Bozo Tax Tip #1: Lies, Deceit, and Nefarious Schemes!

May 14th, 2021

The following two stories are true.  Only the names have been changed to protect the Bozos.

I was at the barber shop a couple of weeks ago and overheard a barber (not mine) telling someone,

…I just filed my tax return.  I didn’t use Ray, my normal guy, because my Realtor wanted me to use Agnes Smith.  Gloria, my Realtor, wanted my return done fast so I could qualify for a loan…yes, she made up some of the numbers on my return but I’m self-employed.  Agnes didn’t care, and Gloria liked the result.  Agnes told me I could amend my return later to get it right.

Yikes!  Let’s count the Bozo actions.  We have the unnamed barber who is signing a return that’s knowingly wrong, probably also committing bank fraud in trying to get a loan to buy a house.  There’s Agnes who appears to have slept through ethics classes during continuing education.  There’s Gloria, who may be guilty of aiding and abetting, and is certainly missing ethics for Realtors.

The Las Vegas real estate market is really booming: there’s high demand and really low availability.  And the law of supply and demand leads to prices going up, so some are engaging in Bozo behavior in order to be able to buy their dream home.

Committing a felony (or two or three) in order to buy a home is not a brilliant idea.  A better idea is to wait for prices to moderate, or perhaps not aiming for the McMansion and just buying a smaller (more affordable) home.  Yet the Bozo contingent is what it is.

And here’s story two.  John Smith, a professional gambler, wanted to get his returns done right.  “I have a feeling,” he said, “That there were issues with my 2019 return.”  So I took a look at his return.  I saw his occupation listed as “Professional Gambler.”  But his return lacked a Schedule C (sole proprietorship); instead, all his gambling winnings were reported as “Other Income.”  I noticed he was using the standard deduction.  I looked at his records, and there were both winning and losing sessions.  The net of those was about $5,000 higher than what was reported on Other Income.

I asked Mr. Smith about this. “Oh, I told Ms. Doe [his tax professional] what my business expenses were.  She told me as a professional gambler I could net my wins and losses, and there was no reason why I couldn’t take my business expenses.”

Ms. Doe, who happens to be both a CPA and JD, is correct: a professional gambler does get to net his wins and losses.  But they have to be reported on Schedule C as a business, and you have to note business expenses in each category.  And a professional gambler must pay Self-Employment Tax.

“Ms. Doe told me the way she did the return I wouldn’t have to pay Self-Employment Tax.”  Ms. Doe was right!  Of course, the return was wrong.

I explained to Mr. Smith that he should amend his 2019 return and pay the additional tax.  It’s far better to come clean with the IRS then to have them come after you.

There’s a corollary to this second story, too.  In November I did a consultation with a potential new client in Missouri.  He was starting a new business and wanted his taxes done right.  I listened to him, he explained his business (trucking/logistics), and how to set it up (from an accounting and tax perspective).  I gave him what advice I could, but told him I was not the right person for him for the long-term.  I knew little about accounting methods for that industry, and there were individuals who specialized in it who could do a far better job than I could.  It’s important to know your limits, and saying “no” at times is a good idea–that client was not a good fit for me.  The same was true of Mr. Smith to Ms. Doe, but she apparently  felt otherwise.

That’s it for the 2021 Bozo Tax Tips!  I hope you’ve enjoyed them.  We’ll be back to normal posting starting with a recap of the 2021 Tax Season (aka a miserable year) in about one week.

Bozo Tax Tip #2: Ignore Cryptocurrency!

May 13th, 2021

Three years ago was the last time I included cryptocurrency in my Bozo Tax Tips.  No matter how you slice it, when you dispose of cryptocurrency you have a taxable event.  In the view of the IRS, every disposal must be individually noted on your tax return.  If you have thousands of transactions, you may have hundreds of pages of such transactions to include on your return.  (Thankfully, we can attach pdf’s to tax returns with the details rather than having to enter them into software.)  There are now numerous products available to help you with cryptocurrency taxation (in the United States).

