Thursday, July 31, 2008

Housing Bill to Hurt Small Business Owners?

Although everyone seems to be talking about how much the new American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act is going to help American homeowners, it will to make life harder for thousands of small business owners. According to Sharon McLoone's business blog on, the bill will force credit card processing companies to collect more information from merchants, and will even impose a 28% fee on those who do not comply. Below is a quote from McLoone's blog, but you can read the full thing at Housing Bill Includes Sweeping Data Reporting Provision.

"The housing bill includes a sweeping provision requiring credit and debit card firms to report the transactions of certain businesses to the IRS, sparking privacy concerns and stirring the ire of the small business community.

Small business lobbyists plan to aggressively push back on the language requiring firms like MasterCard and Visa to give the IRS data on businesses that have made at least 200 transactions annually that together total $20,000 or more.

The provision says that any company that processes electronic payment transactions will have to report to the IRS the annual gross receipts of those transactions for each merchant beginning in 2010.

The soon-to-be law 'will have a significant, negative effect on the small business community,' said Kristie Darien, executive director with the National Association for the Self-Employed.

The provision is part of a greater effort to increase business and consumer tax compliance and narrow the 'tax gap,' which the IRS defines as the difference between the amount of tax that taxpayers should pay for a given year and the amount that is paid voluntarily and on time.

The proposal, which originally was included in President Bush's fiscal 2009 budget request, will raise an estimated $9.5 billion over 10 years, according to a summary of the bill by the House Ways and Means Committee."

GOP Blocks Tax & Renewable Energy Package

According to another article form the Associated Press, “for the fourth time this summer Republicans stopped the Senate from taking up wide-ranging legislation that extends tax breaks for teachers, businesses and parents and provides tax credits to an array of renewable energy entrepreneurs.

Major business groups, usual GOP allies, have implored Congress to act on the tax credits, many which expired at the end of last year or will run out at the end of this year. But for many Republicans, it's a matter or principle and politics: many oppose what they say are new tax increases to pay for parts of the package and nearly all say the Senate's only business now is acting on an energy bill that promotes drilling and other measures to boost domestic oil supply.

The White House, citing new taxes and other objections to the bill, threatened a presidential veto.

The vote Wednesday was 51-43, nine short of the 60 needed to begin floor debate.

‘All the Republicans want to do is not pay for anything and we know the House would not accept that,’ said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., anticipating the defeat.

But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said his party sees a ‘need to dispose of the pending energy bill to help bring down the price of gas at the pump before turning to other matters.’

The bill would extend some $18 billion worth of renewable energy tax credits, helping out investors in wind and solar power, clean coal, plug-in electric vehicles and a variety of others.”

Obama’s Social Security Plan Lacks Important Details

From the Associated Press:

Barack Obama's bid to place a new Social Security tax on very high incomes is either a bold or foolhardy plan, depending on who critiques it. But its potential impact is almost impossible to gauge because he is providing few details on basic questions such as what the tax rate might be, what types of income would be taxed and how the taxpayers' benefits would be affected.

The Democratic presidential candidate says he would work with lawmakers from both parties to resolve such matters. Voters generally applaud bipartisan cooperation, but they apparently will go to the polls this fall with only a vague notion of what Obama has in mind.

Obama made headlines June 13 when he called for a Social Security payroll tax on incomes above $250,000 a year. Currently, the tax is levied only on the first $102,000 of each worker's income. That covers the entire salary of most Americans.

Obama would not apply the Social Security tax to annual incomes between $102,000 and $250,000, a move meant to avoid alienating several million upper-income voters. His proposed change would apply only to those earning more than $250,000 a year, or about 3 percent of all taxpayers.

When he outlined his idea in the battleground state of Ohio, Obama said it is unfair for middle-class earners to pay the Social Security tax ‘on every dime they make,’ while millionaires and billionaires pay it on "only a very small percentage of their income." He also said the Social Security program needs revamping to bolster its long-term viability.

With Obama offering few details, several news accounts suggested that his proposed tax on very high incomes would be applied just as the existing Social Security tax is levied on incomes up to $102,000.

All workers pay a 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax on such income. Their employers match it, for a total tax of 12.4 percent. The tax applies only to earned income, not to passive income such as dividends and interest.

In recent weeks, Obama aides have quietly indicated that the proposed tax on incomes above $250,000 might be different in key aspects. The rate probably would be about 2 percent to 4 percent, not 6.2 percent, they said. It's also possible that it would apply to more types of income, including dividends and investments.

