Friday, October 24, 2014

Has Maryland Been Caught Reaching Into The Tax Cookie Jar?



There are several states that impose a county tax in addition to a state income tax. Maryland is one of those states, and it has attracted attention to itself with the Maryland v Wynne. This case will soon go before the Supreme Court, which will decide whether Maryland has run afoul of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

That sounds esoteric.

It is not that bad, though, as long as we stay out of the weeds.

Let’s start this tax tale with an S corporation shareholder. His name shall be Clark. You may remember that “S” corporations do not pay tax (except in rare circumstances). Instead the corporation “passes through” its income to its shareholders, who in turn report their proportionate share of the corporate income on their individual tax returns.

Let’s say that Clark and his wife live in Maryland.

Let’s say that the S corporation does business both inside and outside Maryland. This means that Clark gets to pay income tax to all the states where the S corporation does business. This happens all the time, much to the chagrin of the tax professional who gets to prepare the paperwork.

Clark's corporation does business in North Carolina,. Clark pays tax to North Carolina (remember: the shareholder pays the income tax for an S corporation). Clark then takes a tax credit on his Maryland income tax for the taxes paid North Carolina. As long as North Carolina is not more expensive than Maryland, there is no-harm-no-foul, except for the professional fees to sort all this out.

And there we encounter the rub.

You see, Maryland divides its tax between a “state” tax and a “county” tax. And it makes a difference.

Enter Brian and Karen Wynne (the Wynnes). They are shareholders in Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc., an S corporation that files returns in 39 states. They themselves live in Howard County, Maryland. When they filed their 2006 Maryland tax return, they claimed taxes that they paid the other 38 states as a credit against their Maryland tax.

And the Maryland State Comptroller changed their numbers and sent them a bill. This lead to Appeals, then Maryland Tax Court, followed by the Circuit Court and – now - the Supreme Court.

The Comptroller’s argument? The Wynnes could not claim a credit for taxes paid other states against the county portion of the Maryland tax. Maryland changed its law in 1975, which was like … a really, really long time ago. Why are we even going there? How can one reasonably offset a state tax against a county tax?

I have to disagree.

Take two people living in Maryland. Have one invest in an S corporation that does all its business inside Maryland. Have the other invest in an S that does all its business in Maine. Unless the other state’s income tax rate is less that the Maryland state income tax rate, the first investor will pay less tax than the second investor. Tell me, how is that fair? Is the state not burdening interstate commerce by taxing the second investor (who invested outside Maryland) more than the first (who invested exclusively within Maryland)? And there you have the core of the challenge under the Commerce Clause.

Let’s use some numbers to make this concrete.

Say that the S corporation income allocable to Maine is $1,000,000. 

(1) The top Maine income tax is 7.95%, so let’s say the Maine income tax will be $79,500.
(2) The top Maryland state income tax rate is 5.75%, so the state income tax will be $57,500.
(3) The Maryland county tax rate is 3.2%, so the county income tax will be $32,000.
(4) This makes the total tax to Maryland $89,500. This exceeds the Maine tax by $10,000.

One offsets the $79,500 paid Maine against the $89,500 otherwise paid Maryland, and it all works out, right?

This is where you get hosed. According to Maryland, you cannot take the excess $22,000 (that is, $79,500 – 57,500) and claim it against the county tax. After all, it is a …. county tax. It does not make sense to offset Maine’s state tax against Maryland’s county tax.

Uhhh, yes it does.

Let us play games with this, shall we? I live in Kentucky, for example. Kentucky has 120 counties. Only Texas and Georgia have more counties, and I wonder why anybody would want more. I understand this goes back to rural times, when travel was more arduous. Nowadays it doesn't make much sense. How much money is wasted on duplication of facilities, county commissions, staff and services that accompanies all these counties?

Let’s say that Frankfort finds itself in a financial bind. Some hotshot realizes that disallowing a resident credit to Kentuckians with income outside the state would help to bridge that financial bind. Said hotshot proposes to carve the Kentucky state income tax into two parts: the state part and the county part. When the county part arrives, Frankfort will just pass it along to the appropriate county. Considering that Frankfort is shuttling monies to the counties already, all one has done is rearrange the furniture.

