Friday, August 30, 2019


An interesting development worth discussing.  This is something that should be considered when doing year-end tax planning in a year you had qualifying dividend and capital gain income.

A client had substantial capital gains for 2018 which were taxable at the lower capital gains rates.  A portion of the capital gains were taxed at 0% while most was taxed at 15%.  The client’s “ordinary” income was taxed at the 12% marginal tax rate.  If we disregard the capital gain income – if all his income had been taxed as ordinary income - the client would have been in the 24% marginal bracket.

After I had done an initial write up and tax calculation the client told me about an additional $350 non-cash contribution to the Salvation Army he had failed to include when sending me his stuff.

This additional $350 reduced his net taxable income and therefore reduced his “ordinary” income tax by $42 - $350 x 12%. 

But the $350 reduction in net taxable income also allowed an additional $350 of his capital gains to be eligible for the 0% rate, so $350 less in capital gain income was taxed at 15%.  He reduced his tax liability by another $52.50 - $350 x 15%. 

The bottom line - the additional $350 deduction saved him $94.50 – or 27% - in federal income tax.

As we can see, because of the different rates for different types of income the savings from a tax deduction can be more than the ordinary marginal tax rate.  In the above example the savings was more than twice this rate.

This example involved a “below the line” tax deduction, the “line” being AGI.  Deductions allowed “above the line” can generate even more savings by reducing the amount of other deductions or credits that are phased-out based on AGI and reducing the amount of taxable Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits.

This is something that should be considered when doing year-end tax planning in a year you had qualifying dividend and capital gain income.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019


If you have a child beginning college this fall be sure to have him or her save and give to you the receipts for all textbook purchases.  If purchased online have them print hard copies of the receipts.  The American Opportunity Credit, available for the first 4 calendar years of undergraduate education, allows you to include the cost of books with tuition and fees in calculating the credit.

You should also save, again in hard copy, the bills, receipts and “Bursar’s Statements” that itemize the individual charges for tuition, fees, room and board, and other items and amounts and sources of payments.  You should receive a Form 1098-T from the school in January of 2020, but these forms do not always provide all the information you may need.

If you are paying separately for off-campus lodging for your student while away from home at college keep track of these payments also. 

In addition to claiming an American Opportunity Credit, or a Lifetime Learning Credit, if you have used withdrawals from a Section 529 Qualified Tuition Program to pay for all or some of the college expenses the detailed information of expenses and payments will be needed.

If your level of income turns out to be too high to claim a full American Opportunity Credit your student child may be able to claim a credit on his or her tax return if they have sufficient income to have to pay tax.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019


* Kay Bell answers “7 common 401(k) FAQs” at DON’T MESS WITH TAXES.

* In yesterday’s BOBSERVATIONS post I told you how I lost 90 lbs. in 9 months.  Click here.

* Kelly Phillips Erb responds to the suggestion of a “payroll tax cut” with “As Rumors Swirl, Here’s What A Payroll Tax Cut Might Look Like” at FORBES.COM.

I strongly doubt there will be a payroll tax cut.  I strongly doubt that any substantive legislation on anything will be passed by Congress while moron Trump is in office - due to the excessive polarization and the fact that Republicans control the Senate and the Democrats control the House.

* And KPE shares “IRS Issues Warning On New Email Tax Scam”.


Come on - it is impossible for anyone with a brain to listen to Trump's constant spewing of nonsense and outright lies and not acknowledge the obvious fact that he is a total moron.

No national politician in my lifetime has been as totally clueless about everything than idiot Trump.

No intelligent person with any concern about the future of America, the American people or the world could possibly support and defend Trump and his continuation as President. It is not possible!


Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Not much tax news this week.  But as I always say, some BUZZ is better than no BUZZ.

* FORBES.COM’s Tax Girl Kelly Phillips Erb reports “Reality TV Stars Todd & Julie Chrisley Hit With Multiple Charges, Including Tax Evasion”.

No surprise here.  Nobody ever said reality tv “stars” had any morals, ethics, honesty, or even intelligence.  Actually, a lack of these qualities appears to be a requirement for the “position”.