Adding to the “fun” with cryptocurrency taxation is that it is taking the IRS three years to issue guidance on anything in crypto.  Take DeFi (decentralized finance) with crypto.  Perhaps we’ll see the IRS issue guidance by 2024 even though it’s impacting tax returns in 2020.  We can always hope….

The IRS is active in one area: trying to find individuals who are ignoring cryptocurrency.  Over the last month the IRS has successfully enforced summonses against Poloniex and Kraken.  To date, most IRS enforcement efforts in cryptocurrency have been going toward the low-hanging fruit: individuals who have not reported their cryptocurrency.  I do expect the IRS to start looking at auditing large users of crypto.  Given Commissioner Rettig’s remarks on the Tax Gap, IRS management clearly believes that there’s a lot of tax dollars to be found in cryptocurrency.

There is one truism, though: If you don’t report your cryptocurrency gains (and losses), you’re violating the law.  So if you need to take some time to figure it out before filing your 2020 returns, make an estimate of your gains (or losses) and file an extension.  Or you can choose the Bozo behavior of ignoring your cryptocurrency.

Bozo Tax Tip #3: Move Without Moving!

May 12th, 2021
Nearly ten years ago, we moved from Irvine, California to Las Vegas. The home in Irvine was sold, a home was purchased in Las Vegas, and the belongings went from the Golden State to the Silver State. Cars were re-registered, doctors changed, and no one would say that we didn’t become Las Vegas residents. But some people like to have it both ways. Nevada’s income tax rate is a very round number (0%), while California’s maximum income tax rate is a ridiculous (in my opinion) 13.3%. That certainly could drive individuals to move in name only. California’s Franchise Tax Board (FTB) realizes that, and they (along with New York State) lead the country in residency audits. If you really do relocate, a residency audit is a minor annoyance. But let’s say you reside in Silicon Valley, and you buy a home in Reno but keep your home in Los Altos. Did you move? Or did you just move in name? The Bozo strategy is the latter: moving in name only. I’ll just have that little home in Reno, spend the ski season in Nevada but really continue to live in Los Altos. In a residency audit, the FTB will look at where you’re actually spending time, where you’re spending money (if eight months of the year you’re patronizing businesses in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t look like you really moved), and a variety of other factors. ( The FTB has an excellent Residency and Sourcing Manual that explains California laws on the subject.) Given the current pandemic, state revenues are being squeezed. The one government agency where increasing employees increases revenues is the tax agency (especially employees in audit). While I expect to see states cut employees, I’ll be surprised to see anything but minor cuts in tax agencies. We’re also likely to see an increase in audits looking at telecommuting issues. In any case, if you move in name only you’re painting a target on your back for a residency audit.

Bozo Tax Tip #4: The $0.55 Solution

May 11th, 2021

With Tax Day fast approaching it’s time to examine yet another Bozo method of courting disaster. And it doesn’t, on the surface, seem to be a Bozo method. After all, this organization has the motto, Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night can stay these messengers about their duty.

Well, that’s not really the Postal Service’s motto. It’s just the inscription on the General Post Office in New York (at 8th Avenue and 33rd Street).

So assume you have a lengthy, difficult return. You’ve paid a professional good money to get it done. You go to the Post Office, put proper postage on it, dump it in the slot (on or before April 15th), and you’ve just committed a Bozo act.

If you use the Postal Service to mail your tax returns, spend the extra money for certified mail. For $3.60 you can purchase certified mail. Yes, you will have to stand in a line (or you can use the automated machines in many post offices), but you now have a receipt that verifies that you have mailed your return.

About sixteen years ago one of my clients saved $2.42 (I think that was the cost of a certified mail piece then) and sent his return in with a $0.37 stamp. It never made it. He ended up paying nearly $1,000 in penalties and interest…but he did save $2.42.

Don’t be a Bozo. E-File (and you don’t have to worry at all about the Post Office), or spend the $3.60! And you can go all out and spend $2.85 and get a return receipt, too (though you can now track certified mail online). For another $1.75, you can get the postal service to e-mail the confirmation that the IRS got the return (for the OCD in the crowd). There’s a reason every client letter notes, “using certified mail, return receipt requested.”

Bozo Tax Tip #5: Procrastinate!

May 10th, 2021

Today is May 10th. The tax deadline is just seven days away.