As for benefits, the campaign has not said how the proposed tax on very high incomes would translate into new retirement income, if any, for those who pay it.

Senate Approved Foreclosure Relief Bill

er the weekend the U.S. Senate approved a new foreclosure relief bill in an overwhelming 72 to 13 vote. The huge margin goes to show that Congress is very well aware that the nation needs some type of foreclosure relief to help the economy. Earlier in the week the House of Representatives approved the bill in a 272 to 152 vote, and the President is expected to sign it into law in the next few weeks.

The bill know as, the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act, contains a number of provision to improve the housing crisis including a guarantee of up to $300 billion in lower-cost mortgages.

"Today, Congress did more than send a bill to the president -- we sent a message to American families that help is on the way," claimed Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.).

"In addition to providing urgently needed relief to homeowners on the brink of losing their homes, this legislation will address our broader economic problems by helping to reform our housing sector and provide reassurances to our financial markets," Dodd continued.

Bush plans to sign the legislation despite reservations about "some provisions, including nearly $4 billion to help lenders, not the homeowners this legislation is intended to serve," noted Tony Fratto, deputy press secretary.

"It's been nearly six years since we called for a strong, independent regulator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and nearly a year since the president called on Congress to quickly pass legislation to modernize the Federal Housing Administration to keep more deserving Americans in their homes, especially low-income Americans," Fratto said.

For more information on the bill check out this page on LA

FranTrends Ranks Roni Deutch Tax Center®

I am excited to announce that FranTrends, a franchise industry review website, has reviewed my tax franchise business, the Roni Deutch Tax Center. In their franchise verification reports, they rank a franchise companies in 12 key areas then give it a final score. My franchise received a cumulative score of 107.6, which is pretty impressive considering 120 is the highest you can receive. This is especially amazing since my franchise is so new. I am glad to see that we are being well received in the industry. Below is a screen capture of the verification report, but you can see the real thing at FranTrends.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bogus Obama E-mail Lies Corrected

Over the past few weeks an email has been going around filled with lies about Obama’s tax and economic proposals. Thanks to the Tax Policy Blog, we have a full list of these bogus claims, and the real truth about them.

Obama would tax capital gains on ALL home sales at 28 percent

Obama's plan (like McCain's) does not change the tax treatment of capital gains on owner-occupied housing (I wish it did). Obama does plan to raise the rates on long-term capital gains that are currently taxed at preferred rates.

Obama would raise the tax rate on dividends to 39.6 percent

Merely repealing the Bush tax cuts (or allowing them to expire) would raise the dividend tax rate to 39.6 percent for those in the top income bracket (about 1 percent of tax returns, though a large share of dividends). However, Obama has indicated that he would apply the same tax rate on dividends as capital gains, which he has indicated would not exceed 28 percent.

Income tax bills for typical families would increase, even double for some

As discussed earlier... Same as here. "Clinton-era" tax law assumed to be the same as Obama. But figures cited are wrong for many reasons.

Inheritance Tax under McCain = 0; Obama restored

Actually, McCain does not favor permanent repeal of the estate tax. And Obama does not want it fully restored. Obama would impose a 45 percent tax rate with $3.5 million exclusion, which is lower than pre-Bush tax cuts, yet significantly higher than 2010 scheduled law ($0).

Obama would impose new government taxes on homes that are over 2,400 square feet

This is the most outrageous claim. This appears to stem from Congressman John Dingell's proposal that would cap the mortgage interest deduction for large houses for environmental purposes. Obama has not favored such a proposal and even if he did, it would not be a new "tax" per se, just a limitation of what I would call an already bad tax provision (MID). Obama does favor a cap-and-trade system (like McCain), which is in implicit tax, but such an implicit tax would hit all homes indirectly based largely upon energy consumption.

Obama would impose new gasoline taxes

Ambiguous...Obama does favor a windfall profits tax on oil companies, which would likely raise the price of gasoline. However, he has not indicated support of raising the federal excise tax on gasoline (currently 18.4 cents).

Obama would impose new taxes on natural resource consumption (energy, natural gas, etc.)

Obama does not favor any direct tax on these products (except for windfall profits tax on oil companies). However, again, a cap-and-trade system would act as an implicit tax on these oil companies, so this is not too outlandish of a claim (compared to the rest of them). It should be pointed out though that McCain supports practically the same policy.

