Posts Tagged ‘tax court’

Tax Roundup, 8/4/15: Cash-basis farmers score Tax Court win. Plus Buzz, and more!

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

binStrawberries. An old joke holds that the tax law has a provision that makes it illegal for farmers to pay taxes. Jokes usually express an underlying truth. The ability of most farm enterprises to deduct expenses on a cash basis is a big part of the joke. A fiscally-alert cash-basis farmer can ease the tax pain of a profitable year by buying up to a year’s worth of feed, seed and supplies on December 31, deducting the whole purchase.

The Tax Court last week upheld a broad use of cash-basis deductions by farmers in a case involving a California strawberry grower, Agro-Jal. This cash-basis deduction challenged case differs from what you might see in a typical Iowa crop or livestock operation. The taxpayer packs the strawberries it grows, and it purchased and deducted the packing materials on a cash basis. The IRS said that such supplies are not the sort of feed, seed and materials allowed to farmers as a cash basis deduction.

Judge Holmes looked at the rules and said the IRS got it wrong. The decision largely hinged on a Section that wasn’t directly in play here, Section 464. This section was enacted to fight an early tax shelter based on allowing cash basis farm deductions to off-the-farm investors by preventing “farm syndicates” from using the cash method. Judge Holmes considered the IRS arguments, and then noted (my emphasis, footnotes omitted):

But section 464 does bolster Agro-Jal’s argument indirectly, because the history of section 464 shows that before its enactment anyone in the farming business could immediately deduct prepaid expenses. Seen against this backdrop, section 464 looks like it was aimed at both especially abusive taxpayers — “farming syndicates” — and to certain especially abused expenses — “feed, seed, fertilizer, or other similar farm supplies.”

I understand this to mean that absent some other provision, farmers can, or could, deduct all prepaid expenses. Judge Holmes went on to consider the tax regulation on deductions of materials and supplies, and concluded that the IRS reading was not supported.

There is another wrinkle. The IRS has re-issued the “materials and supplies” regulation as part of its “repair regs” project, and it has changed the language relied on by the taxpayer. Tax Analysts discusses that change ($link):

Sharon Kay of Grant Thornton LLP said that the reference to the old version of the regs may not help other cash method farm taxpayers understand how to apply the new final tangible property regulations on materials and supplies. “That’s the big question,” she said. “What does this case mean, not just looking back, but actually looking forward under the new tangible property regulations?”

Kay noted that throughout the revisions to the tangible property regs, the IRS had made statements, primarily in the various preambles, that it did not intend for the revisions to substantially change the “determination of the treatment of materials and supplies as either non-incidental or incidental.” She said that the holding in Agro-Jal reflects farm taxpayers’ understanding of the law and general practices.

This may mean the IRS could continue to challenge deductions under the new regulations, hoping for a different result. But for Iowa livestock and crop farmers, whose big prepaid deductions are mostly for advance purchases of feed, seed and fertilizer, cash accounting does not seem to be under immediate threat. And it probably wouldn’t have been even if the IRS had won this case.

Paul Neiffer has more: Cash Basis Farmers Allowed to Deduct All Costs!

Cite: Agro-Jal Farming Enterprises, Inc., 145 T.C. No. 5.

 

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It’s summer. The bees are buzzing, and so is Robert D. Flach with a fresh Buzz roundup, including coverage of the new due-date rules.

Robert Wood, Charging $476K For Strippers On Company Card? No Tax Deduction, Jail Instead. That’s a lot of $1 bills.

Peter Reilly, Review Of Julian Block’s Home Seller’s Tax Guide. “The book packs a lot of important information into less than 100 pages.  I think that if I had a real estate office, I would be negotiating with Julian to buy copies in bulk to hand to potential clients as a marketing tool.”

Jim Maule, Another Problem with Targeted Tax Credits. “Once tax credits are handed out, everyone wants in on the gravy train.”

Kay Bell, Cool tax moves to make during August’s hot Dog Days

Jack Townsend, New Legislation Affecting FBAR and Tax Matters (8/1/15).

Mike Feehan, Urban Legends, Insurance File No. XXIV (Insureblog). “My opinion?  Most claims submitted are valid claims.  And systematic denial of valid claims is an urban legend.”

 

Cara Griffith, New York Attempts to Tax Income From Nonresident Lawyer Based on Bar License (Tax Analysts Blog):

“Thankfully, an administrative law judge for the DTA set the division straight. The ALJ concluded that the division’s argument is meritless, inconsistent with the state tax regulations, and inconsistent with New York judiciary laws. “The Division cannot,” the ALJ said, “assert tax merely based on a New York license.”

This is a case where my “sauce for the gander” proposal would allow taxpayers to collect penalties from the state for making a frivolous argument.

Richard Auxier, Recovery cannot save state budgets from politics (TaxVox). “Since then the economy has improved, state tax revenue are growing, and legislatures have more room to maneuver during budget season. Yet havoc still reigns in many statehouses. In fact, it might be getting worse.”

 

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TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 817

Matt Gardner, Innovation Boxes and Patent Boxes: Congress Is Focusing on Corporate Tax Giveaways, Not Corporate Tax Reform. (Tax Justice Blog). The “patent box” would give preferential rates for intellectual property income, which would create a new industry of consultants devoted to making all income I.P. income. Far better to broaden the base and lower rates for everyone.

Kyle Pomerleau, Ways and Means Committee Introduces “Innovation Box” Discussion Draft (Tax Policy Blog). “Simply put, a patent box provides a lower tax rate on income related to intellectual property.”

 

Quotable: 

Most economists, on the other hand, believe that targeted tax incentives may work, but only in the sense that companies get extra cash and say the right things at press conferences. However, the tax breaks often don’t work in the sense of actually boosting state and local economies in any appreciable way. One large high-tech warehouse on the edge of town with 40 workers won’t transform anything. Neither will a dozen.

Billy Hamilton, Tax Analysts ($link)

 

News from the Profession. Accountant Posts Big Game Hunting Photos, Internet Flips Out (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). I hope my big game trophy shots never make the internet. Oh, wait…

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/2/15: Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor Edition. And: why Iowa can’t have nice things.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

 

20150702-1Patriotism can be costly. The founders pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” when they voted for independence 239 years ago today. But not everyone is down for the “Fortunes” part.

A construction contractor in Florida leaned on patriotism to minimize taxes. The Tax Court takes up the story (citations omitted):

Petitioner became involved with certain organizations and individuals, such as the Patriot Network, We the People, and Richard Cornforth, that advocate tax avoidance and encourage actions to frustrate and delay the IRS’ collection efforts. He paid an annual fee to the Patriot Network for access to its Web site and for assistance with tax problems. Petitioner testified that he became convinced that Federal income taxes were “illegitimate” and that caselaw showed that individuals who had refused to pay taxes were prevailing in court.

That caselaw must be interesting. This sort of tax protest argument never actually works in avoiding taxes, though occasionally tax deniers can convince a jury that they actually believed this stuff enough to not be intentional tax criminals.

The taxpayer tried some legal incantations to help his patriotic cause:

On January 23, 2008, petitioner filed a notarized document entitled “Official Declaration of Domicile” with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Volusia County, Florida. The document stated that petitioner did not believe himself to be a U.S. citizen but was rather “One of the People”, a “Florida [S]tate Citizen”, a “Sovereign”, and a “Man upon the land”. Petitioner filed this document at the suggestion of one of the tax-avoidance organizations.

20120531-2The “man upon the land” thing is a new one, to me. Unfortunately for our taxpayer, it didn’t work any better than the “One of the People” thing in Tax Court yesterday. He appears to have been a successful contractor, if the amount of taxes he was assessed is an indication, and the IRS probably noticed that there was no income being reported on the 1099s issued to him.

An examination got underway, and it went as well as you might expect, given the patriotic advice he was taking (my emphasis):

Revenue Agent Pritchard sent petitioner a letter dated April 24, 2009, stating that he had submitted Form 12153 prematurely, as no tax had been assessed yet. On May 6, 2009, Revenue Agent Pritchard sent petitioner a letter informing him that his arguments were frivolous and providing Code citations and IRS guidance pertaining to his filing requirements and respondent’s authority to impose and collect income tax. The letter specifically addressed promoters of tax-avoidance activities, stating: “These people base their arguments on legal statements taken out of context and on frivolous arguments that have been repeatedly rejected by [F]ederal courts.”

Nevertheless, at the suggestion of the aforementioned tax-avoidance organizations, petitioner continued to send letters to Revenue Agent Pritchard espousing similar arguments and often accompanied by Forms 12153. For example, with assistance from the Patriot Network, petitioner sent Revenue Agent Pritchard a letter dated May 13, 2009, threatening legal action against her and the United States. Petitioner also sent Revenue Agent Pritchard a letter dated July 14, 2009, “demanding that * * * [she] send * * * [him] a certified assessment of how * * * [she has] now came [sic] up with this alleged amount & the name of the person or persons preparing it”, and a letter dated October 23, 2009, and addressed to “Tax Collector” that requests a section 6320/6330 hearing and is accompanied by an attachment of materials that petitioner received from the Patriot Network

IMG_0216Lacking cooperation from the taxpayer, the IRS did things the hard way, backing into taxable income based on bank deposits and 1099s. The result was over $238,000 in taxes assessed over four years, plus interest and fraud penalties.

At some point after the taxpayer commenced Tax Court proceedings, lucidity overcame him:

Petitioner relied on the Patriot Network Web site during the early stages of this case. For example, petitioner followed the Patriot Network’s advice to file a request for admissions and a motion in limine to exclude from evidence the bank  records that respondent had obtained. However, petitioner testified that he subsequently realized he had made foolish mistakes “in trying to follow other people” and that he was trying to fix those mistakes. He hired an accountant to file late returns for 2008-11, and he testified that he would no longer be paying the annual fee to the Patriot Network.

That probably helped him establish business deductions that the IRS might not have otherwise allowed, but it didn’t undo his prior patriotism:

We commend petitioner for adjusting his behavior during the pendency of this case and for his considerable work in reconstructing largely accurate and very helpful summaries of his business income and expenses for the years at issue. However, we cannot discount months of uncooperative behavior that gives insight into petitioner’s intent in not filing Federal tax returns. Petitioner’s failure to cooperate with respondent is persuasive circumstantial evidence of fraud.

So he kept his life and, perhaps, his honor, but he lost a fortune: $237,976 in fraud penalties on top of $328,000 in taxes and $57,000 in late payment penalties.

The Moral? If you follow the advice of “Patriot” outfits to not pay your taxes, you may be unwittingly pledging your fortune. Unlike the founders, though, you won’t win.

Cite: Porter, T.C. Memo 2015-122.

 

Gretchen Tegeler, Why priorities don’t get funded (IowaBiz.com):

One of the most significant “built-in” spending components affecting all state and local governments in Iowa is public pension debt. Our public pension systems guarantee retirees a monthly benefit for life, the size of which depends on how long they worked and at what salary. The system is built upon a financial model that involves a whole series of assumptions. If the assumptions don’t pan out, taxpayers are still on the hook to pay the benefits.

And the assumptions have not panned out.

Public defined benefit pensions are a lie. It is either a lie to the taxpayers about the cost of current services, a lie to the public employees about the size of their pensions, or some of both. A move to a defined contribution model, where benefits are limited to the amount funded, is long overdue.

 

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Kay Bell, Tax record keeping rules and tips. Jeb Bush keeps his tax returns for at least 33 years. Should you?

Jason Dinesen, From the Archives: Issue a 1099-C to a Deadbeat Client or Customer? Um, no.

 

Scott Greenberg, Gavin Ekins, Tax Policy Helped Create Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Crisis (Tax Policy Blog). “While the United States federal tax code helped create the conditions for Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis, the Puerto Rican tax code played a much more direct role in bringing the crisis to a head.”

Tracy Gordon, Puerto Rico: Not Your Father’s Debt Crisis – or Your Greek Uncle’s (TaxVox). “In a remarkable statement, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced this week that Puerto Rico’s debts are ‘not payable.’ Nobody was really surprised.”

Cara Griffith, Texas Comptroller Improves Transparency of Administrative Decisions (Tax Analysts Blog)

Patrick J. Smith, The Implications for Tax Litigation of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Michigan v. EPA (Procedurally Taxing) “While it is probably the case that in many challenges to tax regulations, the cost of compliance with the regulation may not be a realistic basis for challenge, there is no principled reason why in appropriate cases, the cost of compliance with a tax regulation might not form part or all of the basis for challenge.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 784

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No Tax Update tomorrow. Our office is closed for Independence Day. Enjoy the fireworks, but spare a thought for those who have fought for independence, including 10 men who never made it back to base from a mission 71 years ago Sunday.

 

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Tax Roundup, 7/1/15: Trilobite deduction becomes extinct in Tax Court. And: Indiana throwback thrown out.

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

 

20150701-1The trilobites roamed the oceans for about 270 million yearsbut a charitable donation of fossils of these ancient arthropods failed to survive a single IRS exam. While scientists still ponder what may have caused these rulers of the seas to vanish, there is no doubt about what doomed the charitable deduction.

The fossils were donated by a California veterinarian, a Dr. Isaacs. He donated four fossilized trilobites to the California Academy of Sciences in 2006 and another 8 in 2007, claiming charitable deductions of $136,500 and $109,800.

When you donate appreciated long-term capital gain property to charity, you are allowed to deduct the fair market value of the property without ever including the appreciation in income — an excellent tax result. Because there is obvious abuse potential in this tax break, Congress has imposed strict valuation documentation rules on contributions of assets other than marketable securities if the claimed deduction exceeds $5,000. The Tax Court explains (citations omitted):

First, for all contributions of $250 or more, a taxpayer generally must obtain a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the donee…

Second, for noncash contributions in excess of $500, a taxpayer must maintain reliable written records with respect to each donated item.

Third, for noncash contributions of property with a claimed value of $5,000 or more, a taxpayer must — in addition to satisfying both sets of requirements described above — obtain a “qualified appraisal” of the donated item(s) and attach to his tax return a fully completed appraisal summary on Form 8283.  Generally, an appraisal is “qualified” if it (1) is prepared no more than 60 days before the contribution date by a “qualified appraiser”, and (2) incorporates specified information, including a statement that the appraisal was prepared for income tax purposes, a description of the valuation method used to determine the contributed property’s fair market value, and a description of the specific basis for the valuation.