Except that Frankfort now keeps more money by disallowing a resident credit against all those county taxes. After all, it does not make sense to allow a state tax credit against county tax, right? Pay no attention that Frankfort itself would have created the distinction between state and county income tax. Why that was ... a really, really long time ago. Why are we even going there?

Could Maryland possibly, just possibly, be cynical enough to be playing out my scenario?

I’ll bet you a box of donuts that they are.

So Maryland v Wynne is before the Supreme Court, which will review whether Maryland has violated the “dormant” Commerce Clause. The Maryland Association of Counties has joined in (I will let you guess on which side), and the case has attracted considerable attention from tax practitioners and government policy wonks. There is, for example, some interesting tension in there between the Due Process and Commerce Clauses, for those who follow such things.

The case is scheduled for hearing the second week of November.

Friday, October 17, 2014

What New Paperwork Does An Employer Have Under ObamaCare?



You are an employer. You are a bit unclear on the new paperwork you need to file to comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.  As we go into the fourth quarter of 2014, this issue is taking on greater urgency.

You are completely normal. Many companies, including their advisors, are in the same situation. The rules are new, complicated and – and in some cases – repetitively postponed. Are you supposed to do anything different when you send out the 2014 Forms W-2 in early 2015, for example?

The easiest way to make sense of this is to divide employers into three categories. Why? Because each employer category has its own rules.

The first category is an employer with less than 50 employees (technically, “full-time equivalents”). The Government is quick to point out that this encompasses 96% of all employers, although of course it encompasses a much smaller percentage of employees.

If this is you:

·        You do not have to do anything different with your 2014 W-2s.
·        You are not required to provide health insurance coverage to your full-time employees.
·        You are not required to pay an employer penalty.
·        This is true for 2014, 2015 and all years thereafter.

So, if you are an employer in this category you may or may not offer health insurance to your employees, but this remains a business decision. You are not required to do anything – including filing any new paperwork – to be in compliance with the ACA.

Let’s make our second category employers with 100 or more employees. Why? Technically the original ACA divided employers into two groups: under 50 employees and 50 employees and over. There have been numerous regulatory changes to the law, and one change divided employers further into 50-but-99-and-under employees and 100-employees-and-over.

If this is you… you need to get ready to make changes. 

·         You do not have to do anything different with your 2014 W-2s (fortunately). However, see below for your 2015 W-2s, which you will file in 2016.
·        You will have to provide health insurance to your employees starting January 1, 2015.
o   The ACA itself defines what is acceptable insurance, referred to as “minimum essential coverage.”
§  It also has to be “affordable.”
§  These are areas you want to review with your insurance agent or benefits consultant.
o   There is a sub-rule in here that may or may not impact you. The ACA originally required employers to cover 95% of their full-time employees in 2015. That rule has been changed. You are now required to cover 70% of your full-time employees in 2015 and then 95% for 2016 and later years.
·        You will be required to pay an employer penalty if you don’t provide minimum essential and affordable health insurance.
o   Interestingly enough, this penalty will not appear on your business income tax return. The IRS has to wait until your employees have filed their individual tax returns, then match any information provided to the IRS by the health-care exchanges and by you as the employer.
o   This is expected to be in the form of an IRS notice. You will be given time to respond, after which the IRS will issue another notice and demand for payment.
o   You can therefore expect that this notice will not go out until the end of 2016 or more likely in 2017. This is approximately one-year after you paid the underlying payroll itself.
§  We should expect that this penalty will also eventually be required to be paid via estimated tax payments.
·        You will have new paperwork when you file your 2015 year-end payroll tax returns in 2016. These are known as the “Section 6056 rules” and are in place to provide employees the information they need to calculate their ACA penalty, if any, on their individual tax returns.
o   You will file Form 1095-C Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage. A copy of this goes to your employee. It will also go to the IRS with its transmittal – Form 1094-C Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns.
§  It is therefore similar to sending the W-2s with their transmittal Form W-3.
o   By the way, filing Forms 1095-C and 1094-C are optional for 2014 (to be filed in 2015). The IRS has said it would like you to file and consider them a “trial run,” but you do not have to.
o   But they are mandatory for 2015 (to be filed in 2016).