Ever since ads for “Chrisley Knows Best”, which Kelly’s post proves to be an untrue title statement, first appeared I have been asking who this self-absorbed moron Chrisley was and why anyone would give a rat’s hind quarters about him or his family.  Kelly’s piece does nothing to answer my questions.

Will a subsequent season of idiot Chrisley’s tv show be filmed in prison? 

Want to know what I think about what is erroneously referred to as “reality tv”?  Check out my BOBSERVATIONS post “Reality (TV) Sucks”.

* Speaking of my BOBSERVATIONS blog, I have a new post about remembering Woodstock on its 50th anniversary.  Click here to check it out – and please share with your friends and family.

* The TAX FOUNDATION asks, and answers, the question “Does Your State Have a Marriage Penalty?”.

New Jersey = yes (it is very often better for married couples to file a separate NJ state income tax return)

Pennsylvania = no (all income is taxed at a flat rate and there are no exemptions)

New York = yes


When will people understand that abortion rights, or same-sex marriage, is NOT a conservative issue – it is a religious issue.

Conservative philosophy believes that the government should have minimal involvement in the personal and business life of the individual citizen. A major tenant of conservatism is to protect & maximize individual rights. The religious right and so-called “evangelicals” want the government to tell individuals how to live their lives by legislating the specific religious beliefs of a specific sect or Christianity.

Evangelicals and the religious right are NOT conservatives.


Friday, August 16, 2019


The big tax news of the week is “IRS axes estimated tax penalties for 400,000 taxpayers”, as Michael Cohn reported at TAXPRO TODAY.

The announcement was made in IR-2019-144.

In his article Michael explains (highlights are mine) -

Earlier this year, in response to complaints from taxpayers who discovered they hadn’t withheld enough from their paychecks last year after passage of the 2017 tax overhaul and ended up with high tax bills, the IRS lowered the usual 90 percent penalty threshold to 80 percent to help taxpayers whose withholding and estimated tax payments fell short of their total 2018 tax liability. The agency also removed the requirement that estimated tax payments be made in four equal installments, as long as they were all made by Jan. 15, 2019.  The 90 percent threshold was initially lowered to 85 percent on Jan 16 and, after further complaints from lawmakers, it was lowered once more to 80 percent on March 22.

The IRS said it would apply the waiver automatically to the tax accounts of all eligible taxpayers, so there’s no need to contact the IRS to apply for or request the waiver. The automatic waiver will be given to any individual taxpayer who has paid at least 80 percent of their total tax liability through federal income tax withholding or quarterly estimated tax payments but didn’t claim the special waiver available to them when they filed their 2018 return earlier this year.”

Previous to this announcement, despite the changes to the policy for calculating the penalty for underpayment of estimated taxes, the IRS had been sending out notices to taxpayers assessing the penalty based on the previous 90% threshold and equal quarterly payment requirement.  The IRS has said that any taxpayer who had paid the erroneously calculated penalty will receive a refund check for the overpayment in a few months.  

Michael also explains –

For those taxpayers who haven’t filed their 2018 taxes yet, such as those who asked for an extension until Oct. 15, the IRS is urging every eligible taxpayer to claim the waiver on their tax return when they do file.”

The way to claim the waiver on a manually prepared return is by attaching IRS Form 2210 to the tax return.

This announcement reminds us that you should never automatically pay any penalty or balance due notice you have received from the IRS or a state tax agency.  In my experience over half, more like 2/3, of all such notices are wrong. 

Whenever you receive any correspondence about a tax return give it to your tax professional immediately.  If you “self-prepared” the return, manually or using a “box”, read the notice carefully and verify the calculation of any penalty.  Better yet, consult a tax professional.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019


I am currently working on a book that I hope to have published "traditionally" (not "self-published").  At the beginning of the book I introduce myself to the readers.

Here, for those of you who are unfamiliar with me, is what I have written -

My name is Robert D. (for David) Flach. 

