Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

Should I Violate Federal Law or State Law?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Suppose you have a federal license to perform your occupation in your state of residence. That license allowed you to do [whatever it is you do] anywhere in the United States. Now, further suppose your state legislature passed a law specifically overriding that license, and, in fact, making some of [whatever it is you do] illegal under state law. And further suppose that if you obey that new state law you would be violating federal law as you would not be performing [whatever it is you do] properly under federal law. No state legislature could be that stupid uninformed, right?

One should never take a bet against legislatures doing dumb things, and the actions over the past fifteen months of the Nevada legislature demonstrate that. In 2017 the Nevada Legislature passed AB 324 that amended NRS (Nevada Revised Statutes) Chapter 240A; that reclassified Enrolled Agents (what my federal license is) as people who performed “Document preparation services.” We would have to register with the Nevada Secretary of State, post a surety bond, and we would not be able to negotiate with anyone else or communicate to anyone else the position of a client; if we did so, we would be subject to penalties including possible imprisonment. Hmmm, might an Enrolled Agent need to negotiate on behalf of clients with tax agencies such as the IRS and collect confidential information?

The Nevada Society of Enrolled Agents (NVSEA) filed a lawsuit, and in November 2017 had a temporary injunction placed on enforcement of the law. Last month the court heard arguments, and the ruling came out on August 16th.

The Court finds, that as a result of the amendments made to Chapter 240A by AB 324, Nevada Enrolled Agents cannot comply with both federal and state law. Under federal regulations, Nevada Enrolled Agents must provide competent tax advice, must assist clients in preparing accurate tax returns and other forms, must collect documentation which supports a client’s position and must competently and diligently represent taxpayer clients in proceedings before the IRS. Under Chapter 240A as amended, Enrolled Agents in Nevada are prohibited from performing these duties and face civil and criminal liability for violations of the state law.

The Court went on to note why the law is unconstitutional:

This Court finds that Chapter 240A…hinders and obstructs the free use of the Enrolled Agents’ license to practice before the IRS…Pursuant to NRS 240A.240(5), Enrolled Agents are no longer able to “negotiate with another person concerning the rights or responsibilities of a client, communicate the position of a client to another person or convey the position of another person to a client.” This contradicts Section 10.2(4) of Circular 230, which allows agents to “correspond[] and communicat[e] wit hthe Internal Revenue Service” and engage in “matters connected with a presentation to the Internal Revenue Service or any of its officers or employees relating to a taxpayer’s rights, privileges, or liabilities.” The amended law also prohibits an Enrolled Agent from “appear[ing] on behalf of a client in a court proceeding or other formal adjudicative proceeding….” NRS 240A.240(6). This provision conflicts with Section 10.2 of Circular 230, which allows agents to “represent[] a client at conferences, hearings, and meetings.” The amended law prohibits Enrolled Agents from providing “advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation to a client about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options or the selection of documents or strategies….” NRS 240A.240(7) This contradicts Circular 230, which states that Enrolled Agents may give written advice regarding tax matters. 31 C.F.R. §§ 10.2, 10.33, 10.37. Finally, the amended statute contradicts Circular 230 because it requires an Enrolled Agent to provide a copy of a client’s file to government entities. NRS 240A.220(1). Yet, pursuant to IRC §§ 7525, 7216, 6713, Enrolled Agents must keep client information confidential and only share client files when ordered to do by a court…

Accordingly, the Court finds that Chapter 240A of the Nevada Revised Statutes, as amended by A.B. 324, conflicts with federal law to the extent it seeks to regulate Enrolled Agents who are authorized to practice before the Internal Revenue Service. The law is therefore unconstitutional pursuant to the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2.

The permanent injunction was granted by the Court. While the Nevada Attorney General can appeal (the office has another 20 days or so to do so), it’s not likely; the law is clearly unconstitutional on its face.

There are two points I want to make. First, I didn’t write about this earlier because this law was so stupid it was clear to me that it was going to be found unconstitutional. Even before the temporary injunction was granted the Nevada Secretary of State’s office didn’t enforce the law as it pertained to Enrolled Agents.

