Posts Tagged ‘BozoTaxTips’

Bozo Tax Tip #2: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Employees (Especially Because We’re Lawyers)

Thursday, April 11th, 2019

A few years ago, I first heard about the law firm that had no employees. Now, I can imagine a small firm of, say, three or four partners, with no clerical staff as a possibility. However, having dealt with enough attorneys there are always secretaries, paralegals, clerks, and junior lawyers because most clients don’t way to pay $400 an hour for typing.

Joe Kristan (who formerly had the Roth CPA tax update blog) wrote about the Donald Cave Law Firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A few years ago the firm found itself in Tax Court claiming that the three associates of the firm weren’t employees because the owner, Mr. Cave, alleged he didn’t have enough control over them. Now, do you really believe that a senior lawyer at any firm would allow junior attorneys to do their own thing? Of course not, and the Tax Court didn’t believe it either.

That wasn’t the end of the story, though. The firm appealed and their fate at the Fifth Circuit was, well, what you would expect.

Finally, with respect to the law clerk, Michael Matthews, the record shows that Donald Cave hired Matthews and exercised complete control over the assignment of Matthews’ work for the Firm. Although Matthews also worked for other lawyers and law firms, providing services to multiple employers does not necessitate treatment as an independent contractor…Matthews was paid a salary by the Cave Law Firm of approximately $1250 every two weeks, which amounts to $30,000 per year, regardless of the amount of work he performed during that time period. Contrary to the Firm’s suggestion, Matthews was not paid a minimal amount for essentially piecework. Instead, he entered into a verbal contract with Donald Cave and the Firm for a fixed sum to provide services at the direction of Cave, and there was no evidence that he could reject any work he did not wish to perform. Furthermore, Matthews could neither increase his profit through his own skill and initiative, nor would he suffer the risk of any losses. Matthews also made no investment in the facilities because the Firm provided him with the amenities needed to complete his work.

Can you really imagine that a clerk at a law firm isn’t an employee? I can’t, and neither could the judges at the Fifth Circuit.

The point of this is to be careful about who you claim are independent contractors. If you give John a research project, and don’t control his activities, and he’s working in another state on his own, that truly sounds like an independent contractor. However, if John’s working in your office, and your supervising his every move, etc., trying to claim he’s an independent contractor when he’s really an employee can lead to a big heartache.

Additionally, some states are far tougher on the independent contractor/employee decision than the IRS. Indeed, my old homestead of California is probably the most difficult state in the country to have independent contractors. California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) has an excellent publication on this issue (EDD Publication 38). There’s even a help line you can call.

So if you really have independent contractors, great. But if you’re a law firm and you really, really think that your secretary and the filing clerk are independent contractors you are committing a Bozo act.

Bozo Tax Tip #3: Only Income Earned Outside the US Is Taxable

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

A few days ago I was explaining to a client the basics of the US Tax Code: All income is taxable unless Congress exempts it; nothing is deducible unless Congress allows it. That’s the basics.

My office is in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m a US citizen. So I owe US income tax on my earnings, right? Of course I do. But where few willingly go the Bozo contingent jumps in. Here’s a method of avoiding tax on all your income. It’s been used by celebrities such as Wesley Snipes. So let’s use Section 861 of the Tax Code to avoid tax!

Section 861 states that certain items are always considered as income from within the United States. It does not say that income earned in the US is exempt from tax. But tax protesters claim that’s the case; courts, though, basically state, ‘You must be kidding.’ This argument has never been used successfully. In an audit or in court, if you use the Section 861 argument you have no chance of success.

The US taxes its citizens on their worldwide income. That includes the United States. Indeed, if that weren’t the case I’d be out of a job. Mr. Snipes received three years at ClubFed. In the long-run it’s far, far easier to simply pay your tax.

Bozo Tax Tip #4: The $0.55 Solution

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

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 $3.50 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 fourteen 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 $3.50! And you can go all out and spend $2.80 and get a return receipt, too (though you can now track certified mail online). For another $1.60, 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, April 8th, 2019

Today is April 8th. The tax deadline is just seven days away.