Finally, our third category: employers with 50 to 99 employees.

This category is different because in February, 2014 the IRS segregated what it called “midsized employers” (that is 50 to 99 employees). These employers received a one-year delay before facing ACA penalties – until January 1, 2016.

The “large employers” (100-or-more employees) received no such break and have to comply starting January 1, 2015.

If this is you… you need to get ready to make changes. 

·        You do not have to do anything different with your 2014 W-2s (fortunately). However, see below for your 2015 W-2s, which you will file in 2016.
·        You will have to provide health insurance to your employees starting January 1, 2016 (not 2015).
o   There is an interesting requirement, though.
§  You will have to certify – for 2015 - that…
·        You have not reduced your workforce to qualify for this relief; and
·        You have not materially reduced or eliminated any health coverage.
§  This certification is on Form 1094-C, which you will be filing anyway.
o   Otherwise, the requirements are the same as 100-and-more employers, as discussed above.
·        You will have an employer penalty for not complying, but you do not have to comply until January 1, 2016. That is, you have one additional year to comply (as compared to 100-and-more employers).
o   Otherwise, the requirements are the same as for 100-and-more employers, as discussed above.
·        You will have new paperwork when you file your 2015 year-end payroll tax returns in 2016. These are known as the “Section 6056 rules” and are in place to provide employees the information they need to calculate their ACA penalty, if any, on their personal tax returns.
o   You will file Form 1095-C Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage. A copy of this goes to your employee. It will go to the IRS with its transmittal – Form 1094-C Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns.
§  It is therefore similar to sending the W-2s with their transmittal Form W-3.
o   By the way, filing Forms 1095-C and 1094-C are optional for 2014 (to be filed in 2015). The IRS has said it would like you to file and consider them a “trial run,” but you do not have to.
o   But they are mandatory for 2015 (to be filed in 2016).

You now have a high-altitude view of what you, as an employer, are to do to comply with the ACA filing requirements. Unless you are a less-than-50 employer, you will have additional reporting requirements. Please consider that some of this information is not presently collected as part of your routine accounting process. Both 50-to-99 and more-than-100 employers should review that new procedures will be in place to collect the information needed to complete these new ACA tax forms. Whereas these forms will not be filed until early 2016, they will contain information going back to January, 2015.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How Much Would A Worker Have To Work Before The IRS Believes They Were Really Working?



Can you own and work at a company but have the IRS consider it to be a “passive activity” for tax purposes?

The question seems odd to me, as I have never worked somewhere where I wasn’t unquestionably “materially participating.” There isn’t much choice, given what I do. I would like to someday, though. It’s on my bucket list.

What do these terms mean?

The terms entered the tax Code in 1986, and they were a (mostly successful) effort to battle tax shelters. To trigger the issue one had to have invested in a business activity, and one’s share (whether large or small) wound up on one’s personal tax return. This means – generally – that one is invested in a partnership, LLC or S corporation. One receives a Schedule K-1 for his/her ownership interest, and those numbers are included with one’s other income (a W-2, for example) on the personal return.

Make those numbers negative and you understand the mechanics of a tax shelter.

Congress said that one had to separate those activities into two buckets. The first was a “material participation” bucket, for activities where you actually worked. Those numbers went on your tax return whether they were positive or negative. Congress saw little risk of a tax shelter if one actually worked at the place.

The second was the “passive activity” bucket. Congress put stringent limits on the ability to use negative numbers from this bucket to offset other income. Congress wasn’t going to allow negative numbers from the passive activity bucket to offset positive numbers from one’s actual job.

You can anticipate that the definition of “material participation” was critical.

There are seven tests to qualify as material participation. They are found in Reg. 1.469-5T and are as follows:

·  The taxpayer works 500 hours or more during the year in the activity.
·  The taxpayer does substantially all the work in the activity.
·  The taxpayer works more than 100 hours in the activity during the year and no one else works more than the taxpayer.
·  The activity is a significant participation activity (SPA), and the sum of SPAs in which the taxpayer works 100-500 hours exceeds 500 hours for the year.
·  The taxpayer materially participated in the activity in any 5 of the prior 10 years.
·  The activity is a personal service activity and the taxpayer materially participated in that activity in any 3 prior years.
·  Based on all of the facts and circumstances, the taxpayer participates in the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis during such year.  However, this test only applies if the taxpayer works at least 100 hours in the activity, no one else works more hours than the taxpayer in the activity, and no one else receives compensation for managing the activity.

