Posts Tagged ‘Renu Zaretsky’

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

Monday, November 30th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Flickr image courtesy Ashley Van Haeften under Creative Commons license

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Paul Neiffer, Happy Thanksgiving and CRP reporting:

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

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

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


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

William Perez, Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Investors

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

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

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


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




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

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


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

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



Tax Roundup, 11/18/15: A 3% Iowa income tax rate? And: Californians, taxes could be worse!

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

engageiowalogoNew policy group proposes bold Iowa tax reform. In the wake of another Tax Foundation report showing that Iowa’s business tax policy stinks, there is a new proposal to do something about it. Tax Analysts reports ($link):

Iowa’s nine-bracket personal income tax would be flattened to a single rate of about 3 percent under a proposal from a recently formed Iowa policy group.

Engage Iowa, founded in August by Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, is calling for changes to the state’s income tax code that it says would improve the state’s business climate and reduce the outflow of high-income taxpayers to states such as Texas and South Dakota.

Like The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Planthe Engage Iowa paper does not advocate a tax cut. It attempts to come up with a rate and tax structure that raises the same amount of tax as the current Iowa tax system. The paper presents several proposals, including one that uses a 1 percentage point increase in the state sales tax rate to reduce the income tax rate.

The plan has a lot going for it. Its one glaring weakness is its omission of any corporation tax reform. Iowa has the highest corporation tax rate in the country, but one so full of loopholes and corporate welfare tax credits that it generates a relatively paltry amount of revenue for the state. Iowa’s 49th place corporation tax rating in the Tax Foundation State Business Tax Climate Index is a big reason for Iowa’s perennially poor ranking.

Naturally the high-tax, high-complexity lobby is unimpressed by the plan. From

Peter Fisher, research director for the left-leaning Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City, on Monday said he applauded Engage Iowa for pointing out that Iowa’s current income tax system is less progressive than it might seem after deductions and credits are factored in. He said the Engage Iowa policy suggestions also might help eliminate “the perception problem” that Iowa has as a higher top income tax rate than it does in practice.

However, Fisher said the Engage Iowa flat tax seems like others of its kind: It lowers taxes for the wealthier and makes up for it with taxes on the lower end of the income earners.

The tax law is a poor vehicle for income redistribution in general, but the state income tax is an awful vehicle in particular, given the ability of high income earners to leave the state. The focus on “the rich” also skates by the reality of who “the rich” are: primarily employers who run their businesses through pass-through entities and pay their business taxes on their 1040s. Bashing “the rich” bashes employment, especially with zero-tax South Dakota right next door.




Russ Fox, Yes, Two States Rank Lower than California. “It’s not all bad news in the Tax Foundation’s 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index for California. You could always be in New York or New Jersey.”

Robert Wood, Man Gets $21.5M Verdict For Door Injury, But IRS Is Biggest Winner. “Damages for physical injuries are tax free, but punitive damages are taxed. For this reason and others, your taxes might be lower if you settle a lawsuit rather than going to verdict.”


Mitch Maahs, Report Highlights IRS Shortcomings Preventing Business ID Theft (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog). “In most cases, an ID thief files a business tax return using an Employer Identification Number (EIN) of an active or inactive business without permission to obtain a fraudulent refund, often claiming extensive refundable tax credits.”

Kay Bell, Tornadoes, other wild November weather: Be ready! “Be ready, on the physical and financial and especially tax fronts, for dangerous weather, this week and any time of the year.”

Janet Novack, After Budget Deal’s Surprise Cuts, Can Boomers Really Count On Social Security? It’s always dangerous to count on a fiscally insane scheme for your retirement security.

Jim Maule, The Fallacy of “Job Creating” Tax Breaks, Yet Again. “Job relocation is not job creation.”




Scott Greenberg, Section 179 Really Does Benefit Small Businesses (Tax Policy Blog). “Ideally, all business investments would be given the same treatment as Section 179 and businesses would be able to deduct all investment costs in the year that they occur. But until the U.S. tax code adopts this ideal, Section 179 remains an important provision that allows some businesses to deduct investment costs as they occur.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 923. And all politicians are honest in Chicago. “President Barack Obama’s public comments appearing to prejudge the outcome of Justice Department investigations don’t affect the decisions in those inquiries, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday.”

Renu Zaretsky, Budgeting, Wooing, and Taxing. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers highway bill politics and Michigan’s entirely unoriginal idea of bribing companies to lure data centers.

Danshera Cords, Unintentionally Undermining Voluntary Compliance: Balancing Accountability and Budget (Procedurally Taxing). Another call to increase the IRS budget. If you want the IRS budget increased, you want Commissioner Koskinen to resign, because it’s not happening otherwise.


Career Corner. The Toll of Travel: An Interview With a Former Big 4 Advisory Road Warrior  (Leona May, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 11/12/15: W-2 trumps uncertain memory. And: more debate reaction.

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Day 4: Ottumwa! The big first week of The  ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools concludes for the Day 1 teaching team of me, Kristy Maitre and Roger McEowen at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa today. The Day 2 team of Paul Neiffer, Dave Repp and Patty Fulton will finish up in Red Oak this morning.

It’s been some driving this week:


If you missed us, there are still four two-day schools left. We hit Mason City next Monday; Maquoketa November 23; Denison December 7; and Ames December 14. The Ames session is available as a webinar. Register today!


Sure enough. Few of us (generally only tax preparers) double-check the income reported on our W-2s. We take the employer’s word for it. So does the IRS. That’s the lesson a Californian learned this week in Tax Court.

The taxpayer faced some extra hurdles in filing his 2010 tax returns, according to the Tax Court:

Petitioner was arrested the second week of January of 2011 and was incarcerated until June 2012. Petitioner’s motorhome and van were seized, and he lost all of his records after his arrest and incarceration.

Petitioner did not file a timely return for 2010. On April 1, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) prepared a substitute for return for 2010 under section 6020(b). The IRS issued a notice of deficiency for 2010 dated July 8, 2013.

Considering the circumstances, you can understand the non-filing, even while realizing he still needed to. But he was nagged by doubts (my emphasis).

As indicated, petitioner conceded all of the income determined in the notice of deficiency with the exception of wage income of $3,767 from Audio Visual Projection Services, Inc., and $404 from Swank Audio Visuals, LLC. These employers issued petitioner 2010 Forms W-2 for the respective amounts. Petitioner explained that because all of his records were lost and his employers often paid him late or not at all, he does not know whether he was paid for all of the work that he performed in 2010.

It’s an interesting defense. He didn’t say he wasn’t paid; he just wasn’t sure. But the court was sure enough (citations omitted, my emphasis):

In unreported income cases, the Commissioner must base the deficiency on some substantive evidence that the taxpayer received the unreported income.  If the Commissioner introduces some evidence that the taxpayer received unreported income, the burden shifts to the taxpayer. The Forms W-2 from Audio Visual Projection Services, Inc., and from Swank Audio Visuals, LLC, are sufficient evidence to shift the burden of proof to petitioner.

We also note that section 6201(d) provides that in any court proceeding, where a taxpayer asserts a reasonable dispute with respect to any item of income reported on an information return and the taxpayer has fully cooperated with the Secretary, the Secretary has the burden of producing reasonable and probative information concerning the deficiency in addition to the information on the return. The key term in the foregoing sentence is “a reasonable dispute.” This Court has concluded that a taxpayer does not raise a reasonable dispute for purposes of section 6201(d) merely by testifying that he is uncertain, cannot remember, or does not know.

Adding insult to uncertain memory, the Tax Court upheld penalties for late filing; being in jail is apparently no excuse.

Cite: McDougall, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-65.




TaxGrrrl bravely live-blogged the GOP debate this week. A handy place to check out what they had to say on taxes.

Kyle Pomerleau, Senator Ted Cruz’s Comment About His Border-Adjusted Tax, Explained (Tax Policy Blog).

Jenice Johnson, Candidates Tax Cuts Unequivocally Skew Toward the Wealthy (Tax Justice Blog). It’s just math. The wealthy pay pretty much all of the taxes, so they will “reap” any tax cuts.

Scott Greenberg, Carson Calls for Eliminating the Mortgage Interest and Charitable Deductions (Tax Policy Blog).


Paul Neiffer, When Will We Know Section 179 Amount?. My intrepid tax school colleague ponders the likelihood and timing of the “extender” bill for this year.

Tri-state sales tax webinar! The Iowa Department of Revenue will have a free webinar covering “Sales and Use Tax Basics” for Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. It’s easy to get nexus for sales tax. There are plenty of Iowa businesses that need to take care of sales taxes elsewhere.

Ying Sa, My IRS is little ( “Many immigrant-owned small businesses begin with a focus on just selling. The rest, such as an income statement, balance sheet and tax compliance, is sometimes unknown to them.”

Insureblog, Worse Insurance, Higher Cost. “The fact is, your insurance is going to get worse and you are going to pay more for it.”

Robert D. Flach, QUESTIONS ANSWERED. Robert answers a reader question on deducting state property taxes.

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015, #8: Tax-Free Parsonage Allowance Gets A Second Life.

Russ Fox, The Real Winners of the World Series of Poker (2015 Edition). Hint: the winner’s first initial is “I.”

Janet Novack, Here’s How Congress Just Cut Social Security For Baby Boomer Couples. The end of “file and suspend.”


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 917,

Stuart Gibson, The European Predictability Paradox (Tax Analysts Blog). “Paradox will rule the European tax world, in which certainty will become uncertain and the predictability accorded by advance rulings will become entirely unpredictable.”

Renu Zaretsky, To make money you have to spend money…” Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the Dell-EMC merger, international tax reform hopes, and lots more.


News from the Profession. CPAs Admit That They’re Not Good Business People (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 11/10/15: Sheldon! And: a hard-working mom, plus a sure clue that you aren’t talking to the IRS.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Sheldon! The Day 1 ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools team is in Sheldon, Iowa today, while another crew takes care of Day 2 in Waterloo. Today’s session is at Northwest Iowa Community College, where about 1,900 students study programs ranging from pre-professional accounting to powerline technology. It’s not exactly an urban setting:

View towards the Northwest from the campus of Northwest Iowa Community College.

View towards the Northwest from the campus of Northwest Iowa Community College.

It’s always a great crowd, and it’s good to see everyone again. Especially since it’s not freezing here yet this year.


Accounting firm real estate appraiser flunks real estate pro test. It’s not easy for someone with a day job to be a “real estate professional” under the tax law “passive loss” rules. Passive losses are only deductible to the extent of passive income, and are otherwise deferred until a taxable sale of the “passive activity.” Real estate rental losses are automatically passive for most taxpayers, but an exception allows “real estate professionals” to qualify as non-passive under the same rules that apply to other businesses.

You have to clear two hurdles to be a real estate pro:

  1. You have to work more than 750 hours in real estate businesses in which you have an ownership interest, and
  2. Your real estate time has to exceed the time you spend doing everything else.

