passthroughs.

“I’d like to think that there is perhaps an area for common ground there,” Ryan said on Fox News January 20 after President Obama’s State of the Union address. “We’re going to try to explore it and see if we can find something.”

Ryan said Obama’s recent tax proposals, which involve increasing capital gains taxes and implementing a tax on financial institutions to pay for new and expanded middle-income tax incentives, as well as new spending programs, show he is disinterested in comprehensive reform.

I think “as long as it includes passthoughs” is absolutely the right approach. I also think it will be fatal to the reform effort. A majority of businesses and business income is taxed on 1040s as a result of the increased popularity of passthrough structures like S corporations and limited liability companies.

Source: The Tax Foundation

Source: The Tax Foundation

Any tax reform effort worthy of the name would bring down rates in exchange for a broader base. As the President seems firmly committed to ever-higher rates on “the rich,” I don’t see how this can happen.


Is Iowa’s business tax climate really that bad? (Me, Is Iowa ready for tax reform? Ready or not, it’s overdue for it:

Even after all of the explaining, the Tax Foundation’s main points remain true. Iowa’s corporation tax rate is the highest in the U.S. (even taking the deduction for federal income taxes into account). In fact, it is the highest in the developed world. Our individual tax rate is high, even considering the federal tax deduction. All of the special breaks make Iowa’s income tax very complex. And while Iowa has many tax credits, they are often narrowly tailored and require consulting and string-pulling to obtain. Many small businesses don’t qualify for the wonderful tax breaks, but they still have to pay their accountants to comply with the resulting complex and confusing tax system.

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 post begins an exploration of Iowa tax reform options I will be running at, the Des Moines Business Record’s Business Professional’s Blog. While longtime readers know my fondness for massive changes to the Iowa tax system, I will also be exploring changes on the margin that would improve and simplify Iowa’s tax system in its existing structure that might be easier to pass.


David Brunori, Bad State Tax Ideas Abound – Nebraska, Virginia, and Missouri (Tax Analysts Blog):

Special taxes — those on narrow bases — should be imposed sparingly and only for good reason. The best reason is to pay for externalities. But unlike, say, cigarettes, 99 percent of gun purchases produce no externalities. So they should not be subject to special taxes — unless you really hate guns, gun owners, and the guys from Duck Dynasty.

Not every problem is a tax problem.


Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

TaxGrrrl, Taxpayers Urged To Be On ‘High Alert’ For Fraud During Filing Season:

This week, the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Administration (TIGTA) issued a reminder to taxpayers to beware of scammers making calls claiming to represent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The scam, which heated up last year, has continued to plague taxpayers.

If you aren’t expecting a call from the IRS, it’s not the IRS.


William Perez, Understanding Form W-2, the Annual Wage and Tax statement

Robert Wood, 10 Surprising Items IRS Says To Report On Your Taxes. As a listicle, it will probably generate traffic to crush Forbes’ servers.

Tax Trials, Fourth Circuit Affirms the Tax Court on Conservation Easement Donation.  “In the end, the Fourth Circuit held that while the conservation purpose of the easement was perpetual, the use restriction on the’ real property is not in perpetuity because the taxpayers could remove land from the defined parcel and replace it with other land.”


Keith Fogg, How Long Does a CDP Case Toll the Statute of Limitations on Collection? (Procedurally Taxing)

Peter Reilly, Bitter CPA Fight Good For Attorneys And Nobody Else. The U.S. Sixth Circuit picks up the tale of one of the worst accounting firm breakups I’ve come across.

Jack Townsend, USAO SDNY Announces Another Offshore Account Client Plea


20141201-1Glenn Hubbard, Obama’s Bad Economic Ideas (Via the TaxProf): “Piling up child tax credits and subsidies for health care over narrow household income ranges, as the president proposes, leads to high rates of taxation on earnings from work as assistance is phased out.” In other words, a poverty trap.

Kay Bell, Obama’s ‘won both’ elections State of the Union quip, Republicans’ many responses to the speech (and gibe)


The Tax Policy Blog has lots on the Presidents’ doomed tax proposals:

Kyle Pomerleau, Andrew Lundeen, The Basics of President Obama’s State of the Union Tax Plan

Scott A. Hodge, Michael SchuylerWhat Dynamic Analysis Tells Us About the President’s Tax Hike on Capital Gains and Dividends

Stephen J. Entin, President Obama’s Capital Gains Tax Proposals: Bad for the Economy and the Budget


TaxVox is also flooding the SOTU zone:

William Gale, David John, Retirement Security a Priority in the 2015 State of the Union

Gene Steuerle, President Obama’s Middle-Class Tax Message in the State of the Union

William Gale, Adjusting the President’s Capital Gains Proposal




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 623. Today’s installment features an e-mail where scandal figure Lois Lerner shows she’s well aware her unit was under suspicion, and was desparately discouraging further inquiry.

Matt Gardner, Adobe Products’ Acrobatic Tax-Dodging Skills (Tax Justice Blog). I would read that as “skills in meeting their fiduciary duty towards their shareholders.”



Tax Roundup, 1/12/15: They’re back! Gas tax boost, maybe; tax reform, not likely as 86th Iowa General Assembly convenes

Monday, January 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20130117-1Same Governor. Same split party control in the legislature. So why would we expect different results? I expect no big tax cuts, tax increases or tax reforms. When you mix the same ingredients and put them in the same oven, expect the same thing to come out of the oven.

They will be legislating for the next few months, so they will talk, and who knows? Something might happen. But that’s not the way to bet.

The Des Moines Register today covers 10 key issues facing Iowa Legislature in 2015. Six of them are tax items. I think only one of them is likely to result in legislation. Let’s go down the list.

ROAD FUNDING/GAS TAX. The state gas tax isn’t inflation adjusted, and the Department of Transportation says it needs more money. As gas taxes are close to a fee on road use, you can make a policy case for an increase. It’s a lot harder to make a political case, which is why the Governor and the legislature are so deferential to one another in this area. The fracking-induced fall in gas prices may give them the legislature the excuse they need to do what they clearly want to do — raise the 10 21-cent per gallon tax. The governor may push it through if he has decided this is his last term. But most likely they’ll be saying “after you” right through adjournment.

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.

INCOME TAX CUTS.  The Register conflates tax cuts with tax reform here. They aren’t necessarily the same thing. Iowa’s income tax could bring in the same amount of revenue without the highest corporation rate in the developed world by eliminating the dozens of special interest tax credits and carveouts and tax credits for the well-connected. As long as Michael Gronstal remains in control of the flow of legislation in the Iowa Senate, anything that cuts rates for “the rich” goes nowhere. In any case, the Governor doesn’t seem to mind a tax credit system that gets him invited to all the cool ribbon cuttings.

That’s too bad. Iowa has a bottom-ten business tax climate that favors those with good lobbyists while making South Dakota look attractive for everyone else. Something like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan, which would wipe out the corporate tax, cut individual rates, and get rid of Iowa’s byzantine maze of special breaks, is long overdue.

20120906-1BROADBAND EXPANSION. This is the sort of small-ball legislation that has passed in recent years, and this seems like the most likely to get through, probably as a tax credit. Of course, every new tax credit means a puppy dies Iowa’s tax law is just a little worse and a little harder to fix. Never mind that the real obstacle to broadband expansion is in Washington, not Des Moines.

LOCAL OPTION SALES TAXES. The municipalities want to be able to drive out businesses by increasing sales tax without help from surrounding communities. Same ingredients, same cake.

BANNING TRAFFIC CAMERAS. It’s about the money, and Senator Gronstal will prevent any anti revenue camera legislation from advancing.

SALES TAX INCREASE. This proposal to increase sales taxes for natural resource funding died in the Senate last year. If you can’t get a tax increase out of the Iowa Senate, you sure aren’t getting one out of the GOP House.

Other coverage: Sioux City Journal, Iowa Legislators see limited budget room for tax cuts this session

Related: Tax States of the States: Mixed, Murky and Sometimes Mercurial (Renu Zaretsky, TaxVox)


IMG_0923Russ Fox, FTC Sponsors Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

Tony Nitti, Four Things Sure To Destroy Your Tax Season. Three of them stem from Obamacare.


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

Annette Nellen, HR 30 – Defining full-time worker for ACA has costs. A story of unintended consequences.

Peter Reilly, Dressage Riding Physician Convinces IRS On Hobby Loss Audit But Loses To Massachusetts

Keith Fogg, Tenth Circuit Ups the Ante on Late Filed Returns (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert Wood, Bill Gives IRS Power Over Tax Prep, But Should It? No.

Kay Bell, St. Louis says no added taxes for new NFL Rams stadium. But the one they have is 20 years old, darn it!


Kyle Pomerleau, Government Cost $4.5 Trillion in 2014 and We All Paid Part of It (Tax Policy Blog).

Robert Goulder, China’s Fiscal Roadmap: Tax Like America (Tax Policy Blog). If you are worried about China achieving economic domination, you can rest easy now.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 613

News from the Profession. Judging By This List, Accountants Aren’t Marriage Material (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 12/31/14: Last minute tax moves: losses, gifts, and… weddings? Timing is everything!

