Monday, May 30, 2016


Did you hear about the terrorist that hijacked an airplane full of lawyers?  He threatened to release one every hour if his demands weren't met.

* In honor or Memorial Day ACCOUNTING TODAY has a slide show of “Tax Tips for the Armed Forces”.

* And, also for Memorial Day, Kay Bell takes a look at state gas taxes in “Memorial Day motorists expected to jam highways”.

It turns out that my new home state of PA has the highest state gas tax – 68.7 cents per gallon – and my former home state of NJ is the second lowest (Alaska is lowest at 30.65 cents per gallon) at 32.9 cents.  This is the one time when NJ is not the, or among the, highest taxed state, and the only time PA tops the list with the highest tax.

* New tax blogger Chris A Johnson, EA, a long-time supporter of and commenter to TWTP, discusses “Paying Your Past Due Taxes and Prioritizing Payments” at CAJ TAX SOLUTIONS.

Some good advice from Chris.  I especially agree with what he has to say about owing both federal and state taxes -

What if you owe both past due state and federal taxes? I recommend you apply any extra funds you have toward your state tax debt first (with a couple exceptions), provided you’ve already paid enough on your federal tax debt to prevent wage garnishment or bank account levy.  The majority of states charge higher interest rates on past due taxes than the IRS does (currently 3% annually).” 

In the case of current taxes due, if a client, for example, has balances due on both the federal and NJ state 2016 returns, owe both Uncles Sam and Chris (Christie – for whom I have lost all respect and confidence in his judgment), and cannot pay in full both balances with the filing of the returns, I always recommend paying the NJ state balance, hopefully in full, first and maintaining a balance due to Sam.

What if you owe both past due state and federal taxes? I recommend you apply any extra funds you have toward your state tax debt first (with a couple exceptions), provided you’ve already paid enough on your federal tax debt to prevent wage garnishment or bank account levy.  The majority of states charge higher interest rates on past due taxes than the IRS does (currently 3% annually). 

* Sarah Brenner lists “3 Five-Year Rules for Roth IRAs You Need to Know” at THE SLOTT REPORT.

* As I have said many times before, regardless of what you think about the IRS or its recent lack of taxpayer service it has an excellent website chock-a-block with helpful information.

Case in point – the “Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center”.

* Great minds do think alike.  A great response from Joe Kristan, author of the ROTH AND COMPANY TAX UPDATE BLOG, to a Keith Fogg post referenced “TaxRoundup, 5/23/16: Prairie Meadows fights the odds. And much more Monday goodness!”.

Joe quotes from Keith’s “Return Preparer Shenanigans” - “Based on clinic clients for almost a decade, I would like regulation that removes bad preparers from the system and particularly from preparing returns with refundable credits.

Joe’s answer to Keith, which would be my answer also, is “How about getting rid of the refundable credits, then?

Forced regulation of tax return preparers is not the way to reduce the massive tax fraud that accompanies such bad ideas as refundable credits.  The answer is to fix the mucking fess that is our US Tax Code and, as Joe suggests, get rid of refundable credits!

* CNBS’s ADVISOR INSIGHT gives us a slide show of “Best Ways to Spend that IRS Refund Check”.

I highly recommend the first two –

·   Pay down debt” – Paying off high-interest credit cards should be a priority (as long as you don’t just go out and build-up the balances again).  If you are paying 20+% in finance charges on your balance it is like getting a 20+% return on your investment – much, much better than you can do by putting the money in the bank or even the stock market.

·   Fund your retirement” – Check out my post “Everybody Ought To Have An IRA”.  If you do not have an IRA open one with at least part of your refund.  Preferably a ROTH account, if you qualify.  But a traditional IRA, either deductible or non-deductible, is also a good idea.

* Bill Perez deals with the oft-asked question “Can One Spouse Claim Another Spouse as a Dependent?” at ABOUT.COM.

Bill provides the correct short answer -

A person cannot claim his or her spouse as a dependent on their tax return. The IRS makes this clear in Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, where they write, ‘Your spouse is never considered your dependent.’"