What happens if you wake up and it’s May 17, 2021, and you can’t file your tax? File an extension. Download Form 4868, make an estimate of what you owe, pay that, and mail the voucher and check to the address noted for your state. Use certified mail, return receipt, of course. And don’t forget your state income tax. Some states have automatic extensions (California does), some don’t (Pennsylvania is one of those), while others have deadlines that don’t match the federal tax deadline (Hawaii state taxes were due on April 20th, for example). Automatic extensions are of time to file, not pay, so download the extension form and mail off a payment to your state, too. If you mail your extension, make sure you mail it certified mail, return receipt requested. (You can do that from most Automated Postal Centers, too.)

By the way, I strongly suggest you electronically file the extension. The IRS will happily take your extension electronically; many (but not all) states will, too.

But what do you do if you wait until May 18th? Well, get your paperwork together so you can file as quickly as possible and avoid even more penalties. Penalties escalate, so unless you want 25% penalties, get everything ready and see your tax professional next week. He’ll have time for you, and you can leisurely complete your return and only pay one week of interest, one month of the Failure to Pay penalty (0.5% of the tax due), and one month of the Failure to File Penalty (5% of the tax due).

There is a silver lining in all of this. If you are owed a refund and haven’t filed, you will likely receive interest from the IRS. Yes, interest works both ways: The IRS must pay interest on late-filed returns owed refunds. Just one note about that: The interest is taxable.

Bozo Tax Tip #6: Use a Bozo Tax Professional!

May 7th, 2021

Here’s another Bozo Tax Tip that keeps coming around. The problem is, the Bozos don’t change their stripes. In any case, here are some signs your accountant might be a Bozo:

– He’s never met a deduction that doesn’t fit everyone. There’s no reason why a renter can’t take a mortgage interest deduction, right? And everyone’s entitled to $20,000 of employee business expenses…even if their salary is just $40,000 a year. Ask the proprietors of Western Tax Service about that.

– He believes that the income tax is voluntary. After all, we live in a democracy, so we don’t have to pay taxes, right?

– Besides preparing tax returns, he sells courses on why the Income Tax is Unconstitutional or how by filing the magical $2,295 papers he sells you will be able to avoid the income tax.

– He wants you to sign over that tax refund to him. After all, he’ll make sure you get your share of it after he takes out his 50% of the refund.

– He believes every return needs at least three dependents, no matter whether you have any children or not.

If your tax professional exhibits any of these behaviors, it’s time to get a new tax professional.

Bozo Tax Tip #7: Use a Foreign Trust to Avoid Taxes!

May 6th, 2021

By far the worst tax schemes in the view of the IRS are offshore (foreign) trusts. In fact, trusts of all sorts—domestic and foreign—are regularly abused.

First, not all trusts are bad. Many trusts serve a legitimate purpose, such as family trusts. (Family trusts are a device to avoid probate, and are used in many states. For tax purposes, these revocable trusts are ignored.) Survivors’ trusts are another useful vehicle. Grantor trusts, another asset protection vehicle, are useful. Special Needs Trusts are extremely useful. There are plenty of ‘good’ trusts.

But trusts set up to avoid income tax are abusive, and very much Bozo-like. Individuals and businesses have spent thousands of dollars trying to avoid taxes (in some cases, mid five-figure amounts)…and many times these tax structures have been challenged successfully by the IRS.

And those are the domestic trusts.

The foreign trusts are worse. These are usually organized just to avoid taxes and hide money. If you look at Schedule B on your tax return you’ll see that you are supposed to report your foreign trusts. They work great until the IRS finds out about them. Yes, you have to report moving money into them.

But I’m smarter than the IRS, and they’ll never catch my trust set up in Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, or the Isle of Man. Well, you will spend thousands to set up your trust, and if the IRS does catch on–and in these days where governments are exchanging tax information, this can (and does) happen–your foreign trust will have served only one purpose: It will have enriched the promoters who set it up.

Remember: If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. A trust set up to evade taxes is just that.

