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Bitcoin: IRS says, “It’s property, and it’s taxable!”

A lot of people are still trying to figure out just what Bitcoin is, but the IRS has seen enough to decide: It’s a type of property and not a form of currency.

So what, you say? Here’s what: Because, as The New York Times has reported, the IRS is going to treat Bitcoin as property, people who buy and sell it are going to have to calculate the change in value from when they acquired it, and pay tax (or claim losses) on the difference.

That means you could buy Bitcoin, use it to purchase something, and then have to report a “trade” on the change in Bitcoin value between when you bought it and when you used it.

Oh, and if you’re one of those smart guys or gals who can actually electronically “mine” a Bitcoin, you are going to have to report the market value of the Bitcoin as income.

Could government-gathered tracking info show up in your tax audit?

As ProPublica points out, despite the veritable explosion of stories about secret government surveillance programs, there’s a whole lot we still don’t know. We don’t know how long the government has been collecting our phone records or how much is collected. It would be nice to know what government officials think they can do under the Patriot Act, but….that information is classified.

We do know, though, as The Washington Post has been reporting (along with several other outlets), that the government has been engaged in internet data mining of video chats, emails, documents and photos, and is able to track when calls are made, from where, and for how long.

What does this have to do with taxes? Well…what if the data that one arm of government gathers up could be used by another arm…like the IRS?

There’s no evidence that anything like this is happening. But as UC Berkeley sociologist James B. Rules mused in The New York Times, “Imagine that analysis of telecommunications data reliably identified failure to report taxable income. Who could object to exploiting this unobtrusive investigative tool, if the payoff were a vast fiscal windfall and the elimination of tax evasion?”

Wow–there’s a nightmare for you. Do I think this is going to happen? No. But these kinds of questions just reinforce something that I and other tax pros always tell clients: Always keep track of everything that is going to be part of your tax return as if you are going to be audited. Hate to have to give you such a downer of a blogpost, but sometimes That’s The Way It Is.

Apple avoids billions in taxes, and it all looks legal; those guys really are smart

Lawmakers are using words like “gimmicks” and “schemes” to describe how Apple Corporation has used a web of subsidiaries spanning the globe to avoid taxes. There are hearings this week at which Congressmen are expected to say they are shocked, shocked, to hear of tax loopholes being exploited.

As The New York Times reported, Congressional investigators have determined that “some of Apple’s subsidiaries had no employees and were largely run by top officials from the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. But by officially locating them in places like Ireland, Apple was able to, in effect, make them stateless — exempt from taxes, record-keeping laws and the need for the subsidiaries to even file tax returns anywhere in the world.”

One of Apple’s Irish affiliates reported profits of $30 billion between 2009 and 2012, but because it did not technically belong to any country, it paid no taxes to any government, The Washington Post reported. Another paid a tax rate of 0.05 percent in 2011 on $22 billion in earnings, according to the report.

It’s not expected that any of this will be determined to be illegal–just a highly proactive use of the existing tax rules. Interviewed by The Times, University of Southern California law professor Edward Kleinbard, a former staff director at the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, gets the Quote Of The Week Award. “There is a technical term economists like to use for behavior like this,” said Kleinbard. “Unbelievable chutzpah.”

Now that’s a home run: McCourts back in court over billion-dollar Dodgers franchise

Nasty multi-million dollar divorces make for some great financial insights, especially when they wind up in court.

Today’s lesson: How profitable it can be to own a professional sports franchise, and how the tax code’s preferential rates for capital gains benefit the super-wealthy.

Frank McCourt owned the Los Angeles Dodgers. When he and his wife Jamie divorced, Jamie got $131 million as a settlement.

They were back in court this week. The reason: Shortly after the divorce, Frank sold the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion. Jamie’s lawyers say the settlement should be thrown out because she was misled about the value of the team. (Isn’t it entertaining when people fight over hundreds of millions of dollars?)

The tax angle: Court documents show that Frank made $1.278 billion on the sale. His lawyers say he has paid more than $460 million in state and federal taxes on the sale.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a combined federal-and-state tax rate of about 36%, or roughly the same percentage that a single person in California would have to pay on ordinary taxable income of more than $90,000.

Sex and the IRS: making “friends” with your IRS auditor, extreme version

Dear IRS: I’ve Read About This In Your Manuals, But I Never Thought It Would Happen To Me…

Sometimes I sort through tedious tax court cases looking for some mildly interesting nugget to share, and sometimes a thing of sheer weirdness lands in my lap.

An Oregon man has filed a lawsuit claiming that an IRS agent intimidated and coerced him into having sex with her.

You cannot make up stuff like this.

The Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon, has all the details of Vincent Burroughs’ accusation that IRS agent Dora Abrahamson used her position to both threaten him with tax penalties and lure him into having sex with her, after coming to his home “provocatively attired.” (She also sent him a photo of herself in her lingerie.)

This poses so very many questions:

–Have you ever before seen “IRS agent,” “intimidated” and “sex” in the same sentence?

–Threats of tax penalties if you don’t put out: Turn-On or Turn-Off?

–IRS agents actually own “provocative attire”?

Robert W. Wood at Forbes
tries to be halfway serious by using this story as a jumping-off point for discussing legitimate ways of getting out of tax penalties . Good for him. Me, I’m just looking forward to seeing what the late-night comics do with this.