What happens if you wake up and it’s April 15, 2015, 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 are due on April 20th, for example). Automatic extensions are of time to file, not pay, so download 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 April 16th? 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: They Shoot Jaywalkers, Don’t They? (Or Ignoring the FBAR)

Friday, April 5th, 2019

I have, unfortunately, become quite competent in the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. That form is better known as the FBAR. It used to have the form number TD F 90-22.1 (yes, it really did) but now goes by Form 114. The form must be filed online through the bsaefiling center of FINCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

You must file an FBAR if you have $10,000 aggregate at any time during the year. The report for 2018 is due April 15, 2019. Do note that there is an automatic extension until October 15, 2019.

The form is fairly simple and straightforward: Note every foreign financial account you have with name, address, account number, and maximum balance at any time during the past year. Let’s say you have one foreign account, a bank account at the Royal Bank of Canada. You would take your maximum balance and convert it to US dollars from Canadian dollars (you should use the year-end Treasury Department conversion rates no matter when the high balance was). The form must be electronically filed and is filed separately from your tax return.

The penalties for not filing it are quite high. Willful non-filing has a minimum penalty of $100,000 or half the balance in the account–and that’s per account! There’s also possible jail time.

So what must be reported:
– Foreign Bank accounts;
– Bank accounts outside the US of a US financial institution;
– Foreign financial accounts where all you have is signature authority;
– Foreign securities accounts;
– Foreign mutual funds;
– Foreign life insurance with a cash or annuity value; and
– Online gambling accounts if outside the US.

There are probably others, too.

The IRS does have a chart that lists most things that need reporting on the FBAR and Form 8938. Form 8938 is the “cousin” of the FBAR; this form needs to be filed if you have larger balances in foreign accounts.

Millions of FBARs are filed each year. When I started in tax, filing an FBAR was a huge audit red flag; that’s no longer the case. There are just too many FBARs filed. Do note that if you have an FBAR filing requirement you must note that in question 7 at the bottom of Schedule B.

To end this with some humor, one of my pet peeves in dealing with taxes is that there are three different sets of abbreviations for foreign counties used in tax. The FBAR has one set; question 7 at the bottom of Schedule B has another set, and Form 8938 has a third set. Some countries are noted identically while others are not. On one of of the abbreviations Curacao is “CU” while that means Cuba in another.

In any case, the FBAR is no laughing matter. The IRS’s mantra here is to shoot jaywalkers. Don’t become such a person: If you have an FBAR filing requirement, file it! Again, the FBAR is due April 15th (but with an automatic extension until October 15th).

Bozo Tax Tip #7: Be Frivolous

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

I’d love to be frivolous during tax season. But the inbox is full, the piles of paper don’t go anywhere unless I move them, and my next day off is April 16th. I can get a good laugh when I get an email letting me know that, “Russ, you’re full of ****. There is no law mandating anyone file a tax return or pay income tax.” Yes, I received such an email today. It appeared that it was over one page, but after the first sentence I hit the delete key.

I’ve written about Richard Hatch. He got 51 months at ClubFed for his bout of frivolity. Wesley Snipes tried to say that only foreign-source income was taxable. He got 36 months at ClubFed.

Tax Court judges don’t have the same sense of humor that I do about frivolous arguments. Michael Balice found that out:

Petitioner has responded to this motion by contending (among other things) that he is not subject to IRS deficiency procedures and that wages are not “income” because they result from the exercise of his “irrefutable right to work.” We will grant the motion for summary judgment and sustain the tax deficiencies and additions to tax determined by the IRS. We will also require petitioner to pay under section 6673(a) a penalty to the United States in the amount of $25,000 for asserting frivolous positions in this Court.

I’ll make this simple: Yes, Virginia, there is an income tax and you must pay it. Or as my favorite author, Rex Stout, put it, “Either pay [the income tax] or suffer a loss of privileges.”

Bozo Tax Tip #8: The Shell

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

I was talking with a friend who is an attorney in the Midwest. She told me about an individual who decided to use ten layers of shell companies to hide his income. It worked so well that the Bozo had trouble accessing his income.

He was using the usual foreign shelter countries: the Cayman Islands (in the Caribbean), the Channel Islands (in the English Channel), the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea), and Vanuatu (in the South Pacific). There was a land-based country in there, too: Panama. In any case, somehow the ownership got so messed up that one of the shells refused to deal with another.

