Posts Tagged ‘shooting jaywalkers’

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

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Extended 1040s are due tomorrow!

 

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

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

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

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

But it’s not so bad as all that:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Kay Bell, Federal holiday effects on federal taxes,

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

 

20121022-1TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 523

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

 

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

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 10/8/14: Koskinen warns of another hellish filing season. And: FATCA “tormenting” offshore taxpayers.

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
The Younkers Building ruins, morning, March 29, 2014.

The Younkers Building ruins, morning, March 29, 2014.

Here we go again. We know from bitter experience that Congress might cause tax season delays by passing an election-year “extenders” bill at the last minute. IRS Commissioner Koskinen gave official warning yesterday in a letter to the head of the Senate Finance Committee:

This uncertainty, if it persists into December or later, could force the IRS to postpone the opening of the 2015 filing season and delay the processing of tax refunds for millions of taxpayers. Moreover, if Congress enacts any policy changes to the existing extenders or adds new provisions, the IRS would have to reprogram systems and make processing changes, which would result in longer delays. If Congress waits until 2015 and then enacts retroactive tax law changes affecting 2014, the operational and compliance challenges would be even more severe — likely resulting in service disruptions, millions of taxpayers needing to file amended returns, and substantially delayed refunds.

It was just such retroactive changes that made the 2013 filing season so awful. Add the first go round for Obamacare penalty computations on tax returns, and we can look forward to an even more wonderful tax season in 2015.

I predict that we will get a last-minute passage of the Lazarus provisions that keep dying and being resurrected, sometime in December. Of course, it could drag into January again. I expect pretty much all of the expiring provisions, including bonus depreciation, to be included. But I never rule out Congress dropping the ball entirely.

Other coverage: Richard Rubin, IRS Warns of Tax-Filing Season Delays If Congress Stalls 

Joint Committee on Taxation, list of expiring provisions 2013-2024 (pdf).

 

20140815-2Taxpayer Advocate: FATCA “Tormenting” TaxpayersTaxpayer Advocate Nina Olson doesn’t seem to be a fan of FATCA. She spoke to the Financial Markets Association yesterday, and it sounds like she foresees bad things ($link, my emphasis.):

“This is a piece of legislation that is so big and so far-reaching, and [has] so many different moving pieces, and is rolling out in an incremental fashion . . . that you really won’t be able to know what its consequences are, intended or otherwise,” Olson said. “I don’t think we’ll know that for years. And by that point we’ll actually be a little too late to go, ‘Oops, my bad, we shouldn’t have done this,’ and then try to unwind it.”

Wait, this was passed by our duly elected representatives. What could possibly go wrong?

Olson also questioned the penalty regime underlying FATCA. The law provides for a $10,000 penalty for failing to disclose a foreign bank account, and up to $50,000 for failing to disclose after IRS notification, she said. For someone with a $51,000 unreported foreign bank account, that could be a $60,000 penalty.

IRS policy states that penalties should be objectively proportioned to the offense, Olson said. “Putting a $60,000 penalty on someone for failing to report a $51,000 account does not seem to me like a penalty that is proportioned objectively to the offense,” she said.

Olson observed that a similar disproportionality emerged in recent IRS offshore voluntary disclosure initiatives, when the highest proportionate fines fell on the smallest accounts. In 2009 the median unreported balance for the smallest accounts was $44,000, she said. The lowest-balance account holders paid an FBAR penalty almost six times the actual tax due, she said. Yet the top 10 percent, with a median unreported balance of $7 million, paid a penalty roughly half the amount of tax owed, she said.

This is actually in keeping with the longstanding IRS policy of shooting jaywalkers while slapping the real international tax evaders on the wrist.

How could our legislative supergeniuses have come up with such an insane and unfair system? Look at the name of the legislation — “FATCA.” For fat cats, get it? They passed it claiming to be going after fat cats, but drafted it in a way that beats up on everybody working or living abroad attempting to commit personal finance. But because they “intended” to go after fat cats, they absolve themselves of guilt for the collateral damage, the financial devastation of the innocent and unwary, the retirements ruined. And they smear the rare politician who points out the insanity of FATCA with accusations of being soft on tax evasion.

 

canada flagThere was some rare good news on the offshore tax compliance front yesterday when the IRS made it easier to get favored tax treatment on Canadian retirement accounts:  IRS Simplifies Procedures for Favorable Tax Treatment on Canadian Retirement Plans and Annual Reporting Requirements:

The change relates to a longstanding provision in the U.S.-Canada tax treaty that enables U.S. citizens and resident aliens to defer tax on income accruing in their RRSP or RRIF until it is distributed. Otherwise, U.S. tax is due each year on this income, even if it is not distributed.

In the past, however, taxpayers generally would get tax deferral by attaching Form 8891 to their return and choosing this tax treaty benefit, something many eligible taxpayers failed to do. Before today’s change, a primary way to correct this omission and retroactively obtain the treaty benefit was to request a private letter ruling from the IRS, a costly and often time-consuming process.

Many taxpayers also failed to comply with another requirement; namely that they file Form 8891 each year reporting details about each RRSP and RRIF, including contributions made, income earned and distributions made. This requirement applied regardless of whether they chose the special tax treatment. The IRS is eliminating Form 8891, and taxpayers are no longer required to file this form for any year, past or present.

But in case you think the risk of fiscal catastrophe related to Canadian accounts is past, the IRS warns:

The revenue procedure does not modify any other U.S. reporting requirements that may apply under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and section 6038D. See FinCEN Form 114 due by June 30 of each year, and Form 8938 attached to a U.S. income tax return for more information about the reporting requirements under the BSA and section 6038D.

In other words, you can still be assessed a penalty of 50% of the account balance for not filing an FBAR report on the accounts, or a $10,000 penalty for not disclosing a balance on Form 8938 foreign financial asset form. But if you get ruined by these penalties, consider it a sacrifice on the altar of “an improved set of global rules,” you fat cat.

Russ Fox has more: IRS Simplifies Reporting for RRSPs and RRIFs.

 

20141008-1William Perez, Missed the Tax Deadline? Here’s what penalties might apply

Donnie Johnson, Liz Malm, What Does Yesterday’s Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Appeal Denial Mean for Same-Sex Couple Tax Filers? (Tax Policy Blog). Maybe taxpayers in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin could learn from Jason Dinesen’s work here in Iowa.

Kay Bell, Gambling pays out a $38 billion bonus to tax collectors.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: IRA

KCCI, Pharmacist’s trial has been moved to next year. The owner of Bauder’s Pharmacy, facing tax and other charges arising out of alleged illegal sales of painkillers, is now set to go on trial in February.

 

Howard Gleckman, How Asset Building Tax Subsidies Miss Their Targets (TaxVox):

Nearly one-third of all federal tax expenditures–$384 billion in 2013 alone– is aimed at various forms of asset building, such as retirement savings, higher education, and home ownership. Yet, according to research by several of my Tax Policy Center and Urban Institute colleagues, these tax breaks do little to help low-and middle-income households build wealth.

Gee, you might conclude that maybe not every problem is a tax problem.

 

Two more TaxGrrrl Guest Posts: The IRS’s Uncharitable Treatment Of Charitable Contributions (Andrew VanSingel) and Roadways And Taxes (Charles Horn III).

David Brunori, Last Stand for Soda Taxes — Hopefully (Tax Analysts Blog). “If they can’t get folks in uber-liberal San Francisco and Berkeley to vote for soda taxes, they should just hang up their hats.”

Sebastian Johnson rounds up some more Tax Proposals on the Ballot this Election Season at Tax Justice Blog.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 517

Jeremy Scott, Will the EU Commission Crack Down on Irish Tax Deals? (Tax Analysts Blog).

 

News from the Profession. Some Big 4 Alumni Just Can’t Quit Their Old Firms. (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). No problem for me.

 

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IRS makes it less risky for U.S. residents to start reporting foreign accounts.

Thursday, June 19th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

The IRS has announced updated procedures for taxpayers to file overdue FBAR foreign account disclosures.  These reports are required of taxpayers who have foreign accounts with balances that exceed $10,000 at any time during the year.  Penalties can reach 50% of the highest account balance per year of willful violations.

The new rules provide a streamlined procedure for U.S. residents to begin reporting FBAR non-filing.  The procedure had been available only to non-residents.  It also has eliminated the inane $1,500 cap on unreported taxes from foreign accounts.  Tax Analysts reports ($link):

     In addition to permitting resident U.S. taxpayers to use the streamlined program, the IRS has also eliminated the $1,500 tax threshold and the risk questionnaire. Taxpayers must certify that previous compliance failures were not willful.

Under the revised program, all penalties will be waived for nonresident U.S. taxpayers and resident taxpayers will be subject only to a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5 percent of the foreign financial assets that gave rise to the tax compliance issue.

[Attorney Caroline] Ciraolo said practitioners will be pleased that the streamlined program will now be available to residents that previously did not qualify because they were living in the U.S. at the time they initially attempted disclosure. 

This liberalization is combined with higher penalties in some cases.

This looks like a positive development, though I still think it should be more liberal.  A no-questions asked policy for taxpayers with liabilities under a reasonable threshold, with only interest charged on late taxes, would be even better — especially given the extra penalties on those who come in only when it is clear their banks are going to turn over their names anyway.  There are requirements for submitting back foreign account statements, which may not be available.

The IRS doesn’t appear to be applying the relief retroactively, so taxpayers who have already come in voluntarily and paid ridiculous penalties are played for chumps.  And the real problem — worldwide taxation under the U.S. tax system — remains.  A Wall Street Journal report sums it up:

One potential drawback: Taxpayers who come forward in the future may end up faring better than those who heard about the U.S. campaign in the past and presented their case to the IRS then. For example, experts said, taxpayers from the latter group who owed more than $1,500 in taxes could have paid a penalty as high as 27.5%.

In addition, taxpayers abroad face the risk of double taxation, said John Richardson, a Toronto lawyer who works with U.S. taxpayers living in Canada. “The problem is that, penalties aside, the U.S. tax laws are very punitive for U.S. citizens abroad,” he said.

