Posts Tagged ‘tax court’

Tax Roundup, 11/24/15: Another Kansas medical practice ESOP blows up. And: tax credits for everything!

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20151124-1When you fund an employee stock ownership plan, be sure you have an employee. Another strange ESOP failure out of Kansas emerged from the Tax Court yesterday. A Wichita doctor, whom we will call Dr. F, funded an ESOP for his practice with over $400,000 in 2004, supposedly rolled over from his IRA. But, according to the tax court, the doctor wasn’t qualified to participate, and there was no evidence of a rollover. From the Tax Court (emphasis added, citations omitted, doctor’s name shortened by me):

Dr. F. received no compensation from, and was not employed by, petitioner in 2004 or 2005. A total of 53.06 shares of petitioner’s stock was allocated to his account in these years. Respondent determined that these contributions exceeded the section 415(c) limitation because Dr. F. received no compensation from petitioner in 2004 or 2005. Petitioner alleges that the amounts in Dr. F.’s accounts were rollover contributions from Dr. F.’s individual retirement account and should not be considered for purposes of section 415(c).

In order for a distribution to be considered a rollover contribution, the entire amount received must be paid into a qualified trust for the distributee’s benefit no later than the 60th day after the day that the distribution is received. Petitioner has not provided evidence that a valid rollover took place. Further, because the ESOP trust did not have a bank or brokerage account from May 13, 2004, through December 31, 2009, it was not possible for the distribution from Dr. F.’s individual retirement account to have been paid into an account held by the ESOP trust.

Details, details. But details are everything. The IRS cited multiple reasons for the ESOP revocation, and as the court notes, “Any one of the reasons cited in the final revocation letter would be sufficient alone to cause the ESOP and the ESOP trust to fail…” The ESOP also failed to get a qualified appraisal.

This is the second physician ESOP out of Kansas to fail this year in Tax Court. Iowa has long been the capital of flaky ESOPs, but Kansas seems ready to challenge our dubious supremacy. In fairness, though, the trustee of both ESOPs appears to operate out of Northeast Iowa, so we’re keeping our hand in the game.

The Moral? ESOPs are useful for limited purposes, primarily as a succession vehicle for a closely-held business, but they are complex and dangerous, requiring meticulous compliance to avoid catastrophe. They are a poor tax shelter for a closely-held business when the owner wants to maintain control.

Cite: Fleming Cardiovascular PA, T.C. Memo. 2015-224


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

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

Joseph Thorndike, Tax Credits Are Easy – And a Loser’s Game for Liberals (Tax Analysts Blog):

Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign is still churning out tax proposals at a furious pace. Over the weekend, she proposed a new credit for caretakers—intended, according to her campaign, to “provide support for the millions of families paying for, coordinating, or providing care for aging or disabled family members.”

That sounds great – just like every other tax break Clinton has suggested in the past several months. After all, caring for family members can be hard, and it’s often expensive. Caretakers could definitely use a hand.

But is the tax system the best way to provide it? Probably not.

Home caregivers are wonderful people. But Mr. Thorndike notes the problems with such feel-good credits:

Using tax incentives as a form of hidden spending merely serves to further erode support for more direct forms of government action. Small-bore tax breaks breed more small-bore tax breaks. But they don’t foster any serious rethinking of the role of government.

Nor do they produce meaningful results, even for the narrow problems they target.

There’s another argument that the tax-credits-for-everything crowd glosses over. Each feel-good credit throws another social program to an IRS that is collapsing under its current workload. They can’t really want IRS agents evaluating at-home care, yet it’s baked into that cake. If you don’t audit a lucrative tax credit, it becomes a fraud magnet. So IRS, meet Grandma.


Howard Gleckman, Clinton’s Caregiver Credit Adds To Her List of Tax Breaks, Sharpens Her Contrast With The GOP. “The likely Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, would aggressively use the tax code to achieve social and economic goals, cut taxes on many middle-income people, and raise taxes on high-income households. Every Republican presidential hopeful would eliminate most existing tax subsidies, lower rates, and give big tax cuts to those with high-incomes.”




Robert D. Flach has fresh Tuesday Buzz! Lots of links, and spicy observations on the use of the tax law to run social programs.

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Reminding You That The Gain On That Sale Of Stock May Be Tax Free. “C corporations are like pit bulls and prostate exams — they carry quite the stigma,  but they’re not nearly as bad as they’re made out to be.”

TaxGrrrl, Guilty On Tax & Conspiracy Counts, Couple Faces New Charges For Revenge. Violating the first rule of holes.

Robert Wood, Al Sharpton’s Charity Hikes His Pay 71%, But Tax Liens, Clinton Imprint Remain.


Farley Katz, Joseph Perera, Katy David, Important New Partnership Audit Rules Change Taxation of Partnerships (Procedurally Taxing)

Not only can the partnership owe income tax, the tax will not be based on the income for the year in question, but instead on one or more prior years’ income. Consequently, the economic burden of the tax could be borne by partners who had no interest in the partnership when the income was generated. Conversely, if a partnership overstated its income in a prior year, the benefit of correcting that overstatement will accrue to the current partners, not those who were partners in the earlier year. Finally, if a partnership elects out of the new provisions (assuming it is eligible), the IRS will no longer be able to conduct a centralized audit controlling each partner’s distributive share, but will instead have to audit each partner individually,

Excellent article. These new rules will change the dynamics of partnership exams a great deal when they take effect for 2017 filings.

Jack Townsend, Fifth Circuit Sustains Convictions Despite Trial Judge’s Refusal to Give Proper Cheek Willfulness Instruction




Tyler Cowen, Against a financial transactions tax. He cites a paper documenting that such taxes are unwise:  “This is consistent with earlier findings on Sweden’s transactions tax, and that proposal continues to be one of the more overrated ideas in American Progressive political discourse.”

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 929

Peter Reilly, Foundation Of Big GOP Donor Loses Tax Court Case Over Political Ads


Career Corner. Let’s Discuss: Non-Equity Partners in Accounting Firms (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



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

Thursday, November 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


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

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

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

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


The IRS was unmoved:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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




Russ Fox, IRSAC Report Has Hits and Errors:

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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





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

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

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


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


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


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


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 924

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


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


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

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




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

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

It’s been some driving this week:


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 917,

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

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


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



Tax Roundup, 10/28/15: Tax Court blocks IRS assessment of Gremlin-era gift tax. And: Impeachment is too good for him.

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan
Wikipedia image ploaded by GrapedApe under Creative Commons license.

Wikipedia image uploaded by GrapedApe under Creative Commons license.

Closing the book on tax disputes arising in the Nixon administration, the Tax Court ruled this week that a taxpayer — the brother of Viacom mogul Sumner Redstone — did not make a taxable gift in 1972 when he transferred corporation shares to a trust as part of a lawsuit settlement.

The facts are confusing. Sumner Redstone’s father Mickey capitalized a business in 1959 but named his sons Sumner and Edward as 1/3 owners. When Edward wanted out and tried to sell his shares, the father refused to provide the certificates, saying that they were held in trust for Mickey’s children. Tax Analysts ($link) explains the result:

Mickey claimed that in 1959, when he created NAI, the shares had been held in an oral trust created at the same time. After months of negotiations, the parties agreed to settle by giving one-third of Edward’s shares to trusts in the benefit of his two children. His remaining shares were sold back to NAI for $5 million.

Edward didn’t consider this a gift, and he never filed a gift tax return for 1972. This left the statute of limitations open on the gift, and the IRS assessed gift tax on Edward’s estate after he died in 2011.

The tax law says there is no gift when property is transferred for full consideration and with no benevolent intent. The IRS says that because the beneficiaries of the trust, Edward’s children, paid nothing for the shares they received in the settlement, the transfer was a taxable gift. The Tax Court disagreed:

The evidence clearly established that Edward transferred stock to his children, not because he wished to do it, but because Mickey demanded that he do it…

Respondent’s argument focuses on whether the transferees provided consideration. But that is not the question the regulation asks. It asks whether the transferor received consideration, that is, whether he made the transfer “for a full and adequate consideration” in money or money’s worth. Sec. 25.2511-1(g)(1), Gift Tax Regs. (emphasis added). We have determined that Edward received “a full and adequate consideration” for his transfer — namely, the recognition by Mickey and Sumner that Edward was the outright owner of 66 2/3 NAI shares and NAI’s agreement to pay Edward $5 million in exchange for those shares. Section 2512(b) and its implementing regulations require that the donor receive “an adequate and full consideration”; they make no reference to the source of that consideration.

