Richard A. Lindsey, CPA

Lindsey & Waldo, LLC – Certified Public Accountants

  • Nov 22

    Most of our clients have never received that dreadful notice from the IRS, initiating an audit — or, much worse, the KNOCK on the door! If you never have, you might not keep much financial documentation.

    If you have, you are probably terrified to part with a single receipt.

    But remember, either way, we’re in your corner.

    However, the IRS is one of the few courts where failure to produce proof of your claims results in the assumption that you are guilty of tax fraud.

    (This is part of the reason why you ALWAYS want a professional on your side in these matters. Would you go to court without an advocate? Would you go before a court with a software-generated defense? “Your honor, here is my lawyer, Siri.”)

    It’s imperative that you are able to protect yourself. And, as great as we are — some of this still does fall in your court. That’s why you must save all the financial documents used to create your tax returns in order to defend yourself in the case of an audit.

    Firstly (and perhaps this goes without saying), retain a paper copy or receipt of any tax-relevant transaction. Scan these documents and archive them electronically, or acquire them in an electronic format. If the purchase has a manual or warranty, store all the documents in the same electronic and physical location.

    Sadly, the IRS has ruled bank or credit card records to be insufficient documentation. As a result, just keep your statements long enough to reconcile your account.

    If the purchase was a business or tax-deductible expense, record the expense and why it justifies the deduction. Store this information with, or on, the receipts.

    Second, keep brokerage statements indefinitely for taxable accounts. You are responsible for reporting the cost basis of any security you sell to calculate the capital gains tax. For a mutual fund with 30 years of reinvested dividends, each dividend payment is part of the cost basis. As a result, the cost basis can sometimes be computed only if you have the complete transaction history.

    Without knowing the cost basis, the IRS could argue that the entire value of the investment be treated as gain.

    If you have lost the record of how much you originally paid for an investment, instead of selling and paying 15% or more of the value in taxes, you can use that investment as part of your charitable giving. Gifting appreciated stock avoids the tax owed and still qualifies for a full deduction. Oddly enough, the IRS still asks for the original purchase date and price for gifted securities, but leaving these blank has no effect on your tax owed.

    Many custodians keep several years of electronic copies of brokerage statements available. And they are now required to send any known cost basis electronically when you transfer securities to a new custodian. If your current custodian has the correct cost basis of your securities, you probably no longer need to keep brokerage statements. However, an approach of “better safe than sorry” is always advisable with the IRS.

    Third, keep IRA nondeductible contribution records forever. You may need those records every year that you withdraw money in retirement to show that a portion of the withdrawal is not tax deductible.

    Or to avoid the hassle, clear out nondeductible IRA contributions by converting all of your IRA accounts to Roth accounts.

    Fourth, keep partnership documents, contracts, commission, or royalty structures forever. This includes property records, deeds and titles, especially those relating to intellectual property. It also includes any transfers of value for estate planning purposes.

    Finally, save all of your tax returns. After you file, save the paper, and/or electronic, copies with the rest of that year’s financial documents.

    Tax returns and all the supporting documentation must be kept at least seven years. The IRS can audit your return for up to three years from your filing date. However, the three-year limit only applies to good-faith errors.

    If the IRS suspects you underreported your gross income by 25% or more, they have up to six years to challenge your return. And because you may file for an extension and then file your return at the October 15 deadline, you must keep your records for at least seven years.

    Regardless of those rules, though, if the IRS suspects you filed a fraudulent return, no statute of limitations applies. Because the IRS is run and organized by fallible people (with all of their attendant biases, emotions, etc.), we suggest keeping your tax returns and documents forever.

    Unfortunately, whenever the IRS challenges you, the burden of producing evidence that your claims are true rests entirely with you, so you had better have your documentation in order.

    Taxpayers collectively spend six billion hours, or 8,758 lifetimes, annually trying to comply with the tax code. Fortunately, as I previously mentioned, YOU don’t have to be the one to do all the heavy lifting. We are on your side…

    “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden

  • Jul 7

    How to Write Off Katie’s Soccer Camp

    Yes, it is quite do-able. But, like many things in the tax code, the devil is in the details. Let’s see if I can cut through the Tax Mumbo Jumbo for you.

    If Katie (or Bruce) is younger than 13 and goes to a DAY camp (overnight doesn’t work), and you are both working (or “looking for work”) then,…

    Cha-ching.

    You can then choose to pay for the camp using a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or you can take the child care credit. Remember credits are better than deductions. With both the FSA and the child care credit, other eligible expenses include the cost of day care or preschool, before or after school care, and a nanny or other babysitter while you work.