Links:

Commissioner Koskinen news release

IRS news release, IRS Makes Changes to Offshore Programs; Revisions Ease Burden and Help More Taxpayers Come into Compliance 

Streamlined offshore resident procedures

Streamlined U.S. resident procedures

Jack Townsend has a summary and more useful links to the updated IRS procedures.

Accounting Today has a useful article with an oxymoronic headline, IRS Eases Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program for Non-willful Tax Evasion.  If it’s not willful, it’s not evasion.

And remember, the FBAR report for 2013 accounts on Form 114 is due June 30.

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Tax Roundup, 6/4/14: IRS to ease up on FBAR foot-faulters? And: nanny-state taxes!

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Programming note: The Tax Update will take Thursday and Friday off this week to tend to a family wedding.  We’ll be back as usual Monday.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Former IRS Commissioner Shulman, showing how much he cares for innocent victims of his FBAR war.

Maybe we shouldn’t be shooting jaywalkers?  The IRS may be declaring a cease-fire in its long war on inadvertent foreign account violators.  Tax Analysts reports ($link) that IRS Commissioner Koskinen told a tax conference that it will be modifying its Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative:

“We are well aware that there are many U.S. citizens who have resided abroad for many years, perhaps even the vast majority of their lives,” Koskinen told a luncheon audience at the 2014 OECD International Tax Conference in Washington. “We have been considering whether these individuals should have an opportunity to come into compliance that doesn’t involve the type of penalties that are appropriate for U.S.-resident taxpayers who were willfully hiding their investments overseas.”

Gee, you think so?  You really think 25%-300% penalties might not be appropriate for the crime of committing personal finance while living abroad?  What could possibly have given him that idea?

     Koskinen also pointed to taxpayers residing in the United States with offshore accounts “whose prior noncompliance clearly did not constitute willful tax evasion but who, to date, have not had a clear way of coming into compliance that doesn’t involve the threat of substantial penalties.”

“We believe that re-striking this balance between enforcement and voluntary compliance is particularly important at this point in time, given that we are nearing July 1, the effective date of FATCA,” Koskinen said. 

One of the things that made Doug Shulman the Worst Commissioner Ever was his brutal treatment of trivial inadvertent offshore paperwork filing violators.  Hopefully his successor will make coming into compliance voluntarily a transparent, predictable process designed primarily to ensure future compliance.  Something like state programs for non-resident non-filers, where taxpayers pay back taxes, if any, and interest for a limited number of open years would make sense  People are understandably reluctant to come into compliance when it can mean financial ruin.

The IRS has not released any details of this kinder, gentler approach, so curb your enthusiasm for now.

Related: IRS Commissioner Koskinen Announces that Changes — Liberalizations — Are In the Offing for OVDP 2012  (Jack Townsend)  “All in all, this is good news, at least from a hope perspective.”

 

20140409-1Robert D Flach offers YET ANOTHER POST CALLING FOR A VOLUNTARY TAX PREPARER DESIGNATION.  Robert makes his case for a “voluntary” designation for preparers who meet some standard.

Robert says something I agree with:

  Having the IRS oversee the designation is not the best idea.  I have suggested that the voluntary RTRP-like designation be administered by an independent industry-based organization like an American Institute of Registered Tax Return Preparers (see “It’s Time for Independent Certification for Tax Preparers“).

If the IRS has nothing to do with it, fine.  If it does, it will inevitably do special favors for its “voluntary” friends and make like difficult for others.

Robert is a little like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, looking for a brain.  The movie quickly makes clear that the Scarecrow already has a perfectly good brain; all he lacks is a diploma.  Robert, a perfectly good (if old-fashioned) preparer, doesn’t need a diploma to save his clients from the Wicked Witch.

 

TaxGrrrl, After TIGTA Report, Expect More Tax Refund Delays,  The IRS is encouraged to expand its refund offset programs.

Paul Neiffer, Portability Revisited. “With the “permanent” changes in the estate tax laws from about 2 years ago, we now have a permanent provision called portability.  This allows for the unused portion of someone’s estate to be “ported” over to the surviving spouse to be used on their final estate tax return.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 391

 

 

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

The income tax, the Ultimate Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Flickr Image courtesy redjar under Creative Commons license.

Joseph Thorndike, Democrats Just Love Their Nanny-State Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog):

The Tax Foundation recently spotlighted a Democratic tax proposal that gives substance to the name-calling: the Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act, introduced last month by Sens. Tom Harkin, and Richard Blumenthal.

According to its champions, the act would protect children from the predations of junk food purveyors. In particular, it would deny manufacturers any sort of tax deduction “for advertising and marketing directed at children to promote the consumption of food of poor nutritional quality.” It would use the resulting revenue to help fund the Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

That all sounds great. Except for the fact that it’s arbitrary, capricious, and an egregious misuse of tax policy.

The tax law – is there anything it can’t do?

Joseph adds, wisely:

Reasonable people can disagree about what qualifies as a loophole. But by almost any definition, the deduction for advertising junk food is not one.

Once you decide the tax law is a public policy Swiss Army Knife, there’s no logical place to stop.

 

20140411-1Kay Bell, Calories or volume: Which is the better tax on sugary drinks?  Neither.  Some problems just aren’t tax problems.

David Brunori’s righteous anger at taxes on e-cigarettes is now freely available at Tax Analysts Blog: Taxing E-Cigarettes Seems Crazy.  “Yet politicians routinely say that e-cigarettes will lead people to start smoking, or worse — use drugs! Are they daft?”  No, just greedy.

 

Renu Zaretsky, In the Midwest, Across the Pacific, and Down Under.  Tax Custs in Ohio and a rejected tax boost in Missouri are part of the TaxVox headline roundup today.

 

Tax Justice Blog, Will Anti-Tax Yogis Sink Tax-Reform in D.C.?.  If that’s what it takes to get the pic-i-nic basket.

 

This will make the homecoming in 2042 a little less awkward.  WMUR.com reports:

The woman who, along with her husband, held police at bay during a nine-month standoff in 2007 over tax evasion has apologized to the community.

Elaine Brown’s apology appeared in Plain Facts, a monthly publication written by Plainfield residents.

She said she and her husband Ed were trying to advance the “cause of justice.” She went on to say they “failed to take into account the impact we were having on others in the town. We failed to realize the fear, anxiety and impact we were causing these good people.

She was unable to apologize in person because she has been detained — until November 2042, according to the Bureau of Prisons inmate locator.  She should be home in time to invite her neighbors to her 102nd birthday party.

 

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

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

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

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

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

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

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

 

Related: TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 379

 

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

Kay Bell, Summer travel time is prime tax time

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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Via Nick Gillespie.

 

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

 

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/28/14: Trusts beat IRS. And: Seven-bedroom poverty!

Friday, March 28th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Trusts won big over the IRS yesterday.  The Tax Court ruled that trusts can “materially participate” in business activities.  Taxpayers who materially participate in an activity don’t have to pay the Obamacare net investment income tax on income from the activity.  I have a full writeup, Tax Court decision cuts 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax for many trusts.  

 

20120912-1FATCA: giving the government more ways to shoot jaywalkers.

 We submit these comments in the hope that they will help lawmakers and the public understand that FATCA, while intended to catch tax evaders, is poised instead to impose serious and unjustified harms on people who live around the world as non-resident U.S. citizens and green card holders, as well as their family members and business associates.

After all, you have to shoot the jaywalkers so you can slap the real international tax evaders on the wrist.

Quoted text from “Submission to Finance Department on Implementation of FATCA in Canada” by Allison Christians and Arthur Cockfield, via the TaxProf.

 

William Perez, Tips for Same Sex Married Couples Filing Their Tax Returns.

Kay Bell, Donating and deducting gifts to current, past disaster victims

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2014): N Is For Name Change and Taxes From A To Z (2014): O Is For Overpayment

Steven Rosenthal, You Could Owe Capital Gains Taxes When You Spend Bitcoin (TaxVox)

Tax Trials, IRS Releases Guidance on Convertible Virtual Currency: Bitcoin Treated As Property for Federal Tax Purposes

Scott Schumacher, Does Equity Have a Role in Offers in Compromise? (Procedurally Taxing)

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William McBride,New Study Finds U.S. Multinationals Pay Extremely High Effective Tax Rate. (Tax Policy Blog). Since Iowa corporate rates are the highest in the U.S., that makes us number 1 in the world, baby!

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 323

Tax Justice Blog, Tax Cuts Fall Flat in Idaho

False choice.  The Drive for Tax Reform: Hitting the Breaks or the Gas?  (Renu Zaretsky, TaxVox)

Career Corner.  The More Money Your Parents Made, the Less Likely You Are to Become an Accountant (Going Concern)

 

monk mountainIf all poverty were like this, monasteries would be more popular.  A Pennsylvania taxpayer is accused of trying the old “I’m a church” dodge.  From Lehighvalleylive.com:

Erik Von Kiel, formerly of Macungie, falsely told the federal government he was a minister with a Utah-based religious organization, and that he had renounced any interest in property or income, authorities said.

He did so while concealing his salary and assets, including a seven-bedroom Macungie home he bought with his wife in 2006 and later sold for $175,000, according to court documents.

Seven bedrooms?  Not bad for poverty.  Probably more accessible than many monastic residences, too.

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/13/14: Hatching a tax boost. And: spring training!

Thursday, February 13th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


hatch
Jack Hatch, Candidate for Governor,
yesterday introduced legislative text for his tax plan (SF 2164), which would result in a big tax increase for a lot of voters.

First the good points:  It would increase the minimum income subject to tax from the current $9,000 level to $20,000 for single taxpayers, and to $24,500 from $13,500 for heads of household and surviving  spouses.  It reduces the number of tax brackets from nine to four.  And it eliminates the deduction for federal taxes.  It increases the depended credit to $500, from $40.

Unfortunately, the way he adjusts the brackets will result in a big tax increase for taxpayers at not very high income levels.  His 6.2% bracket would kick it at taxable income of $42,091.  Under current law, 6.2% is roughly the highest Iowa effective rate when you take the deduction for federal taxes into account.  Under current law, that starts at $67,230 for 2014.  With a top rate of 8.8%, the Hatch plan means about a 25% increase in the top rate at the highest brackets — and his top rate begins at taxable income of only $88,822.