Decision for taxpayer.

The Moral? First, there’s no gift to the thief who points a gun at you, and there’s no gift when you transfer shares because you have to.

Perhaps more importantly, gift tax can be assessed forever if you don’t file a gift tax return. If there is any question on whether a gift might have happened, or realistic risk that the IRS will challenge the amount of a gift, it’s wise to file a gift tax return even when it doesn’t appear gift tax is owed. Otherwise the statute of limitations never starts running, and you might be fighting a forty-years war with the tax man.

Cite: Estate of Edward S. Redstone, 145 T.C. No. 11




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 902. A resolution has been introduced to impeach IRS Commissioner Koskinen. While his conduct in office has been awful, I hope they don’t really try to make it happen. It could backfire, and even if he were impeached, there will never be a conviction. I would rather they spend the time and energy reducing the powers of all IRS commissioners by reducing the power of the IRS through tax reform.

Russ Fox, Chaffetz Introduces Impeachment Resolution of IRS Commissioner Koskinen. “My view of this is simple: Mr. Koskinen has become a mouthpiece of the Administration rather than an independent head of the IRS… The IRS’s budget does need to be increased, but that’s not happening until Mr. Koskinen leaves the agency (and the scandal is resolved).

Kay Bell, House GOP seeks impeachment of IRS commissioner

Robert Wood, Impeach IRS Chief, Say Republicans Alleging Lies, Obstruction


William Perez, What Every Small Business Owner Should Know About the Health Care Tax Credit

Peter Reilly, Maureen O’Hara’s Ill Fated Cuban Oil Tax Shelter


20151028-2Joseph Henchman is Remembering the Deceased Iowa Pumpkin Tax You Helped End (Tax Policy Blog). “It’s a weird tax system that taxes the same item differently depending on the buyer’s intent. I’m sure Iowa pumpkin patches have better things to do than quiz their customers on future pumpkin uses.”

David Brunori, Billionaires Who Want to Tax Poor People (Tax Analysts Blog) “Second, and just to show you that it really is all about the money, the initiative will impose significant taxes on electronic cigarettes. If people really cared about the health risks of smoking, they would be encouraging — indeed subsidizing — electronic cigarettes.”

Howard Gleckman, Gimmicks Galore Litter the Boehner/Obama Budget Deal (TaxVox) “But one thing seems certain: This deal is far worse for fiscal conservatives that the Grand Bargain that Boehner and President Obama nearly reached in July 2012, a deal the speaker never could sell to his restive caucus.”

Caleb Newquist, Florida Still Cranking Out Unsophisticated Tax Schemes (Going Concern): “If you or someone you know is thinking about concocting a haphazard tax fraud, it may be tempting to go with a tried and true method that goes something like this…”


Programming Note: My travel schedule will keep me from posting a Tax Roundup tomorrow. See you Friday!



Tax Roundup, 10/23/15: Tax Court dispenses with pot dispensary deductions. And: IRS scam call, captured on tape!

Friday, October 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

Accounting Today newsletter visitors: click here to go directly to the rental loss story


Cannabis leaf image via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Cannabis leaf image via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.

Deductions get stoned. Not in a good way. Attitudes towards marijuana have changed a lot in the last 33 years. A recent Gallup Poll shows that 58% of respondents favor weed legalization. But a tax provision enacted in 1982 continues the Reefer War with full vigor, as the operators of a legal California medical marijuana dispensary learned yesterday.

Section 280E, enacted early in the Reagan Administration, is one of the more clear provisions of the income tax. It reads in full:

No deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.

Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, despite its growing legalization at the state level. That means the only deduction allowed to state-legal weed dispensaries and dealers is their cost of goods sold — their direct cost of their inventory. No rent, salaries, benefits, security, depreciation, or any of the other obvious costs of doing business can be deducted.

Canna Care, Inc., a California dispensary, claimed about $870,000 in business deductions over a three-year period. The Tax Court explains (my emphasis, ditations omitted):

Petitioner argues that its actions cannot be considered “trafficking” for purposes of section 280E because its activities were not illegal under California law. Petitioner claims that this conclusion is supported by memoranda issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on October 19, 2009, and August 29, 2013, and guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) on February 14, 2014.

We have previously held the sale of medical marijuana pursuant to California law constitutes trafficking within the meaning of section 280E… DOJ memoranda and FinCEN guidance released after the years at issue that represent exercises of prosecutorial discretion do not change the result in this case. Petitioner regularly bought and sold marijuana. This activity constitutes trafficking within the meaning of section 280E even when permitted by State law.

The taxpayer also argued that its business activities weren’t entirely about marijuana, and that at least some of the activities should therefore be deductible. The Tax Court said that the taxpayer’s evidence wasn’t sufficient to make that case:

Aside from the sale of medical marijuana, petitioner’s only other source of income was the sale of books, T-shirts, and other items. On the basis of the evidence presented, we cannot determine what percentage of petitioner’s income was from the sale of medical marijuana and what percentage was from the sale of other items. Because of the parties’ stipulation, we find that the sale of medical marijuana was petitioner’s primary source of income and that the sale of any other item was an activity incident to its business of distributing medical marijuana.

No deductions. Victory for IRS.

The Moral: Sometime in the next few years I suspect weed will either cease to be a controlled substance or Section 280E will be amended to allow legal pot sellers to deduct their expenses. Until then, dealers will need to mark up their product a lot to cover the taxes on phantom income. If they have other business activities, they need keep records sufficient to separately track the non-pot profits.

The other moral: Don’t use the tax law to do anything other than measure income and collect taxes. Special carve-outs, whether punitive or beneficial, linger long after the moral panic surrounding their enactment passes. In addition to Section 280E, we remain stuck with other moral panic tax provisions. These include Section 409A, enacted in the Enron panic but punishing ordinary businesses and non-profits trying to compensate their employees, and FIRPTA, enacted to combat the threat of Japanese buying up our precious golf courses. The Japanese have moved on to other things, but FIRPTA still clobbers U.S. real estate buyers who fail to realize they need to withhold taxes on purchases from non-U.S. sellers.

Cite: Canna Care, Inc., T.C. Memo 2015-206.

Related: Russ Fox, Up In Smoke, Again. For more on taxes in the early ’80s, TaxGrrrl has Back To The Future: Taxes Now & Then.


Ed Brown’s fortress-house sells at auction, reports The winning bid was $205,000, though the story makes it appear that the winning bidder may also need to pay some accumulated property taxes.


buzz 20151023-1

It’s Friday, so celebrate with fresh Buzz from Robert D. Flach. Year-end planning, IRS inflation adjustments, and the S corporation vs. partnership conundrum figure prominently.

William Perez reports on the updated 401(k) Contribution Limits.

Tony Nitti, IRS Redefines ‘Husband’ And ‘Wife’ In Response to Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Decisions.

Caleb Newquist, Company Accused of Being ‘Pharmaceutical Enron’ Doesn’t Appreciate the Sentiment (Going Concern).

Robert Wood, Stock Options 2.0: Twitter CEO Gives His Own Stock To Employees

Peter Reilly, IRS Should Be Asking For Cooperation Not Volunteering. “Audits of non-compliant taxpayers will have them “busted” which is unpleasant, whereas non-compliant taxpayers not being audited make the rest of us feel like chumps.”

Kay Bell, As Ryan gets ready to take on House Speaker role, Ways & Means members jockey for tax-writing chairmanship




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 897. Administration partisans urge continued political administration of the IRS, as they needed the encouragement.

Alan Cole, This Bill to Repeal Obamacare Taxes Would Grow the Economy (Tax Policy Blog). Just eliminating the ridiculous and costly paperwork of the ACA would be an economic boost.


Ever wonder what it sounds like to get a phone call from a scammer claiming to be from IRS? Well, you are in luck! A scammer was kind enough to leave a message on my phone at home, which I recorded and uploaded to the link in this sentence.  I believe it is typical of the recorded-message version of the scam, telling me that the IRS “is filing a lawsuit against you” and telling me to call a number to “get more information on this case file.”

The IRS does not call you to tell you they are suing you. They use the old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service, and if they can’t find you, they will use genuine U.S. Marshals to serve you papers. Believe me, if the IRS is after you, you will know you have a problem, and that knowledge won’t come over the phone.



