Archive for the ‘Taxable Talk’ Category

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.)

Start Your 2017 Mileage Log Now

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

I’m going to start the new year with a few reposts of essential information. Yes, you do need to keep a mileage log:

Tuesday is the first business day of the new year for many. You may have resolved to keep good records this year (at least, we hope you have). Start with keeping an accurate, contemporaneous written mileage log (or use a smart phone app–with periodic sending of the information to yourself to prove that the log is contemporaneous).

Why, you ask? Because if you want to deduct all of your business mileage, you must do this! IRS regulations and Tax Court rulings require this. Written is defined as ink, so that means you need a paper log or must be able to prove your smart phone log is contemporaneous.

The first step is to go out to your car, and note the starting mileage for the new year. So go out to your car, and jot down that number (mine was 69,678). That should be the first entry in your mileage log. I use a small memo book for my mileage log; it conveniently fits in the center console of my car.

Here’s the other things you should do:

On the cover of your log, write “2017 Mileage Log for [Your Name].”

Each time you drive for business, note the date, the starting and ending mileage, where you went, and the business purpose. Let’s say you drive to meet a new client, and meet him at his business. The entry might look like:

1/5 70315-70350 Office-Acme Products (1234 Main St, Las Vegas)-Office,
Discuss requirements for preparing tax return, year-end journal entries

It takes just a few seconds to do this after each trip, and with the standard mileage rate being $0.52/mile, the 35 miles in this hypothetical trip would be worth a deduction of $18. That deduction does add up.

Some gotchas and questions:
1. Why not use a smartphone app? Actually, you can but the current regulations require you to also keep a written mileage log. You can transfer your computer app nightly to paper, and that way you can have the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, current regulations do not guarantee that a phone app will be accepted by the IRS in an audit.

That said, if you backup (or transfer) your phone app on a regular basis, and can then print out those backups, that should work. The regular backups should have identical historical information; the information can then be printed and will function as a written mileage log. I do need to point out that the Tax Court has not specifically looked at mileage logs maintained on a phone. A written mileage log (pen and paper) will be accepted; a phone app with backups should be accepted.

2. I have a second car that I use just for my business. I don’t need a mileage log. Wrong. First, IRS regulations require documentation for your business miles; an auditor will not accept that 100% of the mileage is for business–you must prove it. Second, there will always be non-business miles. When you drive your car in for service, that’s not business miles; when you fill it up with gasoline, that’s not necessarily business miles. I’ve represented taxpayers in examinations without a written mileage log; trust me, it goes far, far easier when you have one.

3. Why do I need to record the starting miles for the year?
There are two reasons. First, the IRS requires you to note the total miles driven for the year. The easiest way is to note the mileage at the beginning of the year. Second, if you want to deduct your mileage using actual expenses (rather than the standard mileage deduction), the calculation involves taking a ratio of business miles to actual miles.

4. Can I use actual expenses? Yes. You would need to record all of your expenses for your car: gas, oil, maintenance, repairs, insurance, registration, lease fees (or interest and depreciation), etc., and the deduction is figured by taking the sum of your expenses and multiplying by the percentage use of your car for business (business mileage to total mileage driven). Note that once you start using actual expenses for your car, you generally must continue with actual expenses for the life of the car.

So start that mileage log today. And yes, your trip to the office supply store to buy a small memo pad is business miles that can be deducted.

The 2016 Tax Offender of the Year

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Every year I hope that I won’t find any deserving individuals of the Tax Offender of the Year Award. 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.

Coming in third this year is the Internal Revenue Service. What did the IRS do to deserve this award? Well, we have the IRS Scandal; it’s still unresolved. If we were to believe the IRS nothing untoward happened! I’m sure that’s why Commissioner Koskinen faced an impeachment resolution. And remember the data breaches? It wasn’t 104,000 people who were victimized back in 2015 (the “Get Transcript Hack) nor was it 334,000 taxpayers. There were over 700,000 people impacted (and over 500,000 unsuccessful attempts)! As Joe Kristan says, “The IRS: Protecting your identity since 1913.” Or not.

Coming in second place this year is the Miccosukee tribe of Indians in Florida. They’ve been fighting in both US District Court and US Tax Court that income to members of the tribe from a casino isn’t taxable. To date, they’ve lost every single case. Most recently, in August US District Judge Ceclilia Altonaga ruled that a tribal member must pay nearly $279,000 in taxes, penalties, and interest stemming from not filing a 2001 tax return. The Tax Court cases have been inching along; most recently, the Tax Court ruled that a trial will be held and that the tribe cannot subpoena witnesses from the Department of the Interior to interpret statutes (the judges will do that). In March, the tribe lost an appeal that they were immune from US taxes. (The lawsuit alleged that the US had waived sovereign immunity for the tribe. The lawsuit was dismissed in US District Court; the tribe appealed and lost that appeal.)


A husband and wife from Minnesota were indicted in April on tax evasion charges. The charges, detailed in the indictment, are very typical tax charges. The couple were alleged to have fraudulently claimed personal expenses as business expenses, including rent, utilities, garbage removal, household cleaning, remodeling windows, interior design fees, a dishwasher, furniture to stage a house for sale, Pilates classes, jewelry, wine club fees, and grooming expenses. (There are more, but that’s a good range of the expenses they claimed on their returns.)