I did some quick computations on four very simplified taxpayers — single filers with one item of ordinary income.  The results are below:

 

hatch2014

The result is a small tax cut at the lower brackets, but some big increases in higher brackets.  Remember that much of the income taxed at higher brackets is pass-through business income.  That makes it a big tax increase on employers.  It’s hard to see how this will sell.

 

20121120-2Megan McArdle, Latest Obamacare Delay Is Probably Illegal:

That doesn’t mean that the courts are going to step in. Courts don’t just swoop down and body-check the executive branch or Congress every time one of them oversteps its constitutional powers. They wait for someone to sue. And in order to sue, you need to have legal standing, which, Adler points out, no one seems to. It’s not enough to say that your taxes will be higher, or your government measurably less constitutional, because of the government’s actions. You need to prove that you have been substantially harmed, and it’s not clear that anyone can.

Unlike Megan, I think a successful lawsuit is a real possibility.   There are surely employers just over the 100-employee limit who will be at a disadvantage compared to those who are just under, and who therefore don’t have to comply with the mandate.  While I am not a lawyer and far from a specialist in “standing,” that seems like somebody who would have it.

 

TaxGrrrl, The IRS, The Refund Process and That Pesky 1121 Code.  It appears earned income credit refunds are getting held up.  Considering the level of fraud and error in the program, it’s hard to fault the IRS here.

Jason Dinesen, Iowa Charitable “Checkoffs”

Something that a lot of taxpayers (and tax preparers — including me) in Iowa often overlook is the “charitable checkoffs” a taxpayer can make on their Iowa tax return. Taxpayers can choose to donate money on their Iowa return to these causes:

  1. Fish and Wildlife: donations made here go towards Iowa’s Wildlife Diversity Program, which monitor’s the state’s “non-game” wildlife.

  2. Iowa State Fair Foundation: donations made here help fund improvements to the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

  3. Firefighters/Veterans Trust Fund: donations made here are split 50/50 between helping volunteer fire departments with training and helping veterans with things such as job training.

I like the wildlife one best.

 

Paul Neiffer ponders IRS Data by Zip Code and County.  It’s full of interesting stuff, and I hope to post about our local zip codes and their 2011 tax data.

Kay Bell, IRS options after losing tax preparer regulation appeal. Um, do their job, and don’t try to revive the failed power grab?

William Perez looks at the Percentage of Tax Returns Claiming Itemized Deductions.

 

Andrew Lundeen, The Economics of Senator Wyden’s Tax Reform Plan (Tax Policy Blog):

Though the plan does simplify the individual side of the tax code, the most important measure of tax reform plans should be the growth it produces. On that measure, this plan falls short predominately due to its treatment of capital.

It does go the wrong way.

 

Jack Townsend, Article Analyzes Counter-Intuitive Effects of IRS Offshore Penalty Structure.  “As the authors note, ‘the GAO Report indicates [that] taxpayers with little or no criminal or civil fraud exposure were punished proportionately in higher amounts than those who participated and had true criminal tax exposure.'”

Of course.  You have to shoot the jaywalkers so you can be nice to the real crooks.

 

Peter Reilly, Pilot To Black Panther To Pastor Calls For Financial Transparency In Churches.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 280

 

Career Corner.  If No One Will Hire You, Maybe It’s Because Your Parents Aren’t Offering to Pay Them   (Going Concern).  Probably not, though.

Bleacher Nation, Chicago Cubs Pitchers and Catchers: REPORT!!!  Let’s do this.

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/7/14: Love it or leave it edition! And: Coralville tax scam.

Friday, February 7th, 2014 by Joe Kristan


20140207-1
Making America a better place to leave.  
2013 Expatriations Increase by 221% (Andrew Mitchel):

We do not believe that the primary reason for the increase in expatriations is for political purposes or for individuals to reduce taxes.  Instead, we believe that there are likely three principal reasons for the recent increases in the number of expatriations:

  1. Increased awareness of the obligation to file U.S. tax returns by U.S. citizens and U.S. tax residents living outside the U.S.;
  2. The ever-increasing burden of complying with U.S. tax laws; and
  3. The fear generated by the potentially bankrupting penalties for failure to file U.S. tax returns when an individual holds substantial non-U.S. assets.

The increase in expatriations may also be partly due to a 2008 change in the expatriation rules.

When a foot-fault can break you, you might not want to play the game anymore.  When they start shooting you for jaywalking, you might not want to be on that street at all.

 

20140106-1It’s never too cold for a tax scam.  From CBS2Iowa.com:

Coralville police say they’re receiving more reports of a telephone tax scam. CBS 2 News first told you about the scam last month. The IRS says the scam targets taxpayers, especially recent immigrants. A caller claims to be an IRS agent and says the victim owes money. The victim is told to repay the money using a preloaded debit card or a wire transfer. If the victim refuses, the caller threatens to arrest or deport them or suspend his or her drivers license. The scammer uses a fake name and fake IRS badge number. The caller has found a way to make caller IDs show the number as the IRS toll-free line. To appear more legitimate, the scammer may also send a fake email or recite part of the victim’s social security number. After threatening the victim, the caller may hang up. A second scammer may later call the victim, pretending to be from the local police department or DMV.

It sounds like the scam described in this IRS web page.  If they haven’t sent you a letter first, the IRS isn’t going to call you.  Nor will they contact you via e-mail.  The IRS gives this advice:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.
  • If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov.  Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Paying taxes you actually owe is enough fun without sending extra to scammers.

 

20121120-2

Fiduciary Income Tax Blog, 65-Day Rule — 2014:

Fiduciaries of estates and complex trusts have the option to treat certain distributions as having occurred last year. An election can be made with respect to distributions made within 65 days after the end of a tax year. The 65th day of 2014 is Thursday, March 6.

Think of it as a trust mulligan.  With the 3.8% Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax applying at around $12,000 of trust income, many trusts will want to use the 65-day rule to get the income to beneficiaries whose income is under the thresholds.

 

William Perez, Understanding Personal Exemptions

Jason Dinesen, Financing a Small Business: 4 Items to Remember.  “Don’t spend money just to get tax deductions.”

Kay Bell, Federal itemized deduction claims state-by-state

TaxGrrrl, Looking For Your Tax Refund? What You Need To Know So Far For 2014 

 

This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Christopher Bergin, New IRS Commissioner Wants to Move Forward – We Should Let Him (Tax Analysts Blog):

Koskinen needs the time and space to do what everybody agrees must be done: Fix the IRS. The investigations must continue. But the new commissioner needs to move forward as well. That means not avoiding the problems, but going at them in a positive, not in a negative way. That’s what good leaders do. We should give the man a chance to show us he is one.

He could hardly be worse than the last one.

Howard Gleckman, Individual Income Taxes May Soon Generate Half of All Federal Tax Revenue (TaxVox)

CBO explains much of the rise in individual income taxes by expected increases in real incomes produced by a recovering economy, including higher wages, salaries, capital gains, and income to owners of pass-through firms, who report their taxes on their individual returns. CBO also expects a significant increase in distributions from retirement accounts for at least the next few years, driven in part by higher asset values.

Two other reasons: Higher tax rates for upper-income households (including the surtax in the Affordable Care Act) and the phenomenon known as real bracket creep. Tax brackets are adjusted for inflation but not economic growth. For at least the next few years, CBO figures incomes will grow faster than those inflation-adjusted brackets.

Oddly, these projections assume the expiring provisions actually expire.  Not likely.

Joseph Henchman, Response to Jesse Myerson’s Land Tax Idea (Tax Policy Blog).  Nice effort, but I’m not sure you need to respond to somebody who says Communism gets a bad rap.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 274

Jack Townsend, Another Swiss Bank Enabler Indicted in SDNY

J. Richard Harvey, Jr., Surprising Statistics on Corporate Disclosures of Uncertain Tax Positions (UTP) (Procedurally Taxing):

 

The Critical Question: Does the NFL Need a Billion Dollar Subsidy Annually from Taxpayers? (Tax Justice Blog)

Career Corner.  Protip to Government Accountants: If You’re Into Kiddie Porn, You Probably Shouldn’t Watch It At Work (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/15/14: Serving society by shooting jaywalkers, sending billionaires to elementary school.

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Don’t forget to mail your 1040 first quarter estimated tax payments today!

 

Wikipedia image

Wikipedia image

“Society will be best served by allowing him to continue his good works.”  So said Federal Judge Charles Kocaras in sentencing Beanie Baby Billionaire Ty Warner to two years of probation and 500 hours of community service.  Mr. Warner admitted evading taxes on more than $3.3 million in income through the use of Swiss accounts in a plea deal, but his total unpaid taxes was in the neighborhood of $5.6 million, according to Bloomberg News.

So Mr. Beanie Baby gets to do good works.  It’s remarkable, considering the federal sentencing guidelines for a $5 million tax loss start at a 51-month sentence.

Meanwhile, an American woman who has lived her adult life in France is terrified that she will be financially ruined if she starts complying with foreign reporting requirements that she had no idea existed.  A Canadian born of an American parent who has never been to the U.S. faces ruinous penalties because he never filed U.S. tax returns or FBAR reports — it never occurred to him that he might have to file U.S. taxes.  A second-generation American who inherited a foreign bank account from her father faces a minimum of $40,000 in penalties after not paying a whopping $100 in income tax on the account, which she didn’t even know existed.

So society is best served by allowing Mr. Beanie Baby to help out in classrooms, while the IRS quietly imposes outrageous penalties on the innocent conduct of non-billionaires for foot-faulting their paperwork?  I think society would be best served by letting people voluntarily come into compliance without facing financial ruin.  I think society would be best served by not imposing insanely severe penalties for failing to report a Canadian bank account on time when no tax was avoided.  I think society would be best served by not terrorizing Americans abroad for committing personal finance.  But I’m not a federal judge, so my idea of what best serves society doesn’t mean much.

Related:

Jack Townsend, The Beanie Baby Man, The Tax Evader Adult Man, Ty Warner, Gets Probation!  “I do ask the question that comes immediately to mind.  What is it about the very rich that seems to resonate with sentencing judges?”