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20140608_2So.  2014 is down to its last few hours. What can we do today to make April 15, 2015 a little happier? Well, maybe less bad. It’s asking too much of one day to fix a year’s worth of tax problems, but today might still make a difference. A few things you can do yet today:

– Sell stocks at a loss to offset capital gains. It’s the trade date that counts in determining when a loss is incurred (except on a short sale). That means if you have incurred capital gains in 2014, you can sell loss stocks today and reduce your taxable gains for the year. Most individuals can deduct capital losses on a 1040 to the extent of your gains, plus $3,000. To the extent you fail to offset capital gains with the losses sitting in your portfolio, you are paying taxes voluntarilyJust make sure you make the trade in a taxable account and don’t repurchase the losers for 30 days.

– Consider making your state 4th quarter estimated tax payment today (and your federal payment, if you are an Iowan). Don’t do this rashly, as alternative minimum tax can make this a bad move for some taxpayers. Also, time value considerations can make this a bad move. But in the right circumstances, you can save a lot in April by getting your payment in the mail today.

– Make a charitable gift today, if you are so inclined. Gifts (and other deductions) paid with a credit card today are deductible, even if the credit card isn’t paid off until next year. Checks postmarked today are deductible this year. If you don’t know where to make your gifts, I have some suggestions; if you don’t like those, TaxGrrrl has some others.

– And if you are fanatical about tax planning, and someone else, you can change your marital status today. Your marital status on December 31 is your status for the whole year, as far as the IRS is concerned. But if you are seriously considering this, you definitely need to bring someone else into the discussion.


20120511-2A Tax Court Case yesterday shows how important year-end timing can beA Minnesota couple paid $2,150.85 of community college tuition for their daughter’s Spring 2011 semester on December 28, 2010. That normally would have qualified for an American Opportunity Tax Credit of about $2,037 — a dollar-for-dollar reduction fo their 2011 taxes. But they were four days too soon.

Tax Court Judge Marvel explains (my emphasis):

Generally, the American opportunity credit is allowed only when payment is made in the same year that the academic period begins. Sec. 1.25A-5(e)(1), Income Tax Regs. For cash method taxpayers, such as petitioners, qualified education expenses are treated as paid in the year in which the expenses are actually paid.

Because the semester didn’t begin until 2011, the 2010 payment didn’t count. Judge Marvel explains that close isn’t close enough:

We realize that the statutory requirements may seem to work a harsh result in a case such as this where a four-day delay in making the December 28, 2010, payment would have engendered a different result. However, the Court must apply the statute as written and follow the accompanying regulations when consistent therewith.

The Moral? When it comes to tax planning, the difference between December 31 and January 1 is one year, not one day. If timing matters, be sure to get on the right side of the line, and be sure you can document your timing. If you are mailing a big check, go Certified mail, return receipt requested, and save that postmark.

Cite: Ferm, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-115.


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

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

Iowa rated 8th worst small business environment. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council has ranked the entrepreneurial environment of the 50 states. Iowa does poorly:

Iowa is the nation’s number one producer of corn. Unfortunately, it’s costly policy climate works against production from free enterprise and entrepreneurship in general. Iowa ranks 43rd in terms of its public policy climate for entrepreneurship and small business among the 50 states, according the 2014 “Small Business Policy Index.” While Iowa’s entrepreneurs, businesses, investors and workers benefit from fairly low crime rate and a low level of government debt, there are many negatives, such as high individual capital gains taxes; very high corporate income and capital gains taxes; high unemployment taxes; and a high level of government spending.

While I think overall Iowa is better than 43rd, our awful tax environment hurts. Our system of high rates with dozens of carve-out credits for the well-advised and well-connected works great for insiders, but not so well for the rest of us. Maybe 2015 will be the year Iowa considers serious tax reform, like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


Kay Bell, Donating and deducting a car

Jack Townsend, Reasonable Doubt and Jury Nullification

Jason Dinesen lists his Top 5 Blog Posts of 2014. My favorite is his #5, Having a Side Business in Multi-Level Marketing Doesn’t Make Personal Expenses Deductible

Tony Nitti warns us of Five Traps To Avoid When Deducting Mortgage Interest

Robert D Flach shares: MY NEW YEAR’S EVE TRADITIONS: “I type W-2s and 1099s.” Don’t get too wild, Robert!

Me, IRS issues Applicable Federal Rates (AFR) for January 2015


G. Brint Ryan, Who’s Afraid of the IRS? When Business Fights Back Against Government Overreach and Wins (Procedurally Taxing)

Annette Nellen,State taxes and bitcoin

Robert Wood, No Mickey Mouse Taxes On Jim Harbaugh’s $48M Michigan Deal And 49ers Exit. “Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers contract may be history, but his $48M Michigan deal has tax components that you might not expect.”


Howard Gleckman, Taxes, Charitable Gifts, the ACA, and Ineffective Deadlines (TaxVox).  “Scrambling to make a last-minute charitable donation to beat the New Year’s Eve deadline for a 2014 tax deduction? Take a deep breath and ask yourself, ‘Why am I going through this craziness now?'”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 601


Post-sequester commuting.

Not excited about all the wild New Years Eve hoopla? Maybe you prefer a more low-key celebration, like the one Robert D. Flach relates in MY NEW YEAR’S EVE TRADITIONS:

Every year during the day on New Year’s Eve I do the same thing I do during the day on Christmas Eve – I type W-2s and 1099s.

Live it up, Robert!


And Happy New Year to all of you Tax Update readers! This is it for 2014 here.  See you next week, and next year.



Tax Roundup, 12/3/14: House voting on extenders today. Are Senate, White House on board?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130113-3The House will likely pass one-year extender bill today. Will the Senate and White House go along? Multiple reports say that the House of Representatives is expected to approve HR 5771 today, reviving 55 perennially-resurected tax breaks through 2014. The breaks, which include bonus depreciation, the $500,000 Section 179 deduction, and the research credit, all expired at the end of 2013.

While the fate of the bill in the Senate and the White House are not entirely clear, I expect the House bill to pass, given the lack of alternatives.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) used a weekly Senate Democratic luncheon Tuesday to push for an alternative that would extend expiring tax breaks through 2015.

But his Republican counterpart on the committee, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, brushed that aside, saying time was running out. Mr. Hatch—on whom Mr. Wyden frequently relies when crafting deals—came out in favor of the short-term fix, saying the only alternative he would support at this point was the one worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and drew a White House veto threat last week. If the Senate advanced a new version, “there will be no bill” because “the House is going to leave,” Mr. Hatch said.

The full text of Sen. Hatch’s statements can be found here.

The Hill reports that the White House appears ready to go along with the House bill. Given the way the White House threatened a veto of the House-Senate deal that would have extended some of the breaks permanently, I think the lack of a veto threat means the President is likely to sign this version. While there appears to be some unhappiness with the House bill — Senator Grassley is not a fan of the one-year approach —  I expect the lame-duck Senate to pass it anyway. Unfortunately, it’s not clear when the Senate will act.

Congress has for years passed these provisions for one or two years at a time because Congressional budget rules allow them to pretend they are less expensive than they really are. Unfortunately, that often leaves taxpayers uncertain as to what the tax law is for the year until the year is almost over — or, in 2012, until the year was over. That makes it hard to evaluate the economics of important fixed-asset decisions. The abortive House-Senate deal would have ended this game for several key provisions, but the White House chose scoring cheap political points over an improved business tax environment.


Paul Neiffer, Is an One-Year Extension of Section 179 all we get?!

Howard Gleckman, How To End the Tax Extender Drama: Stop Calling Them Extenders—And Make Congress Pay For Them

Kay Bell, Tax extenders compromise: OK expired breaks for 2014 only


20121108-1Peter Reilly, Repair Regs – A Hellish Tax Season And Refunds Of Biblical Magnitude. Peter discusses the need, or not, for massive filing of useless accounting method changes to implement the new “repair regulations.” He also touches on a potential boon for owners of commercial real estate.


William Perez, What You Need to Know about the Premium Assistance Tax Credit

Russ Fox notes A Rare Piece of Efficiency from the IRS

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2014: #4-IRS Rules on Self-Employment Income Of LLC Members.


Robert Wood, What IRS Calls ‘Willful’–Even A Smidgen–Can Mean Penalties Or Jail

TaxGrrrl, Feeling Spendy This Year? ’12 Days Of Christmas’ Slightly More Expensive


microsoft-appleSound Advice. David Brunori offers Advice for the New Republican Legislative Majorities (Tax Analysts Blog). It’s full of sound advice, but I especially like this:

Republicans should become the party of virtue, courage, and honesty when it comes to taxes. They should fight crony capitalism, as there is nothing more abhorrent to the free market than the government picking winners and losers. Yet state governments do just that all the time. The proliferation of tax incentives represents horrible tax policy. That politicians can decide economic policy through tax incentives is more akin to a Soviet five-year plan than to Adam Smith’s invisible hand. True conservatives should fight attempts to use tax policy to further economic objectives. Broad-based taxes and low rates will always serve the conservative cause better than the existing nonsensical tax laws. Standing on principle to ensure a broad tax base is hard — and neither party has been able to do it. But it is a stand worth taking.

That would be wonderful advice here in Iowa, but our newly re-elected GOP governor has been up to his mustache in crony tax breaks to chase high-profile businesses. Meanwhile Iowa’s home-grown businesses don’t get the big subsidies. They are dragged down by the highest corporation tax rate in the developed world, baroque complexity, and a bottom-ten business tax environment.