He again correctly, explains that one spouse does, in effect, claim the other spouse as a dependent because the primary tax benefit of a dependent (although there are many other potential tax benefits) is claiming a “personal exemption” for that person – and on a joint return the earning spouse gets a deduction for the personal exemption of the non-earning spouse.

Bill then goes on to say –

If all of the following conditions are true, then one person can claim the personal exemption for his or her spouse without filing a joint return:

•You are filing a separate return (that is, you are not filing a joint return with your spouse);

•Your spouse has zero gross income for the year;

•Your spouse does not file a tax return for the year; and

•Your spouse is not a dependent of another person, regardless of whether the other person actually claims your spouse as a dependent.”

To be honest, in my 45 years of preparing 1040s I have never come across, or even heard, of a situation where a spouse files a separate return but claims the personal exemption for his non-filing spouse.  Why would a spouse in such a situation chose to file a separate return and not a joint return – as there are many restrictions involved with a separate return, and may tax benefits are not available on a separate return.

I would be very interested in hearing from fellow tax professionals on this issue – have you ever prepared a separate return for a married spouse and claimed the personal exemption for the other spouse?

* TaxGirl Kelly Phillips Erb provides some good news in “TIGTA Announces Significant Arrests In Massive IRS Phone Scam” at FORBES.COM –

Today, J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), announced the arrests of five individuals made in what has been characterized as an ‘ongoing investigation’ into the scams. The five individuals were arrested in Miami, FL, without incident, and charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. According to the court documents, the five suspects are responsible for almost $2 million in schemes that defrauded more than 1,500 victims.”

These phone scams are serious problems.  As Kelly reports-

Scammers are still targeting taxpayers. Nearly 6,400 victims have collectively paid over $36.5 million to scammers posing as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials since October of 2013. Over that same time period, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 1.2 million calls made to taxpayers demanding that they send cash to resolve outstanding tax liabilities. The average amount of money lost in the scam is $5,700.”

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER respond to a phone call from anyone alleging to be from the IRS.  If you receive a call tell the person calling to put it in writing and hang up.  If you get a message on your machine ignore it.

* Speaking of tax-related phone scams, Kay Bell warns us about a new one in “New telephone tax scam targets students who owe fake 'federal student tax'” at DON’T MESS WITH TAXES.

* The CHECKPOINT daily tax and accounting e-newsletter says “House Appropriations Committee releases draft bill with more cuts in IRS funding” (highlight is mine) –

On May 24, the House Appropriations Committee released a draft of a spending bill which would cut IRS's FY 2017 budget by $236 million from the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and which would be $1.3 billion below President Obama's budget request. The bill provides $10.9 billion for IRS, holding the agency's budget to below the 2008 level. House lawmakers said this amount provides sufficient resources to perform its core duties.”  

While it may provide “sufficient resources to perform its core duties”, what about the unrelated and unnecessary duties that have been thrust upon the IRS by Congress – forcing it to become Social Workers and administer federal welfare and other benefit programs like the Earned Income Credit and Obamacare?  The idiots in Congress erroneously gives the IRS additional unrelated work to do but does not provide it with the proper funding!

Do we need any more proof that the members of Congress are idiots and need to be voted out of office?

* A good suggestion from David Waldrop, aka THE ASTUTE ADVISOR -   Finances A Little Messy? It’s Time For Spring Cleaning”.

* Ever wonder “Does Your State Have an Estate or Inheritance Tax?”.  A map from the TAX FOUNDATION answers the question for you.

Residents of my former home state of New Jersey are doubly screwed, something that happens a lot to NJ residents when it comes to taxes (highlight is mine) –

Currently, fourteen states and the District of Columbia impose an estate tax while six states have an inheritance tax. Maryland and New Jersey have both.”

* Let me end this meaty BUZZ installment with some great advice from Jason Dinesen of DINESEN TAX TIMES – “If You’re a Sole Proprietor, Think Hard Before Forming an S-Corp” –

But if you go into it naively believing that S-corps are full of rainbows and unicorns and tax savings with no headaches or extra ‘stuff’ for you to deal with, you’re going to be overwhelmed with what you’ve gotten into. I know because I deal with this all the time with my clients.”