The second qualification eliminates most taxpayers with day jobs. But that didn’t stop our intrepid appraiser, who worked for two top-ten accounting firms in their appraisal practices.

The taxpayer and his wife acquired several apartments over the course of their marriage, which they claimed losses based on the real estate pro provision. The Tax Court sets the stage; I change the taxpayers’ names to “Mr. Taxpayer” and “Mrs. Taxpayer” in my excerpts, and all emphasis is mine.

Petitioners were married in 2006. At that time Mrs. Taxpayer owned a single condominium (Unit 918) which she had previously used as her personal residence. Mr. Taxpayer owned two condominiums (Units 522 and 801), one of which he had previously used as his personal residence. Each unit was subject to a separate mortgage. When petitioners married, they pledged the three units as collateral and obtained a loan to purchase an additional condominium (in the same building as Units 522 and 801) for use as their new personal residence.

Beginning in 2006 and throughout the year in issue, petitioners operated Units 522, 801, and 918 as rental properties. The parties stipulated that petitioners did not hire a property manager to assist with their rental properties in 2010.

20151110-2The court quickly rejected the husband’s arguments:

Mr. Taxpayer’s reliance on work that he performed for Grant Thornton and Crowe Horwath to show that he qualified as a real estate professional in 2010 is misplaced. In short, he testified that he did not own an equity interest in either firm, and he did not offer any other evidence in support of the proposition that he met the definition of a “5-percent owner” of either firm within the meaning of section 416(i)(1)(B). Therefore, the personal services that he performed as an employee of those firms may not be taken into account in computing the number of hours that he performed personal services in real property trades or businesses.

The wife had a better argument, but the court was unpersuaded by her evidence of working 750 hours:

Petitioners’ testimony was inconsistent regarding the division of labor between them and the timing of significant events. As to the division of labor, Mr. Taxpayer stated, quite candidly we believe, that Mrs. Taxpayer did little physical labor after the birth of their son in late November 2009. In contrast, Mrs. Taxpayer testified (and her revised log indicates) that she spent many long days in the first weeks of January 2010 cleaning, painting, and repairing Units 522 and 801.

Against this backdrop, we bear in mind that Mrs. Taxpayer did not maintain a contemporaneous log of her rental property activities and instead made handwritten notes on scraps of paper that she did not review in any great detail until a few weeks before trial. A close examination of the revised log that she submitted to respondent’s counsel raises serious doubts about its accuracy… for the period January 2 to January 11, Mrs. Taxpayer’s revised log indicates that she worked at least 154 hours — an average of slightly more than 15 hours per day for the 10-day period — not counting any time that she may have spent showing either unit to prospective tenants. We find it improbable that Mrs. Taxpayer performed all of the work described above.

While I admire anyone who can work 15-hour days within two months of giving birth, the Tax Court’s admiration was at best tempered by poor recordkeeping. Decision for IRS, with 20% “accuracy related” penalties tacked on.

The Moral? If you need to prove your time spent for business activities, there’s nothing better than a current time log. “Scraps of paper” are a poor substitute.

Cite: Calvanico, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-65

Related: Material participation basics.

What the Northwest Iowa Community College looked like on my visit two years ago.

What the Northwest Iowa Community College looked like on my visit two years ago.


Robert D. Flach comes through with an “especially ‘meaty'” Buzz today. LInks to much tax blog goodness, with free analysis of Donald Trump, no extra charge.

Russ Fox, Cleveland Loses on Monday (and They Didn’t Even Play). The Supreme Court rejected an appeal of rulings that its “Jock Tax” is unconstitutional.

Kay Bell, Looking for a holiday job? Employee or contractor status makes a tax difference to you, your boss and the IRS

William Perez, The Key Benefits of Health Savings Accounts


Renu Zaretsky, A Debate, A New Plan, A Vote, and Two Mulligans. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the GOP debate, the Carson tax plan, and TurboTax’s plans for the coming filing season.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 915


A vital clue. While leading the class yesterday in Waterloo, co-presenter Roger’s phone was buzzing frantically in his pocket while he was speaking. As it turns out, Mrs. Roger had received a message on her anwering machine at home saying the IRS needed to talk to her immediately. She called the number that was left, and somebody answered, telling her the police would arrest her right away if she didn’t pay her taxes.

Roger related the story to the class, and one of the attendees immediately pointed out the sure clue that it wasn’t really a call from the IRS:

“Somebody answered the phone.”



Tax Roundup, 11/4/15. Taxpayer Advocate: Koskinen demoralizes IRS, IRS breaks law. Koskinen replies: give me more money!

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Nina Olson, Taxpayer Advocate

Nina Olson, Taxpayer Advocate

It’s getting bad when the IRS won’t even talk to its own Taxpayer Advocate. Nina Olson, the head of the IRS Taxpayer Advocate office, ripped the state of the IRS and Commissioner Koskinen’s management in a speech to the AICPA annual tax conference yesterday, Tax Analysts reports  (my emphasis, $link):

Olson said that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen’s oft-repeated mantra — that instead of doing more with less in budget-constrained times, the agency was going to do less with less — was demoralizing the IRS workforce and further eroding customer service.

“What my local taxpayer advocates are telling me is that they have never seen so much resistance to their own work” from the IRS, Olson said. She recounted the story of a local TAS employee who asked the IRS in October to release a taxpayer’s refund that had been held up since February. “The response that [TAS] got back was . . . ‘We have thousands of these cases; get in line,’” Olson said, adding that it was the first time she’d heard such a response from the IRS in her 15 years at the TAS.

The feeling at the IRS that there are some jobs it won’t do because Congress didn’t provide funding, Olson said, “works its way down to the employees, so that they feel like, ‘Well, I’m going to do just this, and I’ve got so much work that I’m only going to be able to get this done.'”

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner, but he'd probably do a better job than the one who is.

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner, but he’d probably do a better job than the one who is.

The Taxpayer Advocate Office is “an independent organization within the IRS” charged with helping taxpayers who can’t resolved their problems within the normal IRS bureaucracy. We only call on them out of desperation, when the IRS just refuses to do its job. It’s a bad sign if even the Taxpayer Advocate can’t get the time of day from the regular IRS.

Ms. Olson says the IRS mistreatment of the TAS office has risen to the level of lawbreaking:

Olson also protested that the IRS is refusing to grant her and her staff access to taxpayers’ administrative files unless they sign agreements barring them from sharing any of the files’ information, even with the taxpayer. Olson noted that she is bound by the same privacy laws as other IRS employees and said she is entitled to access under section 6103.

“My position is that the IRS in those instances has violated the law,” Olson said. “And I do not say that lightly.”

You have problems with the IRS breaking the law? Well, to coin a phrase, get in line.

Commissioner Koskinen responded later in a speech to the same group, in which he did what he always does: ask for more money. “Most of Koskinen’s prepared remarks at the conference were a repeat of his concerns about the IRS’s deteriorating budget position.”

But this Commissioner will never get a budget increase out of this Congress. His glib, arrogant and obstructionist response to the Tea Party scandal, full of denials of the existence of information that subsequently surfaced, has destroyed his credibility. There’s no hope that the IRS will get improved funding as long as he is around to spend it.

Other Coverage: 

Russ Fox, Where I Agree (In Part) With IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Commissioner Koskinen is correct. Congress should get off its duff and pass the extender legislation.”

Accounting Today, IRS Commissioner Sees Budget Cuts Hurting Practitioners, Warns of Delayed Tax Season. A story that weirdly downplays and buries the Taxpayer Advocate’s withering criticisms deep in the article.


Alan Cole, What Places Benefit Most From the Earned Income Tax Credit? (Tax Policy Blog).


It looks like the deep south and Indian country have the biggest proportion of EITC recipients.


TaxGrrrl, Despite Complaints, Past Failures & Opportunities For Fraud, Congress Pushes Private Tax Collection. I think Kelly is too hard on private tax collection. Plenty of preparers deal safely with confidential tax information every day, and I don’t think there’s something special about IRS employees that makes them automatically trustworthy. I think for uncontested and unpaid tax debts, private collection makes sense, especially when the IRS isn’t even trying to collect.

Robert D. Flach emphatically agrees with Kelly, though: NO! NO! A MILLION TIMES NO!. I guess private tax debt collection is one of those unpopular views I hold, like Waylon > Willie.


Wall Street Journal,  IRS Audits of Individuals Drop to 11-Year Low (via the TaxProf, $link).

Kay Bell, Avoid tax turkeys! Check out November Tax Moves

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015: #9 Rental Properties Should Probably Be Rented. “Believe it or not, the IRS doesn’t always require that you rent a home in order to establish that you have converted the home to a for-profit rental activity, but it certainly helps.”




Carl SmithGovernment Inconsistent on Whether Unpublished Tax Court Orders Can Be Cited (Procedurally Taxing). “I’m more a believer in ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’.”

Renu Zaretsky, The Case of the Questionable Tax Incentive: Women and Retirement Savings (TaxVox). “But from what I can tell, the surest way to increase a woman’s savings is to give her a nice raise… and introduce her to my sister.”

David Brunori, Impeaching the IRS Commissioner Is the Wrong Thing to Do (Tax Analysts Blog). “Koskinen may be guilty of being combative with Congress. He may be guilty of caginess during his testimony. He may be guilty of being a lousy commissioner. But none of those are reasons for impeachment.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 909. Today’s link is to an editorial, Yes, the IRS Chief Has Earned Impeachment. I agree, but I still think it’s an unwise exercise when it has no chance of success. Still, the editorial is a concise summary of how awful Commissioner Koskinen has been.

Jim Maule, Taking and Giving Back. “The NFL and its teams, as well as the other professional sports leagues and franchises, do not need financial assistance from the public.”


News from the Profession. Socially Inept Accountant Held Responsible (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Is there another kind?




Tax Roundup, 10/21/15: The tax law doesn’t care where you are on the autism spectrum. And: Iowa sales tax rule change praised.

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20151014-1No Asperger exception to Section 475. It’s heads they win, tails you lose for capital gains and losses. If you have capital gains, they’re happy to tax them, no matter how many you have. If you have capital losses, you are limited to gains plus $3,000 per year, with the remainder carrying forward — even if you have to outlive Methuselah to use them up at $3,000 annually. Many sadder-but-wider former day traders have found themselves with this problem.

Section 475 offers some taxpayers a way out. If you qualify as a “trader,” a Section 475 election makes your losses fully deductible. It makes your gains ordinary, rather than capital, and it requires you to recognize gains and losses on your open positions at year-end, but that’s not a big deal for day traders. They tend to trade short-term, and short-term gains are taxed at ordinary rates anyway, and marking-to-market isn’t normally a big deal to them.

But Section 475 has a strict election requirement. You have to make the election no later than the April 15 of the year you want the election to take effect. For example, a taxpayer wanting to make the election effective for 2015 tax returns would have to make the election on his 2014 timely-filed 1040 due April 15, 2015.

