It Was the Sisterly Thing To Do

March 1st, 2015

Three Wisconsin sisters allegedly decided that tax fraud and identity theft should stay in the family. They’ve been accused of filing 2,000 phony returns by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

The Staten sisters (Sharon, Tawanda, and Angela) face 22, 28, and 40 felony charges respectively. It appears the investigation began when Angela and an alleged accomplice, Anthony Coleman, were arrested at a traffic stop in East Troy, Wisconsin. The police found a fake income tax return along with other related evidence and forwarded that information to the Department of Revenue.

As to the scheme itself, it appears to be identity theft on a fairly large scale. With the help of accomplices, the sisters used the names of prison inmates to allegedly file the phony returns. While the DOR did stop many of the returns from being processed, the sisters allegedly took the department for $234,390. It’s a certainty that if the Wisconsin allegations are true that they took the IRS for more than that. The returns appeared to have been filed mainly with TurboTax.

At least one of the sisters is in prison with bail being set at $10,000. It’s quite probable that if that traffic stop hadn’t happened the sisters (if the allegations are true) would still be trying to fleece Wisconsin and the IRS.

Correctly Dealing with Tip Income

March 1st, 2015

Las Vegas is full of service workers, of course. With many of the world’s largest hotels and casinos in Sin City, there’s an army of workers to man the facilities. Last week, the Tax Court looked at a bartender that the IRS thought had unreported tip income. The bartender contended the IRS was drinking something. Who was right?

The petitioner did a lot of things right. He reported his tips to his employer, and they were included on his W-2. (The petitioner opted out of an automatic tip compliance program.) He kept meticulous records.

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

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

As I tell my clients, document, document, and document some more and you usually will do well if you’re audited. The bartender wasn’t drinking but the IRS was.

Joe Kristan has more.

Case: Sabolic v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2015-32

10 = 2500 ?

February 25th, 2015

Of course ten doesn’t equal 2,500. However, in the brave new world of the United States Postal Service it does. On Monday, I mailed a Tax Organizer to a client here in Las Vegas; she’s about ten miles from where I am. I also mailed a completed tax return to a client in South Carolina. Both will be received today.

About one year ago the Postal Service noted their plans of slowing down first class mail delivery as a tool to save money. These have apparently now gone into full effect. Anything that isn’t a parcel (or Priority Mail) is being slowed down by one day. Mail that in the past would take one day to go from Summerlin to Henderson (two areas of Las Vegas) now takes two days. My Priority Mail package to Columbia, South Carolina takes the same two days.

This is just something to realize when you mail a letter (to your tax professional or anyone else); it may take a bit longer to get where it’s going. However, when you mail something to the IRS or a state tax agency, it’s the date of postmark that counts so while the slowdown will impact when your payment posts it does not impact the timeliness of the payment.

Taxes Impacting the Giants

February 24th, 2015

The San Francisco Giants have been one of baseball’s more successful teams; they’re the current world champions. But they haven’t been as freewheeling in spending money as other teams. Their General Manager blames California taxes.

The top tax rate for California is 13.3%, and it kicks in at $1 million of income. As you can imagine, most major league baseball players earn far more than that. In an interview with Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, GM Brian Sabean stated:

“To entice a free agent to come to San Francisco, we’re almost in an overpay situation, so why get involved in all those battles where you’re not going to be able to go up the totem pole money-wise?” Sabean said.

When asked to elaborate on why the Giants have to overpay, Sabean said, “You’ve got the state of California taxes.” …Asked if the high California income tax has been a problem for a while, Sabean said, “To a certain extent. Things now are getting more and more about the signing bonus, more and more about your take-home. Exponentially, when you get involved in some of those numbers, it makes a sizable difference to some.”

There’s an obvious implication here: the big spending Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have inflated their salaries to cover high state taxes. Jon Lester, this year’s biggest free agent signee, ended up with the Chicago Cubs. Illinois’ income tax is now down to 3.75%; that’s a lot lower than California. This may be good news for Cubs fans like me.

“Ripping Off Your Refunds” In the Miami Herald

February 22nd, 2015

There is an excellent article in the Miami Herald on the identity theft tax fraud crisis. The epicenter of this is South Florida (as noted in the article). I don’t have much to add to the frustrations of victims with the IRS’s conduct in these cases. One quote:

“The IRS call center person acted as if we were the ones who had done something wrong.”

Solely a Way to Go to ClubFed

February 22nd, 2015

Until I became a tax professional I had never heard of a “Corporation Sole.” It’s a legal entity consisting of a single incorporated office, occupied by a single person. It’s a corporate structure used mainly for religions organizations so that office holders can have a successor for their office.

When used for a religious organization, a corporation sole doesn’t pay taxes. It has nothing to do with the corporation sole and everything to do with the fact that a church is a charitable (501(c)(3)) organization that generally doesn’t pay tax. Used properly, a corporation sole is a useful vehicle for churches.

Of course, where you and I wouldn’t go the bozo tax element quickly moves. Even though the IRS has warned about corporation soles since 2004, promoters still tried to sell the snake oil to the gullible. One such entity was Trioid International Group Inc. Trioid, here in nearby Henderson, currently markets itself as a company specializing in being a Nevada registered agent and will help individuals set up a Nevada corporation. That seems like a good, legal business (and it likely is).

