Archive for the ‘Tax Preparation’ Category

That Was the Year that Was

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Last November I wrote about “The Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Upcoming Tax Season.” This definitely wasn’t the best tax season but it also wasn’t the worst (but it was close to the bottom). The four issues that I identified as problems were tax extenders, the IRS budget, the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), and the IRS Property/Capitalization regulations.

Tax extenders were passed late, but there weren’t any surprises. Thus, the impact to the 2015 Tax Season was minimal.

The same can’t be true for the IRS budget cuts. This probably impacted me more than any of the other issues I faced. Calling the IRS was almost a joke. The “Practitioner Priority Service” hold times were so bad that I’d hate to think of what they were for regular numbers. Unfortunately, I see no improvement possible with the IRS budget until the IRS scandal is resolved. That’s not going to happen until we have a new President, so we have probably two more years of misery in dealing with the IRS.

(The Obama Administration promised to be the most transparent in history. Its record is one of obfuscation and deceit, not of being open and honest.)

For the most part ObamaCare did not impact many of my clients. Of course, for 2014 tax returns a client could self-certify they had health insurance. Coming for 2015 returns will be IRS Forms 1095-B and 1095-C. Almost everyone will need to provide tax professionals with a health insurance form.

The property regulations almost had a huge impact. A literal reading of the regulations was that everyone impacted needed to file a Form 3115. The IRS realized that they didn’t have the personnel to handle the incoming tsunami of paperwork and, at the last moment, issued procedures that basically mitigated the impact of the new regulations.

While I’ll post about the upcoming season in another month, it looks like deja vu all over again. Once more, tax extenders haven’t passed, we have another year of impacts of ObamaCare, and the IRS budget constraints will continue. Unfortunately, this year I’m not taking a vacation to New Zealand and Australia in December. In any case, tax professional will likely be grouchy next tax season, too.

It’s October 13th and I’m Still Not Ready to File my Taxes; What Should I Do?

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Somewhere, there’s a procrastinator wondering that exact question. He’s likely thinking, “I don’t have to do anything; I have until October 15th!” That’s not a good answer (with one exception [1]).

First, most tax professionals will not be able to fit you in. I took in one new client appointment this week—and he’s filling a cancellation. Determine your income, gather all your documents, and do your best. Tax forms are available online (the IRS website is actually quite good). Commercial tax software, though flawed [2], is a good choice at this point in time.

If possible, file electronically. If you must mail your tax return, use certified mail, return receipt requested. That means going to a post office or using an automated postal center (there’s one at the supermarket near my house).

Normally it’s better to extend than amend. If you’re a procrastinator, you can’t extend. Thus, if you file your return and you’re still a bit uncertain, consider meeting with a tax professional next week. He or she can review the return and determine if your return needs to be amended.

The clock is about to strike midnight.

[1] I have one client who is on extension who was impacted by the terrible flooding in South Carolina. That client has a lot more to deal with right now than filing taxes. The IRS and the South Carolina Department of Revenue extended the tax deadline for impacted South Carolinians until February 16, 2016.

[2] I disagree with fellow tax professional Robert Flach on his description that all tax software is fatally flawed. For individuals in simple situation it works perfectly. It doesn’t make math mistakes. And it usually allows for seamless electronic filing. I agree with Robert that the ability to look at a return and evaluate what’s on it (does it pass the smell test) is vital but when you’re up against a deadline, you don’t have a choice.

Fake Businesses, Phony Dependents: What Could Go Wrong?

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

I’ve seen reports of Bozo tax preparers inventing deductions and dependents. This is the first time I’ve heard of a tax preparer inventing a business from scratch on a tax return. The results were good…for a while.

Ramona Johnson was the manager of Tax Office One in Fort Worth, Texas; her daughter-in-law, Nekia Everson, was a tax preparer. From 2008 through 2011 the business earned in $1.9 million in fees, so it was producing a good amount of revenue. And they were probably getting good refunds for their clients. After all, they did the “normal” things for Bozo tax preparers; phony dependents and itemized deductions for personal expenses were the norm (so that taxpayers would qualify for the Earned Income Credit). But then:

On some returns, Johnson and Everson would completely fabricate a Schedule C business, including income and expense items. For some taxpayers, Johnson would create a false and fraudulent Schedule C reflecting the taxpayers had a profit from a nonexistent business. This false profit, together with claimed dependents (both fraudulent and actual), would be used to claim the taxpayer was entitled to an earned income tax credit.

