Monday, May 30, 2016
WHAT’S THE BUZZ, TELL ME WHAT’S A HAPPENNIN’
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 FINAL WORD
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.