The IRS just came out with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams. It is a useful rundown of current ways for taxpayers to create enormous trouble for themselves. While useful, it’s incomplete. It only looks at scams used by taxpayers. Hence, the Dirty Dozen Tax Policy Scams — in reverse order Letterman-style.
12. State non-conformity to federal rules – The federal tax law is complicated enough. When you have to start over in order to compute your state taxes, that’s a recipe for stupid. When you have to file in multiple states, it’s just crazy. California, the nation’s leader in bad ideas, has led the way ttp://www.rothcpa.com/archives/005787.php”>the bandwagon is getting crowded.
11. Asinine feel-good tax breaks – These are stupid tax rules passed to show us just how caring our legislators are. The bill allowing 2009 deductions for 2010 Haiti relief donations is a classic of the genre – it will cause countless people to double up on the charitable deductions, cause state tax return errors, and might well screw up return processing, all without actually helping Haiti.
10. Heads they win, tails you lose provisions – Sometimes the tax laws are designed to screw you. Gamblers are popular screw-ees. The federal tax law taxes gambling winnings above the line, but allows deductions only “below the line,” as itemized deductions, and then only to the extent of winning. If you don’t itemize, you lose. If you don’t have meticulous records, you lose on audit. And in some states, you just plain lose – you are taxed on winning bets, and losses are ignored.
9. Bait and switch tax treats – The alternative minimum tax has made this popular. They enact a politically popular tax break – say, home equity loan deductions – and they disallow it for AMT. So it’s there, but it’s useless.
8. Using the tax law to micromanage your life – Soda taxes. Insulation tax credits. Tax breaks for riding bikes to work. Will anybody ride a bike to work in Des Moines in February because of a $25 tax break? The tax law is full of… this sort of thing.
6. Economic Development Credits – Where the state economic development geniuses take your money to lure and subsidize your competitors. It’s like taking your wife’s purse to the bar to finance your pick-up efforts – the girls aren’t impressed.
5. Film tax credits – If there is a stupider approach to economic development than throwing money at Hollywood, at least this side of North Korea, it must be bipartisan.
4. Sitting on your tax refunds – The states have spent so much of your money that they don’t want to pay what they owe you. When they pay their public employees before they pay what they owe you, it shows where you rank.
3. AGI-based deduction and credit phaseouts – Almost every moronic new piddly tax break goes away as adjusted gross income goes up, whimsically embedding marginal rate spikes all over the tax code.
2. Shooting Jaywalkers – Sometimes the tax law has horrible penalties for trivial, but politically convenient, violations. The 50% of your bank balance FBAR penalty, the $10,000 automatic penalty for late international form reporting, and the insane Section 409A penalties for deferred compensation foot-faults are the kind of penalties that are almost perfectly designed to hammer honesty and reward sneakiness.
1. Expiring provisions – This cynical game enacts popular provisions (see AMT patch and research credit) one year at a time, so that the budgeters don’t have to count the real 5-year cost. The congresscritters, of course, have no intention of letting these things expire, and they often enact foolish permanent tax changes to fund another temporary extension.
Sadly, there’s one key difference between tax policy scams and the Dirty Dozen Tax Scams. You can go to jail if you use a Dirty Dozen Tax Scam, but if you use a dirty dozen tax policy scam, you just stay in Congress forever and ever, amen.
Despite many arguments that the extension was bad legislation, it cruised through Congress and was quickly signed by the POTUS and now the window is closing fast.
For those of you that are able to itemize deductions and you’re looking for a little extra deduction for ’09, the countdown is at t-minus two days.
If you are considering a last minute donation, A) what the hell have you been waiting for? B) you’re in a bit of luck because the deadline has a little bit of wiggle room, as Kay Bell tell us, “If you charge your donations to a credit card before the end of February, that counts even if you don’t get or pay the your credit card bill until next month or later.”