New taxes on retirement accounts

Obama has not said anything about a new tax on retirement accounts, unless one wants to argue that indirectly, he would affect the return on retirement accounts through his individual and corporate tax policies and dividend/capital gains policies. In fact, when it comes to direct taxes on retirement, Obama has proposed exempting seniors (those who most likely claim retirement income) who make under $50,000 from an income tax.

New taxes to pay for socialized medicine

Obama does have a universal health care plan that one could label socialist to some extent, although our current system has a large degree of implicit government payments through the exclusion of employer-provided health insurance. However, Obama has not said new taxes would pay specifically for that socialized medicine although he does favor some new taxes (higher income taxes on upper-incomes, higher payroll taxes on upper-income workers and a windfall profits tax). Such a claim is not possible to verify or refute due to the fact that all government money is basically fungible.”

Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy

Louis Uchitelle of the New York Times Business section has written this great article on how women are being affected in our country’s poor economic climate. Namely, how the number of women in the workplace is actually declining.

“Indeed, for the first time since the women’s movement came to life, an economic recovery has come and gone, and the percentage of women at work has fallen, not risen, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Each of the seven previous recoveries since 1960 ended with a greater percentage of women at work than when it began.

When economists first started noticing this trend two or three years ago, many suggested that the pullback from paid employment was a matter of the women themselves deciding to stay home — to raise children or because their husbands were doing well or because, more than men, they felt committed to running their households.

But now, a different explanation is turning up in government data, in the research of a few economists and in a Congressional study, to be released Tuesday, that follows the women’s story through the end of 2007.

After moving into virtually every occupation, women are being afflicted on a large scale by the same troubles as men: downturns, layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages or the discouraging prospect of an outright pay cut. And they are responding as men have, by dropping out or disappearing for a while.”

Regardless of who wins in November, taxes will change

Earlier today, I came across this interesting article on, while I was reading the latest news about the presidential campaigns. The author correctly argues one main point - that no matter who becomes our next President there will need to be changes to our current tax system.

“The fact that President Bush and Congress enacted temporary tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that expire at the end of 2010 means it's inevitable that taxes will change, perhaps dramatically.

The next president and Congress will agree to extend some or all of those tax cuts while also cutting or raising other taxes - or else political gridlock will stymie agreement, the tax cuts will expire, and tax bills will go up for almost everyone.

‘It is a unique moment,’ said Robert Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. ‘Something has to happen.’

But what? Who will pay less and who will pay more? Which plan will get through a Congress all but certain to remain in Democratic control? The likeliest ideas to make it through are those few changes that Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain both want.

They both want to extend the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 - mainly the $1,000 per child tax credit, lower income tax rates and elimination of the marriage penalty.

‘There's a good chance that whoever the next president is, the Congress will agree to extend the middle-class tax cuts,’ said Leonard Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, a joint operation of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution that analyzes taxes. Both are center-left think tanks.

"The candidates want it and majorities in both houses of Congress favor it," Burman said. Beyond that, however, Obama and McCain differ greatly.”

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Rich are Paying Less in Taxes

According to a new study from the tax experts at the Wall Street Journal, the richest taxpayers in America paid less last tax year then they have in 18 years. Below is a quote from the article, you can read the full version at Richest Americans See Their Income Share Grow.

“In a new sign of increasing inequality in the U.S., the richest 1% of Americans in 2006 garnered the highest share of the nation's adjusted gross income for two decades, and possibly the highest since 1929, according to Internal Revenue Service data.

Meanwhile, the average tax rate of the wealthiest 1% fell to its lowest level in at least 18 years. The group's share of the tax burden has risen, though not as quickly as its share of income.

The figures are from the IRS's income-statistics division and were posted on the agency's Web site last week. 2006 data is the most recent data made available.

The figures about the relative income and tax rates of the wealthiest Americans come as the presumptive presidential candidates are in a debate about taxes. Congress and the next president will have to decide whether to extend several Bush-era tax cuts, including the 2003 reduction in tax rates on capital gains and dividends. Experts said those tax cuts in particular are playing a major role in falling tax rates for the very wealthy.

Sen. John McCain has proposed extending the lower tax rates of 15% on long-term capital gains and dividends that apply to most taxpayers, while Sen. Barack Obama has said he will seek to raise them to at least 20%, the rate before the 2003 cut, and possibly higher.”