A New York man claimed he made the election on his 2003 1040. Unfortunately, he made two serious mistakes. See if you can spot them in the Tax Court’s summary:

In 2003 on the advice of his accountant, petitioner intended to file a section 475(f) mark-to-market election. Petitioner, however, did not retain a signed copy of any election or any evidence of mailing it. Petitioner filed his Federal income tax return for the tax year 2003 on July 25, 2005. The 2003 tax return contained a statement that petitioner had made an election pursuant to section 475(f), but did not have a copy of Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, attached to it.

Error 1: Not keeping a copy of the election (assuming he made it).

Error 2: Not filing until over a year after the due date.

Other cases have shown that the IRS enforces the timely-filing requirements of Section 475 strictly, to keep taxpayers from making the election with the benefit of hindsight.

The Court ruled that he traded enough to qualify as a “trader” under the tax law, but that he blew the election (my emphasis):

We find that petitioner failed to comply with the requirements for the mark-to-market election set out in Rev. Proc. 99-17, supra. The evidence does not show conclusively whether petitioner signed or mailed a Form 3115 in 2003. Petitioner did not submit a copy of any executed version of Form 3115 or any evidence of mailing it. Respondent did not find any record of petitioner’s Form 3115 in his electronic database, but also admitted that in some years not all Forms 3115 received were actually entered in the database. Next, petitioner filed his Federal income tax return for 2003 on July 25, 2005, failing to comply with the filing deadlines.

There’s a lot in that paragraph. Perhaps the most important thing is that the IRS admits that it doesn’t always know what you file, so it’s wise to keep your returns forever in case something like this happens. The other thing is that the deadlines matter.

The taxpayer made an unusual argument to get out of penalties: that his Asperger Syndrome made it impossible to meet deadlines. The Tax Court wasn’t convinced:

For a number of years, including 2002 and 2003, petitioner worked as a high school teacher. There is no evidence in the record that at any time from 2001 through 2006 petitioner filed for a disability accommodation while he was employed as a school teacher. In 2007 petitioner was trading in securities. Petitioner’s work station was equipped with six monitors showing the status of his trades. Petitioner was able to collect, analyze, and organize information to base his trades on. Petitioner understood he had a duty to file tax returns but claims that in 2007 he was “despondent” because of the losses he suffered and could not organize himself to file a tax return timely.

We are sympathetic to petitioner’s plight. We cannot find, however, under these circumstances that petitioner’s mental condition prevented him from managing his business affairs.

This is consistent with other cases where the courts have found that if you are able to deal with the challenges of daily life, you are presumed to be able to file your returns on time.

The Moral: File your returns on time, and keep copies of your filings forever.

Cite: Poppe, T.C. Memo 2015-205

Related: TaxProf, Tax Court: Asperger’s Syndrome Does Not Excuse Taxpayer’s Failure To File Tax Return




David Brunori calls the Iowa proposal to broaden the definition of manufacturing supplies subject to exemption from sales tax The Best Tax Policy Proposal of the Year (Tax Analysts Blog):

Taxing what business entities buy is wrong for two important reasons. First, businesses will try to pass the tax they pay on to their customers in the form of higher prices. Almost all succeed. The customers incur the tax burden without knowing it. That’s wrong. Even for those companies that don’t pass the tax along to customers, some person is unwittingly paying the tax. Second, when consumers pay higher prices, they are sometimes subject to tax. Thus, the sales tax is imposed on a value that includes previous sales tax. You may know it as cascading or pyramiding. But it’s wrong.

And that’s why the Iowa proposal is so refreshingly right. It would expand the types of business purchases exempt from sales tax. My understanding is that there is a debate in Iowa about whether the Department of Revenue can expand the number of exempt business purchases administratively. I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that the proposal represents sound tax policy.

Governor Branstad says expects the proposal to be enacted, reports the Sioux City Journal in Branstad: House GOP won’t buck rule change.


Russ Fox, The Wagering Excise Tax and DFS:

I’m focusing on the tax aspects of daily fantasy sports (DFS) this week. It’s beneficial for DFS participants for the activity to be considered gambling. For political reasons (“gambling is a sin”) and regulatory reasons (gambling is regulated, skill contests are not), the DFS sites want to be considered skill games sites. There’s another reason that DFS sites don’t want to be considered gambling: the wagering excise tax.

Picking the right horse at the track is a skill, too, but I’m pretty sure it counts as gambling.


Paul Neiffer, What is a Marginal Tax Bracket. A useful explanation for the non-specialist of how tax brackets work.

Kay Bell, Increased e-filing security planned for 2016 filing season. Better at least five years too late than never, I suppose.

Jim Maule, Beachfront House Rental Deduction Washed Out. When you try to deduct what looks like a beach party, you’d better have excellent documentation.

Eric Rasmusen, Law Suit for Billions Against Citigroup Because of Treasury’s 2009 Waiver of Section 382’s Rule about Losing NOL’s after an Ownership Change. The Administration put the fix in for its friends at Citigroup, and now another taxpayer is suing.




Tax Policy Blog, A Comparison of Presidential Tax Plans and Their Economic Effects.

Renu Zaretsky, “There’s no cut like a tax cut… There’s no cut like a tax cut…” Today’s TaxVox tax headline roundup covers the continuing fiscal pain in Kansas and the IRS patting itself on the back on ID theft after letting it spiral out of control for years.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 895



Our media outlets dismiss the opponents of the Ex-Im bank or people who want to wind down Freddie and Fannie as Tea Party nut cases. If you want to stop crony capitalism, what we need are fewer influential media outlets and more Tea Party nut cases.

Arnold Kling



Tax Roundup, 10/13/15: Thoughts for those facing the due date. And: Ex-Iowa revenue director backs sales tax rule.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today visitors, click here to go to the YMCA story.


20151013-4It’s time. The extended return deadline is Thursday, October 15, and no more extensions are available (unless, perhaps, you are in South Carolina, drying out from the floods, or you are in an overseas combat zone).

Haven’t filed yet? Haven’t even started? Russ Fox has some thoughts for you:

Somewhere, there’s a procrastinator wondering that exact question. He’s likely thinking, “I don’t have to do anything; I have until October 15th!” That’s not a good answer (with one exception [1]).

First, most tax professionals will not be able to fit you in. I took in one new client appointment this week—and he’s filling a cancellation. Determine your income, gather all your documents, and do your best. Tax forms are available online (the IRS website is actually quite good). Commercial tax software, though flawed [2], is a good choice at this point in time.

That makes sense. You really shouldn’t file late. It’s habit-forming, and it’s a bad habit. If you have a refund coming, you will probably lose it if you don’t file in two years — and without a due date deadline, that happens a lot. If you don’t file, you can’t get a 2016 ACA advance premium credit, making you out-of-pocket for the whole thing until you file your 2016 tax return, assuming you get around to that one.

Russ has another comment worth noting:

I disagree with fellow tax professional Robert Flach on his description that all tax software is fatally flawed. For individuals in simple situation it works perfectly. It doesn’t make math mistakes. And it usually allows for seamless electronic filing. I agree with Robert that the ability to look at a return and evaluate what’s on it (does it pass the smell test) is vital but when you’re up against a deadline, you don’t have a choice.

While I am in awe of Robert’s practice of doing his returns by hand, I don’t recommend it for anyone else. While software, like any human endeavor, is “flawed,” it’s much less flawed than a do-it-yourself tax filer without software. Tax software prevents a lot more mistakes than it causes.


Speaking of Robert Flach, it’s Tuesday, so he has fresh Buzz! His artisanal mind wanders from the size of the tax law, charity scams, and maintaining small business records. Presumably posted with flawed software!




Mike Ralston, Manufacturers shouldn’t be taxed twice. The President of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and former director of the Iowa Department of Revenue, defends the new proposed rules broadening the definition of “manufacturing supplies” exempt from sales tax: “To the best of my knowledge, no one inside the Statehouse has argued that the proposed rule is bad policy.” David Brunori is quoted.


Tulsa World, Doug Pielsticker: Sentence more than justified. “Laid-off employees blamed the company’s bankruptcy partly on Pielsticker’s lavish lifestyle, which included a $1.3 million mansion, a Bentley and a wedding with 1,000 guests at Philbrook Museum.” We covered the sentencing yesterday.


John Mickelson, Importance of succession planning for privately held businesses (

TaxGrrrl, Be Smart When Being Charitable: IRS Warns On SC Flood Relief Scams

Keith Fogg, The Right Instincts and the Wrong Decision Leads to No Relief as an Innocent Spouse – An Adam and Eve Story (Procedurally Taxing) “Reading the opinion, I realized that I had watched the trial with my students and we had analyzed it in class reaching the same conclusion as Judge Lauber but still feeling sad for the individual who sought relief.”

Peter Reilly, Volkswagen’s Emissiongate May Include Tax Crimes

Jack Townsend, Schumacher, UBS Banker Enabler, Sentenced to Probation Only and Fine. Once again, slapping the real international financial criminals on the wrist while shooting the jaywalkers.

Kay Bell, Some in GOP question Ryan’s conservative commitment; others say he serves the party best as tax-writing chair.  

William Perez, Changes in Tax Deadlines to Take Effect in 2017 (Plus Deadlines for 2015 and 2016). There’s a big one this week.




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 887. Today’s installment features some guy who think the IRS isn’t meddling in politics enough.

Scott Greenberg, Bobby Jindal’s Tax Plan Would End the Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Exclusion (Tax Policy Blog):

Some of the features of Bobby Jindal’s recently released tax plan – fewer tax brackets, ending the estate tax, and eliminating itemized deductions – should be familiar from other Republican candidates’ tax plans. But a few elements of Jindal’s plan stand out from the rest of the field. Specifically, Jindal would significantly change the tax treatment of employer-sponsored health insurance plans.

It would replace the employer exclusion for health care with a “standard deduction” for insurance costs.


Bob McIntyre, We (Don’t) Need to Talk about Bobby Jindal (Tax Justice Blog). We don’t like him. We’ll pretend he’s not there.

Renu Zaretsky, A Speaker, A Speaker, Their Kingdom for a Speaker. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the House Speaker situation, Hockey free agents, and the upcoming Democratic candidate debate.

Career Corner. The Rise of the Lifestyle Accountant (Chris Hooper, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 10/8/15: Your tax preparer has to protect your confidential info. IRS, not so much. And more!

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

TIGTAIRS Basically Plastering Your Social Security Numbers on Billboards Now, Because Why Not? (Peter Suderman,

The IRS continues to recklessly print Social Security Numbers (SSNs) on hundreds of millions of notices and letters, despite warnings that this practice dangerously exposes sensitive personal information, and years of pressure to reduce the use of SSNs on documentation.

In fact, the tax agency doesn’t even have procedures in place to fully track its use of SSNs, according to a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), a tax agency watchdog.

This is a problem because of the identity theft epidemic. Every document from IRS sitting untended in your mailbox that has your Social Security number is an ID theft vulnerability. Private parties have changed their practices to protect ID numbers. One example is the adoption of secure password-protected web portals to send anything with an SSN. Another is the decline of the practice of identifying tax returns on the outside of mailing envelopes. The increased risk of attracting an ID thief outweighs the risk a taxpayer might not bother opening an unmarked envelope.

