Thursday, July 30, 2009
I could not imagine life before Word and Excel, nor could I imagine tax preparation without software. When I get frustrated upon running into a software glitch, I have to remind myself that the software really hasn't been around that long, so many a problem still need to get fixed.
Robert Flach, The Wandering Tax Pro, discusses the benefit of preparing returns by hand. Joe Kristan and Peter Pappas share their contrasting views on the matter. My take on the conversation...
I'm passionate about tax accounting. When working on a return, I want to understand every number, the flow of the return, and the law behind it all. And I've always been that way.
I got my Master's in Tax before entering the profession, so I had a pretty solid foundation when I started. But for many accountants, their background tax return is minimal when they enter the big bad world of public accounting. It takes time for them to get familiar with how a tax return works. And in the meantime, the work still needs to get done.
As I mused the other day, I think we're better off if we delegate initial preparation to less experienced preparers, with the experienced professional reviewing the work. Tax prep software speeds up this process. Software will never replace the need for a qualified professional exercising judgment, but it can be a great tool.
I love having the speed and efficiency of software, while at the same time understanding the forms and law behind them. It's the best of both worlds.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
I hope stories like these convince people with IRS trouble to seek the help of a qualified tax professional! In a perfect world, the system would be fair, and people could deal effectively with the IRS on their own.
But we do not live in a perfect world, the IRS system is not fair, and so taxpayers are in much better shape if they hire a qualified professional to manage the process.
Let's just hope the taxpayers realize that.
The TaxProf blogs:
Mark Claybrooks, 41, an IRS agent in Walnut Creek, California, has been indicted on charges that he urged delinquent taxpayers to get the money needed to pay their tax bills by refinancing their home mortgages with a mortgage company. Mr. Claybooks is alleged to have received $20,000 from the mortgage company for two referrals. (With references to the Contra Costa Times, San Frnacisco Chronicle, and Web CPA)
Tax Prof also blogs about...
IRS agent Albert Bront, 49, of Valencia, California, screamed “I’m going to kill all of you!” when U.S. Treasury agents served a search warrant at his home as part of an investigation into whether Mr. Bront had filed false tax return. He is being held without bail pending a July 28 preliminary hearing in Los Angeles.
April 15.com blogs about...
IRS Auditor Jim Liu who claimed to have incurred a loss on selling an apartment complex when he in fact he had a rather large gain. To compound matters, he then altered documents to support his bogus claim. Mr. Liu subsequently pleaded guilty to tax fraud and faces up to three years in a federal penitentiary.
Friday, July 24, 2009
My favorite blog quote on the issue comes from Joe Kristan:
The government that brought us profitable and money-saving innovations like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Amtrak and the Postal Service now is going to try its hand at health insurance.
The idea of government running the health care system scares the dickens out of me.
As with many issues of public policy, I have no problem with the ideal that everyone gets the health care they need.
It is the way in which we work toward that ideal and the sacrifices we make along the way that terrify me.
I've spent much of the past few years dealing with two very large government bureaucracies: the IRS and the military. So my confidence in a government health care system is, well, not there.
CNN Money writes about 5 freedoms you'd lose in health care reform:
1. Freedom to choose what's in your plan
2. Freedom to be rewarded for healthy living, or pay your real costs
3. Freedom to choose high-deductible coverage
4. Freedom to keep your existing plan
5. Freedom to choose your doctors
I don't much like the sound of this. But the President isn't calling to talk to me, so I'll have to settle for writing here.
Peter Pappas provides a great round-up of the discussion from key tax bloggers, and here are some posts to check out:
- Taxgirl: Congress Puts Brakes on Health Care Reform
- Taxgirl: Health Care Plan Leaves Huge Hole in the Budget
- Taxprof: House Marks Up Health Care Reform Bill
- Tax Foundation: Who Should Pay for Health Care Reform?
- The Tax Lawyer: Taxing the Rich Because You Can: The Beginning of Totalitarianism
- Kay Bell: Healthcare surtax not progressive enough
Friday, July 17, 2009
Of course, with selling our home, we faced the question of whether to sell it on our own or incur the expense of a realtor. But it really wasn't much of a question, as we never even considered selling it ourselves -- much to the relief of friend and family.
Question: Why do we pay realtors to sell our homes? After all, we could read all about it and do it ourselves. Information is available all over the place.
Answer: We pay realtors because of their experience and expertise. Because our time and energy are our most scarce resources, and we should allocate them wisely. Because we are likely to mess something up, seeing as how we are not professionals.