The second point is how this law was enacted. The state legislature didn’t contact any tax professionals about the law. There apparently is a problem with some document preparer services, and the Assemblyman who wrote AB 324 made an assumption that Enrolled Agents were part of the problem. We’re actually part of the solution in that we help resolve taxpayer problems, but I digress. I’m a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agents and NVSEA to help with legislative policies vis-a-vis Enrolled Agents. While I don’t agree with all of what the NAEA would like to pass, I agree with most of it. And my dues and contributions to NVSEA helped fight an uninformed law.

No matter your profession, stay informed. Talk to your local legislators. Generally, state legislators are approachable and most want to be informed. I’m making a point of meeting mine later this year, and explaining what Nevada Enrolled Agents do, what we had to do, and why we did what we did. Unfortunately, we remain the Lichtenstein of the tax world.

We’re Not Gonna Take It

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

The IRS issued proposed regulations today on charitable contributions as it relates to state and local tax credits. Here’s a hint to politicians in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. The IRS is telling you:

Here’s an excerpt from the IRS press release:

The proposed regulations issued today are designed to clarify the relationship between state and local tax credits and the federal tax rules for charitable contribution deductions. The proposed regulations are available in the Federal Register.

Under the proposed regulations, a taxpayer who makes payments or transfers property to an entity eligible to receive tax deductible contributions must reduce their charitable deduction by the amount of any state or local tax credit the taxpayer receives or expects to receive.

For example, if a state grants a 70 percent state tax credit and the taxpayer pays $1,000 to an eligible entity, the taxpayer receives a $700 state tax credit. The taxpayer must reduce the $1,000 contribution by the $700 state tax credit, leaving an allowable contribution deduction of $300 on the taxpayer’s federal income tax return. The proposed regulations also apply to payments made by trusts or decedents’ estates in determining the amount of their contribution deduction.

There’s a de minimis exception for tax credits of no more than 15% of the payment amount.

This proposed regulation isn’t a surprise. Indeed, it’s hard to see under the Tax Code how tax credits as charitable contributions would succeed. As for the current lawsuit against the IRS regarding the new tax law, that has even less of a chance of success in my view. But it sounds good, so the lawsuit happened. The idea of a state like New York changing their tax laws to lower their tax rates apparently hasn’t occurred to New York politicians.

We’re Not Gonna Take It…

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

You may have heard that earlier this week four states sued to stop parts of the new tax law from going into effect. The states–New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland–don’t like the new $10,000 cap on deducting state and local taxes on federal tax returns. I believe this lawsuit is doomed; there’s no right in the Constitution to allow deducting of such taxes. This isn’t just my opinion; Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy notes what I think:

They argue not only that the 2017 cap is unconstitutional, but that the federal government has a general obligation to exempt “all or a significant portion of state and local taxes” from the federal income tax. The problem with this argument is simple: nothing in the text or original meaning of the Constitution supports it. To the contrary, the Sixteenth Amendment gives Congress a general power to power “to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” There is no mandated exemption for income used to pay state or local taxes. There is also no support for the states’ position in Supreme Court precedent, or in the American constitutional tradition more generally.

The humorous thing (to me) is that blue states normally lead in ‘progressiveness’ of their tax systems (that is, higher rates for individuals earning higher incomes). The cap on deductions will primarily hurt high income individuals. Of course, blue states don’t want out-migration of such high income individuals. Perhaps they might look to lower tax rates. Mr. Somin notes they could remove zoning restrictions. As for this lawsuit, it sounds nice to their constituents but it is almost certainly doomed.

Wayfair and Economic Nexus

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

Last week the Supreme Court ruled in South Dakota v. Wayfair that South Dakota’s law forcing Wayfair, an Internet retailer, to collect (and remit) sales tax to South Dakota (a state that it did not have physical nexus to) was valid. The decision overrides a previous Supreme Court decision called Quill Corp. v. North Dakota). There’s been plenty of excellent coverage on this ruling (see, for example, the Tax Foundation and Kelly Erb). But I’m wondering what this means for income tax and economic nexus.