While I believe that all sole-proprietors should register their business as an LLC, I also firmly believe that more often than not the corporate entity, whether an S or a C corporation, is not the right way for a sole proprietor to go.


The recent acceptance, and even support - however reluctant, of Tronald Dump as a legitimate candidate by some Republican politicians and leaders is truly disturbing.  It certainly shows that most politicians really do value Party above country.

The only thing that keeps me from worrying too much about our future is my belief that, regardless of what voters may say now, when they are actually in the voting booth in November and realize that their vote will decide the future of the country, and the world, those with any intelligence and true concern will not be able in good conscience to pull the lever for dangerous buffoon Trump.

Let us all pray that I am right – or else we are all in very, very serious trouble.


Friday, May 27, 2016


Now that your have filed your tax return, and paid your tax or received your refund, it is time to learn from your 2015 tax return.
The first thing you should do is evaluate your income tax withholding.

Let’s face it – everyone loves, and wants, a tax refund!

And as a tax preparer, very few things give me more pleasure, at least during the tax filing season, then telling a client, “Your Uncle Sam owes you tons of money this year!”  It is certainly better than starting off with “Oi vey!” or “Now don’t shoot the messenger”.

And if everyone loves a refund it follows that everyone hates paying their “uncles”.

However, from a strictly financial point of view, when it comes to taxes it is truly “better to give than to receive”. A tax refund means that you have made an interest-free loan to the federal, or state, government.

If you owe Sam, or your state, a balance due on your return that, by way of the various “safe harbor” rules, avoids a penalty assessment for “underpayment of estimated tax”, it is you who have received an interest-free loan from the government. You have had full use of your money during the year!

Quite a few of my clients receive rather substantial refunds on purpose, and have been doing so for years. It is a form or “forced savings”, like a vacation club. They plan to use the refund to pay for their annual family vacation, or to make needed home improvements, or pay for college, or pay off credit card debt.  I, and they, know full well that if they had an extra $100-$200 in their pockets each week they would spend it – and not necessarily wisely.

My suggestion is not to get the additional money in your take-home pay.  If you belong to a credit union at work have the additional amount of your pay directly deposited to your account. Credit unions often pay more than banks. Or you can increase your employee contribution to a pension or thrift savings plan. This way the extra $100 never finds its way into your hands.

Or you can have the additional money directly deposited to a ROTH, if you qualify, or traditional IRA account.  You can set up a ROTH myRA account and fund it with automatic payroll deductions.  To set up a myRA account go to

If you have accumulated excessive high-interest credit card debt using the extra $100-$200 per week to pay down this debt is, in many cases, like getting a double-digit return on your money.  But, just like with using home equity borrowing to pay down credit card debt, you must be sure that you do not turn around and build the credit card balances back up again.

If you received large federal and state refunds this tax filing season you should immediately change your withholding at work by filing a new Form W-4.  You may also be able to file a separate state W-4 form if you are only changing your state withholding. 

A federal withholding allowance represents your total tax deductions divided by the personal exemption amount ($4,050 for 2016).

Of course the reverse also applies.  If you owed too much to any of your “Uncles”, and were hit with a penalty for “underpayment of estimated tax”, you should increase your withholding.   

On the federal level you could be subject to a penalty for underpayment if you owe at least $1,000; it is often less on the state level (for New Jersey it is $400).  In order to avoid the penalty for underpayment of estimated tax for 2016 you must have either 90% of your final 2016 tax liability or 100% of your 2015 tax liability (110% if your 2015 AGI was over $150,000) paid in during the year by withholding and/or quarterly estimated tax payments.

The timing of the payment of tax is important in avoiding the penalty, which is calculated based on quarterly payments.  Increasing the tax withheld is better than making quarterly estimated payments.  Withholding is assumed to be made evenly throughout the year.  Estimated taxes are applied in the calculation when actually paid.  Even if you have all your federal income tax withheld in December it is treated as being paid in equally over the 4 quarters for purposes of calculating underpayment of estimated tax.  If you had $10,000 withheld in December it is assumed that $2,500 was paid in for each of the 4 quarters.  A $10,000 estimated tax payment made in December is treated as being paid in December, and you could be penalized for underpayment for the first 3 quarters

You can go to and use the free Salary Paycheck Calculator or Hourly Paycheck Calculator to review various withholding scenarios.

