Sunday, September 24, 2017

A CPA Goes Into Personal Audit

Folks, if you wind up before the Tax Court, please do not say the following:
… petitioner testified that allocating some of the expenses between his personal and business use required more time than he was willing to spend on the activity.”
Our protagonist this time is Ivan Levine, a retired CPA who was trying to get a financial service as well as a marketing business going. He worked from home. He used personal credit cards and bank accounts, as well as a family cellular plan. He also drove two vehicles – a Porsche 911 and a Chevrolet Suburban – for both personal and business reasons. All pretty standard stuff.

The IRS came down like a sack of bricks on his 2011 return. They challenged the following:

(1) Advertising
(2) Vehicle expenses
(3) Depreciation, including the vehicles
(4) Insurance (other than health)
(5) Professional fees
(6) Office expenses
(7) Supplies
(8) Utilities
(9) Cell phone
(10)       Office-in-home

Whoa! It seems to me that some of these expenses are straight-forward – advertising, for example. You show a check, hopefully an invoice and you are done. Same for professional fees, office expenses and supplies. How hard can it be?

It turns out that he was deducting the same expense in two categories. He was also confusing tax years – currently deducting payments made in the preceding year.

The office-in-home brings some strict requirements. One of them is that an office-in-home deduction cannot cause or increase an operating loss. If that happens, the offending deductions carryover to the subsequent year. It happens a lot.

It happened to Mr. Irvine. He had a carryover from 2010 to 2011, the year under audit. The IRS requested a copy of Form 8829 (that is, the office-in-home form) from 2010. They also requested documentation for the 2010 expenses.
COMMENT: Why would the IRS request a copy of a form? They have your complete tax return already, right? This occurs because the IRS machinery is awkward and cumbersome and it is easier for the revenue agent to get a copy from you.
Mr. Irvine refused to do either. The decision does not state why, but I suspect he thought the carryover was safe, as the IRS was auditing 2011 and not 2010. That is not so. Since the carryover is “live” in 2011, the IRS can lookback to the year the carryover was created. Dig in your heels and the IRS will disallow the carryover altogether.

The vehicles introduce a different tax technicality. There are certain expenses that Congress felt were too easily subject to abuse. For those, Congress required a certain level of documentation before allowing any deduction. Meals and entertainment are one of those, as are vehicle expenses.

Trust me on this, go into audit without backup for vehicle expenses and the IRS will just goose-egg you. You do not need to keep a meticulous log, but you need something. I have gotten the IRS to allow vehicle expenses when the taxpayer drives a repeating route; all we had to do was document one route. I have gotten the IRS to accept reconstructions from Outlook or Google calendar. The calendar itself is “contemporaneous,” a requirement for this type of deduction.

BTW the tricky thing about using Outlook this way is remembering to back-up Outlook at year-end. I am just saying.

You know Mr. Irvine did not do any of this.


Because it would have required “… more time than he was willing to spend on the activity.”

This from a CPA?

Being a CPA does not mean that one practices tax, or practices it extensively. I work tax exclusively, but down the hall is a CPA who has careered in auditing. He can exclaim about myriad issues surrounding financial statements, but do not ask him to do a tax return. There are also nouveau practice niches, such as forensic accountants or valuation specialists. One is still within the CPA tent, but likely far away from its tax corner.

Although a CPA, Mr. Irvine could have used a good tax practitioner. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Paying Back The ObamaCare Subsidy

I do not see many tax returns with the ObamaCare health exchange subsidy.

Our fees make it unlikely.

However, take an ongoing client with variable income or business losses and we do see some.

I saw one this busy season that gave me pause.

Let’s discuss the McGuire case to set up the issue.

Mr. McGuire was working and Mrs. McGuire was not. In 2013, they applied with the Covered California and qualified for a monthly subsidy of $591, or $7,092 per year. They enrolled in a plan that cost $1,182 monthly. After the subsidy, their cost was (coincidentally) $591 monthly.

Mrs. McGuire started a job that paid $600 per week. She contacted Covered California, as she realized that her paycheck would affect that subsidy.

This being a government agency, you can anticipate the importance they gave Mrs. McGuire.

That would be “none.”

Several months later they did send a letter stating that the McGuires did not qualify for a subsidy.