    The size of the credit depends on your income and the number of children you have who are younger than 13. You can count up to $3,000 in child care expenses for one child, or up to $6,000 for two or more children.

    There are some limitations. The credit is only good for families of a certain income range and the percentage of eligible costs varies with income.

    All told, it’s a good deal which you should take advantage of, if you qualify.

    Bonus… If you have two or more children and child care costs exceed $5,000 for the year, you can benefit from both accounts. You can set aside up to $5,000 in pretax money in your FSA for child care costs, then claim the child care credit for up to $1,000 in additional expenses.

     

    Other strange, but true deductions

    You can pay your significant other (pay attention now) to do legitimate work for you and take a deduction.

    Bruce hired his live-in girlfriend to manage his rental properties. Her duties included finding furniture, overseeing repairs, and running his personal household. He went to Tax Court and fought the IRS which had disallowed the entire deduction. He won a deduction for the portion of his payments which could legitimately be tied to her business work.

    A married couple owned a junk yard and put out cat food to attract wild cats. Why, you might ask? The feral cats they were trying to attract dealt with snakes and rats on the property. That made for a safer junkyard for customers.

    And that made cat food a business deduction. The IRS first thought this was ridiculous, but before the case reached the Tax Court the IRS agreed!

    The details are always important, so be careful and ask us for advice first.

  • Jun 9

    Congress recently enacted significant changes to partnership audit and adjustment rules. The changes are expected to dramatically increase the audit rates for partnerships, and will require partners to carefully review, if not revise, their partnership’s operating agreement.

    The new rules generally apply to partnership returns filed after 2018, but careful planning today will help mitigate any unfavorable consequences.

    Important new provisions that may impact you:

    • The IRS may collect any additional tax, interest, and penalty directly from the partnership rather than from the partners (the tax could be collected at the highest individual tax rate).
    • Current partners could be responsible for tax liabilities of prior partners.
    • New elections and opt-outs will be available and your agreement may need revision to specify who makes these decisions.
    • There are many new tax terms and concepts that will likely require you to adjust your partnership’s operating agreement.

    Particularly, the new term “partnership representative” replaces the prior “tax matters partner.” The partnership representative is critical; they will act as the single point of contact between the IRS and the partnership and will have full authority to bind the partnership and the partners during an audit.

    Potential opportunities and the need for planning today

    Certain partnerships with 100 or fewer partners may elect out of the provisions. To do so, the partnership may make an annual “opt-out” election with their timely filed tax return (Form 1065).

  • May 12

    I’ve written before about what a good tax planning technique hiring your children can be. (See “Hiring Your Children for the Summer: The Job of Last Resort or Just Good Tax Planning,” Taxing Times, June 2015.) It can be an effective way of shifting income from your high rate to as low as zero percent! It can also be good for the kids. However, as a recent tax court decision demonstrates, it’s important to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

    The case involved Lisa Fisher, a New York attorney, faced with a common dilemma to find summer care for her children, all under the age of nine. So, during the summer, she brought them into her office two or three days a week where they shredded waste, mailed letters, answered phones, greeted clients, and copied documents.

    Fisher took deductions for the $28,770 in wages she paid her kids over a three year period. But, she didn’t keep any payroll files or issue any W-2s. She didn’t keep any records substantiating the work they did or establishing that she paid “reasonable compensation” for the work performed. Nor could she present any documentary evidence, such as cancelled checks or bank statements, to verify that she actually paid them the wages she deducted.

    You know where this is headed. The IRS disallowed the deductions for the children’s wages and imposed an accuracy related penalty. The Tax Court affirmed that decision.

    Bottom line: Hiring your children to work for your business, or rental properties, can be perfectly legal tax planning. But, you have to follow the rules and document everything in order to protect the benefits.

  • Mar 31

    Just prior to Christmas 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act which permanently extended several tax provisions, which had been on a cycle of being temporarily extended for one or two years at a time. (See “Congress Takes a New Tack on Extenders” in the February 2016 issue of “Taxing Times”.) While there were some very important items that were permanently extended by the PATH Act, not everything was. Some provisions which expired at the end of 2016 and may be important to you include:

    • the exclusion from gross income of the discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness income,
    • the treatment of mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest, which permits a taxpayer whose income is below certain thresholds to deduct the cost of premiums on mortgage insurance purchased in connection with acquisition indebtedness on the taxpayer’s principal residence,
    • the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses, and
    • the 7.5% adjusted-gross-income floor for deducting medical expenses, applicable to individuals age 65 and older and their spouses, which increases to 10% in 2017.