For those of you that don’t trust machines and are cutting a check, you best drop it soon if you want it to hit your ’09 return, “don’t send a check dated Feb. 28 on March 15 and claim it…if a tax examiner looks at your statement and sees the check didn’t clear until the last half of March, your deduction will probably be disallowed.”
Oh and it’s cash only. Your clothes that were originally meant for your garage sale this Spring are generous but not eligible for the extension.
On a related note, part of Stephen Chipman’s blog post from this week announced that Grant Thornton had raised approximately $140,000 that will be split between the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Thumbs up GT.
2009 Haiti donation deadline Feb. 28 [DMWT]
We finally nailed down some specifics from a trusted source on KPMG’s efforts to assist with Haiti relief.
The Americas Region (U.S., Canada, Central and South America, and Israel) have contributed $300,000 to the efforts so far, with a total goal of $500,000. These are the combined contributions of the both the firm and its employees. The International firm has pledged $500,000.
If you’ve got updates on your firm’s efforts or if you would like to notify us of what your firm is doing to assist the efforts in Haiti, email us at email@example.com
Late on Friday, the IRS declared the earthquake in Haiti to be qualified disaster for federal tax purposes. Call us impatient but did it really need to take that long? It doesn’t seem like it was that tough of a call:
Qualified disasters include presidentially declared disasters and any other event that the Treasury Secretary determines to be catastrophic. The IRS has determined that the earthquake in Haiti that occurred this month is an event of catastrophic nature for purposes of the federal tax law.
We appreciate the complexities of the tax law and we’re certainly aware that tax season is under way but couldn’t someone at the IRS put out a one sentence statement saying, “Yeah, definitely a disaster,” say, the following day? That Friday even? Were there other, more pressing matters on the to-do list? The disaster qualifications must be more subjective than we imagine.
Are you paying attention Fortune? After last week’s controversy around the finances of Yele Haiti, RSM McGladrey has been appointed to administer the donations pledged to Wyclef Jean’s foundation.
Yele Haiti has also retained Grant Thornton, who filed the three years of tax returns for the foundation just last August.
All the hubbub was over the foundation less than timely filing of its tax returns and paying expenses on the behalf WJ’s production company.
Not filing tax returns is one thing but there is some debate over whether the payment of expenses is actually anything to worked up over:
John Colombo, a University of Illinois law professor specializing in tax-exempt organizations, said tax laws permit such fees.
“If you told me the organization raised $1 million and it all went to him, then I would have some issues,” Colombo said. “Paying him an arm’s length salary for services he actually performed just isn’t a problem.”
But Alvin Brown, a tax lawyer who runs the site IRSTaxAttorney.com, said such transactions were “scary” and “could be viewed as fraud.”
“Viewed as fraud” isn’t the same as “is a fraud” but we after the last week, Yele Haiti has heard worse.
Wyclef’s Haiti Charity Gets New Accountants [AP]
We Knew Accounting Firms Were Helping Haiti
• Senate votes for faster tax breaks for Haiti gifts [WaPo]
As expected, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation yesterday that allows taxpayers to deduct donations made for Haiti relief efforts. You have until the end of February to donate so that it may be included on your 2009 return.
Maybe it’s bad legislation but we’ve been over that.
• CPA Jobs Set for Surge. But When? [CPA Trendlines]
That’s the question, isn’t it? Rick Telberg, who has done a great job of tracking the Bureau of Labor Statistics on accountants, points out that while the latest BLS forecasts a 22% increase (279,400 jobs) by 2018, there’s no indication that it’s happening now:
[M]any tax, accounting and finance professionals are still slogging through the Great Recession. The Association for Financial Professionals, for instance, reported that about one in four respondents say their organizations will contract in 2010. At the same time, a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of private companies found 43 percent of CEOs and CFOs still budgeting no expansion over the next 12 months to 18 months. The data just seem to reinforce economic uncertainties and a weak outlook.