The letter did not talk about switching to a lower cost plan. Or dropping the plan altogether. Or – be still my heart - provide a phone number to speak with an actual government bureaucrat.

It did not matter.

The McGuires had moved. They tried to get Covered California to update their address, but it was the same story as getting Covered California to update their premium subsidy for her new job.

The McGuires never received the letter.

It goes without saying that they never received Form 1095-A in 2014 either. This is the tax form for reporting an Exchange subsidy.

There are two main individual penalties under the Affordable Care Act:
(1) There is a penalty for not having “qualified” insurance. This is not the same as being uninsured. Have insurance that the government disapproves of and you are treated as having no insurance at all. 
(2) Subsidies received have to be reconciled to your actual household income. Make less that you thought and you may get a few bucks back. Make more and you may have to repay your subsidy. While technically not a “penalty,” it certainly acts like one.
The McGuires indicated on their tax return that they had health insurance (thereby avoiding penalty (1), but they did not complete the subsidy reconciliation (which is penalty (2)).

The IRS did, however.

Sure enough, the McGuires did not qualify for a subsidy. The IRS wanted its money back. All of it.

The McGuires fired back:
We would never have committed to paying for medical coverage in excess of $14,000 per year.”
True that.
We cannot afford it and would have continued to shop in the private sector to purchase the minimal, least expensive coverage or gone without coverage completely and suffered the penalties.”
That is, they would have avoided penalty (2) by not accepting subsidies and instead paid penalty (1), which would have been cheaper.
If we are deemed responsible for paying back this deficiency, it would be devastating and completely unjust. ….  The whole purpose of the Affordable Care Act was to provide citizens with just that, affordable healthcare. This has been an absolute nightmare and we hope that you will rule fairly and justly today.”
Here is the Tax Court:
But we are not a court of equity, and we cannot ignore the law to achieve an equitable end.”
Equity means fairness, so the Court is saying that – if the law is otherwise bright-line – they cannot decide on the grounds of fairness. 
Although we are sympathetic to the McGuires’ situation, the statute is clear; excess advance premium tax credits are treated as an increase in the tax imposed. The McGuires received an advance of a credit to which they were ultimately not entitled.”
The McGuires had to pay back $7 grand, despite the incompetence of Covered California.


Let’s return to CTG Galactic Command. How did my client get into a subsidy-repayment situation?


The tax Code is odd about gambling. It forces you to take gambling winnings into income. The subsidy calculation keys-off that income number.

Wait, you say. What about gambling losses?

The tax Code requires you to take gambling losses as an itemized deduction.

The subsidy calculation pays no attention to itemized deductions.

Win $40 grand and the subsidy calculation includes it. Your household income just went up.

Say that you also lost $40 grand. You netted nothing in real life.

Tough. The subsidy calculation does not care about your losses.

Heads you lose. Tails you lose. 

That was my client’s story.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Your Child Wins A Beauty Pageant

We are in a mini “tax season” here at Galactic Command, with September 15 being the deadline for business returns. Next month is the extended due date for the individual returns.

I wanted to find something light-hearted to discuss. Call it a salve to my sanity.

Let’s talk about your kid. Yes, the one who will soon be discovered on America’s Got Talent. It could happen. He could be the next Jonathan, or she the next Charlotte.

COMMENT: Jonathan and Charlotte were discovered on Britain’s Got Talent. It is worth watching their first appearance, if only for Simon’s reaction.
Say your kid wins prize money.

This being a tax blog: who pays tax on the money – the kid or you? After all, the kid is your dependent. He/she is nowhere near emancipated.

Here is a Code section one could spend a career in practice and not see:

 § 73 Services of child.
(a)  Treatment of amounts received.
Amounts received in respect of the services of a child shall be included in his gross income and not in the gross income of the parent, even though such amounts are not received by the child.
(b)  Treatment of expenditures.
All expenditures by the parent or the child attributable to amounts which are includible in the gross income of the child (and not of the parent) solely by reason of subsection (a) shall be treated as paid or incurred by the child.

The daughter of our protagonists (Lopez) started competing in beauty pageants at age nine. There were expenses involved with this, such as travel, outfits, cosmetics and so on. In 2011 and 2012 she won a couple of dollars, approximately $3,200 to pin it down.