A few states have passed laws stating that if you have economic nexus to a state you need to file a tax return to that state. California is one such state. Eventually, cases on economic nexus will go through the court system (and with a certainty the US Supreme Court will have the final say). While no one knows how the Court will rule on such cases, there are indications.

From a case called Complete Auto: “The Court will sustain a tax so long as it (1) applies to an activity with a substantial nexus with the taxing State, (2) is fairly apportioned, (3) does not discriminate against interstate commerce, and (4) is fairly related to the services the State provides.” In Wayfair, the Court ruled that “Physical presence is not necessary to create a substantial nexus.”

The key point is noted by Justice Kennedy:

The Court has consistently explained that the Commerce Clause was designed to prevent States from engaging in economic discrimination so they would not divide into isolated, separable units. See Philadelphia v. New Jersey, 437 U. S. 617, 623 (1978). But it is “not the purpose of the [C]ommerce [C]lause to relieve those engaged in interstate commerce from their just share of state tax burden.” Complete Auto, supra, at 288 (internal quotation marks omitted). And it is certainly not the purpose of the Commerce Clause to permit the Judiciary to create market distortions. “If the Commerce Clause was intended to put businesses on an even playing field, the [physical presence] rule is hardly a way to achieve that goal.” Quill, supra, at 329 (opinion of White, J.).

So four questions need to be answered for whether a state can tax a service business conducting no services within that state. Let’s assume there’s a tax preparation business in Nevada that has customers in New York, and New York passes a law saying that if you have any sales to New York residents you must pay New York state income tax and register your business in New York. The questions that must be answered are: Is their substantial nexus to New York, is the tax fairly apportioned, does it discriminate against interstate commerce, and is the tax fairly related to the services that New York provides. We’ll assume the tax is fairly apportioned.

Consider a Nevada tax professional who has one client in New York out of one thousand total clients. Is there substantial nexus? Almost certainly not, and it would be hard to see such a tax passing muster. Thus, some sort of de minimis rule is necessary. Note that in the instant case that the South Dakota law has such a rule.

Consider now a Nevada tax professional who has 200 clients in New York out his one thousand clients. We’ll assume that passes the de minimis hurdle. The two other questions (and I think they’re linked) come into play: Is the tax fairly related to services that New York provides and does it discriminate against interstate commerce?

The first of these questions has two sides. All of the work done here (remember, this is a service business) is being done in Nevada, not New York. That leads to a conclusion that New York income tax is not related to services provided by New York. (However, if New York had a sales tax on services the business would likely need to comply.) On the other hand, the person contracting for the services is a New York resident.

I think the first argument is the better one. The income being earned is based off of work done in Nevada, not New York. Nevada, not New York, has the right to tax its residents on income earned in the state. Because of this, I think that if New York were to tax such income it would discriminate against interstate commerce. (There is an other side to this argument, though. New York can argue that there would be a tax credit available, and that would eliminate the issue. Still, the filing of the return adds to the burden of the Nevada taxpayer, and is an issue.)

That there are two sides to this argument shows that there is no one right answer. In the end, the Courts will end up making the decision about economic nexus and income tax. Indeed, sometime around 2021 I expect a Supreme Court decision on this issue.

Back to the Old Drawing Board

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

I’ve written before about certain states’ efforts to get around the new $10,000 cap on state and local taxes that can be deducted on federal tax returns. The IRS announced today they will be proposing regulations later this year on this issue. Here’s an excerpt:

In response to this new limitation, some state legislatures are considering or have adopted legislative proposals that would allow taxpayers to make transfers to funds controlled by state or local governments, or other transferees specified by the state, in exchange for credits against the state or local taxes that the taxpayer is required to pay. The aim of these proposals is to allow taxpayers to characterize such transfers as fully deductible charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes, while using the same transfers to satisfy state or local tax liabilities.