If you elect to make quarterly estimated tax payments you can use the federal EFTPS system to pre-schedule your payments to automatically come out of your bank account so you do not forget to make them on time. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016


While the PATH Act (The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015) made many of the popular “tax extenders” permanent, the following items were extended through December 31, 2016 only.  They will no longer be available on 2017 and beyond returns.  So 2016 is the last chance you have to claim a deduction -

1. Exclusion of up to $2 Million of Cancellation of Debt (COD) Income from Foreclosure of Principal Personal Residence. 

2. Deduction for Tuition and Fees – the above-the-line deduction of $4,000 or $2,000 of qualified tuition and fees for both undergraduate and graduate education.

3. Itemized Deduction for Mortgage Insurance Premiums 

4. Lifetime Maximum $500 Residential Energy Credit of 10% on Qualified Energy Efficient Purchases and Improvements.

For the Residential Energy Credit you have until December 31st to make a purchase that qualifies for the benefit.

This energy credit has a $500 lifetime maximum.  If you claimed over $500 in energy tax credits from 2006 - 2015 you are not eligible for a credit for 2016, so an additional energy efficient purchase will not provide any federal tax benefit.

The credit is available for -

* Biomass Stoves

* Heating Ventilating, Air Conditioning (Advanced Main Air Circulating Fan, Air Source Heat Pumps, Central Air Conditioning, Gas, Propane, or Oil Hot Water Boiler, and Natural Gas, Propane or Oil Furnace)

* Insulation

* Roofs (Metal and Asphalt)

* Water Heaters (Gas, Propane or Oil Water Heater, and Electric Heat Pump Water Heater)

* Windows, Doors, and Skylights

There are specific dollar limitations and “proficiency” requirements for each of the above items.  For example the lifetime deduction for qualified windows, doors, and skylights is $200.  And you cannot just purchase new windows for your home - the windows must be “ENERGY STAR certified”.   Gas, propane, or oil water heaters must have be “recognized as ENERGY STAR Most Efficient 2016” and have an AFUE >= 95.

You can go online to a special section of the Energy Star website to find out what the specific qualifications are for individual items.

Make sure your purchase qualifies for the credit – do not expect your tax preparer to waste his or her valuable time during the filing season investigating your purchase.  When giving the purchase information to your tax pro also include any Manufacturer’s Certification statement or other documentation, or your affirmation that you have checked carefully and found that the purchase definitely qualifies for the credit.  


Wednesday, May 25, 2016


The Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), thanks to the "Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015" (aka the PATH Act) now permanent tax law, is a really great tax benefit, with many tax and non-tax perks.

It is truly, as tv band-leader Lawrence Welk (whose program I still watch almost every week on my local PBS station) used to say, “wunnerful, wunnerful!”

A QCD allows IRA owners age 70½ and older to directly transfer up to $100,000 from an IRA account to a qualified charity, tax-free, as part (or all) of their Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the year.

Any portion of an RMD that represents a QCD is not included in gross taxable income reported on your federal tax return.  If your total Required Minimum Distribution from your IRA investments for the year is $50,000, and you have made a QCD of $40,000, you only report $10,000 as a taxable distribution.  If the entire $50,000 was used as a QCD you have “0” taxable income to report.

Your will receive a Form 1099-R from the IRA trustee for the full amount of the distribution, which you report on Line 15a of your Form 1040.  But you will enter as “taxable amount” on Line 15b the net amount you received “in hand” after making the QCD, and write “QCD” next to Line 15b.  If the entire amount of the distribution was a QCD you would enter “0” on Line 15b.

The main tax benefit of the QCD is that it turns a normally “below-the-line” deduction into an “above-the-line” deduction, reducing your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI).  There are a multitude of credits, deductions, and exclusions that are phased-out or eliminated based on your AGI. 

Using a QCD to reduce your AGI can also potentially reduce the taxable portion of Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits, increase deductions for medical and miscellaneous Itemized Deductions and traditional and spousal IRA contributions, reduce the PEP and Pease phase-outs of personal exemptions and total itemized deductions, the NIIT surtax, and the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), and increase education credits.  The bottom line is more money in your pocket and less surrendered to the government.

