Posts Tagged ‘Tyler Cowen’

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

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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




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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 929

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


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



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

Friday, November 20th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

See update below. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

She adds:

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

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


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




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

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

Jana expects additional guidance soon.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 925


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



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, 6/26/15: Supreme Court saves ACA subsidies — and taxes.

Friday, June 26th, 2015 by Joe Kristan


supreme courtThe Supreme Court upholds new punitive taxes on thousands of Iowa employers and uninsured individuals. That’s the flip side of the decision yesterday ruling that tax credits remain available for health insurance purchased on the federal exchanges, despite the language of the Obamacare statute — a ruling characterized by the Des Moines Register as “Obamacare ruling protects 40,000 Iowans’ subsidies.

Here’s what it means to those footing the bill:

– The employer mandates will take effect in all states as scheduled. The “Employer Shared Responsibility provisions” require employers to purchase “adequate” health coverage for employees.  It applied in 2014 to employers with over 100 “full-time equivalent” employees in 2013.  In 2015, it applies to employers who had over 50 full-time equivalent employees in 2014. It applies to government and non-profit employers, as well as to businesses.

Employers who fail to offer coverage to 95% of their FTEs and dependents are subject to a $2,000 penalty, pro-rated for months where coverage is lacking, for non-covered FTEs, with a 30-employee exemption. “Full-time Equivalent” means 30 hours per week.

The penalties kick in only if at least one employee claims the coverage tax credit. Yesterday’s decision ensures the mandate applies in all states — rather than just the 14 with state-run exchanges — because the triggering credits will remain available nationwide.

The individual mandate tax applies fully in all states. The “Individual Shared Responsibility Provision” penalizes individuals who aren’t covered at work and who fail to purchase “adequate” and “affordable” coverage. The penalty for 2015 is the greater of $325 ($162.50 for those under 18) or 2% of “household” income. It is prorated if coverage is obtained for some months and not others.

Yesterday’s decision broadens the reach of the tax because the penalty only applies if available coverage is “affordable.” The tax credits are used in computing “affordability,” so the availability of the credits nationwide broadens the tax to many more taxpayers.

20121120-2The Section 36B tax credit remains available nationwide. This is the refundable credit that was the subject of yesterday’s decision. It is estimated when coverage is obtained and applied against coverage costs for the year. It is “trued up” when the taxpayer files their 1040 for the coverage year — a process that can sometimes mean more credit, but that sometimes triggers a big balance due.  Because the credit phases out in steps, one extra dollar of income can trigger thousands of dollars of additional taxes:

Consider a middle-aged married couple earning $62,040, 400 percent of the FPL for a two-person household ($15,510.) If the second cheapest Silver plan in their area costs $1,200 per month, they would receive a subsidy of $8,506 in order to cap that plan’s price at 9.5 percent of their income. However, if they earned $62,041—only a dollar more—the entire subsidy would evaporate. 

Because the $8,506 would have been applied to health premiums, the household would have to pay it back on April 15.

What do I think of the decision? In March I wrote:

In a less politically-sensitive context, one could expect a 9-0 or 8-1 decision against the IRS. That’s what happened in Gitlitz, where the court ruled that the IRS couldn’t regulate away a perceived misdrafting of the tax code’s S corporation basis rules that allowed a windfall to taxpayers whose S corporations had debt forgiveness income. “Because the Code’s plain text permits the taxpayers here to receive these benefits, we need not address this policy concern.” But because a decision against IRS here would invalidate key parts of Obamacare in most of the country, politics is a big part of the process.

That means I think the Scalia dissent gets it right, but we don’t get to file tax returns based on the dissent. It should give pause to those who write legislation, though — there’s no telling how the Supremes will read their work if they don’t like what it does.

Other coverage:

William Perez, What You Need to Know about the Premium Assistance Tax Credit

TaxGrrrl, Supreme Court Upholds King, Says Obamacare Tax Credits Apply To All States

Kay Bell, Let the Affordable Care Act repeal efforts begin (again)

Hank Stern, SCOTUScare Fallout. “Obamacare Ruling May Have Just Killed State-Based Exchanges

Andy Grewal, Grewal: King v. Burwell — The IRS Isn’t An Expert? (TaxProf Blog)

Tyler Cowen, King vs. Burwell, and other stuff. “So on net I take this to be good news, although arguably it is bad news that it is good news.”

Megan McArdle, Subsidies and All, Obamacare Stays

Alan Cole, James Kennedy, King v. Burwell: Supreme Court Upholds Subsidies to Federal Exchanges (Tax Policy Blog)

Roger McEowen,  The U.S. Supreme Court and Statutory Construction – Words Don’t Mean What They Say (AgDocket)




Stuff other than the Supreme Court decision:

Jason Dinesen, Choosing a Business Entity: Sole Proprietor

Joseph Thorndike, Rand Paul’s Tax Plan May Be Radical, But It’s Not Impossible (Tax Analysts Blog) “But radical doesn’t mean impossible. Since proportionality lies at the heart of Paul’s plan, history suggests it might have a shot.”

Ethan Greene, Net Investment Income Tax Handicaps Those Meant to Benefit (Tax Policy Blog). “The irony of the NIIT is it taxes the very demographic it was intended to aid; that is, retirees relying on their savings and investment, and those with disabilities, counting on trust income or estate inheritance to maintain their quality of life.”

Donald Marron, Everything You Should Know about Taxing Carbon. (TaxVox)

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 778

Caleb Newquist, The Accounting Profession’s Murky Future (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 6/9/15: A Cedar Rapids ID thief pleads guilty. And: Packing the patent box.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

lizard20140826What are the chances of the government recovering any of the fraudulent refunds? WQAD reports on an Iowan who jumped on the ID theft refund fraud gravy train:

A 35-year-old Iowa woman was convicted after she used another person’s identity to file a phony tax return and then cash the $6,000 refund check issued by the IRS.

Gwendolyn Murray, of Cedar Rapids, was initially charged March 3, 2015, with 12 counts of filing false claims for tax refunds, seven counts of theft of government property and two counts of aggravated identity theft. She was accused of preparing fraudulent tax returns between 2008 and 2013, from which she received seven refund checks, according to court documents.

The total amount allegedly stolen is unavailable in public records, and the defendant pleaded guilty to only one count. Whatever the amount, the defendant’s need for a public defender doesn’t make recovery of the stolen funds seem likely.


Image by Theroadislong under Creative Commons license, via Wikipedia.

Image by Theroadislong under Creative Commons license, via Wikipedia.

Martin Sullivan, Patent Box: Good Intentions Gone Bad (Tax Analysts Blog):

Now several prominent members of Congress want to provide another tax break for research. At first glance, this seems like a very good idea since the usual objections to tax breaks don’t apply. And most regular people understand that the competitiveness of our nation — or in politics-speak, the availability of high-paying jobs — depends on technology.

The new tax break is called a patent box. (The “box” referred to here is the box checked on tax forms in Europe where this idea originated.) The general idea is that income from technology pays tax at a substantially lower rate than other income. So if under tax reform we could get the corporate rate down to 28 percent, patent box income would be taxed at a 14 percent rate.

The problem with this approach is that no one knows even a halfway good way of identifying “income from technology.”

It’s a ridiculous idea. In a real sense every bit of income is “income from technology.” The technology of animal husbandry and plant cultivation has been around for awhile, but it was a big step up from the Acheulean Hand Axe, which was cutting edge technology (literally) in its day.

The patent box is as arbitrary and nonsensical as the Section 199 deduction for “domestic production income.” Yet Section 199 became and remains part of the tax law, so being absurd won’t necessarily stop it.


Hank Stern, Obama Tax Breakage:

And second, why is it a given that “employer sponsored” health plans are the bee’s knees? As we’ve previously blogged, employers don’t tell us what groceries or house to buy: they pay us our wages and we’re free to make our own choices. Why should health insurance be any different?

The historical accidents that led to employer health as a tax-advantaged fringe benefit are reasonably well-known, but it’s a lot harder to answer why it should be that way.


buzz20141017It’s Tuesday, so it’s Buzz Day! At Robert D. Flach’s, you can rummage through the tax implications of garage sales and see just how much Robert likes “reality TV.”

TaxGrrrl, Hastert, Hovind & FIFA Matters Shed Light On Dangers Of Structuring

Russ Fox, Neymar Wins Championship but Faces Tax Evasion Investigation. Soccer just isn’t getting great press off the field the last week or so.

Robert Wood, Moving To Avoid California Taxes? Be Careful. “Don’t just get a post office box in Nevada. That doesn’t work and you will end up with bills for taxes, interest and penalties or worse.”

Keith Fogg, Update on Dischargeability of Late Filed Tax Returns. It can be hard to get bankruptcy discharge on tax debts if you don’t stay current with your filings.