It’s not three strikes and you’re out; failing any of these requirement kills your deduction. Yet our veterinarian whiffed on all three requirements, according to the Tax Court. Regarding the appraisal, the court says:

Both of Dr. Isaacs’ Forms 8283 bear the signature “Jeffrey R. Marshall” in Part III, “Declaration of Appraiser”. Dr. Isaacs called Jeffrey Robert Marshall as a witness at trial. The Court accepted Mr. Marshall as an expert in the valuation of fossils over respondent’s objection.4

Mr. Marshall identified the signature on Dr. Isaacs’ 2006 Form 8283 as his own. He did not, however, recall signing it. He likewise identified his signature on Dr. Isaacs’ 2007 Form 8283 but could not recall signing the form.

Mr. Marshall similarly identified his signature on two letters, dated December 31, 2006 and 2007, that purported to be appraisals of the fossils Dr. Isaacs donated to CAS in 2006 and 2007. But Mr. Marshall did not write or even recognize the letters, and as Dr. Isaacs offered no testimony from any other expert as to the letters’ author, we did not admit them into evidence.

Courtesy the mad LOLscientist under Creative Commons license

Flickr image Courtesy the mad LOLscientist under Creative Commons license

It’s a bad sign when your appraiser denies doing an appraisal. I hope the appraisal fee wasn’t high.

Although he sought to introduce purported appraisals signed by Jeffrey Marshall, whom the Court accepted as an expert in fossil valuation, Mr. Marshall denied that he had written these purported appraisals, and we did not admit them into evidence. We need not decide whether Mr. Marshall was a “qualified appraiser” within the meaning of the regulations because, even if he was, Dr. Isaacs introduced no evidence that Mr. Marshall rendered any appraisals of the donated fossils for him. Dr. Isaacs offered no evidence of any other appraisals of the donated fossils that could satisfy the statutory requirement.

Even if the appraisals had been accepted, the Tax Court said the deduction failed for lack of a contemporaneous acknowledgement meeting tax law requirements (my emphasis):

Jean F. DeMouthe, on behalf of CAS, acknowledged Dr. Isaacs’ contributions in writing, and these letters, each dated for the date on which Dr. Isaacs made the contribution acknowledged therein, were contemporaneous as required by section 170(f)(8)(A) and (C). Under section 170(f)(8)(B)(ii), however, the letters could suffice as contemporaneous written acknowledgments only if they stated whether CAS had provided any goods or services in exchange. Neither letter includes such a statement.

Taxpayer loses.

The Moral? When deducting charitable donations, details matter a lot. If you give cash or property for which you will claim a deduction over $250, make sure the charity acknowledges the gift with the magic words saying no goods or services were received in exchange for the gift. And if you are donating property for a donation over $5,000, get your tax advisor involved early to make sure the paperwork and appraisals are done properly and your deductions don’t go the way of the trilobite.

Cite: IsaacsT.C. Memo 2015-121.

 

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Ben Bristor, Scott Drenkard, Indiana Tackles Throwback Rule and Personal Property Tax (Tax Policy Blog):

While Indiana has one of the lowest corporate tax burdens in the country, the throwback rule very frequently complicates corporate income taxation. In the process of trying to capture nowhere income, multiple states can claim the right to tax the same income, creating more complexity for tax authorities and businesses. By eliminating the rule, Indiana lawmakers have made a major improvement in the state’s tax treatment of corporations.

Good news for taxpayers with Indiana manufacturing operations.

 

David Brunori, Lessons on How Not to Run Your Government (Tax Analysts Blog):

A very knowledgeable person told me that Brownback set efforts to reduce taxes back 10 years. No one wants to be like Kansas. Liberals might celebrate that outcome — but folks who genuinely believe in more limited government and lower tax burdens will rue the Kansas experiment.

Why would you want to give more power to government when it can even screw up a tax cut?

 

Paul Neiffer, It Pays to Follow the Rules. “The bottom line is that sophisticated estate plans require taxpayers to follow the rules and as indicated by the Webber case, most of them fail at this and sometimes it can cost a lot of money (in Mr. Webber’s case the cost was close to $1 million).”

Robert Wood, Offshore Accounts? Choose OVDP Or Streamlined Despite FATCA

Russ Fox, Mr. Hyatt Goes to Washington…Again. “As you may remember, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled last September that the FTB committed fraud against Mr. Hyatt (false representation and intentional infliction of emotional distress), but threw out most of the Mr. Hyatt’s other claims.”

 

 

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Joseph Thorndike, Jeb Bush Takes a Page From Richard Nixon by Disclosing Personal Tax Returns (Tax Analysts Blog). “As Richard Nixon discovered 63 years ago, financial disclosure can be embarrassing but it’s also good politics.”

Richard Phillips, Chris Christie’s Long History of Opposition to Progressive Tax Policy. (Tax Justice Blog). Considering how high and awful taxes are in New Jersey, I would expect the Tax Justice people to like him more.

Tony Nitti, Expiration Of Bush Tax Cuts Cost Jeb Bush $500,000 In 2013

Kay Bell, Which candidate’s tax return do you most want to see?

 

Len Burman, The Uneasy Case for a Financial Transaction Tax (TaxVox). When finance markets are global, these taxes are a great way to run financial businesses out while collecting very little tax. Still, Mr. Burman musters faint praise: “An FTT is far from an ideal tax. But compared with other plausible ways of raising new revenue, it doesn’t look so bad.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 783

 

News from the Profession. Accounting Professor Who Specialized in Ethics Cheated on Lots of His Papers (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). I wonder if this is the inventor of the take-home ethics exam.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/25/15: Time-traveling deductions fail fraud test. And: IRS ‘mistake’ defense won’t work for you!

Thursday, June 25th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Make up your mind! A Georgia investment broker finally got around to filing his 2001 in April 2003. He presented his preparer with an unusual deduction, according to a Tax Court case yesterday (my emphasis):

The return was prepared by a certified public accountant (C.P.A.). On Schedule E, Supplemental Income and Loss, petitioner claimed a flowthrough loss of $516,609 from MCM. Although MCM did not report a loss on its Form 1120S, U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation, petitioner claimed a loss deduction of $554,622 on his own tax return and applied it against the $38,013 of passthrough income he reported from MCM. The deduction was characterized in a statement attached to petitioner’s 2001 return as “General Partner Expenses paid to reimburse”.

Petitioner claimed the deduction for payments he allegedly made to his clients to reimburse them for their losses in the hedge funds. Petitioner did not provide any detailed information or documentation about these payments to the C.P.A. who prepared his return. He simply told the C.P.A. to use the $554,622 expense on his 2001 income tax return.

There’s already a lot wrong here. You can’t pay deductions on behalf of an S corporation you own and deduct them on Schedule E. At best, such payments are miscellaneous itemized deductions, which must exceed 2% of AGI and do no good in computing alternative minimum tax. Only the actual K-1 amounts hit your Schedule E.

The mismatch between the K-1 and the Schedule E would attract IRS attention, even if filing almost a year late didn’t. But the facts made things worse:

Ten days after petitioner filed his 2001 return, he submitted a different version of the return to a bank while applying for a loan. This version omitted the $554,622 deduction petitioner claimed on his filed tax return.

That sort of things is bad for making friends at both the IRS and the bank.

The taxpayer told the Tax Court that the deductions weren’t fraudulent; they were just claimed in the wrong year:

Petitioner concedes that the deduction should not have been claimed for 2001. Instead, on his amended return petitioner claims his income for 2001 was fully offset by a net operating loss carryback from 2002 and 2003.

Unfortunately, the taxpayer failed to convince the tax court that there really were NOLs: “Petitioner has not provided any evidence of a net operating loss for 2002 or 2003, and we have no way of determining from the record whether a net operating loss was available for these years.”  The Tax Court was reluctant to take the broker at his word. This might explain the reluctance:

On November 3, 2006, as litigation with these clients was pending, petitioner voluntarily filed a petition with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Florida under 11 U.S.C. chapter 7, No. 06-50298-KKS. During the bankruptcy proceedings petitioner failed to report numerous assets on his bankruptcy schedules, including two boats, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, investment accounts, and $40,000 of artwork.

On October 21, 2008, petitioner was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on 23 counts of criminal misconduct. United States v. Reinhard, No. 4:08-Cr-00049-RH-CAS (N.D. Fla. filed Oct. 21, 2008). On May 13, 2009, petitioner pleaded guilty to seven counts of the indictment, including: (1) making false statements on his 2001 and 2002 income tax returns, in violation of section 7206(1); (2) making false statements on a loan application, [*5] in violation of 18 U.S.C. sec. 1014; and (3) transferring assets and concealing them from the bankruptcy trustee, in violation of 18 U.S.C. sec. 152(7).

lizard20140826The Tax Court upheld the IRS. Worse for the taxpayer, the Tax Court upheld the 75% fraud penalty asserted by the IRS:

Petitioner admitted as part of his plea agreement that he “included as part of his return a fraudulent Schedule E expense of $554,622″. Therefore, petitioner had admitted to fraud and is liable for the civil fraud penalty under section 6663(a) for the 2001 tax year.

When he filed his original 2001 tax return in 2003, petitioner was aware that the payments he reported would have been made in 2002 or 2003, not in 2001. Yet he directed his C.P.A. to claim a deduction for the payments for 2001 without any explanation. Petitioner is an intelligent and well-educated businessman, and we find that he knew that a cash method taxpayer can claim a deduction for an expense only for the year in which it is paid.

The Moral? Aside from the obvious “don’t commit fraud” lesson, we can learn from some simple but egregious mistakes:

– Timing matters. You can only deduct cash-basis deductions in the year of payment.

– If you want to deduct an S corporation expense, have the S corporation make the payment. You can’t pay corporate expenses personally and expect to deduct them as Schedule E expenses.

– If you want to deduct an expense, keep the documentation. The Tax Court never mentioned any settlement or other document showing that the broker had agreed to reimburse losses. If such an agreement existed, showing it to the Tax Court might have helped a great deal.

Cite: Reinhard, T.C. Memo 2015-116.

 

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Jeffrey R. Gottleib, IRS Issues Final Regulations for Estate Tax Portability Elections. “When in doubt — file it!”

TaxGrrrl, Tax Authorities Want Atlanta’s SkyView Ferris Wheel Seized To Pay Taxes.

Kay Bell, Ohio bill to make feminine hygiene products sales tax-free.

Jack Townsend, Julius Baer Reserves $350 Million for U.S. Tax Investigation. Swiss bank secrecy isn’t working out too well.

TaxProf, TIGTA: IRS Violated Federal Law By Awarding Millions In Contracts To Businesses With Unpaid Federal Taxes. Anybody expect that the lawbreakers will face any penalty at all?

Scott Greenberg, Investment Donations and the Charitable Deduction (Tax Policy Blog). “Out of the $42.91 billion of noncash donations reported on Form 8283, $22.07 billion were contributions of corporate stocks, mutual funds, and other investments.”

Gene Steurle, How to Pay Zero Taxes on Income of Millions of Dollars (TaxVox). Roth IRAs are involved.

 

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News from the Profession. KPMG Gives Employees Enough Ice Cream to Last Them a Week (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 777:

IRS employees erased computer backup tapes a month after officials discovered that thousands of emails related to the tax agency’s tea party scandal had been lost, according to government investigators.

The investigators, however, concluded that employees erased the tapes by mistake, not as part of an attempt to destroy evidence.

Kids, don’t count on the “innocent mistake” excuse if you are thinking of destroying evidence they want.

 

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Tax Roundup, 6/3/15: Oh, THAT million-dollar rent payment. And: the IRS data breach is on management, not budget.

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

 

Flickr image courtesy John Snape under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy John Snape under Creative Commons license

Pay me now, tax me now. A real estate operator agreed to build and lease a building to a tenant, a plasma collection center. The 10-year lease had a provision allowing the tenant to buy down monthly payments by reimbursing the landlord development costs. In 2008, the tenant chose to pay $1 million to the landlord under this lease clause.

Getting a $1 million payment can complicate your tax planning. Tax Court Judge Ruwe explains the simple approach used by the landlord on the joint return he filed:

Petitioners jointly filed a Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, for 2008. On one of the Schedules E attached to the return petitioners reported rents received of $1,151,493 in connection with the plasma collection center rental. Among the deductions that petitioners claimed on this Schedule E was a $1 million “contribution to construct” expense.

The IRS disagreed, saying that the taxpayer should have reported the amount as rent without the “contribution to construct” deduction.

When it got to Tax Court, the taxpayer dropped the deduction argument and instead argued, first, that the $1 million payment wasn’t income in the first place, but an expense reimbursement. The Tax Court said that the use of the payment to buy down rent payments was fatal to that argument.

The taxpayer then argued that the rental income should be spread over 10 years under the “rent levelling” rules of Section 467. This often-overlooked section was enacted to prevent games like tenants front-loading rent deductions via prepayments to tax-indifferent landlords. Judge Ruwe provides some background (some citations omitted):

Congress enacted section 467 to prevent lessors and lessees from mismatching the reporting of rental income and expenses.  Section 467 provides accrual methods for allocating rents pursuant to a “section 467 rental agreement”. In order to qualify as a section 467 rental agreement, an agreement must have: (1) increasing/decreasing rents or deferred/prepaid rents and (2) aggregate rental payments exceeding $250,000.  Both parties agree that the lease in this case qualifies as a section 467 rental agreement.

The court held that the lease didn’t “allocate” the $1 million payment across the ten-year lease term:

Petitioners argue that they should be permitted to use the constant rental accrual method provided in section 467(b)(2) in order to spread their rental income to other years. However, this method is inapplicable because it was intended to allow the Commissioner to rectify tax avoidance situations, and the regulations provide that this method “may not be used in the absence of a determination by the Commissioner”.

