Posts Tagged ‘Russ Fox’

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

Monday, December 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also

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

Related — weekend tax tips:

Altaring your tax planning

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoying a short Des Moines winter commute.

Enjoying a short Des Moines winter commute.

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

William Perez, Understanding Canceled Debt Income and Taxes

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

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

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

 

Seventh Avenue, Des Moines, this morning.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Unlikely indeed.

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/22/15: If you want a 2015 qualified plan, time to fly! And lots more.

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
The view from Tax Update world headquaters yesterday.

The view from Tax Update world headquaters yesterday.

10 days to get a qualified plan in place. Some of the best deductions for sole proprietors and one-owner corporations are found in the tax law’s “qualified plan” rules. A payment to a qualified pension or profit-sharing plan is deductible now, grows tax free, and is only taxable on retirement. For one-employee companies, it’s a deduction for taking money from one pocket and putting it in another.

One of the best of these opportunities is the “Solo 401(k),” which allows a deduction of up to $53,000 for contributions to a solo owner-employee’s retirement plan. But there’s one little catch: the plan has to be in place by December 31 of this year to allow a 2015 deduction.

If that sort of deduction sounds attractive, you should consult a qualified plan professional. Some brokerage houses can steer you the right way, as can the Vanguard mutual fund company.

Remember, though, that once money is in a qualified plan, expect it to stay there. Early withdrawals face a 10% penalty, as well as income tax liability. 401(k) plans generally can’t be investors in or lenders to the plan owner’s business. There are annual compliance costs that inevitably reduce the tax benefits. Still, for an annual deduction that size, some inconvenience can be tolerated.

This is the second installment of our 2015 year-end planning tips series. Collect them all!

 

Kay Bell, Upcoming filing season will start on time: Jan. 19, 2016. Almost none of my clients are ready by then. While I’m glad that the season isn’t delayed by a failure to pass an extender bill, I think identity theft requires a later start to issuing tax refunds. They shouldn’t be processed until W-2 and 1099 information is in the IRS system – preferably with special W-2 codes like those the IRS is experimenting with this season to catch fraudulent claims. 

Of course, that means the government will sit on overpayments longer. That should be addressed by changing the “I got a big refund!” culture. That could be done by lowering to 75% the amount of taxes that have to be paid in by April 15 to avoid a penalty and by changing the withholding tables to make refunds less likely.

 

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Robert D. Flach comes through with a “meaty” Christmas Week Buzz, with lots of Extender bill discussion and a hint of perhaps the most unusual Christmas Eve tradition ever.

Tony Nitti, Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015: #4 – Who Can Qualify As A Real Estate Pro?

Russ Fox, Are Tips (Gratuities) at the Poker Table Deductible? “As long as the tip is reasonable, it’s clear that a professional poker player can deduct the tip as a business expense.” You’ll have to read the post to see whether it works for amateurs.

William Perez, All About the Earned Income Tax Credit. “The easiest way to find out if you qualify for the earned income credit is to use an application found on the IRS Web site called the EITC Assistant.”

Andrew Mitchel offers a True / False Quiz on FAST Act Passport Revocation Provisions

Hank Stern, Major O’Care Disappointment (Insureblog). “Now that the (disastrous) first phase of the 2016 Open Enrollment season is behind us, lets’ take a look at what a huge disappointment it was.”

Carlton Smith, Tilden v. Comm’r: Postal Service Tracking Data Determines Timeliness of Tax Court Petition (Procedurally Taxing)

TaxGrrrl, 12 Days Of Charitable Giving 2015: PACT For Animals

 

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Scott Greenberg, Fact-checking Hillary Clinton on Millionaires’ Taxes (Tax Policy Blog). “There are very few millionaires in the U.S. that pay “10 percent to nothing” in taxes.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 957. Today’s link goes to a Washington Post story that says “There is no love lost between Republicans in Congress and the Internal Revenue Service, whether it’s their dislike for the tax code, the current tax commissioner or their fury at the agency’s treatment a few years ago of conservative groups.” If you want to see increases in the IRS budget, you want Commissioner Koskinen to resign.

Howard Gleckman presents The TaxVox Lump of Coal Awards for the Ten Worst Tax Ideas of 2015. While I might quibble with one or two of the choices, it’s a strong list. For example:

8. Tax credits for what ails you. Hillary Clinton has taken a page out of Bill Clinton’s fiscal playbook: Identify a kitchen table problem and propose a modest tax subsidy to relieve the pain. She has tax credits for families burdened by the high costs of education, caring for aging parents, and high medical costs. And she’s proposed another credit to encourage employers to give workers a stake in their companies. My TPC colleague Gene Steuerle has a name for this: tax deform.

It’s more than a federal problem, for sure.

 

Matt Gardner, What Apple’s Tim Cook Gets Wrong About Its Tax Avoidance (Tax Justice Blog). Mr. Cook has the temerity to think that he has a duty to shareholders, instead of to grasping politicians.

 

Career Corner (or, News from the Profession). Former EY Employee Who Liked Secretly Filming People in the Bathroom Given Four Years to Think About His Choices (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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

Monday, December 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example 1.

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

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

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

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

 

6th avenue 1910

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Paul Neiffer, Wind Energy Credits Extended and Phased-Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

old walnut

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/18/15: 2016 standard mileage rates are out. And: Extender bill clears House.

Friday, December 18th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today newsletter visitors: The post about fines and penalties is here.