They were also alleged to have not reported income from a sale of land in South Dakota, and to have not reported canceled debt income. Adding to their troubles, they were alleged to have lied to an IRS Office Examiner during an audit of their 2004 and 2005 tax returns in 2006. It’s a very bad idea to lie to an IRS employee; that’s a felony. They then allegedly lied again during an audit of their 2009 and 2010 returns (in 2012). One would think they had learned but….

Of course, they allegedly lied to their tax professional regarding all of the returns, grossly understating their income. They ended up owing an additional $500,000 in taxes, penalties, and interest.

Unfortunately, this kind of tax crime (taking personal expenses as business expenses) is fairly common. Most individuals believe that they just won’t get caught. As the Tax Court has noted,

Taxpayers may deduct ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on a trade or business. The term “ordinary and necessary business expenses” means only those expenses that are ordinary and necessary and are directly attributable to the trade or business. The term does not include personal, living, or family expenses. Simply because an expense would not have been incurred but for the taxpayer’s engaging in a trade or business is insufficient to allow a deduction. The nature of the expense must not be personal or otherwise nondeductible.

There are many expenses that are helpful, even essential, to one’s business, but which are not deductible in our tax system. Expenses of driving to and from work, for example, are not deductible. Expenses for clothing worn in a taxpayer’s trade or business, and the costs of laundering the clothing, are not deductible if the clothing is adaptable for nonbusiness wear.

The judge who wrote that decision is Diane Kroupa. Ms. Kroupa was a US Tax Court judge from June 2003 until her resignation in June 2014. She’s also one of the two defendants in this case. Yes, a former Tax Court judge committed tax evasion. And that is why she is the 2016 Tax Offender of the Year.

When Judge Kroupa and her husband were indicted, my reaction was the same as Law Professor Dennis Ventry, Jr. of the UC Davis Law School:

Smart people do dumb things all the time but this is a head-scratcher. If you’re a high-level government employee, you side on saying ‘no’ to a deduction; you take the conservative approach.

I didn’t report on this case when the indictment was issued in early April (it was during the annual down-time for my blog). I had noticed the story, of course, but basically couldn’t believe it. However, both Robert Fackler (Judge Kroupa’s husband) and Judge Kroupa pleaded guilty.

In the plea examination, Judge Kroupa admitted her crime:

Q. And neither you nor Mr. Fackler told the tax preparer the amounts reflected in the information, spreadsheets, or tax organizers that you gave him included personal expenses that were disguised as business expenses?
A. No.
Q. That fact is true?
A. That fact is true, we did not provide that information.
Q. And by doing that, you thereby significantly and fraudulently increased Grassroots Consulting’s business expenses, which then reduced the amount of taxes that you jointly owed to the IRS?
A. Correct.
Q. And on page 4 and page 5 of this plea agreement there is a list of descriptions of specific expenses that were included supposedly as business expenses which were, in fact, personal expenses, correct?
A. Correct.
Q. You’ve looked at this list and either you know that these are ones that were included or else you have seen evidence to that effect?
A. Correct.
Q. So in total from 2004 through 2010 did you and Mr. Fackler fraudulently deduct at least 500,000 of personal expenses as purported Schedule C business expenses?
A. Yes.

Judge Kroupa certainly knew the law; her resume is quite impressive:

Judge. b. South Dakota. B.S.F.S. Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, 1978; J.D. University of South Dakota Law School, 1981. Prior to appointment to the Court, practiced tax law at Faegre & Benson, LLP in Minneapolis, MN. Minnesota Tax Court Judge from 1995 to 2001 and Chief Judge from 1998 to 2001. Attorney-advisor, Legislation and Regulations Division, Office of Chief Counsel and served as attorney-advisor to Judge Joel Gerber, United States Tax Court, 1984-1985. Admitted to practice law in South Dakota (1981), District of Columbia (1985) and Minnesota (1986). Member, American Bar Association (Tax Section), Minnesota State Bar Association (Tax Section), National Association of Women Judges (1995 to present), American Judicature Society (1995 to present). Distinguished Service Award Recipient (2001) Minnesota State Bar Association (Tax Section). Volunteer of the Year Award, Junior League of Minneapolis (1993) and Community Volunteer of the Year, Minnesota State Bar Association (1998). Appointed by President George W. Bush as Judge, United States Tax Court, on June 13, 2003, for a term ending June 12, 2018.

Unfortunately, we must add, “Pleaded guilty to tax charges (2016)” to that list.

Judge Kroupa’s actions—a former Tax Court judge committing tax evasion—make her a worthy recipient of the 2016 Tax Offender of the Year Award.


That’s a wrap on 2016! While I am hopeful 2017 will not provide me a lengthy list of candidates for Tax Offender of the Year, I suspect that I’ll have plenty of choices.

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

Nominations Due for 2016 Tax Offender of the Year

Monday, December 5th, 2016

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:

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

Gambling With an Edge Podcast

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

I am the guest on this week’s Gambling With an Edge Podcast. We discuss year-end tax planning, Caesars’ bankruptcy, tax deadline changes for 2016 returns, and how the final table players of the main event of the World Series of Poker made out with taxes. This was my third appearance on Gambling With an Edge; my other appearances are available on their website or iTunes.