Despite these state efforts to circumvent the new statutory limitation on state and local tax deductions, taxpayers should be mindful that federal law controls the proper characterization of payments for federal income tax purposes.

This is anything but promising for the efforts of California and New York. Words like “circumvent,” “despite,” and “mindful” pretty much tell us how this is going to turn out. If the IRS were going to allow this, the notice would not have such negative words. Instead, it’s all but a certainty that the doctrine of “Substance Over Form” will dictate that these so-called charitable donations are anything but charitable donations and, instead, will be treated as state tax payments on federal tax returns.

The California and New York legislatures would be far better off looking for things to cut in their states’ budgets. I know of a certain railroad in California that could save the state at least $77 billion….

Taxes Matter (2018 Version), Part 1

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Those on the left constantly chirp that taxes don’t matter. Those of us who prepare tax returns can state as fact you’re wrong. I moved my business because of taxes and regulations. Here are two other examples from today that illustrate this.

First, the city of Seattle is proposing a new tax on businesses with $20 million in gross receipts (or more): an employee tax of $0.26/employee-hour. Shockingly, Seattle’s largest employer, Amazon.com, has stopped planning on a new 17-story office tower in downtown Seattle. Are the two related? Drew Herdener, an Amazon Vice President told FoxBusiness,

I can confirm that pending the outcome of the head tax vote by City Council, Amazon has paused all construction planning on our Block 18 project in downtown Seattle and is evaluating options to sub-lease all space in our recently leased Rainer Square building.

From the Wall Street Journal comes a headline, “My Clients Are Fleeing NJ Like It’s on Fire.” An excerpt:

That headline arrives via email from a money manager in northern New Jersey. The Garden State already has the third largest overall tax burden and the country’s highest property tax collections per capita. Now that federal reform has limited the deduction for state and local taxes, the price of government is surging again among high-income earners in New Jersey and other blue states. Taxpayers are searching for the exits.

Read the whole thing (note: Pay Link).

For those who say taxes don’t matter, you’re wrong. From small businesses to large taxes absolutely matter.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of the Tax Extenders

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

As write this it’s February 21st. About ten days ago Congress, in its unending wisdom, decided to extend certain “Tax Extenders” that they had let expire at the end of 2017. Yes, the undead have risen again! As soon as the IRS allows it, these are back for 2017. You can find a complete list of the extenders here. The major ones that impact individuals are:

– Exclusion from gross income of discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness
– Mortgage Insurance premiums treated as qualified residence interest
– Tuition and Fees deduction
– Certain energy credits.

Of course, there are some esoteric deductions and credits like the American Samoa economic development credit and that certain race horses are now classified as three-year property.

The Good: The IRS has already implemented a couple of these items. I can already efile returns with mortgage insurance, and tomorrow I’ll be able to efile returns with the tuition and fees deduction. That’s also great work by my software provider (ProSeries).

The Bad: Sooner or later the bill comes due. As Samuel Johnson said, “Whatever you have, spend less.” That’s something that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress need to learn. Our government, at almost all levels, is bloated and needs to be cut. It would also be nice if Congress either codified these extenders into law permanently, extended them timely, or just ended these items.

The Ugly: If you are taking one of those esoteric deductions or credits, you may need to wait a while before filing your return. The IRS is starting with the more popular (as far as implementing the extenders), so for those taking the carbon dioxide sequestration credit, you may need to file an extension; as always, it’s far better to extend than amend.

Overall, kudos to the IRS for quickly implementing many of these extenders. And for those of you who take the excise tax credit on alternative fuels are happy, too.

Tax Law Signed; New Year Likely to Bring Lots of New S-Corporations

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

President Trump signed the tax reform legislation into law. While there are many changes for 2018, one of the biggest is the new Section 199a deduction. This allows a 20% writeoff of net income for sole proprietors, owners of S-Corporations, and members of partnerships/LLCs, limited by wages paid (unless income is less than $157,000 (single)). I suspect tax professionals will see lots of S-Corporations in the future.