54 cents

54 cents. The IRS yesterday released the new standard mileage rates for 2016:

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2016, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:

  • 54 cents per mile for business miles driven, down from 57.5 cents for 2015
  • 19 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, down from 23 cents for 2015
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations

The business mileage rate decreased 3.5 cents per mile and the medical, and moving expense rates decrease 4 cents per mile from the 2015 rates. The charitable rate is based on statute.

Gas has come down. Blame the speculators!

Related: William Perez, How to Deduct Car and Truck Expenses on Your TaxesKay Bell, Business mileage deduction rate to drop in 2016Russ Fox, 2016 Standard Mileage Rates Released

 

Extender bill moves to Senate. The House of Representatives yesterday approved the permanent extender bill, H.R. 2029, on a 318-109 vote. The bill moves to the Senate. The Hill reports:

In the Senate, support for the tax measure is more bipartisan than it is in the House. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) joined with the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees in announcing the deal.

The Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, Charles Schumer (N.Y.), released a statement Wednesday praising the fact that the bill would cement a tax benefit for mass transit commuters in a win for his state.

The Extender bill will be considered as part of a package in the Seanate, reports Tax Analysts ($link):

House GOP leaders worked throughout the day to build support for passage of an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2016. The $1.1 trillion spending measure, which is also an amendment to H.R. 2029, is scheduled for a vote on December 18. Lawmakers expect that both the tax and spending measures will be combined into one bill and move to the Senate later that day, where it is expected to pass with bipartisan support. 

The Hill reports the Senate vote may happen as soon as today.

Related: Scott Greenberg, The Twelve Most Important Provisions in the Latest Tax Bill (Tax Policy Blog). #1 on the list is the permanent $500,000 Section 179 ceiling.

 

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Fresh Friday Buzz! From Robert D. Flach.

Gretchen Tegeler, Change is difficult, as failed suburban services merger showed (IowaBiz.com).  “First, never assume anything when it comes to change, even if it seems like reasonable change. Always expect active opposition.”

Jim Maule, You Mean That Tax Refund Isn’t for Me? Really?. Judge Judy deals with a tax refund spent by an ex-girlfriend.

Peter Reilly, Venus Flytraps And Elusive Gator On Golf Course Not Worth Millions In Tax Deductions. A conservation easement goes very bad.

Robert Wood, Supermodel Bar Refaeli’s Alleged Tax Evasion On Gifts: Must You Report Yours? Gifts aren’t taxable income in the U.S., but the IRS doesn’t have to believe that money you receive is actually a gift, rather than compensation. It even has a form to report large gifts from overseas (Form 3520) so they can second guess whether amounts really are “gifts.” Large fines apply if you don’t file the form for years you receive such gifts.

TaxGrrrl, Tax Preparer For Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino Pleads Guilty To Tax Fraud Conspiracy.

 

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Renu Zaretsky, Will they or won’t they? Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers prospects for the extender bill, among other things.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 953

Richard Phillips, Tax Wars: 3 Lessons about Tax Policy from the Star Wars Universe (Tax Policy Blog). “The Star Wars universe has problems with corporate tax enforcement and shell companies.”

News from the Profession. Big 4 Firms Still Getting Used to This Whole Regulation Thing (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

 

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

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

-The $500,000 Section 179 deduction limit

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

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

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

-The research credit.

-The alternative deduction for state and local sales taxes.

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

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

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

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

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

-A moratorium on the Obamacare medical device tax.

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

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

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

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

-Restrictions on tax-free REIT spin-offs.

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

-Technical amendments to the new partnership audit rules.

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

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

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

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

Other coverage:

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

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

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

 

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

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

Paul Neiffer, Iowa Land Values Drop 3.9% from 2014

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It’s flooding again!

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

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

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

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

Tax Analysts reports ($link)

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

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

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

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

Related: Paul Neiffer, One Year Later:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 950

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

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

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

 

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

Monday, December 14th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

-$135, or

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

if the return is filed more than 60 days late.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Prior Tax Update coverage:

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
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Drive all night. Mr. Charley told me so. An old joke says that you should spend for nice wheels because after all, while you can’t drive a house, you can always sleep in a car.  A case in Tax Court yesterday involves a taxpayer who may have taken that advice to heart. Fortunately, he also took to heart the tax rules that require you to document your business miles.

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

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

Footnote six explains the aversion to motels:

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

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

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

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image courtesy dave_7 under Creative Commons license.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cite: Charley, T.C. Memo 2015-232.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 938

 

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/2/15: A defender of tax credits makes his case. Also: escalating the war on offshore taxpayers.

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

 

20120906-1Bribe them and they will come. The Atlantic asks Why Are There So Many Data Centers in Iowa?. “When I’ve asked data center operations managers, the answer has varied from approximately forty characteristics to a blunt four: ‘Networks, land, power, and taxes'” By “taxes,” that generally means “tax incentives,” or special breaks unavailable to the rest of us.

In a post at IowaBiz.com, Brent Willett makes an unabashed argument for more of the same in Economic development has an image problem (IowaBiz.com). It’s an interesting piece. Its premise is that people think that special tax deals to lure companies are shady, but that we would feel otherwise if incentive boosters just made a better case.

For an attempt to make the case that incentives are a good thing, the post is  short of actual evidence. It instead makes flat assertions that incentives are necessary and proper, and are obviously good because everybody does them. For example (emphasis in original):

Incentives play a fundamental role in securing job- and wealth-creation projects for communities in every corner of this country and in many countries of the world. This is pure, unadulterated fact.

