The 14th Time Wasn’t the Charm

November 24th, 2015

For most of us the saying “If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again,” is good advice. However, it’s not good to try to deduct personal expenses as business expenses on your tax return. It’s an especially bad idea to then try justifying that at Tax Court repeatedly. Of course, that happened today.

Petitioners are no strangers to this Court. This case constitutes, at the minimum, their 14th case, involving at least one of petitioners, spanning almost 30 taxable years from 1981 to 2010. Most recently they litigated the consolidated cases at docket Nos. 16195-12S, 26201-12S, and 1070-13S, which were decided by this Court’s T.C. Summary Opinion 2014-105. Those cases, like this one, addressed similar continuing issues arising primarily from petitioners’ efforts to substantiate and deduct expenses which they attribute to Mr. Boring’s Schedule C sole proprietorship d.b.a. Rambor Technology (Rambor) or his partnership Board Automation. The substantive tax disputes emanate from petitioners’ misunderstanding of the terms “ordinary” and “necessary” as used in defining deductible business expenses pursuant to section 162 and the interrelationship of that section with section 262, defining nondeductible personal expenses. [footnotes omitted]

The issues in this case were deducting expenses without backup, including what appear to be numerous personal expenses. In order to deduct business expenses, they must be both ordinary and necessary for the business.

An expense is ordinary for purposes of this section if it is normal or customary within a particular trade, business, or industry…An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful for the development of the business…Section 262, in contrast, generally precludes deduction of “personal, living, or family expenses.”

The breadth of section 162(a) is tempered by the requirement that any amount reported as a business expense must be substantiated, and taxpayers are required to maintain records sufficient therefor.[citations omitted]

Put simply, almost all of the expenses that were deducted on the return were either nondeductible personal expenses or had no substantiation.

The Court goes through great detail in this case. The reason is that the Court doesn’t want to hear the 15th case dealing with the same issues.

We warn petitioners, however, that their conduct is in material noncompliance with Federal tax law. Our opinions here and in T.C. Summary Opinion 2014-105 are tailored to explain what the law requires. Petitioners have been fairly warned; consequently, any further conduct in the same vein as that considered here and in our previous cases addressing their tax liabilities and tax payments may well, under present law, result in the application of a section 6673 penalty in an amount of up to $25,000.

Section 6673 is the penalty for filing a frivolous Tax Court case. The Court ruled that the case wasn’t entirely frivolous because of one issue. On the tax return, the petitioners took the home office deduction (including mortgage interest). That deduction was denied, but the mortgage interest taken on the home office deduction should have been moved to be an itemized deduction on Schedule A. If not for that, the petitioners might not only owe the tax, penalties (they were hit with the accuracy-related penalty), and interest, but the frivolous penalty too. They somehow avoided the late filing penalty (this was noted in a footnote on the return), so they should consider themselves lucky.

Case: Boring v. Commissioner, T.C. Summary Opinion 2015-68

IRS Increases De Minimis Expense Threshold to $2,500 from $500 for 2016 Onward

November 24th, 2015

The IRS today announced that the de minimis expense threshhold for small taxpayers (which is the vast majority of all taxpayers) to $2,500 from $500 for tax years 2016 onward. Note that this does not apply for 2015 returns filed in 2016. This move will allow taxpayers to expense many items that currently must be depreciated.

The IRS announcement notes that this will simplify taxes for small businesses.

The change affects businesses that do not maintain an applicable financial statement (audited financial statement). It applies to amounts spent to acquire, produce or improve tangible property that would normally qualify as a capital item.

The new $2,500 threshold applies to any such item substantiated by an invoice. As a result, small businesses will be able to immediately deduct many expenditures that would otherwise need to be spread over a period of years through annual depreciation deductions.

“We received many thoughtful comments from taxpayers, their representatives and the professional tax community, said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “This important step simplifies taxes for small businesses, easing the recordkeeping and paperwork burden on small business owners and their tax preparers.“

Do note that you do need to keep a receipt (or other proof) of the expense.