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

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cite: Poppe, T.C. Memo 2015-205

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




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

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

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

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


Russ Fox, The Wagering Excise Tax and DFS:

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

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


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

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

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

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




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

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


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 895



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

Arnold Kling



Tax Roundup, 10/19/15: Keeping a calendar pays off big for Brooklyn apartment owner. And: Irwin Schiff dies in prison.

Monday, October 19th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150811-1Marking time pays. If you ever think owning income property is easy money, a Tax Court case last week might make you think twice. But the case also shows how keeping track of the time you spend can make a big difference if the IRS questions your rental losses.

The taxpayer couple owned “a four-floor mulifamily house” in Brooklyn. The couple lived on the first two floors, and rented out the two remaining floors as two apartments. He had a day job involving construction, but he also had his hands full with the apartment.

The couple claimed just under $70,000 of rental losses between 2010 and 2011. The IRS challenged the losses. The IRS has a good track record in rental loss cases because the tax law sets a high bar for deducting them. Such losses are automatically “passive,” and deductible only to the extent of “passive income,” unless you are a “real estate professional.” To be a real estate professional, you have to

  1. work more than 750 hours in a real estate trade or business during the year, and
  2. Your real estate work has to take more time than anything else you do.

It’s that second test that usually trips up people with day jobs. The taxpayer here, though, had an advantage, as Special Trial Judge Panuthos explains:

For purposes of the requirement in section 469(c)(7)(B)(i) [the real estate professional test], a real property trade or business includes construction and reconstruction. Sec. 469(c)(7)(C). 

So that meant the rental activity didn’t have to take more time than the day job. But the real estate professional rule doesn’t automatically make a rental loss deductible. The taxpayer still had to show that he “materially participated” to avoid the passive loss rule. Material participation is generally based on time spent working on the activity during the year, with 500 hours annually being the most common threshold used.  Fortunately, the taxpayer kept track of his time:

We used petitioner’s contemporaneous activity log to calculate the amount of time that he spent on the rental property. We included the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the tenants’ apartments and two-thirds of the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the common areas. On the basis of these calculations, we conclude that petitioner spent 1,008 hours performing services with respect to the rental activity for 2010. Because the 1,008 hours meets the more-than-500-hour requirement of section 1.469-5T(a)(1), Temporary Income Tax Regs., supra, petitioner meets this requirement for the 2010 taxable year. Accordingly, petitioner materially participated in the rental real estate activity for 2010, and petitioner’s 2010 rental real estate activity was not a passive activity.

That’s a lot of time. So much for the idea that rental income is easy money. The taxpayer’s records also carried the day for 2011. In total, the recordkeeping saved the taxpayer $25,174.60 in taxes and penalties that the Tax Court overturned.

The Moral? Keeping a daily calendar of your time is the best antidote to an IRS passive loss examination. It may seem like a hassle, but as this case shows, it can turn out to be the best investment of time you can make if the IRS comes for a visit.

Cite: Simmons-Brown, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-62.


Irwin SchiffTax Protester Schiff dies in prisonIrwin Schiff, a prominent figure among those denying the general application of the income tax, died in prison last week, reports Peter Reilly. Mr. Schiff, 87, had been diagnosed with lung cancer while serving a 13-year sentence for practicing what he unwisely preached. Peter’s humane and thoughtful coverage includes this:

When I first encountered Schiff’s arguments in the nineties I was so impressed by how well put together they were, that I found it difficult to believe that they were constructed by someone who believed them, as citations always checked out, but were wildly out of context.  Irwin, however, has proved his sincerity.  That doesn’t make his arguments right, but it does merit some grudging admiration.

Mr. Schiff’s story shows that however sincerely you believe that the income tax doesn’t apply to you, your sincerity does little good when the IRS, the U.S. Marshals, the federal judges, and the Bureau of Prisons think it does. And they do.



Russ Fox, That Was the Year that Was. Russ reflects on the filing season ended last week:

Calling the IRS was almost a joke. The “Practitioner Priority Service” hold times were so bad that I’d hate to think of what they were for regular numbers. Unfortunately, I see no improvement possible with the IRS budget until the IRS scandal is resolved. That’s not going to happen until we have a new President, so we have probably two more years of misery in dealing with the IRS.

At least.


William Perez, Where to Find and How to Read Tax Tables

Annette Nellen, Responsible Governance – Tax break bills vetoed! “What happened – On 10/10/15, Governor Brown vetoed nine bills that either created or expanded a tax credit or exclusion or exemption.”




Alan Cole, How Do Property Taxes Vary Across The Country? (Tax Policy Blog). The post feature a handy interactive map showing the average property tax deduction taken in each U.S. county in 2013.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 891Day 892ay 893. Day 892 covers the connection between Lois Lerner and a bureaucrat behind the outrageous Wisconsin “John Doe” investigations of conservative organizations.

Howard Gleckman, The Debt Limit: Here We Go Again (TaxVox).

Kay Bell, GOP presidential candidates tax trash talk on Twitter

Robert Wood, Execs Get 10 Years Prison Over Company Taxes? Yes, Here’s How. Robert covers the Arrow Trucking saga.

TaxGrrrl, As TIGTA Continues To Warn On IRS Scams, New Treasury Scams Surface. “In one version, scammers advise that an individual has been awarded a grant or a similar sum of money and in order to collect, the individual needs to provide personal information or a sum of money to ‘release’ the funds. It sounds a little bit like those lottery scams making the rounds but the use of the name of the Office of the Treasury seems to make individuals believe that it’s more legitimate”


News from the Profession. A Noncomprehensive List of Morale Boosters for Accounting Firms (Leona May, Going Concern). “Accounting firms, who generally eat their young, are all competing for ‘who has the best perks’ in race to scoop up all of the competent new hires.”



Tax Roundup, 10/14/15: The return’s not joint without that Jane Hancock. And: Iowa supplies rule advances.

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

1040 signature blockSignatures matter. A Tax Court case yesterday reminds us that even though they seem like an afterthought, the IRS cares whether you sign your paper return.

A busy executive mailed the family’s 2000 1040 near the October 15, 2001 extended due date. Possibly through a miscommunication, his wife failed to sign the return before he took it to the office to mail near the deadline. The Tax Court takes up the story (citations omitted):

Sometime after the Andover Service Center received the original 2000 return, respondent returned it to petitioners. The Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) requires the examining agent to perform certain actions before sending a return back to a taxpayer. The examining agent must attach certain forms explaining to the taxpayer why the return is being sent back, what needs to be done with respect to the tax return, and when is the deadline to comply and resubmit the return.

Petitioners claim they received a date-stamped original 2000 return with some red ink marks on it but did not receive any attached correspondence. The date on the stamp was October 15, 2001.

They never signed or re-submitted the return, and it apparently didn’t occur to the taxpayers to ask their CPA why they got it back:

[The husband] explained that he was not alarmed to have received back the original tax return with some red ink marks on it because he requested copies of his tax returns from time to time for various business reasons.

That doesn’t sound right. They had a tax preparer who would normally keep copies of client tax returns. Why would anyone go through the hassle of getting one from the government when you can call your tax man?

The tax year came up for audit, and the taxpayers tried to get 2000 dismissed on the grounds that the 3-year statute of limitations had expired. The statute only starts to run once a return is filed, and the IRS said that with only one signature, there was never a legitimate joint return. The Tax Court discussed and rejected two taxpayer arguments on why the return should count: the “substantial compliance doctrine” and the “tacit consent” doctrine. The first one was easy: filing with only one signature is not “substantial compliance” when both are required.

The “tacit consent” doctrine is more interesting. Again from the Tax Court:

At the outset of our discussion of the tacit consent doctrine, we note that courts generally apply this doctrine when one spouse signs a joint return for both spouses and it is later shown that the other spouse has tacitly consented to the joint return filing.  Most of the cases that petitioners cite follow this general pattern.

This happens in real life more than I care to think about. But Judge Laro ruled that it didn’t fit here where there is no second signature at all:

Extending the application of the tacit consent doctrine to cases such as the current case has the potential of creating an exception that would swallow the rule. We believe sufficient administrative mechanisms are already in place to deal with such situations. Existing procedures described in the regulations and the IRM provide how to handle documents when one of two required signatures is missing. At the very least, a nonsigning spouse who did not intend to file a joint return may be alerted that something is wrong.

