Archive for the ‘Tax Preparation’ Category

Hug Your Tax Professional, or The Upcoming Horrible, Miserable, Rotten, and Delayed Tax Season

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

A question I’ve been asked many times this month: When will the 2019 Tax Season (for filing 2018 tax returns) open? The answer I’ve given is, “I don’t know.” Normally by now the IRS has released the date. As of today, the IRS’s only comment has been, “It might not be in January [2019].” At a recent continuing education event speakers from the IRS implied that the 2019 Tax Season could be delayed–possibly significantly. My tax software company has no idea; many forms state “Final on January 28th” but that’s just a best guess on their part. Why? Because the IRS still has not released all of the final 2018 forms. For example, the link to Form 1040 takes you to the 2017 form. (You can find the draft of the new 2018 form here.)

There are two major issues and one minor issue delaying the release of the forms. First, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) changed much of the Tax Code; this required the IRS to redo many of the forms to adapt to the new Code. The second major issue is that the IRS is no longer exempt from having rules and forms reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). That review likely adds 30 days to the release date of anything out of the IRS. The minor issue is that the IRS decided to make the new Form 1040 a giant, double-sided postcard size with six subsidiary schedules, meaning there are seven new forms to be reviewed by OMB.

Some of the 2018 forms have been released. For example, you can find Schedule A, Schedule C, and Schedule D. But without a Form 1040, no one is filing.

Adding to the delay is that the IRS is slow in releasing the “Schema” for 2018 returns. This is the coding that tax software companies use to transmit returns to the IRS, so that what’s noted on (say) line 10 of Schedule C goes onto line 10 of Schedule C in the IRS’s records when a return is transmitted. In most years, there’s a 60-day period from the date of announcement of the schema to the date Tax Season opens; this allows the software companies and the IRS to test everything to make sure it all works. This means we could be looking at Tax Season opening on February 10th…if the schema were given to the software companies today. Of course, the IRS could shorten the testing period but it’s looking like the 2019 Tax Season will be compressed (perhaps significantly).

In our Engagement Letters for 2018 returns we’re adding the following:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the Tax Act) passed late in 2017 contains sweeping changes to the Tax Code. Given the magnitude of changes in the Tax Act, as well as some new concepts introduced in the law, additional stated guidance from the IRS, and possibly from Congress in the form of technical corrections, may be forthcoming. We will use our professional judgment and expertise to assist you based on the Tax Act guidance as currently promulgated. Subsequent developments issued by the applicable tax authorities may affect the information we have previously provided, and these effects may be material.

In particular, the Tax Act added a new deduction for Qualified Business Income (the Section 199A deduction). This deduction is generally available for taxpayers who have income generated from business activity, including Sole Proprietors (Schedule C). The calculation for this deduction is based on numerous factors. We may need to conduct an extensive interview with you, receive additional information from you, and/or spend extensive time in calculating this deduction. This may result in an increase in the cost of our services to you.

Beginning with the 2018 tax year, the IRS now requires S-Corporation shareholders who either reported a loss on their K-1, received a distribution (not including a salary or expense reimbursement), disposed of any shares of stock (or the equivalent), or received a loan repayment from the corporation to include a complete basis calculation with their return. We will need this basis calculation for your return (if applicable). If you do not already have this basis calculation, we can prepare it for you at an additional cost. To do this, we would need copies of all K-1s issued to you by the S-Corporation and details of your investments to and distributions from the S-Corporation.

These are just three issues. First, the law may change while we’re in the middle of preparing your return. Second, the new deduction for Qualified Business Income is very complex; this will add cost to many taxpayers’ returns. And third, the new rule on reporting S-Corporation basis will be a surprise for many taxpayers (and tax professionals). We’ve prepared basis schedules for the S-Corporation returns we prepare; however, many tax professionals omit these. These three items are guaranteed to add time and stress to return preparation.

So consider what tax professionals are dealing with:
– A delayed start to Tax Season;
– New tax law with many complexities;
– New tax forms; and
– Many more IRS/state non-conformity issues.

This is a recipe for a very high-stress Tax Season. That’s why I suggest you hug your tax professional; he or she will appreciate it.

It’s Time to Panic!

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

If you haven’t done your taxes yet but have an extension, it is now officially TIME TO PANIC! The deadline is in less than one week (unless you’re in a hurricane disaster zone, and that will, unfortunately, likely include the Florida Gulf Coast area). If you haven’t prepared your return you do need to drop everything and get it done. The IRS website is an excellent resource.