If it were pure unadulterated fact, you might think that it would be easy to marshal some data that says so. Yet in the only attempt ever made by Iowa to quantify the value of its dozens of tax credit giveaways, by a blue-ribbon committee appointed in the wake of the Iowa Film Tax Credit fiasco, failed to identify a single tax credit that clearly was worth more than it cost.

The two magic words omitted by defenders of tax credits are “opportunity cost.” They point to projects that receive tax credits, assert they would not have happened anyway, and ignore the idea that the money used for the credits would have been used elsewhere. They also ignore the cost to all businesses of the tax law complexity and high rates that inevitably accompany special interest tax breaks.

It’s not just accidental that tax incentives have a bad image. They are like a guy who takes his wife’s purse to the bar to buy drinks for the girls. The girls might accept the free drinks (development success!), but it doesn’t help the person who foots the bill. Nor is it impressive, and any of the girls won over by this tactic aren’t likely to be real prizes. In any case, his image is unlikely to be helped by a better explanation when his wife finds out.

Related: Local CPA Firm vows to swallow pride, accept $28 million

 

Best done by not giving them in the first place. States Can Avoid the Fiscal Risks Tax Incentives Create, Pew Report Says (LexisNexis Legal Newsroom).

Jim Maule, Tax Credit Giveaways Don’t Deserve Credit, “If the Michigan tax credit had done what it was promised to do, the increased tax revenues should have more than offset the cost of the credit. But that hasn’t happened, as evidenced by the budget deficits that were spiraling out of control on account of the tax credit giveaway.”

 

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Andrew Mitchel, The Escalation of Offshore Penalties Over the Last 20 Years. An excellent summary of the unconscionable increase in foot-fault penalties for paperwork violations of foreign reporting rules. He describes the same “violations” taking place in 1995 and now.

In 1995, the individual was only required to file two forms (the FBAR and Form 5471) and would be subject to penalties totaling $2,000. In 2011, the same individual was required to file six forms (the FBAR, Forms 3520, 3520-A, 5471, 8865, 8938) and would be subject to penalties totaling $70,000.

Read the whole thing.

Peter Reilly, IRS Trying To Make It Harder To Qualify As Real Estate Pro. An excellent, in-depth discussion of a taxpayer victory in the eternal IRS war against deducting real estate losses.

William Perez, Tips for Green Card Holders and Immigrants Who are Filing a US Tax Return

Kay Bell, Charitable donation tax deduction rules apply on Giving Tuesday and year-round. A good summary of rules on year-end charitable giving.

Amanda Klopp, A Snow Holiday? Not if the IRS Can Help It. (Procedurally Taaxing).

TaxGrrrl, Congress Moves Towards Granting IRS Authority To License Tax Preparers. “Representatives Diane Black (R-TN) and Pat Meehan (R-PA) have introduced H.R. 4141, the Tax Return Preparer Competency Act.”  When taxwriters demonstrate competency, then they can complain about preparers.

Russ Fox, My Love/Hate Relationship with the FTB. “Yet for all the excellence in how the FTB communicates some of the FTB’s practices leave a lot to be desired.”

Robert D. Flach, NEW JERSEY LLC FAQ

Tony Nitti, Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015: #6 – More Bad News For The Marijuana Industry.

 

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Jeremy Scott, Congress Gives Up on Paying for Extenders . . . And That’s Fine (Tax Analysts Blog). “Taking a few of the most popular extenders off the table by making them permanent would only help with a limited legislative calendar, which could give some juice to tax reform efforts or at least end the silly end-of-the-year, Mock Turtle-like dance Congress has performed for most of the last 30 years.”

Renu Zaretsky, The Case of the Mislabeled ABLE Account (TaxVox). “Here’s the catch: There’s a good chance that by the time she reaches 18 the value of her account will exceed $102,000. If her nest egg tops that amount, the state would suspend her SSI benefits until her account fell below that threshold.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 937.

Richard Phillips, Congress Should Embrace the International Consensus to Crack Down on Corporate Tax Avoidance (Tax Justice Blog). Um, no.

News from the Profession. Tax Nerds Set Record Straight on Tax Code vs. NFL Rulebook Complexity (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also:

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

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

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

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

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

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Paul Neiffer, Happy Thanksgiving and CRP reporting:

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

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

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

 

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

William Perez, Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Investors

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/23/15: Maquoketa! And, bought and paid-for at year-end insufficient for golf-cart credit.

Monday, November 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
A Maquoketa Cave. Picture by Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

A Maquoketa Cave. Picture by Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Maquoketa! The Day 1 team of the  ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools is in the northeast Iowa town of Maquoketa, known for its cave system and the 61 Drive-in theater, “one of the few remaining outdoor theaters in the United States.” We then get two weeks off before the penultimate session in Denison, on the other side of the state, and our December 14 final session in Ames. Register here for one of the final schools or for the webcast of the Ames session.

 

“Ordered” doesn’t cut it for year-end asset purchases. Among the many silly tax rules enacted in the panicked response to the 2008 financial crisis was the tax credit for “low-speed electric vehicles,” more conventionally known as golf carts. This led to panic buying of golf carts to claim the lucrative tax spiff. Last week the Tax Court disappointed one buyer who tried to get a tax credit purchase in under the wire. It provides a lesson for all taxpayers looking at year-end purchases to get a Section 179 deduction or bonus depreciation.