The key one is the first – the 500 hour test. That is the workhorse, and the one practitioners prefer to use. The 5-out-of-10 years test allows one to retire, as does the any-3-prior- years test. The SPA test is goofy, and should it be a one-person business, then the substantially-all-the-work test bypasses any reference to hours worked.

Then there is the last one – “facts and circumstances.” This is a fallback, in case one cannot shoehorn into one of the other tests. Tax practice being unpredictable, one would have expected a substantial body of precedence on what comprises “facts and circumstances.” We have had more than 25 years, after all. One would have been wrong, as the IRS prefers to proceed as though this test did not exist.

Now we have the Wade case.

Charles Wade owned stock in two corporations: Thermoplastic Services, Inc. (TSI) and Paragon Plastic Sheeting, Inc. (Paragon). He started these companies in 1980 to address the environmental impact of plastic waste materials. TSI acquired waste from chemical companies and converted it into useable products. Paragon bought raw materials from TSI and used them to make building and construction materials. Sounds green.

In 1994 his son (Ashley) came on board, and eventually wound up managing the companies.

This freed up his dad. Wade could be more involved with the customer relationships and less with the day-to-day stuff. This gave dad (and mom) a chance to move to Florida. He could still call and schmooze customers from Florida. I too would like the opportunity to work from Florida, especially as we get closer to winter.

Fast forward another fourteen years, and in 2008 the companies were struggling for their financial lives. Dad decided to step it up. He did the following:

·        Made 273 phone calls to the plant in 2008
·        Travelled to the plant three times to motivate and reassure employees that the companies would continue
·        Intensified his R&D efforts, resulting in
o   A new technique for fireproofing polyethylene partitions
o   A new method for treating plastics to destroy common viruses and bacteria on contact
·        Guaranteed a new line of credit

Wow! This man did everything short of stepping into a phone booth and coming out as Superman.

But 2008 was a tough year. His losses from the companies (including one other, which need not concern us here) was $3.8 million.

This created a net operating loss (NOL) on his personal return. Truthfully, a negative $3.8 million would create an NOL for pretty much all of us. He did what we would do: he carried back the NOL as allowed, which is to the prior two years. Any amount not used there can be carried forward 20 years. Why would he do that?

To obtain a refund of the taxes he paid in 2006 and 2007, that’s why.

Of course, the IRS did not like this at all. They argued that TSI and Paragon were passive activities to Wade, and there is no NOL from passive losses. In fact, there is no “loss” from passive losses, as the best passive activities can do (generally) is get to zero.

And both parties are bound for Tax Court.

The Court looks and notes that Wade has a couple of arguments. The first is that he spent more than 500 hours working at TSI and Paragon.

Now, this can be messy to prove, unless one is actually in the building every day. Time sheets or records would be great. This is an area where keeping good records is key.

The Court continued. Wade also argued that he worked on a “regular, continuous and substantial basis” in 2008. This is the last test from Reg. 1.469-5T, and is the one the IRS likes to ignore.

The Court decided it liked that one. Maybe it did not want to go through time records, which is understandable. 

It looked at the facts and said “duh!” to the IRS. Wade easily spent more than 100 hours just calling the plant (100 hours is the minimum under the facts-and-circumstances test). He developed new technology, called every day, visited the facilities several times, secured financing. Good grief IRS, what more did you want the guy to do?

The Court decided for Wade, noting:

TSI and Paragon are complex businesses that Mr. Wade built from the ground up and in which he continued to play a vital role. He was not merely a detached investor, as has often been the case when we have found that a taxpayer did not materially participate.”

So Wade won. The IRS would have to issue him refunds from his NOL carryback.

But the IRS made their point: they remained skeptical of anyone who wants to prove material participation by means of facts and circumstances.

Of course, a $3.8 million dollar NOL carryback undoubtedly did a lot to spotlight that facts-and-circumstances claim.