Janet Novack, No Jail Time For Beanie Babies Billionaire Tax Evader Ty Warner   “Even after those payments, he will still, according to an accounting he gave the government, be worth more than $1.8 billion.”

 

Kyle Pomerleau, IRS Data on Income Shifts Shows Progressivity of Federal Individual Income Tax (Tax Policy Blog):

In 1980, the top 1 percent accounted for 8.46 percent of adjusted gross income and 19.06 percent of income taxes paid: a difference of 10.59 percent. By 2011, their share of income increased to 18.7 and their share of all income taxes paid increased to 35.06; the difference increased to 16.35 percent.

Top 1 pays more than bottom 90

 

So increasing taxes on the rich didn’t make things more “equal.”  How about that.

 

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Lois Lerner, ex-IRS, ex-FEC

Howard Gleckman, IRS Gets Hammered in the 2014 Budget Agreement (TaxVox):

The Internal Revenue Service is one of the biggest losers in the 2014 budget deal agreed to last night by House and Senate negotiators. Under the agreement, the service would get just $11.3 billion, which is $526 million below its 2013 budget and $1.7 billion less than President Obama requested. 

Congress uses the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy.  It has a sprawling portfolio that ranges from energy policy to welfare to health care — responsibilities that dwarf many of the cabinet agencies nominally overseeing those areas.  Yet Congress, while increasing the responsibility of the IRS more and more, is cutting its resources.  That won’t end well.

Yet the IRS in a way has itself to blame.  It’s outrageous politicization under Doug Shulman and the resulting Tea Party harassment have had the predictable effect of making the Republicans consider the IRS a political opponent.  Nobody wants to fund the opposition.  And no, I don’t buy Mr. Gleckman’s line that “…the 501(c)(4) mess was caused in part by a lack of resources.”  If you don’t have resources, you don’t spend extra time singling out certain political views for “special” treatment.”

 

David Brunori, Apple and Wal-Mart Are Perfect Together in a World of Bad Tax Policy (Tax Analysts Blog):

In any event, the purveyors of tomorrow’s technology and cheap toiletries recently got together to lobby for a sales tax holiday in Wisconsin. In that regard at least, Apple and Wal-Mart are very much alike. They favor bad tax policy when it helps their bottom line. 

Of course they do.  The real shame is the legislators who make it happen.

microsoft-apple

 

TaxGrrrl, No Criminal Charges Expected In FBI Investigation Into IRS Scandal

William Perez discusses Prices for Professional Tax Preparation Services.

Kay Bell, California has $16 million in undeliverable 2012 tax refunds

Robert D. Flach, THE FUTURE OF THE RTRP DESIGNATION – THE CONVERSATION CONTINUES:  “To be effective the organization that administers the independent voluntary RTRP credential must have the backing, support, and recognition of the entire industry, and not just one component or organization.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 251

If the sentence is carried out on April 16, it’s cruel and unusual punishment.  Governor Christie Redeems Himself By Signing “CPA Death Penalty” Legislation in New Jersey (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/10/2014: Taxpayer advocate rips IRS penalties and foreign account enforcement. Also: the Code still stinks!

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan
Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen

The Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report directs some well-deserved fire on two of the worst IRS practices: the penalty-happy approach to examinations and the shoot-the-jaywalkers approach to offshore enforcement.

The report says this about penalties:

The IRS’s decision not to abate inapplicable penalties illustrates its resource-driven approach to them. As we have described in prior reports, the IRS too often proposes accuracy-related penalties automatically when they might potentially apply — before performing a careful analysis of the relevant facts and circumstances — and then burdens taxpayers by requiring them to prove the penalties do not apply.

The IRS should identify and abate all of the accuracy-related penalties that should not apply. It should minimize taxpayer burden when administering the IRC § 6676 penalty (e.g., by not proposing it automatically) and work with the Treasury Department to support a reasonable cause exception.

Amen.  The tax law is hard, and when a taxpayer does what a reasonable person — not a reasonable tax lawyer — should do to pay the right amount, there shouldn’t be an automatic 20% mistake penalty.  Too bad the advocate doesn’t seem to have embraced my “sauce for the gander” penalty, which would make the IRS pay taxpayers the same 20% penalty when the IRS makes an unjustified assessment.

Regarding foreign account enforcement, the report faults the IRS shoot-the-jaywalker approach (my emphasis):

In the 2009 OVD program, the median offshore penalty paid by those with the smallest accounts ($87,145 or less) was nearly six times the tax on their unreported income. Among unrepresented taxpayers with small accounts it was nearly eight times the unpaid tax. The penalty was also disproportionately greater than the amount paid by those with the largest accounts (more than $4.2 million) who paid a median of about three times their unreported tax. When the IRS audited taxpayers who opted out (or were removed), on average, it assessed smaller, but still severe, penalties of nearly 70 percent of the unpaid tax and interest. Given the harsh treatment the IRS applied to benign actors, others have made quiet disclosures by correcting old returns or by complying in future years without subjecting themselves to the lengthy and seemingly-unfair OVD process. Still others have not addressed FBAR compliance problems, and the IRS has not done enough to help them comply.

20121129-1Shooting the jaywalkers so you can slap the bad actors on the wrist.

The IRS should expand the self-correction and settlement options available to benign actors so that they are not pressured to opt out or pay more than they should; do more to educate persons with foreign accounts (e.g., recent immigrants) about the reporting requirements; consolidate and simplify guidance; and reduce duplicative reporting requirements.

The IRS should follow the lead of the states that allow non-resident taxpayers who voluntarily disclose past non-compliance to file and pay five years of prior taxes, with only interest and no penalties — reserving the penalties for those who wait until they are caught.  Tax Analysts quotes one lawyer as saying this would be unfair to the already-wounded jaywalkers:

“It’s very hard to make the program more lenient now without going back and adjusting thousands of [prior] taxpayers’ resolutions since 2009,” he said. That is something the IRS is likely unwilling to do, he added.

Too bad.  That’s exactly what they should do.

 There’s a lot more to the report, including a call for a new taxpayers bill of rights (good) and a renewed call for IRS preparer regulation (a waste of IRS and preparer time).

Related: 

Lynnley  Browning, IRS top cop says the agency is too hard on offshore tax dodgers.  I can’t imagine she wrote that headline.  Any lazy headline writers who call an inadvertent FBAR violator a “tax dodger” should have half their bank account balances seized if they ever forget to report a 1099.

TaxGrrrl, Report To Congress: IRS Is Increasingly Unable To Meet Taxpayer Needs

Jack Townsend,New Taxpayer Advocate Report to Congress Addressing, Inter Alia, OVDI/P Concerns

 

TaxProf, IRS Releases FY2013 2006 Enforcement Stats:

The IRS has released Fiscal Year 2013 Enforcement and Service Results, showing among other things:

  • Individual audit rate:  0.96% (lowest since 2005)

  • Large corporation audit rate: 15.8% (lowest since 2009)

  • Revenue from audits:  $9.8 billion (lowest since 2003)

  • Number of IRS agents:  19,531 (lowest since pre-2000)

  • Conviction rate:  93.1% (highest since pre-2000)

It’s hard to see where the IRS has the resources for making compliant preparers waste their time on preparer regulation busywork.

 

William Perez, Fourth Estimated Tax Payment for 2013 Due on January 15

Paul Neiffer, How Low is Too Low For A Rental Arrangement?  “We had a reader ask the following question: ‘Does leasing cropland to a family member for substantially less than fair market value become “gifting” subject to taxes for value above gifting limit?'”

Jason Dinesen,  Review Your Small Business Operations as Part of Year-End/Year-Beginning Planning

Leslie Book, NTA Annual Report Released (Procedurally Taxing)

 

 

Christopher Bergin, The Tax Code in 2014 – It Still Stinks (Tax Analysts Blog):

I’ve always believed in progressive income taxation. This isn’t it. The conservatives have sold us on the notion that tax is a dirty word, and the liberals have sold us on the notion that class envy is a healthy state of mind.

And that, folks, is why the tax code stinks. And it won’t get any better in the new year.   

There’s more to the stink than that, but it’s a good start.

 

Scott Hodge, Millionaire Taxpayers Tend to be Older.  Well, that’s one good thing about aging, I guess.

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Howard Gleckman, Pay to Extend Unemployment Benefits? Why Not Pay to Extend Temporary Tax Breaks Too?  (TaxVox)

Tax Justice Blog,  Reasons Why Congress Should Allow the Deduction for Tuition to Remain Expired

Kay Bell, Marijuana sales, tax collections good for Colorado coffers.

 

The Newest Cavalcade of Risk is up!  Hank Stern participates with an Overseas ObamaTax Conundrum

 

Robert D. Flach brings the Friday Buzz!

Career Corner: This Year, Resolve to Finally Decide What You Want To Be When You Grow Up in Public Accounting (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/19/2013: Beanie Babies busted. And no mo’ Mo Money.

Thursday, September 19th, 2013 by Joe Kristan


20130919-1
Ty Warner was a big winner in life’s lottery.  He invented the Beanie Baby, a toy craze that made him a very wealthy man.  But then, like many lottery winners, he began to handle finances unwisely.  According to media reports, he will plead guilty to hiding funds in Swiss banks.  From the Wall Street Journal:

The creator of Beanie Babies has agreed to plead guilty to U.S. tax evasion and pay $53.6 million, the largest offshore-account penalty ever reported.

Ty Warner, chief executive of Ty Inc., the maker of stuffed dolls, reached an agreement with the U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois to plead guilty to a federal tax-evasion charge in connection with undeclared offshore Swiss accounts, according to his lawyer, Gregory Scandaglia, of Scandaglia & Ryan in Chicago.

Mr. Warner also faces a possible prison sentence.

$53.6 million is a lot of beanies.  What I found striking is how little he stood to gain compared to how much he will lose:

The unpaid tax on the account came to $885,300, according to a Justice Department statement.

By my math, there was $60 to lose for every dollar he stood to gain.  That seems like an unwise bet.