That’s a tool for the IRS, not for you, silly taxpayer!

dimeThe court also held that the rent was not “prepaid rent” that could be deferred over the lease term:

In applying this regulation to the facts of this case we first find that the lease in question does not “specifically allocate” fixed rent to any rental period within the meaning of section 1.467-1(c)(2)(ii)(A), Income Tax Regs. However, the lease does provide for a fixed amount of rent payable during the rental period (i.e., rent payable pursuant to the terms of the lease). Accordingly, in the absence of a “specific” allocation in the rental agreement, the amount of rent payable in 2008 must be allocated to petitioners’ 2008 rental period pursuant to section 1.467-1(c)(2)(ii)(B), Income Tax Regs., which provides that “the amount of fixed rent allocated to a rental period is the amount of fixed rent payable during that rental period.” Therefore, petitioners are required to include as gross income the entire $1 million lump-sum payment made pursuant to the terms of the lease for the year of receipt, 2008.

The Moral? Heads they win, tails you lose, when you aren’t extremely careful drafting a funky lease. Section 467 is obscure and, I suspect, frequently overlooked. It usually doesn’t matter, as most leases don’t get fancy. When they do, though — especially when you see big payment variances — you need to pay attention. The tax results may surprise.

 

TaxProf, TIGTA: IRS Ignored Recommended Security Upgrades That Would Have Prevented Last Week’s Hack Of 100,000 Taxpayer Accounts. Prof. Caron quotes the Washington Post:

A government watchdog told lawmakers Tuesday that the Internal Revenue Service has failed to put in place dozens of security upgrades to fight cyberattacks, improvements he said would have made it “much more difficult” for hackers to gain access to the personal information of 104,000 taxpayers in the spring.

“It would have been much more difficult if they had implemented all of the recommendations we made,” J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing on the data breach, which the IRS says was part of an elaborate scheme to claim fraudulent tax refunds.

Identity theft has been a neglected problem at the IRS for years. Billions of dollars have been lost both to petty Florida grifters and to “a worldwide criminal syndicate” taking advantage of IRS laxity. Yet the last two commissioners (and, sadly, the Taxpayer Advocate) have spent more effort trying to set up a preparer regulation scheme that would do nothing to stop fraud — but would increase IRS power and the market share of the big franchise preparers. Priorities.

And it’s not a matter of a pinched budget. Ask Commissioner Koskinen (via Tax Analysts, $link): “Koskinen acknowledged before the Finance Committee that the Get Transcript security breach was not a matter of resources, and thus budget, but of management.”

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Russ Fox, The BEA Responds, or Making IRS Customer Service Look Normal (Bad). Russ reports that BEA has extended the deadline for its mandatory “survey” of foreign business ownership to June 30 for most filers.

Peter Reilly, Failure To File Texas Franchise Tax Form Voids Lawsuit. Sometimes ignoring a state tax filing can bite you in a surprising place.

TaxGrrrl, IRS Changes Position On Identity Theft, Will Provide Copies Of Returns To Victims. “Thanks to an inquiry from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), IRS will now provide victims of identity theft with copies of the fraudulent tax returns filed using their personal and financial information.”

Robert Wood, If You Handle Cash, IRS Can Seize First, Ask Questions Later. “Even if your bank/cash efforts come from 100% legal money, the IRS says it still  [c]an seize it.”

IJim Maule, Where’s the Promised Trickle-Over? Another example of the illusory nature of the benefits of publicly-funded pro sports venues.

Keith Fogg, Tax Court Continues to Take the Same “Angle” on Attorney’s Fees When IRS Concedes the Case. “I continue to find this line of cases to contradict the purpose of the statute.  Particularly for those of us representing low-income taxpayers where the amount of tax at issue is low but the amount of time spent to prepare a case for trial not inconsequential, this loophole is swallowing the rule.”

Jack Townsend, Third Circuit Reverses Variance to One Day from Guidelines Range of 63 to 78 Months. Apparently one day isn’t close enough to 63 months.

Tony Nitti, Will Caitlyn Jenner’s Gender Reassignment Costs Be Tax Deductible?

 

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David Brunori, Amazon Does the Right Thing (Tax Analysts Blog):

Shakopee was prepared to provide direct incentives to Amazon. But Amazon told Shakopee it didn’t want them. That’s right — Amazon said no to the tax incentives being offered.

Good. Why?

I would like to think Amazon is being a good corporate citizen, but I really like the idea that it may have backed off because of potential political opposition to the incentives. Only politicians can stop the scourge of incentives. So if political hassles lead to fewer tax incentives, let’s have more political hassles.

Amen.

Megan Scarboro, New Hampshire Considering Cuts to Corporate Tax Rate (Tax Policy Blog):

While New Hampshire generally has a good tax code, a tax cut for businesses could improve the state’s economic climate.

Because the state has no tax on wage income or general sales, New Hampshire is ranks 7th overall in our State Business Tax Climate Index, but a notable weakness is that high corporate rates drive a ranking of 48th in the corporate tax rate component.

In case you are wondering, Iowa is #50.

Jeremy Scott, Republican Support for Brownback’s Tax Plan Begins to Erode (Tax Analysts Blog).

 

Howard Gleckman, What’s Up With the No Climate Tax Pledge?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 755

 

Career Corner. Study: Faking Long Hours Is Just As Good As Working Long Hours (Greg Kyte, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/28/15: Tax Court doesn’t let auto dealer undo LIFO termination seven years later. And more!

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

 

No Walnut STYou messed up, but you’re stuck with it. A California auto dealer decided to get off LIFO inventory. “Last-in, First-out” inventory accounting generally reduces current income by capitalizing smaller amounts in inventory over time. If you sell your business, however, it catches up with you — those savings all come into income at once.

The auto dealership operated as an S corporation. The owner decided that because he might be selling soon, he would go off LIFO using the automatic method change procedure then offered by the IRS. That procedure, Rev. Proc. 97-37, allowed him to spread the additional income over four years.

Something went wrong. The taxpayer represented on the Form 3115 filed under the IRS procedure that it would value all inventory under the lower of (FIFO) cost or market, but instead it valued its new cars, used cars and parts three different ways. This went unnoticed and unchallenged for a number of years, starting in 2001. Needless to say, the contemplated sale of the dealership did not occur in the meantime.

At some point, the dealership’s tax preparer concluded the different methods might be a problem after attending a seminar. In 2009, they filed amended returns for 2002 through 2007 that said the LIFO termination was ineffective and that as a result the taxable income for those years was overstated – by about $875,000 for 2002 and 2003 alone.

This led to a strange argument, where the taxpayer argued that their failure to properly follow Rev. Proc. 97-37 meant their LIFO termination was never effective. The IRS said the taxpayer’s inadequate compliance was good enough, and the taxpayer is stuck with the no-longer-desired LIFO termination.

Tax Court Judge Wherry decided that the automatic change failed — siding with the taxpayer — but that didn’t settle the issue:

First, we must decide whether, notwithstanding its failure to secure respondent’s automatic consent in 2001, JHH’s filing of its 2001 through 2007 tax returns in accordance with a new method of accounting was a change in method of accounting. If so, second, we must ascertain whether the amended returns reflect a further change in method of accounting for which respondent’s consent is again required. If it is, then because respondent has not consented to the change, JHH may not revert to the LIFO method simply by filing amended returns.

The court decided that the filing of on-LIFO returns for 2001 through 2007 by the taxpayer — referred to as “JHH” —  effected an accounting method change, even though the automatic change was ineffective (citations omitted):

…”a short-lived deviation from an already established method of accounting need not be viewed as a establishing a new method of accounting.” And in that case, “neither the deviation from, nor the subsequent adherence to, the method of accounting would be a change in method of accounting.” 

As we observed in Huffman: “The question, of course, is what is short-lived.”

Seven years wasn’t short enough, to the court:

Regardless of the upper temporal boundary of a “short-lived deviation”, we think that seven years lies beyond it. JHH’s “consistent treatment of an item involving a question of timing * * * establishes such treatment as a method of accounting.”  Notwithstanding its failure to secure respondent’s automatic consent, JHH changed its method of accounting from LIFO by accounting for its vehicles inventory on the specific identification method on its 2001 through 2007 tax returns.

20121212-1The court said the IRS has two choices when confronted with such an unauthorized method change: force the taxpayer to change to the old method, or accept the unauthorized change, imposing any adjustments necessary to avoid double-counting. The IRS chose to accept the change.

That meant the attempt to go back on LIFO was another method change, again requiring IRS consent. The IRS wasn’t going along, and the taxpayer was stuck with FIFO.

The moral? Many taxpayers filed automatic accounting method changes for 2014 under the “repair reg” rules. This case shows that the IRS can enforce the automatic method change conditions and deny benefits to taxpayers who don’t dot all of their “i”s.

It also shows reminds us that if you are doing something wrong for a number of years, it becomes “right,” in that it becomes an accounting method. It might be an improper method, but you still need IRS consent to change it. Many improper methods can be changed automatically, but sometimes advanced IRS permission is required. If you don’t do it “right,” the IRS holds all the cards.

Cite: Hawse, T.C. Memo. 2015-99; No. 8267-12

 

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Tom VanAntwerp, How Hackers Breached the IRS and Stole $50 Million (Tax Policy Blog):

Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, previously tried to access his own transcripts without resorting to personal knowledge. Using the real estate website Zillow and personal information site Spokeo, he was able to successfully find answers to the personal questions that only he should have known.

Cybercriminals who specialize in stealing and processing this personal data en masse were able to answer these identifying questions at scale. Much of the information used by the IRS to verify identity is either publicly available or for sale to underground cybercriminals. Hackers can buy access to stolen consumer or financial data, and then write a program to plug answers into the questions asked by the IRS. Once hackers successfully claim an identity, they can use the information from previous years’ tax returns to file new, fraudulent returns and steal tax refunds.

That’s… not comforting.

 

Our friends the Russians. AP sources: IRS believes identity thieves from Russia (KWWL.com)

TaxProf, GAO, TIGTA Warned Of IRS’s Lax Computer Security For Years Before Hack Of 100,000 Taxpayer Accounts On IRS Website.

William Perez, What Can We Do Differently in Light of the IRS Data Breach. Some suggestions for protecting your personal data.

 

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Robert D. Flach, WHAT A DISRUPTIVE DEVELOPMENT THIS IS!. Robert refers to the late arrival of corrected 1099s. “Clients who would normally send me their “stuff” in early or mid-February – allowing for a much smoother work flow during the season – now must wait until mid-March because of the need to “wait and see” if corrected brokerage reports arrive.”

Russ Fox, Surprise! You Heard About that May 29th Filing Deadline, Right?.

TaxGrrrl, Taxpayers Have More Time To File In 2016. “Three more days!”

Robert Wood, Man Gets Prison For Inventing His Own Church, And It’s Not Scientology. Technically, his prison time isn’t for starting a new church — that’s legal — but for using it to evade taxes.

Peter Reilly, Limits Of Hobby Lobby – Priests For Life Denied Rehearing On Contraception Mandate.

Kay Bell, Italy charges Bulgari luxury jewelry heirs with tax evasion

 

Len Burman, The Trouble with the FairTax (TaxVox). Mr. Burman concentrates on its distribution among income classes, rather than its overall implausibility.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 749

Career Corner. Reminder: Robots Are Coming For Your Accounting Jobs (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 5/13/15: Des Moines tries to speed through a red light. And: Tax Expert, heal thyself.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

DNo Walnut STes Moines plans to sue to keep revenue camera revenue flowing. The Des Moines tax on unwary out-of-town motorists driving past Waveland Golf Course lost another battle yesterday.  The Iowa Department of Transportation turned down the city’s appeal of the Departments order to shut down the city’s freeway speed cameras (Des Moines Register)

As seems to be the practice when it imposes an illegal tax, the City now plans to blow a bunch of money on lawyers rather than obey the law, reports the Register:

Des Moines will appeal the ruling to district court, officials said.

Iowa is the only state in the United States that has permanent speed enforcement cameras on its interstate highways, according to the DOT, which in late 2013 adopted new rules governing the use of the devices on or next to state highways.

A few years ago Des Moines was caught imposing an illegal franchise tax on its residents’ utility bills. Rather than apologizing abjectly and refunding the ill-gotten gains, it appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, losing every step of the way. In the end it had to repay the tax, the city lawyers, and the taxpayer lawyers for a bunch of pointless litigation. The city still seems to favor that approach.

 

Flickr image by Ano Lobb under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image by Ano Lobb under Creative Commons license.

The cobbler’s children go barefoot. Mr. Hughes, a U.S. Citizen, had a successful career at one of international accounting firm KPMG. Tax Court Judge Wherry tells of an impressive career arc (my emphasis):

During his tenure at KPMG Mr. Hughes rose through the ranks and moved among KPMG’s international offices. Between September 1979 and 1994 he worked in the firm’s international tax group in Houston, Chicago, and Toronto, earning promotions from staff accountant to manager, from manager to senior manager, and finally, in 1986, to partner. During this period his duties shifted from preparing corporate and partnership Federal income tax returns to advising clients, particularly publicly traded corporations. Mr. Hughes also began to specialize in the international aspects of subchapter C of the Code and cross-border transactions, particularly mergers and acquisitions (M&A). He returned to the Chicago office and continued with his transactional work for publicly traded corporations.

A key aspect of M&A work is gain recognition and the basis consequences of transactions.  Transactions like this:

During 1999 KPMG spun off its consulting business to a newly formed corporation, KCI. The firm retained a direct equity stake of approximately 20% of KCI’s outstanding shares, and these shares were specially allocated among KPMG’s partners, including Mr. Hughes (K-1 shares), in January 2000. KPMG caused KCI to issue shares representing the remaining 80% of its equity to KPMG’s partners, including Mr. Hughes, who received 95,467 shares of KCI stock (founders’ shares) on January 31, 2000. Mr. Hughes did not contribute funds to KPMG in connection with KCI’s formation. He took zero bases in the founders’ shares.

So far, so good. Mr. Hughes along the way married a U.K. national and gave shares to his wife. There things begin to get a little foggy. The shares were sold at a time the couple resided in the U.S. , and the taxpayers did not claim full proceeds in income, on the grounds that the recipient spouse received a tax-free step-up in basis when she received the shares in the U.K. After clearing away some fog, the Judge lays out the remaining issues:

The first two are: (1) whether Mr. Hughes transferred ownership of the KCI shares to Mrs. Hughes, and (2) if so, whether Mrs. Hughes took bases greater than zero in the KCI shares. For petitioners to prevail, we must answer both questions affirmatively.