Decision for IRS.

The Moral? It’s always best to get both signatures. Better still to not run to the deadline, where it’s easy to miss one. Best of all is to e-file, so the IRS has no manual signature issues in the first place, and your signed e-file authorization is safely in the hands of your e-file originator.

Cite: Reifler, T.C. Memo. 2015-199




Iowa rule on sales tax of manufacturing supplies passes first test. The legislative rules committee yesterday split 5-5 on a party-line vote on a Democratic objection to the rule. The split vote allows the rule to go forward, and probably means it will become final, according to this report by O. Kay Henderson.

The rule would flesh out the definition of consumable manufacturing supplies that are exempt from Iowa sales tax. This has been a contentious issue for years, one that has been a large portion of disputes at the Iowa Department of Revenue. Good tax policy favors a broad definition, as good sales tax policy doesn’t tax business inputs in the first place. But it turns out that the people who most benefit from tax receipts — state employees — don’t care for things that deprive them of their cash flows. From the report:

“I don’t believe it’s ever been done, to use the rule-making process to cut taxes. That seems like a heck of a precedent,” says AFSCME Council 61 Danny Homan, head of the union that represents the largest share of state workers.

He says all 150 legislators should vote on the proposal and Homan accuses Branstad of abusing executive power to try to cut taxes for corporations.

“After, on July 2, the governor vetoed $55 million in one-time appropriations for schools and vetoed funding for the MHIs in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant,” Homan says. “It seems like he’s got money to reward his friends, but he doesn’t have money for education and he doesn’t have money for folks that are suffering from mental illness.”

There is so much wrong with the idea that all of this money is the Governor’s to give out, and that the only problem is that he isn’t giving it to state employees. It’s a great example of why public employee unions as bargaining units are an awful idea.


William Perez, Do Your Home Improvements Qualify for the Residential Energy Tax Credits? “Homeowners who install solar panels or make other energy-efficient improvements to their home may qualify for a federal tax credit.”

Jason Dinesen, Are Tax Preparers Who Operate on Volume Doomed? It would be a blessing, actually.

Peter Reilly, A Twisted Tale Of New Jersey Use Tax,

TaxGrrrl, Losers Like Me: Fantasy Sports Sites Like FanDuel Attract Billions And Scrutiny As Popularity Grows

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Daring To Take On The Section 263A Adjustment. A key part of the 1986 tax reform process, it is a monument to the baneful tax policy consequences of the tax revenue scoring process.


Scott Greenberg, NY Times Reporter Casts Doubt on Financial Transactions Taxes (Tax Policy Blog). They are an awful idea.

Howard Gleckman, How A Carbon Tax Could Have Prevented The Volkswagen Diesel Scandal (TaxVox)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 888. Today’s link discusses a GAO report on how the IRS has failed to enact safeguards against continued political bias in IRS operations.


And finally: With first Wrigley clinch, Cubs move on to NLCS.



Tax Roundup, 10/2/15: What your Health Savings Account can do that your IRA can’t. And: They don’t stay bought.

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150803-1Your IRA isn’t an HSA. Last week I was asked whether there was a penalty for taking money from an Individual Retirement Account to pay for surgery. I said there was no penalty, but that it was taxable income. The person who asked was surprised and confused, thinking that penalty and taxation are the same thing. They aren’t.

The Tax Court faced a similar question yesterday. A 47 year-old taxpayer took money from her IRA to pay medical expenses for her non-dependent son. The IRS noticed, presumably via a computer match, and assessed her a 10% early withdrawal penalty, as well as regular income tax. Judge Guy explains the issue:

Generally, if a taxpayer receives a distribution from a qualified retirement plan before attaining age 59-1/2, section 72(t) imposes an additional tax equal to 10% of the portion of the distribution which is includible in the taxpayer’s gross income. Sec. 72(t)(1) and (2). The additional tax is intended to discourage taxpayers from taking premature distributions from retirement plans — actions that frustrate public policy encouraging saving for retirement…

Section 72(t)(2)(B) provides an exception to the imposition of additional tax to the extent that retirement plan distributions “do not exceed the amount allowable as a deduction under section 213 to the employee for amounts paid during the taxable year for medical care (determined without regard to whether the employee itemizes deductions for such taxable year).” Section 213 in turn allows as a deduction “the expenses paid during the taxable year, not compensated for by insurance or otherwise, for medical care of the taxpayer, his spouse, or a dependent…

The “dependent” part was bad news:

The record reflects that petitioner did not claim her son as a dependent for the year in issue and fails to demonstrate that her son met the definition of a dependent provided in section 152. Consequently, we conclude that petitioner is not eligible for the exception under section 72(t)(2)(B) — even assuming that she used the funds in question to pay her son’s medical expenses.

But even if she did qualify to avoid the 10% tax (she didn’t), the withdrawal would still have been subject to income tax.

Health Savings Accounts look a lot like IRAs — they allow tax-free build-up, and they can be tapped penalty free like IRAs for retirement income. But HSA funds withdrawn for medical expenses are tax-free — not just penalty free. As with the IRA, though, the medical expenses have to be the taxpayers, the spouse’s, or a dependent’s. This extra flexibility makes HSAs a better savings vehicle than an IRA for those who qualify.

Not everybody qualifies. You need a “high deductible” health insurance policy to qualify for an HSA. For 2015 a “high deductible plan” is one with an annual deductible of at least $1,300 for single coverage and $2,600 for family coverage.  Annual out-of-pocket costs can’t exceed $6,450 for single coverage and $12,900 for family coverage. The 2015 contribution limits are $3,350 for single coverage and $6,650 for family coverage.

Unlike employer “flex-plan” arrangments, there is no “use it or lose it” feature in HSAs. You can accumulate contributions and save them for a year with large medical expenses, or for retirement. You don’t have to withdraw the funds in the same year as the medical expenses, either; if you had medical expenses in year 1, you can wait until year 2 to withdraw the amount and still have it tax-free.

Cite: Ireland, T.C. Summary Opinion 2015-60

Related Links:

IRS publication 969.

Kiplinger, FAQs about Health Savings Accounts.




Maria Koklanaris, ConAgra Foods, Winner of Largest-Ever Nebraska Incentive Package, Moving to Illinois (Tax Analysts, subscriber link):

ConAgra Foods Inc., recipient of the largest tax incentive package ever awarded in Nebraska, announced October 1 that it would move its corporate headquarters from Omaha to Chicago, cutting at least 1,500 jobs in the process.

As I’ve said before, incentive tax credits are like taking your wife’s purse to the bar to buy drinks for the girls. It cheats the person who’s paying, the girls aren’t impressed, and if you leave with one, she’s not the type to be faithful.


It’s Friday! It’s Buzz Day for Robert D. Flach. Trumpmania figures prominently.

Jason Dinesen, How to Protect a Deceased Person’s Identity. “Thankfully, Congress has now limited access to the Death Master File, which was the cause of much of the identity theft relating to deceased people.”

Paul Neiffer, Form 1099-G Does Not Always Require Schedule F Reporting. “The key thing to remember is just because USDA or a cooperative issues a Form 1099 does not mean the income has to be fully reported on Schedule F and subject to full self-employment tax.”

Jim Maule, Taxation of Prizes, Question Three. “The question, however, also referred to the local or state sales tax. The awarding of a prize is not a sale, so the sales tax ought not apply.”

Kay Bell, Hurricane Joaquin intensifies, threatens East Coast…maybe. Maybe you should dust off your disaster recovery plan once in awhile.

Leslie Book, Restitution Based Assessment and Tax Return Preparers: An Uneasy Mix (Procedurally Taxing). On the problems the IRS has in getting restitution from crooked preparers.

Robert Wood, Marijuana Goes Native American And Tax Free




David Henderson, via Don Boudreaux:

Herbert Hoover, in the midst of the Great Depression, more than doubled the top [income-tax] rate to 63 percent and increased the bottom rate by more than nine times to 4 percent.  He did this in spite of the fact that raising income tax rates during a depression lengthens the depression.  Franklin Roosevelt carried on Hoover’s policy throughout the 1930s and increased tax rates further.  By 1940, he had raised the top tax rate to 81.1 percent on incomes over $5 million.

Putting the “great” in the Great Depression.