Yet TIGTA says IRS is behind the curve. From their press release:

TIGTA found that as of January 2015, the IRS estimates that it has removed SSNs from 58 (2 percent) of the 2,749 types of letters and 93 (48 percent) of the 195 types of notices it issues.

“A person’s Social Security Number is the most valuable piece of personal data identity thieves can obtain.” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “The fact that the IRS does not have processes and procedures to accurately identify all correspondence that contain Social Security Numbers remains a concern.”

Businesses have to be careful with taxpayer information because we could lose business, or be sued, or worse. The IRS doesn’t have that motivation, and it shows.


20151008 tax incidenceTaxProf, Who Benefits From State Corporate Tax Cuts? Firm Owners (40%), Workers (35%), Landowners (25%). The Prof links to a study of “tax incidence,” or who “really” bears the burden of the corporation tax. While politicians and activists like to talk about corporations as tax-avoiding fat cats, it’s a fact that corporations ultimately don’t pay any tax; it comes out of the pocket of an actual human somewhere. Economists will endlessly debate whether its owners, customers or workers who bear the burden. Whoever it is, it’s not a free lunch for the tax man.


Russ Fox, Tax Relief for South Carolinians. “Note that the relief is automatic; impacted taxpayers need not do anything.”

Robert Wood, Skimming Cash — Even From Yourself — Can Mean Prison For Tax Fraud:

Prosecutors said the Horners owned Topcat Towing and Recovery Inc., a towing business in Georgia. Between 2005 and 2008, they skimmed $1.5 million in cash from the businesses, depositing into their personal bank account without disclosing the income on their corporate or personal tax returns filed with the IRS. They tried to conceal their cash deposits from the government by “structuring,” splitting up cash deposits that exceed $10,000.

Unwise. Banks have great incentive to report “structuring,” and they do.


Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Audit (Of Financials)

Leslie Book, Senate Again Takes Aim at Improper Payments in Federal Programs. The government wants to use the IRS inability to stop issuing fraudulent payments as an excuse to regulate preparers.

Jack Townsend, U.S. Senators on Senate Finance Committee Probe the Tax Aspects of the Volkswagen Debacle. “As often in tax-related and other potential criminal settings, the prosecutor has a panoply of provisions to choose from.”

Kay Bell, NHL players’ goal: Play in low or no income tax states


Jared Walczak, How Much Does Your State Collect in Taxes Per Capita? (Tax Policy Blog).



Iowa is #20.


Cara Griffith, Why Is It So Hard to Fund Schools? (Tax Analysts Blog). This article actually highlights the dangers when judges meddle in the appropriation process.

Renu Zaretsky, Questions, Subsidies, Deductions, and Profits. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup has stories on whether Volkswagen’s emission test rigging got them clean air tax credits, questions on the need to subsidize wind turbines, and much more.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 882

Peter Reilly, Paul Caron’s Day By Day IRS Scandal Has Jumped The Shark – Conclusion. “I fear that the series which serves as a great resource is in danger of having its quality diluted.” I worry that the administration will succeed in running out the clock on the outrageous IRS misconduct.

Tax Justice Blog, New CTJ Report: 358 or 72% of Fortune 500 Companies Used Tax Havens in 2014, Alternate headline: 72% of Fortune 500 Companies try not to squander shareholder value.


Finally: Arrieta, Cubs ace Wild Card test vs. Bucs

Not tax related? Oops.



Tax Roundup, 10/6/15: Tax Fairy fails to show up for Kansas ESOP. And: lots of other tax stuff.

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

tax fairyThe ESOP Tax Fairy Cult has long had Midwest adherents. The Tax Court told gave a Kansas believer the bad news yesterday — there is no tax fairy.

A successful Kansas orthopedic surgeon, a Dr. Prohaska, set up a new corporation, DNA Prof Ventures, with his wife. The surgeon and his wife were the only DNA employees. On the day it was incorporated, DNA created an employee stock ownership plan for its employees.

Problems arose. Tax Court Judge Dawson tells the story:

On December 31, 2008, DNA issued 1,150 shares of class B common stock to the trust with a par value of $10 per share. The trust then allocated the 1,150 shares of DNA stock to Dr. Prohaska’s ESOP account in 2008.

During 2008 DNA did not pay any salaries, wages, or other officer’s compensation. For 2009 DNA issued separate Forms W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, to Dr. and Mrs. Prohaska reporting the respective amounts of $4,500 (during its fourth quarter beginning October 1). DNA issued Forms W-2 for 2010 to Dr. and Mrs. Prohaska reporting the respective amounts of $3,000.

DNA deducted a $1,350 retirement plan contribution on its Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return, for 2009.

Although DNA was the sponsor of the ESOP, it did not file any Forms 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan, for plan years 2008, 2009, and 2010.

The IRS examiners found problems with this and other aspects of the way the ESOP was run (my emphasis):

    In this case, the ESOP had two separate failures to follow its plan document during 2008. First, the ESOP sponsored by DNA Pro Ventures allowed Dr. Daniel J. Prohaska and Amy Prohaska to participate in the ESOP as of the plan year ending December 31, 2008, in violation of the terms of the ESOP plan document regarding eligibility and participation. Second, the ESOP plan document required the ESOP to use appraisal rules substantially similar to those issued under I.R.C. sec. 170(a)(1) when it obtained annual appraisals for the same plan year. The ESOP, however, failed to obtain any appraisal for the 2008 plan year or for any plan year.

That led to a bad result:

For the reason stated above, it is determined that the ESOP is not qualified under I.R.C. sec. 401(a) for the plan years ending December 31, 2008 and all subsequent plan years. As a result, the Plan is not exempt from taxation under I.R.C. sec. 501(a) for trust years ending December 31, 2008 and all subsequent plan years.

A Google search reveals that the ESOP reported net assets of nearly $400,000 at the end of 2012. That would mean that much additional income for the ESOP participants over the term of the ESOP.  That’s an expensive sacrifice to the tax fairy. As the ESOP was set up the same day as the corporation, it appears likely that the purpose of the corporation was to feed the ESOP. Iowa has been a hotbed for bad ESOPs. While there is no evidence showing that this is linked to any other bad ESOPs, I note that the corporation had an Iowa mailing address.

The Moral: ESOPs aren’t easy. They can be useful under the right circumstances, but they require appraisals and careful compliance with the plan document an ESOP rules. They aren’t an easy tax shelter, and there is no ESOP Tax Fairy.

Cite: DNA Pro Ventures Inc. Employee Stock Ownership Plan, T.C. Memo 2015-195.




It’s Tuesday, so it’s Buzz-day for Robert D. Flach. He rounds up news ranging from the developments in the Section 105 $100-per-day penalty (Tax Update coverage here) to the ongoing problems in keeping EITC from squirting all over the place.

Kay Bell, IRS says ‘No’ to tax-exempt status for pet care group offering heated spa, massages and other animal amenities. My beagle would approve this exemption.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: MACRS. “MACRS refers to “modified accelerated cost recovery system,” which is the default depreciation method used for tax purposes.”

Russ Fox, Well, That’s One Way to Avoid ClubFed. But fatal heart attacks have serious non-tax drawbacks.

Peter Reilly, Boston Bernie Backers Probably Not Bashing Bruins



Joseph Thorndike, The ‘Cadillac’ Tax Shows Why Obamacare Was Never Built to Last (Tax Analysts Blog). “All of which suggests that Obamacare will be in trouble for a long time.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 880

Joseph Henchman, California Supreme Court to Decide Fate of 48-Year-Old Multistate Tax Compact. (Tax Policy Blog). “Maybe it’s time we accept that the MTC isn’t working, and the Gillette case might be the first step of that realization.”

Renu Zaretsky, Evasion, Cuts, Hikes, and Drops. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers a planned “global crackdown” on tax evasion, business tax cuts in New Hampshire, and much more.

Leslie Book, District Court Hands IRS Loss in its Bid to Exclude Discretionary Treaty Benefits From Judicial Review (Procedurally Taxing).

Robert Wood, As IRS And DOJ Hunt Offshore Accounts, Banks Pony Up.


News from the Profession. Oh Great, Public Accounting Discovered the Selfie Stick (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 10/5/15: Cool implosion, but no tax break. And more tax fairy tales!

Monday, October 5th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

This happened in Downtown Des Moines over the weekend:

YouTube Video Courtesy star105

Preservationists wanted to save the building, the old YMCA. I never understood this. Some beautiful buildings have been lost in Des Moines, but this isn’t one of them. If you aren’t willing to buy a building and fix it up yourself, it doesn’t seem right to tell the owners that they have to do it with their own money.

But did they get a tax break for the implosion? Did they get to write off the cost of the building when they brought it down? It would seem logical — obviously the building is a total loss. But no, it doesn’t work that way. Internal Revenue Code Section 280B is pretty clear:

In the case of the demolition of any structure—
(1) no deduction otherwise allowable under this chapter shall be allowed to the owner or lessee of such structure for—

(A) any amount expended for such demolition, or
(B) any loss sustained on account of such demolition; and

(2) amounts described in paragraph (1) shall be treated as properly chargeable to capital account with respect to the land on which the demolished structure was located.

So not only is there no write-off of the building, the cost of the demolition itself is capitalized, along with any remaining basis in the building — to be recovered only when the land is sold someday. So the income tax law doesn’t encourage implosions. Pretty much the opposite.




Jack Townsend, IRS Makes FOIA Disclosures to Tax Analysts Regarding OVDP and Streamlined Processing. “One point that was already known to practitioners is that rejection of the transition streamlined relief inside OVDP is not a determination of wilfulness so that, upon opt out, the wilfulness penalty is pre-determined.”

Peter Reilly, Rand Paul Suffers Setback In Foreign Reporting Lawsuit


Kristine Tidgren, Let the Motions Begin: Drainage Districts Seek Partial Summary Judgment. Des Moines Water Works is suing upstream drainage districts for not keeping nitrates out of the river. 

Annette Nellen, Obamacare – can pieces be removed? “Obamacare has too many complicated tax provisions in addition to many complicated non-tax provisions.”

Kay Bell, Time to make your flexible spending account choices

Sonya Miller, Freezing the Refunds of Our Guests (Procedurally Taxing). “We are aware of a group of nonresident taxpayers (taxpayers that fall under the rules for aliens temporarily present in the United States as students, trainees, scholars, teachers, researchers, exchange visitors, and cultural exchange visitors) who had their 2014 refunds frozen.”

TaxGrrrl, Treasury Sends Dire Warning To Congress: We’re Running Out Of Money Faster Than Expected.



TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 877878879. They’re still talking about impeaching Koskinen. If the administration really wants to build trust in the IRS, they’ll dump him. Until they do so, we can assume his stonewalling and stiff-arming of the GOP appropriators is the behavior the administration wants out of him.