A real pro-business tax reform in Iowa might look something like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 573.


lizard20140826Leslie BookH&R Block CEO Asks IRS To Make it Harder to Self-Prepare Tax Returns and Why That is Good for the Tax System.  “Yet, as I explain here, I think the changes he proposes would likely be good for the tax system because they could enhance visibility and accountability, principles the IRS should emphasize with issues that tend to have sticky error rates.”

H&R Block has been trying to pad its income for years on the backs of retail taxpayers. Its former CEO authored the illegal tax preparer regulations system the IRS tried to force on the industry — a system that would have run many of Henry and Robert’s competitors out of the buisness. Now they want to force the lowest-income earners through their doors.

I think the right approach to advice from an outfit that so shamelessly promotes its interests at the expense of taxpayers may be to carefully note it, and to do exactly the opposite.


Stephen Entin, No Mystery that Investment Slump Hurts Workers, Lowers Productivity and Wages (Tax Policy Blog)


News from the Profession. Why Is Everyone in Public Accounting Obsessed with Sports? (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 10/14/14: Iowa tax credits expected to pay out $361 million this year. And: Fix FBAR!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Extended 1040s are due tomorrow!


20120906-1$521 million for the well-connected and well lobbied. The Des Moines Register reports on a new set of estimates from the Iowa Department of Revenue:

Iowa would have to pay about a half-billion dollars for tax credits during a 12-month period should every recipient come to the table asking for their awards.

The state has a tax credit liability of $462 million for the 2015 fiscal year, which started July 1 and runs until June 30, 2015, according to an Iowa Department of Revenue report.

For the 2016 fiscal year, the state’s tax credit liability is expected to hit $521.2 million.

But it’s not so bad as all that:

The Revenue Department said it only expects $361.4 million worth of tax credits to be claimed in fiscal 2015 and $402.8 million to be claimed in fiscal 2016.

Compare the $361 million in expected tax credit giveaways to expected receipts, net of refunds, from the entire Iowa corporation income tax in fiscal 2015 of $413.5 million. A good chunk of this is actually in the form of cash grants via the Iowa research credit. Iowa persists in giving these away even though a commission tasked with finding out whether they do any good was unable to say they were worth anything.

Iowa couples its regime of special favors for special political friends with high individual rates, and the highest corporation tax rate in the U.S., for those of us lacking lobbyists or state house connections.  Far better to slash individual rates, get rid of the near-worthless corporation income tax, strip out loopholes and deductions, and make everybody’s tax life easier.  It’s time for The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


passportAllison ChristiansPaperwork and Punishment: It’s Time to Fix FBAR (Tax Analysts, Via the TaxProf). A righteous takedown of one of the worst features of an awful tax law:

The FBAR penalty structure is harsh at best and tremendouosly unfair at worst. An FBAR failure or mistake attracts a one-size-fits-all punishment, which rapidly escalates according to a formula that is known only to the IRS. The instructions claim that a taxpayer can avoid penalties by showing a “reasonable cause,” but they also state that a “non-willful” mistake or failure carries a $10,000 penalty, regardless of the amount of money actually at stake…

It cannot be noted without irony that for a regime created to catch hard-core financial criminals, FBAR now criminalizes something we would hardly consider a serious crime — namely a paperwork mistake.

It’s IRS policy to shoot the jaywalkers so they can slap the real international financial criminals on the wrists.  Read the whole thing.


Paul Neiffer reminds us that you have Less Than Two Full Days to Get Your Return Filed

It’s a quiet Buzz day at Robert D. Flach’s place. 

Kay Bell, Federal holiday effects on federal taxes,

Stephen Olson has the Summary Opinions for 10/03/14, rounding up developments in tax procedure at Procedurally Taxing.


20121022-1TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 523

Me, The C corporation dilemma and how not to solve it. My latest at, the Des Moines Business Record’s Business Professionals’ Blog. I discuss the C corporation double-tax, and a failed effort to solve the problem with a “midco transaction” in advance of a sale of the business.


How is that even possible? District Court Sets The Bar Lower For Accountants Than Attorneys (Peter Reilly)

News from the Profession. Center for Audit Quality Managed to Find Some People Confident in Audits (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 7/30/14: Iowa Illustrated! And: an unhappy take on IRS offshore account enforcement.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

iowa-illustrated_Page_01Iowa’s tax system in pictures.  The Tax Foundation yesterday posted “Iowa Illustrated: A Visual Guide to Taxes & the Economy.”  It is a valuable and sobering introduction into Iowa tax policy.  Anybody interested in Iowa’s tax policy mess should start here.

The Tax Foundation summary:

Here are just a few examples of the more than 30 key findings:

  • Iowa relies on federal funding for one-third of its budget
  • Iowa’s sales tax rate has tripled since its creation
  • Iowa’s business taxes rank poorly nationally, and are uncompetitive regionally
  • Iowa has had a net loss of 63,287 people over the last 20 years
  • Effective tax rates in Iowa vary widely across different industries.

By offering a broader perspective of Iowa’s taxes and illustrating some of the lesser-known aspects of Iowa’s business environment, this guide provides the necessary facts for having an honest debate about how to improve the structure of The Hawkeye State’s tax system. 

There’s too much good stuff to summarize, but I will highlight a few items.

This might explain why property tax reform is such a big deal here:



Raising individual tax rates on “the rich” means taxing employment:



Despite its highest-in-the-nation corporation tax rate, Iowa’s corporate tax is a sub-par revenue generator:


While agriculture is important in Iowa, financial services are a bigger industry:


Iowa has a diverse economy, but our tax system still parties like it’s 1983:


A lot of the tax receipts go out the back door to the well-connected via tax credits:


It’s hard to make a case for the current Iowa tax system.  Maybe the legislature will finally be ready to do something about it next session.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would be a great place to start.


Now to our regular programming:


20130419-1Jack TownsendTime for an IRS Ass Kicking? Herein of Lack of Honor and a Dumb Decision in OVDI/P and Streamlined:

So, one could ask, why wouldn’t it be an easy decision for the IRS to let taxpayers in OVDI/P who had not yet signed a Form 906 to proceed fully under Streamlined.  Well, it appears, that the IRS wanted to keep all of the income tax, penalties and interest for closed income tax years and penalties for open years that it was not entitled to, while giving a partial benefit of the Streamlined program (the 5% penalty applied to innocents, many of whom should owe no penalty).  Basically, the IRS wanted something that it was not entitled to. 

Bad faith seems to be a part of the IRS culture in dealing with offshore issues.


Peter Reilly, Retailer Can Only Deduct Perks When Redeemed  “I suspect that the accrual is probably not what makes or breaks these programs.”

Jim Maule continued his “Tax Myths” series while I was away.   I like his “The Internal Revenue Code Fills 70,000 Pages” post.


David Brunori, Lawyers Whining About Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

For the record, I don’t like taxes. But if you’re going to have a government, you should pay for it the right way. Sales tax should be paid by consumers on all their purchases. Business inputs should never be subject to sales tax. Everyone who has ever studied or even thought about consumption taxes knows that. So it makes sense that legal services should be taxed. Lawyers don’t like that because, well, people might use less of their services. That would be a tragedy beyond comprehension.

Not that I’m in a hurry to charge sales taxes to my individual clients, but David is right on the policy.


20140730-1Howard Gleckman, Are Tax Inversions Really Unpatriotic? (TaxVox)  “Selling war material to an enemy or financing a terrorist organization is unpatriotic—and illegal. Using legal avoidance strategies to reduce taxes may be distasteful or unseemly, but it is not unpatriotic.”

Kay Bell, Defense Department workers, some with top security clearance, owed $730 million in back federal taxes.  So tell me again about corporate tax “deserters.”


Annette Nellen, IRS Voluntary Preparer Regulation System – Worthwhile? Legal?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 447


Because Hollywood needs more taxpayer money!  29 Members of Congress Ask California to Boost Film Tax Credits (Joseph Henchman, Tax Policy Blog).  In a just world, this would automatically cost all 29 of these critters their seats.


Rebecca Wilkins, Stop the Bleeding from Inversions before the Corporate Tax Dies (Tax Justice Blog).  Darn, I’ll have to stroll into town for a Band-aid.



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!




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).



Tax Roundup, 5/1/14: Iowa remains on top! Oh, that’s bad.

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The Iowa House of Representatives has adjourned for the year.  That makes it official: Iowa will continue to have the highest corporation income tax rate in the U.S. for another year, as shown on this map from The Tax Foundation:

2014 Corporate Income Tax Rates

The U.S has the highest corporation tax rate of all OECD countries, so that means right here in Iowa we have the highest corporation income tax rate in the entire developed world.  That’s true even taking into account Iowa’s 50% deduction for federal corporation tax.  Whoopee.  That must mean that Iowa receives just gushers of corporate cash, right?

Wrong.  The Iowa corporation tax generated $403.6 million net revenue in calendar 2013, amounting to about 5.3% of state tax revenues.  The individual income tax, by contrast, generated $3.45 billion net revenue in the same period. (Figures available here.)

The net is so low because the corporation tax, like the Iowa income tax, is riddled with special credits and deductions for the well-connected and well-lobbied.  Some of the biggest corporations in Iowa pay no tax and, in fact, actually get multi-million dollar checks out of the Department of Revenue.