My friend didn’t get involved to get the money situation resolved. No, she got involved because her client ended up going through a messy divorce, and her client’s now ex-wife happen to find one of the papers dealing with one of the shells companies. My friend’s a divorce attorney, and a good one, and she was able, with some help, find a lot of the hidden money. The judge was not as amused as I was hearing about the difficulties the man was having getting his money out. And neither was the IRS because he had “forgotten” to pay tax on a lot of income.


There are lots of good strategies for businesses to use to lower their taxes. Income balancing to C corporations can be a good strategy. Maximizing Section 179 depreciation is another. Retirement Accounts are another good strategy. There are many, many others. But hiding income in foreign jurisdictions is a very bad one, and if you get caught you are likely looking at a lengthy term at ClubFed.

Bozo Tax Tip #9: Nevada Corporations

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Actually, this isn’t that much of a Bozo Tax Tip. Nevada is a great state to have your business in. But the key is being in Nevada (or operating in multiple states and selecting Nevada as your corporate domicile). You cannot escape California taxes by being a Nevada corporation if you’re still operating in the Bronze Golden State.

If the corporation operates in California it will need to file a California tax return. Period. It doesn’t matter if the corporation is a California corporation, a Delaware corporation, or a Nevada corporation.

Now, if you’re planning on moving to Nevada forming a business entity in the Silver State can be a very good idea (as I know). But thinking you’re going to avoid California taxes just because you’re a Nevada entity is, well, bozo.

Bozo Tax Tip #10: Email Your Social Security Number

Monday, April 1st, 2019

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 sixth 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 two years, 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.

Bozo Tax Tip #1: Ignore Cryptocurrency Sales!

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Last week (as I write this), I met with a new client. He purchased a lot of cryptocurrency in 2016 but didn’t sell any of it until around Thanksgiving of 2017 (he had one small sale). He asked me if he had to report it; I told him he definitely did: I haven’t found anything in the Tax Code that exempts cryptocurrency from US taxation. We entered it, and the gain was duly noted on his return. He then asked me about his other purchases of cryptocurrency. He had heard about Coinbase complying with a summons (indeed, he received notification about this from Coinbase) and wondered about that. I told him there was nothing he need do about his purchases. The IRS ruled that cryptocurrency is property, so only disposals of cryptocurrency need be noted on tax returns. Your records may be going to the IRS, but there’s nothing you need to do about it or anything to worry about.

Contrast that with a different individual; let’s call him John. I met with John last week. Our Engagement Letter now specifically notes that cryptocurrency transactions must be included on tax returns. John said he had over 3,000 transactions of swapping various cryptocurrencies and, “There’s no way in hell I’m going to tell the IRS about them.” I told him it was nice meeting him, and he would need to find another tax professional to prepare his return because there’s no way in hell I’m going to be an accomplice to tax evasion.

I’m not enamored by the IRS’s decision to tax cryptocurrency as property rather than currency. If cryptocurrency were taxed as currency, calculating gains would be simple and straightforward. True, for some individuals who have bought a single cryptocurrency and have few trades, cryptocurrency taxation isn’t a big deal. However, we are dealing with lots of clients with huge trading volumes. And then we have the forks, airdrops, and who knows what else.

The IRS is looking for help in how to tax a fork. Is the correct analogy a stock split? Or do we have a stock dividend? Peter Reilly argues that the best course for individuals in this situation is to file an extension and hope that the IRS issues guidance by late summer. Unfortunately, no one knows when the IRS will issue guidance.

But there is one certainty: Ignoring your cryptocurrency realized gains is a bad idea. The IRS issued a reminder about this. An excerpt:

The Internal Revenue Service today reminded taxpayers that income from virtual currency transactions is reportable on their income tax returns.

Virtual currency transactions are taxable by law just like transactions in any other property. The IRS has issued guidance in IRS Notice 2014-21 for use by taxpayers and their return preparers that addresses transactions in virtual currency, also known as digital currency.

Taxpayers who do not properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions can be audited for those transactions and, when appropriate, can be liable for penalties and interest.

In more extreme situations, taxpayers could be subject to criminal prosecution for failing to properly report the income tax consequences of virtual currency transactions. Criminal charges could include tax evasion and filing a false tax return. Anyone convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Anyone convicted of filing a false return is subject to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.

So if you’re a Bozo, just ignore that million you made selling Bitcoin. They’ll never catch you…you hope.