The credit was available only for carts “placed in service” in 2009. Judge Paris sets the stage (all emphasis mine, footnotes omitted):

Respondent determined a deficiency of $6,253 in petitioners’ Federal income tax for 2009. The issue before the Court is whether petitioners are eligible for a New Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle tax credit (PEVC) of $6,253 pursuant to section 30D for 2009. The notice of deficiency did not determine a penalty.

The electric vehicle at issue, a Spark NEV-48 EX, was manufactured by Zone Electric Car, LLC (Zone Electric). Pursuant to Notice 2009-54, 2009-26 I.R.B. 1124 (June 29, 2009), Zone Electric submitted a request on October 1, 2009, to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to certify that its electric vehicles were qualified plug-in electric vehicles for purposes of section 30D, which as of the date of the notice allowed a tax credit for qualified plug-in electric vehicles placed in service from January 1 to December 31, 2009. On October 7, 2009, the IRS issued a letter to Zone Electric stating that the Spark NEV-48 EX model “meets the requirements of the Qualified Plug-in Electric Vehicle Credit as a Qualified Plug-in Vehicle.

$6,253 off if delivery taken by December 31, 2009!

$6,253 off if delivery taken by December 31, 2009!

So the Spark NEV-48 EX qualified — if it beat the deadline. Back to Judge Paris:

The electric vehicle was delivered to petitioners on June 8, 2010, even though petitioners placed an order for a low-speed electric vehicle reflecting their choice of color, radio, and size from Drive Electric, LLC (Drive Electric), through its Web site FreeElectricCar.com on December 21, 2009.

On December 21, 2009, petitioners remitted full payment of $7,786.53 for the vehicle with a credit card and promptly commenced insurance on the vehicle on December 28, 2009.

For charitable contributions and cash-basis business expenses, this would normally be all that is necessary, as a credit card transaction is as good as cash to IRS. But not this time:

Petitioners argue they remitted payment and acquired title to a qualified electric vehicle on December 21, 2009. Petitioners assert that legal title passed to them on the date of purchase and therefore they are entitled to a PEVC for 2009 because the vehicle was acquired before December 31, 2009. However, the statute effective on the date of purchase also required a qualified motor vehicle to be placed in service on or before December 31, 2009. 

Petitioners entered into the transaction for purchase of the vehicle just before the close of the year. As previously discussed, they received a bill of sale, which contained a VIN, and a certificate of origin shortly after they remitted full payment. However, a bill of sale containing a description of the vehicle and a VIN is not sufficient to show the vehicle was ready and available for full operation for its intended use. Petitioners have not offered evidence to show the vehicle was available for their use, much less fully manufactured. In fact, the vehicle was not delivered until June 8, 2010, making it impossible for the vehicle to be available for use until that date. Even if the Court were to assume the vehicle was fully manufactured and operational while awaiting shipment to petitioners, Brown and Noell tell us that the vehicle could not be considered placed in service unless and until the vehicle was readily available to serve its assigned function for petitioners’ personal use on a regular basis. The Court finds that the low-speed electric vehicle was not available for its intended use on a regular basis until it was delivered on June 8, 2010. Consequently, petitioners did not place the vehicle in service in 2009 and are not eligible for a PEVC for that year.

So the taxpayer’s golf cart just went up $6,000 or so in price.

The lesson for year-end tax planning is that the same “placed in service” rule applies to year-end fixed asset purchases by taxpayers wanting Section 179 deductions or bonus depreciation. If your business races to buy a big SUV or a new tractor by year-end, it needs to be in your garage or barn by December 31. A new machine has to be on the shop floor, ready to go.  “Bought and paid-for” isn’t enough.

Cite: Podraza, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-67.

 

 

Peter Reilly, Tax Court Denies Exempt Status To Group Using Trading Card Games To Promote Sobriety. Peter has an in-depth exploration of last week’s Gamehearts Tax Court case. It explains that the organization denied tax exemption in the case was involved in non-casino games, including “Magic: The Gathering and similar games such as Pokemon and World of Warcraft Trading Card Game.” I had assumed that it was more of a gambling thing. I have edited my original post on the case accordingly.

Peter does not agree with the decision:

This is another example to me of the IRS EO group being out of touch with the modern world.  Magic the Gathering has been a thing since 1993.  You will also see IRS giving a hard time to not for profits dedicated to open source software.  It also turned down a sorority that wanted to operate on-line and a group planning to provide free wi-fi.

The whole exempt organization function is in disarray.

 

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Kay Bell, Is Alaska getting closer to enacting a state income tax? The oil bust has clobbered Alaska revenues.

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Issuing 1099s to an Incorporated Veterinarian

Jim Maule, Old Tax Returns Have Value. I keep my tax returns forever; Prof. Maule explains why being a tax hoarder can be useful.

Robert Wood, Your Passport Could Be Cancelled If You Owe IRS. Because Congress apparently feels we need one more poorly-considered bill that will hugely inconvenience honest taxpayers and will be impossible to undo.

Russ Fox, The Turf Monster Striketh. With a caution against sending tax ID numbers via e-mail.

TaxGrrrl, Jay Z Loses On Alvarez-Cotto Boxing Bet As Charity Gets Big Win.

Robert D. Flach, YEAR-END TAX UPDATE WORKSHOPS. With some sound year-end planning reminders.

 

Me, How your calendar might help you beat the IRS. My newest post at IowaBiz.com, the Des Moines Business Record’s business professional’s blog, covers the importance of keeping track of your time to document “material participation” to take tax losses and to avoid the 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 926Day 927Day 928, Day 926 discusses the ties between Lois Lerner and the architect of Wisconsin’s Kafkaeske partisan “John Doe” witchhunt.