In many situations, because there is no longer a deduction for mortgage interest due to paying off the mortgage and state and local income tax deductions are reduced by pension exclusions, seniors are unable to itemize.  In such a case using a QCD to make a charitable contribution provides a tax deduction that would not otherwise be available. 

You are not allowed to claim a charitable deduction for the amount of the QCD on Schedule A – the “deduction” has already been claimed by reducing the taxable portion of your RMD. 

QCDs should only be made from a “traditional” IRA.  Qualified distributions from a ROTH IRA are totally tax-free, so there is no tax benefit in a direct transfer of funds from a ROTH account.   The direct tax-free transfer to a charity is also not available from a SEP or SIMPLE IRA, or a 401(k), 403(b), 457, or other employer plan.  However you can first rollover monies from a self-employment retirement account or an employer plan to a traditional IRA tax-free, and then make a QCD from the IRA account.

A QCD may, or may not, also reduce your state income tax liability.  It all depends on your resident state’s unique tax laws. 

Qualifying taxpayers may also want to consider making a direct transfer from a traditional IRA to a charity now, instead of having a cash bequest made from their estate.  Since your beneficiaries are taxed on monies received from an inherited traditional IRA, by making the contributions as a direct transfer you will -

* reduce the tax cost to the beneficiaries of their inheritance,

* reduce the balance in the traditional IRA, which will in turn reduce taxable required minimum distributions,

* get the money to the charity sooner,

* enjoy the appreciation of the charity, and any “naming” or other publicity possibilities, during one’s lifetime, and

* see how the contribution is put to use.

So seniors required to take an RMD who also make charitable contributions – there is really no reason why you shouldn’t make your contributions using a QCD.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Here are some valuable resources that I am offering for FREE!

You are welcome to download these items free of charge, and to share them with family, friends, colleagues, and co-workers!







Monday, May 23, 2016


Oops, they did it again!  This just in -

The deadline for filing 2015 Senior Freeze (Property Tax Reimbursement) applications has been extended to October 17, 2016.  The original deadline was June 1, 2016.

Information on the 2015 Senior Freeze Program, including the eligibility requirements, is available on the Division of Taxation's website {click here – rdf}.”

This happens every year.  The statutory deadline for submitting the PTR (Property Tax Reimbursement or “Senior Freeze”) application forms is June 1st.  But each and every year the deadline is extended, sometimes more than once, to eventually the middle or end of October.

At least this year they did not wait until the very last minute to announce the extension.

I have already finished all but two of the 2015 PTR applications for my clients.

No word yet, however, whether the DFBs in Trenton (clean version is damned fool bureaucrats) will once again reduce the income threshold for 2015 to $70,000 to screw some senior or disabled homeowners out of their reimbursement check in order to balance the budget.  We won’t know that until at least the end of June.


I have decided to change my weekly BUZZ from Wednesday to Monday.  I will return to bi-weekly installments once the appropriate BUZZ items pick up.

* Attention tax professionals – check out, and join, my new Facebook Group THE TAX PRO FORUM. 

This group is not a place to seek answers or assistance with specific tax law questions – there are many other groups for that. The purpose of this group is to share online and print resources, and to provide a forum for discussion on issues of interest to the tax preparation community.

* And, fellow tax pros, I have updated the websites THE TAX PROFESSIONAL and TAX PROFESSIONALS FOR TAX REFORM.

* Michael Cohn reports “Senate Mulls Allowing Corporations to Deduct Dividends” at ACCOUNTING TODAY –

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing Tuesday on integrating the corporate and individual tax codes, specifically in terms of allowing corporations to deduct the dividends they pay shareholders from their taxes.”

I have been calling for a dividend paid deduction for corporations for years.

* Kelly Phillips Erb, FORBES.COM’s TaxGirl, warns “Millions Of Taxpayers Will Have A Longer Wait For Tax Refunds Next Year” -   

As part of the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH ) Act of 2015,” (P.L. 114-113) signed into law on December 18, 2015, the IRS must wait until February 15 to issue refunds to taxpayers who claimed the earned-income tax credit (EITC) or the child tax credit (CTC)..”