Jack Townsend has the definitive coverage, Whopping FBAR Penalty in Criminal Plea; Beanie Baby Creator Gets Beaned With No Free Pass:

But then his reported net worth is $2.6 billion, so in terms of real world punishment, well not much.  He is probably more concerned with the public embarrassment than the cost of his behavior.  It would appear that for real punishment of the mega-wealthy a penalty keyed to the net worth should apply (if higher than the normal FBAR penalty; then, depending upon the amount, there could be some real punishment rather than just a nuisance).  Of course, if he gets some serious incarceration period — which is what the Guidelines will indicate — then there may be some real punishment.  But, the courts have been notoriously lenient in sentencing, at least for persons not so wealthy as Warner (and his earlier colleague among the mega-rich, Olenicoff).

I have only the customary pity for somebody who falls from success to scandal.  It sounds like Mr. Warner knew exactly what he was doing.  I have a lot more sympathy for much smaller taxpayers who face similarly disproportionate penalties relative to unpaid taxes for inadvertent violations.  It’s too bad the IRS has such a hard time telling the difference.  Apparently you have to shoot the jaywalkers so you can slap the real criminals on the wrist.

The TaxProf has more.  So does Jana Luttenegger.

 

20130919-2Mo’ Money no mo’.  The owners of the Mo’ Money tax prep franchise won’t be making any mo’ money doing taxes.  From a Department of Justice press release:

A federal court in Memphis, Tenn., permanently barred the owners of Mo’ Money Taxes, Markey Granberry and Derrick Robinson, as well as a former Mo’ Money manager, Eumora Reese, from preparing tax returns for others and owning or operating a tax return preparation business, the Justice Department announced today.  The civil injunction order, to which Granberry, Robinson and Reese agreed without admitting the allegations against them, was signed by Judge S. Thomas Anderson of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.

The business seemed to have its share of fraud trouble at its franchises   Based on this, it appears the problems may have started at the top.

TaxGrrrl, IRS Gets Big Win In Corporate Tax Holiday Case, Readies For Next Fight

William Perez, Need to Pay Taxes for 2012? Be Aware of Penalties and Interest

Paul Neiffer, Estimated 2014 Inflation Adjusted Tax Items

Kay Bell, 2014 tax brackets preview indicates tax savings for many

TaxProf,  The IRS Scandal, Day 133

 

Cara Griffith, The ‘Tech Tax’ That Wasn’t (Tax Analysts Blog)

Alan Cole,  Obamacare’s “Cadillac Tax” – A Poor Patch for a Hole in the Income Tax (Tax Policy Blog)

Donald Marron,  The Costs of Debt Limit Brinksmanship  (TaxVox)

 

We should all have such funding problems.  There are two posts today bemoaning the lack if IRS funding:

Tax Justice Blog,  An Underfunded IRS Means More Tax Avoiders Get a Pass.

Christopher Bergin, Mind the Gap, and Fund the IRS (Tax Analysts Blog)

Here is a chart of inflation-adjusted IRS funding:

20130821-1

 

You know, it doesn’t look the IRS is doing that badly by historical standards.  If Congress didn’t act like the tax law was the Swiss Army Knife of public policy, giving the IRS duties as varied as industrial policy and running the nation’s healthcare financing, funding would seem more than adequate.

 

The Critical Question:  Is Obamacare the GOP’s White Whale? (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox)

Career Advice:  This Way to CPA Isn’t Too Confident You Can Get By Without Mommy’s Help (Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 9/5/2013: Fleeing the state edition. And other good tax policy moves.

Thursday, September 5th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130905-1Cara Griffith, Income Migration: What Does It Really Mean for States? (Tax Analysts Blog; my emphasis):

Still, the data seems to strongly suggest that tax policy (more than warm temperatures) does in fact drive income migration. But that statement is not particularly shocking. In addition to the interstate income migration, U.S. citizens have expatriated to avoid federal tax consequences and even abroad, there has been migration among European nations to avoid high tax countries (remember Gerard Depardieu?).

The question is what does this mean? Will we one day end up with the majority of millionaires in a handful of low tax states while those making more meager incomes remain in high tax states? No. It’s highly unlikely. The decision of where to locate is not done in a vacuum. It is the result of many factors, income tax burden being only one of those factors. Employment, family connections, and quality of public services (in particular education and health care) play roles as well. Migration solely because of tax policy is uncommon and likely restricted to the very rich.

But this does not excuse bad tax policy. Good state tax policy dictates a stable system with a broad base and low rates. High income tax rates can cause a small, but wealthy portion of the population to leave and can directly affect small businesses. We have the federal government to worry about income redistribution and business regulation. States should focus on tax systems that will create competitive business climates. That, in the end, will encourage residents to stay put.    

A broad base and low rates equal good tax policy.  Iowa takes the opposite approach, with some of the highest rates and a zillion tax breaks for the well-connected and well-lobbied.  There is another way.

 

Speaking of tax migration,  Americans turn in passports as new tax law hits (CNN Money).  Sometimes the jaywalkers don’t want to be shot.

 

 

Russ Roberts, New York City tax economics (Cafe Hayek):

The top 1% made 34% of the income but paid 43% of the taxes… You’ll often hear how the rich have used their political power to lower their tax burden. Yes, some of the rich have a disproportionate share of political power. But their power must be pretty limited if they still pay 43% of the income taxes collected in New York City.

And really, considering the cost of living there, the next 49% have pretty healthy incomes too.  But the 1% can leave.

 

David Brunori, Feeling Petty About Guns? Tax Them (Tax Analysts Blog)

Davis, Pascrell and their gun control buddies obviously don’t understand some basic concepts of tax policy. They’re proposing a special tax, an excise, on a particular product. Everyone who has ever studied tax policy will tell you that those taxes are warranted only in limited circumstances. The idea is that an excise is appropriate when it’s used to compensate society for the external costs of using a product. In basic tax school, we call those costs externalities. Say I live in rural Virginia, far from any high-crime area. I own a .22 rifle because I like to shoot empty beer cans. And maybe I own a .45 automatic in the unlikely event of a home invasion. I’ve never committed a crime. And let’s stipulate that I’ll never commit a crime because most gun owners never will. And I don’t hunt because I’m a vegetarian and don’t like to shoot critters.

We should impose an excise tax on bad tax policy.  Now there are some externalities.

 

TaxGrrrl, Back To School: Making Sense Of Scholarships, Grants & Fellowships 

Kay Bell, Detroit woman’s good deed rewarded with $5,300 tax bill. Diligent, comprehensive record keeping saves the day

How “joint” is that joint return?  More on Equitable Relief: Review Standards (Leslie Book, Procedurally Taxing). 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 119

News you can use.  Kids Don’t Say They Want to Grow Up to Be CPAs Because Kids are Dumb.  (Going Concern).  

 

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The saga of Canada Cruz.

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 by Joe Kristan

 

cruzTed Cruz is lucky it wasn’t the other way around.  The Texas Senator recently learned that he is an accidental Canadian citizen because he was born in Calgary.  His American mom moved back to the U.S. when he was four and the Senator apparently never considered himself a Great White Northian.

Now he plans to “renounce” his Canadianhood, presumably to make his political life easier.  That’s fine for him, but I hope he ponders just how lucky he is that his life didn’t go the other way.  If Ted Cruz’s mom were a Canadian who brought him into the world in Fargo, and then moved him as a toddler back to Canada, he would be up to his toque in problems with the IRS.

Assume our alternate-world Ted Cruz – we’ll call him Canada Cruz — had become a successful Canadian lawyer and politician.  Given his $3.5 million net worth, he certainly would have opened substantial bank and brokerage accounts in Canada.  He would have significant retirement plan assets.  And, like many accidental Americans, it would probably never have occurred to him that his American citizenship obligated him to file FBAR reports and U.S. tax returns reporting his Canadian income.

The Treasury might claim half the balance of his financial accounts for each year he failed to file Form TD F 90-22.1 — or a mere $10,000 per year if they decided his violation wasn’t “willful.”    If he attempted to participate in the OVDI “amnesty” program to clean things up, he would probably be told to cough up “only” 25% of the balances in all of his Canadian accounts, and to file US returns paying tax on “all tax years” covered by the disclosure.   Assuming $3 million of his $3.5 million net worth represents financial assets, Canada Cruz would have to fork over at least $750,000 as a result of being an accidental American.  Just in case you wonder why people might renounce U.S. citizenship.

Tax Professor Allison Christians explains (via TaxProf):

US citizens abroad now understand that discovering ties to the US means discovering a world of obligations and consequences flowing from citizenship that you were expected to know and obey. Ignorance of the law being no excuse, the punishments range from the merely ridiculous–many times any tax that would have ever been due–to the infuriating: life savings wiped out and many future tax savings sponsored by your home government, such as in education or health savings plans, treated as offshore trusts and therefore confiscated by the US. Moreover there is no ready escape hatch for the newly discovered and unwanted US citizenship: five years of full tax reporting compliance must be documented, appointments must be made with officials, fees must be remitted, interviews must be conducted, and in some cases exit taxes must be paid. If some in Congress get their way, renunciation could even mean life-time banishment from the US someday soon.

If U.S. politicians had any sense of shame or capacity for introspection, they would take heed of Canada Cruz’s problems and stop U.S. tax law at the border.  A humane and sensible IRS would create an easy way for accidental citizens to come into compliance short of financial ruin.  As it is, Canada Cruz is just screwed.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/25/2013: Mo’ refundable credits, mo’ fraud. Plus cigarettes and preschoolers!

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

momoneyRefundable tax credits are a magnet fo’ mo’ fraud.  Five from Mo’ Money tax prep office in St. Louis arrested in scheme (St. Louis Post-Dispatch):

Mo’ Money franchise owner Jimi Clark, 57, of Memphis, Tenn., abused the American Opportunity Credit to attract and keep clients, prosecutors said. They filed for the credit on at least 47 returns where the taxpayer had not incurred any educational expenses, and unwisely, claimed the same amount of educational expenses, $3,765, on the “vast majority” of the returns, their indictment says.

In all, the 47 returns claimed more than $50,000 in educational credits.

Maybe 25% of the rundable Earned Income Tax Credit is paid improperly.  Yet legislators ignore how the credits actually work because they like them in theory.