Of course, while they had gross receipts of $1.9 million, somehow the gross receipts didn’t make it onto the personal tax returns. Ms. Johnson neglected to include tax preparation income on her 2009 and 2010 returns:

In addition, the government presented evidence that for calendar years 2009 and 2010, Johnson filed tax returns in which she reported total income of $2,850 and $16,906, respectively, when she well knew that the income amount was understated in that it did not include income she received for her work preparing tax returns.

Ms. Johnson and Ms. Everson will have plenty of time to think about whether preparing accurate tax returns would have been a better strategy. Ms. Johnson will be at ClubFed for 170 months (over 14 years); Ms. Everson will be there for 95 months (just under 8 years).

For taxpayers the usual rules apply: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

There Is No Tax Fairy (Yet Again)

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Joe Kristan has the story of two CPAs who told clients that there is a wonderful Tax Fairy, that mythical creature who turns income into deductions or credits through alchemy and magic. Unfortunately, the Tax Fairy doesn’t exist, and clients who used these CPAs had total tax adjustments (audit changes) of over $3.5 million. This particular scheme revolved around Section 419 (“Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association” plans). The Tax Fairy worked…until the IRS audited the results.

As usual, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Bozo Tax Tip #10: Email Your Social Security Number

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

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!

We’re starting a week early because I want to highlight something that I think contributes to the huge issue of identity theft. 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 partner in Maryland, it might go in a straight line to him. 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.

Regulating Tax Preparers Always Prevents Tax Preparer Fraud (Not True, of Course)

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

I’m generally a supporter of the National Association of Enrolled Agents and its policies. However, I disagree with the idea that both the NAEA and the IRS have that regulating tax preparers will magically make preparer fraud go away. It’s just not true.

Yet another case in point comes out of the San Joaquin Valley in California. From the DOJ press release:

The United States filed a civil complaint asking a federal court in Fresno, Calif., to enjoin Ken Mendoza and Alice Mendoza from preparing federal tax returns for others, the Justice Department announced today. The complaint alleges that the Mendozas frequently prepare tax returns for individuals claiming refunds from the federal government that are not deserved. According to the complaint, since 2010, the Mendozas have prepared over 600 tax returns for individuals in the Fresno area.

According to the complaint, the Mendozas improperly understate their customers’ federal tax liabilities by fabricating business expenses, claiming false or inflated credits, particularly educational credits, and deducting customers’ personal expenses that are not legally deductible. In total, the complaint alleges that the loss to the U.S. Treasury from the Mendozas’ activities could be as much as $2.8 million for tax years 2010 through 2011.

California requires all tax professionals who are not EAs, CPAs, or attorneys to register with CTEC. If the IRS is right that regulating tax professionals stops tax preparer fraud, Mr. Mendoza wouldn’t be registered. The IRS’s view is just another fairy tale.

Mr. Mendoza is registered with CTEC (I checked). That means he went to some continuing education and regurgitated some basic information on taxes. Taking continuing education courses does not turn a good person into a bad person (or vice versa).

I’m hoping that cases such as these–and mind you, I do want the Bozo side of my profession to be gone–will put a stop to the idea that regulating tax professionals will magically make all tax professionals angels. Let me be blunt: Wherever there is money around, there will be bad people around. There will always be people going after the dishonest buck and nothing anyone says or does will ever change that.

I do want to point out the other point of this post for taxpayers who read this: You are responsible for your tax return. Read it. Ask questions if you don’t understand something. The Tax Code is complex, and there are things that seem obvious that aren’t on a tax return. If you have a good tax professional, he or she will want to answer your questions.