* Paul Neiffer deals with the question “When Should You Pay Your Spouse and Kids?” at FARM CPA TODAY.

* I recently received an email announcing a new online Social Security card replacement service -

We have exciting news about a new online service that is available in your state! If you need a replacement Social Security card, you may be able to request it using your personal my Social Security account.

Avoid a trip to the office and waiting in line and share this news with your friends and family. Encourage them to find out whether they can take advantage of this service by visiting We continue to add new states.

Remember to use your account to check your Social Security Statement each year to verify your annual earnings and get an estimate of your future benefits. If you currently receive benefits, you can use your account to get a benefit verification letter, check your benefit and payment information, change your address and telephone number, start or change your direct deposit, or get a replacement SSA-1099 or SSA-1042S for your taxes.

We hope you take advantage of the many services available through your convenient, secure, and free my Social Security account at:

* Jean Murray’s most recent “newsletter” from ABOUT.COM is about “How Do I Do My Own Payroll - And Other Payroll Options”.

* And Dr Murray has updated her review of “What is Overtime? What are New Overtime Regulations?” based on BO’s recent announcement.

* Dangerous buffoon Tronald Dump is still refusing to release his tax returns, so we can’t learn that he ain’t as rich as he says he is.  FYI -  USA TODAY reveals “Trump's companies have history of tax troubles” -

While Donald J. Trump refuses to release his federal tax returns, saying his tax rate is “none of your business,” a USA TODAY analysis found Trump’s businesses have been involved in at least 100 lawsuits and other disputes related to unpaid taxes or how much tax his businesses owe.”

* Here is a post from a local Facebook “Group” (not mine) that bears repeating, reminiscent of an item from last week’s BUZZ installment –

I just got a message from a friend who had been using Block for several years, except for the past 3 years when he had decided to use Turbo Tax Deluxe, because he thought he could do a much better job than the experienced preparer he had been going to for several years and save himself the fee. Now he's been having all kinds of trouble with his tax returns, and Turbo Tax is getting him all aggravated, and he regrets going this way. Well, he went on and on with his problem, and before he concluded, I found his problem. Why do people think they can do better than a tax pro??”

My response to this post - I can certainly understand being tired of paying Henry and Richard's excessive fees - but DIY software is definitely not the answer. Finding an independent tax professional is.

* May is National Military Appreciation Month, and the “other NSA” (National Society of Accountants) celebrates with the post “IRS Marks National Military Appreciation Month: Free Tax Guide Focuses on Tax Benefits for Members of the Military”.


Jené Gutierrez discusses “What a 'suppressed' 1991 documentary reveals about Donald Trump” at THE DAILY DOT (highlight is mine) –

“’Trump: What’s the Deal?’ documents the activities of the real-estate mogul during “the decade of greed,” arguing against Trump’s image as a ‘self-made’ billionaire while highlighting the greed, coldness, arrogance, and lack of humanity that the film says pervades his pursuit of wealth and fame. According to the documentary (and media reports), he owes everything to his father, Frank Trump, who accumulated a fortune and made political connections ahead of his son; Donald’s fortune, like his father’s, was amassed on the backs of taxpayers through the use of tax abatements, the film claims.”

It is vitally important for the future of the country and the world that dangerous buffoon Donald Trump not be elected President!  We must “Just Say No To Donald Trump”.

Please check out the post and check out the documentary as well.  And also check out this fact-checking post on Trump’s long history as a racist.


Thursday, May 19, 2016


I have created a new Facebook “Group” for tax professionals called TAX PRO FORUM.
This group is not a place to seek answers or assistance with specific tax law questions – there are many other groups for that. The purpose of this group is to share online and print resources, and to provide a forum for discussion on issues of interest to the tax preparation community.
There are currently no requirements or restrictions for “membership” in the group.  All paid tax preparers who request membership will be accepted.
New members - be sure to check out the “Files” page for valuable free resources. I add “Files” frequently, and invite members to share resources from the individual practices.
So, fellow tax pros, please join the group and join the discussions!