    It is possible Congress will retroactively extend some, or all, of these provisions, but as it currently stands, these provisions have seen the end of the road.♦

  • Mar 17

    Inevitably, the question I get asked when I work with people dealing with severe IRS problems is “Can you keep me out of jail?” It’s one of the big fears about finally facing up to and doing something about the problem.

    Not filing your tax returns IS considered a crime. You CAN go to jail if you have not filed your tax returns OR if you’ve filed them inaccurately. You can receive one year of prison time for each year of unfiled returns and procrastinating just increases the chances of going to jail.

    The IRS doesn’t take kindly to non-filers they have to chase down. And believe me, they will eventually chase you down. Just because it’s been a few years since you’ve filed and nothing has happened, doesn’t mean you’ve slipped through the cracks. People rarely slip through the cracks. Why go through life looking over your shoulder wondering when the other shoe is going to drop, when the IRS is finally going to catch up with you and demand their money? Life’s too short to live that way.

    Even if it’s been years since you filed returns, you can still avoid prison. The more willing you are to face up to your situation and seek a solution, the more likely the IRS is to work with you. The IRS doesn’t seek to put anyone in jail that voluntarily comes forward and files old returns.

    Owing the IRS money IS NOT considered a crime. The IRS cannot send you to jail for owing money, if you’ve accurately filed your tax returns. But, don’t pop the bubbly just yet. Although jail time is arguably the worst thing that can happen, it’s not the only punishment that the IRS can deliver. By not facing your IRS debt and taking action, you could be staring into the ugly eyes of…

    • wage garnishments;
    • seizure of your car, house, or boat;
    • seizure of your bank account;
    • seizure of other real estate;
    • seizure of your Social Security benefits, 401(k)s, and IRAs;
    • seizure of cash loan value of your life insurance; and
    • seizure of commissions owed to you.

    If you have filed your tax returns accurately but can’t afford to pay the taxes owed, there are ways to pay your debt and avoid those nasty consequences listed above. But, it’s a bad idea to go it alone. Walking into an IRS office and trying to work out a deal is a recipe for disaster. It’s too easy for them to get you to say something you’ll regret later. Seek out a qualified professional you can trust.

  • Feb 17

    New January 31 Deadline for Employers

    Employers are now required to file their copies of Form W-2, submitted to the Social Security Administration by January 31.

    The new deadline also applies to Forms 1099-MISC reporting non-employee compensation, such as payments to independent contractors.

    In the past, employers typically had until the end of February if filing on paper, or the end of March if filing electronically, to submit copies of these forms.

    The new accelerated deadline will make it easier for the IRS to spot errors and verify the legitimacy of tax returns and properly issue refunds to eligible taxpayers. Penalties for late filing can be exorbitant! For example, if a business fails to file Form 1099-MISC or furnish a copy to the payee on time the penalty can be as high as $520 per occurrence.

    New March 15 Deadline for Partnerships and LLCs

    Partnership tax returns are now due March 15, NOT April 15 as in the past.

    S corporation tax returns due date remains unchanged at March 15.

    New April 15 Deadline for C Corporations

    C corporation tax returns are now due April 15, NOT March 15.

  • Feb 3

    How The Tax Code Makes Regular Taxpayers Angry

    Many people think that preparing taxes for a living is a somewhat easy assignment.

    Bless their hearts.

    It’s NOT just “filling in the boxes” and having the spreadsheets or the software spit out the results. I WISH it were so simple. There are three big reasons why it’s much harder than that — even for many professionals.

    1) The tax code is incredibly long. The version of the tax code we are using right now is more than 75,000 pages long (and that is about 186 times LONGER than it was back in 1913 when we started with it) — and it will likely be getting longer this coming year.

    2) The code also happens to be pretty complicated and laden with contradictory incentives. Take this credit, and watch that other credit go bye-bye. Fail to deduct this item, and then you won’t be able to deduct that other item. You get the picture.

    Sorting through all of them is most definitely NOT a task for a computer software program. It requires sitting down with an individual, a business owner, a family, determining what they most care about, and then use that complicated code to plan for it all properly. Really, that’s the only way to do it. Everything else is just “after the fact” clean-up work.

    Which is why it’s so critical to meet with someone before the end of the year to make sure that you’re set up to hold a tax position which represents the real picture of where you really want to be going.