Stephen Entin, Expensing: The Right Tax Treatment for All Investment Regardless of Financing Arrangements (Tax Policy Blog)

Howard Gleckman, How Investment Managers (And Maybe You) Would Benefit From Trump’s Tax Plan (TaxVox).

Cara Griffith, Idaho Legislators Shamed Into Good Behavior (Tax Analysts) Politicians, bureaucrats and cockroaches prefer darkness.

Carl Davis, Michigan Becomes the 26th State Where Online Retailers like Amazon Must Collect Sales Tax (Tax Justice Blog).


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 876. Lois Lerner and the Wisconsin witch hunt.


The Critical Question. Is Technology Making Accountants Dumb and Lazy? (Chris Hooper, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 9/23/15: Certified mail > And more!

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan


certifiedTiming is everything. While electronic filing solves proof of filing questions for many returns, not everything is e-filed. While the IRS “mailbox rule” holds that things mailed by the due date are considered filed on time, it’s up to the taxpayer to prove timely mailing. I recommend Certified Mail with a post office postmark and return receipt requested, though a shipping slip from a “qualified private delivery service” also works.

But not a postmark. A taxpayer sent a petition to the Tax Court, which does provide for electronic filing of petitions. The taxpayer used certified mail, and the date on the mark was on time, but the petition arrived late. That went badly (my emphasis):

In the instant case, the “sender’s receipt for certified mail” was not postmarked by a USPS employee but rather was handwritten by an employee of petitioner’s counsel. Therefore, sending the petition by certified mail afforded petitioner no guarantee of a timely postmark, and he assumed the risk that the postmark would bear a date on or before the last day of the 90-day period prescribed for filing the petition. Unfortunately for petitioner, the “postmark” upon which he relies is superseded by USPS Tracking data, which tracking data serves as a postmark, see Boultbee v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2011-11, and is therefore conclusive in determining whether the petition was timely mailed, see sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(3), Proced. & Admin. Regs. In the instant case, USPS Tracking data demonstrates that the petition was not timely mailed.

The Moral: you want to protect yourself using certified mail, you should make a trip to the post office. Marking the certified mail slip in the office mailroom doesn’t do the job; neither does a postage meter or

Cite: Tilden, T.C. Memo. 2015-188.





I’ve read so many blog posts taking victory laps on Obamacare, but surely something is wrong when our most scientific study of the question rather effortlessly coughs up phrases such as “but most uninsured will lose” and also “Average welfare for the uninsured population would be estimated to decline after the ACA if all members of that population obtained coverage.”  The simple point is that people still have to pay some part of the cost for this health insurance and a) they were getting some health care to begin with, and b) the value of the policy to them is often worth less than its subsidized price.

-Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution), The incidence of the ACA mandates

Alan Cole, The Cadillac Tax is Still Probably Raising Deductibles (Tax Policy Blog).  “The news website Vox today covered the issue of rising deductibles in the U.S. health care market. As with their past coverage of the issue, there is a curious omission from the piece: the Cadillac tax.”


Jason Dinesen, The Difference Between Not-for-Profit and Tax-Exempt. “Not-for-profit is a legal term,” but “Tax-exempt is a federal tax term.”

Robert Wood, Who Pays Tax On Business Sale? Ask Warren Buffett. Warren likes taxes paid by other people.

TaxGrrrl, 2015 Tax Season ‘Miserable’ For Many Taxpayers: Will It Get Better In 2016?

Russ Fox, Kiplinger’s Tax-Friendly and Least Tax-Friendly States: Bring Me (Mostly) the Usual Suspects. Iowa’s somewhere in the middle. Delaware is rated best, California worst.


Kay Bell, Senators seek Treasury Secretary’s help in hiking IRS budget. I’m sure they’ll get it.

Peter Reilly, Tax Rules Forbid Churches From Endorsing Candidates, Will IRS Take Action? “If Pope Francis starts “feeling the Bern” will the taxman show up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral?”

Robert D Flach, IT’S NOT ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL. “Once again the idiots in Congress have put off dealing with the now infamous ‘tax extenders’. And once again these idiots will probably extend the entire lot for at least one more year at year-end.”




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 867

David Brunori, Don’t Be Fooled — Services Should Be Subject to Sales Tax (Tax Analysts Blog) “Most services aren’t subject to sales tax in most states. From a tax policy perspective, that’s no good. The sales tax should fall on all final consumption — preferably at a very low rate. So everything we buy should be subject to tax.”

Howard Gleckman, Senate Democrats Would Take Some Small Steps To Clean Up Energy Tax Breaks (TaxVox) “The government is still picking winners and losers—it is subsidizing clean energy—but at least it would no longer hyper-manage the process by creating one set of subsidies for hydrogen and another for solar panels.”

Matt Gardner, It’s Not the Real Thing: Coca-Cola Hit with $3.3 Billion Tax Bill for Fake “Foreign Income” (Tax Justice Blog).


Cause: The Most (Montana) And Least (Washington) Fair State & Local Tax Systems (TaxProf)

Effect: Crackdown On Luxury Car Owners Dodging Taxes With Montana Registration (CBS Minnesota)


The Dangers of Video Games. PAC man says 1MDB left US$975m loan off the books, suggests fraud (Malaymail Online)


Speak for yourself, buddy. Your Firm’s Website Sucks; How to Help Improve It and Boost Your Career at the Same Time (Brian Swanson, Going Concern).





Tax Roundup, 9/22/15: A resounding call to document your mileage. And: preparer regulation, IRS service, lots more!

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan


No Walnut STYou know you’re having a bad day in Tax Court when:

After concessions, the remaining issue relating to deductions claimed on petitioner’s Schedule A is whether she is entitled to deduct an additional $1,616 of mileage expense that she claimed as part of her unreimbursed employee business expense deduction. The answer is a resounding no.

I’m pretty sure that the Tax Court judges never read their opinions out loud, so I don’t think it was literally resounding. Still, it’s fun to imagine Judge Marvel calling the court into session, calling out a booming “NO!” and then adjourning.

The “no” may hae been resounding because of a little error the Judge detected in the taxpayer’s evidence. The taxpayer claimed mileage deductions for going between work locations. Travel expenses have to meet the special substantiation requirements of Sec. 274(d), where the taxpayer maintains evidence, such as calendars or mileage logs, to prove the deduction. This taxpayer went through a lot of effort generating a log from her work history. However…

Petitioner testified at length regarding how she prepared the reconstructed log. She testified under oath that she had worked for both ATC and MSN throughout 2007 and carefully explained her work assignments for each employer, including her work assignments for ATC from January through September 2007. Unfortunately for petitioner, the document that ATC provided to her summarizing her work history with ATC shows that she did not start her employment at ATC until October 2007. That document demolished any credibility that petitioner’s reconstructed log and her sworn testimony might otherwise have had. [emphasis added]

The Moral? No matter how much effort goes into reconstructing your unreimbursed work mileage, it doesn’t help you if you didn’t actually have the job.

Cite: Spjute, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-58




Bryan Camp has a long piece in Tax Notes today ($link) arguing that the IRS can and should “cut and paste” its way into a new preparer regulation regime. I won’t argue the legalisms, though I think if the IRS thought it plausible, it would have tried it already.

I will point out that in an article with 101 footnotes, there is no discussion of additional costs to the taxpayers, or whether the benefits exceed those costs. He discusses evidence that “unregulated” preparers make more errors, and he assumes that regulation will fix the problem. That’s not necessarily so. It’s hard to imagine the perfunctory examination and CPE requirements of the old RTRP program would improved preparation. You can make somebody take a test, but you can’t make them competent.

Mr. Camp also ignores the unintended but predictable effects of the inevitably-increased price of preparation on the quality of tax returns received by IRS. If prep price goes up, more taxpayers will do their own returns, almost certainly at a higher error rate than from paid-for preparation. Other taxpayers will drop out of the system rather than pay higher prep costs.

In short, regulation advocates assume regulation will solve the problems of inaccurate returns. That’s unproven but unlikely. It is likely, though, that it will increase taxpayer costs and push customers away from paid preparers, which creates a new set of problems.

Related: Leslie Book, AICPA Defends CPA Turf and Challenges IRS Efforts to Regulate Unenrolled Preparers (Procedurally Taxing)


buzz20140909Robert D. Flach has fresh Buzz today, with links ranging from silly tax proposals to silly home office deductions.