Don’t Try This at Home

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

Thomas Thorndike was a tax preparer in Waterbury, Connecticut. I use “was” because earlier this year he was sentenced to six years at ClubFed for cheating on his own taxes and for helping clients obtain refunds using false deductions. Here’s an excerpt from the DOJ press release:

If clients were audited by the IRS, THORNDIKE would provide them with blank Goodwill receipts as well as instructions as to how they should create a list of charitable donations that would correspond with the donation value THORNDIKE had entered on their returns. He also would direct his clients to create mileage logs that would support deductions he had entered for employment-related travel.

There’s plenty more in the press release to show that Thorndike was able to obtain over $1 million in refunds that clients weren’t entitled to. The Hartford Courant noted in its news story that Thorndike earned $12,000 a day by preparing a tax return every 15 minutes. But that’s not what this post is about; rather, it’s about ancillary damage that occurred.

Robert Liquindoli was one of Mr. Thorndike’s clients. I’ll let the DOJ press release take it from here:

In connection with [the investigation of Mr. Thorndike], the IRS requested to interview LIQUINDOLI, whose 2007 and 2008 tax returns had been prepared by Thorndike. After being contacted by the IRS, LIQUINDOLI sought to obstruct the IRS’s investigation by obtaining false documents that he intended to present to the IRS in support of deductions he claimed on his tax returns in 2007 and 2008. Between December 2011 and February 2012, LIQUINDOLI engaged in an effort to obtain false documents in support of false items on these tax returns, and lied to the IRS concerning the extent to which he possessed original and legitimate documents to support the deductions on his tax returns. LIQUINDOLI also falsely denied that he had attempted to obtain false documents to support those deductions.

A few years ago I represented a client of a Bozo tax preparer. My client (probably like Mr. Liquindoli) had phony deductions on his tax return. I explained to my client that you actually do have to spend the money in order to get deductions–my client had no idea of the law involved. My client didn’t lie to the IRS, didn’t obstruct the IRS, but did have to pay the IRS. Because my client cooperated and it was quite clear he did not know at the time his return was filed that he had done anything wrong, the penalties were waived.

Mr. Liquindoli was in a slightly different position. The one thing I haven’t mentioned (until now) is that Mr. Liquindoli is a former police detective. Presumably, he’s aware that it’s illegal to do what he did. Oops….

While Mr. Liquindoli faces up to three years at ClubFed, he’s likely to receive a much lesser term.

Pass the Popcorn, Please

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

When I last wrote about Instant Tax Service it appeared that the end of that firm was upon us. After all, a judge ordered ITS to close shop because of a myriad of sins. ITS is appealing and is now also attempting to sell the business. (That does bring up the obvious question: Who would want to purchase a business that is, to say the least, facing a death penalty? But I digress….)

Kelly Erb has more on ITS’s current shenanigans.

One Down, One to Go: DOJ Gets an Injunction, Asks for Another

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

One of the more humorous (to me) aspects of the Loving case was hearing the IRS argue that it has no means of disciplining rogue tax preparers. That’s just not true. If I deliberately prepare a bad return, I can be sanctioned and penalized. If I prepare a series of bad returns, the Department of Justice can attempt to have me barred from preparing federal tax returns. As noted at the end of one of the two press releases I’m linking to in this article, “In the past decade, the Justice Department’s Tax Division has obtained more than 500 injunctions to stop tax fraud promoters and tax return preparers.”

Anyway, Tobias Elsass had two businesses that prepared tax returns: Fraud Recovery Group Inc. and Sensible Tax Services Inc. As the DOJ noted, “The Court found that Elsass and Fraud Recovery Group have continually and repeatedly promoted a nationwide scheme falsely informing their customers that they were entitled to claim large theft loss tax deductions, and then preparing the tax returns that improperly claimed such deductions.” If you have a casualty loss you are absolutely allowed to claim a deduction for it (subject to income restrictions)…but you must actually suffer a loss. It appears that Mr. Elsass skipped that minor detail in preparing clients’ returns. I’ll let the DOJ take it from there:

The opinion notes that hundreds of theft loss deductions claimed on tax returns prepared by Elsass and his companies were improper, because the financial losses they sought to deduct were merely the result of company mismanagement instead of criminal conduct – as Elsass knew. Elsass and his companies were also aware that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was disallowing such claims, but filed similar claims for other investor customers in any event, in the hope that the later filings would escape IRS scrutiny…

The court also determined that Elsass had intentionally engaged in “incompetent or disreputable” behavior not becoming a tax professional. Based on the record before it, the court found that Elsass seemed “perfectly willing to lie and deceive, even to the extent of possibly committing perjury, in order to advance his own interests.” Accordingly, the “sheer magnitude and variety of the Defendants’ transgressions” made permanent injunctive relief appropriate.

