Archive for the ‘Taxable Talk’ Category

Annual Blog Hiatus

Friday, March 16th, 2018

With the heart of the 2018 Tax Season upon us, it’s time for my annual blog hiatus. My series of Bozo Tax Tips will appear in early April, and if something truly earth-shattering happens in tax, I’ll still be here. Otherwise, I’ll be back post-April 17th.

Blogroll Update

Monday, January 1st, 2018

It’s been a while, but I’ve finally updated the blogroll. I’ve removed the deadwood and added a few new blogs (and tax agencies). If you have a tax blog that you think should be added, let me know by commenting. I’ll check it out.

The 2017 Tax Offender of the Year

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

It’s once again time for that most prestigious of prestigious awards, the Tax Offender of the Year. To win this award you need to do more than cheat on your taxes; it has to be a Bozo-like action or actions. As usual, we had plenty of nominees.

President Trump received a nomination. Now, I realize many do not like the President’s politics, and the tax reform bill that was signed into law isn’t tax simplification. However, it is tax reform, and it will lower taxes for most Americans. As for Democrats’ charges that it will kill millions and cause the world to end, please. President Trump may deserve criticism over other political issues, but not on taxes (today).

Finishing in third place was Joseph Cervone, CPA, of White Plains, New York. Mr. Cervone saw the tax credits available for energy and coal and thought, “I can get free money for my clients! Let’s just submit $23 million of phony credits!” Mr. Cervone is enjoying 22 months at ClubFed.

Finishing in second place was the California legislature. The Bronze Golden State had a flirting with single-payer health care; luckily for California taxpayers the projected $400 Billion cost caused even the ultra-liberals to get cold feet. California continues to waste money on the train to nowhere. The project originally had a cost of $33 billion; it’s now up to $68 billion. It’s probable, though, that the project will die as further funding from the federal government is unlikely. It would be nice for Sacramento to stop spending money on it; the $3 billion spent could be used for far better things.


I grew up just outside of Chicago. I’m a fan of Chicago sports teams (save the White Sox), and many of my relatives live in or near Chicago. Yet Illinois in general and Chicago in particular is now known for high and increasing taxes and out-migration. A search on Chicago taxes finds stories like, “Chicago Property Tax Bills Going up 10 Percent This Year,” “Increased taxes, fees on phones, ride-hailing and concert tickets approved in 2018 Chicago budget,” and “Chicago’s soda tax is repealed.” You can read an article about fed-up Illinois homeowners debating moving from Chicago.

The question, though, is why are taxes increasing in Illinois and Chicago? Is it just the politicians, or is there an underlying cause? There is an answer: Public Employee Pension Funds. These funds (generally on the state level) are the cause of the problem in Illinois, and are this year’s Tax Offender of the Year.

The Tax Foundation has a map showing the funding in various states. Here are the top ten (best) funded states as of 2015 (latest year that statistics are available):

1. South Dakota, 107%
2. Oregon, 104%
3. Wisconsin, 103%
4. North Carolina, 99%
4 (tie). Tennessee, 99%
6. New York, 98%
7. Idaho, 95%
8. Nebraska, 93%
9. Delaware, 92%
10. Florida, 91%

And here are the ten worst:

40. Arizona, 64%
40 (tie). Colorado, 64%
42. Hawaii, 61%
42 (tie). Rhode Island, 61%
42 (tie). South Carolina, 61%
45. Alaska, 60%
45 (tie) Pennsylvania, 60%
47. Connecticut, 51%
48. New Jersey, 48%
49. Illinois, 41%
49 (tie) Kentucky, 41%

The Tax Foundation’s closing paragraph explains the problem:

Pension obligations must be fulfilled eventually. Policymakers should consider that reform now may be less costly and less painful than coping with a larger crisis later.

As of 2015, both California and Nevada are about average (at 74% funded). Unfortunately, California is now at 64% and falling. So why has this happened and what can be done about it?