 

Bankrupt state pays people to be friends. Illlinois governor to sign deal to lure fertilizer plant (Sioux City Journal)

Speaking of Bankrupt… Detroit Taxes and the Laffer Curve (Alex Tabarrok):

  • [The] per capita tax burden on City residents is the highest in Michigan. This tax burden is particularly severe because it is imposed on a population that has relatively low levels of per capita income.
  • The City’s income tax… is the highest in Michigan.
  • Detroit residents pay the highest total property tax rates (inclusive of property taxes paid to all overlapping jurisdictions; e.g., the City, the State, Wayne County) of those paid by residents of Michigan cities having a population over 50,000.
  • Detroit is the only city in Michigan that levies an excise tax on utility users (at a rate of 5%).

Sometimes you can’t solve the problem with more taxes.

 

Robert D. Flach, DEDUCTING CAPITAL LOSSES

Tony Nitti, Q&A: How Can An Accrual Basis Business Defer Revenue When It Receives Cash In Advance?

Phil Hodgen, Nonfilers–voluntary disclosure is not your only choice:

But my opinion is that the official program is fabulous for someone who is in deep trouble and might otherwise face a spot of prison time.  For that person, the “Your money or your life!” demand from the IRS is easy to answer.  Give ‘em your money. 

For almost everyone else, the voluntary disclosure program is stupidly expensive–in tax cost, penalties, interest, and professional fees to give the government all of the paperwork they want.

You gotta shoot the jaywalkers so you can slap the real crooks on the wrist.

Peter Reilly, Not Good For Real Estate Loss When Tax Court Judge Says Purports

Fiduciary Income Tax Blog, Trials and Tribulations of Nongrantor Trusts

 

 

Cara Griffith, Improving Transparency in Pennsylvania (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 77

Howard Gleckman, The OECD’s International Tax Plan: The First Step on a Long Road (TaxVox)

Tax Justice Blog, CTJ Presents the Nuts & Bolts of Corporate Tax Reform

Linda Beale, Senators promised 50 years of secrecy on their tax reform proposals

Daniel Shaviro, What is a “tax expenditure” and when does this matter?

 

TaxGrrrl,  Louisiana To Offer ‘Fresh Start’ Tax Amnesty Program.  I’m sure this time they really mean this is the last one.

Missouri Tax Guy, The Enrolled Agent, EA

Jack Townsend, Fourth Circuit Holds Defendant to His Tax Loss Stipulated in the Plea Agreement

Kay Bell, Summer 2013 sales tax holidays begin this weekend

William Perez, Sales Tax Holidays in 2013

                                                              

Quotable: (my emphasis)

The manufacturing innovation institute, meanwhile, is just another iteration of an idea that’s been around for longer than Barack Obama has. Go to any Rust Belt city and you’ll find research campuses, innovation institutes and similar institutions named after hopeful politicians who promised that a new manufacturing base would coalesce around this exciting agglomeration of creative minds. Unfortunately, in most instances it has turned out that manufacturing bases would rather coalesce around cheap land, low taxes and acres of uncongested freeway.

-Megan McArdle, “Obama’s Speech Is a Confession of Impotence

 

I think one judge will think otherwise. Three South Dakota men say income taxes don’t apply to them (Argus-Leader.com)

Tax Court Judge Holmes has a new opinion out.  Always entertaining and enlightening.

News you can use:  No Such Thing as Free Swag (Austin John, Elizabeth Malm, Tax Policy Blog).  Sorry, ESPY winners.

More harebrained than what they do anyway? U.S. Senators with Harebrained Tax Reform Ideas Offered an Opportunity (Going Concern)

Maybe not where you grew up. Cigarettes and Preschoolers Don’t Go Together (Scott Drenkard, Noah Glyn, Tax Policy Blog)

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/17/2013: Stories of wounded jaywalkers. And: checking in on Rashia.

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

taxanalystslogoMarie Sapirie of Tax Analysts has an excellent piece about how the IRS offshore account enforcement program treats the thousands of ordinary Americans abroad — and many green card holders living in the U.S. —  as presumptive tax criminals when they try to remedy foot-fault paperwork violations in reporting offshore accounts.  She tells the stories of four “minnows” who tried to remedy inadvertent minor violations of the foreign account rules.  Get a load of the advice they gave “Taxpayer 3:”

The taxpayer, like many others, sought help from a congressional representative in reaching a satisfactory resolution with the IRS. The response that the lawmaker received from the IRS — that the taxpayer could renounce U.S. citizenship — was disappointing. “I lived in the U.S. for 30 years; I never was treated unfairly for 30 years. I was proud of it. And here the IRS is telling me to renounce my citizenship
because it may be the best solution considering my situation,” the taxpayer said.

When the IRS is telling people to expatriate themselves, something is very wrong.

The article discusses the headaches involved in clearing up FBAR reporting, including the delays caused because IRS agents aren’t allowed to make international phone calls.

The IRS should imitate programs for state non-filers for FBAR violations: allow taxpayers to come in penalty-free anytime if they file disclose their accounts and amend returns for five years back to report any unreported offshore income.  Time to stop shooting the jaywalkers.

20130717-1

Rashia Wilson in happier times.

While Doug Shulman’s IRS was busy shooting jaywalkers, the grifters were running wild.  TampaBay.com has an update on the woman who boasted on her Facebook page that she was the “queen of IRS tax fraud”: IRS loss to fraud’s ‘first lady’ may have hit $20 million:

Rashia Wilson may have duped the IRS out of as much as $20 million before her arrest on stolen identity refund fraud charges.

That’s according to a court document, filed in advance of her sentencing today, that estimates the government’s loss at $7 million to $20 million.

What kind of criminal mastermind could break through the internal controls at IRS to loot that kind of money?

“YES I’M RASHIA THE QUEEN OF IRS TAX FRAUD,” reads a May posting on her Facebook page described in the affidavits. “IM’ A MILLIONAIRE FOR THE RECORD SO IF U THINK INDICTING ME WILL BE EASY IT WONT I PROMISE U!”

Well done, Shulman!  Criminal masterminds like Ms. Wilson are robbing the Treasury of $5 billion annually, and you are busy telling taxpayers trying to come into compliance to renounce their citizenship.

Prior tax update coverage: Identity theft tax fraud: women’s work?

Jason Dinesen, Taxpayer Identity Theft — Part 16. “The IRS still has not processed Brian and Wendy’s final joint tax return for 2010.”

 

Inspector General finds “willful” rummaging through political “candidate or donor” records, but Justice Department declines to prosecute.  This is a big deal.  All we know is that it is sometime after 2006.  Failing to prosecute that is shocking; it’s hard to imagine a good excuse.  Tax Analysts reports today ($link) that IRS denies any of its employees were involved.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 69

Kay Bell, Justice Department refusal to prosecute IRS disclosure of taxpayer information prompts inquiry from GOP Senator

Janet Novack,  Former IRS Auditor Gets Probation For Taxpayer Info Leak, Conflict Of Interest.  “Dennis Lerner admitted disclosing information about an audit of
Commerzbank AG and seeking a job with the German bank even as he was still negotiating a $210 settlement with it.”

 

William Perez, Same Sex Marriage, the Windsor Case and Estate Planning

Paul Neiffer, Capital Gains Questions on Selling Farmland

Missouri Tax Guy, Choose your tax pro? A rundown on the difference between CPAs, Enrolled Agents and other preparers.

 

Kay Bell, IRS will be fully staffed July 22 as furlough day is canceled

TaxGrrrl, IRS To Remain Open For Business As Furlough Day Is Canceled

 

Joseph Thorndike, Tax Expenditures Should Be Attacked Head On, Not Through the Backdoor (Tax Analysts Blog).

David Brunori, Immigrants are Good for Us (Tax Analysts Blog)

Howard Gleckman, Will Obamacare Delays Encourage Health Exchange Cheating?  (TaxV0x). Just because we can’t verify that you’re not cheating won’t result in massive cheating, according to Mr. Gleckman.  Let’s ask Rashia about that.

Russ Fox, The Most Ridiculous Tax Ever.  He’s talking about the insane “PCORI” fee.

Tax Justice Blog, North Carolina Facing Disastrous New Tax Laws.   The “disatrous” changes include reduction of the individual rate to 5.75% (currently 7.75%) and the corporate rate to 5% (from 6.9%).  If that’s a disaster, here’s hoping for one in Iowa.

Elizabeth Malm, More Details Released on North Carolina Compromise Plan and North Carolina House, Senate, and Governor Announce Tax Agreement (Tax Policy Blog).

 

Jack Townsend,  UBS Client, 78 Years Old, Sentenced to One Year and One Day

There are no athiests in taxholes.  Economist who dodged tax due to ‘religious objection’ gets four years behind bars (New York Post)

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/15/2013: Branstad not leading on income tax reform. And: Cage Fight! CPAs vs. RTRPs!

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 by Joe Kristan
Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

Might the Iowa legislature lead on income tax reform?  If it’s going to happen, they will have to, as Governor Branstad only wants to talk about property taxes this year.  O. Kay Henderson reports:

During a recent interview with Radio Iowa, Governor Branstad made it clear he is focused on cutting property taxes.

“Sure, I’d like to see the income tax reduced, too, but in terms of my priority — and I’ve been working on this for a couple of years and we’re really trying to perfect it — our focus is going to be on significant property tax reduction and replacement,” Branstad said a month ago.

Some legislators are more ambitious, reports Henderson:

Representative Tom Sands, a Republican from Wapello, is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee that writes tax policy.

“I think there is some pressure building from Iowans to cut both income taxes — look at some reform as well as a cut to the individual income tax,” Sands says. “We’re hearing from corporations as well, on the income side.”

I doubt anything good will happen with income taxes this session.  The Iowa Chamber Alliance even wants to to go the wrong way, pushing more tax credits for the well-connected.  No organization seems to be pushing for the rest of us.  But The Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan is ready to go if the legislature needs some ideas.

 

Russ Fox, Estimated Tax Payment Deadline Is January 15th.  For 1040 and 1041 filers. Kay Bell has more.

 

Nick Kasprak, Monday Map: State Gasoline Tax Rates, 2013 (Tax Policy Blog):

 20130115-1

Robert D. Flach, CHOOSING A TAX PREPARER.  I suppose I should be upset by this:

Contrary to the popular “urban tax myth” perpetuated by uninformed journalists, just because a person has the initials “CPA” after his/her name does not mean that he/she knows his arse from a hole in the ground when it comes to preparing 1040s.