Meanwhile, the DOJ asked that another preparer in Mississippi be barred from preparing tax returns. Danee Aikens’ Comprotax Service is accused of falsely increasing household help income so that the Earned Income Credit could be taken and that phony education credits were included on clients’ returns. The DOJ believes the loss to the government could exceed $7 million from this case.

I’m all for the IRS and DOJ going after the dirty underbelly of my profession. They have tools to do so…as they themselves pointed out at the end of both of these press releases.

What If Your Tax Professional Vanishes?

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Yesterday, a new client called me. It seems that his tax professional (we’ll call her Jane Doe) vanished. She’s not answering phone calls (nor returning messages–and her voice mail is now full), nor returning mail, nor returning faxes. My client thought an extension was filed (with a payment), but his records are with Ms. Doe, and my client really doesn’t want to have to pay for a tax return twice. What are his options?

First, I hope that nothing has happened to Jane Doe. That said, it appears that her ability to prepare tax returns has vanished with her vanishing. Clearly if she’s not around she’s not going to be preparing any returns.

My new client asked me several good questions:

1. Is my extension valid? It is (and an extension was filed–see below); the extension is for you, the taxpayer, and is valid no matter who prepares your return.

2. Can I verify that the extension was filed? Yes, you can. You can either call the IRS (800-829-1040), request a “Tax Account Transcript,” or you can authorize a tax professional to obtain it on your behalf. (My new client signed a Tax Information Authorization and I ordered transcripts from the IRS. The extension was filed.)

3. I don’t want to pay to have the return done twice. Can I get the files back from Ms. Doe? If a client requests his files to be returned, a tax professional is required to return them. There’s an obvious issue if a tax professional dies; Ms. Doe won’t be here to return the files. In theory, the Executor of Ms. Doe’s estate should return those files…but that’s not likely to happen prior to the extended tax deadline.

My new client probably has a claim against Ms. Doe (or her estate). She was paid to complete the tax returns; if she doesn’t, there’s a clear issue. If she has died, you could file a claim against her estate. If she just vanished, you have to find her in order to get your money back.

There’s no way, though, of avoiding paying for the tax work a second time. I make my living preparing returns for money–I need to be paid for my work.

4. How do we prepare the return when Ms. Doe has all of my 1099s? Luckily, we can order a Wage & Income Transcript from the IRS. This should show all of the government paperwork you received (1099s, 1098s, W-2s, W-2Gs, K-1s, and 5498s). This will help with some of the issues.

However, my new client is self-employed. He’ll need to redo some work (providing his deductible business expenses and income from his business). If you use QuickBooks (or another accounting system), the new tax professional will need to see various reports. That’s easily done and shouldn’t be a problem.

You may have to recreate other records. If this needs to be done, start now. If you need to request bank or credit card statements, do it now; it can take a few weeks for them to appear. You are subject to the October 15th deadline, so start on this today!

There are some takeaways for everyone:

1. Make sure you get a copy of your tax returns from your tax professional (and keep these!). While you can order a Tax Return Transcript from the IRS, it’s a lot easier to have the actual returns. (A Tax Return Transcript is free from the IRS. You can also order a copy of your actual return, but this takes far longer and you must pay for it.)

2. Make sure you receive your files are returned. We scan everything into an electronic filing system, and return all files (I have far too much paper in my office and don’t want more).

3. If your tax professional is a solo practitioner (or a small office), ask the question, “What would happen if something happened to you?” It is a valid question and is one of the main reasons I brought in a partner a couple of years ago.

4. Make sure your tax professional communicates with you. My new client mentioned that Ms. Doe had been, in his words, “flaky.” If you have qualms about a tax professional, why are you continuing to use her? Tax professionals have access to your personal, confidential information. You absolutely, positively should be very comfortable with your tax professional. If not, consider someone else.