There’s nothing good about this system.  It’s brutal for small corporations without the lobbyists and pull to land big breaks.  Meanwhile, big corporations use their resources to skip around the tax, or even to profit from it.  The high rates and complexity drives away corporations who don’t want to play the influence game, while luring those who play it like a fiddle.  Far better to wipe out the tax and the accompanying subsidies with something like The Tax Update Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan!

Related: David Brunori, I Will Ask Again, Why Are We Taxing Corporate Income? (Tax Analysts Blog). “There is an increasingly influential school of thought that says the tax is borne by labor in the form of lower wages.”


Peter Reilly, Alimony That Does Not Look Like Alimony.  “So if an agreement says that the payments are to be treated as alimony for tax purposes, that really means nothing.  What matters is whether the requirements are met…”


20130114-1Roger McEowen, 
Analyzing Hedging under Obamacare’s Net Investment Income Tax Final Regulations.  “… a sole proprietor farmer’s income from hedging activity, or hedging income of a farming entity structured as pass-through entity is not subject to the NIIT, because the farmer or entity is engaged in the trade or business of farming and not the trade or business of trading in commodities.” 

William Perez, Tax Reform Act of 2014, Part 7, IRS Administrative Proposals Impacting Individuals.

Annette Nellen, How sales tax exemptions can waste one’s time.  “Recent litigation in Missouri over whether converting frozen dough into baked goods is “processing,” such that the electricity used is exempt from sales tax, shows the time and money that can be wasted with pointless rules.”

TaxGrrrl, Considering The Death Penalty: Your Tax Dollars At Work.  It should give pause to those who think the government should be the provider of health care when it can’t even kill somebody well.

Um, to save hundreds of millions of shareholder dollars?  Why Does Pfizer Want to Renounce Its Citizenship? (Tax Justice Blog). 


20121004-1Renu Zaretsky, Competition and Tax Reform: A Thorn in Everybody’s Side.  The TaxVox headline roundup.

Kay Bell, Amazon begins collecting sales tax from Florida buyers May 1; Will the online retailing giant lose even more customers?

Stephen Olsen, Did Donald Rumsfeld Just Invalidate His Return?  (Procedurally Taxing) “…he just wanted to be able to understand how his tax bill was computed.  Overall, not an unreasonable position, but perhaps a pipedream.”

Jack Townsend, Another Credit Swiss Related Bank Enabler Pleads Guilty


taxanalystslogoCara Griffith, The Problem With Outcome-Based Jurisprudence (Tax Analysts Blog).  ” It is not for the court to worry about how the state will fashion a remedy. Its task is to interpret and enforce the state’s laws and strike down those that are unconstitutional.”


The newest Cavalcade of Risk is up!  The roundup of insurance and risk management posts is hosted this time by Rebecca Shafer.  Our old friend Hank Stern contributes with bad news on the ACA computer security front: My Bleeding ( Heart


TaxProf,  The IRS Scandal, Day 357.  For a “phony scandal,” it’s awfully persistent.


The soft bigotry of low expectations.  IRS Commish Reminds Senator That Hill Staffers Have Worse Tax Compliance Than IRS Employees (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 4/25/14: Why the move to tax return selfies? And: Iowa’s unhappy high ranking.

Friday, April 25th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Supply and demand curves

Supply and demand curves

IRS stats show more people are preparing their own returns, reports Tax Analysts ($link):

The IRS’s latest data, released April 11, show electronic filing from paid tax professionals fell 0.3 percent from the same time last year. That follows a 1.8 percent drop in April 2013, and a 1.7 percent drop in April 2012. By contrast, the IRS said, self-prepared e-filing of returns rose 4.5 percent through April 11 compared with last year, 3.1 percent in April 2013, and 5 percent in April 2012.

It seems like an odd trend.  It’s not like the tax law is getting any easier.  One possibility raised in the story is that it’s those wacky youngsters:

 Self-preparation may be a response to a younger generation’s ease with computers and software, said [retired Enrolled Agent Sandra] Martin. “That’s more of a permanent reason why people aren’t using preparers,” she said.

She also raises a much less logical possibility:

Martin said the IRS’s inability to regulate return preparers makes matters worse. Taxpayers are not only uncertain about the qualifications of their preparers, she said; some are afraid, haunted by stories of fraudulent preparers ripping off return filers and deciding the do-it-yourself path may be safest.

I think the failed IRS preparer regulation power grab is a big part of the cause, but not for the reasons cited by Ms. Martin.  As Dan Alban, slayer of the preparer regulations, testified before the U.S. Senate taxwriting committee:

In fact, IRS data released last summer shows a dramatic drop in the number of tax preparers in recent years — a sudden loss of more than 200,000 preparers from 2010 to 2012 — following the recent imposition of a series of burdensome IRS regulations on preparers (the e – file mandate and the Return Preparer Initiative, which included both the PTIN registration requirement and RTRP licensing)

If your preparer gets out of the business, maybe you will stop using a preparer.  With fewer preparers, the law of supply and demand predicts that costs will rise.  As costs rise, consumers seek substitutes.  It’s what I predicted back in 2010:

Rather than pay the increased costs, some taxpayers will stop getting help on their returns altogether and either self-prepare or drop out of the system. These dropouts certainly won’t see improved service, though the regulators will never admit responsibility for that.

Supply and demand: it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!


Supply and Demand

Lyman Stone, Joseph Henchman, Richard BoreanTop State Income Tax Rates in 2014 (Tax Policy Blog):


The colors on the map get darker as the rates get higher.  You’ll notice that Iowa’s 8.98% top rate gives it quite the purple tan.  It’s misleading, in that the effective rate is closer to 6% taking deductiblility of federal taxes into account; that would give Iowa a more lovely lavender tint, like Missouri and Louisiana.  Yet Iowa refuses to build the federal deductibility into lower rates.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would address that.


Christopher BerginThe IRS and the Tax System: Integrity and Fairness for Whom? (Tax Analysts Blog):

The IRS’s mission statement couldn’t be clearer:

    Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.

If some of the tax cops aren’t playing by the rules – and getting bonuses for it – how does that provide us taxpayers “top quality service” and help us understand and meet our tax responsibilities? The two most important words in this mission statement are “integrity” and “fairness.” The one thing largely missing from our tax code is fairness. And the one thing now beginning to disappear from the agency charged with administering that tax code is integrity.   

Nah.  Compliance is for the peons, not the overlords.


Howard GleckmanLen Burman’s Brief for a Health Care VAT:

Len, the director of Tax Policy Center (and, thus, my boss), argues that a dedicated—and fully transparent–health care VAT would increase public support for efforts to slow the growth of medical costs. That’s because the VAT would rise, for all to see, with increases in government health spending.

I have another idea: let’s sever the link between employment and healthcare, authorize interstate sales of high-deductible health insurance, and have people pay for routine care out-of-pocket.  We don’t have to resort to a VAT to keep prices down for, say, beer and groceries — or for non-covered health costs, like LASIX procedures.  Removing the layers between consumer and payment just might work for other health costs too.  Seeing increase in your spending from your own pocketbook is a lot better motivator to reduce costs than watching government budget numbers.


Gene Steurle, Dave Camp’s Tax Reform Could Kill Community Foundations:

The proposal would effectively eliminate most donor advised funds (DAFs), the major source of revenues to community foundations, so they could no longer provide long-term support for local and regional charitable activities. Instead, those funds would need to pay out all their assets over a period of five years.

Iowa has a special tax credit for gifts to community foundations, which is often oversubscribed.



20140411-1Kay Bell, Doctors are target of an income tax fraud scheme; the rest of us need to watch out for a new e-file phishing attempt

TaxGrrrl, Payback Is Forever: Tax Refund Offset Law Remains On The Books 

Or anybody else.  Piketty’s Tax Hikes Won’t Help the Middle Class (Megan McArdle)

Tax Justice Blog, Trend Toward Higher Gas Taxes Continues in the States

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 351

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!


Going Concern, Now We’re Creatively Interpreting Sarbanes-Oxley to Include Fish.  Well, the whole thing has always been fishy.

Keith Fogg, Collection of Restitution Payments by the IRS (Procedurally Taxing)



Tax Roundup, 4/3/14: Iowa Tax Burden ranks 29th. And: Koskinen doesn’t seem to get it.

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The Tax Foundation yesterday released its annual ranking of “State-Local Tax Burdens.”  Iowa came in at 29th highest.


The Tax Foundation explains:

For each state, we compute this measure of tax burden by totaling the amount of state and local taxes paid by state residents to both their own and other governments and then divide these totals by each state’s total income. We not only make this calculation for the most recent year, but also for earlier years due to the fact that income and tax revenue data are periodically revised by government agencies.

In this annual study, our goal is to move the focus from the tax collector (how much revenue is collected) to the taxpayer (how much income is foregone). 