 

Steven Rosenthal, Treasury Pulls its Punches on Earnings Stripping (TaxVox). “Treasury made only small technical changes to the definition of an inversion.  News reports suggested something much larger—namely limits on earnings stripping, which would have made inversions (and other combinations of U.S. firms with foreign corporations) much less profitable.”

 

Career Corner. Let’s Enjoy Some Intern Reviews of Various Accounting Firms (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

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Tax Roundup, 11/20/15: IRS issues workaround for absurdly complex “repair regs.” And: more good ACA news!

Friday, November 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

See update below. 

IMG_1218In a tacit admission that the new repair regs are nightmarishly complex, the IRS has issued a new “safe-harbor” procedure for allocating remodeling costs for restraurants and retail buildings between deductible repair costs and capitalized improvement costs.

Rev. Proc 2015-56 is available to most retail buildings and to restaurants.

(UPDATE: Brian Coddington notes correctly in the comments that this procedure only applies to taxpayers with an “applicable financial statement.” These are SEC statements, audited financial statements, or statements supplied to regulators other than the IRS. This seemingly gratuitous requirement greatly reduces the potential usefulness of this procedure. Why the IRS would restrict simplification to just those taxpayers least likely to need it is beyond me. I missed the applicable financial statement requirement in my initial take on the rule. My apologies, and my thanks to Brian for correcting me. Brian’s comment goes beyond this issue and is worth reading in full.)

It excludes vehicle dealers, gas stations, manufactured home dealers and “nonstore retailers.” It applies to business that own their own buildings and to landlords whose buildings hold qualifying businesses.

Under the procedure, 75% of “qualified remodel-refresh costs” are deductible, with the remaining 25% capitalized. The amount capitalized is depreciated over the life otherwise applied to the building. That generally means a 39-year life, but if the building is “qualified restaurant property” or “qualified retail improvement property,” the life can be as short as 15 years.

At first glance, it seems like a much more useful set of rules than the repair regs we were all fretting about this time last year. The biggest potential downside is that Rev. Proc. 2015-56 requires taxpayers to forego “partial disposition” treatment for buildings covered by the safe harbor. The taxpayer also has to elect “general asset account” depreciation for the building covered by the safe harbor.

The election will be made on Form 3115 as “automatic” accounting method change, as newly-designated automatic change number 222. It is available for years begining on or after January 1, 2014. As automatic changes have to normally be made with a timely-filed return, I don’t think we can change already-filed 2014 filings, but I will be digging into the lengthy procedure, and will amend this as needed as I get to understand it better.

 

The insurance markets aren’t doing what the President told them to do. 

First, Tyler Cowen, Further wounds for Obamacare: “To put it bluntly, I don’t think the mandate part of the bill is working.  These are mostly problems which decay and get worse, not problems which self-correct.”

Next, Megan McArdle, Obamacare Insurers Are Suffering. That Won’t End Well:

What UnitedHealth’s action suggests is that the company is not sure it can make money in this market at any price. Executives seem to be worried about our old enemy, the adverse selection death spiral, where prices go up and healthier customers drop out, which pushes insurers’ costs and customers’ prices up further, until all you’ve got is a handful of very sick people and a huge number of very expensive claims.

She adds:

This was part of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news cycle for Obamacare; as ProPublica journalist Charles Ornstein said on Twitter, “Not since 2013 have I seen such a disastrous stream of bad news headlines for Obamacare in one 24-hour stretch.” Stories included not just UnitedHealth’s dire warnings, but also updates in the ongoing saga of higher premiums, higher deductibles and smaller provider networks that have been coming out since open enrollment began.

I remember when we were told that the ACA would just get more popular over time as we all grew to love its benefits.

 

No, but they do make it easier to jack up tuition and administrative salaries. $23 Billion In Annual Federal Tax Credits For Higher Education Have No Effect On College Attendance (TaxProf). 

 

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Jana Luttenegger Weiler, Quiet Changes to Social Security Could Have Big Impact (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog):

The file and suspend option was and still is used by couples when one spouse, typically the higher earner, files for benefits but then suspends receiving his or her own benefits. This allows the other spouse to file and receive spousal benefits based on the higher earning spouse’s record for a certain number of years while the higher earning spouse delays benefits and earns delayed retirement credits. The result is larger benefits for the higher-earning spouse at age 70, but still allowing the lower-earning spouse to take benefits. This option has been eliminated — though there may still be time to file and suspend in the next 180 days and be grandfathered in for those who are currently eligible to do so.

Jana expects additional guidance soon.

 

Gretchen Tegeler, Many Iowa public employees are better off in retirement than working (IowaBiz.com). In some cases, we’re better off that they’re retired too.

Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2015: #7: Decoding The Mortgage Interest Limitation, “Cohabitation, of course, is not limited to same-sex couples, and so the Ninth Circuit’s decision to allow each taxpayer who co-owns a house to claim an interest deduction on the full $1,100,000 of debt — provided they are not married filing separately — should be a welcome one for many.”

Russ Fox, Update on the Future of Daily Fantasy Sports:

I still think we will end up with a dichotomy within the states. States that are notoriously anti-gambling or have constitutional provisions against gambling (including much of the South: Texas, Florida, and Tennessee; Utah, and Hawaii) will ban DFS, either by Attorney General rulings or by court actions. Other states will regulate DFS. Some states will order the DFS companies to shut down until regulations are in place. A very small number of states will just ignore the issue, and leave DFS in an unregulated state.