An Overview of the 'Tax Gap'

David Rifkin has out together a new research paper that takes a deeper look at the tax gap in our country. Below is the abstract, but you can check out the full article at the Social Science Research Network.

“When taxpayers underreport their income, understate their income, or fail to file their tax returns the government must spend money to audit taxpayers, to assess the tax, to collect the tax, and to borrow money to cover the lost revenue. The amount of such noncompliance with the tax laws is called the "Tax Gap" and currently it is estimated to be $345 billion annually.

This article describes the scope, the causes of, and the tools available to Congress and the IRS to close the Tax Gap. In particular, I examine the role enforcement and other methods play in closing the Tax Gap. Given the complexities involved, there is no single method that, by itself, will significantly reduce the Tax Gap. Instead, several methods - discussed herein - will need to be employed simultaneously to close the Tax Gap.”

An Inconvenient Tax

Life is my Movie Entertainment is working on a new film titled An Inconvenient Tax to take a look at the complexity of the federal tax system. Below is the synopsis posted on their website, and for more information you can check out the movie’s page on IMDB and MySpace.

“Ask any of the millions of tax paying Americans on April 15th if the current tax system has problems and you'll get a clear answer. Complexity, inequities and international pressures top the ever-growing list of concerns. The last major tax reform in the United States occurred in 1986. Since this bipartisan effort to simplify the tax code, over 16,000 changes have been made, creating an inflating bubble of complexity that is ready to pop. This looming issue coupled with the expiration of the Bush Tax cuts in 2010 has economists, congressmen and concerned Americans scrambling to figure out a direction for immediate reform.

Should Congress try to repair the tax code's inequities by moving towards a broader based income tax similar to that of 1986 or should it pursue a consumption-based system such as a flat tax, VAT or national retail sales tax?

In addition, can America's schizophrenic desire for lower taxes and increased social programs be reconciled?

An Inconvenient Tax explores the answers to these questions and more through interviews with world-renowned economists, U.S. congressmen, and average citizens across the nation. The pursuit of a better tax code requires a search for the nations identity. As Joseph Schumpeter wrote, "The spirit of a people, its cultural level, its social structure, the deeds its policy may prepare – all of this and more is written in its fiscal history..."

In order to shed light on America's current tax dilemmas, the film will look at the history of taxation in America as well as current tax-systems in other parts of the world. It will also follow a middle-class small business owner as he tries to pursue the American dream. As the effects of taxation touch every aspect of his life, the film will pose both the benefits and dangers of change. The next direction for U.S. tax policy will be decided soon, and it is imperative that the country learn from its past and design a system that will benefit its future.”

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

8 Signs the U.S. Economy is NOT Headed Towards a Recession

As I discussed in a blog entry last week, 8 Signs the U.S. Economy is Headed Towards a Recession, dozens of leading economists adamantly claim that we are either headed towards a full fledged recession, or that we are already into the first few months of a recession. Although we can all admit to feeling the pains of a poor economy, saying that we are definitely headed for a recession may be a bit drastic.

As with most economic and financial issues, there is always room for debate. A looming recession is no exception. Dozens of highly educated, well respected, economists still proclaim that we are not headed towards a recession. The majority of their argument is that “yes” the economy is worse than it was a few years ago, but we are still a long way away from a recession.

"My view is that taking all the new data into account, that there is really no material change in our expectations for the U.S. economy since I last reported to Congress a couple weeks ago," claims Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke. "If the housing sector begins to stabilize and if some of the inventory corrections that are still going on in manufacturing begin to be completed, there's a reasonable possibility that we'll see some strengthening of the economy sometime during the middle of the year."

So are we headed towards a recession or not? The truth is that no one can give a 100% sure answer. The economy can be sporadic. Moreover, just because we seeing some signs of a looming recession does not mean that the economy will not bounce back in the next few months. The only way to really know for sure, is just to wait and see. In the mean time, enjoy the following list of 8 signs that the U.S. economy is not headed towards a recession.

1. Overall Economic Growth

Although it is more of a technicality, the economy must exhibit negative growth 2 quarters in a row to validate a full-fledged recession. Yet, between January and March of 2008 the economy actually grew at a rate of 0.9%, and the overall growth was at 1.9% for 2007. As such, the economy is not in an actual recession. In addition, no one can claim that we are until there is data to back up the statement.