This ranking differs from the Tax Foundation’s State Business Climate Index, where Iowa ranks a dismal 40th in business tax congeniality.  While the two sets of rankings have different purposes, together they tell us that Iowa’s tax system is very poorly designed.  It collects a middling amount of revenue with a system of very high rates, a boatload of preferences for the well-connected, and baroque complexity.  You could collect the same revenue with a much simpler system with lower rates, and without the inherent corruption of special breaks for special friends of the politicians.  That’s the approach of The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


Corporate welfare watch:

Senator fumes at idea to cancel tax credit (Des Moines Register)

IOWA SPEEDWAY: Governor Signs NASCAR Tax Break Bill (


This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Koskinen bemoans IRS funding, but doesn’t commit to taking the obvious step to restore it.  IRS Commissioner John Koskinen gave a little speech yesterday at the National Press Club.  He pointed out how the IRS is being given massive new responsibilities for running Obamacare and implementing FATCA, but faces funding cuts.  What he didn’t point out was that the GOP-controlled house isn’t likely to change that as long as it thinks the IRS is acting as an arm of the other party.  He defended the plodding IRS response to Congressional investigators in the Tea Party matter, and he offered what looks to me like a defense of the new Section 501(c)(4) rules proposed by the prior Commisioner:

While I was not involved in the issuance of this draft proposal, because it happened before I was confirmed as Commissioner, I believe it is extremely important to make this area of regulation as clear as possible. Not only does that help the IRS properly enforce the law, but clearer regulations will also give a better roadmap to applicants, and will help those that already have 501(c)(4) status properly administer their organizations without unnecessary fears of losing their tax-exempt status.

That’s too cute.  The provisions of the proposal mirror the rules overturned by the Supreme Court in Citizens United, including a rule preventing any political activity in the run-up to an election.  These items show that the current rules are an attempt to get around the Supreme Court to restrict political speech.   That’s why they are poison to the Tea Party set.

Either he doesn’t get it, or he pretends not to.  If the Commissioner wants to restore trust, the minimum he needs to do is to withdraw the proposed rules and start over, and to stop slow walking the investigation.  Until he does, it’s futile to expect the GOP-controlled House to give him more funding.  He’s quickly running out of time to do so.

Update: Washington Post gives Koskinen 3 Pinoccios: IRS chief: No ‘targeting’ of tea party groups, just ‘inappropriate criteria’     (Via Instapundit)


20140321-3TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): S Is For Student Loans 

Kay Bell, 7 tax tasks to take care of by April 15

Annette Nellen, Filing season and rental activities

William Perez, Tax Reform Act of 2014, Part 3, Deductions

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for 03/28/14, a roundup of tax procedure news, with a much-appreciated mention of the Tax Update post on the recent case on trusts and material participation.

Jim Maule, Tax Court and Eleventh Circuit Disagree on Interpretation of Section 36 Language.  I think the couple got a raw deal, but I’m sure glad the first-time homebuyer credit has gone away.


taxanalystslogoCara Griffith, Proceeding Cautiously With a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (Tax Analysts Blog):

The IRS is already struggling with administering our tax system. Perhaps issues of funding and employee training should be addressed before delving into a taxpayer bill of rights.

I disagree.  Rights come before enforcement.  We can start by a sauce-for-the-gander rule that requires the IRS to pay penalties it asserts to taxpayers if the taxpayers win on the contested issue.


Renu Zaretsky, Expirations, Compliance and Corporations.  The TaxVox headline roundup talks about Commissioner Koskinen’s speech and the status of the expiring provisions.


Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #8: Nevada Corporations.  “Now, if you’re planning on moving to Nevada incorporating in the Silver State can be a very good idea (as I know). But thinking you’re going to avoid California taxes just because you’re a Nevada corporation is, well, bozo.”

News from the Profession.  Sweatshop Saturdays: Rethinking Where We Work (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 3/19/14: Are taxes turning Iowa red? And: Statehouse Update!

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Is Iowa really a red state?  According to personal finance site WalletHub, Iowa is a red state.  But didn’t Iowa vote for Obama the last two elections?  Not that kind of red state.  WalletHub’s map has states with the most burdensome taxes as red states, and those with less burdensome taxes as green:



From WalletHub:

 WalletHub analyzed how state and local tax rates compare to the national median in the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia.  We compared eight different types of taxation in order to determine:  1) Which states have the highest and lowest tax rates; 2) how those rates compare to the national median; 3) which states offer the most value in terms of low taxation and high cost-of-living adjusted income levels.

WalletHub says Iowans have a tax burden 26% above the national average.  They note, though, that when the rank is adjusted based on our cost of living, Iowa improves 10 places on their rankings.

This is a different measurement than the Tax Foundations well-known Business Tax Climate Indexwhich places Iowa at 11th-worst.  Either way, it’s not a healthy system.  And nothing major is likely to happen to change it anytime soon.  Still, the The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan shows the way!


20130117-1Supplies sales tax exemption advances.  The Iowa General Assembly isn’t entirely idle on the tax front.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, as in the House passage yesterday of HF 2443, exempting supplies used in manufacturing from sales tax.  Business inputs in general should not be subject to sales tax, as they are likely to be taxed again when the finished product is sold.

Other than that, there isn’t a lot else to report on the Iowa tax legislative scene.  The speedway tax break remains alive.  The bill to broaden the Iowa capital gain “ten and ten” exclusion hasn’t cleared the committee level.  Silly legislation continues to be introduced, like a 50% state tax credit for payments of principal and interest on student loans (HSB 673).  Let’s encourage crushing student debt burdens!

But sometimes its best when the legislature does nothing.  It’s hard to complain that HF 2770, the bill to pay doctors at their average charge rates with tax credits for “volunteering,” has languished.


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

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

The TaxProf notes the Death of Former IRS Commissioner Randoph Thrower; Was Fired for Refusing President’s Request to Audit His Enemies, quoting a New York Times story:

The end came in January 1971, after Mr. Thrower requested a meeting with the president, hoping to warn him personally about the pressure White House staff members had been placing on the IRS to audit the tax returns of certain individuals. Beginning with antiwar leaders and civil rights figures, the list had grown to include journalists and members of Congress, among them every Democratic senator up for re-election in 1970, Mr. Thrower told investigators years later. He was certain the president was unaware of this and would agree that “any suggestion of the introduction of political influence into the IRS” could damage his presidency, he said.

Mr. Thrower received two responses. The first was a memo from the president’s appointments secretary saying a meeting would not be possible; the second was a phone call from John D. Ehrlichman, the president’s domestic affairs adviser, telling him he was fired.

I’ll just note here that Doug Shulman, worst commissioner ever, left on his own terms.


David Brunori, Hawaii Tax Credit Craziness (Tax Analysts Blog):

According to some excellent reporting in the Honolulu Civil Beat, the Legislature is considering a slew of tax incentives to promote manufacturing in the state. Yes, there are those (particularly established manufacturers) who would like to promote something other than tourism, hosting of naval bases, and pineapple production. The main proposal (SB 3082) would provide tax credits for employee training and some equipment purchases. The goal is to turn Hawaii into 1960s Pittsburgh or Flint Mich., in their heyday. I have my doubts. 

I don’t think that really plays to Hawaii’s strengths.


20120817-1Howard Gleckman, A Terrible Response to the Internet Tax Mess (TaxVox)

Under the plan, the federal government would let retailers collect tax based on the levy where the seller is located, no matter where the purchaser resides. This would apply to all retailers, as long as they had no physical presence in the consumer’s state.

A firm could base its “home jurisdiction” on the state where it has the most employees, the most physical assets, or the state it designates as its principal place of business for federal tax purposes.

Given the nature of online sellers, changing locations to a no-sales-tax state would be fairly easy.

Interesting.  I wonder if a “universal mail order sales tax rate” might ultimately be the answer.  You could set this universal rate at, say, the average national sales tax rate, collect it from all buyers, and remit it to the delivery state through a clearinghouse run by the state revenue agencies.


Paul Neiffer, Cash Rents Equals Extra 3.8% on Sale. “However, once you are done farming and are simply renting the ground to other farmers (including relatives), then the rental income will be subject to the tax and even worse, selling the farmland for a large gain will result in extra tax.”

Jana Luttenegger, Filing From Home, and Health Insurance Reporting on W-2s (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): J Is For Jury Duty Pay   


Everything is spinning out of control! Suburban Cleveland Councilman Denies Getting in Brawl With Liberty Tax Sign Spinner (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 1/29/14: E-cigarette panic! And: SOTU, SALY.

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


Jeff Stier, Iowa should tread carefully on e-cigarette rules, on the weird impulse to restrict and tax water vapor:

Restricting the use of e-cigarettes, known as “vaping” for the vapor they emit, would undermine the very goal of this law.

First, it wouldn’t reduce exposure to environmental smoke, better known as second-hand smoke, because there is no smoke. There isn’t even any first-hand smoke.

More important, a ban on vaping in public places would damage public health because it would make e-cigarettes a less convenient alternative to cigarette smoking. It would also send the implicit (and incorrect) message that they are also equally dangerous, not only to the user, but to those exposed to the vapor.

All true.  There are two explanations for the why politicians have their dresses over their heads over what amount to very small room vaporizers.

First, because people vaping look a little like smokers, and smoking is a great sin these days, they must be sinning, and sin must be stopped.  For the children!

The second explanation is more cynical, so it probably is true.  The state has a nicotine addiction.  Iowa collected $227 million in tobacco taxes in 2013.  If smokers use e-cigarettes to quit, that money dries up.  We can’t have that.


EITC error chart
Tax Analysts’ 
headline ($link) on its story about the tax proposals in the State of the Union doesn’t exactly scream Hope and Change:  “Obama Proposes EITC Expansion in State of the Union, Otherwise Reiterates Old Tax Proposals.”

