Showing posts with label Newport Beach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Newport Beach. Show all posts

Sunday, June 15, 2014

IRS (Probably) Spent More Money than Tax Owed in Symbolic Tax Court Victory

Symbolic of what?  I'll leave that to you.  From a Tax Court opinion released earlier this week, file this under Ridiculous Things the IRS Does:

Taxpayers filed a perfectly correct return listing their taxable social security income on the correct line.  IRS received the return and, using its big brain, decided the social security income was nontaxable, recalculates the tax, and issued the taxpayers an additional $548 refund.  Somehow, the IRS later realized the taxpayers were right and they shouldn't have sent the extra dollar bills, so they audited the couple and demanded they repay the $548.  When the couple declined, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency, on which the couple appealed to the tax court.  Somehow, probably driven by the couple's righteous indignation, the case went all the way to trial, where it was decided in a judicial opinion.  The taxpayers argued they shouldn't have to pay for the IRS's mistake, but the court found in favor of the government.

Granted, the taxpayers were technically in the wrong under the law - a "rebate refund" can be reclaimed by the IRS through examination procedures.  Also, "easy come, easy go" should prevail here.

But the real losers here are the American taxpayers.  Someone in the IRS decided it would be worthwhile to take this thing all the way, over a few measly dollars, and issue a notice of deficiency, giving appeal rights - a ticket to the Tax Court - to these taxpayers.  Hours of some IRS auditor's time dealing with these taxpayers, hours of time spent by paralegals, secretaries, and attorneys at the IRS Office of Chief Counsel to prepare and try the case, and hours spent by the judge, his/her staff, and the judicial clerk to arrive at this opinion. (And don't forget the cost of gas to Tax Court for the IRS Attorney, mailing costs for pleadings, and the cost of flying the judge to Texas and setting him/her up in a hotel to try the case.) Chances this cost the government and, by extension, the American people, far more than its worth are pretty high.  The full opinion can be found here.

Posted by our Newport Coast Tax Attorney at wilsontaxlaw.com.

Tax Court Draws Bright Line in Completed Contract Method of Accounting Cases



What the Tax Court gives with one hand, it can take away with the other.

That's the lesson one can learn from the pair of cases issued this year dealing with the completed contract method of accounting (CCM).  The Tax Court's opinion in Shea Homes, Inc. v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No.3 (2014) was a great win for large-scale home developers like Shea Homes whose contracts to build and develop entire communities can take several years to complete.  The IRS had taken the unfortunate position that Shea Homes' contracts were not long term contracts and that the infrastructure improvements to the roads and building community areas were not included in determining when the contract was completed - which would have forced Shea Homes to recognize all of its income before knowing how much it would ultimately have in expenses.  It was a resounding victory for Shea Homes, though, as the Tax Court found that they were long term home-construction contracts and the contracts were not completed in earlier years when the contracts closed escrow.  The Tax Court relied on the facts that the community areas and the infrastructure were part of their contracts with the ultimate home purchasers and held that those costs were properly included in the tests to determine whether the CCM could be used and when the contracts were completed.  A broad reading of that opinion could have been used to support the proposition that builders who only did infrastructure and community improvements could also use the CCM.

That is, until the Tax Court issued its recent opinion in Howard Hughes Company, LLC v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No. 20 (2014).  In what appeared to be less of a sequel and more of a two-part movie, the Tax Court drew a bright line to exclude builders who build infrastructure and community areas, but don't also construct homes, from the test.  The Tax Court made no bones about it, saying:

"Our Opinion today draws a bright line.  A taxpayer's contract can qualify as a home construction contract only if the taxpayer builds... or installs integral components to dwelling units... .  It is not enough for the taxpayer to merely pave the road leading to the home, though that may be necessary to the ultimate sale and use of a home."

While there is some logic to the Tax Court's opinion, a plain reading of the regulations and the statute don't give this tax attorney the sense that they are so narrow.  Especially in light of the proposed regulations which would broaden the costs that can be included.  Proposed Income Tax Regs., 73 Fed. Reg. 45182 (Aug. 4, 2008) (I don't buy the idea that the IRS can, on the one hand, issue regulations but, on the other hand, say that the regulation is not supported by the terms of the statute.  Chevron, anyone?  Separation of powers?).  I think we can expect the taxpayers in Hughes to appeal, so there will certainly be more to the story.  Stay posted.