The Turf Monster Striketh

November 20th, 2015

Every so often the turf monster trips a player in a football or baseball game. Here’s one example:

This post deals with a very different kind of turf monster. Back in September I wrote about Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District issuing “rebates” to homeowners for replacing lawns (turf) with xeriscapes. It’s clear that such “rebates” are taxable for federal tax purposes. (California law specifically exempts such “rebates” for California tax purposes.)

Apparently, the Electric and Gas Industries Association (EGIA), which ran the program for the MWD, just discovered this. A correspondent sent me an email he received:

Dear Soon to be Taxed Homeowner:
Our records indicate that you received a rebate that exceeded $600 from SoCal Water$mart in 2015. In order to comply with Internal Revenue Service requirements you must complete and sign a W-9 form with your Social Security number or Tax ID. This form is available within the online application, and may be accessed by logging into your online account at and editing the application with the required tax information changes. The name on the W-9 form submitted for review must match the name that was on the rebate check…

Please log back into your online account at, download and complete the W-9 form and upload the completed form back into the application. The W-9 will be reviewed, and a 1099 will be issued to you for tax and accounting purposes. If you have any concerns regarding whether your rebate is considered taxable income, please contact a qualified tax professional.

There are two obvious implications of this. First, the EGIA realizes that they must issue 1099s to any impacted taxpayers. It’s another case of substance over form: These may be called “rebates” but they’re really an economic incentive to remove turf and replace it with something else. And that results in what is clearly taxable income.

Second, there will probably be an issue with some taxpayers ignoring the email. The email notes that you’re going to be issued tax paperwork; how many taxpayers will want that? Of course, whether or not the 1099 is received does not change that the income is taxable (it is). Still, I suspect EGIA will have quite a bit of work on their hands to obtain all the taxpayer identification numbers.

UPDATE: My correspondent told me that the EGIA is requesting that impacted taxpayers email their taxpayer identification numbers to the agency. If you are an impacted taxpayer, do not do this. Email is fast but it is not secure. EGIA is allowing you to mail the Form W-9 to the agency; that is a far more secure means of transmitting your social security number.

To the EGIA, what were you thinking in these days of identity theft?

Update on the Future of Daily Fantasy Sports

November 19th, 2015

So far, I’ve been accurate on my predictions. Back in February 2014 I wrote,

Unfortunately, many states look at just an element of chance to determine if something is gambling. And there’s no doubt that daily fantasy sports have such an element. The problem is that these sites are starting to bring in large dollars. That attracts attention, and some state attorney general is going to wonder the same thing that I am. He or she will conclude that the Duck Test applies and that these are gambling sites in violation of his or her state’s laws. [emphasis in original]

Last month I wrote,

I expect DFS to follow two different paths in the majority of states. Some states will simply declare it as gambling, making it effectively illegal in those states. Other states will tacitly declare it as gambling but allow regulation of the activity. There will be a minority of states that allow DFS to continue as an unregulated activity. Where one month ago you could play DFS in 45 of the 50 states, that number is down to 42 to 44 states (depending on the DFS site). I expect that number to continue to fall.

Events have moved faster than I thought they would. The New York Attorney General declared DFS to be gambling, and has asked a court for an injunction. One of the two major sites, FanDuel, has stopped offering contests for New Yorkers. The hearing will be next Wednesday. The Massachusetts Attorney General has proposed regulations.

As for New York, I think FanDuel is operating far wiser than DraftKings. DraftKings is still allowing New York residents to play on the site. Given that there is a non-zero chance that the company will find it outself ordered to stop, and that operating in violation of state law would be a predicate offense for possible federal charges, I think DraftKings is making the wrong decision. (I will point out again that I am not an attorney, and nothing I’m writing should be construed as legal advice.) If you ask me the most likely result of the New York Attorney General’s action, it’s that the sites will find themselves enjoined from serving New York customers. This isn’t a certainty, but if you’re going to place a bet on the results that’s the favored side.

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.

DFS proponents need to remember that a regulator’s first instinct when confronted with something new is to ban it. Add that to the fact that DFS is legal by way of a loophole (in the view of regulators) and you get a strong inclination for them to end DFS.

