Sunday, September 29, 2019

Excess Business Loss Problems

To a tax accountant, October 15 signifies the extended due date for individual tax returns.

As a generalization, our most complicated returns go on extension. There is a reason: it is likely that the information necessary to prepare the return is not yet available. For example, you are waiting on a Schedule K-1 from a partnership, LLC or S corporation. That K-1 might not be prepared until after April 15. There is only so much work an office of accountants can generate within 75 days, irrespective of government diktats.

More recently I am also seeing personal returns being extended because we are expecting a broker’s information report to be revised and perhaps revised again. It happens repetitively.

Let’s talk about a new twist for 2018 personal returns. There are a few twists, actually, but let’s focus on the “excess business loss” rule.

First, this applies only to noncorporate taxpayers. As noncorporate taxpayers, that could be you or me.

Its purpose is to stop you or me from claiming losses past a certain amount.

Now think about this for a moment.

Go out there, sign a sports contract for big bucks and Uncle Sam is draped all over you like a childhood best friend.

Get booted from the league, however, and you get a very different response.

How can losses happen?

Easy. Let me give you an example. We represent a sizeable contractor. The swing in their numbers from year-to-year can gray your hair. When times are good, they are virtually printing money. When times are bad, it feels like they are taking-on the national debt.

I presume one does not even know the meaning of risk if one wants to be an owner there.

To me, fairness requires that the tax law share in my misery when I am losing money if it also wants me to cooperatively send taxes when I am making money. Call me old-fashioned that way.

The “excess business loss” rule is not concerned with old-fashioned fairness.

Let’s use some numbers to make sense of this.

          Dividends                      100,000
 Capital gains                  400,000
          Schedule K-1                (600,000)

The concept is that you can offset a business loss against nonbusiness income, but only up to a point. That point is $250,000 if you are nonmarried and twice that if you are. Using the above numbers, we have:

 Dividends                       100,000
          Capital gains                  400,000
          Schedule K-1                (600,000)
          Excess business loss     100,000
Interest, dividends and capital gains are the classic nonbusiness income categories. You are allowed to offset $500,000 of nonbusiness income (assuming married) but you are showing $600,000 of business losses. The excess business loss rule will magically adjust $100,000 into your income tax return to get the numbers to work.

It is like a Penn and Teller show.

Let’s tweak our example:

Wages                            100,000
Dividends                       100,000
         Capital gains                  400,000
         Schedule K-1                (600,000)

What now? Do you get to include that W-2 as part of your business income, meaning that you no longer have a $100,000 excess business loss?

Believe it or not, tax professionals are not certain.

Here is what sets up the issue:

The Joint Committee of Taxation published its “Bluebook” describing Congress’ intention when drafting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In it, the JCT states that “an excess business loss … does not take into account gross income, or gains or deductions attributable to the trade or business of performing services as an employee.”        

The “trade or business of performing services as an employee” is fancy talk for wages and salaries.

However, the IRS came out with a shiny new tax form for the excess business loss calculation. The instructions indicate that one should add-up all business income, including wages and tips.

We have two different answers.

Let’s get nerdy, as it matters here.

Elsewhere in the Code, we also have a new 20% deduction for “qualified business income.” The Code has to define “business income,” as that is the way tax law works. The Code does so by explicitly excluding the trade or business of “being an employee.”

There is a concept of statutory construction that comes into play. If one Code section has to EXPLICITLY exclude wages (that is, the trade or business of being an employee), then it is reasonably presumable that business income includes wages.

Which means foul when another Code section pops up and says “No, it does not.”

Of course, no one will know for certain until a court decides.

Or Congress defies all reasonable expectations and actually works rather than enable the Dunning-Kruger psychopaths currently housed there.

Why does this “excess business loss” Code section even exist?

Think $150 billion in taxes over 10 years. That is why.

To be fair, the excess is not lost. It carries over to the following year as a net operating loss.

That probably means little if you have just lost your shirt and I am calling you to make an extension payment on April 15 – you know, because of that “excess business loss” thing.

Meanwhile tax professionals have to march on. We cannot wait. After all, those noncorporate returns are due October 15.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Horse Activity And Owning A Horse

Her story has been out there for a while.

I did a quick search and found that she appeared before the Tax Court in 2013. She was back in 2015 and now again in 2019.

Her name is Denise Celeste McMillan (McMillan), and she has to do with horses.

In the tax world, horses have to do with hobby losses.

Let’s take a moment on what that term means.

Let’s say that you take on a side gig. It is arguable how serious you are about the gig, but there is no argument that you are losing money doing it.

