Letter from the Editor (Post-Mayan Apocalypse Fizzle): A New Life for the Newsletter, Life, Law & Taxes

(From the vault: A slightly different version of this post was published in the paper newsletter, sent to subscribers through the regular U.S. mail, in January 2013, on the occasion of the paper newsletter being revived to monthly publication, after a hiatus.)

It has been a while since the last edition of the through-the-regular-snail-mail Life, Law and Taxes, was completed and mailed out to you.

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IRS Insider Information: More Multi-Year Audits Coming

Recently, in an attempt to resolve a dispute with the IRS before taking it to Tax Court, I met with an IRS auditor who had already slammed my new client with an additional $36,000 in tax interest and penalty by disallowing $90,000 of business deductions he claimed for his little company. My mission: persuade the auditor that many, most, or all of the deductions she had disallowed were legitimate, and that she should which should be recognized as legitimate.

Policy Changes Which Affect Everyone Revealed in Conversation About One Taxpayer

In the course of talking about my taxpayer’s business and deductions, we discussed more generally tax rules and policy. And in that part of the conversation, this auditor told me that starting now, more and more audits will involve multi-year examinations (what many of us call a “tax audit,” the IRS calls an “examination” — audit, examination, both words refer to the same thing).

So, for example, three years ago, a taxpayer might have been audited (or “examined”) for tax year 2005, now, it is much more likely that if the IRS initiates an audit, the audit will involve not just 2005, but also ‘06, and ’07.

IRS Uses Old TV Commercial Logic: “How Do We Do it? Volume!”

Why? Simple: it’s cheaper by the dozen! Three years in one audit costs the IRS less than doing only one year.

In fact, this auditor explained, doing multi-year audits has always been the official policy, but often it was not carefully supervised by the layers of internal management at the IRS. But now that the federal government needs money severely, the IRS is looking to get as much of a bang for its audit buck as it can.

Happy(er) Ending for Client

Meanwhile, over the course of 6 hours or so, I persuaded the this auditor to recognize more than half of the disallowed expenses as being legitimate, resulting in reducing the additional tax, interest and penalty from more than $36,000 down to about $6,000. The taxpayer considered that a very good result.

And, a Word to the Wise Taxpayer

And, so, a “take-away” for everyone else, be aware: multi-year audits are on the rise. One way to start being ready if you become a target of audit is to keep and have good records. It may be a great time to review your record-keeping system, or to develop one if you don’t have one!

One reason to want to be paying taxes

This is obvious but, with all the dread, resentment, and busywork that frequently comes along with the chore and expense of preparing tax returns and paying taxes, it is all too often overlooked:

if you’re paying taxes it means you made money.

Not owing (and so, paying) taxes generally means you aren’t making money. And that’s worse. (Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the issues surrounding “tax haven” countries like Leichtenstein, the Caymen Islands, Andorra, Monaco, etc., where we’ve been reading in the news recently that profitable companies avoid taxes through foreign subsidiaries incorporated in one of these offshore places).

It is a where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire causal connection (or putting it into achievement test comparison: Income taxes are to making money as smoke is to fire (and again, following the metaphor, we leave aside the smokeless fires of off-shore tax havens for the moment).

The basic reality is, again, if your paying taxes, you’re making money, and that’s a good thing. (Thank you, Martha Stewart.)

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Post Script:  At risk of blowing a punch line (not that this is funny), this paying-taxes-because-you’re-making-money-and-that’s-a-good-thing message makes me think to mention that I recently started a second blog, on a completely different topic, which is relevant here:  the other blog is called “Marketing and PR Lab” and, instead of discussing law or the government or taxes, it instead focuses on ways of improving one’s business and so, income, by improving your marketing methods and getting known.

So as you think of ways to have the “smoke and fire” problem described above, that is: “I have to pay taxes, Dang! But that means I made money — Great!” you might want to go to http://marketingandprlab.com to see if there are things there that can push your business and income-earning forward, or leave a comment to share your experiences, or both.

The House (Probably) Can Tell Us Which Bailout Recipients Owe the IRS — And Should

One has to wonder if the House Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittee on oversight got it right when it told reporters that it could not legally release the names of the companies who received bailout money while owing back taxes, two of which owe more than $100 million each. (See Associated Press article, “Some Getting Bailout Cash Owe Millions In Back Taxes,” in the New York Times on 3/20/2009 A19 col. 6.)

Ordinarily, a taxpayer’s tax information, whether it is an individual or a business, is treated as very private, very secret. In fact, IRS employees can be, and are, fired, criminally charged, convicted, and sentenced for the Unauthorized Inspection of Tax Return Information or Accessing of Tax Account Information.

But, when a taxpayer is late in paying a tax bill, these super-strong privacy rules don’t fully apply anymore.

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IRS Clarifies Position on Tax Consquences of Ponzi Schemes

In the wake of the unravelling of uber-Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff’s scam, the IRS has announced new guidance on how it will handle the tax consequences of being a victim of a Ponzi scheme — whether Madoff’s or any one else’s.

Yesterday, March 17th, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman described the agency’s position in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee:

  • The investor is entitled to a theft loss, which is not a capital loss. In other words, a theft loss from a Ponzi-type investment scheme is not subject to the normal limits on losses from investments, which typically limit the loss deduction to $3,000 per year when it exceeds capital gains from investments.
  • The revenue ruling clarifies that “investment” theft losses are not subject to limitations that are applicable to “personal” casualty and theft losses. The loss is deductible as an itemized deduction, but is not subject to the 10 percent of AGI reduction or the $100 reduction that applies to many casualty and theft loss deductions Continue reading

When Does the Statute of Limitations Run Out for IRS Tax Audits?

A visitor to my website found it by asking this question in a search on Yahoo: “When does the statute of limitations run out for audits?”

The shortest answer is three years.

So the IRS Has Three Years – Three Years Starting When?

But that’s not quite enough information all by itself. The first, next question is: three years from what? What event makes the clock start ticking and counting down?

The shortest answer is that the clock starts counting down, when you, the taxpayer, file your tax return. But that’s not quite the whole story either:

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Sin Tax on the Rise: Cigarettes to Shoulder S-CHIP

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law legislation reauthorizing and expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program or S-CHIP, which was set to expire in March 2009.

Former President George W. Bush had previously vetoed two similar bills.

The measure increases federal tax on cigarettes by almost 62 cents a pack, to $1.01 a pack. This increase is expected to raise the $32.8 billion needed to pay for S-CHIP over the next four years.

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IRS to Bail Out Taxpayers?

When hearing the news that former masters-of-the-universe bankers are getting billions in federal aid – bailouts from their failures – who among us has not wished to receive our own personal bailout?

After all, almost none of us have been as irresponsible, reckless, even profligate as the banks and bankers whose wastrel ways have brought down the economy. What about the rest of us who try to make a living, pay our bills, make ends meet? Times are tough for all of us now.

While it is unlikely that any of us will be invited to testify before Congress to explain why the government should write a huge check to help out on our personal finances or the finances of our small businesses (personally, if Congress did invite me, I’d skip the private jet the first time, and fly commercial or take a train or drive) , the IRS – of all government agencies – is promising relief for taxpayers and particularly taxpayers who have fallen behind in paying taxes.

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