Archive | Tax Planning Strategies

“The Situation” is in a not-so-good tax situation

Did you know that “Jersey Shore” reality show personality Michael Sorrentino, aka “The Situation”, and his brother Marc, grossed almost $9 million in a variety of ventures over four years? Me neither, until I read the U.S. District Court indictment, reported inThe New York Times,charging the brothers with conspiracy and filing false tax returns. Michael was also charged with failing to file a tax return for 2011.

The full amount that the government might try to collect isn’t clear, because the indictment charges the brothers with failing to report all of their income and, as the press release from the US Attorney’s Office puts it , “fraudulently claim[ing] millions of dollars in personal expenses as business expenses, including payments for high-end vehicles and clothing, personal grooming expenses, and distributions – or direct payments – from the businesses to personal bank accounts.”

The brothers face potential penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge, and up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each filing of a false tax return. Failing to file a tax return could cost Michael as much as a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

These are, of course, merely accusations, and the brothers are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty. But this is surely not A Situation that The Situation planned on being featured in.

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.

How Oregon is helping a billionaire save some bacon on Bacon

There are two current mysteries about Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud. First, who paid $142.4 million, the most ever paid for a work of art at auction, in November for the triptych? Second, why is it currently being displayed a mere three miles from my home, in the well-regarded-but-let’s-face-it-not-internationally-renowned Portland Art Museum?

Can’t help you with the first question. But the answer to the second seems to come down to…taxes!!

See, if the buyer is a collector living in a state like California or New York or Washington, all of which have high sales taxes, he could be subject to more than $10 million in sales taxes or use taxes on the purchase.

But, as gallerist Elizabeth Leach told Willamette Week’s Matthew Korfhage, if the artwork detours to the no-sales-tax state of Oregon for at least 90 days, the buyer could avoid paying sales tax altogether.

Here’s a link to Korfhage’s excellent summary of who the buyer might be and the possible reason why Portlanders can enjoy this work through March 30. By the way, I was at the museum late one day in early January and spent close to a half-hour in the room where the work is displayed. I don’t think there were more than a dozen visitors in the room at any time. Check it out, art lovers!!!

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.”

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.