2. Consumers are Still Spending

Although the numbers have dropped, there are still plenty of people spending their hard earned cash on things they don’t necessarily need. Just look at the millions of people who lined up to buy the new iPhone. Box office sales are also doing well, with major summer hits drawing in crowds, such as “Dark Knight,” the new Batman movie, which is already performing above expectations. Are people just forgetting to be frugal, or do we have a better grip on our cash than we thought?

3. Election Year

The looming election may seem far off, but a change in the White House may make all the difference. Backed by his former competitor Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama plans on changing tax codes to better benefit the US economy. Obama has publicly blamed President Bush and contender Sen. John McCain for misleading the public on a looming recession. He argues that he is "the only candidate in this race to propose a genuine middle-class tax cut," and claims the nation needs as president a leader who "doesn't defend lobbyists as part of the system, but sees them as part of the problem."

4. Media Awareness

Possibly due to the popular election coverage this year, more Americans seem to be keeping up with the news. Practically every major news station has covered the possibility of a recession, and viewers have taken notice. An aware public makes a drastic difference in economic affairs, and many will be watching to see what they can do to prevent our economy from failing.

5. Confusing Unemployment Figures

Unemployment rates are misleading. The percentage comes from individuals collecting unemployment from the government for the 2 months they’re allowed. These numbers are unreliable, because there is no real way to tell just how many people have or do not have jobs, and certain factors just are not being added in. Economists also argue that unemployment may be rising, but that more people are seeking out alternative forms of income, such as self-employment or independent contracting. In addition, any studies conducted at this point of the year have to be discounted to account for the influx of high school and collegiate aged individuals seeking work for the summer.

6. Decrease in Abroad Travel = Increase in U.S. Travel

Due to limited spending money, more people are spending their summers and vacations in the States. This is beneficial because the cash they would be spending in Europe is now being fed directly into our economy instead. As more and more families take road trips this summer, the money generated from tourism is likely to help the economy.

7. Isolated Housing Crash

The housing and mortgage crash of recent years is widely considered one of the leading causes of a poor performing U.S. economy. Home sales are continuing to drop, and more and more Americans are facing foreclosure. However, many economists claim that the housing crash is somewhat isolated. Moreover, other sectors of the economy are actually picking up extra slack. Additionally, experts also predict that the housing market will cool off in the next few months, and will help improve the economy overall.

8. Reasonable Inflation Rates

Although there are many signs that point towards a recession, the inflation rate of the U.S. dollar does not. When you look at our “core inflation” – which excludes food and energy prices – it is actually under 2%. Some economists argue that if we were headed to a recession, this number would be much, much higher.

Feds Drop Investigation Against Sharpton

According to the Associated Press, “federal prosecutors have decided not to seek criminal charges against the Rev. Al Sharpton over his chronic tax problems, his lawyers said Tuesday.

The investigation was disbanded only after the government received a down payment Monday topping $1 million on a tax debt that had threatened to land Sharpton before a grand jury, the minister's lawyers said.

Sharpton said Tuesday he was glad to be in the clear. ‘I'm just grateful to God and my family, and all of our supporters,’ he said.

More payments will follow as Sharpton clears up a decade's worth of delinquent tax bills related to his personal business interests and his Harlem civil rights group.

Prosecutors and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents spent months investigating Sharpton's finances but ultimately concluded that his tax problems were better handled as a civil matter, his lawyers said.

The IRS and New York state and city tax agencies claim that Sharpton and his organization, the National Action Network, collectively owe millions of dollars in back taxes and penalties.

The exact amount Sharpton owes has not been revealed by either the government or Sharpton's lawyers, but there is evidence the debt is sizable.

The IRS obtained a $931,397 lien against Sharpton. City and state officials said he owned them another $933,577. Separately, the National Action Network said in its most recent tax filing that it owed at least $1.9 million in payroll taxes and related interest.

Sharpton, who was defiant when the probe became public in December, claiming it was part of a government smear campaign, sounded more contrite Tuesday.

He said both he and the civil rights group would clean up their books and complete a reorganization intended to ensure the group's long-term fiscal stability.”

Joe Francis Claims Innocence in Tax Fraud Case

After months of publicity surrounding his legal affairs, Girls Gone Wild creator Joe Francis has pleaded not guilty in a federal tax court on Monday. The government has accused Francis of taking more than $20 million in bogus business deductions from the tax years 2002 and 2003.