Bozo Tax Tip #8: The Shell

May 5th, 2021

I was talking with a friend who is an attorney in the Midwest. She told me about an individual who decided to use ten layers of shell companies to hide his income. It worked so well that the Bozo had trouble accessing his income.

He was using the usual foreign shelter countries: the Cayman Islands (in the Caribbean), the Channel Islands (in the English Channel), the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea), and Vanuatu (in the South Pacific). There was a land-based country in there, too: Panama. In any case, somehow the ownership got so messed up that one of the shells refused to deal with another.

My friend didn’t get involved to get the money situation resolved. No, she got involved because her client ended up going through a messy divorce, and her client’s now ex-wife happen to find one of the papers dealing with one of the shells companies. My friend’s a divorce attorney, and a good one, and she was able, with some help, find a lot of the hidden money. The judge was not as amused as I was hearing about the difficulties the man was having getting his money out. And neither was the IRS because he had “forgotten” to pay tax on a lot of income.


There are lots of good strategies for businesses to use to lower their taxes. Income balancing to C corporations can be a good strategy. Maximizing Section 179 depreciation is another. Retirement Accounts are another good strategy. There are many, many others. But hiding income in foreign jurisdictions is a very bad one, and if you get caught you are likely looking at a lengthy term at ClubFed.

Bozo Tax Tip #9: Nevada Corporations

May 4th, 2021

As we continue with our Bozo Tax Tips–things you absolutely, positively shouldn’t do but somewhere someone will try anyway–it’s time for an old favorite. Given the business and regulatory climate in California, lots of businesses are trying to escape taxes by becoming a Nevada business entity. While I’m focusing on California and Nevada, the principle applies to any pair of states.

Nevada is doing everything it can to draw businesses from California. Frankly, California is doing a lot to draw businesses away from the Bronze Golden State. But just like last year you need to beware if you’re going to incorporate in Nevada.

If the corporation operates in California it will need to file a California tax return. Period. It doesn’t matter if the corporation is a California corporation, a Delaware corporation, or a Nevada corporation.

Now, if you’re planning on moving to Nevada forming a business entity in the Silver State can be a very good idea (as I know). But thinking you’re going to avoid California taxes just because you’re a Nevada entity is, well, bozo.

Bozo Tax Tip #10: Email Your Social Security Number!

May 3rd, 2021

It’s time for our annual rundown of Bozo Tax Tips, strategies that you really, really, really shouldn’t try. But somewhere, somehow, someone will try these. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

This is a repeat for the eighth year in a row, but it’s one that bears repeating. Unfortunately, the problem of identity theft has burgeoned, and while the IRS’s response has improved, that’s just an improvement from awful to mediocre.

I have some clients who are incredibly smart. They make me look stupid (and I’m not). Yet a few of these otherwise intelligent individuals persist in Bozo behavior: They consistently send me their tax documents by email.

Seriously, use common sense! Would you post your social security number on a billboard? That’s what you’re doing when you email your social security number.

We use a web portal for secure loading and unloading of documents and secure communications to our clients. As I tell my clients, email is fast but it’s not secure. It’s fine to email your tax professional things that are not confidential. That said, social security numbers and most income information is quite confidential. Don’t send those through email unless you want to be an identity theft victim or want others to know how much money you make!

If I send an email to my mother, it might go in a straight line to her. It also might go via Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga. At any one of these stops it could be intercepted and looked at by someone else. Would you post your social security number on a billboard in your community? If you wouldn’t, and I assume none of you would, why would you ever email anything with your social security number?

A friend told me, “Well, I’m not emailing my social, I’m just attaching my W-2 to the email.” An attachment is just as likely to be read as an email. Just say no to emailing your social security number.

If you’re not Internet savvy, hand the documents to your tax professional or use the postal service, FedEx, or UPS to deliver the documents, or fax the documents. (If you fax, make sure your tax professional has a secure fax machine.) If you like using the Internet to submit your tax documents, make sure your tax professional offers you a secure means to do so. It might be called a web portal, a file transfer service, or perhaps something else. The name isn’t as important as the concept.

Unfortunately, the IRS’s ability to handle identity theft is, according to the National Taxpayer Advocate, poor. So don’t add to the problem—communicate in a secure fashion to your tax professional.