20120511-2When you give shares, or anything else, to a spouse who is a U.S. citizen, Sec. 1041 applies to provide that no gain is recognized and basis carries over. Sec. 1041 doesn’t apply to non-U.S. spouses. The Tax Court explains what happens:

Where, as here, an interspousal property transfer takes the form of a gift, no gain is realized, so regardless of whether section 1041(a) applies, there is no gain to be recognized…

The donee, on the other hand, realizes an economic gain upon receipt of a gift. His or her wealth increases by the value of the gift. But for tax purposes section 102(a) excludes this gain from the donee’s gross income. To preserve the U.S.’ ability to tax any unrecognized gain in property that is the subject of the gift, section 1015(a) sets the donee’s basis in the property equal to the lesser of the donor’s basis (or that of “the last preceding owner by whom it was not acquired by gift”) or if there is unrecognized loss, then for loss purposes, the property’s fair market value.

The taxpayer, who doubtless guided many clients through harrowing cross-border M&A deals unscathed, failed to achieve that on his own return. The court ruled that not only did he owe additional tax, but also a 40% “gross valuation misstatement penalty”:

Given his extensive knowledge of and experience with U.S. tax law, Mr. Hughes should have realized that the conclusion he reached — that the KCI shares’ bases would be stepped up to fair market value, such that the built-in gain in those shares would never be subject to tax in either the United States or the United Kingdom — was too good to be true.

Ouch.

Cite: Hughes, T.C. Memo 2014-89

 

Locust Street, Des Moines

Locust Street, Des Moines

 

Paul Neiffer, “Cost don’t Matter, Except When it Does”

Jason Dinesen, Marriage in the Tax Code, Part 8: 1920s Court Battles

TaxGrrrl, 11 Reasons Why I Never Want To Own A House Again

Calling Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge producer pleads guilty to film tax credit fraud (WAFB.com):

Baton Rouge producer pleads guilty to film tax credit fraud:

“Louisiana’s film tax credit program cannot function as intended when people are constantly defrauding it,” said Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street. “We are continuing to do everything we can to make sure there are criminal consequences when that happens, and today’s guilty plea is the latest example of that.”

Au contraire, as the Cajuns might say. I think that’s pretty much exactly how these things are intended to function.

Kay Bell, Duck Dynasty’s Louisiana state tax credits could be winged

 

David Brunori, A Flat Income Tax is a Good Thing (Tax Analysts Blog). “Every — and I mean every — tax commission that has ever opined on good tax policy has called for a tax system built on a broad base and low rates.”

 

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Howard Gleckman, Is the GOP’s Enthusiasm for Tax Cuts Going the Way of American Idol? A question answered “no” since at least 1981.

Andy Grewal, The Un-Precedented Tax Court: Part I (Procedurally Taxing) ” Although the court purportedly exercises the judicial power (more on that in a later post), most of its work product is not judge-like.  That is, the Tax Court decides most of its cases as an administrative office would, without setting precedent.”

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 734, featuring Peter Reilly’s IRS Not Grossly Negligent In Disclosure Of Exempt Application. High standards, not.

 

Jeremy Scott, Unexpected Tory Victory Has Major Ramifications for Europe (Tax Analysts Blog). “Defying polls, pollsters, and the specter of a hopelessly fractured Parliament, the Conservatives won a resounding victory in the U.K. election last week.” Just note that I arrived in Scotland with Labour leading the Tories 41-1 in Scotland. By the time I landed in Des Moines, the Tories held the same number of Scottish seats as Labour. No wonder I felt so tired.

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Graphic from BBC

 

News from the Profession. Grant Thornton Not Gonna Let Some Rich Guy Drag Its Good Name Through the Mud and Get Away With It (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/22/15: Mileage logs don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be there. And: taxes and the rich guy.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150422-1Keep that logbook. It’s not always enough to incur a deductible expense to earn a documentation. For travel, meals and entertainment, you have to be able to prove it under strict standards. If you fail to properly document the amount, time and place, and business purpose of travel expense, your deduction is lost.

A Minnesota man whose job managing construction projects required substantial travel claimed employee business expense deductions. The IRS disallowed the deductions, and the Tax Court got involved. Judge Marvel explains (my emphasis, citations omitted):

Substantiation by adequate records requires the taxpayer to maintain an account book, a diary, a log, a statement of expense, trip sheets, or a similar record prepared contemporaneously with the use or expenditure and documentary evidence (e.g., receipts or bills) of certain expenditures.  A log that is kept on a weekly basis is considered contemporaneous for this purpose. 

The taxpayer, A Mr. Ressen, recorded business miles and kept a calendar showing his trips, and that carried the day:

With respect to the portion of the disallowed deduction attributable to their claimed use of the 2007 and 2008 Chevys, petitioners introduced copies of the calendar in which Mr. Ressen contemporaneously recorded his weekly mileage as an employee of ICS as well as some information regarding where he was working at various times. Petitioners also introduced copies of the pages in the logbook on which he contemporaneously recorded the beginning and ending miles for the 2007 and 2008 Chevys. Considering the facts and circumstances of Mr. Ressen’s employment arrangement with ICS and his business use of the 2007 and 2008 Chevys we conclude that the calendar is a credible, adequate record of the amount of the business use of the property, the dates of such use, and the business purpose of such use, and the logbook pages are an adequate record of the total use of the property.

It’s odd that the IRS disallowed the deduction and then litigated it. They apparently were trying to hold the taxpayer to some platonic ideal of a log book. The Tax Court was willing to combine the log book with the calendar to determine the time, place and business purpose of the trips — a sensible result.

The moral: Keep that mileage log, or use one of the smart-phone apps created for this purpose, and document your business purpose. Keep that calendar, too. It made the difference for our Minnesotan.

Cite: Ressen, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-32.

 

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William Perez, Taxes When Hiring Household Help.

Robert Wood, What To Do When IRS Agents Call On You. “Talking to the IRS without a representative is often a mistake.”

Russ Fox, Of Deadlines and Taxes:

This definitely wasn’t the worst Tax Season I’ve gone through, but it was far from the best. For taxpayers, this likely was one of the worst. Unfortunately, I don’t see any improvements on the horizon. The light I see is the oncoming train not the end of the tunnel.

Agreed.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 713

 

Greg Mankiw, Why I favor estate tax repeal. “The estate tax unfairly punishes frugality, undermines economic growth, reduces real wages, and raises little, if any, federal revenue. There are no principles of good tax policy that support this tax…”

 

Martin Sullivan, As Governor, Jeb Bush Catered Tax Cuts to the Wealthy (Tax Analysts Blog). The formulation “tax cuts for the wealthy” should disappear. The loot and pillage community can call almost any tax cut a “tax cut for the wealthy” simply because the wealthy pay almost all the taxes.

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Chart by Tax Foundation

 

 

When you consider government benefits, the rich guy pretty much covers the whole thing:

distribution tax spending all taxes

Chart by the Tax Foundation

 

For your penance, say three “Our Commissioners” and three “Hail Lois.” Santa Clara Co. Priest Indicted on Bank Fraud, Tax Evasion.

 

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/21/15: Loans aren’t taxable, until you don’t have to pay them. And: ACA, dope, and lots of other stuff.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Pay me now, tax me later. A hospital in a poor county in Central Florida wanted to recruit an OB-GYN. Rural employers often have to do something extra to recruit good help, so the hospital offered him a $260,000 loan. It came with a sweetener: if certain goals were reached, the loan would be forgiven.

It’s well established that loans aren’t taxable income. That can be pretty sweet to have $260,000 to spend with no withholding and no tax bill. But there’s a catch. You either have to repay the loan (out of your after-tax income), or you have to pay tax on the loan amount if the debt is forgiven.

It’s natural to try to want to have your cake and eat it too — to not pay the loan, and not pay the taxes. That is the very trick behind the leveraged ESOP. But for the rest of us, it’s an elusive goal. It eluded the doctor in Tax Court yesterday.

The doctor met his goals, and $260,000 of debt was cancelled over four years. The doctor didn’t report the income, so the IRS assessed additional tax. The doctor objected. From the Tax Court opinion:

Although the amount that petitioner received from the hospital pursuant to the Revenue Guarantee/Repayment Forgiveness addendum represented a bona fide loan, petitioner contends that the loan was a nonrecourse loan, i.e., that he was not personally liable for its repayment, and that, as a consequence, he did not receive income when the loan was forgiven and canceled by the hospital. The Court disagrees with the premise of petitioner’s argument.

The court pointed out that the terms of the note did make the doctor liable, and added:

Further, although the Court does not accept the premise of petitioner’s contention regarding the nature of the loan, it bears mention that just because a taxpayer is not personally liable for a debt does not mean that cancellation of indebtedness cannot give rise to income…

Under these circumstances, forgiveness and cancellation of the loan gave rise to income.

The Court added in a footnote:

…petitioner argues that when debt is canceled, the creditor should issue a Form 1099-C, Cancellation of Debt, and not a Form 1099-MISC. Although this may be so, the fact of the matter is that a bookkeeping error does not serve to negate income arising from the forgiveness or cancellation of debt.

Apparently the hospital knew that there was income, but issued the wrong kind of 1099. But the 1099 doesn’t change the nature of the income.

The moral? Forgivable loans are nice — cash now, tax later. But later happens.

Cite: Wyatt, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-31.

 

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Megan McArdle, Obamacare’s Tax Day Mystery:

Meanwhile, Louise Radnofsky of the Wall Street Journal offers an example of Effect 3, which I confess hadn’t occurred to me: folks who were covered in 2014, got their refund docked to cover subsidy overpayments, and therefore decided to cancel their insurance for this year.

At first blush, this seems irrational. You don’t need to cancel your insurance to make sure that your tax refund remains intact; you just need to do a better job of estimating your income when you go to buy your insurance so that you don’t end up with overpayments. Of course, the taxpayer in question might not have bought the insurance if she’d known what it was actually going to cost her.

Complex systems have unintended consequences.

Hank Stern, The 4% Solution (Insureblog). “Only 4% of people who signed up for ObamaCare got the correct subsidy”

Christine Speidel, Penalty Relief and Premium Tax Credit Reconciliation (Procedurally Taxing). “This post will describe the penalty relief available under Notice 2015-09 and some of the barriers that may prevent low-income taxpayers from accessing the relief.

 

William Perez, Taxes When Hiring Household Help

Tony Nitti, IRS Seeks Record $2 Billion In Back Taxes From Prominent Businessman And Philanthropist Sam Wyly. Offshore trusts are involved.

Peter Reilly, Superior Point Of Sale Software Does Not Mix Well With Skimming

Jason Dinesen, Breakeven Analysis for Small Businesses, Part 1

Kay Bell, IRS telephone tax help was a dismal 38.5% this filing season. Part of your Commissioner’s “Washington Monument Strategy” of making taxpayers suffer to boost his budget.

 

20130607-2TaxGrrrl, 4/20: The Blunt Truth About Marijuana & Taxes

James Kennedy, Marijuana Dispensary Settles Case after IRS Suggests It Engage in Money Laundering (Tax Policy Blog):

Imagine running a small business and being assessed a penalty by the IRS. Then imagine being told by the IRS that the only way to avoid the penalty is to commit a serious felony, laundering money. This Kafkaesque nightmare actually became reality for a Colorado marijuana dispensary called Allgreens when it tried to pay its federal payroll taxes.

At some point this decade or next, marijuana will become more or less legal. I wonder if the tax law will be the last bastion of prohibition.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 712. “The IRS Assures an Atheist Group It Will Monitor Churches.” What could go wrong?

Robert Wood, Before IRS Targeting, Lois Lerner Targeted At Federal Election Commission

 

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Paul Neiffer, Senator Wyden Indicates Tax Reform Must Include Flow Through Entities

Joseph Thorndike, Republicans Want to Repeal the Estate Tax Because Too Much Is Never Enough (Tax Analysts Blog).

For my money – and admittedly, it’s not my money, since I don’t expect the tax to be an issue for my heirs – repeal is a bad idea under any circumstances. But it’s an especially bad idea when paired with a continuation of stepped-up basis.

If there is a good argument for the estate tax, it’s to allow basis step up. The “breaking up dynasties” thing is silly. From what I’ve seen in practice, all you need to break up inherited wealth is a second generation.

Eric Toder, Corporate Tax Reform and Small Business (TaxVox).

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown 4/20: State Houses Consider Cuts (Tax Justice Blog).

 

Career Corner. The Non-Golfing Accountant’s Guide To Hitting the Links (Leona May, Going Concern)

 

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Tax Roundup, 4/9/15: April 15 is also a day-trader deadline. And: Grant 1, Lee 0.

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

daydrinkersTechnology has made made sophisticated stock trading tools that exchange floor pros once could only dream of available to every home. It has democratized the ability to make, and lose, money playing the markets.

It can be tempting to chuck the desk job and run off with Maria Bartiromo and TD Ameritrade. Sadly, more than one trader has emerged from the relationship with nothing to show for it but a lifetime of capital loss carryforwards.

That’s where today’s filing season tip comes in. If you qualify as a “trader,” April 15 is your deadline for choosing whether to make the “mark-to-market election” on your trading positions for 2015. If you don’t qualify as a trader, you can’t make the election.

If you make the mark-to-market election, you are required to recognize all of your open positions at year-end on your tax return as if you had cashed them out. More importantly, all of your gains and losses are ordinary, rather than capital.

That may seem like an inherently bad idea. Aren’t capital gains taxed at a lower rate? Yes, they are, but only if they are long-term, on assets held for over one year. That’s not the kind of gain day-traders are going for. Short-term gains are taxed at the same rates as ordinary income.

Ordinary losses, on the other hand, are a good thing. Well, on your tax return, anyway, if not in any other way. While individual capital losses are deductible only against capital gains, plus $3,000 per year, ordinary losses are fully deductible, and can even generate loss carrybacks.

That makes the mark-to-market election useful for day traders. They give up capital gain treatment that they can’t use anyway, and if they have a bad year — and many beginners do — they at least get to deduct all of their losses. For example, a famous trial lawyer who left the bar for day trading used the mark-to-market election to deduct $25 million in losses.

It’s already too late to make the election, also known as the “Section 475(f) election, for 2014. But you have until April 15 to make the election for 2015. You make the election either with either an unextended 2014 1040 or with the Form 4868 extension for the 2014 return. You may not make the election on an extended 1040.