"No matter how much the government pursues me because of what I do for a living, I will be vindicated again because ultimately the truth will come out," claimed Francis outside the courtroom.

Although Francis may presume that he is being targeted because of the nature of his business, U.S. Justice Department officials were quick to point out that Francis "concealed millions of dollars in income" in violation of federal tax law, not because of his line of work.

Massachusetts Likely to Implement Sales Tax Holiday

Earlier in the day, the Massachusetts’ House of Representatives voted 139-15 to approve a sales tax holiday August 16th and 17th. Supporters of the bill expect that it will boost retail sales during a historically slow month. However, critics claim that it will not likely increase overall sales but encourage taxpayers to do all of their shopping for the month at one time.

If the bill is passed by the Senate, during the two days in August consumers will not have to pay the state's 5 percent sales tax on any item worth less then $2,500.

IRS Sending Stimulus Payment Information to Retirees & Veterans

In their newest press release, the IRS is warning “qualifying retirees and veterans that it is not too late to file for an economic stimulus payment and announced it will send a second set of information packets to 5.2 million people who may be eligible but who have not yet filed for their stimulus payment.

The packages will contain everything needed by a person who normally does not have a filing requirement but who must file this year in order to receive an economic stimulus payment. There will be instructions, an example Form 1040A return showing the few lines that need to be completed, and a blank Form 1040A. The packages will be mailed over a three-week period starting July 21.

‘All it takes is a few simple steps, and the payment can be on its way. It’s not too late to file, but the sooner people file, the faster they’ll receive their money,’ said Doug Shulman, IRS Commissioner.

The mailing is part of an IRS summer campaign to reach out to those people who have no requirement to file a tax return but who may be eligible for a stimulus payment of up to $300 ($600 for married filing jointly). For those eligible for a payment for themselves, there also is a $300 per child payment for eligible children younger than 17.

The IRS has accounted for about 75 percent of the approximately 20 million Social Security and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries identified as being potential stimulus recipients. All but 5.2 million of those have either filed a return, filed a joint return or were not eligible for a stimulus payment (for example, they were claimed as a dependent on another’s return).”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back on FOX, Discussing Tax Evasion

Towards the end of last week, I was once again featured as a guest on FOX Business News, Money for Breakfast. In this segment, I joined two other experts to discuss off shore accounts and UBS. Below is an embedded video of my appearance.

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New Congressional Budget Office Report

Last week the Congressional Budget Office released a new study on the long-term effects of indexing the alternative minimum tax and extending the tax reductions of 2001 and 2003. You can read a PDF of the study by clicking here, or you can learn more about the Congressional Budget Office by checking out their website.

Evidence Shows that Tax Cuts Lose Revenue

According to a new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, evidence shows that tax cuts lose revenue. As we get closer and closer to Election Day, data like this becomes increasingly important. Below is the text of the study’s abstract.

“The claim that tax cuts ‘pay for themselves’ — i.e., cause so much economic growth that revenues rise faster than they would have without the tax cut — has been made repeatedly in recent years and is one of the many tax policy issues that is likely to receive renewed attention in light of the upcoming election. As explained briefly below, this claim is false. The evidence shows clearly that tax cuts lose revenue.

The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts have not paid for themselves.

There is no evidence that the tax cuts caused any increase in economic growth, let alone growth sufficient to offset their cost. In fact, the 2001-2007 economic expansion was among the weakest since World War II with regard to overall economic growth. Moreover, revenue growth was very poor during 2001-2007. Real per-capita revenues fell deeply in 2001, 2002, and 2003 and have since risen to barely 2 percent above their 2001 level. Over the course of other postwar economic expansions, they grew by an average of 12 percent.

Previous tax cuts didn’t pay for themselves either.

In 1981, when Congress substantially lowered marginal income tax rates on the well-off, supporters claimed the cuts would boost economic growth. In 1990 and 1993, when Congress raised marginal income tax rates on the well-off, opponents claimed the increases would harm the economy.

In fact, the economy grew at about the same rate in the 1990s, following tax increases, as in the 1980s, following a large tax cut. And revenues grew twice as fast in the in the 1990s (3.5 percent in real per-capita terms) as in the 1980s (1.5 percent).

Capital gains rate cuts, like other tax cuts, lower revenue in the long run.