One hopes that Congress will do something to keep 20-25% of the EITC from being issued “improperly” to grifters before it increases the theft pot.  We can expect the President’s other tax proposals to go nowhere, as they went nowhere when he was in better political shape.  The dead-on-arrival proposals include disallowing more of the Section 199 deduction for f0ssil fuels and tax credits to “build fuel infrastructure” and to subsidize alternative fuels.

His budget also provides for a hodgepodge of other tax incentives.  His revenue-raisers include repealing LIFO inventories, slower depreciation for aircraft, changing grantor trust rules so they are treated the same for income and tax purposes, and limiting the size of retirement accounts — all doomed absent an unlikely comprehensive tax reform.

Related:  Tax Policy is MIA in the State of the Union (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox). “The president perfunctorily restated his support for business tax reform but added no new twist to make his plan any more acceptable to congressional Republicans.”

Good Jobs First, a left-side think tank, has released Show us the Subsidized Jobs, a report on state tax incentives.  Iowa only scores 27%, largely because there is no online disclosure of recipients of the Industrial New Jobs Training program and the Iowa New Jobs Tax Credit.  I would give Iowa zero percent, because these hidden subsidies wouldn’t exist in a well designed tax system.  They should be repealed and replaced by the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


Broadbandits.  Speaking of corporate welfare, SSB 3319 was introduced yestarday in the Iowa Senate.  Among other ways to pay providers for something they will do anyway if customers want it, the bill includes a 3% credit on the cost of “new installation of broadband infrastructure.”  Just one more step away from simplicity and transparency.


20111040logoDavid Henderson, Marginal Tax Rates: Singing Taxman to My Class:

Think about the Beatles’ earnings. Late 1963 was when they first started making real money. Then in 1964, they hit it big. Presumably they didn’t spend it all but started investing, figuring that they would get interest and dividends on their investments. They probably did. But those returns would be taxed at the 95% rate. When would they start noticing this? Probably some time in 1965. Thus the 1966 song. 

And we all know what an economic dynamo the UK was then.

Martin Sullivan, The Obama Administration’s Backdoor Bailout of Puerto Rico (Tax Analysts Blog):

But here’s a little secret that the powers that be inside and outside government don’t want you to know: The Obama administration has already provided a multibillion-dollar bailout to Puerto Rico. Nobody in the major media outlets has noticed because the issue is highly technical.

And because Look!  Justin Bieber!


Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Why You Should Never Hold Real Estate In A Corporation? 

William Perez, Filing Requirements for Tax Year 2013

TaxGrrrl, ‘Same Love’ Grammy Wedding: Married Is Married For Tax Purposes

Leslie Book, Corbalis v Commissioner: Tax Court Holds it Has Jurisdiction to Review Interest Suspension Decisions (Procedurally Taxing)


Scott Hodge, President Obama Signs Executive Order to Increase Minimum Wages Paid by Federal Contractors (Tax Policy Blog).  Spending our money to show us how generous he is.

Tax Justice Blog, Has the Tax Code Been Used to Reduce Inequality During the Obama Years? Not Really.   They’ve tried, but it doesn’t work.

Jeremy Scott, BEPS Project Should Include Digital Economy Permanent Establishment (Tax Analysts Blog).   Should companies be taxable in a country because they have a “digital permanent establishment”?  I say they shouldn’t be taxed at all.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 265

Jack Townsend, DOJ Tax AAG Keneally Reports on Swiss Banks Joining DOJ Swiss Bank Program

Kay Bell, Mortgage tax break contributes to fading American dream.


Robert D. Flach is a sensible man:

I did not watch the State of the Union address last night.  Instead I watched the wonderful film GAMBIT with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine on TCM.

I ate a delicious dinner and had pie for dessert, with the TV off.  My view of the whole SOTU thing is well-reflected here.


Career Corner: You Can Run But You Can’t Hide. Therefore, Sabotage Your Coworkers (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 1/24/14: Executive stock spiff proposed for Iowa. And: Haiku!

Friday, January 24th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130117-1Legislators propose to exempt employer stock gains from employee Iowa income tax.   S.F. 2043 would exclude from taxation capital gains from stock received by an “employee-owner” of a company “on account of employment” with the corporation, and acquired while the taxpayer was still employed..  While it isn’t entirely clear from the legislation, it would appear to include long or short-term gains, and would include stock acquired by exercise of options or stock bonus plans.  It’s not clear that it would apply to gains on ESOP shares, which are generally issued to owners or redeemed on retirement, but I suspect it would.

It’s an astonishingly broad exclusion.  Once elected, it would apply to stock gifted by the employee-owner to spouses and lineal descendants.  It wouldn’t apply to many family owned companies, because it requires five shareholders, at least two unrelated under IRC Section 318 attribution.  Interestingly, the bill misstates Sec. 318, saying:

Two persons are considered related when, under section 318 of the Internal Revenue Code, one is a person who owns, directly or indirectly, capital stock that if directly owned would be attributed to the other person, or is the brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, or nephew of the other person who owns capital stock either directly or indirectly.

No, that would be Section 267 attribution, and only for pass-throughs.  Section 318 only makes a taxpayer related to:

his spouse (other than a spouse who is legally separated from the individual under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance), and

(ii) his children, grandchildren, and parents. 

No siblings, nieces or nephews to be seen.  If they can’t even read the Code, should they really be messing with the state income tax?

If the Iowa income tax is so awful that we need to carve out a special exemption to executive stockholders to get them to come to Iowa, we should fix it for everyone, not just for them.  Does anybody really doubt that Iowa would be more attractive to business with no corporate income tax and a 4% top individual income tax rate than with the current system plus a new executive spiff?  Come on, legislators:  take the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan off the shelf!

Related: Iowa House advances one-time stock gain bill, on a similar bill introduced last year.


David Henderson, Steve Moore’s Alternative Maximum Tax (Econlog).  Governor Branstad floated a plan to allow taxpayers to choose between Iowa’s current baroque income tax and a simpler one with lower rates, before abandoning it prior to the opening of the legislative session.   I thought I was being clever by calling an alternative maximum tax.  David reports that Steve Moore came up with both the idea and the name for a proposal he made for the federal tax system in the 1990s.

I still don’t care for it.  In practice we would be computing the tax both ways and paying the lesser amount.  By adding another computation to the process, it would actually make things harder.  The only way it would work would be if it resulted in lower taxes for everyone; then in a few years they could repeal the regular income tax without anyone noticing.


20120531-1The 200th edition of the Cavalcade of Risk is up!  This milestone edition of the long-lived roundup of insurance and risk management posts is at Rootfin.  Congratulations to Hank Stern, the evil genius behind the Cavalcade; he participates in this edition with Hacktastic!, on the security troubles of, and government’s efforts to hush them up:

See, the problem isn’t the wide-open portal, it’s the folks trying to alert the folks who run it that there is, in fact, a problem. I’m reminded of a certain Middle East river.

More alarming still, though, is that that it’s not just the state folks yelling “burn the witch:” now the FBI has warned Mr Hermansen to zip his lips. That’ll sure make the problem go away.

Your healthcare is in the very best of hands.


Jim Maule, How Not to Compute a Casualty Loss Deduction:

The taxpayer claimed a $12,020 casualty loss deduction on account of the loss of the vehicle. The taxpayer computed the deduction by subtracting the $48,000 from $60,020, the original value of the vehicle. However, the first step in computing the amount of a casualty loss deduction is to subtract the insurance recovery from the difference between the value of the property immediately before the casualty and the value of the property immediately after the casualty, unless the taxpayer chooses to use cost of repairs as a substitute measure, though that was not relevant in this case.  Because the taxpayer did not provide evidence of those values, and because the Tax Court was unwilling to assume that the vehicle’s value immediately before the accident was the same as its value when it was new, it upheld the determination of the IRS that the taxpayer was not entitled to a casualty loss deduction.

The IRS often examines casualty loss deductions, so you need to do your legwork on getting the valuations documented before you file.


Jason Dinesen, Small Businesses — Review Those Benefit Programs  “When was the last time your small business reviewed the benefit programs your business offers?”

William Perez weighs in on Finding the Right Tax Professional.

Kay Bell, Tax season is tax scam, tax identity theft season. “If you get any unexpected communication in any form that is purportedly from the IRS, especially at the start of tax season, be wary.”  And they will never initiate contact by phone or email.

Paul Neiffer, Cash Does Not Equal Gain.  You can’t make taxable gain go away by using it to pay off loans.

Trish McIntire, Kansas Taxes – Sneaky Changes.

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!


Kyle Pomerleau, High-Income Taxpayers Could Face a Top Marginal Tax Rate over 50 percent this Tax Season.  Be glad we don’t take it all, serf!  He computes Iowa’s top combined rate at 47.4%.


taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, Fortress Secrecy – No News Here (Tax Analysts Blog).

Anyone familiar with my writing knows that I have bent over backwards to give the IRS the benefit of the doubt in this black eye some call the “exemption scandal.” I must admit I’m getting a little tired of bending.

Back in the day, as the saying goes, I often referred to the IRS as Fortress Secrecy, a term meant to describe the agency’s obsession with hiding as much of its operations as it can get away with. I am not a casual observer, and I have never seen things this bad. Everything the IRS has done in addressing the exemption scandal leads to just one conclusion: that this agency now believes it is accountable to no one other than itself.