Paul Neiffer, What About Those AFRs? “Periodically I will get a question from a client asking me ‘How much interest they have to charge on a loan to their child or some other related party?’. ”

Kay Bell, Meet Obamacare deadlines or pay the higher tax price. “If you don’t file last year’s return, you won’t be able to claim an advance premium tax credit to help you pay for your 2016 Obamacare coverage.”

William Perez, What Tax Documents to Bring to Your Accountant?


Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Making Sense Of Partnership Book-Ups. A primer on adjusting capital accounts to reflect the price paid when partners enter or leave a partnership.

Russ Fox, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Phone Calls.

So let’s translate this into reality. In the 2013 fiscal year, 22,363,345 phone calls were attempted to various IRS toll-free lines; 15,609,615 were answered (69.8%). In the 2015 fiscal year, 22,013,468 phone calls were attempted to various IRS toll-free lines; 8,277,064 were answered (37.6%). As for the time on hold allegedly decreasing to 23.5 minutes, perhaps that’s after excluding all the time some of the 7 million people who called but whose calls were dropped or who hung up spent on the phone.

I think the IRS cuts in customer service are a sort of “Washington Monument Strategy” of cutting the most visible and useful aspects of taxpayer service to pressure Congress into providing more funds. I’ll believe the IRS is serious about its customer service issues when the IRS takes its 200 employees who spend all of their time doing Treasury Employee Union work and puts them on the phones.

Robert Wood, Let’s Tax Churches. I’m sure that won’t be controversial…

Peter Reilly, The Tax Code Explained & Why It Matters In This Presidential Race (No, It’s Not 70K Pages)

Jack Townsend, Wyly Brothers Seek Bankruptcy Relief from Disgorgement Order from Offshore Shenanigans




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 866

Martin Sullivan, Donald Buffett? (Tax Analysts Blog). Looking for tax wisdom in all the wrong places.

Renu Zaretsky, Inversions, Schools, and Supermarkets. Today’s TaxVox roundup covers the ground from tax increases in Chicago to tax favors for supermarkets in Baltimore.


Sebastian Johnson, Progressive Era Reform Can Be Anything But Progressive (Tax Justice Blog). “Supermajority requirements and tax and spending limits, two frequently proposed ballot measures, are not designed to promote the well-being of states.”

The point isn’t the well being of the state; it’s the well-being of the citizens.


News from the Profession. Accountant Hiding on the Appalachian Trail Has the Mugshot to Prove It (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). “If you were an accountant accused of making off with about $9 million of your employer’s money, I can think of few places better to hide than the wilderness.”



Tax Roundup, 9/11/15: The pitfalls of putting loss generators in a tax-exempt entity. And: Robert remembers a client.

Friday, September 11th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150911-2When the income isn’t taxable, the losses aren’t deductible. Some stockbrokers like to buy publicly-traded natural resource partnerships as IRA investments. I dislike them because those partnerships can trigger Unrelated Business Income Tax in an otherwise tax-exempt IRA.

An attorney in Virginia illustrated another problem with IRA partnership investments in Tax Court yesterday. From the opinion by Judge Haines:

Petitioner maintained a traditional IRA during 2009 and used it to buy and sell various securities, including shares of two master limited partnerships that were involved in the oil and gas pipeline and storage industry–Atlas Pipeline Partners, L.P. (Atlas), and Crosstex Energy, L.P. (Crosstex). Petitioner received a Schedule K-1, Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc., from Atlas reporting a $66,075 ordinary business loss for 2009. The Schedule K-1 indicated “Trad IRA VFTC as Custodian” and stated that the partner was an “IRA/SEP/KEOGH”. Petitioner reported this loss on the Schedule E,  Supplemental Income and Loss, attached to his 2009 Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Petitioner received a Schedule K-1 from Crosstex reporting a $22,793 ordinary business loss for 2009 and stating that the partner was an “IRA/SEP/KEOGH”. Petitioner also reported this loss on the Schedule E attached to his 2009 Form 1040.

This would have been a remarkable result, if it worked. Individual owners of publicly-traded partnerships have their K-1 losses automatically disallowed under the passive loss rules. Unlike other passive losses, those from publicly-traded partnerships can’t offset other passive income; they can only offset future income from the same partnership, until the partnership is sold.

Within an IRA, though, the losses are never allowed. The tax law allows IRAs to earn income without current tax. The idea is to help taxpayers accumulate funds for retirement. Any tax is deferred until you withdraw funds from the IRA. The downside of this is that losses are also deferred. The only way to deduct a loss from IRA investments is to completely close out the IRA. That only works if you have made non-deductible contributions to the IRA, giving you basis. From, Publication 590b:

If you have a loss on your traditional IRA investment, you can recognize (include) the loss on your income tax return, but only when all the amounts in all your traditional IRA accounts have been distributed to you and the total distributions are less than your unrecovered basis, if any.

Your basis is the total amount of the nondeductible contributions in your traditional IRAs.

You claim the loss as a miscellaneous itemized deduction, subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income limit that applies to certain miscellaneous itemized deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040). Any such losses are added back to taxable income for purposes of calculating the alternative minimum tax.

Our attorney was having none of that. From the Tax Court:

Petitioner argues, in part, that an IRA has “all of the attributes of a grantor trust and is therefore a pass through entity which makes all items of income, deduction and credit treated as belonging * * * [to him] and reportable on * * * [his] individual tax return”.

I’m sure he would have taken that same principled position if those K-1s generated a bunch of taxable income.

Petitioner advances various tax policy arguments which he believes support this position. For example, he contends that restricting an IRA holder’s ability to deduct a loss that occurs when an investment held by  the IRA is sold thwarts congressional intent to encourage individuals to save for retirement. He also claims that requiring retirees to completely liquidate their IRAs in order to recognize a deductible loss is “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and completely unworkable for savers dependent upon IRA/SEP income for their retirement.”

Unfortunately, heads-I-win, tails-you-lose only works for the IRS. Again from the Tax Court:

While petitioner may not agree with the way the law is written and may have reasons that he believes support changing the law, we cannot do that for him.

Silly lawyer. Only the Supreme Court can rewrite tax law.

The Moral: IRA investments in partnerships can give you the worst of both worlds. You can make a tax-exempt entity taxable (or much worse, if you invest in the wrong partnership), but your losses are almost never useful.

Cite: Fish, T.C. Memo 2015-176.


Jared Walczak, Liz Malm, Where Does Your State Stand on State & Local Debt Per Capita? (Tax Policy Blog):


This is one measure where Iowa looks pretty good.


MOE BARRYRobert D. Flach, NEVER FORGET. Robert remembers a client who died 14 years ago today in New York.

Kay Bell, Fantasy football payouts mean real income taxes. Don’t worry, it’s made up for by the lowered income taxes of employers resulting from lost productivity during Fantasy season.

Jim Maule, Tax Client and Tax Return Preparer Meet Up in People’s Court.  “[A] preparer ought not accommodate a client who wants a return that does not comply with the law. It’s that simple.”

Peter Reilly, Jeb Bush And The Spirit Of 1986. “Somebody should tell Jeb Bush that tax accountants don’t write the Internal Revenue Code and it is a lot shorter than he thinks it is.”

Keith Fogg, IRS Inaction in Prior Years Provides Path to Penalty Relief for Substantial Understatement Penalty – Fire and Rain (Procedurally Taxing).

Robert Wood, Marijuana Taxes Go Up In Smoke On Sept. 16. In Colorado, for one day only. Mark your calendars!

TaxGrrrl, Over 2,000 Businesses Send Letter To Congress Demanding Attention To Tax Extenders Bill. They’ll get to it when they get to it, peasants!

Russ Fox, How Should Multiple Buy-Ins for a Poker Tournament be Handled on a W-2G? I have no idea what he’s talking about, but I’m sure many of you do.

Jack Townsend, Another Swiss Bank Obtains NPA Under DOJ Swiss Bank Program. If you want to skip taxes with the help of offshore bank secrecy, it’s not likely to work.



Joseph Thorndike, Don’t Bother Fixing the Tax Code Unless You Fix the IRS Too (Tax Analysts Blog). “Because even a good tax law will fail when administered by a bad agency.”

Howard Gleckman, The Cost of the Bush Tax Cuts, and What It Might Mean (TaxVox). “My colleagues at the Tax Policy Center plan to have their own estimates of the distributional and revenue cost of his plan soon. But there is no doubt the plan is a huge tax cut.”