I was born, in November of 1953, and raised, and lived most of my life, in metropolitan Jersey City, New Jersey, across the river from “the big apple”, county seat of Hudson County, once the “poster child” for political corruption (think Frank Hague and John V Kenny and the infamous Democratic Party political machine, where it was almost illegal not to vote Democrat, early and often, every year on Column A of the election ballot).  I also lived for relatively brief periods in Milburn, Summit, Stirling, and Watchung New Jersey.  In 2012 I moved to rural Hawley in Northeast Pennsylvania, about an hour from Scranton.

I have been preparing income tax returns for individuals in all walks of life since February of 1972. 

My first encounter with income taxes came when I was in a freshman at a local Jesuit college.  I had taken the first half of Accounting 101, but had not taken any tax classes.  I had no experience with or education in any aspect of income taxes.  I had never even prepared my own simple returns. 

My uncle’s tax professional, James P. Gill, hired college students during the tax season as “apprentice” preparers.  During his annual visit to have his return prepared, on February 12th (he would always go on Lincoln’s birthday), my uncle happened to mention that I had taken my first accounting course and that I was helping him with the books for the non-profit organization for which he worked.  Jim told my uncle to send me in to see about a job – and the rest is history.

On my initial visit to Jim’s office just off Journal Square in Jersey City (where the “Jersey Bounce” started) he took me to a desk, gave me a copy of a client’s previous year’s tax return and a briefcase full of papers that constituted the current year’s tax “stuff”, and told me to “jump in and swim”.
If I had a question, I would ask my JP, who would take the time to explain the answer or send me to find the answer in his CCH tax library.   So, I was self-taught via on-the-job training.  I learned how to prepare income tax returns in the very best way possible – by preparing income tax returns.  Back then there was no software – so I learned by preparing returns manually.  I firmly believe the best way to learn how to prepare returns is by preparing them manually.   

In my 47+ years in “the business” I have never prepared a 1040, or any other tax return, using flawed and expensive commercial tax preparation software.  When asked what software I use I simply say “my brain”.  I am truly the last of the dinosaurs, one of a handful, if not the only, tax professional who still prepares all my 1040s manually.

The closest I came to using software was during my brief tenure as a “para-professional” for the then big-eight CPA firm of Deloitte Haskins + Sells back in the late 1970s.  I would fill-in an “input sheet” for a Form 1040 which was generated using Computax.  My reaction back then was that by the time I finished filling in the input sheet I could have actually prepared the return manually.

At a CPE session in San Antonio MANY years ago, conducted by legendary veteran tax pro and former director of the IRS Office of National Public Liaison (a division of the agency that serves as a link to tax professionals, business associations, taxpayer assistance groups, and federal agencies) Beanna Whitlock.  She asked the participants if anyone still prepared 1040s manually.  Of course, my hand was the only one that went up.  Beanna said she wanted to shake my hand - because I was the only one in the room who really knew how to prepare 1040s!

I do use commercial general ledger software, currently QuickBooks.  One thing I learned in transitioning from manual accounting to software back in the 90s – when paying bills manually for clients

I am an “unenrolled” preparer.  I am neither a CPA nor an EA.  I have never had any desire to audit financial statements, so I did not become a CPA.  And I have never had any desire to represent taxpayers before the IRS, so I did not become an EA.  And I have chosen not to enroll in the IRS voluntary Annual Filing Season Program (AFSP).

I currently work out of a home office in my condo in Hawley and am winding down my practice, planning to officially retire after having completed 50 tax filing seasons.  For your information, I no longer accept any new clients.  This book is not being written as a way to attract new 1040 preparation business.  If you need a tax professional please don’t contact me – my answer would in every case most definitely be “no”.     

I am also a writer.  I have written extensively about federal income tax planning and preparation, mostly aimed at the average middle-class taxpayer. 