Scott Greenberg, New Study Shows that Tuition Deduction Does Not Increase College Attendance (Tax Policy Blog):

 Last year, Bulman and Hoxby published a similar study of three federal education credits, which concluded that all three have a “negligible” effect on college attendance. This finding was in stark contrast to the Obama administration’s claim that the expansion of the American Opportunity Tax Credit made it possible for 12 million more students to earn a college degree.

The increase in subsidies over the years coincides with wild increases in tuition costs. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence.


Renu Zaretsky, Hope’s Limits, Math, and Cuts. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup talks about the apparent death of an international tax reform effort and efforts to improve IRS verification of earned income tax credit eligibility.


Russ Fox, There Is No Magic OID Process. Just like there is no Tax Fairy.

Me, Chasing the Tax Fairy. My latest at, the Des Moines Business Record business professionals’ blog. I discuss four manifestations of the Tax Fairy cult – The ESOP Fairy, the Home-based Business Fairy, the Pennies-on-the-dollar Fairy, and the Classic 105 fairy that Hank Stern spotted.




Tax Roundup, 9/30/15: Taking from rich doesn’t give to the poor; state incentives favor the big.

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Today we have two instances where policy tanks that I usually disagree with make important tax policy points.

TPC logoFirst, The center-left Tax Policy Center, a project of the Brookings Institution (which I castigate below), makes an important observation about the overrated problem of income inequality in their paper, Would a significant increase in the top income tax rate substantially alter income inequality? The summary (my emphasis):

The high level of income inequality in the United States is at the forefront of policy attention. This paper focuses on one potential policy response: an increase in the top personal income tax rate. We conduct a simulation analysis using the Tax Policy Center (TPC) microsimulation model to determine how much of a reduction in income inequality would be achieved from increasing the top individual tax rate to as much as 50 percent. We calculate the resulting change in income inequality assuming an explicit redistribution of all new revenue to households in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution. The resulting effects on overall income inequality are exceedingly modest.

I have zero hope that politicians will heed this. Just because you take from the rich doesn’t mean it goes to the poor. It goes to the well-connected, as in the next item.

Second, the not-so-center-left Good Jobs First takes the side of the angels in the battle against state tax incentives, with a survey of small businesses called In Search of a Level Playing Field:

A national survey of leaders of small business organizations reveals that they overwhelmingly believe that state economic development incentives favor big businesses, that states are overspending on large individual deals, and that state incentive programs are not effectively meeting the needs of small businesses seeking to grow. 

I think they have this exactly right. It’s not start-ups that get the big deals from the legislature and the Economic Development bureaucrats. It’s the well-connected and wealthy companies that know how to work the system. The rest of us get to pay for it.




Jason Dinesen, The Iowa School Tuition Organization Tax Credit. “Iowa offers dozens of obscure tax credits. The one I get asked about most is the tax credit available for donations to a ‘school tuition organization’ or STO.”

Kay Bell, Maryland issuing court-ordered county tax credit refunds. If you don’t want to repay illegal taxes, don’t collect illegal taxes.

Russ Fox, How to Wynne Your Money Back in Maryland

Paul Neiffer, IRS Provides List of Counties Eligible For Additional Extension on Livestock Replacement

Jim Maule, Taxation of Prizes, Question Two. He quotes a post from a sweepstakes message board:

 I won concert VIP tickets, there is no value on the tickets, so I can’t sell them. If no value is on them, why am I paying taxes on them? 

Mr. Maule explains that there is a value. If there isn’t, then why didn’t the winner give them away?





InsureBlog, Yes, The New York Obamacare Co-op [squandered*] $340 Million. *The actual headline uses a more colorful term.

Robert Wood, Hillary Backs Cadillac Tax Repeal


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 874. Today’s edition features IRS agents abusing their power on everyday taxpayers. But we can trust them to regulate their tax preparer adversaries, right?

Arnold Kling, Hypocrisy and Cowardice at Brookings. Arnold addresses the firing by the Brookings Institution of Robert Litan, a scholar accused by Senator Elizabeth Warren of “writing a research paper to benefit his corporate patrons.” He is appalled:

1. Robert Litan is one of the most decent individuals in the whole economics profession.

2. Giving Litan’s scalp (sorry for the pun) to Elizabeth Warren does nothing to bolster the integrity of Brookings. It amounts to speaking cowardice to power.

There’s more. The episode is appalling, and it shows the totalitarian tendencies that are barely beneath the surface of Senator Warren’s populism.




Alan Cole, Donald Trump’s Tax Plan Will Not Be Revenue-Neutral Under Any Circumstances (Tax Policy Blog)

Jeremy Scott, Trump’s Tax Plan Is Pretty Much GOP Orthodoxy (Tax Analysts Blog)

Matt Gardner, How Donald Trump’s Carried Interest Tax Hike Masks a Massive Tax Cut for Wealthy Money Managers (Tax Justice Blog)

Peter Reilly, Trump Tax Plan Would Increase Deficit By Over $10 Trillion

Tony Nitti, Love Trump, Hate Romney, But Their Tax Plans Are One And The Same

Renu Zaretsky, Thirty days, goodbye September, shutdown talks—maybe in December. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers shutdown politics, plans to use reconciliation procedures to pass bills repealing pieces of Obamacare, and tax Trumpalism.


See you at Hoyt Sherman Place tonight!



Tax Roundup, 9/24/15: Small partnership, big late-filing penalties. And: tax tips from the Duke and the Yogi.

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150813-1Didn’t file that 1065? The penalties can add up, even for small partnerships. Congress decided a few years ago that late-filed partnership returns could be an IRS profit center. They imposed a penalty of $195 per partner for returns filed even one day late — a penalty repeated for each additional month the return is late. Needless to say, a ten-person partnership can rack up a big bill.

When Congress enacted that penalty, it left in place an escape hatch. Back in 1984, the IRS issued a ruling providing a standard exemption from the late filing penalty for “small partnerships.” Rev. Proc. 84-35 allows partnerships composed only of individuals with straight-up allocations of income and loss to be excused from the late filing penalty. But there’s a catch: the penalties are excused only:

…provided that the partnership, or any of the partners, establishes, if so requested by the Internal Revenue Service, that all partners have fully reported their shares of the income, deductions, and credits of the partnership on their timely filed income tax returns.

A Federal Court in South Dakota this week ruled that this catch means a late-filing small partnership is at the mercy of its least responsible partner to avoid penalties. One late-filing partner can cause penalties for the whole partnership.

Battle Flat, LLC filed its 2007 and 2007 Form 1065s over six months late. It requested a penalty waiver based on Rev. Proc. 84-35. Unfortunately, none of the six partners filed a timely 1040 for 2007, and three of them also filed their 2008 returns late — four years late in one case. The IRS denied the penalty relief because the partnership was unable to demonstrate “that all partners have fully reported their shares of the income, deductions, and credits of the partnership on their timely filed income tax returns.”

The partnership argued that the requirement for timely-filed partner returns isn’t a requirement that the statute allows. On brief, the partnership argues:

Congress did not impose or even mention an intent to require that each individual partner’s (sic) must timely file his or her individual return in order for the partnership to qualify for a “reasonable cause” forgiveness of a late filing penalty. But, the IRS has engrafted such a requirement in Revenue Procedure 84-35.

20140321-4The IRS disagrees, and so does the Federal Judge (citations and footnotes omitted, emphasis added):

The IRS’ position is persuasive. Although § 6698 does not expressly impose a timeliness requirement by which partners in a “small” partnership must file their personal income tax return in lieu of filing a partnership tax return, this is exactly the type of interpretative question left to the discretion of the IRS in implementing our nation’s tax laws. The IRS’ interpretation that partners in a “small” partnership timely file their personal income tax returns is reasonable and is a highly practical aid in its assessment of the tax consequences of a partnership for a given year and on a year-over-year basis. IRS’ interpretation is consistent with the legislative history of § 9968 in that it strains credulity to characterize a personal income tax return filed years after the reporting deadline as an adequate, full reporting of each partner’s share of the partnership’s income and deductions.

Conversely, Battle Flat’s interpretation that § 9968’s “reasonable cause” exception is satisfied so long as the partners in a “small” partnership file their personal income tax returns at some unspecified future date is unreasonable. The interpretation would result in a system where the tax consequences of a “small” partnership would go unassessed for years at a time. Furthermore, under Battle Flat’s interpretation, the IRS would be required to track the status of each partner’s personal income tax return until every partner’s tax return was received before it could accurately calculate the annual tax consequences of the partnership.

At least one commentator appears to argue that small partnerships are excused from annual 1065 filing requirements. That’s not how the judge ruled in this case. While this case may be appealed, partners should consider this a warning that the IRS and at least one federal judge aren’t on board with a blanket filing exemption for small partnerships. Considering how fast that $195 per partner, per month penalty can add up, filing timely 1065s for small partnerships seems like a prudent bet.

Cite: Battle Flat, LLC (USDC-SD, No. 5:13-5070-JLV)

Related: Roger McEowen, The Small Partnership Exception – A Possible Way to Avoid Failure to File Penalities, but Not Complexity


Liz Malm, Does Your State Levy a Capital Stock Tax? (Tax Policy Blog):


“In broad economic terms, capital stock taxes (referred to as franchise taxes in many states) are destructive because they disincentivize the accumulation of additional wealth, or capital, which distorts the size of firms.”



If you receive a balance due notice from the IRS or a state tax agency DO NOT AUTOMATICALLY PAY THE AMOUNT REQUESTED!

In my 40+ years of preparing tax returns I have found that more often than not (actually in my experience it is more like 75% of the time) a balance due notice from “Sam” or your state is wrong. And, again in my experience, notices from a state tax agency (at least when it comes to NJ and NY) are wrong more than ones from the IRS.

Robert speaks wisely. As scammers are getting more sophisticated — sometimes even mailing authentic-looking “IRS notices” — this advice becomes even more important.


Jason Dinesen, When Do I Have to Take My RMD? If you don’t start withdrawing from your retirement accounts on time, penalties can be ugly.

Tony Nitti, Tax Court: Drop In Property Value Does Not Create Deductible Loss. You usually have to sell out, as a real estate investor  learned the hard way this week in tax court.


TaxGrrrl, Profiting From Star Wars, Michael Jackson & Taylor Swift Memorabilia: There’s A Tax On That

Russ Fox, Are Turf Rebates Taxable?

Robert Wood, Why Churches Are The Gold Standard Of Tax-Exempt Organizations


Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for the Week Ending 8/21/15. It’s the Procedurally Taxing roundup of recent developments in the tax procedure world.

Kay Bell, How charitable are you and your neighbors? “Overall, ALEC’s analysis found that for every 1 percent increase in a state’s total tax burden, there is a 1.16 percent decrease in the state’s rate of charitable giving.”

Peter Reilly, Yogi Berra’s Sayings Worked Their Way Into Tax Decisions.