A very small number of states realize that fantasy sports aren’t one of the major problems plaguing the republic.

TaxGrrrl, ‘Real Housewives’ Stars Joe & Teresa Giudice Hit With Federal Tax Lien

Robert Wood, More Banks Spill Tax Evasion Secrets To Avoid Criminal Charges, Account Holders Beware. Bank secrecy is pining for the fjords.

 

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Stephen J. Entin, Michael Schuyler, Some Tax Trip-Ups in the Democratic Debate (Tax Policy Blog):

Senator Sanders was asked how high he would raise the top tax rate. He answered, jokingly, that he would boost it a lot, although perhaps not to the 90% top tax rate in the Eisenhower Administration; that he, the Senator, was not as much of a socialist as Eisenhower!  In fact, the top tax rate was 91%…

One result of Ike’s policies was that he presided over three recessions in his eight years in office. Presumably, the Senator would not want to repeat that outcome.

I think Bernie would be willing to take that price to stick it to the man.

William Gale, David John, Two Important New Retirement Savings Initiatives from the Obama Administration (TaxVox) These guys think the MyRA program is important.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 925

 

Peter Reilly, Princeton University Will Have To Prove It Deserves Property Tax Exemption. I’d make them apologize for Woodrow Wilson first.

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/19/15: Play sober, play taxable (updated). And: Administration says no to permanent bonus depreciation.

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

 

20150805-2Gaming while sober: maybe halfway right, but not even halfway exempt. See Update Below. Sobering up is hard to do for alcoholics. That’s why they’re alcoholics in the first place.

One of the hard parts is that many of the things you enjoy may be associated with alcohol.  That’s where GameHearts, A Montana Nonprofit Corporation, came in. The Tax Court picks up the story:

On July 14, 2010, GameHearts filed a Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. In the Form 1023 GameHearts provided the following description of its activities:

    GameHearts is a public benefit nonprofit organization committed to providing alternative forms of entertainment to adult members of the Kalispell area for the purpose of promoting adult sobriety. The program achieves its directive by providing free and low cost tabletop gaming activities in a supervised[,] non-alcoholic, sober environment, along with access to gaming accessories that are provided without cost to the participants. In fact, beginning players can learn and obtain free gaming materials solely for playing.

 

The IRS was unmoved:

In a June 3, 2013, letter respondent notified GameHearts of the conclusion that, on the basis of the information provided, GameHearts did not qualify for exemption under section 501(a) as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) because GameHearts was not organized or operated exclusively for exempt purposes. Respondent based this determination on the conclusion that (1) GameHearts failed to establish that it benefited a charitable class; (2) GameHearts’ nonexempt activities were more substantial than its exempt activities; and (3) GameHearts did not meet the requirements of section 1.501(c)(3)-1(d), Income Tax Regs., “because it did not limit activities to addicts with a low income.”

So the Tax Court got involved. Unfortunately for sober gamers in Montana, the court sided with the IRS:

While it may be laudable, in the light of the administrative record in this case promotion of sober recreation is insufficient justification here for tax-exempt status under a statute that must be construed strictly. The decisive factor here is that the form of recreation offered as therapy also is offered by for-profit entities, and GameHearts even emphasized, in its application for tax exemption, that it would introduce new participants to that for-profit recreational market and “boost the overall market shares of the industry”. We also note that GameHearts received contributions of surplus materials from the industry. While GameHearts itself does not profit from the recreation it offers and could not offer recreational gaming experiences that would compete in the for-profit recreational gaming markets, we conclude nonetheless, consistent with our holdings in Schoger Found. and Wayne Baseball, that recreation is a significant purpose, in addition to the therapy provided, because of the inherently commercial nature of the recreation and the ties to the for-profit recreational gaming industry.

We therefore hold that GameHearts does not operate exclusively for charitable purposes within the meaning of section 501(c)(3). 

In other words, if there’s a market niche for sober gaming in Montana, it should be filled by somebody trying to make money.

Update: Peter Reilly has a well-researched post on this case, and he points out that the “gaming” involved was not casino gambling, which I incorrectly assumed in my initial reading of the article. I have made some modifications to my post to remove implications otherwise, and I thank Peter for his correction and for his in depth story.

Cite: GameHearts, T.C. Memo. 2015-218; No. 20303-13X

 

 

Administration opposes extending bonus depreciation. Tax Analysts reports ($link):

The Obama administration does not support a tax extenders package that would make bonus depreciation permanent, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told House Ways and Means Committee Democrats on November 18.

The administration is willing to consider making other tax extenders permanent, including the research credit and small business expensing, as long as the American opportunity tax credit and the expanded child tax and earned income tax credits are made permanent, according to House aides.

Secretary Lew didn’t rule out a “temporary” extension of bonus depreciation, and I suspect that’s what we’ll get.

 

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Russ Fox, IRSAC Report Has Hits and Errors:

IRSAC laments IRS funding. While I agree it would be nice to have the IRS fully funded, the problem was caused by the IRS (and especially Chairman Koskinen) and the IRS scandal. Until the IRS comes clean, Republicans in Congress rightly will not allow full funding.

This is why those who want IRS funding increased should insist on Koskinen’s resignation.

TaxGrrrl, Report Accuses IRS Of Encouraging Illegal Immigrants To File Using False Info, Identity Fraud. Well, increase their budget, then!