First, wages paid to owners counts in calculating the Section 199a deduction. Imagine you’re a consultant with income of $300,000 structured as a sole proprietorship. You’re ineligible for the Section 199a deduction (your income is too high). Now, convert to an S-Corp (or an LLC taxed as an S-Corp), pay yourself a reasonable salary (say $80,000), and:
– You get the Section 199a deduction ($44,000); and
– You avoid self-employment tax on a large part of the net income of your business.

Maybe I’m missing something, but for successful businesses there are now two factors leading toward an S-Corporation as the solution. And given the way the deduction is written, reasonable salary likely won’t be an issue—owners have an incentive to pay themselves!

As a reminder, there is no one right form of business entity. Though S-Corporations appear to be an excellent choice based on Section 199a, the choice of type of business entity should always be discussed with your tax professional and attorney prior to selecting it.

Conference Committee Agrees on Details of Tax Legislation; Measure Likely to Pass Next Week

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

The House and Senate conferees did indeed agree on tax ‘reform’ legislation. The bill will make great bedtime reading as it’s only 1,097 pages. The Tax Foundation has a great summary of the legislation. Here are some highlights; note that these provisions are in effect for the 2018 tax year:

– Seven tax brackets for individuals, ranging from 10% to 37%. Mostly, this will result in a decrease in taxes. However, the 35% tax bracket will now begin at $200,000 (single/Head of Household (HOH))/$400,000 Married Filing Jointly (MFJ); the 37% tax bracket begins at $500,000 single/HOH and $600,000 MFJ

– The standard deduction increases to $12,000 single/$18,000 HOH/$24,000 MFJ. However, personal exemptions are eliminated.

– Mortgage interest on home purchases remains deductible, but up to a limit of $750,000 of mortgage debt; however, equity debt is no longer deductible.

– State and local taxes, sales tax, and property tax deduction is limited to $10,000.

– The personal AMT is retained, but the AMT exemption is raised significantly.

– A single corporate tax rate of 21%.

– Pass-through income will be taxed at lower rates via a deduction. This is one area where the specific details matter.

– The corporate AMT is repealed.

– Net Operating Losses can only be carried forward, not backward (limited to 80% of taxable income).

– The individual mandate penalty is repealed, but for 2019 (not 2018). There’s still a penalty, but it’s $0.

– The Mayo decision (allowing the deduction of business expenses for professional gamblers who have losing years) is repealed for tax years 2018 – 2025. There are no other provisions that directly impact gambling in this legislation.

After I read the 1,097 pages (503 pages of legislation and about 500 pages of analysis) I will have more on the legislation.

GOP Tax Proposal Targets Professional Gamblers’ Losing Years

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

The Joint Committee on Taxation released its new tax proposal, H.R. 1, today. Buried within it is Section 1305:

SEC. 1305. LIMITATION ON WAGERING LOSSES.
(a) IN GENERAL.—Section 165(d) is amended by adding at the end the following: ‘‘For purposes of the preceding sentence, the term ‘losses from wagering transactions’ includes any deduction otherwise allowable under this chapter incurred in carrying on any wagering trans action.’’.

So what does this mean? The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) sent out an analysis:

Sec. 1305. Limitation on wagering losses.

Current law: Under current law, a taxpayer may claim an itemized deduction for losses from gambling, but only to the extent of gambling winnings. However, taxpayers may claim other deductions connected to gambling that are deductible regardless of gambling winnings.

Provision: Under the provision, all deductions for expenses incurred in carrying out wagering transactions (not just gambling losses) would be limited to the extent of wagering winnings. The provision would be effective for tax years beginning after 2017.

JCT estimate: According to JCT, the provision would increase revenues by $0.1 billion over 2018-2027.

The JCT analysis is wrong about the current law. Only professional gamblers can take business expenses beyond their gambling winnings to create an overall loss. This is the result of Mayo v Commissioner; Section 1305 would overrule the Mayo decision.

I will have more on this proposal, most likely over the weekend. There’s quite a bit for me to digest. For now, let me state that my first reading of the measure did not leave me feeling good about it.