The TurboTax Defense Fails Again

A gentleman who is normally an expert witness in trials used TurboTax to prepare his returns. His returns ere reviewed by the IRS; the IRS claimed he took a few too many deductions. The taxpayer felt otherwise, and the dispute ended up in Tax Court. Judge Holmes wrote the opinion, so it’s very readable.

The first issue was alimony payments. Alimony is deductible for the payor but taxable to the recipient. However, one of the requirements is that there be a written order. The taxpayer and his ex-wife had an oral modification of the agreement. That may work for getting the ex-wife more money, but it fails for deducting those extra payments.

The second issue was interest. Interest that’s part of a business can be deducted, but you do have to show you made payments and those payments were interest and not principal. I’ll let Judge Holmes take this:

The evidence does show [he] made payments to his lender, but the amounts do not match those that he claimed on his tax returns, and he did not explain this discrepancy at trial. [He] also did not provide us with any business records regarding the loan, any loan statements, or any loan-repayment schedules. Without this type of documentation we are unable to tell whether these payments were made on the original 2007 loan. Remember that the note for that loan says it should have been paid in full by October 2008. We understand that it might have been his plan to pay the note with proceeds from the sale of his home, and that that sale didn’t happen. The problem is that we can’t figure out what happened to the note–was it refinanced? Was it extended? Without any paperwork (in a situation where there should have been lots of paperwork) we are left only with his testimony about the total amounts of the payments and the allocation of those payments between principal and interest. We do not find his testimony credible on this issue, and so sustain the Commissioner’s determination.

As I tell my clients, document, document, document (and save those records). A paper trail is a very good thing to have when you get to Tax Court.

The third issue was an apparent Net Operating Loss (NOL) carryforward.

A taxpayer substantiates his claim to such a deduction by filing with his return “a concise statement setting forth the amount of the net operating loss deduction claimed and all material and pertinent facts relative thereto, including a detailed schedule showing the computation of the net operating loss deduction.” During trial he did turn in a tax return for a previous year (though not the one that generated the net operating loss), but even with his testimony, that is not enough to substantiate his entitlement to a loss carryforward.

The taxpayer also received an accuracy-related penalty.

The burden then swings to [him] to show that his mistakes were reasonable and in good faith. See sec. 6664(c)(1). He cannot. He admitted during trial that he deducted items he shouldn’t have, and that he overstated certain losses. He tried to blame TurboTax for his mistakes, but “[t]ax preparation software is only as good as the information one inputs into it.” [citation omitted]

If your tax return has only W-2 income and, say, mortgage interest and property tax, TurboTax will likely do an excellent job. If you have a divroce settlement with a restatement of the amount of alimony due, interest tracing, and a Net Operating Loss carryforward, it might pay to get some expert help.


Case: Bulakites v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2017-79

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