I have been writing the popular tax blog THE WANDERING TAX PRO ( consistently, except for an annual February through mid-April tax season hiatus, since July of 2001, after learning about blogging at that year’s annual conference of the National Association of Tax Professionals (I have been a member for over 30 years).  I also write the non-tax blogs BOBSERVTIONS ( and TRUMP MUST GO ( 

I have created and write the content for the websites FIND A TAX PROFESSIONAL ( and A TAX PROFESSIONAL FOR TAX REFORM (  I have also written articles and commentaries for the publications of the National Association of Tax Professionals and the newsletter of the NJ chapter and for the online portals THE STREET, TAXPRO TODAY, ACCOUNTING TODAY, and MEDIA FEED.  And I have written several books, guides and reports on tax planning and preparation and the tax preparation business.  You can find information on these writings at   

After the tax filing season, I enjoy travel, domestic and international, via all methods (car, bus, train, boat, airplane), hence my title as the “wandering” tax pro (also because my mind tends to wander), musical theatre, and watching British, Canadian and Australian tv mysteries on

Any questions?


Tuesday, August 13, 2019


If I may be permitted to rant a bit.

I do not suffer fools well.

One area of “fools” is in the financial industry. 

The employees of many banks, realtors, mortgage companies, etc., regardless of their official title, are not much more than data entry clerks.  When gathering information for financial transactions they often have no real knowledge or understanding of the what and why of what they are asking, and blindly and strictly follow a pre-written check list prepared by their employer, requesting the information in the exact form and format as identified in the checklist and needing to tick off each and every item.

They do not know how to handle something that provides the same information requested in another form or format, or if the applicant does not process internal information in the exact same form and format identified in the checklist.  If an applicant uses an obscure, but accurate and effective, software program that is not referenced on the checklist, or processes things manually or in a different form or format than referenced on the checklist, the clerk cannot understand or accept it – even though it accurately provides the information that is needed to review and process the application.  

Here is a real-life example.

A client was applying for a home equity loan.  He was a self-employed professional.  His business operated as a Subchapter-S corporation and he received a salary from his corporation.  He was the only shareholder of the corporation and it’s only employee.

I used basic Quickbooks for the client’s corporation’s bookkeeping, but I did not use, or need to use, the separate Quickbooks payroll software program to prepare and record the client’s pay.  I calculated his weekly paycheck and withholdings manually.  I knew the percentages for federal and state payroll tax withholding and determined the federal and state income tax withholding based on what I wanted to have withheld for the year to cover a variety of income sources and avoid an underpayment penalty, and not using any schedule or table.  He wrote himself a check each week for the net pay, or sometimes directly transferred the amount of net pay from his corporate checking account to his personal account.

The bank officer needed to verify his salary.  The client provided a copy of the previous year’s tax return and Form W-2, which were items on the checklist used by the bank officer.  The checklist also asked for the client’s most recent pay stub, with current cumulative year-to-date detailed income and withholding information.  The client did not have, or did not need to have, any pay stub, cumulative or otherwise.

The bank officer did not know what to do, and could not proceed further with the application because she did not have a physical hard copy pay stub in front of her so she could tick it off on her checklist.  The client called me while he was at the bank and the officer told me she needed his pay stub.  I tried to explain and did at one point get a bit curt with her, and had to work hard to keep from calling her an idiot. 

Eventually I created what looked like a pay stub on Word and sent it to the client as an email attachment.  The bank officer could now move on because she had a physical piece of paper in her hand that looked like a pay-stub, and she could tick off “recent pay-stub” on her checklist. 

The bank officer’s checklist did not offer as an alternative, for example, a copy of the most recent federal payroll tax form 941 or, for a NJ employer, the state NJ-927 and WR-30.  It asked for a pay-stub and only a pay-stub, and nothing else, could provide the requested information.

Clearly the bank officer did not care about the substance or accuracy of the information being requested and provided, only that the exact form and format asked for on her checklist was provided. 

The solution is for banks, realtors, mortgage companies, etc. to properly train their employees on the what and why of the information needed and to be able to recognize and evaluate substance over specific form and format.  And do away with checklists and instead create detailed and substantive explanations of the information needed.  And, of course, hire more intelligent employees.

Thank you for letting me rant.

I am interested in hearing from others who "feel my pain".