Pew has a report on the 2015 analysis, and the problems began in the early 2000s: Liabilities increased at the same basic rate while assets in pension funds didn’t. In many states the pension fund crisis hasn’t come (yet). In a few, it won’t come (pensions are properly funded). In at least one state, Illinois, the crisis exists today; in another, California, it’s coming very soon. Consider that California pensions aren’t well funded yet we’ve had a huge boon in the stock market over the last two years!

Some cities and counties are in even worse shape. A Hoover Institution report shows that both Chicago and Cook County (the county that Chicago is in) have massively underfunded pensions. So Chicago residents have a triple whammy: underfunded state, county, and city pensions.

As for the reasons why this crisis exists, there are a couple.

1. When rates of return increased in the late 1990s, that increase was built into new public employee contracts. The late 1990s featured the dot-com boom in the stock market. Those rates of returns, in the 7% range, aren’t seen today (they’re about 2% to 3%).

2. Politicians ignoring the issue. It’s always easiest to pass the buck to the next mayor, or the next governor, or the next state legislature. That’s what’s been done in Illinois, and the state is in severe crisis. The Democrats who control the state legislature are beholden to the public employee unions who, shockingly, don’t want to see pensions cut. Last time I looked, Illinois is nearly a year behind in paying its bills–all because of the pension crisis. So Democrats are only proposing tax increases rather. Residents who can move are doing so, and they can escape the pension crisis.

So what’s the answer to this crisis? There are a couple:

1. Pension reform is needed nearly everywhere in the US. Yes, pension benefits are going to decrease. That’s going to happen, either through negotiation or when the systems run out of money. It’s a certainty.

2. Reform for civil service/public employee unions. I am reminded of what President Franklin Roosevelt said:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

Meaningful reform means that public employee unions won’t have collective bargaining or massive reform of civil service (or both). Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin noted this in a speech and implemented reforms. You will note that Wisconsin pensions are fully funded (one of only three such states).

Pain is coming in the world of pensions. Public employee unions can either recognize it, and live with change, or it will be forced upon them. Taxpayers stuck in bad states (e.g. Illinois) and bad cities (e.g. Chicago) will vote with their feet. Chicago politicians can’t tax John and Mary Smith who leave Chicago for places like Florida. Politicians also need to recognize reform is mandatory. Yes, it will be painful but the cost of kicking this can further down the road is even greater.


That’s a wrap on 2017. While I hope that 2018 will not provide me a lengthy list of candidates for Tax Offender of the Year, I suspect (as usual) that I’ll have plenty of choices.

I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Nominations Due for 2017 Tax Offender of the Year

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

In a little less than a month it will be time to reveal this year’s winner of the prestigious “Tax Offender of the Year” award. Remember, To be considered for the Tax Offender of the Year award, the individual (or organization) must do more than cheat on his or her taxes. It has to be special; it really needs to be a Bozo-like action or actions. Here are the past lucky recipients:

2016: Judge Diane Kroupa
2015: Kenneth Harycki
2014: Mauricio Warner
2013: U.S. Department of Justice
2012: Steven Martinez
2011: United States Congress
2010: Tony and Micaela Dutson
2009: Mark Anderson
2008: Robert Beale
2007: Gene Haas
2005: Sharon Lee Caulder

The Five “Strangest” Things Clients Told Us This Tax Season

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

As I write this from an undisclosed location on my vacation, it’s now two days past the closing (for most of us) of the 2017 Tax Season (filing 2016 tax returns). Our clients told us some, shall we say, interesting things this year. Here are five lowlights:

5. “I sold things on the Internet, so I don’t owe state tax on it.” This client, call him Mr. Smith, sells products over the Internet. He’s a resident of a state with an income tax. “But Russ,” he said, “My customers use the Internet to purchase the products. This business isn’t located in my home.” Indeed, the products ship from Nevada, rather than his home state. Unfortunately, there are two arguments that outweigh his idea. First, he resides in a state with a state income tax; all of his worldwide income is subject to that tax. Second, he is conducting the business from his home: He directs it, manages it, and profits from it. His business may be conducted over the Internet, but it’s conducted by him in his home (in his home state). He eventually came around to paying state income tax. I did offer him a solution: Move to Nevada or some other state that doesn’t have a state income tax. His wife didn’t like that idea.