Especially when a capital gains cut is temporary, like the 2003 cut, investors have a strong incentive to realize their capital gains before the old, higher rate returns. This can cause a short-term increase in revenues, as happened after 2003. (Capital gains realizations also went up after 2003 because of the increase in the U.S. stock market. The capital gains tax cut cannot take credit for the stock market recovery, though, since European stocks performed just as well as U.S. stocks during this period.)

Over the long run, however, there is virtually no evidence that cutting capital gains taxes spurs nearly enough economic growth to pay for itself. As the Congressional Budget Office recently stated, the “best estimates of taxpayers’ response to changes in the capital gains tax rates do not suggest a large revenue increase from additional realizations of capital gains — and certainly not an increase large enough to offset the losses from lower rates.”

Deficit-financed tax cuts carry significant costs that are likely to outweigh any short-term boost in economic growth.

Deficit-financed tax cuts can stimulate an economy in recession and temporarily improve growth. In the long run, however, the resulting deficits lower national savings and are a drag on the economy. Brookings Institution economist William Gale and now-CBO director Peter Orszag concluded that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are “likely to reduce, not increase, national income in the long term” because of their effect in swelling the deficit.

Given the evidence, economists across the political spectrum reject the notion that tax cuts pay for themselves.

They include Edward Lazear, current chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers (who told Congress, ‘I certainly would not claim that tax cuts pay for themselves’) and N. Gregory Mankiw, the CEA chair earlier in President Bush’s administration (who once compared an economist who says that tax cuts pay for themselves to a ‘snake oil salesman trying to sell a miracle cure’).

In addition, the Bush Treasury Department’s own ‘dynamic’ analysis of the cost of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts estimated that they would generate only enough economic growth to cover less than 10 percent of their long-term cost. Furthermore, that estimate was based on a best-case scenario; it depended on the assumption that the cost of the tax cuts would be fully offset by spending cuts.

In sum, the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves sounds too good to be true because it is too good to be true. Tax cuts lose revenue, and when they are deficit financed, they can also contribute to poorer economic performance over the long term.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Presidential Tax Views Quiz

Embedded below is an easy quiz that will help you determine which Presidential candidate your tax views align with, Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain. When you begin the quiz, it will show you a series of tax related statements that you can either agree or disagree with. At the end, the quiz will tell you which candidate your tax views are more aligned with.

IL Resident Declares their Home a Church and Gets Tax Breaks

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Illinois State government allowed a Lake Bluff resident to convert his home into church, that correlated to a $80,000 in property tax reduction. Below is a snippet from the news story.

“When George Michael placed a cross on the side of his lakefront mansion, neighbors assumed the decoration was simply a display of the man's religious faith.

What his neighbors didn't know is that Michael had decided to convert his $3 million residence into the Armenian Church of Lake Bluff, qualifying him for a nearly $80,000 break on his annual property tax bill.

Now, locals are questioning whether the property is a church at all. Village officials wonder how they'll be able to make up the lost revenue, and residents worry that their share of the tax burden will grow as a result.

Meanwhile, Lake Bluff officials notified Michael that if he is running a church, he will need to pay more than $115,000 in fines for failing to get the village's permission, setting up a possible court battle.”

Man Indicted for Plot to Intimidate Judge in Tax Evasion Case

Robert Beale is currently in jail while he awaits a sentence for tax evasion, but he did not agree with the decision made by the judge who ruled on the case. However, instead of filing an appeal or seeking help form his attorney, Beale felt that God wanted him to take action into his own hands. Below is a quote from an article on

“According to this indictment, filed Tuesday in Minnesota federal court, a month before Beale was convicted, he made a call from jail to a friend who shared his dislike of the U.S. tax system. ‘God wants me to destroy the judge,’ Beale told his friend. ‘That judge is evil. He wants me to get rid of her.’

That friend, along with two other men, are now co-defendants with Beale in another indictment. They’ve all been charged with attempting to prevent Judge Montgomery from presiding over Beale’s tax evasion trial through force, intimidation and threat, according to the indictment. (Here’s a story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)

The defendants allegedly held a ‘common law court’ to issue false liens and ‘arrest warrants’ against Judge Montgomery. They were also planning to disrupt court proceedings in the belief that only Jesus Christ has jurisdiction over people, according to the indictment. Beale allegedly instructed the group to bring 30 to 40 people to his trial to disrupt it if Montgomery failed to dismiss the charges. No more than a handful of observers ever attended, reports the Trib.