* Those of you with children in summer day camp should check out this post from last year – “A Summer Rerun - Summer Day Camp AndThe Child Care Credit”. 

* Kay Bell, the yellow rose of taxes, lists “4 tax law changes home buyers need to heed” at DON’T MESS WITH TAXES.

FYI, I discuss all the tax benefits available to homeowners in my book TAX GUIDE FOR NEW HOMEOWNERS, which has been updated to reflect the new tax law changes.

* Have you seen my new blog BOBSERVATIONS: Ramblings of a Relatively Sane Mind yet?  There is a new post.  If not check it out and spread the word.

* TaxGirl Kelly Phillips Erb warns “Beware: Fake IRS Letters Are Making The Rounds This Summer” at FORBES.COM.

Whenever you receive ANY correspondence allegedly from the IRS or a state tax agency give it immediately to your tax preparer.  If you “self-prepared” the return you should still consult a tax pro (the software company ain’t going to help you).  Not only could it be a fake – but at least 2/3 of all IRS and state tax notices are wrong.

* Speaking of fake things (no, not the words or tweets of hate-spewing serial liar Trump), Kay Bell provides “6 ways to avoid tragedy-related crowdfunding scams”.

According to KPE’s post, “ . . the IRS says that the new Tax Withholding Estimator offers workers, as well as retirees and self-employed individuals, a more user-friendly tool to figure the amount of income tax they must have withheld from wages and pension payments.”

I have been telling clients and readers that until the IRS truly fixes its withholding FU every taxpayer should claim “Single-0” or “Married but withheld at the higher Single rate – 0” on ALL federal W-4s for all income sources.

* Let’s hear from a male blogger.  Jason Dinesen gives us a primer on "How to Fill Out Form W-9 (Most 1-Person LLCs Are Probably Doing it Wrong!)” at DINESEN TAX TIMES.

* Dana Anspach, a new blogger to me, answers “5 Frequently Asked Questions About Roth IRAs” at THE BALANCE.

* Michael Cohn announces “Treasury and IRS unveil new Form W-4 for 2020” . . . “making a number of changes to earlier draft versions of the form after hearing complaints from tax professionals” at ACCOUNTING TODAY.

* Hey, why not follow me on Twitter - @rdftaxpro.

* Let me end with some shameless self-promotion.  Click here.


When the President of the United States publicly degrades and denounces non-white and non-Christian individuals and groups, says we are being invaded by Latinos who are rapists and murderers, tells women who are not white and not Christian who oppose him to “go back to where they came from”, says those who live in black inner-cities are not human and “infest” the city and that predominantly non-white countries are "shithole" countries, it clearly provides perceived legitimacy and credibility to the beliefs and actions of white supremacists – it clearly emboldens and empowers racists and racism.  If the President of the United States is publicly racist it is therefore ok to be racist and commit hate crimes.

Whether Trump is an actual ideological racist or just spewing hate to pander to his core cult of ignorant racists so that they will continue to cheer his every word at rallies and continue to vote for him and lap dog Republican candidates is immaterial. 

Trump is the biggest danger that America, and the American people, faces today.  He MUST be removed from office!


Wednesday, August 7, 2019


Taxpayers who itemize and receive a “tax benefit” from a specific deduction must report as taxable income any refund of the payment deducted you receive in a subsequent year to the extent that the refund provided a tax benefit on the previous return. 

This most frequently occurs when a taxpayer deducted the full amount of state income tax withheld in, for example, 2017 on their 2017 Schedule A and received a refund of some of the tax withheld in 2018.

What is a tax benefit? 

* You are married filing a joint return.  Your total allowed itemized deductions for 2017 was $15,000.  The Standard Deduction for a married couple filing jointly in 2017 was $12,700.  Your itemized deductions exceeded your Standard Deduction by $2,300 – so the tax benefit you received from itemizing for 2017 was $2,300.

* You deducted $3,000 for state income tax withheld on your 2017 Form 1040.  When you prepared your 2017 NJ-1040 you calculated you overpaid your state income taxes by $975.  In 2018 you received a check from NJ for $975.