4. “I don’t want to file the New York tax return, even though I’m getting a full tax credit on my California return.” Mrs. Jones didn’t like it when her employer withheld New York income tax for a four week stint she did working in the Big Apple. “I’m a California resident; how dare New York tax me!” I asked her if she did spend that time in New York. She did. I explained she would get a full tax credit on her California tax return for the New York tax. She didn’t care. I then explained that if she didn’t pay the tax (after withholding, there was a small balance due to New York) she’d get a bill for penalties and interest in a couple of years, and she would pay a lot more than if she simply filed the return. She would also then have to amend her California return to get the tax credit; that would incur additional fees from me. That last point caused her to change her mind.

(The issue of nonresident taxation is a big one, though. Congress has been looking at making the rules for such taxation uniform, and that would be a godsend to both taxpayers and tax professionals.)

3. “I only had the foreign bank account for one week. I don’t want to file the FBAR.” A client inherited money in Spain; the money was moved into a Spanish bank account for exactly one week before being wired to her US account. Since the funds weren’t taxable (gifts aren’t taxable to the recipient) nor was it reportable (gifts from foreign individuals can be subject to reporting but this gift wasn’t large enough to trigger that) she felt it was none of the government’s business that she inherited funds. I explained that Congress felt otherwise. She didn’t care. I then told her there’s a minimum $100,000 penalty for willingly failing to file the FBAR. She then asked me how it was filed.

2. “The side income was only $30,000. Doesn’t that qualify for the de minimis exception to reporting income?” My response was simple: There is no de minimis exception to reporting income. (And even if there were, $30,000 is likely not de minimis.)

1. Twice I heard, “The 1099 never showed up. I don’t have to report the income, right?” Wrong: All income is taxable, no matter if you receive paperwork or not.

We have a bonus lowlight, too. An individual who I effectively turned down as a client apparently read up on Irwin Schiff. The late Mr. Schiff argued that the income tax was unconstitutional, and various other incorrect arguments about how one can legally stop paying the income tax. He was correct in that anyone can stop paying income tax; he was incorrect in saying that one can do that legally. Mr. Schiff died at ClubFed.

In any case, this unnamed individual called me and asked me if I believe in following the law on taxes. I do, of course. He then said that he was looking for a tax professional who believed in the law. So far, so good. He then said that since he had read that the income tax was voluntary he was only going to pay tax on a fraction of what he made; and he wanted me to prepare such a return. I told him that as long as the fraction was equal to 100% of his income, I’d be happy to do so. Strange, I never heard back from him.

I’ll likely have some serious thoughts about the Tax Season that was next week when I get back from my all-too-brief vacation.

Vacation

Sunday, July 30th, 2017

It’s time for my annual vacation. If something earth-shattering in the tax world happens while I’m relaxing, I’ll take time out to post on it. Otherwise, enjoy the fine bloggers listed in the blogroll on the right.

I’ll be back on Tuesday, August 8th.

Office Closed on June 16th

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Two idiot drivers raced down Jones Blvd in front of our office this morning driving an estimated 80mph in a 35 zone. They hit an innocent SUV which flipped, caught on fire, and landed on top of a transformer. The driver escaped with minor injuries. While power has been restored, it will be late afternoon before phone and internet come up. Thus, our office will be closed today and reopen on Monday, June 19th.

Thank You, Joe Kristan

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Most mornings I begin my day by reading a few tax blogs. This has helped me learn what’s happening in the tax world. After all, there’s one of me so the more sets of eyes, the better. Joe Kristan had been publishing Roth Tax Updates for a long time–since 2002. Joe’s firm is merging into Eide Bailly in June, so, “As we begin a new adventure, I will need to spend extra time working to make our transition successful, so it’s time to bring the Tax Update to a close.”

Best of luck Joe, and perhaps there’s an Eide Bailly Tax Updates in the future. (I can always hope.)

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.

Annual Blog Hiatus

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

It’s time for my annual blog hiatus. The annual Bozo Tax Tips have been written and will start appearing around April 1st. I’ll be back with new blog content about April 21st. (If something truly momentous happens in the tax world while I’m on hiatus, I will post about it.)