No more free lunch at Google or Facebook? The IRS is thinking about it . . . .

Employees at Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley high-tech companies have long been able to take advantage of free or heavily discounted meals and snacks at company cafeterias. The idea is insidious but simple: don’t give workers excuses to leave the building–or their desks.

Now comes the IRS, possibly preparing to tell the tech world there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, and other folks like Paul Caron picked up on, the IRS is looking at taxing employer-provided meals as one of its top priorities going forward.

That means the Service may be looking at whether those meals should be taxable fringe benefits, instead of the freebies that they currently are.

In general, employer-provided meals are untaxed if they are “for the convenience of the employer.” In this case, the issue may come down to how convenient it actually is for the employer to have employees eating in-house, vs. the convenience that employees get from not having to go out for lunch, or dinner, or anything else.

Does all this mean that the IRS might start going after the folks responsible for developing the latest cool apps and search codes? Probably not. It’d be a lot more efficient for the IRS to go after the employers themselves, charging them with failing to withhold taxes on unreported taxable fringe benefits.

Watch this space for more…or just Google the topic.

Pay your taxes — or lose your driver’s license! NY State has a cool idea to convince reluctant tax-payers.

I regularly tell clients that cash-starved states have become very entrepreneurial and even aggressive in their tax collection efforts. If you earn money in a state, the tax department will probably be willing to go to court to collect income taxes even if you live hundreds of miles away. (I’m looking at you, New York State.) Revenue departments review business filings and public records to determine if a business has any type of a presence (called “nexus” in tax-geek world) that would make the business liable for state taxes. I even saw an author get a letter from a state tax department informing her that she owed taxes on any books that she sold directly as part of a speaking tour.

And now, something new: Don’t pay your state taxes and you could lose your driver’s license.

Again, we turn our lonely eyes to Albany, where thousands of drivers have had their licenses suspended, as The New York Post reported. The state program targets residents who owe more than $10,000 in back taxes.

The program has resulted in more than $50 million in back taxes coming into state coffers. You can’t argue with success.

Get some reward points when you opened a bank account? Surprise! They’re taxable income!

Did you open a new bank account recently and get rewards points that can be used to buy merchandise? If so, good for you.

Did you know that those points are going to be taxable income? Not so good for you.

In Shankar v. Commissioner (143 T.C. No 5), the Tax Court ruled that the points you get for opening a bank account are taxable income, because they are in essence the equivalent of interest on the money that you deposited into the account. As Forbes Magazine points out, the value of the points becomes taxable when they are actually turned in for something of value.

Banks are expected to issue Form 1099, showing the value of the points, when depositors convert the points into merchandise, whether that’s an airplane ticket, clothing, or even (presumably) a toaster.

If you really have time on your hands you can get a copy of the case by typing “Shankar v. Commissioner” into your web brower and clicking on one of the PDFs that will probably show up at the top of your search request.

By the way, none of this affects the tax-free status of frequent flier points that you get from airlines. So there is that.

Forbes columnist Tony Nitti makes even taxes entertaining

The IRS, bless ‘em, gave us new rules in the summer of 2014 covering how a shareholder in an S Corporation can establish the right to take losses on his tax returns.

This involves looking at ways the shareholder can show that he has debt basis in the corporation…and at the phrase, “debt basis,” most normal citizens’ eyes will rightly glaze over.

But Tony Nitti, a terrific contributor to Forbes, does a great job of explaining what’s going on in this long piece, including a Q & A that begins, “Please remind me why I should continue to read this?”

I leave it to Mr. Nitti to explain why shareholder basis in an S Corp matters.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s a link to another Nitti column in which he surveys the “tax lessons” to be learned from watching part or all of Fox’s marathon 522-episode airing of “The Simpsons” (already showing and continuing through September 1). Undoubtedly he wrote this so he could take a business deduction for the beer and pizza he consumed during his own viewings.

IRS security puts taxpayer info at risk

The IRS won’t contact taxpayers by email, because of security concerns. When I am representing a client, auditors generally will not send me emails, for the same reason. And the Service regularly puts out notices telling taxpayers how to maintain their privacy and not get taken in by scammers claiming to be with the government.

But none of this concern for security seems to apply when it comes to the IRS’s own hiring practices. The Washington Post jumped on a report this week that the IRS didn’t do background checks on contractors who were given information on 1.4 million taxpayers–including their Social Security numbers.

The Associated Press, in an article picked up by the Santa Fe New Mexican and dozens of others newspapers, noted that the IRS also had sensitive documents being transported by a courier who had spent 21 years in prison for arson and other charges. Yep.

You can read the whole sad and kinda scary report from the Treasury Inspector General For Tax Administration here.