Kay Bell, The tax costs of maintaining private coastal properties. “It’s time that we faced the reality that we can’t beat Mother Nature, at least not along the coastline. And we need to stop using our tax dollars to subsidize this destined-to-fail effort.”

William Perez, 4 Tips for the 1st Estimated Tax Payment of 2015. The second payment is due June 15.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 761. “Judicial Watch announced that Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a Judicial Watch request to issue an order requiring the IRS to provide answers by June 12, 2015, on the status of the Lois Lerner emails the IRS had previously declared lost.”




Joseph Thorndike, Carly Fiorina Answers the $59 M Question: Why Should Candidates Release Their Tax Returns? (Tax Analysts Blog). “For many, that disclosure will be unpleasant. But I suspect most candidates have learned a lesson from the Romney debacle: Tax disclosure can hurt, but nondisclosure can be deadly.”

Howard Gleckman, Obama-Era Tax Reform: RIP: “Many Democrats, who have embraced income inequality as their 2016 campaign theme, are likely to back more targeted middle-income tax breaks, not fewer. Their agenda will be tax deform, not tax reform.”


Cameron Williamson, Connecticut Legislature Sends Corporate Tax Hike to Governor. (Tax Policy Blog). This is a step backwards for Connecticut tax policy.

Jared Walczak, Nevada Approves New Tax on Business Gross Receipts (Tax Foundation). A big step backwards for Nevada tax policy. At least it’s paired with a giant step forwards in education policy.


Peter Reilly dives deep into the case of the creationist theme park operator and his seemingly miraculous impending release from prison: The Juror Who Freed Kent Hovind Steps Forward



Tax Roundup, 4/2/15: For gift deductions, it’s not just the thought that counts. It’s the paperwork. And: more!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 by Joe Kristan

salvation armyToday’s filing season tip: assemble your contribution documents. For some things, spending the money isn’t enough to put a deduction on your return. You also have to get the paperwork right.

Charitable contributions are very much in this category. And it’s not good enough to find some paperwork when the IRS examiner starts asking questions. You need the documents in hand before you file your return.

For cash contributions of $250 or more, you need to have, in the words of IRS:

…a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the qualified organization indicating the amount of the cash and a description of any property contributed. The acknowledgment must say whether the organization provided any goods or services in exchange for the gift and, if so, must provide a description and a good faith estimate of the value of those goods or services. 

That’s true whether you give cash or property. That means if you don’t have a nice note from your donee for your $250 gift, you need to bug them until they give you one. It also means that if you claim a deduction for dumping a bunch of household goods at Salvation Army, you need to get a note from them with a list of the items donated and the “goods or services” statement.

You need an appraisal if you donated property (other than publicly-traded securities) to charity for deductions starting at $5,000. We will talk about that tomorrow.

For more information, See Topic 506 – Charitable Contributions at

Come back every day through April 15 for another 2015 filing season tip!


Russ Fox, Bozo Tax Tip #8: Be Frivolous! “Tax Court judges don’t have the same sense of humor that I do about frivolous arguments.”


atombombAmanda Athanasiou at Tax Analysts reports ($link), FATCA: Swatting Flies With Atom Bombs:

Possible inflation of the offshore tax evasion problem and the staggering costs of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act are causing even the most ardent advocates of information sharing and ending bank secrecy to question the U.S. approach.

“For the U.S. to ask countries around the world to spend billions in implementation costs to deliver less than $1 billion per year is, economically, complete nonsense,” said Martin Naville, CEO of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. He referred to FATCA as the least considered program in history and “mind boggling” in its unilateralism. “The net value of FATCA for the U.S. is probably negative,” said Naville, who added that tax compliance is a must but that there are better ways to achieve it.

But it goes after Fat Cats! Don’t you get our clever pun? And besides, how can we go after international money launderers without making it a crime to commit personal finance abroad?

Related: Wall Street Journal, Checking the IRS Overseas (Via the TaxProf). “Even the Obama Administration says the law would capture only $870 million a year in additional tax revenue, which is probably overstated given changes in behavior by Americans and their overseas employers.”




William Perez, Do Your Home Improvements Qualify for the Residential Energy Tax Credits?

TaxGrrrl, Taxes From A To Z (2015): T Is For TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number)

Peter ReillyZombies Can’t File Tax Court Petitions. Making Tax Court headquarters the go-to place for a Zombie Apocalypse.

Kay Bell, IRS’ Koskinen says tax agency’s troubles are over. No joke. Joke.

Kristine Tidgren, Don’t Be Fooled! “While many artless tactics remain (if you just wire this money to Nigeria by Friday…), the emerging scams come wrapped in a cloak of credibility. It’s often difficult for even the wary to separate fact from fiction in this new age.”


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 693. “The Department of Justice announced yesterday that it will not pursue contempt of Congress charges against Lois Lerner.”  Of course not. That’s not what a scandal goalie does.

Marc Bellemare, Soda taxes don’t seem to work. (via Tyler Cowen)

Renu Zaretsky, A Penny for Your Sugar: Setting a Price on Sin. (TaxVox). “Are we are all aware of our sugar sins?”  Sins? So food nannyism is really a religion.

Not that the current tax law is exactly a shining light.  Ted Cruz and His Dim-Bulb Tax Policy (Joseph Thorndike, Tax Analysts Blog). “Increasingly, Washington is alive with interesting, conservative tax proposals. But none of them are coming from the junior senator from Texas.”

Meg Wiehe, More Than 20 States Considering Detrimental Tax Proposals (Tax Justice Blog). Pretty close to 50, I’d guess.




Christopher Bergin, April Is More Than Just Tax Season (Tax Analysts Blog). “Koskinen announced that so far, the filing season has gone “swimmingly,” which apparently means the IRS answers the phone less than half the time when taxpayers call for help.” 

Today in advanced tax policy debate: How Tax Brackets are Adjusted Explained in Taylor Swift Gifs (Kyle Pomerleau, Dan Carvajal, Tax Policy Blog)


News from the Profession. Deloitte Not Taking Any Chances That Someone Might Burn Their Disneyland to the Ground (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).



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

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


terrace hill 20150321


Kristine TidgrenExpanded Relief for Taxpayers Receiving Erroneous 1095-As:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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




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

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

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

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


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 684


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



Tax Roundup, 9/8/14: One week left for procrastinators. And: there were no abuses, because they abused everyone!

Monday, September 8th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

7004cornerYour extended 2013 corporation, partnership and trust returns are due a week from today.  If you have a pass-through entity and you file late, you have a $195 per month, per K-1 penalty going back to April if you don’t make the extension deadline.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 487.  Among the links today is one from the Washington Post, Why Did the IRS Clean Out Lois Lerner’s Blackberry as Probes Began? It also quotes this from Russ Fox:

Let’s assume you’re under a court order to find some emails. Your hard drive crashed, but you think that some of them are saved on your Blackberry. Would you:

(a) Try to find them on the Blackberry,
(b) Do nothing, or
(c) Erase the Blackberry.

If you’re the IRS, the answer is (c)

For an agency that insists it has nothing to hide, the IRS sure acts like it is hiding something.  Just to ice the cake, IRS Says It Has Lost Emails From 5 More Employees. Can dogs eat emails?

Meanwhile, Democratic Senators released a report insisting the IRS picked on left-side outfits just as much as right-side ones and slamming Treasury Inspector General Russell George for insisting otherwise.  So let’s go to the stats:



No left-side groups have produced evidence of the absurdly-intrusive questioning faced by some right side groups. We can assume that if they existed, they would have come out by now. Mr. George stands by his work.


The Iowa Department of Revenue has given its web site a makeover.  Ain’t it pretty?


20120703-2Tyler Cowen, Civil forfeiture cash seizures:

Only a sixth of the seizures were legally challenged, in part because of the costs of legal action against the government. But in 41 percent of cases — 4,455 — where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.

Hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces appear to rely on seized cash, despite a federal ban on the money to pay salaries or otherwise support budgets. The Post found that 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.

Civil forfeiture rules in the U.S. allow outrages every day.  It’s very third-world, inherently corrupt, and way overdue for reform.

Phil Hodgen, Renunciation Interviews Not So Intense.  “The State Department justifies the new $2,350 user fee for renunciation by saying ‘Hey, it’s a lotta work. It’s intense. You have to pay me more.'” It looks a lot like civil forfeiture, where the government takes the money because they’re bigger than you, and they can.


20140521-2William Perez, How to Adjust Withholding in the Middle of the Year in 9 Steps

Paul Neiffer, A Deduction of Zero is Still Zero:

If the calf was born on the ranch and raised there, the tax deduction due to a death loss is zero.  Since the ranch is allowed to deduct all of the feed and other costs associated with raising the calf, the rancher has a tax basis in the calf of exactly zero.  Therefore, the rancher can deduct zero which is still zero.

It’s the same reason you can’t deduct wages you never received; you never pick them up in income to start with.