The BLS is looking past the past the recession for the jump in opportunities but just when the hell will that be? Just because the economy isn’t contracting currently, doesn’t mean it won’t in the future and this “recovery” has been tepid at best.
• Theismann to CPAs: You Are the Conscience of America [Web CPA]
Joe Theismann gets it. He knows that without all of you out there in CPA land, your clients don’t stand a chance. They’d be finished. Finished!
“You’re the conscience of America,” Theismann told conference-goers. “You are the survivors in tough times. With accountants, I’m not looking for someone to file taxes and do my financials. I can do that myself online. In your position you can basically control people’s lives.”
So get out there and control somebody’s life. Joe Theismann is expecting it.
Not surprisingly, the House passed H.R. 4462 earlier today in order to accelerate charitable donations made for the relief efforts in Haiti. The bill was sponsored by Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Dave Camp (R-MI).
We pointed out the thoughts of Howard Gleckman over at Tax Vox this morning and our contributor, Joe Kristan chimed in agreement earlier over at Tax Update Blog:
When something bad happens, politicians reflexively reach for the tax code. They should put it down and back away slowly…As bad as Haiti is, it’s not the first disaster ever, and one more change to the tax law isn’t going to solve that sad country’s problems. Of course, the proposed changes are more about politicians making a show of concern than actually accomplishing anything.
While our sentiments are with these two tax gurus, let’s not forget that every single member of the House of Representatives is up for re-election in less than 10 months. No one was going to vote against this bill. The Senate will pass it and the POTUS will sign it.
Noting that the bill is bad policy misses the point. We’ve all gotten used to Congress making the tax law progressively worse, so is it really necessary to mention that two-thirds of taxpayers don’t itemize deductions and thus, won’t see any benefit at all on their 2009 tax returns?
Those two-thirds of taxpayers don’t think about the standard deduction when they donate money to anything. It’s not about solving the problems of the mind job of the IRC, it’s about encouraging people to do what they can to help.
Save the bitching about Congress for [insert anything else].
Haiti Tax Relief [TaxProf Blog]
America’s Nastiest CEO [The Big Money via Gary Weiss]
We’re still wondering if the KPMG Salt Lake City office knows what they got themselves into by taking Overstock.com on as a client.
Gary Weiss notes:
The Big Money this afternoon came out with a devastating (and gutsy) article by former Fortune writer Roddy Boyd on the corporate crime petri dish that is Overstock.com, and its nuts CEO Patrick Byrne. The title is “America’s Nastiest CEO,” and it descri stematically harassed and attacked critics to cover up his own incompetence and wrongdoing–stuff that actually is a lot worse than has previously been acknowledged.
Calling all Manchester United fans [AccMan]
Dennis Howlett — never shy with his opinion — segues into an argument for blogging after noting that the Manchester United don’t need to:
There is a blog post over on Social Media Today that demonstrates as well as just about anything I’ve seen written why you should almost never listen to folk who call themselves ‘social media experts/gurus/consultants.’ Awarding itself the grand title: World’s Most Valuable Soccer Team Doesn’t Get Social Media the author proceeds to show almost zero understanding of The Beautiful Game or the people who are part of that world.
After blowing up one person’s argument for social media, DH turns the tables back to why it’s a good idea:
I have for the longest time said that professionals should write blogs. Many seem bemused by the question: we’re too busy, what would we say? we don’t want to blatantly promote, we’re not sure clients would care…the list goes on. Many talk about networking and the need for face to face meetings in order to make the kind of marketing impression they believe will win business.
In case you still think that the traditional networking is still more your speed, DH continues:
Unlike football fans, clients don’t congregate in large numbers every Saturday afternoon although they may do so in smaller numbers in industry specific associations from time to time. And of course you should be making an effort to attend those kinds of event. But in the meantime and if you are serious about running a business as opposed to a practice, then surely it makes sense to stand alongside your clients?
