Richard A. Lindsey, CPA Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants
  • Taking the Shirt Off Your Back, But No Deduction

    Filed under Informational, Taxes
    Oct 28

    In what may come as a shock to many of you, the country is broke and is looking for additional revenues. You should know, it will be looking in every nook and cranny to replenish the federal coffers. What you may not know is the Internal Revenue Service seems already to be engaged in revenue-finding-missions. Among the objects of their affection – in the tax audit – are sole proprietors filing Schedule C, and substantiation requirements for every possible deduction.

    The IRS now views the Schedule C as the repository of all manner of evil taxpayer intentions to reduce their tax liabilities (and, from the perspective of the IRS, federal revenues). IRS agents are reportedly beating the bushes of sole proprietors primarily to reduce, or eliminate, claimed deductions as unsubstantiated to increase both income and self-employment tax liabilities.

    All deductions are a matter of legislative grace, and that grace comes with a price: at a minimum to maintain books and records to support the expenditure, and, in many cases, to meet more exacting substantiation standards than the Code imposes as a condition to deductibility in various circumstances. One might not think of charitable contributions as a source of major contention with the IRS, but in the case of non-cash contributions, the taxpayer is technically required to establish, both the fair market value of the property and the property’s adjusted basis. In some cases, the Code requires an appraisal of property (where the value exceeds $5,000) contributed to a charity.

    However, the property’s adjusted basis comes into question in two cases: first in most cases where the property is inventory in the hands of the donor, and secondly, if tangible personal property that is unrelated to the charity’s exempt function, the amount of the contribution is limited to the donor’s adjusted basis in the property. For example, if a taxpayer donates used clothing to a charity that does not distribute them to poor or indigent individuals, the deduction is limited to the lesser of your basis or fair market value. Now, it may seem like common sense that the current value of almost all used clothing is less than what was paid for it but technically, a claim for a deduction of such items requires some proof of both the fair market value and the cost basis of the property.

    And such was the case I recently read about in Surgent’s Tax Issues Newsletter where a taxpayer was denied a claimed $850 deduction for clothing donated to charity. Yes $850! The return was under audit and the taxpayer submitted photographs of all the clothing donated and matched them up to the current list of retail prices published by The Salvation Army and recognized by the IRS– but that wasn’t enough. The auditor wanted purchase receipts of each item to establish the cost basis. Even if the taxpayer was in the 35 percent tax bracket, the amount of tax at issue was only $298. The IRS correctly assumed the taxpayer would throw in the towel rather than incur additional time, effort and costs to substantiate the deduction. So, the IRS pressed the issue hard enough to deny any deduction. Hooray, the deficit was reduced $300!

    From a practical standpoint, trying to establish the cost of most any item of personal property even shortly after its purchase, much less a couple of years down the road, is extremely difficult. So, nothing prevents the IRS from using similar audit strategies where larger sums of money are involved.

    Echoing the motivation Willie Sutton once famously gave for robbing banks, the Internal Revenue Service knows where the money is.

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