That’s the most likely outcome. However, there is still the chance that DFS could end completely. There are federal investigations of the sites which could, if indictments result, end the industry.

This is a fascinating story–and the greed of the sites has sped up the story line. It was inevitable that DFS would attract scrutiny. The pace of that scrutiny sped up because the sites went overboard in their advertising and had very poor visuals. We’ll all be able to see the future of this product unfold in the next few weeks.

Yo No Hablo Ni Leo Español

November 18th, 2015

Yes, Spanish is not one of my languages. Luckily for me, computer translators exist. Unluckily for one of my clients, he received an IRS notice in Spanish…when he doesn’t read or speak Spanish.

This is more humorous than anything else (errors do occur), but somehow my client has been apparently tagged by the all-knowing and all-seeing IRS computer as Spanish speaking or reading. Neither of us could figure out why, but with the help of the IRS Practitioner Priority Service we figured out that the notice was innocuous. Hopefully, the IRS computer will change his language of choice back to English.

IRSAC Report Has Hits and Errors

November 18th, 2015

The Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council (IRSAC) issued its annual report today. I agree with some of the recommendations but strongly disagree with others.

IRSAC laments IRS funding. While I agree it would be nice to have the IRS fully funded, the problem was caused by the IRS (and especially Chairman Koskinen) and the IRS scandal. Until the IRS comes clean, Republicans in Congress rightly will not allow full funding. The IRS scandal is not noted in the report, but that’s the cause of the problem. Is IRSAC right? Yes, but their complaints will fall on deaf ears.

IRSAC commits an error when they advocate the IRS be granted statutory authority to regulate tax professionals (return preparers). IRSAC is absolutely correct that congressional action is needed for the IRS to have the authority to regulate tax professionals. IRSAC is, however, silent on the current tools available against unscrupulous preparers. The law of supply and demand applies to tax preparation (just like anything else); if tax preparation is regulated, the supply will decrease and prices will increase. It won’t hurt me (I’m already a licensed professional) but it will hurt numerous “mom and pop” preparers and their clients. It will disproportionately help the large tax chains.

IRSAC hits it out of the park on some of their recommendations. I agree with their comments on IRS online applications (which are generally excellent), authentication of 1040 forms, and improving penalty administration.

Even where I disagree with IRSAC I want to commend them for the report. It’s a thorough analysis of a host of issues (some of which are out of my purview), and their recommendations–even those I disagree with–should be analyzed.

Yes, Two States Rank Lower than California

November 17th, 2015

It’s not all bad news in the Tax Foundation’s 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index for California. You could always be in New York or New Jersey. Still, it’s better to be elsewhere.

Two excerpts from the article note why states rank at the top of the list or at the bottom:

The absence of a major tax is a common factor among many of the top ten states. Property taxes and unemployment insurance taxes are levied in every state, but there are several states that do without one or more of the major taxes: the corporate income tax, the individual income tax, or the sales tax. Wyoming, Nevada, South Dakota, and Texas have no corporate or individual income tax (though Nevada and Texas both impose gross receipts taxes); Alaska has no individual income or state-level sales tax; Florida has no individual income tax; and New Hampshire and Montana have no sales tax…

The states in the bottom 10 tend to have a number of afflictions in common: complex, non-neutral taxes with comparatively high rates. New Jersey, for example, is hampered by some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, is one of just two states to levy both an inheritance tax and an estate tax, and maintains some of the worst-structured individual income taxes in the country.

So who are the winners and the losers? Here are the top ten states:

1. Wyoming
2. South Dakota
3. Alaska
4. Florida
5. Nevada
6. Montana
7. New Hampshire
8. Indiana
9. Utah
10. Texas

Here are the bottom ten states:

41. Maryland
42. Ohio
43. Wisconsin
44. Connecticut
45. Rhode Island
46. Vermont
47. Minnesota
48. California
49. New York
50. New Jersey

My home state, Nevada, does very well (ranking fifth overall). It ranks first in individual income tax (there isn’t one), fourth in corporate tax (there is no a gross receipts tax on businesses, but only large businesses and the tax rate is low), seventh in property tax, but 39th in sales tax and 42nd in unemployment insurance tax.