And you keep losing money … year after year.

The first thing you or I would ask is: why? The second question would be: how are you affording to do this?

There you have the two issues at the heart of a hobby loss challenge:

(1) Are you running your gig as a business? If the gig is lagging, a business owner would do something: market more effectively, swap-out products offered for sale, move to another location with better traffic, maybe even close the business and try something else.
(2) How can you afford this? Maybe you sold your business for huge bucks and are now following your lifelong dream of collecting every Ukrainian comic title printed from the 1950s through the 1970s. It is not a lucrative business, but it has a loyal following. You can afford to live the dream because of that big-bucks thing.

McMillan definitely loves horses. She started riding at age four and started formal lessons at age nine. She won numerous awards. She started a specialized business, taking difficult horses on consignment. She would retrain them and later sell them at a profit.

Sounds interesting.

She normally kept between one and six horses.

The more the better, methinks.

She went through a difficult stretch (ten years) owning just own horse (Goldrush).  Goldrush had issues and did not compete, show or breed.

Not good.

In 2007 she sent Goldrush to Australia to stand at stud.

That should get the revenues going again, hopefully.

In 2008 and two months after arriving in Australia, Goldrush died.


I guess she will have to get another horse or few and restart.

She did not.

What she did however is keep deducting horse-related expenses.

And now we have her third trip to Tax Court.

She says she has a business.

The IRS says she does not.

What do you think?

Here is the Court:
We believe Ms. McMillan when she says that she’s been continuously involved with horses since the 1970s. But her last horse died in 2008, at which point she hadn’t shown or bred in a decade. We therefore find that if her horse activity was ever a trade or business, that trade or business ended before 2010, and in that year she was at most looking at starting anew.”
The Court is being diplomatic here. It is saying that her previous activity had ended, but perhaps another had taken its place.

So the question is: had she started a new activity after the death of Goldrush?

Remember that in tax-speak, an activity requires “regular and continuous” involvement. It does not have to be a 24/7 thing, but it does have to be more than “someday isle” dreamweaving over beers with a friend.
Ms. McMillan’s ‘horse breeding/showing’ business hadn’t actually commenced or resumed by the end of 2010.”        
Guess not. The best she could get would be start-up expenses, to be deducted over time once that business in fact started.

The moral of story seems clear: if you want to say that you are in the horse business, you may want to own a horse.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Dog The Bounty Hunter And The IRS

The IRS has a form just to inform them that you moved.

Many, many years ago I was asked why this form existed, as the IRS would automatically update its files when you filed your next tax return.

After decades of practice, I have a very good idea why this form exists.

Let’s talk about Duane Chapman, whom you may know as Dog the Bounty Hunter. You may also remember that his wife – Beth – recently passed away from throat cancer.

The series Dog the Bounty Hunter aired from 2003 to 2012; the show took Duane and Beth to Hawaii and Colorado.

In 2012 the IRS was looking at their 2006 and 2007 tax returns.
COMMENT: You may be wondering why the statute did not close on the tax returns after 3 years. The IRS will – especially if there is complexity to the return – usually ask one to extend the statute period. I tend to accept such requests, as the alternative is for the IRS to disallow everything and issue a Notice of Deficiency before the statute expires.
Let’s highlight several dates.

Duane and Beth used their CPA’s address for their 2010 tax return.

Their favorite accountant left that CPA firm to start his own. Duane and Beth followed.

Duane and Beth then used this CPA’s new address for their 2011 return.

We therefore have two addresses in Los Angeles.

Mind you, the television show was in Honolulu.

And they also had a home in Colorado.

It was 2012 and the IRS was preparing a Notice of Deficiency, also known as the 90-day letter.  One has 90 days to appeal to the Tax Court.

The IRS was required to send the Notice to their “last known address.”

That presents a problem.

What address do you use?

The Appeals Officer had an IRS employee search for addresses, but eventually he sent copies of the Notice to both CPAs in Los Angeles.

The story now goes wonky.

The old CPA received the Notice but did not see fit to forward it to Duane and Beth, or at least to place a call or send an e-mail to either – you know, for old time’s sake.

I am thinking he may want to contact his insurance carrier, just in case.

The new CPA said he never received the Notice, but Post Office records show that it had been delivered. What makes this doubly peculiar is that the CPA had previously contacted the Appeals Officer explaining that he would soon be filing a power of attorney. And he did – but after delay and after the Officer had closed the file.

I am thinking he may want to contact his insurance carrier also.