Russ Fox, Lies, Deceit, and Nefarious Schemes.  He addresses a VEBA scam:

His plans allowed you to both get the tax deduction and, “then later access the full cash value of their plan contributions by taking out loans against the life insurance policies purchased with plan contributions.” That’s not allowed.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


nfl logoKay Bell, NFL 2014 season underway, along with the taxable betting.  Kay also has a great map of NFL team affinities by county.  Oddly, it appears central Iowa is Packer Country.

Jack Townsend, Offshore Enabler Nabbed in Sting Operation Sentenced

Peter Reilly, New Hampshire Supreme Court Declines More Power In Tuition Credit Case. The New Hampshire court refused to stop tax credits for contributions to private schools.  Iowa and many other states have instituted such credits.  An athiest group said the credits amounted to an “establishment” of religion. If New Hampshire disallow the credits to the Richard Dawkins Country Day School, they’ll have a better case.

Annette Nellen, Is disclosure of corporate tax information a good idea?  Professor Nellen doesn’t care for proposals to require disclosure of public company returns.



Ajay Gupta, How Not to Stop an Inversion (Tax Analysts Blog).  “All those proposals focus on the inverting corporate entity—a wonderfully inanimate piñata-like container that can be repeatedly hit for enjoyment and will occasionally yield the candy of additional revenue. None targets the individuals at the helm of the corporation, the men and women who stand to make vast amounts of money from their collective decision to execute an inversion.”

Sebastian Johnson, State Rundown, 9/5: Gun Holiday in Mississippi, Shortfall in Wisconsin, and a Showdown in Washington (Tax Justice Blog)

Renu Zaretsky, Business Tax Reform: Will Patience Be a Vice? This TaxVox headline roundup talks business tax reform, Nevada’s corporate welfare plan for Tesla, and how individual tax revenues will grow, but not as fast as the government will spend them.


Tony Nitti, The IRS Cares Not For Your Vow Of Poverty.  “Call me conservative, but if I wanted the IRS to take my vow of poverty seriously, I’d probably refrain from cruising around town in a Mercedes.”


Tax Roundup, 8/20/14: Keeping time reports isn’t just for CPAs anymore.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120511-2Track your hours now, not when you get audited.  Doing time reports is no fun.  If I had a nickel for every CPA who left public accounting and told me how fun it is to not do time reports, I’d have multiple nickels.

Unfortunately, the tax law might make time sheets necessary for people who don’t charge by the hour.  The passive loss rules disallow losses if you don’t spend enough time on a loss activity to “materially participate.”  Obamacare uses the same rules to impose a 3.8% “Net Investment Income Tax” on “passive” income.

It’s up to the taxpayer to prove they spent enough time to “materially participate,” as a Mr. Graham from Arkansas learned yesterday in Tax Court.

The taxpayer wanted to convince Judge Nega that he met the tax law’s stiff tests to be a “real estate professional,” enabling him to deduct real estate rental losses.  If you are not a “professional,” these losses are automatically passive, and therefore deferred until there is passive income.  To be a real estate professional, the taxpayer has to both:

– Work at least 750 hours in real estate trades or businesses, and

– performs more than one-half of all personal services during the year in real property trades or businesses in which the taxpayer materially participates.

That’s a high bar to clear for a taxpayer with a day job.  Mr. Graham gave it a good try, providing a judge with spreadsheets to show that he did that work.  The judge remained unconvinced:

Mr. Graham did not keep a contemporaneous log or appointment calendar tracking his real estate services. His spreadsheets were created later, apparently in connection with the IRS audit. 

There were other problems:

Furthermore, the entries on the spreadsheets were improbable in that they were excessive, unusually duplicative, and counterfactual in some instances. As all petitioners’ rental properties were single-family homes, reporting 7 hours to install locks or 30 hours to place mulch on a single property (amongst other suspect entries) are overstatements at best. Performing maintenance for a tenant that did not pay rent for an entire year with no record of “past due rent” or any attempt to collect rent (as Mr. Graham would note on entries for other rental properties) seems dubious.

The judge ruled that the taxpayer failed to meet the tests.  Worse, the court upheld a 20% penalty: “We conclude that the exaggerated entries in petitioners’ spreadsheets negate their good faith in claiming deductions for rental real estate losses against their earned income.”

The Moral?  Maintain your time records now.  When the IRS comes calling, it’s too late.  And play it straight; the Tax Court didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

Cite: Graham, T.C. Summ. Op. 2014-79. 


20130426-1Russ Fox, FBAR Filing Follies:

Joe Kristan reported last week that you cannot use Adobe Acrobat to file the FBAR; you must use Adobe Reader. In fact, if you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer and use Adobe Reader it won’t work either. Well, I have some mild good news about this.

Mild is right.


Peter Reilly, Robert Redford’s New York Tax Trouble Provides Lessons For Planners.  “You dodge non-resident state taxes, either on purpose or by accident, at the peril of missing out on a credit against the tax of your home state.”

Jason Dinesen, S-Corporation Compensation Revisited.  “But what should the salary be? And what if the year has ended and the W-2 deadlines have passed, but the corporate tax return still needs filed?”

Keith Fogg, Postponing Assessment and Collection of the IRC 6672 Liability (Procedurally Taxing).  Issues on the “trust fund” penalty imposed for not remitting withholding.

TaxGrrrl, Flipping Through History: Online Retailers Owe Popularity And Tax Treatment To Mail Order Catalogs:

Online shopping is again changing the way that we look at nexus but for now, more or less the same kinds of principles that ruled in the day of mail order catalogs are still good law. The law remains settled that in states that impose a sales tax, retailers that have established nexus must charge sales tax to customers in that state.

And just like in the old days, states want to extend their reach no matter how flimsy the nexus.

20140729-1Lyman Stone, New Upshot Tool Provides Historical Look at Migration (Tax Policy Blog):

Prominent changes in the data suggest that taxes may have a role in affecting migration, though certainly taxes are just one of many important variables, and probably not even the biggest factor. As always, talking about migration isn’t simple: migration data is challenging to measure and represent, and even more difficult to interpret.

I will be seeing Mr. Stone speak at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry Tax Committee this morning.  I’m geeking out already.


Jim Maule, “Give Us a Tax Break and We’ll Do Nice Things.” Not.  It seems the subsidized Yankees parking garages don’t stop with picking taxpayer pockets.

Kay Bell, Is it time for territorial taxation of businesses and individuals?  “Territorial taxation advocates hope that long local journey has at least now started.”


Howard Gleckman, Is Treasury About to Curb Tax Inversions on Its Own? (TaxVox).  If the law is whatever the current administration says it is, I look forward to the $20 million estate tax exclusion next time the GOP takes power.

Daniel Shaviro, The Obama Administration’s move towards greater unilateral executive action.  “And the conclusion might either be that one should tread a bit lightly after all, or that we are in big trouble whether one side unilaterally does so or not, given the accelerating breakdown of norms that, as Chait notes, are no less crucial than our express constitutional and legal structure to ‘secur[ing] our republic.'”

20130422-2The best and the brightest in action.  TIGTA: ObamaCare Medical Device Tax Is Raising 25% Less Revenue Than Expected, IRS Administration of Tax Is Rife With Errors (TaxProf)


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 468


News from the Profession.  AICPA Celebrates 400,000th Member Just Because (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern)

I can verify that a Kindle absorbs less coffee than paper.  Do readers absorb less from a Kindle than from paper? (Tyler Cowen)



Tax Roundup, 4/29/14: Funding what we do anyway edition. And: the real IRS crisis.

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

Remember, Iowa 1040s are due tomorrow!  They extend automatically, with no need to file an extension, to October 30 if you have at least 90% of your 2013 tax paid in.  If you need to pay in some more, use Iowa 1040-V.


Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

O. Kay Henderson reports on a New state tax break proposed for Iowa parents who adopt:

The legislature has voted to establish a new tax credit for Iowa parents who adopt a child. If the governor signs the bill into law, Iowans could claim a credit of up to $2500 per child for adoption-related expenses.

The bill would allow the credit for expenses like legal fees and the medical bills for the birth mother.

So the legislature is boldly addressing the lack of available parents wanting to adopt children by subsidizing the process.  Except there is no lack of willing prospective adoptive parents.  In fact, the high cost of adoptions is largely driven by the lack of U.S. babies available, forcing parents wanting to adopt to pursue expensive overseas adoptions.

Adoptive parents do a wonderful thing, taking a stranger’s child into their house as their own.  But all good things don’t necessarily need their own tax break.  This break pays people to do what they are already doing.  If the tax law needs to encourage something, is this the most important thing to do?  Should it instead encourage something people wouldn’t do otherwise?  Should people choose what to do without tax law involvement?  Is it really worth making the Department of Revenue an overseer of the adoption process?  Nobody cares, apparently, as HF 2468 flew through the Iowa Senate 48-0, and the Iowa House, 95-1.  Governor Branstad will come out against farmers before he vetoes this one.