Renu Zaretsky, A lawmaker’s work is never done. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup ranges from Russian tax revenue problems to improper EITC credits, plus much more.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 868


He was a quiet guy, but he seemed a little odd. Peculiar Man Indicted for Tax Evasion (Kansas City InfoZine). “Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Peculiar, Missouri, resident has been indicted by a federal grand jury for tax evasion.”



Tax Roundup, 9/16/15: Mark-up of preparer regulation bill suddenly postponed. Maybe to get Senators in on that tax-free weed?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

From the GOP Senate Finance Twitter feed:


Something happened between yesterday afternoon and this morning to change Chairman Hatch from “REMINDER” to “POSTPONED.” Here’s hoping it was some of his colleagues telling him they didn’t appreciate him sneaking preparer regulation into the ID-theft bill. Or maybe they just all booked flights to Colorado.


The AICPA isn’t stepping up for this version of preparer regulation: AICPA expresses concerns about tax return preparer legislation:

Instead of a broad grant of authority, the AICPA recommends that Congress grant “specific authority necessary to address the concerns of incompetent and fraudulent, currently-unenrolled tax return preparers.” At a minimum, Lewis writes, Congress should limit the IRS’s authority to require a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) and require it to take steps to reduce confusion in the marketplace.

The IRS should be limited to requiring PTINs only from (1) individuals who sign a tax return or claim for refund and (2) individuals who are involved in the preparation of tax returns or claims for refund but are not supervised by an attorney, CPA, or enrolled preparer, the letter says.

IRS doesn’t like limits.


Politico, The downside of cracking down on unregulated tax preparers. “ The IRS would get broad new powers to regulate tax preparers under legislation set to come before the Senate Finance Committee — and Dan Alban says that’s a bad thing.” Dan Alban, a hero of the suit striking down the prior preparer regulation scheme, is right.


20150916-2Tax-Free Weed Day! Odd tax holiday in Colorado today (Annette Nellen). “Today, September 16, 2015, Colorado has a holiday on marijuana – but just the special 10% and 15% taxes (there are a lot of taxes on marijuana in Colorado).”

Robert Wood, Tax Free Toking: Marijuana’s One Day Sale

Robert D. Flach, WHY SHOULD A TAXPAYER HAVE TO PAY ME A FEE TO ASSESS THEM AN IRS PENALTY?. “Why should a taxpayer pay me a fee to assess a tax penalty? If a penalty is assessed by the IRS, which it may not be, then it is appropriate for me to charge the client(s) a fee to reduce or eliminate the penalty assessment.”

Kay Bell, 6 states offering residents, businesses tax amnesties. “Options for delinquent taxpayers in AZ, IN, KS, MD, MO and OK.”  As the states become more adept in data mining for non-filers, just ignoring state taxes becomes a worse bet all the time.

Jack Townsend, Another Swiss Bank Obtains NPA Under DOJ Swiss Bank Program

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Fee. “The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Fee is a fee imposed as part of the Affordable Care Act.”

Jim Maule, When Crime Does Not Pay and Tax Makes It Worse. “In addition to being hit with a fine, restitution, and civil judgment, he was additionally hit with a federal income tax liability because those amounts were paid with tax-deferred retirement benefits rolled into an IRA and then distributed from the IRA.”

Peter Reilly, Estate Tax Hits 100th Birthday And Paul Caron Calls For Many Happy Returns. To the extent a death tax return can be happy, anyway.




Robert Goulder, Litigating FATCA: Rand Paul and Financial Privacy (Tax Analysts Blog)

No doubt FATCA is hugely burdensome. That problem is widely recognized. If inconvenience were actionable, FATCA might be the worst tax law ever. But where is the constitutional infirmity?

If the burdensome nature of FATCA is widely recognized, Congress and the President sure have a funny way of showing that recognition. It’s mostly recognized by the foreign financial institutions that are chasing away their U.S. customers to avoid the burden, and by the U.S. customers abroad for whom routine personal finance has suddenly become a major headache.

David Brunori, Silliest Tax Proposal of the Year — Really (Tax Analysts Blog). Like “worst tax law ever,” there are so many candidates. Still, granting income tax exceptions to “A-list performers” in New Jersey has to be part of the conversation.

Renu Zaretsky, Cuts, Hikes, and Bets. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers candidate tax plans, Chicago property tax hikes, and much more.


News from the Profession. September 15th Is the Worst Tax Return Filing Deadline (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “UP YOURS, April 15th, you phony, spotlight-seeking sham of a tax return deadline. You got nothing on September 15th.” Endorsed.



Tax Roundup, 9/8/15: One Week to the 15th. And: First-world tax payment problems.

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150803-1September 15 is one week away. If you have extended partnership, corporation or trust returns, time is running short. There are many reasons to file on time:

  • Tax elections made on a late return, including automatic accounting method changes, may not count. With all of the “repair regulation” method changes this year, that could be a big deal.
  • If you owe money, late filing turns a 1/2% per month late-payment penalty into a 5% per month (up to 25%) late filing penalty.
  • If you have a pass-through entity, late-filing triggers a $195 per K-1 per month penalty.

Remember to e-file, or to document timely paper filing via Certified Mail, return receipt requested, or with a shipping bill from an authorized private delivery service.


Gretchen TegelerDART: A property tax funded amenity ( Disturbing trends on the inability of the Des Moines-area public transportation service to cover its operations through fares: does appear the service expansions are generating more ridership  However, as was noted last year, property taxes are basically covering the cost of these additional riders. Total operating revenue was 10.1 percent below projections for the year that closed June 30th, 2015; with fixed route operating revenue being 8.65% percent short of budget.

The overall trends have not changed much from a year ago. Total operating revenue is still less than it was four years ago despite substantial service expansions and improvements since that time. Basically, as it weighs future improvements for DART, the community will need to decide if it is willing to continue to raise property taxes to fund them.

The post includes this chart:


That doesn’t include the cost of the recently-completed $18 million Palace of Transit.


TaxGrrrl, Mega-Mansion Attracts Notice By Feds, Results In Criminal Charges:

According to local sources, federal agents flying in and out of Pittsburgh noticed the size and scope of a mansion belonging to Joe Nocito, Sr., and started asking questions. Those questions eventually led to a guilty plea last week from Ann E. Harris, the personal assistant, secretary and bookkeeper for Nocito, in a tax evasion scheme thought to involve as much as $250 million.

If you are a tax evader, it’s unwise to flaunt your wealth, especially to the point of attracting attention from passing aircraft. But maybe that would take the fun out of the thing.




Russ Fox, The Family that Commits Tax Evasion Together Goes to ClubFed Together. “This is yet another reminder for everyone who uses a payroll service to join EFTPS and make sure your payroll deposits are being made. Trust but verify is excellent practice in payroll.”

Kay Bell, Labor Day tax tip: Union dues might be tax deductible

Scott Greenberg, This Labor Day, How High is the Tax Burden on American Labor? (Tax Policy Blog). “In 2014, the average wage worker saw his or her labor income decrease by 31.5 percent due to federal, state, and local taxes, according to the OECD.”

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Excluding Gain On Sale Of Home, And Recognizing Gain On Repossession

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Tax Implications of the Unlicensed Daycare Provider

Jim Maule, “Who Knows Taxes Better Than Me?” Professor Maule notes that Donald Trump’s understanding of tax law and economics might not be all that Mr. Trump thinks it is.

Peter Reilly, From Russia With Built In Losses. “There is a certain irony to the whole thing as it seems like financiers were too focused on looting the US treasury with phony shelters to see the probably larger upside of distressed Russian assets.”

Robert D. Flach, DONALD TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT IS A LOT LIKE OBAMACARE, That isn’t meant as a compliment.




Leslie Book, Tax Court Opinion Reaffirming Validity of Regulations Addressing Foreign Earned Income Exclusion Illustrates Chevron Application (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert Wood, IRS Gets Tax Data From India As Black Money Hunt Hits Americans Too

Jack Townsend, IRS and DOJ Tax Conferences Before Indictment. That doesn’t sound like fun at all.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 849850851852


Renu Zaretsky, Deals, Dreams, and Data. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the ground from A (Amazon’s sweet Illinois tax credit deal and Apple’s Irish strategy) to Zaretsky.

Cara Griffith, Why Is It So Hard to Find Information on the Sharing of Taxpayer Information? (Tax Analysts Blog). “Taxpayers are expected to blindly provide massive amounts of information to tax authorities, but are then not allowed to know the process through which one state or municipality shares information with another.”


I’ll make sure not to have this problem when I file in April:

Effective January 1, 2016, the IRS will not accept any payment greater than $99,999,999.00. Two or more checks will be required, or we recommend that the taxpayers use Fed Wire to make their payments.

If I did owe more than $100 million, I would be tempted to write one of the checks for $99,999,999.01, just to see if they are serious. Not to give away my income secrets, but I’m pretty sure my 2015 taxable income will spare me the temptation.

Cite: Announcement 2015-23.



Tax Roundup, 9/3/15: How to cut the IRS in on your foreign inheritance. And more!

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150903-1Uncle Heinrich from the old country left you a bundle. Congratulations! Make sure to tell the IRS.

Why, you ask, should I tell them? Inheritances are tax-free, after all.

Well, yes. But the IRS still wants to know about them. And if you don’t tell them, you may be cutting the IRS in on 25% of the gift.

The tax law requires you to file Form 3520 to report gifts or bequests from a foreign source if they exceed $100,000 (or $13,258 if received from a foreign corporation or partnership). This return is due at the same time as your income tax return, including any extensions, but it is filed separately. The penalty for not reporting is 5% of the unreported amount per month, up to 25%.

What if Uncle Hans gives you $75,000, and his wife Aunt Anne-Sophie gives you another $75,000? Then the gifts are counted together and exceed the reporting threshold.

I will be talking about these and other easy-to-overlook  international reporting requirements that can arise in estate planning and administration at the ISU Center on Agricultural Law and Taxation September Seminars. They are September 17 (Agricultural Law Seminar) and September 18 (Farm Estate and Business Planning Seminar). My talk is on the 18th.  Register by September 10 for an early-bird discount!


20150903-2Robert D. Flach, AICPA CONTINUES TO PROMOTE THE URBAN TAX MYTH. “There is absolutely nothing about possessing the initials CPA that in any way, shape, or form guarantees that the possessor knows his or her arse from a hole in the ground when it comes to 1040 preparation.”

TaxGrrrl, Owner Of ITS, Formerly Fourth Largest Tax Prep Biz In Country, To Face Criminal Charges. “Readers sent me numerous emails advising that ITS was still in business for the 2014 tax season, despite the court order.”

Robert Wood, Report Cites Flawed IRS Asset Seizures, And Ironically, Sales Are Handled By ‘PALS’

Kay Bell, Tax moves to make in September 2015. Worth visiting for the accompanying autumn leaves picture alone, but lots of other sound advice too.

Stephen Olsen, Summary Opinions for August 1st to 14th And ABA Tax Section Fellowships (Procedurally Taxing). Recent happenings in the tax procedure world.