Bob McIntyre, Bush and Trump’s “Populist” Tax Rhetoric Is All Talk (Tax Justice Blog).


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 855

News from the Profession. AICPA Survey: College Students Overconfident, Exaggerate, Delusional, Etc. Etc. About Their Personal Finance Skills (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 9/9/15: Meredith HQ stays in Iowa despite taxes. And: Walter Mitty, Chiropractor — not Ghostbuster.

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan



A part of the Meredith campus in Downtown Des Moines.

Meredith Corporation will keep its headquarters in Des Moines, reports the Des Moines Register. The Des Moines-based media company yesterday announced its acquisition by Media General, a Virginia-based company. From the Register report:

Virginia-based Media General will acquire Meredith in a cash-and-stock sale, forming a new company — Meredith Media General — that will combine Meredith’s list of women-focused magazines and 17 local TV stations with Media General’s 71 TV stations and digital media assets.

“We have our corporate headquarters in Des Moines, my management team … we all live in Des Moines, our staff are in Des Moines. We will continue to be in Des Moines,” Lacy said. He will serve as CEO and president of the new company.

Meredith Media General will be incorporated in Virginia, but have corporate offices in both Richmond, Va., and Des Moines.

It’s an interesting compromise. With the CEO of the combined company already located in Des Moines, it’s unsurprising that he will run things from here, everything else being equal.

Yet not everything is equal. Des Moines is an expensive place tax-wise to run a corporate headquarters, according to the Tax Foundation’s Location Matters report. Iowa is the 4th most expensive state in which to locate a corporate headquarters, while Virginia is the 12th cheapest. 20150901-1

Fortunately for Des Moines, non-tax factors apparently outweighed the tax issues. These might include the in-place infrastructure for Meredith’s publishing arm, including Better Homes and Gardens and Martha Stewart Living. Still, those 900 Des Moines Meredith jobs might be more secure with a better tax environment. Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan, anyone?


Tony Nitti, Child’s Unauthorized Incorporation Of Father’s Business Proves Costly In Tax Court. “Raising kids comes with some well-known hazards: sleepless nights, spit-up stained clothes, and of course, the occasional flailing elbow to the genitalia. What you probably don’t anticipate upon the miracle of childbirth, however, is that one day your kid will take it upon himself to incorporate your business via the internet, costing you tens of thousands in tax deductions.”

Robert D. Flach, THE NATP TAX FORUM AND EXPO IN PHILADELPHIA – PART I. “The one thing that is missing from the NATP Tax Forum offering is the IRS perspective.”

Kay Bell, Tax scam callers now spoofing telephone numbers

TaxGrrrl, IRS To Refuse Checks Greater Than $100 Million Beginning In 2016


Scott Greenberg, The Carried Interest Debate is Mostly Overblown (Tax Policy Blog). Mostly? Almost entirely.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 854

Career Corner. 5 Ways Accountants Can Protect Themselves from the Accountapocalypse (Chris Hooper, Going Concern)




Who knew being a Chiropractor could be so exciting? James Thurber created the character Walter Mitty, “… a meek, mild man with a vivid fantasy life: in a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devil-may-care killer.”

A Minnesota chiropractor, a Mr. Laudon, seems to have reprised the Mitty role on his tax return. If his Tax Court testimony is to believed, chiropractic practice can be pretty exciting. From the Tax Court:

He said that his patients often called him a psychiatrist, chauffeur, physician, peace officer, or even a pheasant hunter.2 Some of Laudon’s stated reasons for making these trips strain credibility: for example, driving to a “schizophrenic” patient who was — on more than one occasion — “running scared of demons” down a rural Minnesota highway, or driving to a patient’s home in a Minneapolis suburb — expensing 261 miles — because he had received a call from police that she had overdosed on OxyContin prescribed by her physician. Laudon claimed to have driven hundreds of miles per day — sometimes without a valid license — to see patients, but several of these trips were for medical procedures he was not licensed to perform.

Laudon contends that the Commissioner failed to classify certain deposits as nontaxable, including insurance payments for damage to several vehicles, one of which was involved in a “high speed police chase” with a man “high on meth and cocaine.”

IMG_1583Note that footnote 2, we’ll get to that in a minute. I never knew that a chiropractor could have such an exciting life. Law enforcement, mental health, high-speed chases — even exorcism, it seems.  Is there anything he couldn’t do? Well, back to footnote 2:

But not a ghostbuster. The Commissioner rhetorically asserted that some of Laudon’s trips might have made more sense if he was claiming to be a ghostbuster. Laudon then disclaimed any employment as a ghostbuster. In his reply brief the Commissioner conceded that Laudon was not “employed or under contract to perform work as a ghostbuster during the tax years at issue in this case.” We therefore need make no finding on the existence of a market for “supernatural elimination” in west-central Minnesota. See “Ghostbusters” (Columbia Pictures 1984).

In case you couldn’t tell, this is a Judge Holmes opinion.

Walter Mitty’s dreams didn’t go well, as his fantasy life had him in front of a fantasy firing squad. Things went badly for our chiropractor too. The court found both his documentation and his credibility lacking, including this about his mileage logs:

Laudon claimed to have driven hundreds of miles per day — sometimes without a valid license — to see patients, but several of these trips were for medical procedures he was not licensed to perform. Even his testimony about multiple entries in the logs where he wrote “DUI” was not credible: He claimed that these were not references to being stopped by police while under the influence, or driving while his license was suspended, but instead were his misspellings of a patient named “Dewey” — a supposed patient of his. He testified that he took one business trip to pick up a patient left stranded due to a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. And he even testified about trips he made to test his patients’ urine:

    Absolutely we do * * * [test urine]. It’s part of the — I believe it’s Federal, you know, that they have — we have to abide by that. It’s specific gravity. You’re basically, looking for sugar, let alone height, weight, blood pressure. Make sure they’re not drunk, doing illegal drugs.

We find Laudon not credible in his testimony regarding his business mileage, and this finding affects our views of his testimony’s credibility on every other issue in the case.

The taxpayer reported taxable losses from 2007-2009 ranging from $60,000 to $84,000. That alone is a challenge to credibility. The IRS added $346,000 to his income for the three years, and the Tax Court upheld the IRS with only minor changes. Among the disallowed expenses were “a Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and numerous pieces of hair-salon equipment.” So, a barber, too.

The Moral? There might be more to that mild-mannered chiropractor than you imagined. But if there is, he needs to keep good records when the IRS comes calling.

Cite: Laudon, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-54

Russ Fox is also on the case: Ghost Hunter, Pheasant Hunter, or Deduction Hunter: No Matter, He Loses at Tax Court




Tax Roundup, 8/12/15: Bad news: blogging doesn’t make your vacation deductible. And more great stuff!

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


Accounting Today visitors: the due date post is here.

Road Trip! I had a great time on vacation last month, but it would have been sweeter if I could figure out a way to deduct it. Maybe if I mentioned it here at the Tax Update Blog? Alas, a Tax Court case this week thwarts my cunning scheme.

The Tax Court takes up the story:

In June 2008 petitioner’s adventure began. Over the next 5-1/2 months, petitioner made his way across the continents of Europe and Africa and even made a foray into the Middle East.

Throughout his journey petitioner updated his blog with anecdotes and pictures from his travels. While petitioner included details about some of the sites he saw, places he stayed, and food he ate, many of his explanations do not give enough details for a reader to find the specific site, lodgings, or restaurant described. For example in petitioner’s Paris blog entry he states: “[W]e hit up The [sic] BEST ice cream in Europe. * * * there are a couple of places that serve it and pricing is much higher at one (the ‘tourist’ one as Jeff put it) than at the other one. We walked past the tourist one, which had a huge crowd and walked down the street about half a block to the other one.” Petitioner does not give any more details about where in Paris the best ice cream in Europe can be found.

Petitioner did keep copies of all his receipts, flight confirmations, lodging confirmations, tour confirmations, rail passes, shuttle confirmations, bank statements, tour vouchers, credit card statements, and other miscellaneous receipts from the trip.

The problem wasn’t so much the recordkeeping, then, but the business plan:

Petitioner realized as he traveled, and even more so after he returned to the United States, that the market was already saturated with international backpacking blogs and that his plan for generating income through affiliate sales from his blog would not be profitable. Petitioner then shifted his focus to writing books about his travels and the insights he gained while traveling.