 

Jason Dinesen, Choosing a Business Entity: S-Corporation. “S-corporations share many of the same characteristics of partnerships. The biggest difference is, owners who work in the business day-to-day are paid a salary.”

Kay Bell, Start your retirement planning and saving ASAP. Starting in your 20s makes a huge difference as you approach your 60s. 

Robert Wood, Lawyer Faces Up To 50 Years Prison Over Payroll Taxes. Always remit your payroll taxes, no matter who else you need to stiff.

 

Dave Nelson, Preparing for a cyberattack or data breach (IowaBiz.com). “In today’s world of nonstop cyberattacks, companies must prepare for when, not if, they are attacked.”

Leslie Book, International Conference on Taxpayer Rights Kicks off Today. (Procedurally Taxing).

Peter Reilly, Ownership Through LLC Kills Local Charitable Property Tax Exemption. “Disregarded For Federal Purposes Does Not Mean Disregarded For Local Purposes”

 

 

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David Brunori, Business Entities Pay a Lot of State Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

In 2014 businesses paid about $142 billion in sales tax, or about 20.7 percent of taxes paid. More distressing is that they paid $5.8 billion more than in the prior year. The sales taxation of business inputs remains one of the greatest tax policy failings of the last 100 years. Business entities should not pay sales taxes on their services. Those taxes get passed on to someone else without their knowledge. Hiding the tax burden goes against every principle of transparent good government.

Iowa’s Department of Revenue has taken a small step to reduce the taxation of business inputs, to the outrage of all sorts of goodthinkers.

 

David Greenberg asks How Has Federal Revenue Changed Over Time? (Tax Policy Blog). This picture sums it up:

taxfoundationchangesinfederalrevenue

The corporation tax continues to decline in importance with the spread in pass-through entities. That won’t change regardless of what economic illiterates would wish.

 

Howard Gleckman, Would Two Year Budgeting Help Break the Fiscal Impasse? I think it would just reschedule the impasses.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 924

Carl Davis, Congress Searches the Couch Cushions for Road Funding Money (Tax Justice Blog).

 

News from the Profession. At Least One SEC Commissioner Has a Sense of Humor (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

20151119-2Things that happened on November 19. Today’s the 152nd anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, when President Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg battlefield cemetery by saying: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.”

81 years later on November 19, another war claimed another young man. A little note and a little remembering here.

 

 

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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 TheGazette.com:

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.

 

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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.”

 

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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)

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/16/15: Mason City Monday. And: maybe using that disbarred tax guy isn’t such a great idea.

Monday, November 16th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Right here in River City. The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools are here in Mason City, the town that was the model for Meredith Willson’s “Music Man.” It’s rainy here today.

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Still, I’ll take that over what we had here last year:

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There remain three sessions in this year’s circuit, in Maquoketa, Denison, and Ames. The Ames school is also available as a webinar, in case the weather continues to deteriorate. Register today!

 

The Tiffany of tax prep. If you’ve been in the tax prep business for very long, you probably have lost a client along the way to an “aggressive” tax guy who promised much better results than a milquetoast like you would ever have. If a federal injunction order issued last week is to believed, a California preparer is the model for that kind of “aggressive” guy.

The case involves a Mr. Siegel, who the court says never answered the allegations against him. The order describes some amazing tax thinking (my emphasis):

For example, Siegel falsely advises his customers that to treat their home as an out-of-state corporate office for federal tax purposes, the customer’s Nevada “C” corporation (i.e., an entity entirely controlled by Siegel and the customer) must require as a condition of employment that its corporate officers (i.e., the same Siegel customer) live in the customer’s California home while working away from the corporation’s purported home state of Nevada (i.e., a state where the Siegel customer typically has no actual contact). Siegel has falsely advised customers by e-mail that this scheme is valid because: (a) the customers, as business owners, are necessarily “on call 24/7” while living or working from their out-of-state “business office;” (b) the customers can deduct [their] rent and other expenses through [their] corporation when [they] are on call for that corporation”; and (c) while “the internet was just getting hot for being on call” in 2002, “[w]ithout a question in 2013 when we are truly on call 24/7 working at home is a deduction for the corporation”

It takes a special kind of preparer to give that kind of advice. The kind htat has been disbarred, like this one. The Department of Justice press release adds some details:

For example, the complaint states that Siegel deducted on one couple’s tax returns purchases at Tiffany & Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Louis Vuitton and Princess Cruise Lines.  Siegel allegedly attempted to conceal these fraudulent deductions from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by lumping them together and reporting them as large expenses for “supplies” or “medical records and supplies.”

Medical records? I suppose you could stash your medical bills in your Louis Vuitton handbag.

The injunction isn’t a criminal charge, but given the allegations, Mr. Siegel may hear more from the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, his clients may be wishing they had used a less “aggressive” tax guy.

Other coverage:

Russ Fox, Don’t Go to Lawrence Siegel to Have Your Taxes Done

Robert Wood: Court Bars Masquerade, No More America’s Next Top Tax Lawyer

 

Mason City Sundog Morning, 2014

Mason City Sundog Morning, 2014

 

William Perez, What to do if you see “RSUs” on Form W-2

Robert D. Flach, TRAPPED BY OUR CAPITAL GAINS ARE WE. “Never let the tax tail wag the economic dog.”

Kristine Tidgren, A Trial Court Has Much Discretion When Divorce Strikes the Farm (Ag Docket): “The court noted that ‘there are no hard and fast rules governing economic issues in dissolution actions.'”