The election is made on a statement with the following information:

  1. That you are making an election under section 475(f);
  2. The first tax year for which the election is effective; and
  3. The trade or business for which you are making the election.

So if you are spending your days with CNBC and your trading program, you might want to hedge your tax risks by making a 2015 475(f) election by April 15.

Related: The lure of a Sec. 475 election (Journal of Accountancy)

This is another of our series of 2015 Filing Season Tips — one daily through April 15!

 

Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #3: Just Don’t File

 

Flickr image courtesy Easa Shamih under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Easa Shamih under Creative Commons license

Tax Court judges can do math too.We talked last week about the need to properly document charitable deductions.  The Tax Court talked about it yesterday, disallowing claimed deductions of $37,315 for lack of substantiation — most of it for purported contributions of household goods. From the decision:

Petitioners did not provide to the IRS or the Court a “contemporaneous written acknowledgment” from any of the four charitable organizations. Petitioners produced no acknowledgment of any kind from the Church or Goodwill. And the doorknob hangers left by the truck drivers from Vietnam Veterans and Purple Heart clearly do not satisfy the regulatory requirements. These doorknob hangers are undated; they are not specific to petitioners; they do not describe the property contributed; and they contain none of the other required information.

So if you claim property deductions for gifts of $250 or more, you need to have something from the charity that, even if it doesn’t show the value, shows what you gave. So why not claim you just gave only gifts under $250? From the Tax Court (my emphasis):

Petitioners contend that they did not need to get written acknowledgments because they made all of their contributions in batches worth less than $250. We did not find this testimony credible. Petitioners allegedly donated property worth $13,115 to the Church; this donation occurred in conjunction with a single event, the Church’s annual flea market. Petitioners’ testimony that they intentionally made all other contributions in batches worth less than $250 requires the assumption that they made these donations, with an alleged value of $24,200, on 97 distinct occasions. This assumption is implausible and has no support in the record.

Hey, I drive a Smart car, it takes a lot of trips!

Cite: Kunkel, T.C. Memo 2015-71.

 

20140401-1Jana Luttenegger Weiler, Special Tax Deduction for Contributions to Support Families of Slain NY Officers. (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog). A 2014 deduction that you can still fund today.

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): Z Is For Zloty. On paying taxes while abroad and you need to use a foreign currency.

Robert Wood, Newest Tax Fraud Threat? Your Payroll Tax. A good reminder of the need to use EFTPS to monitor your payroll tax service, to make sure your company payroll taxes are getting deposited with the government.

Jason Dinesen, Marriage in the Tax Code, Part 6: Community Property Laws

Kay Bell, IRS headquarters hit by brief Washington, D.C., power outage. A reminder that even if you e-file, you don’t want to wait until the very last minute.

William Perez, Requesting Additional Time to File a State Tax Return

Jack Townsend, Tax Shelter Salesman Avoids Fraud Finding for Investment in Tax Shelter. You’ll have to follow the link for the more accurate, but less printable, version of the headline.

 

David Brunori, Greed, Piracy, and Cowardice (Tax Analsyts Blog):

I have written about 100 articles on tax incentives, all of them critical. I don’t blame the “greedy” corporations. State and local taxes are a relatively small part of the cost of doing business. Corporations are handed opportunities to minimize their tax burdens — legally. And rationally, they take advantage of those opportunities. The biggest factors in deciding where to invest are labor costs and broad access to markets. If we ended all tax incentives tomorrow, there would be virtually no effect on the economy. Corporations would still be investing where they are investing.

It’s politicians responding to the incentives. Those of us who want better tax policy, broad tax bases, and low rates for all don’t show up at the legislator’s golf fund raisers. Those looking for a special deal for their company or their industry have low handicaps for a reason.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 700. 700 days, no scandal here, move along.

 

Bloomberg, An Emotional Audit: IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed. A visit to one of the few places where they still offer on-site service. (Via the TaxProf)

 

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History alert. General Lee surrended to General Grant 150 years ago today at Appomatox Court House, Virginia. Fellow tax blogger Peter Reilly is there, and I am insanely jealous.  I am contenting myself by re-reading Lee’s Last Retreatthe best book I’ve seen about the last frantic days of the Army of Northern Virginia. It makes you feel like you are there with the crumbling confederate army as it tried to escape after shattering defeats around Richmond. It also punctures a lot of romantic myths around those events.

After tax season, I will be happy to bore you with my thoughts on why Grant is grievously underrated for his Civil War achievements, and why he is also an underappreciated president. Next week.

 

News from the Profession: CPA Firm Managing Partner Charged in Embezzlement Scheme (Accounting Today):

Patrick H. Oki, managing partner at the Honolulu-based firm was charged Monday with theft in the first degree, money laundering, use of a computer in the commission of a separate crime, and forgery in the second degree, according to the office of Prosecuting Attorney Keith M. Kaneshiro.

Mr. Oki is reported to be both a CPA and a Certified Fraud Examiner. I can only imagine the awkwardness at the next partner meeting.

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/26/15: Not every project is an “activity,” and why that’s a good thing. And: starting Iowa’s tax law fresh.

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

What’s an activity? The tax law’s “passive loss” rules limit business losses when a taxpayer fails to “materially participate” in an “activity.” Whether an “activity” is “passive” is mostly 20150326-2based on the amount of time spent in the activity by the taxpayer. That can raise a tricky question: just what is an “activity?”

Many businesses do multiple things. Take a CPA firm that does tax and auditing. If those feckless auditors lose money, is that a separate “activity” from the hard-working tax side? Or consider a convenience store owner with two locations; is each a separate activity, or are they one big activity?

The Tax Court addressed this problem yesterday in a case involving a South Florida developer. Greatly simplifying a complex story of real estate backstabbing and inter-family rivalry, the problem was whether an S corporation was the same “activity” as a partnership with the same owners set up for s specific development project. If so, family patriarch Mr. Lamas could cross the basic 500-hour threshold for participation in the combined activity, making his losses deductible.

Judge Buch explains the IRS regulation (1.469-4(c)) governing this issue:

This regulation sets forth five factors that are “given the greatest weight in determining whether activities constitute an appropriate economic unit for the measurement of gain or loss for purposes of section 469″:

(i) Similarities and differences in types of trades or businesses;

(ii) The extent of common control;

(iii) The extent of common ownership;

(iv) Geographical location; and

(v) Interdependencies between or among the activities (for example, the extent to which the activities purchase or sell goods between or among themselves, involve products or services that are normally provided together, have the same customers, have the same employees, or are accounted for with a single set of books and records).

This regulation further instructs that taxpayers can “use any reasonable method of applying the relevant facts and circumstances” to group activities, and that not all of the five factors are “necessary for a taxpayer to treat more than more activity as a single activity”.

Equality in action in the Soviet Union on the Belomor Canal

The judge said that Shoma (the S corporation) and Greens (the partnership) met these requirements, considering they had the same control and both were in the same general business. Also:

Finally, Shoma and Greens were interdependent. Greens operated out of Shoma offices, used Shoma employees, and consolidated its financial reporting with Shoma’s. Greens was formed by Shoma as a condominium conversion project. The shareholders intended that Greens be dissolved after the project was completed and the capital returned to its shareholders.

Because Shoma and Greens meet these five factors, we find that they are an appropriate economic unit and should be grouped as a single activity.

The taxpayer was able to satisfy the court through witness testimony and phone records that he met the 500-hour requirement.

This case is good news for developers, as this structure is common in that business: a permanent S corporation sets up new LLCs for each development project. This case correctly concludes that they are all part of the same development business.

Cite: Lamas, T.C. Memo 2015-59.

 

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

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

Me, What an Iowa income tax might look like with a fresh start. My new post at IowaBiz.com, the Des Moines Business Record Business Professionals’ Blog, on what Iowa’s tax system might look like if we could start over. A taste:

A system designed from scratch would apply the ultimate simplification to Iowa’s corporation income tax: it wouldn’t have one. Iowa’s corporation income tax is rated the very worst, with extreme complexity and the highest rate of any state. 
 
Eliminating the corporation income tax would eliminate the justification for almost all of the various state incentive tax credits, all of which violate the principles of neutrality and simplicity in the first place. For its astronomical rates and complexity, it generates a paltry portion of the state’s revenue, typically 4-7 percent of state receipts.
 
For S corporations, a from-the-ground-up tax reform might tax Iowa resident shareholders only on the greater of distributions of S corporation income, or interest, dividends, and other investment income earned by the S corporations. The investment income provision would prevent the use of an S corporation as a tax-deferred investment. The effect would be to put S corporations on about the same footing as C corporations.

I have little hope in the legislature actually doing something sensible, but we have to start somewhere. I’d love to hear any thoughts readers may have.

 

 

Roger McEowen addresses the Tax Consequences When Debt is Discharged (ISU-CALT): “There are several relief provisions that a debtor may be able to use to avoid the general rule that discharge of indebtedness amounts are income, but a big one for farmers is the rule for ‘qualified farm indebtedness.'”

Russ Fox, A Break in my Hiatus: Poker Chips and Tax Evasion. Russ lifts his head from his tax returns to tell of the tax problems of a poker chip maker that he has personal experience with. “A helpful hint to anyone wanting to emulate Mr. Kendall: Just pay employees in the normal way, on the books, and send the withholding where it belongs.”

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): N Is For Nonrefundable Tax Credits

Robert Wood, Tax Fraud Draws 6 1/2 Year Prison Term Despite Alzheimer’s. Specifically, a dubious claim of Alzheimer’s.

Peter Reilly, Did Andie MacDowell’s Mountain Hideaway Require Tax Incentives? To listen to some people, you’d believe nothing good ever happened until tax credits were invented.

 

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Jason Dinesen, Financing a Small Business, Part 5 of 5: Know When to Keep Quiet With the Banker. “Here are a couple of real-world examples I’ve seen where business owners got hung up with the bank because the owner wouldn’t stop talking.”

This has lessons for IRS exams, too.

Kay Bell, Obamacare, bitcoin add twists to 2014 tax filing checklist

Annette Nellen, Another Affordable Care Act Oddity. “Perhaps the problem is more tied to the “cliff” in the PTC that causes someone to completely lose the subsidy once their income crosses the 400% of the FPL (more on that here).”

William Perez, How Much Can You Deduct by Contributing to a Traditional IRA?

 

Alan Cole, Richard Borean, Tom VanAntwerpWhich Places Benefit Most from State and Local Tax Deductions? (Tax Policy Blog):

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The short answer? Places with high state tax rates and high-income earners. Note the purple spot right in the middle of Iowa.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 686

Renu Zaretsky, Sense and Sensibilities. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers the House GOP budget, a Texas tax cut, and tax-delinquent federal employees.

 

Richard Phillips, How Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz Would Radically Increase Taxes on Everyone But the Rich (Tax Justice Blog). A taste:

On the flat tax, Cruz has not yet spelled out a specific plan that he would like to see enacted, but it’s unlikely that any plan he proposed will be significantly better than the extremely regressive flat tax proposals that have been offered in the past.

Or, “we don’t know what he will do, but it will be terrible!”

 

Caleb Newquist, Big 4 Gunning for Big Law. To steal a cheap line: who wins if the Big 4 and Big Law fight to the death? Everybody!

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Tax Roundup, 3/25/15: Why the casino may not be the place to invest those millions from that Chinese guy.

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

In the movies, an American who is entrusted with millions from a Chinese shipping magnate, but blows it at casinos, would face unimaginably dire consequences. In real life, he faces the IRS.

20120511-2That’s the story in a weird Tax Court case decided yesterday. The shipping magnate, a Mr Cheung, had fared poorly as an investor. He met a Mr. Sun from Texas and decided that he might be better at investing. He shipped the money to a C corporation and an e-Trade account owned by Mr. Sun, under a handshake deal with fuzzy terms. Judge Paris explains:

The only part of the arrangement that both Mr. Cheung and Mr. Sun consistently agreed on was the general structure of the investment. Mr. Cheung would transfer sums of money through his shipping companies’ bank accounts to Mr. Sun, who would then invest the money in the United States. Mr. Cheung would decide how much money he wished to send, and Mr. Sun had discretion on which investments to pursue with Mr. Cheung’s money.

The remaining terms of the verbal agreement were not memorialized and are unclear. Specifically, Mr. Sun and Mr. Cheung inconsistently described the investment term, the expected return, and enforcement provisions. Mr. Sun believed the term was a minimum of 5 years and did not give a maximum period, whereas Mr. Cheung believed the term was 7 to 10 years. The expected return is also unclear; Mr. Sun believed the return on investment would be a 50-50 split of the net profit with a minimum 10% gain annually, but the return might not be paid annually. Mr. Cheung believed the return would be 10% to 15%, but was uncertain whether that return was annual or total.

Not the sort of investment arrangement Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey would embrace. Nor would they embrace some of the “investments” described in the Tax Court case.

The funds sent to Mr. Sun’s C corporation went into an “officer loan account” for Mr. Sun. And then… well, again from Judge Paris (emphasis mine):

Mr. Sun would either pay his personal expenses directly from the officer loan account or he would remove money and use it at his discretion. For example, in 2008 Minchem paid $135,874.43 for home automation, $158,517.80 for a new Mercedes Benz, and $49,598.81 for personal real estate tax. In total, Minchem’s officer loan account was debited $4,116,414.43 in 2008 and $1,811,127.65 in 2009 for expenses that Mr. Sun identified as personal during his trial testimony.

Some of the personal expenditures included gambling expenses. In 2008 $4,800,100 was transferred to casinos from the officer loan account and $2,394,550 was returned. In 2009 $1 million was transferred to casinos and $1,300,000 was returned. Thus between 2008 and 2009 Mr. Sun transferred $5,800,100 from the officer loan account to casinos and received back $3,694,550; i.e., over the two years in issue Mr. Sun lost $2,105,550 from gambling from the officer loan account.

20120801-2Judge Paris said that the funds never belonged to the C corporation because it was a mere conduit for the cash; that meant the corporation was not taxable on the amounts.

Mr. Sun didn’t get off so easy. Judge Paris said that the funds became income to Mr. Sun when he began spending them for his own purposes (citations omitted):

Whether funds have been misappropriated is a question of fact, but facts beyond “dominion and control” must be considered. More specifically, an individual misappropriates funds when money has been entrusted to the individual for the sole purpose of investing and the individual instead uses the money for personal activities.