If you are in need of an attorney on this or any other tax issue, you can contact our Newport Beach Tax Lawyer at wilsontaxlaw.com

IRS "Adopts" Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Except No Actual Taxpayer Rights Adopted

The IRS issued a press releases this week, which can be found here, alerting taxpayers to the newly adopted Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which are outlined here.  Except there are no new rights and nothing can be "adopted" when it is a list of responsibilities and rights already belonging to the IRS and taxpayers.  Imagine if McDonald's put a customer "Bill of Rights" on their menu, which said that, when you pay for a hamburger, we'll give you a hamburger, except when we don't, in which case you can complain to your cashier and then to the manager to see if they care.  The IRS's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, included in Publication 1, which presumably will be sent to taxpayers during audits, provides the following:


The Right to Be Informed
The Right to Quality Service
The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax
The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard
The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum
The Right to Finality
The Right to Privacy
The Right to Confidentiality
The Right to Retain Representation
The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System

The problem with this list of rights isn't just that they don't (and can't, as a matter of law) provide additional, substantive, judicially-enforceable rights to taxpayers than can be found in statutes, regulations, and case law.  Even outside of a court of law, parallel changes to the IRS's Internal Revenue Manual would be needed adding more responsibilities to IRS employees for this list to have any teeth when a taxpayer fights against the IRS. Without the force of law or a substantive change in internal IRS procedures, they are little more than PR Buzz.  It is as though they were trying to put a positive spin on something that intuitively sounds unpleasant.  I imaging the process went something like this:

     IRS Commissioner, to PR Guy: I want to make sure the taxpayers know that the IRS can collect every penny you owe in taxes, including interest and penalties, every cent of it! 

     PR Guy:  But that sounds pretty negative.  It won't come off well for us...

    IRS Commissioner:  How about, "The good news is the IRS can't collect more than you owe."

     PR Guy:  I don't know.  I think taxpayers will see right through it.

     IRS Commissioner:  Make it happen!

Even if that weren't the exchange, we still somehow ended up with "The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax."

According to the IRS, this means "Taxpayers have the right to pay only the amount of tax legally due, including interest and penalties, and to have the IRS apply all tax payments properly."  That sounds great!  But, what is "the amount of tax legally due?"  Under the law, when the IRS assesses a tax, that becomes tax legally due.  That amount grows with interest and penalties, and you have to pay those, too, because they are also legally due. Then, what does it mean to "apply all tax payments properly?"  Under well-established law, unless you specifically direct a tax payment you make to a specific tax year, the IRS can properly apply that payment to any of your tax liabilities for any year as the IRS sees fit.  So, this "right" amounts to this: "The IRS can collect all the taxes, penalties, and interest you owe until they are fully paid, and the IRS will apply your payments to your taxes, but will do so in a manner fits its own best interest in most cases."

Ultimately, there should be one item in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, bolded for emphasis: You have the right to not blindly trust the IRS to act in your best interest.  Put that on a poster and slap it on the IRS walls.

Form more, visit Wilsontaxlaw.com, the best Newport Beach tax attorney.

Welcome to the Wilson Tax Law Blog - a Newport Beach Tax Attorney Blog

The Wilson Tax Law Group is a tax firm serving the Newport Beach and Yorba Linda areas.  This blog is meant to be both a service to our clients, where we can post IRS, California Franchise Tax Board, FBAR, and Orange County property tax news that may be of interest to them.  It will also be a place where we will post on topics that are of interest to us and other tax professionals following hot tax topics of the moment.  Sometimes, those areas will intersect, because we handle cutting edge cases including tax audits and tax planning for marijuana dispensaries (sales tax and income tax) and defending taxpayers in criminal investigations of the FBAR penalties.  This blog will be constantly evolving, so please give us feedback in the comments section if you think of future topics you would like to read more about.

For more information on our firm, read about our Newport Beach and Yorba Linda area tax attorney at wilsontaxlaw.com.