Which was nowhere near the expenses of over $37 grand across the two years.

They used an Enrolled Agent with over 40-years’ experience to prepare their return.
COMMENT: An E.A. is an IRS-administered exam on tax proficiency. While perhaps not as well-known as the CPA, it is a substantial credential. There are many CPAs who practice outside tax, for example, but all E.A.’s practice tax.
The E.A. decided to put the daughter’s income on the parent’s return. He arrived at that conclusion by reviewing state child labor laws. He gave it a lot of thought, but he missed Code Section 73.

As I said, it is rare that one would blow dust off that section.

He prepared the parent’s return, including the daughter’s prize money.

That part was only $3 grand or so. The sweet part was the $37 grand in expenses. The parents took a BIG tax loss.

And the IRS tagged the return.

The Lopez’s fought the IRS. There was also a second IRS adjustment, so I presume they decided that fighting one was the same effort as fighting both.

The kid’s income and expenses, however, was a clear loser.  

The IRS adjusted their income by over $30 grand, so they came in with a souped-up penalty – the “accuracy related” penalty. That bad boy parachutes in at 20%. The IRS likes to toss that one out like hot-sauce packets at Gold Star.

Remember the E.A.?

The Court pointed out that the Lopez’s hired a tax professional. He researched the issue. Granted, he arrived at the wrong answer, but that was not the Lopez’s fault. They hired a professional, and they reasonably relied upon the advice of the professional.

The Court dismissed the penalties.

Small consolation, but something.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

When Your Employer Bungles Your Retirement Plan Loan

I admit that I am not a fan of borrowing from an employer retirement plan, except perhaps as a next-to-last step before being evicted.

Things go wrong.

Lose your job, for example, and not only are you looking for work but you also have a tax bill on a loan you cannot pay back.

You do not even have to lose your job.

Ms. Frias participated in her company’s retirement plan. She was getting ready to go on maternity leave when she borrowed $40,000 from her 401(k). Her employer was to withhold from her paycheck (to be paid biweekly), and there was a make-up provision allowing her to correct any shortfall by the end of the following month.
COMMENT: Retirement plan proceeds are normally tax-free if repaid over a period of five years or less.
She went on leave on or around August 1st.  She was drawing on her accumulated vacation and sick time.  Sounds pretty routine.

She returned to work October 12th.

In November, she learned that her employer had failed to withhold any monies for her 401(k) loan.

She immediately wrote a $1,000 check and increased her withholding to get caught-up.

Nonetheless, at the end of the year the plan administrator (Mutual of America Life) sent her a $40,000 Form 1099R on the loan.

They however sent it to her electronically. Having no reason to expect one, she did not realize that she had even received a 1099. Goes without saying it was not on her tax return.

You know the IRS matched this up and sent her a notice.

What do you think: does she have a tax issue?

No question her employer messed up.

And that she tried to correct it.

However, the law is strict:
Although a loan may satisfy the section 72(p) requirements, “a deemed distribution occurs at the first time that the requirements … of this section are not satisfied, in form or operation.”
Her first payment was due in August, the month following the loan. If she had a deemed distribution, it would have occurred then. A distribution – even a “deemed” one – would be taxable.

There remained hope, though:
The plan administrator may provide the plan participant with an opportunity to cure the failure, and a deemed distribution does not occur unless the participant fails to pay the delinquent payment within the cure period.”
This is a nice safety valve. If the employer gives you a “cure” period, you can still avoid having the fail and its associated tax.

What was her cure period?

The end of the following month: September.

When did she write a check?

November, when she realized that there was a problem.

Too late.

She had one last long shot: a “leave of absence” exception.

Which is Code section 72(p)(2)(C), and it provides for interruption in a loan repayment schedule if one is not drawing a paycheck or not drawing enough to meet the minimum loan payment.

Her argument? She was not receiving her “regular” paycheck. She instead was drawing on her vacation and sick time bank.

Problem: she nonetheless received a check, and the Court was unwilling to part-and-parcel its source. She was collecting enough to make the loan payments.

She was hosed.

She did nothing wrong, but her employer’s negligence cost her somewhere near $15 grand in unnecessary taxes.