Kay Bell, Cleveland could owe millions in jock tax refunds

Peter Reilly, Former IRS Commissioners Scold Congress For Gutting IRS Budget. If they really want an increased IRS budget, they should also urge Commissioner Koskinen to resign.

TaxGrrrl, Spend It Like Beckham: Tax Deal Could Bring MLS Soccer To Miami. Apparently Miami has solved all of its real problems if it can spend tax money on this.

 

 

Scott Greenberg, Bonus Depreciation Covers 2/3rds of Corporate Investment (Tax Policy Blog). Not if an extender bill doesn’t pass for 2015.

Richard Auxier, Marco Rubio’s gas tax cut would give state and local governments flexibility, and political fights (TaxVox).

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 919Day 920Day 921

News from the Profession. A Three-Page Tax Code Would Keep Accountants Plenty Busy (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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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:

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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.

 

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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 (IowaBiz.com). “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).

 

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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.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 11/9/15: Waterloo! And Estonia!

Monday, November 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Day 1: Waterloo! The ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation Farm and Urban Tax Schools are underway! I am on this morning’s panel in beautiful Waterloo, Iowa, with Roger McEowen and Kristy Maitre. Spaces are available for all of the remaining Iowa sessions, so register today! If you can’t make one of the sessions in person, you can attend the December 14 Ames session via webinar.

The November 9 session of the Farm and Urban Tax School in Waterloo is underway!

The November 9 session of the Farm and Urban Tax School in Waterloo is underway!

The early-rising schedule for the drive up here today requires an abbreviated roundup today, so let’s roll.

 

Kyle Pomerleau Estonia’s Growth-Oriented Tax Code. (Tax Policy Blog). It excerpts a speech from the Estonian Ambassador to the U.S.:

The main components of the Estonian tax system have been in place since the beginning of the 1990s. After Estonia regained independence in 1991, the country needed a tax system that was compatible both with the limited experience of the taxpayer who came from the Soviet communist controlled society and effective tax administration. It was essential that the tax system should support economic growth, not impede it. Therefore, a tax system was developed with an emphasis on indirect taxes. To keep the system simple, transparent and easy to use, only a few exceptions were allowed, as at the same time, tax rates were kept rather low.

A cornerstone of Estonia’s fiscal policy was corporate and personal income tax reform, which introduced the proportional, or flat tax rate of 26% in 1992, which has been reduced to 20%. Since 1999, reinvested corporate profits are no longer subject to income tax. Today, Estonian income tax system, with its flat rate of 20%, is considered one of the simplest tax regimes in the world

We could do a lot worse than the Estonian system. We certainly do now.

 

Tony Nitti, Renting Your Home On Airbnb? Be Aware Of The Tax Consequences:

Section 280A of the Internal Revenue Code, which governs the treatment of homes that are used for both personal and rental purposes, is a complicated tangle of definitions, designations, and resulting consequences. But if you’re going to start renting out a property on Airbnb or Craigslist, you’re going to need to know the rules, so let’s take a deep dive into Section 280A and see if we can’t help all of you newly-minted slumlords sort through your tax considerations.

And remember the local lodging tax that may apply.

 

Still plenty of coffee and juice in Waterloo...

Still plenty of coffee and juice in Waterloo…

 

Headline of the Day: Colorado county’s pot tax to pay for higher education (Kay Bell). 

Jason Dinesen, What Is Iowa Alternate Tax?

Peter Reilly, Republicans Want IRS To Target Hillary Clinton:

Given the outrage that Republicans have expressed about the “targeting” of the Tea Party by the IRS, you would think that they would be slow to advocate IRS political targeting.  Apparently  it is more a matter of who’s ox is being gored.

That’s why the party in power may regret the way it has politicized the IRS. It isn’t likely to remain in power forever.

 

Rachel Rubenstein, IRS Announces Procedures for Identity Theft Victims to Request Copies of Fraudulently Filed Tax Returns (Procedurally Taxing).

TaxGrrrl, Austrian Woman Destroys Million Dollar Fortune Rather Than Pay Out Heirs

Robert D. Flach offers A YEAR-END TAX PLANNING TIP on capital gains.

 

...but the breakfast treats are going fast.

…but the breakfast treats are going fast.

 

Russ Fox, Chaka Fattah, Jr. Guilty of Tax and Fraud Charges. “Chaka Fattah Jr., son of Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah Sr. (D-PA), was found guilty on Friday of 22 of 23 tax and fraud charges.”

Jack Townsend, Financial Secrecy in the U.S. – A NonTax Example Illustrating the Law Enforcement Problem:

One of the issues is that opacity of U.S. entity structures.  The beneficial owners of corporations and other entities may simply not be known.  And states permitting such entities to be organized usually do not request any representations of ownership.  So, shady actors can easily fly under the law enforcement — including tax enforcement — radar screen.  Hence, the U.S. may facilitate evasion of other countries’ taxes by offering foreign investors secrecy as to their investments in the U.S.

In the FATCA era, it will be more difficult for us to tell foreign tax collectors that U.S. tax structures are none of their business.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 912Day 913Day 914.

Renu Zaretsky, Repeal, Reform, and Maybe Retaliation. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup topics include efforts to repeal the “Cadillac Tax,” the background of the new Ways and Means Chairman, and allegations of retaliatory audits in New Mexico.

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 11/6: Election Day Wrap Up (TAx Justice Blog).
Career Corner. More Accounting Firms Should Let Employees Build Their Own Niche Practices (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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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).

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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.”

 

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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?

 

 

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