Most tax professionals–ourselves included–can not fit you in. Our official deadline was September 19th; most tax professionals I know had September deadlines. So do the best you can and get it in. File electronically, or use certified mail, return receipt requested. And don’t forget your state tax returns (unless you live in a state with a different extension deadline); they’re also due on Monday.

Let Us Entertain You (or Not)

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) or, as I like to call it, the 2017 tax reform law, changed quite a few things for taxes. Most of these lower rates, or add a new deduction or credit. However, there were changes the other way, too. One of these involves “Entertainment” expenses.

If you’re in business you’re allowed to deduct all “necessary and ordinary” business expenses. Of course, there are some exceptions. Meals and Entertainment expenses have been limited to 50% of the amount spent. There are substantiation rules, too. The TCJA removed the ability to deduct entertainment expenses.

So let’s say you had season tickets to the Vegas Golden Knights, and you took a client (a different one) to each of the 41 home games. You discussed business, either during the game (there are stops and intermissions in hockey) or immediately before or after. You noted who you spoke to and the business purpose (and topics) in a log. In 2017, that expense would be deductible. Today that expense is not deductible.

A client called me up and asked me how he could get around the rules. (Lovely, I thought: Ask your tax professional how to commit tax evasion.) What if we call it advertising? I noted that if you were advertising in, say, the Knights’ program that would indeed be advertising. But it was hard for me to see how watching a hockey game is advertising. Well, he said, if there was a seat license fee (something that’s common for football) could we call it a “licensing” expense? No, you’re not paying to have your business licensed. It’s entertainment. I did tell him that if he took a client to the game and purchased food, and discussed business then the food expense would likely qualify as a meal deduction (assuming proper documentation, of course).

The problem is the Duck Test. “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it just may be a duck.” Tickets for athletic events, concerts, etc. are for entertainment. You can slap another label on it (“office expense” is one I expect to see next year) but it will still be an entertainment expense. And those are decidedly no longer deductible. The Tax Code giveth, and the Tax Code taketh away.

Bozo Tax Tip #5: Use a Bozo Accountant!

Monday, April 9th, 2018

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, April 2nd, 2018

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 fifth year in a row, but it’s one that bears repeating. Unfortunately, the problem of identity theft has burgeoned, and the IRS’s response has been pitiful. (To be fair, it has improved somewhat over the last year, but that didn’t take much.)

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.

Driver’s Licenses and Tax Filings

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Nevada Driver's License

Many states are now requiring we obtain your driver’s license information (or state ID) in order to file your return. Currently, these states are requiring this information:

– Alabama
– California
– Colorado
– Illinois
– Kansas
– Louisiana
– New Mexico
– New York
– Ohio
– Virginia
– Wisconsin

States are using this in order to combat identity theft. So if you are filing one of these state’s tax returns, your tax professional will need your driver’s license number, date the driver’s license was issued, and the expiration date. (If the driver’s license or state ID is from New York, the first three characters of the New York document number will also be needed.)

While I’m generally for anything that reduces identity theft, I’m not thrilled with this. Of course, I should point out that this adds extra work for tax professionals which just might be why I have this opinion….

Court Rules IRS Cannot Charge for PTINs

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Back in 2010 to 2011 the IRS ordered all tax professionals to obtain a PTIN–a Preparer Tax Identification Number. The IRS stated this was necessary to track tax professionals, and would help in regulating the tax professional community. There is a fee to obtain a PTIN (now $50 initially, with a renewal costing the same $50). A group of tax professionals challenged the PTIN regulation and the fee in a class action suit. Can the IRS force tax professionals to obtain a PTIN? And can the IRS charge for PTINs?

The PTIN regulations came about at the same time as the IRS’s ill-fated efforts to regulate tax professionals. The IRS was challenged on the ability to regulate tax preparation professionals (see Loving v. IRS); the IRS lost the ability to regulate tax preparers. These regulations happen to also contain the IRS’s justification for charging a user fee to obtain a PTIN: As the Court yesterday noted,

As authority for requiring these fees, the IRS relied on the Independent Offices Appropriations Act of 1952 (“IOAA”). The IOAA provides that agencies “may prescribe regulations establishing the charge for a service or thing of value provided by the agency.” The IRS stated that a PTIN is a “service or thing of value” because without a PTIN “a tax return preparer could not receive compensation for preparing all or substantially all of a federal tax return or claim for refund,” and “[b]ecause only attorneys, certified public accountants, enrolled agents, and registered tax return preparers are eligible to obtain a PTIN, only a subset of the general public is entitled to a PTIN and the special benefit of receiving compensation for the preparation of a return that it confers.” [citations omitted]

The first part of the case was whether the IRS can mandate tax preparers use a PTIN. The Court ruled that the IRS can do so.

