Archive for the ‘Tax Preparation’ Category

The 2021 Tax Season (Part 1)

Monday, June 14th, 2021

I’ve had good Tax Seasons and bad Tax Seasons, but the first part of the 2021 Tax Season was unique.  And uniqueness doesn’t mean good nor does it mean bad.  Both points were present this year, and continue to be present.  Let’s look at the highlights and lowlights of the first part of the 2021 Tax Season.  (I state “first part” because we still have 50% of our clients’ returns to file–we always have a lot of clients on extension.)

The IRS’s Does Great!  Let’s heap some praise on the IRS.  The IRS generally did an excellent job in implementing the laws that Congress passed dealing with Covid relief.  These laws required many changes to the antiquated computers that the IRS uses to process tax returns and given the IRS’s systemic issues (low staffing, ancient computer systems, etc.) they did an excellent job.

The IRS Made Some Confounding Decisions.  Let’s take tomorrow’s tax deadline (June 15th) for residents of Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma as an example.  Residents of those states can timely file returns tomorrow, and timely file extensions tomorrow.  (Individuals residing outside the United States can also so file.)  But if a resident of Texas wants to file an extension, that extension must be mailed to the IRS.  Ask any tax professional about correspondence sent to the IRS and the theme song from the musical Annie comes to mind (tomorrow, tomorrow, it’s always a day away).  Yet the IRS wants to increase the mail backlog.  This makes no sense.

Speaking to the IRS Is Near Impossible.  The Taxpayer Advocate reported that 2% of individuals attempting to reach the IRS actually do so.  And when you do, you’re likely on hold for a long time.  I have eight matters that require that I speak with the Practitioner Priority Service (PPS).  I have either Power of Attorney forms or Tax Information Authorizations for each client.  Some of these I could handle using the IRS’s e-services system if the IRS would timely process the forms.  It’s currently taking the IRS three months to process forms.  So I (along with other tax professionals) must call the IRS up.

I’m currently on hold for the business side of PPS, with a hold time of more than one hour noted.  Now, I can work while I’m on hold but most individuals cannot–they can’t take phone calls, they must sit at home, etc.  Meanwhile, I’ve tried to reach the individual side of PPS four times a day for the last week and cannot get through.  If I cannot get through over this week I will have to mail letters on some of these matters, delaying resolutions for months–it’s taking the IRS on average ten months to read the mail.  (While Commissioner Rettig states the IRS is timely opening their mail, they are not timely reading their mail.)

I have a client who had to mail his 2019 tax return to the IRS (the return has a form that is not allowed by the IRS to be efiled).  It was mailed in late September (he was on extension, waiting for a K-1). The return was just processed.  But my client was selected for Identity Protection Verification–that requires my client to call the IRS.  He’s tried three times a day for the last week and cannot get through.  Now, my client’s refund is about $40, so it’s not a big deal but the IRS’s inability to handle phone calls right now is a disaster that retards effective tax administration.

This Was an Early Year.  Tax seasons are sometimes late (everyone wants extensions) or early (everyone wants to file yesterday).  This was an early year–many clients wanted their stimulus money and, thus, wanted to file early.  Unfortunately, there are so many hours in the day (my cloning machine still needs work) and…

Tax Paperwork Comes Later and Later Every Year.  This year was no exception.  Most of my clients who are in partnerships saw their K-1s come one week later than last year.  That doesn’t sound like much, but a day here, a day there, and then you’re talking about many days.  (My apologies to Senator Dirksen.)  Adding to this was…

Congress Changing the Tax Law in the Middle of Tax Season Delays Tax Filings.  Many clients received unemployment.  When Congress changed 2020 tax law in March 2021, that means that tax professionals had to wait for (1) the IRS to update their computers and make any rules about the new laws and (2) the tax software to be updated.  While the IRS and the software companies generally did a good job, this added to delays.

Most of Our Clients Understood This.  We appreciate your patience this year.  For those who did not understand, please note that we did inform you of our deadlines when we sent our Engagement Letters (and all returns whose paperwork was received prior to the deadline were filed).

There Are Black Clouds on the Horizon for Tax Administration.  Congress and the IRS keep putting more and more work on tax professionals, and this is going to add to the cost of tax filings.  Consider the new Schedule K-2s and K-3s.  These are going to be forms used to report international transactions on partnerships and S-Corporations.  Lots more work.  Congress tends to pass laws mandating things like phone interviews for the Child Tax Credit.  This doesn’t sound like much, but take three minutes here and three minutes there–well, I’ve used my Dirksen quote already but you get the idea.

However, that’s nothing compared to the Pro Publica leak.  For those who haven’t heard, Pro Publica, a liberal special interest group, was provided tax documents showing how much various millionaires and billionaires paid in taxes.  (I will have a lot more on this later this week.)  Tax documents are never supposed to be released.  Indeed, felonies have been committed.

Democrats want to increase reporting to the IRS (as a way to pay for increases in taxes.)  Does anyone think that Republicans in Congress will go along with this given that the IRS can’t safeguard what they currently have?  When the previous tax scandal occurred (the Lois Lerner/targeting GOP-leaning non-profits), Republicans cut the IRS’s budget (it was the only thing they could do to show their displeasure).  Unless the felon is found in the next few weeks, expect the GOP to do the same thing as it’s their only means of showing displeasure.

Many Tax Professionals Are Unhappy.  Jason Dinesen, an Enrolled Agent in Iowa, penned a piece titled “The Tax Field is Broken.”  I don’t completely agree with the article, but much of what he writes is true.  Tax professionals do have lives outside of their businesses, and many have not had a break in over a year.  I have seen many posts about tax professionals retiring.  That said,…

I’m Still Standing.  Our business is doing fine (indeed, if you’re a tax professional and are interested in joining our firm, let us know), and I have no plans on retiring.  This was, though, the first year I was generally miserable for more than a month.