I’m sure they are.  Iowa Renewable Fuels Group Pleased With Biofuels Bill Approval. More special favors for special friends.


A scene from the heydey of Iowa energy independence.

A scene from the heydey of Iowa energy independence.


Kay Bell, Maryland pays $11.5 million to keep House of Cards.  Some people never learn.


This Koskinen isn't the IRS commissioner

This Koskinen isn’t the IRS commissioner

Janet NovackThere’s A Crisis At The IRS And It’s Not What You Think:

The IRS is, however, an insular, often tone deaf and sometimes bumbling bureaucracy which is being starved of the resources it needs to do its job.  Since 2010, its Congressional appropriations have fallen 7% —-and that’s in nominal dollars, before any adjustment for inflation. During the same period, its appropriations funded workforce has shrunk by 10%, with enforcement staff down 15%, according to numbers Congress’ Government Accountability Office released last week. Meanwhile, the tax agency’s workload has increased with the explosion of identity theft tax refund fraud; a 4% growth in returns filed; and new laws to administer, including the Affordable Care Act  (a.k.a. Obamacare).

That is precisely true.  It’s also mostly the agency’s own fault.   The agency been shown to have used its powers against political opponents of the administration.  It refuses to back off of proposed regulations that would make its political role permanent.  Until it swears off that approach, it can only expect short funding.  The House GOP would be fools to fund an agency dedicated to the other party.  Untill Commissioner Koskinen can rise above pro-administration partisanship and pull the proposed regulations, the agency will continue to be shorted.


Annals of Public Service.  Rep. Grimm charged with tax fraud, says he won’t quit (USA Today):

Republican Rep. Michael Grimm was indicted Monday on federal charges of tax evasion and perjury for allegedly hiding more than $1 million in revenue from a New York City restaurant he owned where, prosecutors said, he also hired undocumented immigrants.

Grimm, a former FBI agent who has been under federal investigation regarding campaign contributions, said he is the victim of a “political witch hunt” and said he would not resign his seat.

While you can’t rule out a political explanation, the man is a politician, so the charges are at least plausible.  If it is an unsupported political prosecution, that will become apparent quickly.

Even if the charges are supported, that doesn’t rule out political bias.  After all, Democrat Charlie Rangel was never indicted, in spite of failing to pay his taxes for years.  That’s why arguments that the Tea Party persecution was OK, because some Tea Party groups didn’t qualify for exempt status, are unconvincing.  When a law is enforced only against opponents,  it is a gross injustice, even if the selective enforcement catches some actual violators.


IMG_1944Peter Reilly, Tax Court Denies Amway Losses – Again.  Peter ponders the Amway couple I discussed last week.  Peter has actually attended an Amway presentation, and he explains how the program works – or doesn’t.

Tony Nitti, Tax Geek Tuesday: Tax Planning For Mergers And Acquisitions, Part II.  This post discusses the tax-free kind.

TaxGrrrl, Let’s Go Places: Toyota Workers Could Save Big Tax Dollars With Move.  Food for thought for those who think state taxes are irrelevant.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 355

Tyler Cowen, Accounting for U.S. Earnings and Wealth Inequality.  “So much of the current Piketty debate is simply forgetting that…science exists and has already offered a wide range of insights on these topics, as well as having rendered some of the more extreme claims unlikely.”

Richard Borean, Does a Flat Income Tax Create Income Inequality? (Tax Policy Blog).  Short answer: no.



Jeremy ScottThe Most Expensive Extenders (Tax Analysts Blog).  “Temporary tax policy is generally bad, but temporary policy that is designed to encourage long-term investment decisions is even worse. ”


It’s Tuesday!  That makes it Robert D. Flach Buzzday!


Russ Fox, It’s Probably Not Good for Your Case When the Court Considers Sanctioning Your Attorney.  When  your lawyer angers the judge, he may not be helping.

News from the Profession.  This Off-Kilter Accounting Firm Just Launched a New Website Begging to Be Judged (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 2/17/14: Big tax subsidy edition. And: the $70 million doggie treat!

Monday, February 17th, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20120906-1Do you think the legislature would approve an $12 million annual subsidy to support the operations of a publicly-traded corporation?  Trick question!  They already have.

The Department of Revenue last week released its listing of claims for the Iowa research credit over $500,000 for 2013.  Unlike the federal credit, the Iowa credit is “refundable” — if the company claiming the credit has less tax due than its credit, the state writes the company a check for the difference.  Of the $58.2 million in credits claimed, about 65% of them exceeded taxes due and were granted as refunds, according to the report.

Two John Deere entities combined to claim over $18 million in credits in 2013; assuming the 65% figure applies to them, that means the got a net $12 million subsidy from Iowa taxpayers.

The Des Moines Register reports:

Twelve of Iowa’s major employers accounted for more than 86 percent of tax credit money awarded for research and development last year, according to a new Revenue Department report.

Companies claimed a total of $53.3 million in credits for research and development in 2013, with 12 companies claiming $46.2 million of that amount. Including individuals who claimed credits, the total rises to $58.2 million.

While recipients of the credits will always argue passionately for their virtues, it’s impossible to justify cash operating subsidies from the state for a dozen well-connected corporations.  The Tax Update’s Quick and Dirty Iowa Tax Reform Plan would benefit all taxpayers, not just those who hire tax credit harvest consultants to get cash for what they would do anyway.


Liz Malm, Richard Borean, Lyman Stone, Map, Spirits Excise Tax Rates by State, 2014 (Tax Policy Blog)


It looks like Iowa hits the sauce pretty hard.


Annette Nellen, State income tax filing post-Windsor.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary of Tax Terms: Enrolled Agent   

Kay Bell, IRS’ first batch of 2014 tax refund checks averages $3,317


Russ Fox, Tax on the Run Owners Run to ClubFed:

Here’s a scheme for you: The government has set up this new tax credit worth thousands of dollars. What if we find some impoverished individuals, have them fill out tax returns claiming this credit, and we pocket all that cash? We’ll just phony up some other parts of the return to make it look real. They’ll never catch us!

As an aside, this sort of thing happens with all refundable tax credits. It’s one of the reasons why they attract fraudsters like moths are drawn to bright lights.

Yes, this really happened…except for the part about never being caught.

But even if you catch them, that money is gone.


taxanalystslogoChristopher Bergin, To Fix the IRS, You Have to Fund It (Tax Analysts Blog)

This agency is so mismanaged that there may very well be corruption. But I have no proof of that. I do, however, agree with those who are calling for a special prosecutor. Because the way House Democrats are behaving – ignoring that there is any problem at all – is almost scandalous, and what the Obama administration is doing is useless.

And that brings me to the House Republicans. They think it’s a good idea to punish the IRS by cutting its budget. That won’t fix the problem, and it’s the classic cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face move.

We tax practitioners deal with the degrading IRS service levels every day, and it’s clear the IRS should be better funded.  It won’t happen, though, unless the IRS finds a way convince Republican appropriators that it isn’t a political arm of the other party.  Dropping the proposed 501(c)(4) regulations is probably a necessary, though not sufficient, first step.


TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 284

Tax Justice Blog, Congress Is About to Shower More Tax Breaks on Corporations After Telling the Unemployed to Drop Dead.  Apparently the “extenders” bill is showing some life.

Jack Townsend, Government Files Protective Appeal in Ty Warner Sentencing 


Via Wikipedia.

Via Wikipedia.

The $70 million doggie treat.  The greyhound industry is a legacy of the early days of gambling in Iowa, but as opportunities to lose money recreationally have expanded, gamblers have lost interest in the doggies.   Yet state law still requires two casinos to retain their dog tracks.  Now the Des Moines Register reports that the casinos are willing to buy out the dogs for $70 million:

Combined betting on greyhound races in Dubuque and Council Bluffs has dropped from $186 million in 1986 to $5.9 million in 2012, a 97 percent decline. Both dog tracks typically have only a scattering of fans in grandstands that once held thousands of patrons.

The proposed legislation envisions a payment of $10 million annually for seven years for Iowa’s greyhound industry. This would include a total of about $55 million from Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs and about $15 million from the smaller Mystique Casino in Dubuque.

The casinos say they are losing $14 million annually on the dogs.   I would guess that horse racing in Iowa has a similarly hopeless economic model.

Somewhat related: Tyler Cowen, Triply stupid policies.


News from the Profession: Just What Every Accountant Wants for Valentine’s, Another Calculator (Going Concern)



Tax Roundup, 1/23/2014: Ideas edition. And: why are we taxing pot?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 by Joe Kristan

20130117-1Bad idea.  Refundable tax credits are the favorite kind of credit for tax fraudsters because they generate tax refunds even when there is no tax paid or withheld.  The earned income tax credit is refundable, and that feature has something to do with 20-25% of the credits issued annually being improper.