One way to ease the pain of a bad business plan is to deduct the losses:

Petitioner timely filed his 2008 Federal income tax return (return). He listed “world travel guide” as his principal business on the Schedule C, Profit or Loss From Business, attached to the return. On the Schedule C, petitioner did not report any business gross receipts or gross income. He claimed total expenses of and reported a net business loss of $39,138. As part of his net business loss, petitioner claimed deductions for travel expenses of $19,347, deductible meals and entertainment expenses of $6,314, and other expenses of $5,431.

The IRS threw a wrench in this part of the business plan by disallowing the loss under the Section 183 “hobby loss rules.” These rules disallow losses on business activities not really entered into for profit. The Tax Court reviewed nine factors that are used to distinguish a real business from a hobby, and found against the taxpayer (my emphasis::

Petitioner did not maintain any books or records for the activity. He had no written business plan and no estimate as to when his Web site would be operational, when his books would be published, or when he would begin to earn income from the activity. Although petitioner documented and retained receipts for his travel-related expenses, merely maintaining receipts is not enough to indicate a profit motive…

Furthermore, petitioner did not investigate the activity before embarking on his trip. Petitioner incurred over $39,000 in expenses before doing any research into the activity’s profitability. This is an indication that the activity was not engaged in for profit.

My favorite part of the opinion is this footnote, where the court tells us what a “blog” is:

“Blog” is a truncation of the expression “Web log”, which is a regularly updated Web site or Web page written in an informal or conversational style and typically run by an individual or small group.

So now we know.

The Moral? Travel may be broadening, and fun, but not necessarily deductible. Before spending $39,000 on it, you might want to figure out how to earn it back first.

Cite: Pingel, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-48.




Tony Nitti, Teacher Fails To Qualify As Real Estate Professional: Who Can Pass The “More Than Half” Test?. Tony discusses the case we covered here yesterday.

Paul Neiffer, Don’t Use Your Product When Preparing a Tax Return. I think it depends a lot on the product, but Paul gets more specific in the text: “…it is apparent that you should not be using marijuana when preparing your income tax return.”

Jack Townsend, Two U.S. Return Preparer Enablers Sentenced for Offshore Account Conspiracy.

Russ Fox, There’s Innocent FBAR Violations, and There’s This. But jailing an occasional real tax violator doesn’t justify shooting jaywalkers.


Robert Nadler, Spousal Abuse Continues to Provide a Powerful Basis for Innocent Spouse Relief (Procedurally Taxing).

Robert Wood, Trump, Taxes, Tampons, And Snoop Dogg

TaxGrrrl, Defendants Sentenced For Stealing 9,000 Identities, Including Army Soldiers


David Brunori, Taxing Beer (Tax Analysts Blog):

The lowest excise tax rates are in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Oregon. To put it in context, Tennessee taxes beer at $1.29 a gallon. Wyoming’s tax is $0.02 a gallon. Buy your beer in Cheyenne.

I wonder if Jack Daniels has an effective lobby in the Tennessee statehouse.




Joseph Henchman, Ten Years of the North Carolina Lottery (and Why It’s In Part a Tax) (Tax Policy Blog):

The Lottery was set up ten years ago as a state enterprise to generate revenue for education programs. 50 percent of gross sales are paid out as prizes, 7 percent paid to retailers as a commission, 8 percent to pay for operations (including advertising, which cannot exceed 1 percent of total revenues), and 35 percent to the state for education funding. Additionally, winners pay income tax on their prizes. The odds are not great – table games in casinos have much better odds – but the Lottery has no real competition as it is state-sanctioned.

Think of it as a tax on people who are bad at math.


Howard Gleckman, Clinton Would Tinker With, Not Rewrite, the Tax Code. (TaxVox). And what the tax law really needs is more tinkering, right?

Kay Bell, Is Obamacare headed back to the Supreme Court yet again? I think Justice Roberts has made it clear that he will find a way to protect the mess from all challenges.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 825. Today the Prof links to Peter Reilly’s concession that just maybe Lois Lerner ran a biased shop.


News from the Profession. New Study Validates Old Accountant Joke (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



Tax Roundup, 8/11/15: Extreme Time Management fails in Tax Court. And: the rise of scam-by-mail.

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

20150811-1Dedication. The tax law “passive loss” rules generally treat real estate rental as automatically passive. If losses are passive, they can’t be deducted until either the taxpayer has passive income or the taxpayer sell the “passive activity” (think about that phrase for a minute).

There are two exceptions to this “per-se passive” rule. One rule allows up to $25,000 in rental losses to “active” real estate owners, but this phases out between $100,000 and $150,000 in adjusted gross income. The other exception applies to “materially participating real estate professionals.”

It’s hard to qualify as a real estate pro. There are two big hurdles:

– You have to spend at least 750 hours in a year working on real estate activities in which you have an ownership interest, and

– You have to spend more time in your real estate activities than in your other work or business activities.

The second condition is a tough hurdle for taxpayers with full-time jobs outside of real estate to clear, as a Los Angeles teacher learned yesterday in Tax Court. The teacher presented logs to the court to show that he spent more time on his real estate than on his teaching job. This from the Tax Court decision gives you an idea how that went (my emphasis):

In addition to the obvious understatement in the logs of hours petitioner spent as a teacher for each year in issue, the reliability of the logs is also called into question by what appear to be exaggerated amounts of time shown for relatively routine, recurring events, such as check writing. During petitioner’s cross-examination respondent’s counsel pointed out numerous instances of entries showing one to several hours for such activities. The Court does not exist in a vacuum, and we cannot divorce ourselves from our own experiences of daily life, such as the time it takes to review a mortgage statement and/or bill and pay the item by check. We reject petitioner’s claim that the dozens, if not hundreds, of checks that he wrote over the years in issue each took at least an hour to prepare.

Other entries pointed out by respondent’s counsel during petitioner’s cross-examination add to our concerns. Rather than point out each one, however, suffice it to note the following exchange during petitioner’s cross-examination after respondent’s counsel totaled the hours shown in the logs for time spent on various activities on a particular day:

MR. RICHMOND [respondent’s counsel]: And on November 30th [2007], you worked a 25-hour day on your rental properties?

WITNESS [petitioner]: Well, I guess it was a big day.

MR. RICHMOND: I guess it was.

So the Tax Court has something against the time-traveler-American community?

Decision for IRS.

The moral? A long-ago and now deceased big-firm partner/boss once told me “you can create hours with a pencil.” While that may be valid in big-firm public accounting, it doesn’t work so well in Tax Court.

Cite: Escalate, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-47




Robert D. Flach has fresh Tuesday Buzz, including this wise advice:

For years I have also been telling you that whenever you receive any correspondence from the IRS or a state tax agency give it to your tax preparer immediately. Do not send any money to anyone without first checking with your tax pro.

It appears scammers are starting to use the postal service, so watch out.


Russ Fox, Up In Smoke…Again. Tax life is hard for Marijuana businesses, even legal ones.

Tony Nitti, Ninth Circuit: Unmarried Cohabitants Each Entitled To Deduct Interest On $1,100,000 Mortgage Limit

Robert Wood, New IRS Guidance Suggests Obamacare 40% Cadillac Tax Could Get Even Worse

Keith Fogg, Ninth Circuit Reverses Tax Court on Qualified Offer Case and Holds That a Concession is not a Settlement (Procedurally Taxing)

Jim Maule, This Tax Change Will Help But It Won’t End the Problem. Thoughts on the new partnership return due dates.

Jason Dinesen, The Jason Dinesen Plan for Preparer Regulation. “Which begs the question of why they need a regulatory program — mandatory or voluntary — at all.”

Kay Bell, Cleveland to take Ohio jock tax ruling to U.S. Supreme Court

William Perez, Communicate Effectively with Your Tax Preparer




TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 824

Jeremy Scott, Jeb Bush’s Troubling Reversal on Taxes (Tax Analysts Blog).

Career Corner. Why You Should (and Shouldn’t) Accept a Full-Time Offer From a Public Accounting Firm (Amber Setter, Going Concern)



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

Thursday, August 6th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cite: Kline, T.C. Memo 2015-144.




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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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




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

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


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


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.




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.”




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.”



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…



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 (

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.



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


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.



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.




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.”





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.



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.


2008 flood 2


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.


2008 flood 3


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.