    This is the essence of tax planning. Some may say that this is overstating it — but, after years of doing this, I’ve become convinced that it’s the truth. I’m in the business of helping you fulfill your dreams by helping you hold on to as much income/revenue as possible!

    3) Oh, and as I alluded to previously, there is one more big reason this job is no cupcake — staying up to date with how the law is constantly changing.

    And I’m as patriotic as the next person … but, Congress makes THIS task no cupcake.

    Despite what certain fringe voices might claim (and they cite all kinds of “facts” behind their claims), the truth is that we don’t have the choice to “not file” or “not pay” what the tax laws say we owe. That’s why the IRS audits returns and has all sorts of “encouragements” (liens, refund offsets) to encourage us to file by each April 15, and to do so correctly.

    But, even with automatic payroll deductions, etc. we U.S. taxpayers are trusted to fill out the forms, ensure the correct amount was withheld and let the IRS know what our true final bill was. That’s called tax filing. And if we discover that we owe the U.S. Treasury, then our system (as it stands now) relies on us to send in the necessary payments. This, of course, is what we spend much of our time on around here at Team Lindsey — helping YOU do this ethically, but ensuring you’re not overpaying.

    But, Congress makes this much harder than they need to.

    They do this — probably unintentionally — by tinkering with our tax laws so much. They change them, sometimes slightly, sometimes quite a bit, and they do so constantly. What’s worse is the annual rite of procrastination in the House and Senate. I see this all the time. As a regular course of business.

    And these delays in tax changes — or the decision to make some laws retroactive months later (extenders, estate tax, etc.) — totally screw up basic tax planning, sometimes negating options that could have been used to legally lower a tax bill.

    (Which, incidentally, is why I have to pay so much attention to what’s happening in the legislation NOW, during the offseason. I do this so you don’t have to.)

    So some people fudge their returns. And, unfortunately, they feel justified in doing so.

    One recent example was the first-time homebuyer credit that was created a few years back … then revised … and revised again. Many homebuyers had to “pay back” a credit that was taken under existing law — then later canceled.

    And I know (from conversations with real people) how many felt justified in finding ways to “skim back” (i.e. fudge) that $500 back into their returns because they were annoyed at how Congress handled it.

    And there are plenty of other tax laws with similar histories that tick off filers enough so that they look for ways of getting payback when they fill out their 1040s.

    Now, I’m not condoning these taxpayers’ decisions to “even up” the tax code where they may find it unfair. Life can be unfair and taxes are a part of that often unfair life.

    But, Congress can do a lot to prevent these “they hurt me, so I’ll hurt the tax system right back” attitudes, by doing its tax-writing job in a more rational and professional manner.

    Until it does, well, then, Capitol Hill is going to keep creating bad attitudes.

    But, here’s where some hope comes in…

    For my clients and contacts, you can rest assured that we are paying attention … and that we will be on top of even these woefully-procrastinating legislators. We’ll do all that is ethically possible to make sure you don’t make moves that you’ll regret after the fact.

    And the best way to help us help YOU, is by giving us a call to talk things through NOW, while we can still make a difference with 2016 returns.

    “You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” – Dale Carnegie

  • 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.

  • Sep 16

    Since 2002, the above-the-line deduction for certain classroom expenses of elementary and secondary schoolteachers was in doubt nearly every other year. The temporary provision was renewed six times as an “extender” item – each time retroactively – until late last year when Congress made it permanent, expanded the deduction to cover professional development expenditures and indexed its $250 maximum amount for inflation. Now, qualifying educators can rely on the deduction each year and potentially realize a greater benefit from it.

    Qualified expenses include ordinary and necessary expenses paid in connection with books, supplies, equipment (including computer equipment, software, and services), and other materials used in the classroom. An ordinary expense is one that is common and accepted in your educational field. A necessary expense is one that is helpful and appropriate for your profession as an educator. An expense does not have to be required to be considered necessary. Expenses incurred to meet the minimum requirements of the educator’s present job or to qualify for a new profession may not be deductible.

    Qualified expenses do not include expenses for home schooling or for nonathletic supplies for courses in health or physical education.

    An eligible educator is a kindergarten through grade 12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal, or aide in school for at least 900 hours during a school year.

    Naturally, the IRS recommends that educators keep all receipts and other documentation in order to substantiate their qualified expenses.

    Any unreimbursed educator expenses that exceed the $250 ceiling may be claimed as miscellaneous itemized deductions subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income- (AGI) floor.