Note that it is possible to have every major tax and still rank highly (Indiana and Utah manage that) if the taxes are broad with low rates. Of course, you can be like New Jersey, New York, and California: have broad taxes at high rates. If you do that, you end up on the bottom.

I should point out that it is possible that New York will rise in the rankings. As the Tax Foundation noted, New York enacted corporate tax reform which should improve its standing. Meanwhile, California is apparently considering more and higher taxes for the future. That, combined with the regulatory environment in the Bronze Golden State, should give legislators pause…but probably won’t.

Wrong Font Size Costs 30 Employees Their Jobs in Chico, California

November 17th, 2015

I had never heard of Woof & Poof. The company makes handcrafted baby products, but apparently not for long in their home of Chico, California. According to this news story, the company is stopping production.

Why? The CEO, Roger Hart, said, “The high cost of doing business in California coupled with ridiculous regulatory environment makes it virtually impossible to do business.” The news story contains the following:

A recent visit by an inspector with the Department of Consumer Affairs set the company back. The inspector from Sacramento cited him for having the wrong size font on the decorative pillow labels. He was told to take the labels out, or they would have his inventory seized.

My next story (above) notes California’s low standing on the 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index. California’s standing in the regulatory realm is even lower.

Don’t Go to Lawrence Siegel to Have Your Taxes Done

November 15th, 2015

There are good tax preparers, bad tax preparers, and then there’s Lawrence Seigel. Mr. Siegel, who resigned from the California bar in 1994 and lost his CPA license in 1997 after being convicted of tax evasion (among other crimes) also faces a 20-count criminal complaint “…charging him with Medi-Cal fraud, grand theft, forgery, identity theft, financial dependent adult abuse and tax evasion.” The US Department of Justice filed a civil action against him, and he was a no-show for the court date last Monday.

As for what Mr. Siegel is alleged to have done, he supposedly has impersonated California attorneys, used multiple aliases, and proposed tax fraud schemes. From the DOJ press release:

Siegel falsely advised his customers, typically high earners who own profitable businesses, that they can establish companies in another state, usually Nevada, then treat their California home as an out-of-state corporate office. Siegel claimed that doing so would transform a vast array of non-deductible personal expenses into tax deductible business expenses, according to the complaint. The complaint details how Siegel boasted about this tax fraud scheme in e-mails, including one where Siegel 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.”

Well, housing can be expensive in California. That said, personal expenses aren’t deductible.

For example, the complaint states that Siegel deducted on one couple’s tax returns purchases at Tiffany & Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Louis Vuitton and Princess Cruise Lines. Siegel allegedly attempted to conceal these fraudulent deductions from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by lumping them together and reporting them as large expenses for “supplies” or “medical records and supplies.”

It’s great if you can get away with it. Mr. Siegel appears to be lucky to have escaped a federal indictment, given that he is also accused of providing false documents to the IRS and lying to IRS officials. In any case, Mr. Siegel, if found, faces trial in California on that criminal complaint.

As a reminder, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. No, you can’t deduct personal expenses if you run them through a corporation. And while I wish I could take a deduction for the cruise to New Zealand and Australia that I took last year, I also know the law–and you just can’t do that.

Colorado Voters to Get the Chance to Add 10% Payroll Tax for Single-Payer Health Insurance

November 15th, 2015

Colorado voters will get the chance to add a 10% payroll tax next year to fund universal health insurance. The 10% payroll tax–which is on top of all other federal and state taxes–would be on employees pay. Self-employed individuals would owe 10% of their net income (presumably their Schedule C income).

Of course, one has to wonder if Colorado voters will approve a plan to tax themselves in this manner. Proponents say that, “ColoradoCare would slash administrative costs of private insurance and negotiate bulk rates for pharmaceuticals.” Really? The government will be more efficient than private industry? Let’s just say I have my doubts.

In any case, I suspect that voters will look at a 10% tax increase and say, “You must be kidding.” This will certainly drive anti-tax voters to the polls next year.