But I’m not.  It’s true, if roughly stated.

Robert goes astray in his next paragraph:

Only those individuals who possess the “EA” (Enrolled Agent) or “RTRP” (Registered Tax Return Preparer) designations have demonstrated competency in 1040 preparation by taking an IRS-sponsored test, and are required to remain current in 1040 law by taking a minimum number of hours in continuing professional education (CPE) in federal income taxes each year.

False.  The RTRP test is open book.  It demonstrates that somebody can read.  It’s a literacy test, an empty exercise to justify the IRS power grab over the preparer industry.  It’s different with Enrolled Agents, like Jason Dinesen and Russ Fox,  who have to meet much stricter standards than RTRPs.    One of the underreported nasty consequences of the RTRP designation is that it damages the EA brand.

I also disagree with the implied conclusion that CPAs who prepare returns are less competent as a group than EAs or RTRPs.  Some are incompetent, no doubt, but many tax CPAs are highly-skilled.    I think the competency curve for non EA preparers vs. CPAs would look something like this:

http://www.rothcpa.com/misc/20110118-2.png

Substitute “RTRP” for “unenrolled preparer.”

There are excellent non-CPAs and there are incompetent CPAs.   Still, I think as a group the CPAs who do tax for a living will tend to be more competent.

My rule of thumb for choosing a preparer: buy as much preparer as you need, but no more.  Many taxpayers who only have wage and investment income and routine itemized deductions will do fine with an RTRP (and would have done fine with an unenrolled preparer without the new IRS preparer regulations).  If you have business income, a multistate return, or a complicated financial life, your needs go up; you need a high-end RTRP like Robert, or an EA, or a CPA. As your business gets bigger, you are more likely to want to hire a good CPA.  And when Robert gets to the bottom line of his post, I think he agrees.

But be careful which one you hire: Lawyer, Accountant Implicated in Estate Fraud Case (Brian Mahany)

 

Trish McIntire, Preparer Conflict of Interest

 

Jack Townsend, The Big Boys Get Better Treatment in Our Tax System Than Do Minnows.

I speak again on the basic relative unfairness of the treatment of many, if not most, in the IRS’s offshore voluntary disclosure initiatives.

They have to shoot the jaywalkers so they can slap the real offenders on the wrist.

 

You pay more in taxes this year than last year.  How do you like your tax cut? At Tax.com, Jeremy Scott tries to convince us that we just got a tax cut:

 The income tax rates, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax  patch are all here to stay.  And, according to the Tax Policy Center’s (TPC’s) preliminary study on distributional effects, the act essentially provided a big tax cut for almost everyone.

Funny, everybody’s taking home less.  How does that work? My emphasis:

Using the Congressional Budget Office’s old baseline (which assumed that  the Bush tax cuts would expire for everyone) and looking at the effects of the tax cut in 2018, the TPC says that the average taxpayer will receive a $2,335 tax cut under ATRA

I see.  Because the tax increase could have been bigger, we got a tax cut.  I’ll see if I can cut staff accountant pay and convince them they got a raise because we didn’t cut more.

Janet Novack, Obama Vows Republicans Won’t Collect ‘Ransom’ For Raising Debt Limit.  No, they’ll ultimately let the President continue the insane spending pace.

 

Paul Neiffer, We Wonder What the Investment Income Tax Form Will Look Like

Avoiding Excess Credit Card Interest Should Not Be A Taxable Event.  But it can be, if you get the bank to forgive unpaid interest that would be non-deductible.

IRS Releases Additional Inflation-Adjusted Figures for 2013

Robert Goulder, Taxes & Corruption: Another Greek Tragedy (Tax.com)

TaxGrrrl, Ask the taxgirl: IRS Delayed Tax Filing Season Applies To Everybody

Martin Sullivan, IRS: Women At Work (Tax.com):

According to the latest IRS Data Book  60,623 of the agency’s 104,402 employees in 2011 were women. That 66 percent is far more than the 44-percent figure for government’s total civilian labor force and the 47-percent figure for the overall US civilian workforce.

 

Ben Harris, Should Louisiana Dump Its Income Tax for a Bigger Sales Tax? (TaxVox)

News you can use.  FYI: Attorneys Think Auditors’ Legal Confirmation Letters Are a Giant Waste of Time (Going Concern)

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Tax Roundup, 8/30/2012: Hey, I said I’m sorry edition. But the IRS isn’t apologizing!

Thursday, August 30th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Sorry about that $2.1 million.  Remember the world’s thriftiest tax cheat, the one who stole $2.1 million from Oregon and used it to buy a 1999 Dodge Caravan and some tires?  An apology from the director of the Oregon Department of Revenue didn’t go well, according to this report from OregonLive.com:

SALEM — A contrite director of the Oregon Department of Revenue appeared before a legislative committee Wednesday and apologized repeatedly for dropping the ball on a $2.1 million fraudulent tax refund. But both Democrats and Republicans weren’t in a forgiving mood, demanding to know why four workers who failed to catch the return weren’t fired and whether the agency can do its job.

“It’s not going to be enough to sit here and say you’re sorry,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario.

 

Why are they so upset?  He said he was sorry, after all?

 

Two managers and one administrative clerk received written reprimands but no change in their salaries. A fourth worker was demoted and transferred to another part of the agency. That person, an administrative specialist, got a pay cut from $45,396 a year to $41,208.  

Most private sector clerks have problems beyond reprimands if they let $2.1 million go out the door to a theif.  Still, while the apology may not seem like much, it’s more than we’ve gotten from IRS Director Doug Shulman for letting over $5 billion per year go out the door to identity thieves.

Why is Doug Shulman too darn busy to apologize for letting ID thieves loot the Treasury?  Maybe because he’s spending his time making life miserable for Canadians.  Tax Notes reports ($link) that Frustration Grows for Canadians in OVDI:

Taxpayers and their advisers asked the IRS for guidance on how to deal with RRSPs [Canadian retirement accounts] in the summer of 2011 but received inconsistent replies     The IRS’s delay in issuing the guidance…  annoyed taxpayers because, at least regarding the requests for a letter ruling granting 9100 relief, it caused them to incur professional fees that turned out to be unnecessary.

“This decision could have been made in September, October, even November, and the clients could have avoided the additional costs,” said [attorney] Ciraolo. “While we appreciate the 9100 relief offered under FAQ 54, the fact that the IRS failed to acknowledge the inconvenience and cost caused by the delayed guidance, and failed to address whether the Canadians in the OVDI would be eligible for the new program open on September 1, only furthered the belief of the Canadian taxpayers that the IRS is acting without due consideration to the circumstances of those taxpayers who entered the OVDI in good faith.”

Of course.  The program has been haphazardly administered, treating innocent noncompliance with obscure IRS rules as presumptive evidence of offshore money-laundering.
The frustration that the delayed guidance on late elections to file Form 8891 has caused for U.S. practitioners and their Canadian clients exacerbated an increasingly tense diplomatic situation and perhaps convinced some Canadian taxpayers who sat out the 2011 OVDI that noncompliance was the right choice.

So we’ve provoked our closest neighbor while convincng many that non-compliance is safer than expecting the IRS to be fair.  Well done, Commissioner! 

Jack Townsend,  AICPA Complains to IRS About Form 3520 Administration Issues.  Form 3520 is a form that must be filed by taxpayers with interests in foreign trusts.  You’ll be shocked to hear that Doug Shulman’s IRS is botching it:
The AICPA letter described six specific errors the IRS letters claim taxpayers have made, including filing Form 3520 late when it was filed on time.

When you make it harder to follow the rules than to ignore them, the results won’t be good. 


This looks like one of those kinds of things that happen when staffing at a government agency is reduced beyond what is reasonable for the kinds of tasks that have to be carried out. 

I’d be more sympathetic to that argument if Doug Shulman’s IRS hadn’t taken it upon itself to devote massive resources to an intrusive and futile preparer regulatory scheme at the behest of the big national tax preparation firms and to requiring massive amounts of futile paperwork for international compliance.

How Bain Capital execs lower their taxes (Dan Primack, Fortune, via Going Concern):

There has been lots of talk over the past few days about how Bain Capital executives have used management fee waivers to effectively lower their tax payments (a tactic that is not unique to Bain). Some academics have argued that such waivers are an illegal dodge, while private equity tax attorneys I’ve spoken with call it “aggressive but accepted by the IRS.”

Here is the basic structure: Bain officially charges 2% management fees to investors in its private equity funds. The idea is to cover overhead, such as salaries, office leases, electric bills, etc.  But Bain has lots of other business lines (venture capital funds, hedge funds, etc.) that generate sufficient cash flow, so it “waives” the PE fund management fees…

By doing so, Bain partners don’t pay ordinary income taxes on their management fees. Instead, they pay at capital gains rates if/when the deals generate profit (because it’s now considered carried interest).

Many commentators seem to think that Mitt Romney should have gone out of his way to pay the highest tax possible, rather than doing what his tax advisors and the rest of his industry did.  I doubt that they direct their own preparers to forego deductions and exclusions that they think are poor policy or the result of poor administrative interpretations of the tax law.

 

TaxProf: Mitt Romney’s Tax Mysteries: A Reading Guide

Dan Meyer, The Annual Tax Extenders Legislation Addressed by the Senate.  But it has a long way to go.

Peter Reilly, Challenge To Clergy Tax  Break Gets Green Light — Next Stop, Scientology?

 Jason Dinesen has incorporated.

Anthony Nitti, How Does a “Go Shop” Provision Impact the Treatment of Transaction Costs?

 

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Tax Roundup, 8/9/12: IRS scolded for carelessly issuing ID numbers. Plus stupid vs. criminal, hitting bottom and digging.

Thursday, August 9th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman

IRS discouraged fraud detection in ID program (Huffington Post):

The Internal Revenue Service has been looking the other way instead of rooting out fraud when people apply for taxpayer identification numbers, Treasury Department investigators said Wednesday, exposing a shortfall with both financial and national security implications.

A member of Congress who sits on the House’s tax-writing committee responded to the report by calling on IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to resign, claiming the IRS is helping illegal immigrants defraud the government.