An intrepid group of Iowa legislators isn’t letting that stop them.  They have introduced HF 2027 to create a new refundable tax credit in Iowa — a piggyback credit equal to 25% of the als0-refundable (and fraud-ridden) American Opportunity Tax Credit.

The AOTC is based on a percentage of tuition paid for the first four years of college.  It phases out at higher income levels.

Politicians can’t resist using the tax law to pass out political favors.  But even the best-intended ones make the tax law more complicated and, by creating a class with something to lose, they make it that much harder to reform.  When there already countless tuition aid programs, not to mention state-funded colleges and universities, it’s unwise to just throw in one more program willy-nilly.


Good idea.  Republican Party to vote for repeal of U.S. anti-tax dodging law (Patrick Temple-West).  

Approved in 2010 after a tax-avoidance scandal involving a Swiss bank, FATCA requires most foreign banks and investment funds to report to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service information about U.S. customers’ accounts worth $50,000 or more.

Criticized by banks, libertarians and some Americans living abroad as a costly and unneeded government overreach, FATCA is on the books, but its effective date has been delayed repeatedly, with enforcement now set to start on July 1.

I hate the headline on the article.  I would have written it “Republican Party to vote to decriminalize personal finance for Americans abroad.”  FATCA makes outrageous demands of non-U.S. institutions that have made Americans unwelcome at many foreign banks.

Related: Republicans Target FATCA As Another Windmill to Attack  (Jack Townsend)


haroldWorse idea: film tax credits.

Accounting Web, Film Credits: Your Tax Dollars at Work Making Movies:

Actor/director Ben Affleck told the Los Angeles Times he’s filming part of Live by Night in Georgia, a state that is popular for its film credit availability.

“It comes down to the fact that you have X amount of money to make your movie in a business where the margins are really thin,” he said.

Understood – but there’s a disconnect here. Affleck and his fellow actor/director, Matt Damon, both advocate and participate in using film credits to reduce taxes so they can make their movies. But both are also on record saying, because they are wealthy, their taxes should be raised.

What’s wrong with this “picture?”

Why is the film business, of all businesses with thin margins, entitled to special breaks?  Because politicians are suckers for celebrities.

Joseph Henchman, The Economist Reviews State Film Tax Credit Programs (Tax Policy Blog):

The report notes that it’s getting tougher to compete with Louisiana’s 30 percent refundable credit or New York’s $420 million annual budget to subsidize film and TV, and that independent analyses find these do little on net for job creation or economic growth.

But you can’t forget the intangibles!  As a Des Moines columnist breathlessly reported at the high point of the Iowa film credit looting spree:

But some benefits can’t just be measured on a dollar-for-dollar basis. The movies provide employment to local actors, construction crews, artists, caterers, drivers and a host of others. They expose non-Iowans to what the state has to offer. More intangible is the benefit of interactions in a state that can be cut off from the trends and centers of power. Not to mention the excitement factor. We’ve relied on caucuses every four years to bring action and celebrities to town. Now, sightings are anytime, any place.

Fortunately, Iowa is sadder but wiser now.


20130916-1Russ Fox, More Work for Tax Professionals: Submission IDs for Efiled Returns:

In the past, the taxpayer signs the 8879, the tax professional signs it and files it away. Now, the taxpayer signs it, the tax professional signs it, and the return is filed. Once the IRS accepts the return, the software company will assign the Submission Identification Number (SID) to the return. The tax professional must either print another copy of the Form 8879 (this one would have the SID on it) and attach it to the Form 8879, print a copy of Form 9325 (Acknowledgement and General Information for Taxpayers Who File Returns Electronically), or the tax professional must write the SID on the original 8879.

It doesn’t seem like much, but that extra minute for every tax return probably equates to an additional 500 minutes of time if you efile 500 returns in a tax season.

And anybody who’s been around a tax prep office during tax season knows there aren’t all that many extra minutes lying around.


TaxGrrrl, 11 Questions To Ask When Hiring A Tax Preparer .  A good list.

Leslie Book, The Ban on Claiming the EITC: A Problematic Penalty (Procedurally Taxing).  “We have not addressed the special EITC ban that arises when a taxpayer inappropriately claims the EITC.   The following gives some context, with a focus on the two-year ban for reckless or intentional (but not fraudulent) errors.”

William Perez, Which Tax Form to File?


Peter Reilly, Is Tax Court Rebelling Against Supreme Court?  Short answer: no.

Tyler Cowen, Income inequality is not as extreme as many citizens think.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 259

Cara Griffith, When State Taxes and Interstate Compacts Collide (Tax Analysts Blog).  “But states can’t have their cake and eat it too; a compact cannot be both binding and offer states significant choices on whether to follow its terms.”

Tax Justice Blog calls the IRS budget cut The Dumbest Spending Cut in the New Budget Deal.  It’s bad policy, but it’s asking a lot of Congressional Republicans to fund an organ of their opposition.


20130607-2Because they can.  Why Exactly Are We Taxing Pot? (David Brunori, Tax Analysts Blog):

But I must ask: What is the rationale for imposing special taxes on marijuana? Excise taxes are appropriate to pay for externalities – the costs to society of using the product that are not borne by the market. But it is unclear what, if any, externalities are created by smoking pot.

Economic development in the Doritos aisle?


Kay Bell, IRS audit results in $862,000 lawsuit award for taxpayer.  Because he tripped over a phone cord.



Tax Roundup, 10/28/13: Maquoketa! And the experts in preposterous.

Monday, October 28th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

Today is the first session of the ISU Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation 2013 Farm and Urbane Income Tax Schools.  Once again I am on the Day 1 team with Roger McEowen, the ringleader of the Center, and Kristy Maitre, the Iowa IRS Stakeholder Liaison.

We are starting in Maquoketa this year.  This is our first visit to Maquoketa, the county seat of Jackson County.   This replaces our former Muscatine session; we had to move when the conference center we were using closed.

Most Iowans know Maquoketa for Maquoketa Caves State Park.

Picture by Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Picture by Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

If the session goes well, we won’t have to hold our next one underground.  If you can’t make it to Maquoketa, register today for one of the seven other farm school sessions!


Peter Reilly,  Organizing Junk Mail Does Not Qualify As Manufacturing.  Peter discusses the ADVO case we mentioned last week on the Section 199 “Domestic Production Activities Deduction.”  I like this:

The fact that what was being produced was 90,000 tons of crap, that was going to be quickly thrown away after annoying someone did not seem to be of any significance.  

It’s bad enough that the tax law has to distinguish “production.”  Imagine if the IRS agents had to distinguish crap.


Paul NeifferNow Congress is Calling the IRS “Preposterous” (At Least the Delay)!  Well, Congress would know about preposterous.  Paul will be one of the Day 2 speakers at the Farm and Urban Tax Schools in Sheldon, Mason City, Ottumwa and Ames.


Kyle Pomerleau, Low and Moderate Income Taxpayers Face High Marginal Tax Rates Too

Yesterday, the CBO released an interesting graphic showing the share of income earners below 450 percent of the federal poverty line. (Incomes up to $87,885 for a family of three).

From a sample of tax returns, they found that nearly 40 percent of those making 450 percent of the FPL and lower face a 30 to 39 percent marginal tax rate.

They also find that a good number of taxpayers face marginal tax rates that are even higher. More than 10 percent face a marginal tax rate between 40 and 49 percent. Some even face rates higher than 80 percent.



This marginal rate is part of the poverty trap caused by the phase-out of means-tested welfare benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit.  These cause programs touted as helping the poor to punish taxpayers who try to stop being poor.


Phil Hodgen,  Expatriate without filing FBARs? Sure thing

Kay Bell, Almost 700 IRS contractors owe $5.4 million in back taxes 

TaxProf, WSJ: States You Shouldn’t Be Caught Dead In

Trish McIntire explains her recent blogging silence.  Get well soon, Trish!


Jack Townsend,  Outlier Foreign Account Conviction Affirmed; Making a Witness Unavailable to the Defense.  He discusses prosecutorial success via intimidation.

Quotable.  From a comment by Dan Hanson at Marginal Revolution (via Tyler Cowen):

Failure isn’t rare for government IT projects – it’s the norm. Over 90% of them fail to deliver on time and on budget. But more frighteningly, over 40% of them fail absolutely and are never delivered. This is because the core requirements for a successful project – solid up-front analysis and requirements, tight control over requirements changes, and clear coordination of responsibility with accountability, are all things that government tends to be very poor at.



Tax Roundup, 9/3/2013: Iowa’s multi-talented revenue examiners. And social media dos and don’ts.

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 by Joe Kristan


The Hoover Office Building, the warm and cuddly home of the Iowa Department of Revenue.

The Hoover Office Building, the warm and cuddly home of the Iowa Department of Revenue.