Jack Townsend, Ninth Circuit Affirms False Claim Convictions for Tax Preparer. “The false claims statutes involved, however, are not complex statutes.  All that is required is that the defendant know that the claims are false.”

Annette Nellen, 50th Anniversary of Willis Commission Report. “This is likely the most comprehensive study and report ever done on state and multistate issues covering income tax, sales and use tax, gross receipts tax, and capital stock tax.”




Scott Greenberg, Every Tax Policy Proposal from the 2016 Presidential Candidates, in One Chart (Tax Policy Blog). “While some presidential candidates have issued tax reform proposals that touch on almost all of these areas of the tax code, other presidential candidates are not listed as having offered any tax policy proposals at all.”

Renu Zaretsky, The Case of the Unreturned Call for Tax Code Simplicity (TaxVox)  “Are taxpayers clamoring for a simpler, faster, and cheaper filing experience? Well, they are, and they are not.”

Richard Phillips, Ben Carson’s 10 Percent Flat Tax is Utterly Implausible (Tax Justice Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 847. Today’s installment links to an update on the status of the scandal by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal: “In any case, it’s unreasonable for government officials to expect us to trust their assurances when they take such pains to prevent their verification.


News from the Profession. Here’s a Guy Wearing a PwC T-Shirt Giving Weird Street Massages (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 8/31/15: Low income taxes don’t mean high excise taxes. And: planning for President Bernie.

Monday, August 31st, 2015 by Joe Kristan


I would expect states without an income tax to have high excise taxes, but it’s not so. Liz Malm, How Much Does Your State Collect in Excise Taxes Per Capita? (Tax Policy Blog).


Minnesota, with ridiculously high tax rates, also is the third biggest excise tax collector. South Dakota, with no income tax, is only the 26th highest.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 842843844. There is a lot about the current administration’s approach to transparency. An administration that promised to be “the most transparent in history” resists every information request, even when there is no obvious reason to do so. It is cynical and effective. If after a long fight they finally turn over information that shows no evidence of wrongdoing, they make the investigators look silly. And when wrongdoing does come out, the administration says it’s “old news” — because they did their best to make it so.

More on this from John Hinderaker, Obama’s Stonewall Tactics: A Case Study (Powerline Blog), on the ongoing effort to determine whether administration officials illegally accessed the tax information of the Koch brothers for political reasons.

Related: Russ Fox, Sergeant Schultz to the Rescue!




Peter Reilly ponders Tax Planning For The Risk Of A Bernie Sanders Win. He makes the Vermont socialist sound moderate with this:

The funniest thing about the tax proposals is that this candidate who is as far left as you can go without getting into Green Party territory is promoting a  tax package that would pretty much bring us to the second half of the Reagan administration  when it comes to income and estate tax.

So Bernie Sanders favors a maximum 28% individual rate? No evidence for this in the article. In fact, his campaign, like most of them, offers little specific in the way of tax policy. What it does offer is awful — taxing offshore earnings of U.S. companies, confiscatory estate tax rates, and a financial transactions tax that will only drive trading overseas while making markets less efficient and more costly. I started tax practice in the second half of the Reagan administration, and I’m pretty sure that a Sanders administration tax system would not dramatically lower individual tax rates.

That said, Peter’s article does offer some sound tax planning tips, many of which are worth considering regardless of who wins the White House next year.


Jason Dinesen, Due Date of Iowa Partnership and Corporate Tax Returns Unchanged. The Department of Revenue says these will be Due April 30, despite federal due date changes.

Kay Bell, Cadillac tax repeal on Senate’s post-recess to-do list.

Keith Fogg, Time Stands Still for Snow – Expanding Section 7503 on the Last Day to Timely Complete a Task. The issue in this case is interesting: whether a Tax Court petition is considered late if it is delivered late because the Tax Court is closed for weather. It also reinforces the importance of buying the correct delivery method when using an authorized private delivery service.




Robert Wood, Trump As Tax Code King And Hedge Fund Slayer. He’s a floor wax. He’s a dessert topping. He’s whatever you hallucinate him to be.

TaxGrrrl, Ho, Ho, Oh No! Santa’s Office Threatened With Closure Due To Tax Woes. Well, I never understood his business model.

Jack Townsend, Interest and Penalties Issues At Sentencing


Renu Zaretsky, Thirty Days Hath September: Stay tuned for tax plans to remember? The TaxVox headline wrapup talks about taxes in the election campaign and Brazil abandoning a planned financial transaction tax. Brazil is a leftist country with a soul-sucking business tax system. Even they realize a transaction tax is unwise, making them more sensible than Bernie Sanders.




Tax Roundup, 8/24/15: School’s in! And: state taxes just might matter.

Monday, August 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


20150824-2School starts here today. In my mind, the day school starts will always mark the end of summer, regardless of where the sun is in the sky, and it always makes me a little sad.




Do state taxes matter? Some policymakers say that states can tax “the rich” as much as you want, and they’ll just sit still and take it. According to Clean Slate Tax blog, IRS migration data implies otherwise:


Florida and Texas were in the top ten for state business tax climates in 2013, while New Jersey, New York and California were in the bottom five. California had the highest state income tax rate, at 13.3%. New York and New Jersey are in the top ten. Texas and Florida have no state income tax.

We live in a complex world, and many factors affect migration patterns. But the weather in California is at least as nice as in Texas, yet people are fleeing California. It’s hard to believe taxes don’t have something to do with it.

Via the TaxProf.


20150819-2Robert D. Flach has a special Monday Buzz! roundup today, covering self-employment tax and saving for college.

Kay Bell, Tax fraud gangsters celebrate their crimes in song. IRS has made ID-theft fraud so easy, even a street gang can do it.

Russ Fox, Former Oklahoma State Senator Embezzled $1.2 Million & Committed Tax Fraud:

Over a ten-plus year period Mr. Brinkley had fraudulently obtained over $1.2 Million from the Better Business Bureau. Mr. Brinkley was President and CEO of the organization; he created phony invoices and used the money for personal expenses and to support his gambling habit. He also admitted to not reporting $148,390 in income on his 2013 tax return.

Elected officials don’t lose their human failings when they become elected officials. In fact, public office may attract people with certain kinds of failings.


TaxGrrrl, Debt, Equity and Startup Money. “Repayment of debt is tax-free but associated interest is taxed as ordinary income.”

Peter Reilly, Paul Hansen Receives Below Guideline Sentence – End Of L’affaire Kent Hovind?  The never ending saga of the tax trouble of the guy who things humans co-existed with dinosaurs.


20150824-3Jack Townsend, When a Prosecutor’s Questions Turns the Prosecutor Into a Witness

Keith Fogg, My Dad and the Tax Court are Almost the Same Age (Procedurally Taxing)

They’re, like, totally rad, too. Marijuana Taxes Swell, Not Up In Smoke After All (Robert Wood).



Scott Greenberg, Clean Energy Credits Mostly Benefit the Wealthy, New Study Shows (Tax Policy Blog). ” The credit for electric vehicles is most skewed towards high-income households, with the top 20% of taxpayers claiming 90% of all electric vehicle credits.”

Renu Zaretsky, Plans, Problems, and Production. This TaxVox headline roundup covers the Rubio tax plan, the Walker ACA replacement, and more.



TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 835Day 836Day 837.

News from the Profession. Going Concern Is Now Part of AccountingflyCaleb Newquist takes the Boeing.



Tax Roundup, 8/10/15: 9th Circuit offers divorce bonus for rich homeowners. And: a cunning charity deduction plan!

Monday, August 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


CA--9 mapThe wages of sin have gone up for west-coast couples who choose to live together without benefit of clergy, and who happen to own expensive west-coast houses. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that unmarried couples can deduct interest on $2.2 million in home mortgage debt on a shared residence — twice the allowance for a married couple.

The appeals court overruled a Tax Court decision involving an unmarried couple, a Mr. Voss and a Mr. Sophy. The court lays out the basic facts:

Voss and Sophy purchased the Beverly Hills home in 2002. They financed the purchase of the Beverly Hills home with a $2,240,000 mortgage, secured by the Beverly Hills property. About a year later, they refinanced the mortgage by obtaining a new loan in the amount of $2,000,000. Voss and Sophy are jointly and severally liable for the refinanced Beverly Hills mortgage, which, like the original mortgage, is secured by the Beverly Hills property. At the same time as they refinanced the Beverly Hills mortgage, Voss and Sophy also obtained a home equity line of credit of $300,000 for the Beverly Hills home. Voss and Sophy are jointly and severally liable for the home equity line of credit as well.

The total average balance of the two mortgages and the line of credit in 2006 and 2007 (the two taxable years at issue) was about $2.7 million — $2,703,568.05 in 2006 and $2,669,135.57 in 2007. 

Between the two owners, the federal tax benefit at stake for the extra deduction over two years was around $56,000, if I read the Tax Court case correctly. The Tax Court ruled against the couple, saying the tax law

…appears to set out a specific allocation of the limitation amounts that must be used by married couples filing separate tax returns, thus implying that co-owners who are not married to one another may choose to allocate the limitation amounts among themselves in some other manner, such as according to percentage of ownership.

The Ninth Circuit found otherwise:

We hold that 26 U.S.C. § 163(h)(3)’s debt limit provisions apply on a per-taxpayer basis to unmarried co-owners of a qualified residence. We infer this conclusion from the text of the statute: By expressly providing that married individuals filing separate returns are entitled to deduct interest on up to $550,000 of home debt each, Congress implied that unmarried co-owners filing separate returns are entitled to deduct interest on up to $1.1 million of home debt each.

The statute is surprisingly unclear on this. It is hard to believe that Congress wanted to give wealthy unmarried couples a special deal, but legislative incompetence is not surprising at all. I expect that the IRS will continue to enforce the $1.1 million limit outside the Ninth Circuit. Still, any cohabiting taxpayers who have lost deductions because of the limit should file protective refund claims for open years; it may eventually take a Supreme Court decision, or additional legislation, to settle the issue.

The moral? For some power couples, matrimony may have a tax cost.

This case also shows that the real beneficiaries of the home mortgage deduction tend to be the very wealthy. As the Tax Foundation explains:

Despite the claims of various industry groups that the home mortgage interest deduction is an important factor promoting broad-based home ownership, IRS data show the bulk of mortgage interest deductions are claimed by a relatively small fraction of Americans with incomes well above average. As a result, it is likely that the deduction primarily encourages larger and more expensive homes among a relatively small share of taxpayers, rather than promoting broad-based home ownership among ordinary Americans.

Better to eliminate the tax break and lower rates for everyone. I won’t hold my breath, because I think the politics are impossible despite the unwisdom of the policy. If there is a national policy argument for subsidizing the purchase of $2 million Hollywood homes for unmarried couples, it must be fabulous.

Cite: Voss, CA-9, Case No. 12-73257.

Update: Additional coverage from TaxProf (Ninth Circuit Gives Unmarried Couples Double The Mortgage Interest Deduction Available To Married Couples.) and Instaupundit (PUNISH THE BOURGEOISIE!)