Mr. Sun undisputedly treated as his own money held for Mr. Cheung’s benefit and specifically earmarked for investment purposes. For example, Mr. Sun used some of the funds to purchase a personal automobile and a home automation system. Perhaps the most obvious example of Mr. Sun’s misappropriation of the funds is his gambling activities.

The opinion dismissed the idea that the funds were loans because there was no documentation of any sort of loan agreement or terms. The court said that the amounts weren’t gifts because no Form 3520, where U.S.  taxpayers report large foreign gifts, was filed, and because there was no evidence of an intent to make a gift.

While the Tax Court ruled that Mr. Sun misappropriated the money, it ruled that the IRS failed to prove fraud. That meant the penalties were only 25% of the roughly $4.7 million of additional tax, rather than the 75% under the civil fraud rules.

The Moral? Hard to say. Don’t squander millions of dollars entrusted to you for investment at casinos? You didn’t need the Tax Court to tell you that. Maybe it’s a handy reminder to file Form 3520 if you receive large foreign gifts, lest the IRS get the wrong idea (and lest they hit you with a $10,000 penalty for not filing it). And if you have had bad luck with your investments, maybe index funds are a better way to go than a handshake deal with some guy in Texas.

Cite: Minchem International, Inc., et. al., T.C. Memo 2015-56.

 

Kyle Pomerleau, U.S. Taxpayers Face the 6th Highest Top Marginal Capital Gains Tax Rate in the OECD (Tax Policy Blog):

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The United States currently places a heavy tax burden on saving and investment with its capital gains tax. The U.S.’s top marginal tax rate on capital gains, combined with state rates, far exceeds the average rates faced throughout the industrialized world. Increasing taxes on capital income, as suggested in the president’s recent budget proposal, would further the bias against saving, leading to lower levels of investment and slower economic growth. Lowering taxes on capital gains would have the reverse effect, increasing investment and leading to greater economic growth.

But, but, the rich!

 

IMG_1388William Perez covers Various Types of Individual Retirement Accounts.

Paul Neiffer, Tax Court Allows $11 Million Horse Loss to Stand. “Now, though this is a victory for the taxpayer in Tax Court, they are still out over $11 million in losses (or more).  I am not sure if it really is an overall win for the taxpayers.”

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): M Is For Municipal Bonds.

Jason Dinesen discusses Recordkeeping Considerations for a Startup Business.

Roger McEowen, USDA Releases Proposed Definition of “Actively Engaged in Farming” That Would Have Little Practical Application. Sounds useful.

Kay Bell, $42 million Montana mansion owner loses property tax fight. Looks like a nice place.

Jim Maule, When Social Security Benefits Aren’t Social Security Benefits: When They Meet Tax. “By reducing social security benefits on account of the state retirement system benefit payments, the Congress causes the portion of the taxpayer’s overall retirement receipts that is treated as taxable pension payments to increase, which in turn not only increases gross income on its own account but generates gross income from a portion of the social security benefits.”

Joni Larson, Proposal to Amend Section 7453 to Provide that the Tax Court Apply the Federal Rules of Evidence (Procedurally Taxing)

 

Tony Nitti, Ted Cruz To Run For President: Why His Plan For A Flat Tax May Doom His Candidacy:

Whether a move to a much more regressive system than the one currently in place is ultimately in the best interest of the economy and country is irrelevant; the Democrats will seize on the shift in the tax burden and continue to paint Republican candidates as seeking only to placate the rich.

I think Hillary Clinton, or whoever the nominee is, will do that to any Republican opponent, regardless of any actual policy positions. The question is whether they will be able to more successfully deal with the issue than Mr. Romney.

Robert Wood, Taxing Stephen King, Taylor Swift And Phil Mickelson

 

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Renu Zaretsky, Tax Struggles and Tax Sneaks. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup has stories about how Orrin Hatch wants tax reform and John Koskinen wants more money.

David Brunori, Louisiana Tax Reform: Some Smart Guys Worth Listening To (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 685.  Today’s post features Media Matters, living proof that the IRS concern over political activity was rather selective.

 

Career Corner. Confirmed: Golf More Difficult Than CPA Exam (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). But almost as much fun!

 

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Tax Roundup, 3/24/15: Goldilocks and the medical practice. And: the spirit is willing, but the Tax Fairy is weak.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Reasonable Compensation and the Goldilocks Rule. The IRS has been fighting taxpayers over how much compensation is “reasonable” since Great-grandpa realized he could reduce his corporate tax by taking it out as a salary. The agency historically fought this war over whether taxpayers were taking too much compensation. The IRS has since opened a second front, arguing that S corporation owner-employees were improperly reducing their employment taxes by taking too little salary out of the corporation. Employee owners now need to find a comp level that is “just right.”

As in any two-front war, a victory on one front might cause problems on the other. A Tax Court victory yesterday for the IRS over an eye doctor who took “too much” compensation may give ammunition to S corporation professional practices that take corporate earnings out via their K-1s and distributions — free of Medicare taxes — rather than as salary and bonus.

Judge Kerrigan says Dr. Ahmad, the owner and principal employee of Midwest Eye Center, took four $500,000 bonuses in November and Decemeber of 2007. This wiped out corporate income, which would likely have otherwise been taxed at a flat 35% rate under the “professional corporation” tax rules. They even overdid the bonus a little, carrying a net operating loss into 2008.

The taxpayer failed to convince the judge that the bonus was “reasonable”:

Petitioner produced no evidence of comparable salaries. Instead, petitioner argues that there are no “like enterprises” under “like circumstances” from which to draw comparisons. Petitioner argues that Dr. Ahmad’s large bonus was reasonable for several other reasons. Petitioner points to Dr. Ahmad’s increased workload during 2007 and the various roles that Dr. Ahmad performed, such as CEO, CFO, and COO, and the corresponding managerial duties of those positions. However, petitioner did not provide any methodology to show how Dr. Ahmad’s bonus was determined in relation to these responsibilities.

This tells us that when you have a C corporation owned by a single professional, you have to do more to determine how much bonus is “reasonable” than estimate what the pre-bonus taxable income is. If you are going to suck the income out of such a corporation through bonuses, it is wise to have written bonus criteria that make sense when compared to other practices.

It might be even better to make an S corporation election. The medical practice C corporation was hit with over $320,000 in tax on $1 million “excessive” compensation (and some other items), and another $62,000 in penalties — all of which would have been avoided in an S corporation, where all income is taxed on the 1040 regardless of whether it is “excessive.”

In fact, this case helps S corporation professional practices a little, in that it is evidence that it is not “reasonable” to assume that all income of the practice has to come out as compensation subject to employment taxes.

Cite: Midwest Eye Center, S.C., T.C. Memo 2015-53.

 

tax fairyIRS says “Rabbi” had a tax practice that wasn’t entirely orthodox. A Department of Justice Tax Press Release tells a story of a man who sought the Tax Fairy in the Torah:

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, alleges that Lawrence Preston Siegel, aka Larry Lave, Yehuda Lave and Larry Easy, falsely represented that he is a licensed attorney and CPA in order to solicit business for his tax practice. 

According to the civil injunction suit, Siegel pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion and two counts of subscribing false tax returns in 1994.  He subsequently resigned from the California bar in 1994, lost his CPA license in 1997, and never regained either accreditation, according to the suit.  The complaint alleges that following his release from federal prison in 2001 for additional convictions, Siegel established a tax practice and stated online that he is an “[i]interesting combination of a Tax Lawyer and CPA who is also a Rabbi trained in Spirituality.”  Siegel, the complaint alleges, claimed to others that his “goal as a spiritual Rabbi, Tax Attorney and CPA is to save people money without going to jail … Everybody wants to pay very little tax, I do it legally and morally under the Torah.” 

It never occurred to me that a Rabbi would require the qualifier “trained in Spirituality.” Isn’t that the whole idea? In any case, he isn’t well-trained in tax, if the Justice Department press release is to be believed (my emphasis):

According to the complaint, among his tax fraud schemes, Siegel falsely advised his customers, typically high earners who own profitable businesses, that they can establish companies in Nevada and treat their California home as an out-of-state corporate office.  Siegel falsely claimed that doing so would transform a vast array of non-deductible personal expenses into tax deductible business expenses, according to the suit.  According to the complaint, Siegel boasted about this tax fraud scheme in e-mails, including one where he falsely claimed that his customers are entitled to free housing as tax-free compensation from their out-of-state companies and that “[t]he housing can [b]e luxurious and cost thousands a [] month” because “[t]here is an assumption that corporations don’t waste money.”

What’s amazing to me is that (if the allegations are true) he had clients who actually believed this. Religious or secular, reform or orthodox, believer or non-believer, the desire to believe in the Tax Fairy is strong among all races, religions and belief systems. But there is no tax fairy.

 

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Kristine TidgrenExpanded Relief for Taxpayers Receiving Erroneous 1095-As:

On Friday, March 20, CMS announced that it had discovered additional 1095-A errors among those forms issued by both State-run exchanges and the federally-facilitated exchange. CMS is notifying taxpayers impacted by these errors with emails, phone calls, and messages in their Marketplace accounts. Because of these errors, Treasury is expanding the relief it offered in February.

Now, anyone who (1) enrolled in any type of marketplace coverage, (2) received an incorrect Form 1095-A, and (3) filed their return based upon that form, does not need to file an amended tax return. The IRS will not pursue the collection of any additional taxes based on updated information contained in the corrected forms. This relief applies to tax filers who enrolled through either the federally-facilitated marketplace or a state-based marketplace. As provided before, taxpayers who were harmed by the errors may file amended returns to collect the difference.

So the liability of a taxpayer for potentially thousands of dollars in taxes depends on two items:

1. Whether the exchange botched the 1095-A filing, and

2. Whether the taxpayer filed before the 1095-A was corrected.

These are whimsical criteria on which to stake thousands of dollars of tax credits.

 

Chicago Tribune, It’s Obamacare’s first tax season. Can the IRS handle it?Kristy Maitre of the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation is quoted: “Overall, I do not believe they’re as prepared as they could have been.”

Hank Stern, The Best Laid Plans [Updated]. “In other words, a lot of folks with even rudimentary math skills have figured out that paying the fine penalty tax and “going bare” is a much more cost-effective choice than buying coverage.”

Robert Wood, Happy Anniversary Obamacare Taxes, Many Happy Returns.

 

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Norton Francis, Bobby Jindal’s Revenue Enhancements (TaxVox). “His trick: Turn refundable business credits into non-refundable credits.”

Kay Bell, Downton Abbey’s new tax connection via Rep. Aaron Schock

Tyler Cowen presents New arguments on a carbon tax, including one that suggests a way in which “…a carbon tax could make global warming worse.”

Martin Sullivan, U.S. Effective CorporateTax Rate Higher Than Foreign Competitors? Not Really (Tax Analysts Blog)

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 684

 

News from the Profession. Conducting Tax Return Update Meetings at the Gym Maybe Not the Best Idea (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “If a client requests a meeting at a location where heavy objects are laying around, and there’s an off-chance that the news you have may be anything other than positive, may we suggest an alternative venue.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 2/27/15: Bartender beats barrister in Tax Court. And more!

Friday, February 27th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Bartender or barrister, you need to keep good records.  A Nevada bartender, arguing his own case against an IRS attorney, defeated the IRS in Tax Court yesterday. He did it by keeping records.

The IRS said the taxpayer understated his tip income, and it used a generic tip model to assess additional tax. The bartender argued that the IRS model didn’t reflect what happened at the casino where he worked, and that he had the records to prove it:

Petitioner testified about how his bar was set up and what a shift was like during the years at issue. He stated that his bar had only six stools and that customers would often sit at the stools playing poker for several hours and receive several comped drinks as a result. He testified that the only time his bar would be busy was when there was a big convention and then most of the drink sales tips would be on company credit cards rather than cash. He described the difficult [*15] economic times that Las Vegas faced during the years at issue and how his business had decreased as a result.

Petitioner also testified about the typical tipping behavior of his patrons. Most of his drinks served were comps, and he testified that customers rarely tipped on comp drinks and that if they did they might “throw [him] a buck or two” after several hours of sitting at his bar receiving the comped drinks. Petitioner additionally testified that college kids and foreigners rarely tipped.

And the records:

Petitioner argues that he has met his burden because he complied with the recordkeeping requirements of section 6001 and section 31.6053-4(a)(1), Employment Tax Regs., having kept detailed, contemporaneous daily logs which are substantially accurate. Petitioner routinely recorded the amounts of his cash and charge tips on slips of paper at the end of each shift. Petitioner kept these logs and produced them to respondent and at trial.

20130903-1The IRS tried to nit-pick the records, but Judge Kerrigan was satisfied:

Respondent argues that petitioner was not tipped in exact dollar amounts. Petitioner testified credibly that when he was tipped with change he would put the change in a glass jar to be mixed in with the other tips. When he would periodically cash out the change jar, he would give the change to the cashiers who cashed him out at the end of the shift. He also testified that when he cashed out daily his charged tips receipt, he would give the cashiers any change that was generated by those tips. We find petitioner’s explanation credible and do not find the logs inadequate merely because the amounts are recorded in whole numbers.

I think the important lesson here is that he generated the records every day, and that he was able to produce them to the judge. Contrast that with a recent decision involving a Mrs. Hall, an attorney deducting travel expenses:

Mrs. Hall did not maintain a contemporaneous mileage log. Mr. Katz testified that he based the number of miles driven on discussions with Mrs. Hall. Mr. Katz claimed that he reviewed documentation in order to determine the number of miles driven. The documentation that Mr. Hall and Mrs. Hall offered into evidence to substantiate the number of miles driven consisted of seven parking receipts, an equipment lease, a help wanted advertisement, a phone message slip, and a few other documents. The evidence they submitted does not demonstrate that Mrs. Hall incurred mileage expenses in amounts greater than those respondent allowed in the notice of deficiency.

Citations:

Sabolic, T.C. Memo 2015-32

Hall, T.C. Memo 2014-171

 

TaxGrrrl, Opting Out Of The Obamacare Tax: What Happens If You Don’t Pay?. Oddly, the IRS can’t use most of its collection tools to collect the individual mandate. The advance premium clawback is a different story.