Iowa income tax examiners don’t just deal with state issues.  In recent years the Iowa Department of Revenue has been examining hobby loss issues by itself.  This is a departure from past practice, where Iowa usually only examined state-specific issues, like residency and allocation of multistate income.

A new protest resolution released last week shows that while the Department may start an examination on hobby loss issues, it doesn’t have to stop there.  The department examined a couple’s horse operation and concluded that it wasn’t operated for profit, disallowing the resulting “hobby losses.”  That’s not a shocking result, as horse operations are often challenged on hobby loss grounds.   But the department wasn’t done (my emphasis):

In regards to the day care business, the Department explained in previous correspondence that the taxpayers cannot take a deduction for the business use of the home, except for real estate taxes and mortgage insurance which are allowable on Schedule A.  The taxpayers have already filed amended returns reducing the meal expense claimed on the original returns.  The Department accepts the amended meal expenses.  The Department also denies several other items because they are not ordinary and necessary business expenses, such as landscaping, auto repair, and picture frames.  All items denied are on the enclosed schedule. 

The final adjustment is to charitable contributions on Schedule A.  The Department denies the  “Haiti” contributions for all three years because there is no evidence the contributions were made to a qualified  charitable organization.  See IRC Sec. 170(c).  Contributions made directly to an individual or to groups of individuals are not deductible.  Also, the Department denies the contributions to Covenant House on the 2009 return.  There is not enough information to confirm that Covenant House is a qualified organization.

If the Department comes for the hobby losses, they just might stay for the whole return.

Cite: Van Veldhuizen, Document Reference: 13201028


Peter Reilly, $10,000,000 North Carolina Domicile Case Shows Importance Of Planning   If you want to move to low-tax Florida before selling a business, you need to do it early and do it right.

Greg Mankiw, Marginal Tax Rates under Obamacare.  He quotes a new paper: “Measured in percentage points, the Affordable Care Act will, by 2015, add about twelve times more to average marginal labor income tax rates nationwide than the Massachusetts health reform added to average rates in Massachusetts following its 2006 statewide health reform.”

What does that mean?  Tyler Cowen quotes the same paper:

The law increases marginal tax rates by an average of five percentage points (of employee compensation), on top of the marginal tax rates that were already present before the it went into effect. The ACA’s addition to labor tax wedges is roughly equivalent to doubling both employer and employee payroll tax rates for half of the population. 

I’m sure that half is all in the top 1%.

The great Ronald Coase has died at a still too-young 102.  An appreciation. (via Tyler Cowen)

Courtney Strutt-Todd, IRS Provides Answers to Filing Questions for Same-Sex Couples (Davis Brown Tax Law Blog) 

After a big three-Buzz week last week, Robert D. Flach Buzzes again!

20130903-1Finland follies.  Finns normally sensible and wonderful people.  Our Finnish exchange student is terrific.  But like everyone else, they have politicians who won’t mind their own business,  reports Lyman Stone (Tax Policy Blog):
The Wall Street Journal reports that Finland’s 2011 tax on sugary goods is driving ice cream trucks out of business, and that Mexico is considering implementing its own sugar and sweets tax under the auspices of curbing obesity. In 2014, Finland will add more products, like cookies and jam, to its list of taxed goods. These taxes are particularly notable because Mexico has the second highest per capita soda consumption in the world, while Finland has among the highest rates of ice cream consumption.

Finland has some of the worlds highest consumption rates of alcohol and coffee.  And there’s no sugar in vodka.

TaxGrrrl, Would ‘Very High Taxes’ Keep Unemployment Rates Low?  Ask the Finnish ice cream truck drivers.

Career Advice Department, Social Media Section.  In my recent interview, I answered the question “what advice would you offer to the new accountant concerning the role of social media in their profession.”   If I were answering the question today, I would just say don’t do this.



Tax Roundup, 8/19/2013: You may already be a Californian! And the amazing tax secrets of Jeff Bezos.

Monday, August 19th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130819-1California is so short of cash, they aren’t just looking under their sofa cushions for spare change.  They’re looking under yours, too. Paul Neiffer reports that California is Out of Control!

In Swart Enterprises, Inc. v. Franchise Tax Board, the taxpayer was an Iowa  corporation with a farming activities in Kansas and Nebraska.  They also had various passive business investments including an .02% interest in a California LLC (Cypress) that acquired, held, leased and disposed of capital equipment in various states.  This LLC had 435 members of which 384 members were out-of-state.

The Franchise Tax Board asserted that Swart had enough business activity through their .02% interest in the Cypress LLC to require the filing of a California LLC tax return.  Normally LLC’s filed as a partnership do not owe any state tax, however, California charges $800 simply for the privilege of filing a return.  In addition, based upon the gross revenue of the LLC an additional fee is owed.  Since Swart was a corporation, that particular fee would not apply, but they would owe the $800 filing fee plus interest and penalties plus paying a person to prepare the tax return.

 That’s one of the dangers of investing in a partnership.  You buy the chance to pay state taxes in any state where the partnership does business.  In most states it may not matter because it the tax may round down to zero, but even a whiff of California can cost you $800.

Russ Fox has more at California Goes After Flow-Throughs with Passive Investments in California.


Stephen J. Dunn, Fraudulent Tax Returns?:

The IRS most commonly learns of alleged fraud in a tax return from an insider—a disgruntled former employee, spouse, or romantic interest of the taxpayer.  In one case, the taxpayer’s estranged daughter came to the taxpayer and asked him for a job.  The taxpayer hired her, and eventually placed her in charge of a business.  But the daughter mismanaged the business, and the taxpayer closed it.  The prodigal daughter became enraged, and reported her father to the Internal Revenue Service. 

Business tax fraud is hard to do without accomplices.  Each “helper” is one more chance for the IRS, one more potential informer.  Payroll fraud, where you pay employees “in cash,” with no taxes, may be the worst, as it gives every employee an opportunity to snitch.


Is the concept of “deadweight loss” a right-wing conspiracy?  “I am sorry, but this is absurd” (Tyler Cowen).  

Deadweight loss” is economic loss from tax, as  Megan McArdle explains here.  Mr. Cowan says it exists, even if fellow economist Charles Manski doesn’t care for it:

Manski also ignores that a belief in deadweight loss is fully compatible with the view that government spending may bring economic benefits.  In fact you often cannot understand the benefits of (some) government spending without first grasping the deadweight loss concept.

If you don’t think taxes have a cost, then there’s no helping you.


Kay Bell,  Employers in 17 states could face higher unemployment taxes


Missouri Tax Guy,  DOMAs Death, There Are Questions.  “It’s been nearly two months since the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, but there are still many things we don’t know when it comes to how this affects the taxes of couples in same-gender marriages.”


Jack Townsend,  Simon’s Last Hurrah / Fizzle?  “So I am not sure what lessons it teaches except as a variation of the old saying, ‘Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered.'”

Phil Hodgen, Email and Encryption.  An interesting discussion of the problem of preserving email confidentiality in a world of hackers and NSA snooping.

TaxGrrrl, Death & Taxes: Elvis Presley Topped Charts And Tax Brackets  

Janet Novack,  IRS Agent Faked Pastor’s Letter To Claim Charity Deduction 

Russ Fox, IRS Scandal Update

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 101


Martin Sullivan, A Dark Cloud Over Silicon Valley (Tax Analysts Blog)

 Nobody in Washington D.C. has a wish to make enemies with tech companies that are the crown jewels of the American economy. Nobody is deliberately targeting them. But there is a basic dynamic of corporate tax reform that will be hard even for the tech sector to overcome: those who are the biggest winners under the current system have the most to lose from tax reform.

Of course.


Alan Cole, The Standard Deduction Undermines Itemized Deductions (Tax Policy Blog):

The standard deduction makes a lot of sense, though, if you believe itemized deductions are arbitrary and confusing. In that case, the standard deduction restores some fairness and reduces paperwork, bringing the tax code more in line with our Principles of Sound Tax Policy – particularly, neutrality and simplicity.

The standard deduction is an interesting half-step towards eliminating itemized deductions, suggesting that America is actually quite ambivalent about them.

There’s something to be said for eliminating itemizing.  It adds a lot of complexity, especially with AMT and phaseouts.  If a deduction is really needed, move it above the line and make it available to everyone.


Robert D. Flach, WHAT CONGRESS SHOULD DO, BUT PROBABLY WON’T.  “I have recommended limiting the mortgage interest deduction to acquisition debt on a principal primary residence.”

Me, Walnut Street is back! For lunch, anyway and Because your safety is the most important thing.


Tax Justice Blog,  Washington Post Owner Jeff Bezos Does Not Believe in Taxes:

As an organization that follows tax policy, we went looking for the track record on taxes and, as it turns out, Bezos and his company have consistently demonstrated a contempt for taxes and an aggressive interest in avoiding them.  

Sounds suspiciously like almost every client ever.




Tax Roundup, 7/22/2013: More fertilizer! And how to finance your party, the tax grifter way.