Have you run out of excuses for your firm having a blog?
Don’t Give Special Tax Breaks for Haiti Relief [Tax Vox]
Before everyone gets excited about the possibility of your contributions to the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, et al. being deductible for 2009, don’t forget that many of you won’t benefit from a tax standpoint:
The proposal won’t help the two-thirds of taxpayers who take the standard deduction since it only accelerates itemized deductions. Even among itemizers, those millions of givers who are contributing $10 by text message are not going to care much about whether they can write off those few dollars this year or next.
Those who might benefit–relatively high-earning itemizers who give substantial gifts–can easily address this cash flow problem under current law. All they’d need to do is change their withholding or estimated tax payments to reflect any unusually large gifts to Haiti relief.
And not only that, what about other charities that are not subject to the timing change? Don’t they still need money?
Btw, a 2008 paper by Jon Bakija and Bradley Heim finds that higher-income taxpayers are more likely to adjust their giving to reflect changes in their after-tax cost–another reason they’d be the biggest beneficiaries of this bill. But even for them, this small temporary timing change is not likely to matter very much.
Still, some people would change their behavior, and that troubles me. Will they reduce gifts to other worthy causes in favor of newly tax-favored Haiti-related charities? Many organizations are already struggling with major recession-driven reductions in contributions and this would hurt even more.
Haiti still needs everyone’s help, no question but don’t be shocked if Congress’ latest attempt at helping out doesn’t turn out to be that helpful.
We just had to ask. In response to our post from this morning we’ve received several emails about what firms have done so far in the response to the devastation that was caused by the earthquake in Haiti:
• Deloitte – The firm contributed $100,000 to the Red Cross and Deloitte professionals are encouraged to donate to either the Red Cross/International Response Fund (immediate disaster assistance) or to the United Way Worldwide Disaster Fund are for long-term relief efforts. Donations will be earmarked for Earthquake Recovery.
• Moss Adams – The Firm is matching 100% of employee contributions up to $100,000. As of today, partner and employee contributions amounted to $30,000 and the firm is matching these contributions with $30,000 donations to both the Red Cross and World Vision.
• Ernst & Young – The Firm has created the “Ernst & Young Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund” and donated to $100,000 to get things started. All the funds donated by the firm and its professionals will go directly to Save the Children, Doctors without Borders, and Partners in Health.
• BDO – Jeremy Newman posted today on his blog about the firm’s efforts, including the office in The British Virgin Islands.
• Grant Thornton – The firm is matching employee contributions up to $50,000. The funds will be donated to the Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
• McKonly & Asbury – Scott Heintzelman — The Exuberant Accountant — along with his fellow partners and employees are working with Hope International to raise funds for the relief efforts. A spokesperson for the firm told GC that the firm is expecting to raise several thousands dollars.
• Crowe Horwath – Matching employee contributions up to $50,000. All funds are going to the Red Cross and UNICEF.
Keep us updated with your firm’s efforts and we’ll continue to post them.
There has been lots of donations made to several organizations since last week’s earthquake in Haiti and Wyclef Jean’s Foundation, Yele Haiti was one of the most prevalent charities raising funds.
As you may or may not be aware, there has been a good deal of coverage of the foundation’s financial problems and this has caused many to think twice about which charity they donate to.
After all the criticism, Gawker now has video of Wyclef Jean admitting that his charity, Yele Haiti, has made “mistakes”. These mistakes range from late filing of its tax returns to the foundation paying expenses on behalf of Jean’s production company (go to The Smoking Gun for more details including the 2006 Form 990).
From a tax standpoint, if you donate and you itemize, you can take the deduction (AGI limits apply and you best keep those receipts), however, as some have pointed out, choose wisely. It is natural to want to donate in times of crisis and if you want that money to go to its best use, then be do some research and make sure you know how the money will be spent.
Wyclef Jean Charity’s Funny Money [The Smoking Gun]