The IRS assessed taxes, interest and penalties.

Duane and Beth challenged whether the IRS used their last known address. If the IRS did not, then the Notice of Deficiency was not properly served and any tax or penalty could not be reduced to assessment. Both parties would be back to square one.

Duane and Beth argued that any IRS notice should have gone to their address in Hawaii, as that is where they were. The IRS knew that the Los Angeles addresses were for their CPAs and not for them personally.

The Court had to address the meaning of “last known address.”

And it means pretty much what you would think.

The last known address was for their old CPA. The IRS had extended a courtesy by sending a copy to the new CPA, especially considering his delay in sending a power of attorney. Granted, the IRS knew – or should have known – that they were in Hawaii, but that is not what “last known address” means.

The taxpayer decides that address. By filing a return. Or by filing that change-of-address form noted at the beginning of this post.

Duane and Beth had decided it would be their CPA’s address.

They had filed with the Tax Court long after 90 days had expired.

So their filing was dismissed as untimely.

Our case this time was Chapman v Commissioner, TC Memo 2019-110.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The IRS Does Not Believe You Made A Loan

The issue came up here at command center this past week. It is worth discussing, as the issue is repetitive and – if the IRS aims it your way – the results can be brutal.

We are talking about loans.

More specifically, loans to/from yourself and among companies you own.

What’s the big deal, right? It is all your money.

Yep, it’s your money. What it might not be, however, is a loan.

Let’s walk through the story of James Polvony.

In 1996 he joined his wife’s company, Archetone Limited (Limited) as a 49% owner. Limited was a general contractor.

In 2002 he started his own company, Povolny Group (PG). PG was a real estate brokerage.

The real estate market died in 2008. Povolny was looking for other sources of income.

He won a bid to build a hospital for the Algerian Ministry of Health.

He formed another company, Archetone International LLC (LLC), for this purpose.

The Algerian job required a bank guaranty. This created an issue, as the best he could obtain was a line of credit from Wells Fargo. He took that line of credit to a UK bank and got a guarantee, but he still had to collateralize the US bank. He did this by borrowing and moving monies around his three companies.

The Algerian government stopped paying him. Why? While the job was for the Algerian government, it was being funded by a non-Algerian third party. This third party wanted a cut of the action. Povolny did not go along, and – shockingly – progress payments, and then actual job progress, ceased.

The deal was put together using borrowed money, so things started unravelling quickly.

International was drowning. Povolny had Limited pay approximately $241,000 of International’s debts.

PG also loaned International and Limited approximately $70 grand. PG initially showed this amount as a loan, but PG amended its return to show the amount as “Cost of Goods Sold.”
COMMENT: PG was making money. Cost of goods sold is a deduction, whereas a loan is not, at least not until it becomes uncollectible. I can see the allure of another deduction on a profitable tax return. Still, to amend a return for this reason strikes me as aggressive.
Limited also deducted its $241 grand, not as cost-of-goods-sold but as a bad-debt deduction.

Let’s regroup here for a moment.

  • Povolny moved approximately $311 grand among his companies, and
  • He deducted the whole thing using one description or another.

This caught the IRS’ attention.


Because it matters how Polvony moved monies around.

A loan can result in a bad debt deduction.

A capital contribution cannot. Granted, you may have a capital loss somewhere down the road, but that loss happens when you finally shut down the company or otherwise dispose of your stock or ownership interest.

Timing is a BIG deal in this area.

If you want the IRS to respect your assertion of a loan, then be prepared to show the incidents of a loan, such as:

  • A written note
  • An interest rate
  • A maturity date
  • Repayment schedule
  • Recourse if the debtor does not perform (think collateral)

Think of yourself as SunTrust or Fifth Third Bank making a loan and you will get the idea.

The Court made short work of Povolny:
·       The $241 thousand loan did not have a written note, no maturity date and no required interest payments.
·       Ditto for the $70 grand.
The Court did not find the commercially routine attributes of debt, so it decided that there was no debt.

Povolny was moving his own capital around.

He as much said so when he said that he “didn’t see the merit” in creating written notes, interest rates and repayment terms.

The Polvony case is not remarkable. It happens all the time. What it does, however, is to tentpole how important it is to follow commercially customary banking procedures when moving monies among related companies.

But is it all your money, isn’t it?

Yep, it is. Be lax and the IRS will take you at your word and figure you are just moving your own capital around.

And there is no bad debt deduction on capital.

Our case this time was Povolny Group, Incorporated et al v Commissioner, TC Memo 2018-37.