Monday, July 22nd, 2013 by Joe Kristan
Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

More taxpayer fertilizer.  Iowa board OKs additional $25M in tax credits for Orascom.  (Quad Cities Times):

The unanimous vote by the board on Friday makes a total of $82.5 million in state tax credit benefits available to Orascom Construction, parent of the Iowa Fertilizer Company.

The $1.8 billion plant is expected to employ as many as 165 workers when completed.

In case you’re wondering, that’s about $500,000 per “permanent job.”  That assumes that the money is actually buying jobs, but the plant almost certainly was going to be built in Iowa without the subsidies.  The $82.5 million only buys politicians press conferences, ribbon cuttings and silver souvenir shovels, with our money.


TaxProf, Faber:  ‘Ivory Tower’ Economists Are Wrong: Taxes Play Major Role in Wealthy Fleeing High-Tax States:

Amy Hanauer and Tim Krueger argue that taxes play no role in taxpayer decisions to move from one state to another (The Tax Flight Myth: People Move for Jobs and Family, Not Taxes,  State Tax Notes, July 8, 2013, p. 97 … ). Their conclusions are apparently based on empirical studies and computer models. They are wrong. Based on my experience as a practitioner who works with wealthy individuals and corporations every day, I can assure you that taxes often play a major role in these decisions and that in many cases, they are the sole reason for the move.

That’s right, in my experience.  Taxpayers absolutely take taxes into account when they move, even if it’s hard to isolate in aggregate data.  Tax aren’t everything, but they are definitely something.

Kim Reuben, Detroit’s bankruptcy: What does it mean for other cities? (TaxVox)

Russ Fox, The Flow of AGI from One State to Another


Jason Dinesen, Tax Aspects of Renting Your Home for a Day or Two.  Taking in RAGRAI riders can give you some tax-free income.

Robert D. Flach, KEEPING A CONTEMPORANEOUS MILEAGE LOG.  If you want to deduct your mileage, you need to keep your log up to date.


Tyler Cowen, Wealth Taxes: A Future Battleground.  Just another way for politicians to cover their profligacy.  Via Arnold Kling, who has more.

TaxGrrrl, Rather Than Tackle Tough Tax Reform, Congress Focuses On The Death Tax. Again.

Kay Bell, The U.S. tax system is not very attractive

William McBride, American Corporations Losing Ground (Tax Policy Blog):

The U.S. corporate tax is the most punitive in the developed world, not just because the statutory corporate tax rate is the highest but also because the effective corporate tax rate is the highest or nearly the highest according to recent studies

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 74.


Tax offender of the year nominee.  I no longer choose a Taxpayer of the Year, but Russ Fox still “honors” a “tax offender of the year.”  I hope he will consider Ayawna Webster, former president of the D.C. Young Democrats and staff aide to a D.C. City Council Member, Harry Thomoas Jr.  The Washington Post reports:

The former chief of staff to one-time D.C. council member Harry Thomas Jr. pleaded guilty Friday to falsifying tax documents in connection with payments for a 2009 political ball…

 According to court documents, [non-profit chief Millicent] West worked with Thomas and Webster to send trust money intended to pay for youth programs to help cover the cost of the party.

Just when you think politicians can’t come up with ways to make you think less of them, they come through.  Looting a fund for poor kids to pay for a “political ball” is notably evil.


Brian Mahany, Business Owner Pleads to Hiding Offshore Account

Jack Townsend, Liechtenstein Bank In U.S. Cross-Hairs


A video report on Rashia Wilson’s sentencing

She had a sixth-grade education and stole millions from the taxpayers.  When that can happen — over and 0ver — there just may be a problem with IRS controls over refunds.


The Critical Question.  Lap Dance Tax?  (Jim Maule)

News you can use.  The Data on Bar Fights (Freakonomics Blog)


Tax Roundup, 7/5/2013: Iowa preparer meets her Waterloo. And a sixty-nine year anniversary.

Friday, July 5th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20130705-3Waterloo preparer to plead to preparing return with bad deductions.  From the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa filed a criminal complaint against Victoria A. Jones, age unavailable, in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.

She is charged with one count of aiding in the preparation of a fraudulent return. An arraignment has been scheduled for July 9 in Cedar Rapids.

Authorities allege Jones helped a couple identified only by the initials R.D. and L.D. submit a false tax return to the IRS for 2008. The return claimed the filers had $67,211 in itemized deductions when they had significantly less.

Court document says that she intends to plead guilty, but provides no additional information as to the nature of the false deductions.


Iowans Can Now Pay Taxes With Their Phones, Online (The Dwolla Blog).  Only property taxes for now, and only in some counties.  It would be nice if they added income taxes.


He shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.  Executive Nullification, Once Again (Arnold Kling)


Make everyone poorer, to put the 1% in their place.   From a paper by Karel Mertens (via Tyler Cowen):

A hypothetical tax reform cutting marginal rates only for the top 1% leads to sizeable increases in top 1\% incomes and has a positive effect on real GDP. There are also spillover effects to incomes outside of the top 1%, but top marginal rate cuts lead to greater inequality in pre-tax incomes. 

So cutting top tax rates makes everyone better off.  Yet because it helps the “top 1%” the most, politicians like the President will tell us it’s a bad idea.


Ex-Bear Zorich way behind.  The Chicago Tribune reports that former football player Chris Zorich is financially underwater as he faces a July 12 sentencing date on tax charges.

TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 57

Because it would never pass?  Why is the Carbon Tax Missing from the Climate Change Debate? (Tax Justice Blog)

Gene Steuerle, The Baucus-Hatch “Blank Slate” Approach to Tax Reform Could Be Revolutionary:


Kay Bell has posted Tax Carnival #118: July 4th Tax Fireworks!

Christopher Bergin, Gratitude on the Fourth of July (Tax Analysts Blog)

TaxGrrrl, Taxes & Independence: Happy Fourth Of July.   Kelly freely quotes the Declaration of Independence, including this:

 He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

Good thing that couldn’t happen today…


Why Exactly Do You  Want An Offshore Account?

Jack Townsend, Information on Filing Delinquent FBARs


Economic development for Iowa!  Minnesota: Higher Income and Cigarette Tax Making It the Land of 10,000 Taxes? Philip Hammersley, Tax Policy Blog:

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) recently signed  legislation increasing income and cigarette taxes in the Gopher State. The legislature hopes to raise nearly $2.1 billion in revenue from the tax hikes in order to close the budget deficits and fund new spending projects. The average Minnesota taxpayer currently pays 10.79 percent of his income in state and local taxes. This tax burden makes Minnesota the 7th highest taxed state in the nation.

Iowa’s tax system has more than its share of flaws, but it sure could be worse.


Cara Griffith, Taxes and Whistleblower Suits (Tax Analysts Blog).  Should whistleblowers be able to file tax suits against corporations?

Holiday or no, Robert D. Flach has fresh Buzz!  He reminds us that the IRS is closed today.


Peter Reilly, Gettysburg Interlude – Understanding Historiography


Sixty-nine years ago today, my Dad’s participation in the war ended.  The third stage of the Tour de France went by the place where it happened earlier this week.

The final mission of B-24 42-78127, over the target in Toulon, France.  John Kristan was top turret gunner in one of the planes - likely the one at the bottom of the picture.

The final mission of B-24 42-78127, over the target in Toulon, France. John Kristan was top turret gunner in one of the planes – likely the one at the bottom of the picture.

So my job doesn’t seem so hard today.


Don’t fire employee #50 just yet: Obamacare employer mandate delayed until 2015

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 by Joe Kristan

20121120-2Obamacare employer mandate delayed.  Employers who have been puzzling over how to hide that 50th employee to avoid the expensive Affordable Care Act employee coverage mandate have a one-year reprieve.  The news came in a Treasury blog post hilariously titled “Continuing to Implement the ACA in a Careful, Thoughtful Manner“:

The Administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.  This is designed to meet two goals.  First, it will allow us to consider ways to simplify the new reporting requirements consistent with the law.  Second, it will provide time to adapt healthcoverage and reporting systems while employers are moving toward making health coverage affordable and accessible for their employees.

A translation:

“First, it will allow us to consider ways to simplify the new reporting requirements consistent with the law” = The law is so complicated that nobody knows how to comply.

 “Second, it will provide time to adapt health coverage and reporting systems while employers are moving toward making health coverage affordable and accessible for their employees” = “Resume hiring people before the 2014 election, people!”

This means the “shared responsibility payment” (what a creepy name) provision for employers with 50 or more employees will not apply until 2015.  As the employee count for the 2015 payments will be based on 2014 payrolls, that gives employers an extra year to figure out how to outsource or automate enough functions to stay under 50.

Additional coverage:

Tyler Cowen, Repeal the employer mandate altogether

Evan Soltas, The Side Effects of Delaying Obamacare

Ezra Klein, Obamacare’s employer mandate shouldn’t be delayed. It should be repealed.