Expect Tax Preparation to Impact Inflation.  Everything I see shows that the supply of tax professionals is decreasing, the amount of work necessary to prepare a return is increasing, and the demand is increasing.  The Law of Supply and Demand says that if supply decreases and demand is constant, prices go up.  Here, we have a decrease in supply and an increase in demand and the amount of time needed to prepare the average return increasing.  Prices are going to increase, possibly significantly.

That’s my rundown on the May deadline.  We’ll see what the second half of the Tax Season brings us.

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

Friday, 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 #4: The $0.55 Solution

Tuesday, 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!

Monday, 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!

Friday, 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 #10: Email Your Social Security Number!

Monday, 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.

The Perils of Waiting to the Last Minute

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

The extended deadline for partnership and S-Corporation tax returns was this past Tuesday, and all of our returns were completed and filed that could be (but one). And that one client understood the issues with late filing–but more on that in a moment.

However, we were lucky in that we don’t use software from Wolters Kluwer. Users of that software (such as CCH) could not efile returns on September 15th. That’s an issue when it’s a deadline date. Many years ago, we were impacted when ProSeries (the software we use, made by Intuit) suffered a similar failure on the regular individual deadline date. That year, the IRS extended the deadline by a day. It’s quite possible the IRS will offer such relief to users of CCH this year.

Not only can technology issues happen on a deadline day, but if you wait to the absolute last minute you don’t have time to effectively review the return. This impacted one of our clients. She thought the income number from the partnership should be half of what we’re showing. The numbers on the tax returns exactly match the financial statements, so she needs to review the financials to find the errors. (I did not discover any errors, but she is intimately familiar with the business and errors should stand out more to her.) When you wait to the last day, the clock does strike midnight. She elected to file her return late (possibly using First Time Abatement to avoid penalties) as she wants her return to be correct.

We’re less than two weeks away from the extended deadline for trusts and estates and less than a month away from the extended deadline for individuals. Now is a very good time to send those last documents to your tax professional (indeed, our deadline to guarantee returns are timely prepared was earlier this week). It’s not yet time to panic (except for trusts and estates), but it soon will be for individuals. If you haven’t gotten everything together, you really need to start now. The penalties for late filing are severe, and if you don’t file by October 15th (unless you reside in one of the federal disaster zones) are severe (25% late filing penalty). It’s not a day late and a dollar short; it’s a day late and lots of dollars short.

Bozo Tax Tip #3: Lie to Your Tax Professional

Friday, July 10th, 2020

Like almost all tax professionals, we use an Engagement Letter. The Engagement Letter has grown from one page to three pages. Some of this relates to items that my attorney wants on the document; some of the growth is from my insurance company. However, most of it is from IRS rules. One item that has been in every one of my Engagement Letters is the following:

You agree that you have provided us with and will provide us with all requested documents, that the information is and will be accurate and truthful, and that you will answer all of our questions fully so that we can properly prepare your returns.

Most tax professionals have similar language in their Engagement Letters. If we are to best prepare your tax returns, we have to know what’s going on. I’ve been told by my physician clients that their patients often don’t tell them the entire story. I can’t imagine doing that; how is my doctor going to do prescribe the best treatment if he only has half the picture? Tax professionals are no different; we can’t properly prepare your returns if we only have half the picture.

But if you want a tax return that’s inaccurate, and doesn’t have all the deductions and/or credits you’re entitled to, go ahead and deceive your tax professional. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Bozo Tax Tip #8: Amend Rather than Extend

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

Last week I spoke with one of my clients, Liz, who wanted to file her return immediately. She’s getting a large refund, and she’d like it now. The problem is she participates in ten partnerships, and one of those ten K-1’s hasn’t shown up. (Owners of partnerships and S-Corporations along with beneficiaries of trusts use the K-1s to report their share of the entity’s/trust’s income on their tax return.) She asked, “They sent an estimate of the income; can’t I use that?”

Perhaps she read the disclaimer on the estimate (more likely, she didn’t): “The actual amount of income could be more or less than what is shown on the estimate.” It’s good enough for an extension, but not good enough for a return.

“Well, I’d still like to file the return,” she said. I told her there were two problems. First, it’s a certainty you’d be amending the return and you want to extend rather than amend. Every amended return is looked at by a human–one who has the power to send your return to Examination (audit). Second, I can’t file a return that’s knowingly wrong and this return would be. The numbers are not final, and likely would change. I couldn’t sign tghe return.

I then mentioned, “Do you remember our conversation last year when you invested in these partnerships, that you would likely have to file extensions because some of the K-1s wouldn’t be received by the tax filing deadline?” There was a long pause…but she said, “I could really use that money.” I told her that there was one benefit of filing after the tax deadline: She would receive interest on her refund. Eventually she agreed to file an extension.

Investing in businesses can be a good way of making money, and I know Liz’s investment prowess is far greater than mine. But for her to file without all the K-1s in hand would be a very Bozo action.

Today *Is* the Partnership and S-Corp Filing Deadline

Monday, March 16th, 2020

During a news conference last week President Trump stated something to the effect that he was ordering Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin to extend tax filing deadlines. That has not happened as of the moment I’m writing this.

Today is the deadline for filing S-Corporation and partnership returns (including LLCs that file as partnerships). If you have not filed your return you must file an extension today. Your tax professional can do this electronically. If you need to do it, download IRS Form 7004 (you can find the instructions here), complete it, and mail it using certified mail to the IRS. You now have a valid extension.

While the tax professional community expects the personal deadline to be extended, that has not happened yet. That means that personal returns are due on April 15th. It’s possible–indeed, highly probable–that deadline will be extended. But we all have to wait and see as to if or when that will occur.