[P]laintiffs’ arguments fail step one of Chevron. Chevron states that “if Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue … that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress.” The statute specifically says that the Secretary has the authority to specify the required identifying number to be used on prepared tax returns. (“The social security account number issued to an individual for purposes of section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act shall, except as shall otherwise be specified under regulations of the Secretary, be used as the identifying number for such individual for purposes of this title.” (emphasis added)). The Court must give effect to the unambiguous intent of Congress that the Secretary may require the use of such a number. [citations omitted]

The second part of the case is whether the IRS has justification for charging a fee for obtaining PTINs. The plaintiffs had two arguments: That because of the decision in Loving the IRS no longer had a rationale for charging PTIN fees, and thus charging such fees was arbitrary and capricious. Second, because Congress did not grant the IRS licensing authority (confirmed by Loving), tax return preparers don’t receive a benefit in exchange for the fees; thus, they are unlawful under the IOAA. The government disagreed:

The government argues that the PTIN and user fee regulations are separate from the regulations imposing eligibility requirements on registered tax return preparers. It argues that the PTIN requirements are not arbitrary and capricious because they make it easier to identify tax return preparers and the returns they prepare, which is a critical step in tax administration, and because PTINs protect social security numbers from disclosure. In support of its position that it may charge fees for PTINs, the IRS states that PTINs are a service or thing of value because the ability to prepare tax returns for compensation is a special benefit provided only to those people who obtain PTINs, who are distinct from the general public. Individuals without PTINs cannot prepare tax returns for compensation. In addition, the IRS argues that PTINs protect the confidentiality of tax return preparers’ social security numbers, and that protection itself is a service or thing of value.

The court found that PTINs are not a “service or thing of value.”

First, the argument that the registered tax return preparer regulations regarding testing and eligibility requirements and the PTIN regulations are completely separate and distinct is a stretch at best. While it is true that they were issued separately and at different times, they are clearly interrelated. The RTRP regulations specifically mention the PTIN requirements and state that PTINs are part of the eligibility requirements for becoming a registered tax return preparer…Furthermore, the overarching objectives named in the PTIN regulations indicate a connection to the RTRP regulations. They were 1) “to provide some assurance to taxpayers that a tax return was prepared by an individual who has passed a minimum competency examination to practice before the IRS as a tax return preparer, has undergone certain suitability checks, and is subject to enforceable rules of practice;” and 2) “to further the interests of tax administration by improving the accuracy of tax returns and claims for refund and by increasing overall tax compliance.” The first objective clearly relates to the RTRP regulations regarding eligibility requirements for tax return preparers. The second objective is less explicit, but it does not stretch common sense to conclude that the accuracy of tax returns would be improved by requiring tax return preparers to meet certain education requirements. [citation omitted]

This results in a problem: What’s justifying the user fee?

The Loving court concluded that the IRS does not have the authority to regulate tax return preparers. It cannot impose a licensing regime with eligibility requirements on such people as it tried to do in the regulations at issue. Although the IRS may require the use of PTINs, it may not charge fees for PTINs because this would be equivalent to imposing a regulatory licensing scheme and the IRS does not have such regulatory authority. Granting the ability to prepare tax return for others for compensation—the IRS’s proposed special benefit—is functionally equivalent to ranting the ability to practice before the IRS. The D.C. Circuit has already held, however, that the IRS does not have the authority to regulate the practice of tax return preparers. In coming to its conclusion, the Circuit considered the statutory language that the Secretary may “regulate the practice of representatives of persons before the Department of the Treasury.” The court found that the IRS improperly expanded the definition of “practice . . . before the Department of Treasury” to include “preparing and signing tax returns” because to “practice before” an agency “ordinarily refers to practice during an investigation, adversarial hearing, or other adjudicative proceeding.” The Loving court concluded that “[t]hat is quite different from the process of filing a tax return” in which “the tax-return preparer is not invited to present any arguments or advocacy in support of the taxpayer’s position . . . [and] the IRS conducts its own ex parte, non-adversarial assessment of the taxpayer’s liability.” The ability to prepare tax returns is the “practice” identified by the IRS in Loving, but the court found that such an activity does not qualify as practicing before the IRS. Therefore, it appears to this Court that the IRS is attempting to grant a benefit that it is not allowed to grant, and charge fees for granting such a benefit.