Because shut up, peasant.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 260

Howard Gleckman, Fiscal Magic: Paying for New Highways by Cutting Corporate Taxes (TaxVox)


Frank Agostino, Jairo G. Cano, and Crystal Loyer.  Guest posters at Procedurally Taxing, including the prolific Tax Court litigator Frank Agostino, discuss how IRS rules against giving false testimony bolstered an IRS man’s own case, in Section 1203 to Bolster a Taxpayer’s Credibility at Trial.

Jack Townsend, Required Records IRS Summons Enforced Again


News from the Profession.  Pulling Back the Curtain on Making Partner in a Big 4 Firm. Just sell, baby!

TaxGrrrl has Fun With Taxes: Tax Haiku 2014.

I’ll try it.

Here comes tax season

April 15 arrives swiftly

I need a stiff drink.

OK, I’ll keep the day job.



Tax Roundup, 1/13/14: They’re back edition. And: tax fairy doesn’t show up at appeals court.

Monday, January 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The 2014 session of the 85th Iowa General Assembly begins today.
 It doesn’t look like much tax legislation will pass.

The Governor abandoned a plan to allow taxpayers to choose between the current byzantine Iowa income tax and a lower-rate version with fewer deductions and no deduction for federal taxes paid even before the session started.  He instead will focus on lame feel-good initiatives in an election year, reports

Gov. Terry Branstad is set to unveil his agenda Tuesday during the Condition of the State address. He said his priorities will include expanding broadband Internet access, fighting school bullying and curtailing student loan debt.

The Governor’s opposition will block any tax reform that isn’t sufficiently punitive to the “rich” — which means any reform worthy of the name.  They will try to change some of Iowa’s worst corporate welfare giveaways, reports the Des Moines Register, but the Governor, an inveterate smokestack chaser and ribbon-cutter, can be expected block any restrictions on using your money to lure and subsidize your competitors.

Meanwhile, trial balloons about increasing the gas tax have already deflated.  That means we can expect a quiet session on the tax front, and a continuation of Iowa’s insanely complex and worthless tax system for another year.  But if they change their minds and want to do something useful, it’s always a good time to talk about The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


tax fairyTax Fairy seeker loses appeal.  A South Dakota surgeon who looked across the ocean for the Tax Fairy found only grief — and the grief wasn’t alleviated on appeals.  The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld the conviction that led to a five-year sentence for Dr. Edward Picardi.

The doctor used a scheme where he “leased” his medical services to an offshore company he controlled to artificially reduce his income by stashing earnings in offshore accounts.  The scheme was promoted to him by an attorney-CPA who has been acquitted of criminal charges in another employee leasing case.

Other taxpayers have avoided fraud penalties from employee-leasing to offshore entities (see here), but not taxes and penalties.  When the best you can say about a tax plan is that you avoided fraud penalties, it’s not much of a plan.  There is no tax fairy.

Prior coverage here.


Kay Bell has Important January tax dates, deadlines


Lyman Stone, Should Nebraska Follow the Example of Illinois or Indiana?  “The case of Illinois is a great example of how higher taxes can contribute to a worsening business climate, which leads to less jobs.”

Annette Nellen, Marijuana and the Tax Law.  Despite appearances, there is no evidence the lawmakers are smoking something when they write tax laws.

TaxGrrrl, Top 10 Most Litigated Tax Issues.  Number one is penalties.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 249



TaxTrials, Famous Fridays: Wesley Snipes, A Lesson in Listening to Bad Advice.  Did he ever.


The Critical Question: Massages May Feel Nice, But Can You Deduct Them at the Poker Table? (Russ Fox)

News from the Profession: KPMG Upgrades Its Female Interns From Necklaces to Camisoles  (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 12/16/2013: Ames! And: if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

Monday, December 16th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

It’s a cold day In Ames, Iowa, but it’s toasty warm with 315 or so eager participants in the last session of this year’s ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools!  


The Ames Crowd!

It’s a fun school, with lots of good attendees with great, challenging questions.  I’ve enjoyed working on the Day 1 panel with emcee Roger McEowen and IRS Taxpayer Liason Kristy Maitre


20120906-1“In economic development, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.”  An article at makes an often-overlooked point about how economic development spiffs that complicate the tax law end up backfiring:

A simpler tax system may top all other requests from the business groups, said Steve Firman, director of government relations for the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber.

Firman pointed out that Iowa ranked 40th among states in the Tax Foundation’s 2014 tax climate comparisons because it is tough to explain the complexity of federal deductibility that blurs Iowa’s true tax picture.

Firman, explaining his position, pulled out a line he said he likes to use:

“In economic development, if you’re explaining, you’re losing,” he said.

Iowa’s byzantine tax system, with its dozens of special breaks, requires a lot of explaining.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Tax Reform Plan, with low individual rates and no corporate tax, would be a much better sell.


William Gale,  The Year in Taxes: From the Fiscal Cliff to Tax Reform Talks (TaxVox):

Although Camp and Baucus do not appear to have reached agreement on how much revenue should be raised or on how to raise it, the two leaders have nonetheless raised some interesting ideas. But the sorry state of tax reform can probably best be summed up by a small business owner who attended the New Jersey stop of a listening tour that the two chairmen held last summer. She urged the two leaders to “get rid of the deductions that don’t affect me.” As long as that attitude prevails, meaningful tax reform will not happen.

The same dynamic is at work in Iowa.


TaxGrrrl, Budget Faces Challenge From Senators Wary Of Spending, User Fees To Taxpayers   

William Perez, Use Fundsin a Health Care Flexible Spending Account (Year-End Tax Tips)

Kay Bell, Tax deductible mileage rate drops a half-cent in 2014

Annette Nellen, What’s My Rate? Challenges of Understanding 2013 Federal Taxes

Paul Neiffer, How Many 2013 Tax Brackets


IrwinIrwinIrwinirwin.jpgPeter Reilly, Euro Pacific Capital’s Peter Schiff Defends His Tax Protesting Father Irwin Schiff   Peter has a lot of interesting background on tax protester Irwin and his controversial, but much more prudent, son. And: “I can’t blame Peter Schiff for sticking up for his dad.  I would too, if I still had one.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 221

Jack Townsend, Article on New Sentencing Guidelines on Unclaimed Deductions and Credits


Robert Rizzo

Robert Rizzo

Russ Fox, Former Bell Administrator Pleads Guilty to Tax Fraud; That’s the Least of His Problems:

 In what is (and was) a huge scandal, Mr. Rizzo and his cronies basically used the City of Bell as their own personal piggy bank. He’s going to be going to state prison for 10 to 12 years (his sentencing will be in March). The scandal allegedly included salaries of up to $800,000; gas tax money being used for these salaries; and falsifying city documents to hide the salaries. The city council members from that time period are awaiting trial.ta

Just a humble public servant.


News from the Professon:  Grant Thornton Employees Break Out Dynamic Christmas Sweaters for Holiday Party

Jason Dinesen,  North Dakota Taxes, Same-Sex Marriage, And a Really Bizarre Twist 

The party’s over.  Unemployed German couple accused of tax fraud after caught hosting sex parties.   They had a $250, er, cover charge.



Tax Roundup, 12/5/2013: Branstad floats optional income tax without federal tax deduction. And: is IRS hiding something?

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 by Joe Kristan
If Iowa's income tax were a car, it would look like this.

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

Iowa Alternative Maximum Tax proposal revived?  Governor Branstad may push an optional income tax with lower rates and no deduction for federal taxes.  This plan looks like an attempt to improve Iowa’s byzantine income tax without provoking the wrath of Iowans for Tax Relief, the Muscatine-based advocacy group that strongly opposes efforts to do away with the deduction. reports:

Iowa’s income tax rates higher when compared to most other states because Iowa offers a deduction that’s offered in only five other states. That deduction allows Iowans to subtract their federal income tax liability from their income before calculating their state income taxes.  “We don’t want to erode federal deductability,” Branstad says, “and that’s why we’re saying: ‘Give ‘em the option.’” By giving taxpayers the option to file their income taxes under the current system with that major deduction or under a new system with lower and flatter rates, Branstad might avoid the firestorm he faced from his fellow Republicans in the late 1980s when he proposed doing away with that deduction.

The Governor appears to plan to add a new twist to the plan, reports Kathie Obradovich:

Branstad indicated that he wouldn’t allow Iowans to “game the system” by changing their form every year. That means taxpayers who give up the federal deduction would have to stick with the choice even if the other option would result in lower taxes in a given year.

That means the new system would be a one-way street.  It no longer would be an “alternative maximum tax,” where taxpayers would always compute their tax both with and without the federal deduction and choose the lower amount.  That makes it even worse than the version passed by the Iowa House of Representatives last year, which would have allowed taxpayers to make the choice annually.  Unless the new system provides significantly better results in the great majority of circumstances, most taxpayers would want to retain the option to use the federal deduction.  That would stall the (presumably) desired transition to a simpler system.  Both the Branstad plan and the House plan significantly add to the complexity of the tax law.

While Iowa’s high stated tax rates — individual and corporate — don’t help, the ridiculous complexity of Iowa tax law is the real problem.  Iowa has a bunch of penny-ante credits and deductions that don’t apply for federal purposes.  These are too small to make a significant difference to taxpayers but also too small for the Department of Revenue to police.  There are also dozens of special-interest tax credits and deductions that take dollars from the rest of us on behalf of people with connections at the Statehouse.