* The $975 refund from NJ is less than the $2,300 overall tax benefit you received from itemizing.  If you had deducted the correct amount of your 2017 state tax liability, you would have only claimed $2,025 in state income tax and your total allowed itemized deduction for 2017 would have been $12,975.  This is still more than the $12,700 Standard Deduction. 

* You clearly received a tax benefit for the full amount of the $975 state income tax refund.  You must report as taxable income on your 2018 Form 1040 the $975 state tax refund.

States will issue a Form 1099-G for all state income tax refunds issued to a taxpayer during the calendar year.  Unfortunately, most, if not all, states, in an attempt to save money, do not mail this form to taxpayers.  Taxpayers MUST go online to the state tax department website to download and print their Form 1099-G. 

Just because the state issues you a Form 1099-G does not mean that any or all of the amount reported on that form is taxable income.  You only need to report a state income tax refund if –

1) you itemized deductions on Schedule A of the Form 1040 for the year to which the refund applies,

2) you did not deduct state and local sales tax on the applicable Schedule A instead of state and local income tax,

3) you deducted the total amount of state income tax withheld for the year on the applicable Schedule A, and

4) you were not subject to the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for the applicable year (taxes of any kind, including state and local income tax, is not deductible in calculating the AMT – so you would have received no tax benefit from the deduction of state and local income tax, depending on the amount of AMT and the amount of the state income tax deduction).

The amount of the state income tax refund that is taxable is also limited to the amount that your Schedule A deduction for all state and local income taxes exceeds the amount of state and local sales tax you could have deducted.

You deducted $3,000 for state and local income tax withheld and $200 for state unemployment, disability or family leave taxes withheld (considered to be state and local income taxes for Schedule A purposes).  You could have deducted a total of $2,800 in state and local sales taxes (due to a used car purchase) instead – but that was less than $3,200.  So, you only received a tax benefit of $400 from the deduction for state income taxes.  The portion of the $975 state tax refund that must be included in taxable income for 2018 is only $400. 

This rule still exists.  However, the changes made by the GOP Tax Act substantially eliminated the need to claim state tax refunds as taxable income.  Most taxpayers who had consistently itemized in the past are no longer able to itemize.  And even if you can itemize, the deduction for all state and local taxes (state income taxes or state sales taxes, state and local personal property taxes and local property taxes combined) is limited to $10,000.

Let’s say you were able to itemize for 2018, your total property taxes for 2018 were $9,500, the total amount of state income tax withheld for 2018 was $3,200, and your actual 2018 state tax liability on your 2018 state income tax return was $2,300.  You could deduct only $10,000 in state and local (SALT) taxes on your 2018 Schedule A.  

Whether you claimed the $3,200 withheld or the $2,300 actual liability for state income taxes your 2018 itemized deduction for taxes would be only $10,000.  So, you received absolutely no tax deduction, or tax benefit, for the $900 excess withholding if you claimed the full $3,200.   No tax benefit – no taxable income.  None of the $900 in state income tax refund reported on your 2019 Form 1099G is taxable income - none of the $900 has to be reported on your 2019 Form 1040.

The $10,000 deduction is treated by the IRS as $9,500 in property taxes and $500 in state income taxes.  This has been verified by Internal Revenue Service Revenue Ruling 2019-11.

Taxpayers who were required to claim state income tax refunds as taxable income on their 2018 Form 1040 actually received a fortuitous tax savings as a result of the reduction in tax rates enacted by the GOP Tax Act.

In the original example of a tax benefit at the beginning of this post I showed that the taxpayers had to report $975 as taxable income on their 2018 Form 1040.  Let’s say their federal marginal tax rate for 2018 was 25% but was 22% for 2018.  When they filed their 2017 return the $975 deduction reduced their tax liability by $244 ($975 x 25%).  But the $975 in income reported in 2018 only cost them $215 in federal income tax ($975 x 22%).  So, the bottom line is that they actually saved $29 ($244 less $215).

Hey, better in the pocket of the taxpayer!