Robert D. Flach, THE TAX PRACTITIONERS BILL OF RIGHTS. “The National Society of Accountants (the ‘other’ NSA) has developed a ‘Tax Practitioners Bill of Rights’ in response to continued IRS budget cuts and the recent serious decline in IRS ‘customer service’.”

Mitch Maahs, Deadline Days Shuffle for Many Business Tax Returns (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog)

Russ Fox, Criminal Charges Dropped Against Roni Deutch. Ms. Deutch was one of the biggest players in the “pennies on the dollar” industry, as seen on TV! which collapsed in a pile of lawsuits, lost up-front payments, and disappointed tax debtors. “California has dropped the criminal indictments, and instead of paying $34 million she’ll be paying $2.5 million in the civil suit (per her lawyer).”

Kay Bell, Bush brothers’ barbecue and tax banter. “The only thing we Texans take more seriously than our football (high school, college and pro) and politics (equally crazy at local, state and federal levels) is our barbecue.”

Peter Reilly, Bristol Palin At Heart Of IRS Scandal – Who Knew?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 821Day 822Day 823.

TaxGrrrl, Our Current Tax v. The Flat Tax v. The Fair Tax: What’s The Difference?

Andrew Lundeen, Six Changes Every Tax Reform Plan Should Include (Tax Policy Blog):

  1. Make the Tax Rates competitive for Businesses
  2. Move to a Territorial Tax System
  3. Correctly Define Business Income with Full Expensing
  4. Integrate the Corporate and Individual Tax Systems
  5. Create Universal Savings Accounts
  6. Repeal the Estate Tax

For my clients, 1, 3 and 4 are the big deals.




Renu Zaretsky, Simple Is as Simple Does. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup talks about taxes in debates. Also: shockingly, New Jersey’s film industry is surviving the loss of the 20% production tax credit.

Cara Griffith, A Look at Information Sharing Agreements Between the IRS and States (Tax Analysts Blog)


Wanting a charitable deduction in the worst way. The Des Moines Register relates a state auditor report that a University of Northern Iowa clerk took cash deposits and wrote checks to the University to claim as charitable deductions or business expenses:

She allegedly told the adviser that she intended for the check to appear as if it were a donation for tax purposes, saying that she “had always done it that way,” according to the report.

In one instance, Shannon admitted to auditors that a check she had written in lieu of cash for $1,002 was from a construction business account, and a note was made on the check to indicate a business expense. Cash was split evenly between her husband and his brother as a distribution from the company.

However, the report says she did not explain why the check’s memo line indicated it was a donation.

Needless to say, that doesn’t work. The obvious problem here is that for a check over $250, you don’t get a deduction unless you get a letter from the donee saying you got nothing in exchange for the check. Here, it seems that the “donor” got $1,002 in exchange for the $1,002 “donation.” That isn’t worth much as a deduction, if my math is correct.



Tax Roundup, 8/7/15: Iowa sales tax takes a holiday, and other brutal assaults on reason.

Friday, August 7th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150807-1Today is the firm field day. Once again my proposal for an all-office open chess tournament failed to win support, so it’s golf again.

The annual Iowa sales tax holiday for clothing and footwear is today and tomorrow. Details from the Iowa Department of Revenue:

-Exemption period: from 12:01 a.m., August 7, 2015, through midnight, August 8, 2015.

-No sales tax, including local option sales tax, will be collected on sales of an article of clothing or footwear having a selling price less than $100.00.

-The exemption does not apply in any way to the price of an item selling for $100.00 or more

-The exemption applies to each article priced under $100.00 regardless of how many items are sold on the same invoice to a customer

“Clothing” means…

-any article of wearing apparel and typical footwear intended to be worn on or about the human body.

“Clothing” does not include…

-watches, watchbands, jewelry, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, sporting equipment, skis, swim fins, roller blades, skates, and any special clothing or footwear designed primarily for athletic activity or protective use and not usually considered appropriate for everyday wear.

Sales tax holidays are a bad policy, for reasons explained well by Joseph Henchman and Liz Malm, including this:

Political gimmicks like sales tax holidays distract policymakers and taxpayers from genuine, permanent tax relief. If a state must offer a “holiday” from its tax system, it is a sign that the state’s tax system is uncompetitive. If policymakers want to save money for consumers, then they should cut the sales tax rate year-round

The Federation of Tax Administrators has a complete list of sales tax holidays for 2015. Mississippi and Louisiana have holidays for firearms purchases September 4-6, so you can dress up in Iowa and drive south to do your weapons shopping in Iowa style.

Related: Kay Bell, 13 state sales tax holidays on tap this weekend


Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz, including a special offer on THE NEW SCHEDULE C NOTEBOOK, his tax Baedeker for the sole proprietor.

William Perez, Changes in Tax Deadlines to Take Effect in 2017 (Plus Deadlines for 2015 and 2016)

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: LLC

Keith Fogg, The Room of Lies (Procedurally Taxing). No, it’s not about debate settings, Congress or the White House Press Briefing Room. It’s about the process the government uses in deciding whether to appeal tax cases.

Robert Wood, Mo’ Indictments For Mo’ Money Taxes, 20 Years Prison Possible. “Indeed, the fallout for innocent taxpayers patronizing a tax preparation shop that is in trouble can be far-reaching.”  Yes, that’s why taxpayers should be wary of a shop that seems to always get bigger refunds than anyone else.

Tony Nitti, If You Hired Mo’ Money Taxes To Prepare Your Return, You Continue To Have Mo’ Problems.  “The most institutionally corrupt organization south of the New England Patriots…”

TaxGrrrl Live-blogged the GOP presidential debate last night. As the political season seems to be fully underway, it’s time to express my joy of the season, best stated by Arnold Kling:

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

And reason never comes out well in the contest.


Renu Zaretsky, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers international tax reform, gas taxes, and sales tax holidays.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 820. Lots of reaction to the Senate Finance report on the scandal.

Peter Reilly, IRS Scandal – Blame It All On Lois Lerner And Move On?

Joseph Thorndike, Clinton Should Keep It Simple and Just Propose Repealing the Capital Gains Preference (Tax Analysts). No, no, no. She should keep it simple and propose repealing the capital gain tax.


Career Corner. The “I’m Leaving” Conversation (Green Dot Peon, Going Concern).


Tax Roundup, 8/6/15: Tax Court sinks IRS passive loss attack on boat charter business.

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


20150806-1It can be difficult to win a “passive loss” examination. That’s why taxpayer victories are worth studying. A couple who chartered boats and who incurred losses overcame an IRS passive loss challenge yesterday in Tax Court. Can we learn anything from them?

The taxpayer husband, a Mr. Kline, is an airline pilot who chartered boats and occasionally skippered charter excursions. They had a management agreement with a company called Horizon Charters, LTD. The Tax Court said “Pursuant to the terms of the management agreement Horizon was responsible for marketing the boats, setting charter prices, booking charters, keeping records of all charters, collecting money due from customers, and cleaning and maintaining the boats.”

The passive loss rules treat a loss as “passive” if the taxpayer fails to “materially participate” in the business generating the losses. Passive losses can only be deducted against passive income; net passive losses are deferred until either there is passive income or the business is sold.

The tax law determines losses are “passive” based on the amount of time spent on the activity by the taxpayers. For example, taxpayers who spend 500 hours on an activity are generally treated as non-passive. The taxpayers in the charter boat case argued that they met another test — (1) they spent at least 100 hours on the activity, and (2) they spent more time on the activity than anyone else.

While the taxpayers didn’t keep a daily time calendar or log, they were able to convince the court that they reached the 100-hour limit:

During the audit examination respondent’s agent asked petitioners to provide the number of hours they spent in connection with the charter activity. While they did not maintain a contemporaneous log of the time spent, Mr. Kline did maintain copies of email communications with Horizon. Using this correspondence and records of the length and destination of the Kline charters, petitioners were able to develop a log of the time they spent… Though petitioners did not contemporaneously record their time, we find the time entries they provided to be reasonable reconstructions of the hours that they spent in the charter business and consistent with the requirements of section 1.469-5T(f)(4), Temporary Income Tax Regs.

So emails showing regular involvement help. So does having a credible story to explain how you spent your time. But the IRS still had another challenge — they said that Horizon employees spent more time on the activity than the taxpayers, defeating the requirement that the taxpayers spend more time than anyone else. The Tax Court sided with the taxpayer:

However, on the basis of the invoices Horizon sent to petitioners regarding work done on the boats and the testimony of Horizon’s operations manager during the years at issue, we conclude petitioners spent more time in connection with the boats than any individual employed by Horizon.  

The Moral? The taxpayers won without keeping a daily calendar because they were able to reconstruct their time based on other records, and because the Tax Court found them believable. While it would have been easier if they kept a log, failure to keep one isn’t fatal if you have other good ways to show the time you spent.

Cite: Kline, T.C. Memo 2015-144.




Robert D. Flach, FORM 1098-T WILL BE REQUIRED FOR CLAIMING EDUCATION BENEFITS, “My initial response to this new matching requirement concerns the fact that most Form 1098-Ts that I see during the tax season are as useful as tits on a bull.”

Peter Reilly, IRS Says Charitable Trust Not Charitable Enough. “The NIMCRUT is still a fantastic tool in the right circumstances.  Just don’t be too aggressive on the payout.”

Kay Bell, GOP debate(s) and drinking games tonight!


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 819. The big item today is the Senate Finance Committee report (sorry, no free link yet).

Robert Wood, Gross Mismanagement At IRS, Says Senate Report. “IRS was just incompetent, not intentionally bad, says the latest report.” Well, OK, then.


Alan Cole, Of Loopholes and Tax Expenditures (Tax Policy Blog):

For a real-life example of a loophole, consider “mandatory donations” to popular college sports teams in order to get season tickets. This was a clever way of selling tickets (by all means, a “mandatory donation” in exchange for something is a sale) while giving them the appearance of a deductible charitable donation for the purposes of the IRS. This was clearly not an intended effect of the deduction for charitable contributions; therefore, it meets the true definition of a loophole. This loophole was partially rolled back through further legislation, and the President’s most recent budget would eliminate it entirely.

However, the word “loophole” is clearly misused when applied to deliberate, well-known policy provisions. For example, the mortgage interest deduction is no more a loophole in the tax code than Memorial Day sales are a loophole in mattress pricing.

The other issue is whether a so-called loophole was really snuck past clueless legislators by somebody who knew exactly what he was doing.




Renu Zaretsky, Information: Additions, Disclosures, and Theft. Today’s TaxVox roundup covers dynamic scoring of the “extender” bill and the rules requiring disclosure of the revenue effects of tax “incentives.”

David Brunori, Supermajority Requirements for Raising Taxes areTroublesome (Tax Analysts Blog). “Questioning whether a majority of legislators can raise taxes seems undemocratic in the greatest democracy that ever was. Moreover, supermajority requirements put a great deal of power in the hands of the minority.”


News from the Profession. In the Future, Accountants Count Everything (Chris Hooper, Going Concern).