Posts Tagged ‘tax court’

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.



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

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015 by Joe Kristan


Flickr image courtesy John Snape under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy John Snape under Creative Commons license

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Good. Why?

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


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

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

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

In case you are wondering, Iowa is #50.

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


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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 755


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



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

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

That’s… not comforting.


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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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


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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 749

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



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

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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


Flickr image by Ano Lobb under Creative Commons license.

Flickr image by Ano Lobb under Creative Commons license.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Locust Street, Des Moines

Locust Street, Des Moines


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

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

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

Calling Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge producer pleads guilty to film tax credit fraud (

Baton Rouge producer pleads guilty to film tax credit fraud:

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

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

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


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




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

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


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


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


Graphic from BBC


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



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

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




William Perez, Taxes When Hiring Household Help.

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

Russ Fox, Of Deadlines and Taxes:

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



TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 713


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


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


Chart by Tax Foundation



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

distribution tax spending all taxes

Chart by the Tax Foundation


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




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

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Court added in a footnote:

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

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

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

Cite: Wyatt, T.C. Summ. Op. 2015-31.




Megan McArdle, Obamacare’s Tax Day Mystery:

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

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

Complex systems have unintended consequences.

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

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


William Perez, Taxes When Hiring Household Help

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

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

Jason Dinesen, Breakeven Analysis for Small Businesses, Part 1

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


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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

Thursday, April 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Flickr image courtesy Easa Shamih under Creative Commons license

Flickr image courtesy Easa Shamih under Creative Commons license

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

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

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

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

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

Cite: Kunkel, T.C. Memo 2015-71.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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




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

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


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

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

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



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

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

(ii) The extent of common control;

(iii) The extent of common ownership;

(iv) Geographical location; and

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

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

Equality in action in the Soviet Union on the Belomor Canal

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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




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

This has lessons for IRS exams, too.

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

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

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


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



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


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 686

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


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

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

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


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


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

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

But, but, the rich!


IMG_1388William Perez covers Various Types of Individual Retirement Accounts.

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

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

Jason Dinesen discusses Recordkeeping Considerations for a Startup Business.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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




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

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

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


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