However, a visit to the Internet wayback machine gives a very different picture of Trioid. Trioid was actively marketing corporation soles in 2005, and had this description of them:

Common law corporation soles are excluded from filing tax returns of any kind under a mandatory exception in the Internal Revenue Code pursuant United States Code, Title 26 §508(c)(1)(A) and there are no record keeping requirements which may be imposed by any taxing or revenue authority. Corporation soles are not required to make any application for this exclusion or exception and are not required to qualify under §501 (c)(3) as a “church”. In other words, the sole exists due to your natural right to freedom of belief and as such, there is no law respecting its establishment or operation which may impair it, including taxation. To tax the overseer is to tax the sole. The tax Code exception provides the corporation sole with the status of “nontaxpayer” in contradistinction to “taxpayer”. The federal courts have ruled that Congress makes no tax laws that apply to nontaxpayers!

The above paragraph is basically out-and-out tax fraud.

Helpfully to prosecutors, the names of the two individuals behind Trioid were in plain view on the web pages: Gerrit Timmerman and Carol Sing. They were indicted back in 2013 and were convicted on Friday of conspiracy to defraud the United States related to their promotion of a tax fraud scheme. They’ll likely get some time at ClubFed to think about what they did.

As always, the usual warning applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you use a corporation sole as a vehicle to avoid taxes, you’re heading down a road that leads to ClubFed.

Oops Gets Bigger

February 20th, 2015

Or, first California, now the United States.

Last week I reported on Cover California’s error impacting an estimated 100,000 individuals who received incorrect Form 1095-A’s. It turns out that was just the tip of the iceberg. As reported by AP:

About 800,000 HealthCare.gov customers got the wrong tax information from the government, the Obama administration said Friday, and officials are asking those affected to delay filing their 2014 returns.

This represents one-fifth of the Form 1095-A’s sent out by the federal exchange. That means there are a lot of people who can’t correctly file taxes until the corrected 1095-A’s are sent out. That should hapen in a couple of weeks but there’s an issue that’s implicit in the AP story: The government isn’t sure how the error happened. If that’s the case there’s an obvious question; how do you know that the ‘corrected’ 1095-A’s are correct?

Given that the majority of Americans would like to see ObamaCare go to the scrap heap, I’m sure these new revelations will inspire more confidence in the law. Given further that it is also quite likely that the majority of those who received subsidies for health care will have to repay some to all of the subsidy on their tax returns, I’m sure even more people will embrace ObamaCare….

Oops

February 16th, 2015

This past weekend I saw my first Form 1095-A. That’s the form that individuals covered by health insurance through a plan form an exchange will receive. In California, 800,000 of these were mailed. Unfortunately, 100,000 of these were wrong. Oops.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Covered California sent out the wrong forms:

Covered California said it sent incorrect information on some forms because its customer data didn’t match what health plans had on file.

For instance, there may have been a discrepancy for the person’s length of coverage in 2014 and amount of subsidy received.

Amy Palmer, an exchange spokeswoman, said the agency is reconciling that information and sending revised forms to the affected customers by later this month.

There’s another major issue here: No one knows which of the forms are correct until Covered California completes its review of all of the accounts. Heh, there’s only a 12.5% chance that any specific 1095-A is wrong….

And let’s give a huge demerit to Covered California’s webpages. One would think that if there’s a mistake impacting 12.5% of customers you would publicize it. That’s especially the case when this is a mistake that impacts these individuals when they file their tax returns. However, Covered California’s main webpage and its 1095-A page are both silent about this error.

No wonder customer dissatisfaction with ObamaCare remains high, and this is before many individuals discover that they’ll owe money on the advanced credits they received.

IRS Announces Small Business Relief for Form 3115 (Property Regulation Issue)

February 13th, 2015

The IRS apparently figured out that under a literal reading of the new property/capitalization/depreciation regulations, every business would have to submit a Form 3115. The IRS determined that being buried under a tsunami of paper wasn’t a great idea. Today, the IRS announced in Revenue Procedure 2015-20 that a business which has under $10 million of average sales (for the last three years) or less than $10 million of assets (as of the beginning of their 2014 tax year) can use a simplified method for complying with the new property regulations.

I’ve done a quick read of the new Revenue Procedure. What I suspect we will have to do is attach a statement stating that the taxpayer is an eligible taxpayer under Revenue Procedure 2015-20, and has elected to follow this Revenue Procedure to come into compliance with the regulations. This will be far easier and far more palatable to most of my clients.

A Bipartisan Tax Bill? I’ll Drink to That!

February 11th, 2015

There hasn’t been much bipartisanship on Capitol Hill recently. But there is a piece of legislation that is being proposed by both Democrats and Republicans. It’s to end age discrimination against bourbon and whiskey.

You didn’t know that there was such discrimination? Well, it’s not at the liquor store; rather, it’s in the Tax Code. One of the fundamentals of accounting is to match expenses against revenue. The problem for bourbon and whiskey is that it must age, so the expenses must wait until the product is sold. As this article from the Louisville Courier-Journal notes, a bipartisan group of Kentucky and Tennessee Congressmen would like to change that. They would like bourbon and whiskey producers to be able to take their expenses as incurred.

We’ll have to wait and see if this measure gains any traction in Congress. If it does, bourbon producers will certainly be drinking up for the success.