Question: Why do people hire tax professionals? All the information is available online, or at the library or local IRS office. They could research the IRS website, state websites, tax blogs, etc.
Answer: People pay us because of our experience and expertise. Because their time and energy are their most scarce resources, and they do not choose to allocate those precious resources to learning the tax law. Because they would likely screw it up.
So those are my thoughts today.
As I said, my posts will be sadly lacking as I manage this real estate endeavor. But hey, I'm already about 5 years away from joining the list of the Top 25 blogs in Taxes -- or, let's be honest, even breaking the top 100. Fortunately, I'm okay being the wallflower for awhile, at least until this house nonsense is over.
(Congrats to all those listed in the Top 25!)
Thursday, July 9, 2009
For most of my life, my health insurance has been provided by an employer (whether my own employer that of my parents or husband), so I've certainly benefited from the provision. But just because I benefit doesn't make it fair.
This is one of those concepts with which some people struggle. When considering the issue, an experience from high school comes to mind. It was back in my semester of Economics. During a discussion on Affirmative Action, a friend of mine spoke out against it. To her arguments, the teacher countered that she should be in favor of AA because it would likely help her (as a white female).
So that teacher lost all credibility with me at that point. Just because something helps me doesn't make it right.
For a good explanation for why it is fair to tax health insurance, I recommend the Taxgirl's post.
Of course, both the tax code and government spending are full of provisions that are not exactly fair, so maybe this isn't the issue to "straighten out" first. And the whole discussion may be irrelevant, since the measure is stalling out in Congress (see the latest post from Taxgirl). But we shall see what we shall see.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
1. Do you believe that by merely claiming any of the 5 items submitted by Mr. Pappas, regardless of the amount, a taxpayer will automatically substantially increase his/her chances of an audit?
2. Would you ever recommend that a client not claim a legitimate and documented deduction because it would increase his/her chances of an audit?
Before responding, I should point out that both Mr. Flach and Mr. Pappas are more qualified to answer these questions, considering they have been in the professional far longer than I. (Mr. Flach has been preparing returns longer than I've been alive, which is impressive to say the least.)
So if anyone decides to stop here, that's really understandable.
On to the questions at hand...
(1) Yes, I do think that, by claiming one of these deductions, a taxpayer increases his/her chance of an audit. I hesitate to say whether the increase is "substantial," as I have limited knowledge of IRS enforcement statistics. (Learning more about them is on my to-do list.) These areas are more likely to have error or fraud, the IRS focuses its efforts on areas especially susceptible to error and fraud; ergo, returns with these items are statistically more likely to be examined.
(2) I am not likely to recommend that a client not claim a legitimate and documented deduction because it would increase his/her chances of an audit. Like Flach, "I do not believe that one should be scared off from claiming legitimate deductions for fear of being audited."
HOWEVER, I believe it's my responsibility to educate the client on the increased risk.
In a perfect world, honest taxpayers would not be subjected to the time, expense, and stress of an audit. They would claim just those expenses and credits to which they are legally entitled, avoid examination, and keep on being honest.
We all know the world isn't perfect, and that honest taxpayers will continue to be audited along with the cheats. And so taxpayers must address the question: If I claim this tax benefit, my risk of audit will increase -- Is the benefit work the risk?
I suppose we could create a risk/reward mathematical equation using IRS statistical audit data. (Hmmm... summer project? Anyone know where I could get good IRS stats?)
I suppose my risk/reward idea is similar to Mr. Pappas' suggested cost/benefit analysis: "What is the comparative value of the deduction? Taxpayers should weigh the benefit of the deduction against the costs (monetary and psychological) that would be involved should the deduction trigger an audit."
I'll wrap up this post with a feeble attempt at an analogy.
I'm going on road trip, and have identified the fastest, most efficient route. Partway into the journey, I hear on the radio that there is a roadblock checking for drugs on my route. I consider my options.
- Modify my route to avoid the road block, and lose time.
- Keep on the route, hope the line of cars isn't too backed up and that I'll get through it quickly.
- How much time would I lose by avoiding the roadblock?
- How much time would I lose if I got stuck at the roadblock?
- Would the police find drugs in my car?
So do I take the safe option and avoid the roadblock, and lose the benefits of a quicker trip?
Do I fail to claim legitimate Schedule C expenses, in the hope of decreasing the chance of IRS audit?
In my practice, I generally encourage clients to claim all legitimate deductions and credits, and inform them of the audit risk.
Nothing too exciting, but there you have my 2 cents.