Russ Fox, 10 = 2500 ?. “On Monday, I mailed a Tax Organizer to a client here in Las Vegas; she’s about ten miles from where I am. I also mailed a completed tax return to a client in South Carolina. Both will be received today.”

Annette Nellen talks about Taxes Around the World.

Kay Bell, Survey says tax refunds going into savings, paying off debt

Jack Townsend covers Key points of Article on ABA Webcast on Offshore Accounts

 

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Robert Wood, New IRS Scandal Hearings Reveal 32,000 More Emails, Possible Criminal Activity:

But in what was the most disturbing revelation, House Member attendees were told that the IRS had not even asked for the backup tapes when the ‘hard drive crash’ excuse was first used. That contradicted the prior testimony of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. He had testified to the effect that recovery efforts had been thorough, and that the tapes couldn’t be accessed.

Do you believe the Commissioner when he says he needs more money?

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 659.

 

Don Boudreaux links: Dick Carpenter and Larry Salzman, in this new publication from the Institute for Justice, explain how the I.R.S. helps to fuel in the U.S. the uncivilized banana-republic terror that is civil asset forfeiture. (Cafe Hayek)

Jim Maule, Testing Tax Knowledge.

According to a report on a recent NerdWallet survey, “[m]ost American adults get an ‘F’ in understanding income tax basics.”

It would be fun to require members of Congress and candidates for that office to take this survey, or one like it. I cannot imagine the outcome would be any better than that achieved by the 1,015 survey takers.

Nor can I.

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Andrew Lundeen, Corporate Tax Cuts Increase Federal Revenue in the Long Run (Tax Policy Blog):

It’s important to note that this increase in revenue would be in the long run, after the economy has fully adjusted (probably about 10 years in the future). In the early years, federal revenue would fall before investment and growth pick up fully as the economy adjusts to a better tax system.

However, tax policy—all public policy, in fact—should be made with a focus on the long-term.

Unfortunately, politicians buy our votes with our money in the short-term.

 

Joseph Thorndike, Hey, It Could Happen! The Optimist’s Case for Tax Reform (Tax Analysts Blog). ” It will result from a transparent, flexible, and bipartisan bill drafting process; from strategic use of congressional staff to test the waters of controversial proposals; from skillful deployment of transition rules and other minor bill changes to win support from rank-and-file members of Congress; and from streamlined or fast-track debate procedures.”

 

Renu Zaretsky, The Internet, Drug Profits, and Sacrifice. The TaxVox headline roundup covers the uncertain tax effects of the “net neutrality” power grab.

Kristine Tidgren, Iowa Fuel Excise Tax Set to Increase 10 Cents on Sunday (ISU-CALT)

Matt Gardner, Is the Starz Network Series “Spartacus” a Jobs Creator? (Tax Justice Blog). I’m sure it helped create lots of work for film tax credit middlemen and fixers.

 

I bet the judge gave him a stern talking-to. Bow Man Sentenced for Fraud, Tax Evasion.(Concord Patch).

Caleb Newquist, Actually, Everyone Knows That Having Two Monitors Is Super Boss. (Going Concern).

Only two?

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Tax Roundup, 2/26/15: Fifth circuit bails out abandonment. And: gas up before Sunday, Iowa!

Thursday, February 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Fill ’em up Saturday. Iowa’s Governor Branstad signed a 10-cent per gallon gas tax boost into law yesterday. It takes effect Sunday.

Somewhat related: Replacing the Gas Tax with a Mileage-Based Tax (Kyle Pomerleau, Tax Policy Blog).

 

20131212-1Taxpayer wins $20 million bet. Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation had an offer to sell securities for $20 million. It had a $98.6 million cost in the securities, so it wasn’t a great return, but $20 million is still better than nothing. Well, maybe not.

The taxpayer determined to abandon the securities in the belief that the result would be a $98.6 million ordinary loss — generating a tax savings of around $34.5 million. That seemed like a better deal than taking the cash, because the $78.6 million loss would then be a corporate capital loss — deductible only against capital gains, and expiring after five years.

In December 2012 the Tax Court said that Pilgrims Pride made a losing bet, ruling that Section 1234A made the loss a capital loss. Now the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the taxpayer made the right bet, reversing the Tax Court:

The primary question in this case is whether § 1234A(1) applies to a taxpayer’s abandonment of a capital asset. The answer is no. By its plain terms, § 1234A(1) applies to the termination of rights or obligations with respect to capital assets (e.g. derivative or contractual rights to buy or sell capital assets). It does not apply to the termination of ownership of the capital asset itself. Applied to the facts of this case, Pilgrim’s Pride abandoned the Securities, not a “right or obligation . . . with respect to” the Securities.

Taxpayers outside the Fifth Circuit still need to be aware that the Tax Court says abandonment doesn’t turn capital losses into ordinary income, but in the right circumstances, it may still be worth a try. In the Fifth Circuit, abandon with, well, abandon.

I find this from the Fifth Circuit opinion interesting, if not necessarily true:

Congress does not legislate in logic puzzles, and we do not “tag Congress with an extravagant preference for the opaque when the use of a clear adjective or noun would have worked nicely.”

Logic puzzles seem to be pretty common in the tax law. Look at the ACA, which provides a $100 per-day, per-employee penalty for Section 105 plans, while Section 105 itself still rewards employees who participate in these plans with a tax benefit. That puzzles me. But I digress.

When the Tax Court first ruled in this case, I wrote:

Presumably the Gold Kist [a company that ended up owning Pilgrim’s Pride] board didn’t decide to go for the ordinary loss on its own.  Somewhere along the way a tax advisor told them that this would work.  That person can’t be very happy today for advising the client to walk away from $20 million in cash.

That’s one tax advisor who had an excellent day yesterday.

Cite: Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, CA-5, No. 14-60295

Other coverage: Fifth Circuit Reverses Tax Court, Allows $98 Million Deduction To Pilgrim’s Pride (Tony Nitti)

 

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Jason Dinesen ponders What to Do with a K-1 with a Fiscal Year End

Russ Fox, Taxes Impacting the Giants. “There’s an obvious implication here: the big spending Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have inflated their salaries to cover high state taxes.”

TaxGrrrl, Looking For Your Refund? Need To Ask A Question? Finding Answers At IRS.

Peter Reilly, IRS Denies 501(c)(3) Exemption To Booster Club Due To Inurement. Quoting the IRS denial letter:

However, the money that they make in your name does not go into your general budget. Rather, you keep an accounting of how much revenue each member brings in and permit each member to apply that revenue to the cost of athletic competitions for their children.

Peter explains why that doesn’t work.

 

Kay Bell, More forgiving IRS to waive some bad 1095-A tax penalties

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 658. Today’s big story is the $129,000 on bonuses paid to Lois Lerner while Tea Party applications for exemption languished. I’m sure there’s no connection.

Alan Cole, Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together on Corporate Integration (Tax Policy Blog):

The reason that the traditional American C corporation is in decline is that it has faces multi-part tax, with two successive rounds of taxation for the owners. In contrast, the pass-through structure faces only one. That is why American businesses, when possible, are choosing this tax structure. It is now the dominant legal structure for businesses in America. In that structure, the owners of the corporation simply pay ordinary income tax on all the corporation’s income.

The path ahead to fundamental tax reform almost necessarily must lead through corporate integration. Fortunately, my colleague Kyle Pomerleau has done the research that ties this all together. He has found out how some other countries – like Australia and Estonia – have gone about tying together their corporate taxes and their shareholder taxes into one neat single layer.

So simple it just might work!

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Matt Gardner asks whether Goldman Sachs is Too Big to Pay Its Fair Share of Taxes? (Tax Justice Blog).

 

Cara Griffith, The Pinnacle of Secret Law (Tax Analysts Blog). ” That the Colorado Court of Appeals would seek to shield from public view most of the opinions it issues is appalling.”

Richard Auxier, GOP Governors Flirt with Tax Hikes but Still Wedded to Income Tax Cuts (TaxVox). Governor Branstad went boldly beyond flirting yesterday. Does signing the gas tax boost make Governor Branstad an unfaithful husband?

 

Caleb Newquist, Supreme Court Unhooks Fisherman From Conviction Under SOX Anti-Shredding Provision (Going Concern). “Please practice catch and release.”

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/23/2015: Egg donor compensation taxable payment for services. Meanwhile, kidney donor compensation is a felony.

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan
"White-&-Brown-Eggs" by Evan-Amos - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“White-&-Brown-Eggs” by Evan-Amos – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The big news in the tax world today is a Tax Court case ruling that payments to an egg donor were compensation for services. The case turned on the language of the contract of between the egg donor and the agency that procured the eggs. Tax Court Judge Holmes ruled that the payments were not excludible as payments for physical damages because there was no tort claim involved.

There are plenty of places you can read more details on this case, including Russ Fox and Tony Nitti. The TaxProf has a roundup.

So there is an organized and legal market for donor eggs, which, if all goes well, turn into an entire new human. That’s a good thing. But if an agency paid you for one of your kidneys to save the life of an already-born child on the kidney donor list, they would face a $50,000 fine and five years in prison under the Gore-Hatch National Organ Transplant Act of 1984.

The National Kidney Foundation reports that 12 people die daily waiting for a donor kidney, and that 4,453 died waiting for a kidney transplant in 2013.  It’s a felony to save any of those lives by buying a kidney from a healthy, willing and fully-informed seller. Meanwhile, nobody dies waiting for a donated egg.

Cite: Perez, 144 T.C. No. 4

Related: The Case for Paying Organ Donors (Sally Satel)

 

Kyle Pomerleau, Richard Borean, More than Half of all Private Sector Workers are Employed by Pass-through Businesses:

53.7% of Iowans work for pass-through businesses taxed on 1040s.

53.7% of Iowans work for pass-through businesses taxed on 1040s.

“Pass-through” income is income earned by S corporations and partnerships, including LLCs. This income is taxed on 1040s. Those who favor ever-increasing individual taxation of “the rich” by definition favor increasing the tax on employment.

 

buzz20140923Robert D. Flach has your Friday Buzz, including thoughts on avoiding scammers claiming to be from IRS and on Wal-Mart’s cash tax refund program: “My advice – avoid this program.”

Kay Bell, IRS gets $1.3 million for Darryl Strawberry’s Mets annuity

Paul Neiffer, IRS Scammers Net $14 Million from 3,000 Victims. If the e-mail says it’s from the IRS, it’s not. If you aren’t expecting a call from the IRS, the caller isn’t from the IRS.

Jason Dinesen, Ridiculous IRS Situations I’ve Recently Dealt With. A continuing series.

Leslie Book, Tax Court Addresses Verification Requirement in Trust Fund CDP Case (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert Wood, Washington Nationals $210M Pitching Contract For Max Scherzer Is About Taxes. “The Home Rule Act prohibits the District from imposing a commuter tax on non-residents.”

Peter ReillyExclusive – Kent Hovind Claims Congressmen Are Looking Into His Case. All you could possibly want to know about the case of the guy who thinks the Flintstones was actually a documentary series.

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Robert Goulder, Reading the Tea Leaves: China’s Jurisdictional Tax Claims (Tax Analysts Blog). Contrary to some reports, even Communist China doesn’t plan to tax worldwide income of non-resident Chinese. The U.S. stands alone in doing that.

Howard Gleckman, A Look at the Territorial Tax Systems in Four Countries Finds No Magic Bullets (TaxVox). No magic beans, either, I’ll bet.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 624

 

Career Corner. Here Are Just a Few Questions You’ll Be Asked in a Big 4 Interview (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern).

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/21/15: The Peculiar Case of the Trucking Tax Turtle. And more SOTU reaction, oh boy.

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

tbtTurtles carry their home on their back. So do some taxpayers. The Tax Court yesterday ruled that a truck driver who claimed Minnesota residency was a tax turtle, carrying his tax home on his back.

It matters because you can only deduct meal and lodging expenses for travel “away from home.” When you’re a tax turtle, you’re never away from home — you live on the road.

Judge Holmes takes up the story.

Shalom Jacobs has been a truck driver since 2002. His trips were mainly long haul “over the road” — meaning he spent a significant number of weeks and months on the road and was paid by the mile…

When he wasn’t on the road, Jacobs considered his home to be in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, where he stayed in the guest room of his longtime friend and fellow expat, Shimon Casper. Casper and Jacobs were both born in Israel and reared on kibbutzim. According to Jacobs, the Caspers’ Cottage Grove home was an American-style kibbutz, where Casper, his wife and children, and Jacobs recreated the communal life of their homeland with everyone contributing everything they had and taking only what each needed.

I don’t think the kibbutz  life is the life for me, but if it were, I think I would stay in Israel, where the weather is better. But that doesn’t address our deduction issue. Judge Holmes, again (my emphasis, citations omitted):

Flickr image by USFWS Mountain Prairie under Creative Commons license

Flickr image by USFWS Mountain Prairie under Creative Commons license

The Code is a little peculiar in defining a person’s “home.” Normal people think of their home as the place where they spend their personal and family lives, but a “home” in tax law is usually where a taxpayer has his principal place of employment. Tax law defines a home as the permanent residence at which a taxpayer incurs substantial continuing living expenses only if he doesn’t have a principal place of employment But what if a taxpayer is constantly on the move? Cases decided over many decades give us the answer — a taxpayer who’s constantly in motion is a “tax turtle” — that is, someone with no fixed residence who carries his “home” with him.  Such a taxpayer is not entitled to business deductions for traveling expenses under section 162.  The burden of proof is on the taxpayer if he disagrees with the Commissioner, and that is a high hurdle for a tax turtle to clear.

Turtles aren’t typically seen in hurdle events, and this one failed to clear that high hurdle. Judge Holmes said the taxpayer failed to show that his friend’s home was, in fact, communal, that he actually paid household expenses, or that he used that address for voter registration. This is a good reminder of the importance of documentation in tax controversy; the judge is more likely to take your word if it agrees with a cancelled check.

The Moral: To deduct meals and lodging away from home, you need to leave your home behind. And Tax Turtles will clear a hurdle only if they have a ladder of good records to help them get over it.

Cite:  Jacobs, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-3

 

buzz20140905Actually, that’s yesterday now. Reminder: Worst Tax Season Ever Starts Today (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

Kay Bell, Tax filing season 2015 is here

William Perez, The Penalty for Not Having Health Insurance. “Here are details on how the individual shared responsibility payment is calculated.”