Sara Kliff, The politics of delaying Obamacare:  “The White House just swapped one political headache for another.”

TaxGrrrl, White House Suspends Tax, Other Reporting Requirements For Obamacare

Paul Neiffer,  Employer Mandate Delayed for One Year


Tax Roundup, 5/9/2013: Gotta start somewhere edition.

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

rand paulGotta start somewhere.  The Hill reports “Rand Paul introduces bill to roll back parts of tax evasion law“:

“FATCA’s harmful impacts cover the spectrum,” Paul said. “It is a violation of Americans’ constitutional protections, oversteps the limits of Executive power, disregards the mutual respect of sovereignty among nations and drains money from the federal treasury under the guise of replenishing it, and discourages overseas investment in the United States.”

“Tax evasion is a problem that should be addressed, but not in such an egregious way,” Paul added.

FATCA has made normal financial life difficult or impossible for many Americans abroad.  Too bad politicians didn’t think of these things before they voted.

Probably related: Lynnley Browning, U.S. Citizens Ditch Passports in Record Numbers (via the TaxProf).  Also this from Phil Hodgen.

Jack Townsend, HSBC India Reported to be Cooperating with DOJ and IRS and Projecting Significant Penalty


TaxGrrrl,  Sanctions May Be Least Of ‘Copyright Troll’ Worries As Matter Is Referred To Feds, IRS.  A great article telling the story of an attorney/copyright troll who annoyed a judge enough to get him to call in the IRS to investigate his taxes.  Hilarity ensues.

Cara Griffith, Pot Calling Kettle Black? (

Good Jobs First is just hiding the ball a little bit by trying to get rid of reports on business climate. The Good Jobs First report says that the real issue we should be focusing on is “how to build a tax system that is fair, modern and relevant.” Yes, that’s exactly what needs to be done, but I would argue that reports on business climate add to the debate. And while I do think that such reports must be examined with a critical eye, “business climate” matters.

Related Tax Update coverage here.


Tyler Cowen

“When economists are not listened to, that often means strong special interests and/or strong voter sentiment stand on the other side of the equation.  The numerous special deductions in the tax code, most of which have no efficiency justification, are examples.”

True of both federal and Iowa tax laws.



Hence, it appears that this Act would apply to any business (not just Internet Retailers) that makes sales into a state in which it does not have nexus.  Therefore, manufacturers or other non-Internet retailers who sell directly to retail customers who do not have sales representatives or any other physical connection with a state may (under this Act) be required to collect sales tax on its remote sales.

It’s not just the e-Bay sellers who would have to deal with this.  If you really want to create “market fairness,” there are two ways that are much simpler: either a straight national sales tax collection regime with uniform rules and rate where the proceeds are allocated to the states based on the sales to the state, or a sales tax based on shipping location.


Janet Novack,  Reverse Showrooming: Best Buy, Amazon And The Internet Sales Tax:

Traditional bricks and mortar retailers squander their immediacy edge with indifferent/uninformed sales help, who look even worse compared to the information now available on the web. But they can do well if they integrate their online and in-store services, carry enough inventory and price competitively.


Christopher Bergin, No Use for Useless Stances (

Linda Beale,  Senate did the right thing–will the House?


Tony Nitti, Boxer Manny Pacquiao Ducks U.S. Taxes, Will Return To Ring In China

Paul Neiffer,  Make Sure to Coordinate Estate Documents with Ag Laws

Kay Bell,  It’s property tax appraisal, and scam, time


It’s great to waste money, as long as it’s wasted here.  I dust off my old personal rant blog in response to this.

Going Concern, Groundbreaking Survey Reveals Accounting Professionals Desperately Need Communication Skills.  All I can say to that is, pprdrhnt.



Tax Roundup, 2/12/2013: Tax fraud, queens and princesses. And 21 lawyers!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 by Joe Kristan

Meanwhile, somewhere an ID thief is trying to get cash from an ATM with a peanut butter sandwich. reports:

A 6-year-old pupil at Symmes Elementary School in Riverview was asked to take her homework out of her backpack, according to Cpl. Bruce Crumpler of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The girl reached into her bag and pulled out a baggie containing 52 debit cards, Crumpler said.

The cards, which can be used as accounts for depositing tax refunds are commonly used by people who use stolen personal identities to file tax returns to obtain fraudulent refunds.

20130212-1Maybe she’s the little princess of tax fraud.  Meanwhile, the same has an update on Rashia Wilson, who allegedly proclaimed herself the “Queen of IRS Tax Fraud:”

Wilson may not have been the biggest player in Tampa’s income tax fraud explosion, but she was one of the most brazen — “flashy,” a sheriff’s investigator called her, “in your face about it.”

The affidavits show Wilson even had a picture of herself with a cool smile on her face, wearing an oversized jewel-encrusted pendant spelling out her first name as she held bundles of cash.


Easier than she thought, apparently.  She has been indicted on 57 federal tax fraud charges for collecting $1.3 million through fake tax returns, apparently claiming earned income credits and refundable education credits.  That should make the politicians think twice before they expand these fraud-ridden credits, but it won’t.


How many lawyers does it take to lose a tax case?  15.  At least that’s how many lawyers were listed on the losing side yesterday in Bank of New York Mellon Corp., a Tax Court case disallowing foreign tax credits in a tax shelter case.  Six lawyers are listed on the IRS side, for a total of 21.  The losing side was led by former IRS Chief Counsel B. John Williams.  If nothing else, the legal expense deductions should take a bite out of the losing side’s tax bill.  The TaxProf has more.


Iowa’s push for a 4.5% optional flat tax — which I call an “alternative maximum tax” — puzzles David Brunori ($link)

Many liberals in Iowa are complaining that a flat tax wouldn’t require the rich to pay their fair share, whatever that means. But a lot of those people seem more interested in soaking the rich than in helping the poor. Personally, I am much more in favor of reducing the tax burdens on the poor and dispossessed than I am in making rich people suffer.

     I think a flat income tax with few deductions (and a sizable exemption for low-income people) is the way to go. I’m unsure why the state would continue its horribly complicated personal income tax system that benefits return preparers, tax lawyers, and tax accountants.

It’s because of a peculiarity of Iowa politics.  The powerful lobbying group Iowans for Tax Relief opposes a repeal of the Iowa deduction for federal taxes paid.  ITR has shown that it can provoke successful primary challenges of Republican legislators who displease the Muscatine-based lobby.  Yet significant rate reduction is impossible if the deduction is retained.  Making the lower rate an “alternative” rather than a replacement appeases Muscatine, though at a cost in incoherence.


Will we see a revival in enforcement of the accumulated earnings tax?  The obscure depression-era tax on C corporations that retain cash in excess of their “needs,” as second-guessed by the IRS, is rarely asserted.  With left-side economists like Paul Krugman asserting that corporate cash-hoarding is one reason why the economy remains weak, don’t be surprised if his friends in the Obama administration try to revive enforcement of this archaic and foolish penalty tax. (Via Tyler Cowen).


William McBride, CBO Projections of Spending and Tax Credits (Tax Policy Blog):

As the chart below shows, mandatory spending represents the majority of the federal budget, and the part that has grown most dramatically in recent years.  Mandatory spending was about 10 percent of GDP for most of the 30 years prior to 2008.  It leapt to 15 percent of GDP in 2009 and now remains at 13.1 percent.  It is projected to increase to 14.1 percent of GDP by 2023.  Meanwhile, discretionary spending, on programs like defense, roads, and other infrastructure, is on a steady decline.  Discretionary spending is now 8.3 percent of GDP and set to go to a 50 year low of 5.5 percent of GDP by 2023.


No spending is really “mandatory.”  Congress and the President can always change the “mandatory” programs.  And they will, or we will face fiscal disaster and crushing taxes.


Paul Neiffer,  Farmer Filing Due Date Update

Yes.  Will Obama’s Call for Tax Reform Ring Hollow? (Jeremy Scott,

TaxGrrrl, A Beginner’s Guide To Taxes: Do I Need To Hire A Tax Preparer Or Can I Do My Return Myself?

William Perez, Finding the Right Filing Status

Patrick Temple-West,  Sandy damage leads to tax trouble, and more (Tax Break)

Peter Reilly,  Co-op Owner Wins Casualty Loss Appeal

Missouri Tax Guy, Safeguarding Financial Records

Brian Strahle,   Delaware’s NEW Voluntary Disclosure Program for Unclaimed Property:  Should You Utilize It?

Jack Townsend,  Good Faith as a Defense to Tax Crimes


The Critical Question:  Would a Carbon Tax and Corporate Tax Reform Taste Great Together? (Donald Marron, TaxVox).

Kay Bell, Man gets $161,392 erroneous tax refund.  And in this case he didn’t even ask for it.