Archive | Tax Advice

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.

Corporate Cayman Islands tax shelters rip off U.S. taxpayers

*”Corporations are people, my friend.”
–Mitt Romney, August 11, 2011

Statistic of the day: A single five-story office building is the registered address of more than 18,000 companies.

How is that possible? Well, the building is in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands, and most of those businesses are registered there only for tax purposes.

As Citizens for Tax Justice and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund explained in a report earlier this year, more than 70% of the Fortune 500 had subsidiaries in tax havens in 2013. The report estimates that multinationals are using these subsidiaries to avoid approximately $90 billion in federal income taxes annually.

US companies reported $129 billion in earnings in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands in 2010. “Assuming you believe those figures, the productivity of workers in those countries is amazing,” Floyd Norris, his tongue almost bursting out of his cheek, wrote in The New York Times. “On average, United States companies had profits of $873,611 per person living in those islands.”

Such ridiculous numbers are merely a product of the process by which multinationals can–legally–reduce their U.S. taxes. Currently there is no significant movement on Capitol Hill to close any of the loopholes or change the laws that make these moves possible.

Why do taxpayers think the tax code is rigged in favor of large corporations? Maybe because it is.

IRS penalty on foreign account is more than total $$$ in the account!

Proof once again that the rule requiring U.S. taxpayers to report their foreign bank accounts is being used like a sledgehammer: The IRS has won a court case assessing a 150% penalty–that is not a typo–on the value of a Swiss bank account.

As Bloomberg reports, Coral Gables, Florida, resident Carl Zwerner, 87, was assessed a $2.24 million penalty on the approximately $1.5 million he held in an account with ABN Amro Group, NV.The penalty was for failing to file the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. It’s worth noting that the penalty has nothing to do with Zwerner owing any tax on that money. Nope, the penalty is for the simple failure to file a form reporting the assets.

By the way, if you have foreign bank accounts subject to reporting, the deadline for electronically filing your 2013 FinCEN Form 114 (which replaces old friend Form TDF 90-22.1–isn’t this fun??) is June 30.

Rent or buy? With new boom, here’s a way to figure out what makes sense for you

The strengthening housing market–especially on the East and West Coasts—may be setting some buyers up for another fall.

As The New York Times reports , prices in locations like the San Francisco Bay area and New York City have bounced back so strongly from the lows of 2008-2010 that, for many people, renting now makes more financial sense than buying. “In the country’s most expensive places . . . buying a home again looks like a perilous investment, based on the relationship between prices and rents or incomes,” the Times said.

Of course, buying a home isn’t just a straightforward dollars-and-cents calculation. When I consult with clients on this issue, we run the numbers, but we also spend time talking about the emotional issues of being tied to a piece of property, how long the clients want or expect to live in the same place, their ages, and other factors that may not have dollar amounts directly attached but which are important nonetheless.

For the dollars-and-cents part of the equation, though, the Times’ article also has a link to an excellent calculator that lets you plug in a bunch of variables to figure out your own potential owner-vs.-renter costs.

IRS getting scammed for $Billions by refund fraudsters

Stories of scammers claiming to be with the IRS and taking advantage of unsuspecting taxpayers appear regularly, including here.

Turns out that the IRS is getting scammed as well.

As this Associated Press story from The Boston Globe reports, the IRS issued $4 billion — yes, billion with a B — in fraudulent tax refunds over the course of a year to criminals who were using other people’s personal information.

In some cases, the IRS’s desire to issue quick refunds plays right into the bad guys’ hands: The AP reports that 655 refunds were sent to ONE address in Lithuania.(Wouldn’t you think somebody might notice that?)

So how do the scammers do this? It all starts with stealing your Social Security number, and then filing a fraudulent tax return that generates a refund — which goes into the thief’s bank account, not yours.

The taxpayer typically doesn’t find out there’s a problem until she tries to electronically file her own tax return and gets a message from the IRS that another tax return using the same Social Security number has already been filed.

In the Pacific Northwest, more than 1,000 employees and volunteers with the Catholic archdioceses of Portland and Seattle may have been victimized, as The Oregonian and the Seattle PI reported.

When someone else successfully files a fraudulent return using your Social Security number, your only recourse is to file your own return on paper and then fill out Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Then, hopefully, you’ll get your refund and be able to electronically file your return the following year.

Here’s a link to an IRS webpage on Identity Theft, which can also take you to that Theft Affidavit form.