Jason Dinesen, Does Nebraska Recognize Same-Sex Marriages for Taxes?

Robert Wood, Why IRS Form 1099 Is So Dangerous To Your Tax Bill. “Failing to report one is asking for an audit.”

Tuesday Buzz is just as good on Wednesday. A belated Buzz from Robert D. Flach, including coverage of the recent Taxpayer Advocate’s report.

 

Stephen Olsen offers Summary Opinions for 12/19/14 to 1/05/15 at Procedurally Taxing. This rounds up tax procedure happenings.

Paul Neiffer, 2 Senators Work to Eliminate Capital Gains Tax on Chapter 12 Bankruptcies.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the capital gains generated by these sales are subject to income tax.  The two senators do not believe this was the original intent of Congress when the wrote the original law during the 1980s farm debt crisis, so this new bill is designed to eliminate the imposition of capital gains or other taxes on the sale of property due to the Chapter 12 bankruptcy.

The two senators are Grassley and Franken.

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TaxGrrrl liveblogged the State of the Union address. I live-slept it

Howard Gleckman, The Tax Reform Gap Between Obama and the GOP is Widening (TaxVox):

But it isn’t hard to see where the two parties are headed. Obama does not want an anodyne debate over tax reform. Rather, he’s using reform rhetoric to support a “middle-class economics”agenda aimed at using the tax code to redistribute some income from the rich to working-class households. For their part, Republicans want to use reform talk as a framework for a business-oriented growth agenda leavened by some targeted breaks for working families. 

That should be “some more income.

Scott Hodge, Will Obama’s New Plan to Help the Middle-Class Succeed When $1.5 Trillion in Redistribution Has Not?. Spoiler: no.

Tony Nitti, Why Republicans Should Embrace A 28% Tax On Capital Gains. I’m not remotely convinced; the correct rate is zero, as that income is already after tax money. But if you can get the ordinary rate down to 28% too, I’ll listen.

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 622

Peter Reilly, Will Kent Hovind Become This Year’s Cliven Bundy? If I knew who Cliven Bundy is, I might have an opinon on that.

 

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Tax Roundup, 1/8/15: Tax shelter turned upside down: S Corp – ESOP structure produces pretend income. And: you are the 1%!

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

tack shelterFlaky tax shelters are supposed to generate pretend losses. You know a shelter has gone very bad when it generates pretend income instead. Yet that’s how it worked out for an “S corporation ESOP management company” plan considered by the Tax Court yesterday.

The plan involved a partnership, a C corporation, an S corporation, and an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The ESOP owned 100% of the S corporation. S corporation income is taxed to its owners. As a tax-exempt entity receiving special treatment from the tax law, ESOP-owned S corporations can achieve Tax Fairy-like results. The ESOP’s can earn non-taxed business income passing through from the S corporation (though this gets very tricky and dangerous when there are few ESOP beneficiaries).

The plan was hatched by A. Blair Stover, who has shown up in these pixels before. Mr. Stover started his tax career with a national firm in Nebraska, moving on from there to Kansas City and then to California, leaving questionable tax shelters in his wake. He was barred from promoting shelters like the one in this case in an injunction affirmed by the Eighth Circuit in 2011.

This plan involved the payment of “management fees” and other purported expenses by a partnership owned by the taxpayer and his spouse that ended up in his ESOP-owned S corporation. The partnership appears to have had no other purpose than to gin up deductions by paying pretend management fees and other expenses. The taxpayers deducted the “expenses” on their 1040, with the idea that they would avoid tax because they flowed through the S corporation to the ESOP.

tax fairyWhen the IRS went after Mr. Stover’s shelters, his clients received unpleasant IRS attention. In yesterday’s Tax Court case, the taxpayers signed a settlement agreeing to include in income on their 1040 the purported management fees paid to the ESOP.

So far, so good. But the agreement didn’t address the other side of the deal – the deduction for the payment of the purported fees by the partnership. The taxpayers claimed that if they had to pick up the pretend fees in income, they should get to deduct them too. Fair’s fair.

But if you want fairness, the tax law might not be the place to seek it.  The court held that while they agreed to pick up the extra income, their settlement said nothing about a deduction, and they were stuck with the results (my emphasis, citations omitted):

Generally, recognition of income does not inexorably prove a corresponding deductible expense. For example, payments to a promoter in furtherance of a tax avoidance scheme constitute income to the promoter, but they are not deductible under section 162 by the payor.  Furthermore, that petitioners might otherwise be obliged to recognize phantom income does not relieve them of their obligation to identify some legal authority for the deduction, nor does it permit the Court to manufacture such authority from whole cloth.

Petitioners’ phantom income argument amounts, in essence, to a plea for fairness. This Court strives to avoid unjust results, but “we are not a court of equity and cannot ignore the law to achieve an equitable end.” Moreover, the parties’ recent stipulation assuages our fairness concerns. In our order of July 1, 2014, we directed the parties to stipulate if possible, or to otherwise brief, the source of and factual and/or legal basis for the income inclusions required by the SOSI. The parties stipulated that the required income inclusions represent “the amount of taxable income petitioners avoided reporting” for tax years 2001 through 2003 because of their use of the management S corporation/ESOP structure. Taxable income is a term that is defined in the Code. Section 63 generally defines taxable income as gross income less allowable deductions. The parties’ chosen language thus implies that the $84,837 of income petitioners must include for 2003 pursuant to the SOSI represents not “phantom income” but bona fide, net taxable income that petitioners received and should have reported. So interpreted, the stipulation is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with petitioners’ theory for deducting the administration fee.

The result: a reverse tax shelter, generating only phantom income.

I’m not sure this too-bad-to-be-true result would hold up on appeal, but it does serve a warning. The Tax Fairy is a fickle sprite, and she can magically generate income for those seeking magical deductions. And if you agree to include phantom income when the IRS comes after you, make sure they allow the offsetting phantom deduction in writing.

Cite: Wakefield, T.C. Memo 2015-4.

 

IMG_0598Leslie Book, Bank of America on Hot Seat For Issuing Allegedly Incorrect 1099C to Disabled Veteran (Procedurally Taxing)

Robert D Flach explains WHAT’S NEW FOR THE 2014 FORM 1040?

Kay Bell, Daily Tax Tip #2: A tax quiz!

Robert Wood, The 1031 Exchange That Ate New York City. A lesson on the scalability of swaps.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 609. The Worst Commissioner Ever comes out the other side of the revolving door.

 

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

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

Scott Sumner on low-income use of untraceable cash at Econlog:

College professors who advocate the elimination of currency are often unaware of how important currency is for those with low incomes, many of who lack bank accounts. For instance, consider someone getting government benefits that are conditional on income (food stamps, EITC, disability, welfare, Medicaid, etc.) This group often faces relatively high implicit marginal tax rates. However currency allows them to supplement their meager benefits with additional earned income, perhaps doing home repair for neighbors, or working as a nanny. Lots of those jobs are paid in cash. If we eliminate physical cash then all transactions will be easily traceable by the government… That’s bad for two reasons; low-income people would see reduced incomes (increasing inequality), and the rest of us will be denied the services that they might have produced in the underground economy. Economists who advocate the elimination of currency need to consider those side effects.

This highlights one of the dangers of the earned income tax credit: its phase-outs serve as a hidden high tax rate on low incomes, resulting in a poverty trap on those earning their way out of poverty.

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Russ Fox, The Tax Court Looks for $1,410 in Dividends. Sometimes you can fight a small injustice and win.

 

We are the 1% Admit It: You’re Rich (Megan McArdle):

The cutoff for the global 1 percent starts quite a bit lower than the parochial American version preferred by pundits. I’m on it. So is David Sirota. And if your personal income is higher than $32,500, so are you.  

It’s all a matter of perspective.

 

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

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tax Court Judge Marvel explains (my emphasis):

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

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

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

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

Cite: Ferm, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-115.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kay Bell, Donating and deducting a car

Jack Townsend, Reasonable Doubt and Jury Nullification

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

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

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

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

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

Annette Nellen,State taxes and bitcoin

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

 

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 601

 

Post-sequester commuting.

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

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

Live it up, Robert!

 

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

 

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Tax Roundup, 12/10/14: Extender bill lives, permanent charitable extender bill doesn’t. And: don’t just buy it; install it!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

lizard20140826Whither the extender bill? HR 5771, the bill to extend retroactively through the end of this month the 55 or so tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013, has been “placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.” That means it appears to be proceeding to a vote, though I find nothing on when that will happen. Tax Analysts reports ($link) that outgoing Senate Majority Leader Reid says he will take up the extender bill ” after finishing work on a defense authorization bill and a government funding measure.”

Meanwhile, the President has threatened to veto a separate attempt to permanently extend three charitable breaks in the extender bill, including the break for IRA contributions. While that’s bad for those breaks, it implies that the White House will not oppose HR 5771’s one-year extension.

 

20130422-2Because it looks as though the “extender” bill will clear the Senate, taxpayers looking to add fixed assets have extra incentive to get it done this year. The bill extends through 2014 — and only through 2014 — the $500,000 limit on Section 179 deductions and 50% bonus depreciation. These breaks allow taxpayers to deduct over half (bonus depreciation) or all (Section 179) of the cost of fixed assets that are otherwise capitalized, with their deductions spread over 3 to 20 years.

Taxpayers should remember that it’s not enough to order or pay for a new asset by the end of 2014 to qualify for these breaks. The asset has to be “placed in service” by year end.

A Tax Court case from last December drives home the point, where a taxpayer lost an $11 million bonus depreciation deduction in 2003 because an asset bought at year-end wasn’t “placed in service” on time.  Judge Holmes takes up the story:

On December 30, 2003, an insurance salesman named Michael Brown1 took ownership of a $22 million plane in Portland, Oregon. He flew from there to Seattle to Chicago — he says for business meetings — and then back to Portland. Brown says these flights put the plane in service in 2003, and entitle him to a giant bonus-depreciation allowance. But a few days later he had the plane flown to a plant in Illinois where it underwent additional modifications that were completed about a month later.

The IRS argued that the need for modifications meant the airplane wasn’t “placed in service” before year end. The taxpayer argued that the airplane was “fully functional” as purchased, and therefore was “placed in service” when acquired and used for its first flight on December 30, 2003. The court agreed with the IRS:

While acknowledging in his briefs that those modifications made the Challenger “more valuable to him” and allowed him to “more comfortably conduct business” as a passenger, he says they have “nothing to do with the Challenger’s assigned function of transporting him for his business.” The problem is that this posttrial framing just doesn’t square with the trial testimony, in which Brown testified that those two modifications were “needed” and “required”. We therefore find that the Challenger simply was not available for its intended use on a regular basis until those modifications were installed in 2004. Brown thus didn’t place the Challenger in service in 2003 and can’t take bonus depreciation on it that year.

A new asset doesn’t actually have to be used during the year to be “placed in service,” but it has to be ready to go. A new machine should be on the floor and hooked up, not just in a crate on the dock, or in a trailer on the way in, if you want to depreciate it. If the new asset is a vehicle, you need to take delivery to get the deduction. If the asset is a farm building, it needs to be assembled and in place, not in boxes on the ground.

Cite: Brown, T.C. Memo 2013-275

 

20141210-1

 

The TaxProf reports on a new Treasury Inspector General report, TIGTA: IRS Has 25-30% Error Rate In Refundable Child Tax Credits, Mistakenly Pays $6-7 Billion:

The IRS has continually rated the risk of improper ACTC payments as low. However, TIGTA’s assessment of the potential for ACTC improper payments indicates the ACTC improper payment rate is similar to that of the EITC. Using IRS data, TIGTA estimates the potential ACTC improper payment rate for Fiscal Year 2013 is between 25.2 percent and 30.5 percent, with potential ACTC improper payments totaling between $5.9 billion and $7.1 billion. In addition, IRS enforcement data show the root causes of improper ACTC payments are similar to those of the EITC.

So at least 1/4 of the credit is claimed fraudulently or illegally. This is one of the provisions the President insists be made permanent as a price for permanently extending business provisions. He killed the permanent extender compromise when it didn’t also make the child credit permanent.

 

Wind turbineIowa Public Radio reports Grassley Wants Wind Tax Credit to Go Further. He should read Bryan Caplan’s review, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels: We Owe Civilization to Fossil Fuels. “And despite decades of government favoritism, alternative fuels have yet to deliver.”

 

Peter Reilly, Seventh Circuit Will Not Let Tax Protester Blame His Lawyer For Conviction:

James Stuart thought that Peter Hendrickson had “cracked the code” – the Internal Revenue Code, that is. Joe Kristan would characterize it as finding the tax fairy – that magical sprite who make your taxes go away painlessly while your sucker friends send checks to the tax man.   

It’s always fun to be named-checked by a Forbes blogger.

Jana Luttenegger Weiler, Tax Tips for Gifts to Charity (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog).

Robert D. Flach, DONOR ADVISED FUNDS. For at least 99.99% of taxpayers, these are far better than setting up a private foundation.

Kay Bell, Sen. Tom Coburn’s parting gift: a tax code decoder

Paul Neiffer, Watch Your Crop Insurance Form 1099s This Year

Jason Dinesen, 5 Things You Didn’t Know About EAs, #2: We Don’t Work for the IRS

Brad Ridlehoover, The Grinch That Stole Their Reasonable Cause… (Procedurally Taxing)

Tim Todd, IRS Erred in Making Notice of Tax Lien a Condition to Installment Agreement

 

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 580. Lois Lerner appears to have been scheming to sic the Justice Department on the Tea Partiers as early as 2010, according to newly-unearthed e-mails.

 

Howard Gleckman asks Why Does Congress Pay For Some Tax Cuts and Not Others? (TaxVox). “It can’t be the merits of the recipients. By now, TaxVox readers know that the expired tax breaks included such worthies as preferences for race horse owners, Puerto Rican rum manufacturers, and TV and film producers.”

Eric Cederwall asks What is the Simplest Tax System? (Tax Policy Blog). “Normative economics aside, a per-person tax is one of the most economically efficient taxes for raising revenue.”  Not happening, though.

 

Adrienne Gonzalez, Kids These Days Trust the IRS More Than Olds Do (Going Concern). Like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, they’ll figure it out eventually.

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