He wants the Commissioner to resign for that?  Considering that the Commissioner oversees the mailing of $5 billion annually to thieves, that he has terrorized and financially ruined otherwise law abiding Americans for footfault paperwork violations, and that he has, with questionable authority, imposed an expensive and futile preparer regulation scheme, this new outrage needs to take a number.

More coverage from the Wall Street Journal, Linda Beale and the TaxProf; read the TIGTA report here and a TIGTA press release here.

Instapundit on state film tax credits:

REPEAL THE HOLLYWOOD TAX CUTS!  (LOCAL EDITION):  La. film tax break program needs limits, budget group says.   “Louisiana has spent more than $1 billion over the past decade to attract movie productions to the state, but hasn’t received much in return besides the prestige of hosting big-name Hollywood actors, according to a report released today.  The left-leaning Louisiana Budget Project suggests state lawmakers should put tighter limits on the generous film tax break program, lessening the credits offered and capping the amount of money it can cost the state each year.”  Actually, it should be abolished, as should similar programs in almost every other state.  And this is something state Tea Party groups might even make common cause with lefties on.

A sadder-but-wiser Iowa repealed its version of the film credits this year after it collapsed in scandal and disgrace and the State Auditor reported that 80% of the credits were issued improperly or lacked documentation.  But in defense of the program, two filmmakers are moving to Iowa for up to ten years thanks to the film tax credit!

It’s time to register for this year’s ISU Center for Agricultural law and Taxation Farm Tax Schools!  I will be on the Day 1 panel at all eight sessions, starting with the October 29 school in Mason City.

We’re vacationing in the mountains this year, kids. The Plot Thickens for Swiss Bankers Involved In U.S. Evasion: (Jack Townsend):

Swiss bankers whose names were delivered to the United States in April as part of the crackdown on US tax evaders face the risk of arrest while travelling in some European countries, not just on US soil.

Well, the Alps are nice…

Stupidity is no crime: Were Reid’s Remarks About Romney’s Returns Unlawful? (TaxGrrrl)

We’re just getting started!  Have We Reached the Nadir of Tax Policy Discourse? (Going Concern)

“Bipartisan” means they’re ganging up on us: Wind energy tax breaks are bipartisan in Iowa (Ames Tribune)

Kay Bell has a new Carnival of Taxes for State Fair week!

Tax Policy Blog:  Misunderstanding Tax Reform: The Case of The Olympic Tax Elimination Act

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Tax Roundup, 7/10/2012: A truly Rich expatriate; the tax effects of executive politics; just park it by the pole.

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

Lynnley Browning at Reuters reports that “Denise Rich Renounces U.S. Citizenship, Will Save Tens Of Millions In Tax Dollars,”  prompting millions to wonder, who is Denise Rich?  Celine Dion fans (I’ve never met one, but I know they are out there) will know her as the songwriter behind Celine’s “Love is On the Way,” but political junkies know her as the wife of Marc Rich, the former fugitive billionaire who stopped running when Denise pulled enough strings and spread enough cash around to get him a pardon at the end of the Clinton administration.

Her move prompted some folks to tell her not to let the door hit her on the way out, and perhaps anybody who enables Celine Dion deserves a little venom.  But we should ponder for a moment why money is fleeing the country like deposits fleeing a Greek bank.  Mark Steyn tells us why celebrating her departure is unseemly:

… all this “what sort of red-blooded American renounces her citizenship over tax?” stuff is a wee bit much. It is the Government of the United States, uniquely in the civilized world, that binds citizenship to tax. An American who falls in love with an Uzbek or takes a job helping starving Third World children in Southern Sudan remains liable for US taxation and has to file US paperwork that is, in fact, more onerous than that required of US residents, and is about to get more so…

Most countries tax you if you live within their borders, some tax you if you live elsewhere but earn money within their jurisdiction, but only America claims the right to tax you simply for being American – even if you, say, live in Belgium but drive over the border to work in Luxembourg every day. This is unique to the United States: Spain taxes you if you’re a resident of Spain, Slovenia taxes you if you’re a resident of Slovenia, but America taxes you if you’re an American who’s working as a teacher in Gabon. You’re at permanent risk of double-taxation, and the fines for minor and accidental infraction are arbitrary and confiscatory.

As I say, no other developed country does this – although Eritrea does.

On January 1st 2013, all this gets worse. The FATCAT act (technically, it’s FATCA, but we all get the acronymic message) makes it not worth a foreign bank’s while to do business with Americans. I don’t just mean Mitt Romney’s chums in the Cayman Islands, but an American of modest means on a two-year secondment to Hong Kong requiring a small checking account with which to pay local utility bills – or a small businessman attempting to expand his distribution in Canada.

IRS Commissioner Shulman’s shoot-the-jaywalkers approach to offshore tax compliance, combined with half-baked populist legislation against “the rich” that punishes Americans abroad and businesses for committing everyday finance, is quietly bleeding our economy with a thousand little cuts.  Fabulously-wealthy people like Denise Rich can take a hike, but most of us are stuck here.  We can berate her as “unpatriotic” for leaving, but when you get that $10,000 fine for being one-day late in reporting that bank account you inherited from Uncle Hans in the old country, she’ll have the last laugh.

The TaxProf has moreUpdate: Matt Welch on the Dark Side of Anti-”Swiss Bank Account” Politics”

But we can still move within the country:  Did a Maryland Tax Increase Cause Taxpayers to Flee the State?  (Russ Fox)

Nanette Byrnes: Study: Companies of Republican CEOs pay more tax than Democrats’ (Tax Break).  Why?  One theory is that Democratic CEOs would tend to be in industries that play the government for tax breaks, like low-income housing and renewable fuels, and that Democrats are more comfortable with politicians playing God with the economy.  Unfortunately, the desire  to meddle with the economy via tax breaks is one thing both parties can agree on.

But we knew that before it become official: It’s Official: Tax Gridlock Until After November Election (Janet Novack)

William Perez, Tax Reform Proposal from the Bipartisan Policy Center

Blaming the accountant: Rihanna Files Suit, Alleges Financial Mismanagement Resulted in Tax Audit (TaxGrrrl)

Anybody could lose track of $800,000 in singles.  Take this hard-working Ohio attorney described by Cincinnati.com:

Sparta attorney Meredith “Larry” Lawrence will be sentenced in October on federal tax evasion charges for failing to report income from various sources – including Racers Gentleman’s Club in Sparta.

A jury found him guilty Friday on three counts of filing a false tax return for three consecutive years, starting in 2005.

Attorney by day, strip club operator by night?  “Gentlemen’s clubs” tend to be open late.  Maybe he was just sleep deprived?

During the two week trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elaine Leonhard described how federal agents found $800,000 in Lawrence’s safety deposit boxes.

She described how fees collected from women who stripped at the club would be stuffed in a white envelope and delivered to Lawrence once a week. Strippers were independent contractors required to pay “house fees” to dance at the club. The strippers even had to pay a parking fee.

“Parking fee?” Yes, the glamor has truly gone out of show business.

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IRS finally realizes that not all taxpayers with offshore accounts are notorious tax cheats

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012 by Joe Kristan

After years of treating every American abroad like a high-rolling tax cheat for simply having a normal financial life, it has finally dawned on the IRS that not everybody with an offshore bank account is a tax cheat.  Janet Novack explains:

The IRS said today that beginning Sept 1., those expatriates, dual citizens and green card holders living abroad who owe less than $1,500 a year on unfiled 1040s will be eligible for special relief. They will only have to file three years of back tax returns. And while they’ll have to file six years of back FBARS, they won’t get hit with an FBAR penalty. Moreover, participants in certain foreign tax deferred retirement plans such as the Canadian RRSPs ( like IRAs) will be able to exclude the deferred income from their back returns.  In the past, these foreign residents were stuck  because they hadn’t applied for income tax deferral on a timely basis.

This is long overdue.  Many expatriate citizens lived a normal life, marrying overseas and opening bank accounts like they would at home, with no idea that they were required to file form TD F 90-22.1 if their account balances exceeded $10,000.  There are severe financial penalties for non-filing, but honest citizens — most of whom owed little or no tax — found themselves treated like international money launderers when they signed up for the so-called amnesties for international non-filers.  The IRS, caught be surprise at the wide interest in the program, sadly understaffed it and enforced it with what I call a “shooting jaywalkers” mentality.

Ms. Novack passes on a story of how the new rules will help:

Robert E. McKenzie, a tax partner at the Chicago law firm of Arnstein & Lehr and a Forbes contributor, offered an example of one of his clients who he believes will be helped enormously by the new relief.  She is a retired widow, has lived in Canada for 30 years, has $150,000 in an RRSP and another $150,000 or so in other Canadian accounts. Under the 2011 OVDP, the IRS had demanded a $75,000 FBAR penalty from her. Now, she should be excused from any penalty.

Why the IRS didn’t have a program like this from the start of its offshore enforcement pogrom is beyond me.  Better late than never, though.   Still, they have yet to set up a similar program for U.S. residents with similar FBAR problems, such as green card holders who didn’t realize that they needed to tell the IRS about their bank accounts back home, or American citizens who have inherited bank accounts from foreign relatives.  I guess when it comes to providing relief to innocent taxpayers, the IRS feels that it has to dispense justice with an eyedropper.

The details of the new program are in IR-2012-65, taking effect on September 1.  The IRS will apparenly announce ahead of that time details, like where and how to file under the new program.  Meanwhile, Americans abroad with offshore accounts can breathe easier and watch for the additional details to emerge.  Meanwhile, remember that 2011 Form TD F 90.22-1 is due June 30, and that a bunch of new offshore reporting requirements for financial assets not in bank accounts also took effect for 2011 1040s.

Related:

Jack Towsend: IRS Announces Penalty Mitigation for Super Minnow US Taxpayers Living Abroad; RRSP (6/26/12).

Prior Tax Update coverage:

Shooting jaywalkers, wrist-tapping GE

Wall Street Journal coverage of the great IRS jaywalker hunt

Associated Press, here are your tax cheats.

Shooting jaywalkers so we can slap the real criminals on the wrist

Darth Shulman to foreign account holders: I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.

 

 

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