This ruling disagrees with another case (Brannen v United States), but that was pre-Loving (as the Court notes). The Court also noted that if the IRS were allowed to regulate tax professionals, the ruling might be quite different. Additionally,

The Court is unaware of similar cases in which an agency has been allowed to charge fees under the IOAA for issuing some sort of identifier when that agency is not allowed to regulate those to whom the identifier is issued, and the government has not pointed to any.

Thus, the Court ruled that the IRS can require PTINs but cannot charge for them. I do expect the ruling to be appealed, so it’s likely nothing will change for several months.

Case: Steele v United States

UPDATE: The court also ordered that the IRS refund all PTIN fees to all class members.

Again, I expect this ruling to be appealed, so any refunds are many months in the future.

That Was the Tax Season that Was

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

April 15th, err, make that April 18th, has come and gone. Every Tax Season is different, and this one had its ups and downs. So let’s take a look at eight observations I have of the first part of the 2017 Tax Season:

1. The IRS did a good job with telephone service for tax professionals. My average wait time on hold with the Practitioner Priority Service was three minutes. That’s superb. I was told by several agents that the IRS added personnel to help tax professionals. That made my life easier, but…

2. The IRS didn’t do as good a job with taxpayers. I had a couple of clients who called the IRS note the hour-plus hold times.

3. The new law mandating interviews with taxpayers claiming the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Credit is annoying for tax professionals and will only stop the lowest of low hanging fruit of tax cheats. Most tax professionals know their clients, and simply aren’t committing tax fraud. My clients were more bemused than anything else with some of the questions I had to ask about their children.

4. More of my clients filed without extensions than in the past. This result appears to differ from the national average (the latest report I saw was that there were five million fewer returns filed year-to-date than last), and differs from the long-term trend that I’ve seen the last few years (that more returns were going on extension).

5. The new FBAR deadline will make my life far easier. Officially, the deadline coincides with the tax filing deadline, but there’s an automatic six-month extension. This will allow FBARs to generally be filed coincidentally with tax returns.

6. It would be impossible to run our tax practice without using tax software; however, tax software isn’t a panacea for thinking about the returns themselves. I’ve seen some self-prepared returns this Tax Season that were, to be kind, amusing. Tax software is great in automating the mundane but not so great in thinking for you.

7. We need tax reform, and soon. The Tax Code is far, far too complex. I’m now preparing returns that are close to “basic.” And I practice in a state where there’s no income tax. (Yes, I prepare returns for many states, but my local clients generally don’t have to deal with state income tax.) Yet these clients find the Code so complex that they can’t do their own returns.

8. Deadlines matter. Almost every tax professional I know sets deadlines for receiving paperwork from clients; ours was set at March 15th. We did get to many returns that came after that date, but for the client who wondered why I stifled a laugh when he dropped his paperwork off on April 17th and said he’d be in tomorrow to pick up his completed return. He’s on extension, of course. If you’re using a tax professional to prepare your returns, he almost certainly has also set a deadline for receiving paperwork prior to the October 16th extension deadline. You should pay attention to that, and get your paperwork in to your professional timely.

I’m hopeful my thoughts in October will be just as kind about the second half of the Tax Season; only time will tell.

Bozo Tax Tip #8: Lie to Your Tax Professional!

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

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!

Please Don’t Do This!

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Joe Kristan tweeted the following last weekend:

As I was going through my emails this morning, one of my clients (she shall remain nameless) sent me an email with her CP01A notice attached. The CP01A notice is the IRS notice giving a victim (or potential victim) of identity theft his or her Identity Theft PIN. I suspect Joe made that post on Twitter because one of his clients did the same thing as my client.

Meanwhile, another client of mine faxed me his CP01A notice. That’s a far, far safer method of sending the Identity Theft PIN to your tax professional. You can also hand it to your tax professional or upload it using their web portal (or file transfer system—the name isn’t as relevant as the method). Mail is considered a secure means of sending things, too.

Do not email anything containing personally identifiable information such as social security numbers or dates of birth. Of course, if you want to be a victim of identity theft, go right ahead and do so. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.