It’s not in his nature, but the Governor ought to go bold and embrace the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.  It strips the Iowa tax law to a very few deductions and repeals Iowa’s highest-in-the-nation corporation income tax while drastically lowering personal rates.  The Iowa Senate is unlikely to pass the Governor’s half-baked half-measure anyway; why not change the terms of the debate with a plan that actually makes sense?

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


taxanalystslogoChristopher BerginTax Analysts v. IRS: What Are They Hiding? (Tax Analysts Blog):

Back in August, I wrote about the lawsuit Tax Analysts had filed against the IRS seeking documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents being sought were training materials used to instruct and guide IRS personnel in the IRS exempt organization determinations office in Cincinnati. The big story then, and now, was generated by former EO director in the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division Lois Lerner’s admission that the agency had used inappropriate means to determine which organizations qualified for tax-exempt status as social welfare organizations. The organizations singled out for extra scrutiny were mostly, if not entirely, conservative. Tax Analysts felt compelled to seek relief from the courts because we were getting nowhere with the IRS – other than the big stall – even though it had promised expedited treatment on our original request.

Several months later, the big stall continues — to the point that I have to ask myself whether the IRS just made a stupid mistake in targeting those organizations or whether something much worse is going on. 

They are using the “taxpayer confidentiality” excuse for their standard big stall.  Christopher isn’t buying it:

But I’ll say it again: Training materials, really? Why on earth would the IRS try to keep those secret? You’d think the training manuals would all be in a file cabinet somewhere, which hardly would require a search party of 100 lawyers and a scouring for tax return information.

Could it be that this time something is different? Could there be a smoking gun here? I’m not saying there is. I’m just saying it may be time to start asking that question. Because even for the IRS, this is darned peculiar behavior.

Congress should amend the taxpayer confidentiality rules to keep the IRS from using them as an excuse to hide its own dirty laundry.  It shouldn’t require a federal lawsuit to get the IRS to publicize internal non-taxpayer documents.



20130121-2Whither the Registered Tax Return Preparer Program?  Robert D. Flach argues that the RTRP designation that was part of the nearly-dead IRS preparer regulation power grab should be administered by the IRS on a voluntary basis.  I disagree.

Robert would like a way to distinguish the better class of “unenrolled” preparers from less-professional seasonal preparers.  I can understand that, but I don’t think that the IRS is the agency that should do this.  It would divert already strained IRS resources to do something the preparer industry could do on its own.  I agree with Jason Dinesen that if preparers want a government designation, they should take the Enrolled Agents exam, which is much more difficult than the RTRP literacy test.  The EA designation is sadly underappreciated in the market, and adding a new IRS-run designation would only make that worse.


The IRS reminds us that the “savers credit” can help lower-income taxpayers who contribute to a retirement plan.  This is a non-refundable credit of up to 50% of the amount contributed to IRAs or deferred to a 401(k) plan.  For parents, funding a young adult offspring’s retirement plan contribution is a tax-efficient way to help build a nest egg.


Don’t try this with your tax deadlines.   TIGTA: IRS Is Seven Years Past Statutory Deadline for Providing Online Account Access to Taxpayers (TaxProf).  From the TIGTA report:

The RRA 98 required the IRS to develop procedures to allow taxpayers filing returns electronically to review their account online by December 31, 2006. The IRS did not meet this requirement, and we determined that the IRS has not made adequate progress in allowing taxpayers to access tax accounts. Currently, taxpayers cannot review account information electronically.

In fact, the IRS is getting worse, having cut back electronic access for tax professionals.  That makes resolving even a simple IRS notice a tedious multi-week snail-mail slog.


Tony Nitti, The Definitive Questions And Answers On The New Net Investment Income Tax [Updated For Final Regulations] 

amazonCara Griffith It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s Amazon Prime Air? (Tax Analysts Blog).  Sales tax by drone.

Alan Cole, Report: Obamacare Premium Subsidies Will Need Fraud Protection (Tax Policy Blog).  No kidding.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 210


Kay Bell, Tax e-filing continues to grow, hitting 122 million in 2013

TaxGrrrl, Will Congress Drive Up Gas Taxes In 2014?   


Um, because most commuters drive?  Why Does the Tax Code Favor Commuters that Drive? (Tax Justice Blog)

Going Concern, IRS’ Improved e-File System Is a Total Success Except For Two Jerks Who Foiled It


Don’t trust tax collectors, if you’re a tax collector:

The former tax collector of Plainville, who is also former treasurer of the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association, was arrested Monday morning and charged with first degree larceny, after being under investigation for possible embezzlement since June.

Debra Guerrette, of Bristol, was placed on administrative leave from Plainville’s Revenue office in June after Bristol police informed the town Guerrette was involved in a criminal investigation.

After an analysis of the financial records for the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association, and also Guerrette’s financial records, police said she had “misappropriated funds in excess of $50,000” between 2008 and 2013, into her personal account.

Will there be a special assessment of the collectors to make up the difference?



Tax Roundup, 11/6/13: Relief for the road warrior? And the futile state corporation income tax

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 by Joe Kristan
Flickr image courtesy Tom Hilton under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Tom Hilton under Creative Commons license

Relief for the traveling employee?  Tax Analysts reports ($link) that the “Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act of 2013” (S. 1645) was introduced yesterday.  The bill would make the tax lives of employers and employees who cross state lines much easier by preventing states from taxing folks, other than athletes and entertainers, who are in a state for less than 30 days.  From the Tax Analysts:

The bill is “a modernization of everything,” Maureen Riehl, vice president of government affairs for the Council On State Taxation, told Tax Analysts. It is “about supporting the mobility of an economy that has people moving around a lot more often than when the income tax laws went into effect in the states back in the ’30s and ’40s,” she said.

Who would oppose such sensible simplification?

The Federation of Tax Administrators does not share Riehl’s enthusiasm. Deputy Director Verenda Smith said the bill “does not strike an appropriate balance between administrative simplification and necessary tax policies.”

Smith took issue with the safe harbor provision, saying the 30-day threshold “is beyond a level necessary to deal with the vast majority of individuals who would be temporarily in a jurisdiction.”

The states want to tax you on their whim if you sneeze in their jurisdiction.

Still, they should have one more threshold: no state tax if you earn less than some threshold amount in a state, maybe $5,000.  That way they can still pick LeBron’s pocket when he comes to town from his tax-free home in Florida, but a carload of struggling musicians couch-surfing from town to town would be saved the hassle of filing a tax return in every state where they have a gig  — or more likely, saved the need to ignore the filing requirement.


Peter Reilly,  Mobile Workforce Act Good Idea But May Need More Limits  “Over the years I have studied the rules for what invokes state income tax withholding requirement.  It varies substantially from state to state.”


Elizabeth Malm, Richard Borean, Map: Share of State Tax Revenues from Corporate Income Tax (Tax Policy Blog)


Notice that it’s a relatively paltry part of Iowa tax receipts, even in a good year, and even with the highest rate in the nation.  Better to repeal it as part of the Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan.


David Brunori, Feckless Legislators and Corporate Welfare (Tax Analysts Blog)

If I ran a big corporation in Illinois, I would have my lobbyists asking for tax breaks daily. Why not? The tax incentive racket is a profit center for most corporations in Illinois. Is it blackmail? Sure. But it is cold, calculated, rational blackmail.

…if once you have paid him the Dane-geld

You never get rid of the Dane.


Tax Justice Blog,  Let’s Face It: Delaware and Other U.S. States Are Tax Havens


Paul Neiffer, Crop Insurance Deferral Options.  “When a crop insurance claim relates directly to a drop in price, those claims cannot be deferred to the next year.”  Paul explains what the choices are if the recovery relates to a yield loss.

Tony Nitti, Shareholder Computes Basis In S Corporation Stock Incorrectly, $1.5 Million Loss Becomes $2 Million Gain


Jana Luttenegger, Interactive Form to Assist in Applying for 501(c)(3) Status (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog) 

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.

William Perez, CBO: Marginal Tax Rates Faced by Low- and Moderate-Income Individuals.  Helping the poor stay that way.

Andrew Mitchel, 2014 Inflation Adjustments for Individuals in the International Tax Arena

Roger McEowen, Inflation Adjusted Amounts for 2014

TaxProf,  The IRS Scandal, Day 181

TaxGrrrl, Bayern Munich Keeps Winning Even As Their Chief Faces Trial For Tax Evasion.


Brian Mahany,  More Guidance on Taxation of Same Sex Marriages

Jack Townsend,  Should You Opt Out of OVDI/P?.  He examines Robert Wood’s discussion of opting out of the IRS “amnesty”

Phil Hodgen’s Exit Tax Book: Chapter 7 – Taxation of Deferred Compensation 


Joseph Thorndike, Forget Carried Interest–It’s All About Taxing Capital Gains (Tax Analysts Blog).   He’s right when he says “The only issue that really matters is how we tax capital gains.”  Then he goes off the rails in so many ways.  Read Joseph, and then read Steve Landsberg.


A Wednesday Buzz from Robert D. Flach!

May you have this problem.  The Tax Treatment of Olympic Gold Medals (TaxProf)

News from the Profession.  Recruiting Season: Salaries and Offers for the Public Accounting Class of 2014 (Going Concern)