Now, we know what you’re thinking. A group with this kind of chutzpah must have a great name. And you’re right. According to the indictment, the men called themselves this mouth-full: ‘Our one supreme court Common-Law court for the de-jure Ramsey: the county: Minnesota; the land a superior court for the People, original jurisdiction under Almighty Yahweh exclusive jurisdiction in and for confederation-government United States of America.’”

California is Number 1… When it comes to taxes.

In another interesting article on the Wall Street Journal’s website, the author delves into the idea that California would take over the title of highest tax jurisdiction if Democrat legislators were able to pass their new tax increases. Below is a quote from the opinion piece.

“New York City has long been the highest tax jurisdiction in the United States, but California politicians are proposing to steal that brass tiara. California faces a $15 billion budget deficit and Democrats who rule the state Legislature have proposed closing the gap with a $9.7 billion tax hike on business and ‘the rich.’ There's a movie that describes this idea: Clueless.

The plan would raise the top marginal income tax rate to 12% from 10.3%; that would be the highest in the nation and twice the national average. This plan would also repeal indexing for inflation, which is a sneaky way for politicians to push middle-income Californians into higher tax brackets every year, especially when prices are rising as they are now. The corporate income tax rate would also rise to 9.3% from 8.4%. So in the face of one of the worst real-estate recessions in the state's history, the politicians want to raise taxes on businesses that are still making money.

This latest tax gambit was unveiled, ironically enough, within days of two very large California employers announcing they are saying, in the famous words of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, "hasta la vista, baby" to the state. First, the AAA auto club declared it would close its call centers in California, meaning those 900 jobs will move to other states. "It costs more to do business in California," said an AAA press release, in the understatement of the year.

Then, last week, Toyota announced it is canceling plans to build its new Prius hybrid at its plant in the San Francisco Bay area because of the high tax and regulatory costs. Adding to the humiliation is that Toyota will now take this investment and about 1,000 jobs to a more progressive and pro-business state: Mississippi.

There is already a reverse gold rush going on in California and the evidence points powerfully toward high tax rates as a culprit. Census Bureau data show that, from 1996-2005, 1.3 million more Americans left than came to California. And the people who are leaving are disproportionately those with higher incomes: the very targets the Democrats want to tax more.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

McCain's Tax Adviser Uses Shoddy Math to Attach Obama

Last week at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Carly Fiorina, Senator John McCain’s top tax advisor, used erroneous math to attach Senator Barack Obama’s tax plans while defending McCain's. Below is a quote from Time’s blog, you can see the full text at Fiorina’s Fuzzy Math.

“This morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Carly Fiorina made the case that Obama’s proposed tax hike on those who make more than $250,000 a year would be damaging to small businesses.

In the Bush tax cuts, if they are repealed, 23 million small businesses will have their taxes raised. Why? Because 23 million small businesses file their income tax as individuals. And so, when Barack Obama blithely says, only the wealthiest are going to be taxed, he is ignoring the fact that 23 million small businesses file as individuals and those small businesses are the only growing sector of the economy right now and small businesses produce 60%, actually it’s more like 70, 70% of the new jobs in this country.

Okay, let’s assume there are now 23 million small businesses in the U.S. today (the latest stats I could find were 21.5 million "schedule C" class businesses in 2005). There’s no way that all 23 million of those are netting more than $250,000. In fact, 94.5% of all “flow-through” entities (self-employed folks, which generally tend to be small businesses, though Tiger Woods also falls into this category) had receipts under $100,000 in 2007.

Fiorina was building on a Bush argument from 2004. Bush loved to cite on the stump the plight of the 4.1 million “subchapter S” companies – another category of small businesses that have less than 100 shareholders and pay individual income taxes. As my former Bloomberg colleague Ryan Donmoyer -- the best tax reporter in town -- pointed out, the argument was a bit ridiculous because less than 5% of small businesses who file under sub-chapter S made more than $200,000, Kerry’s threshold in 2004. Putting aside the dubiousness of relying on a stale Bush argument for his tax cuts, even with the sub-chapter S filers added in the total number of small businesses effected by a tax hike on those who net more than $250,000 a year remains a few hundred thousand – no where near the 23 million Fiorina claimed. I asked Fiorina to elaborate on how she arrived at the 23 million figure.”

Editorial Opinion on CA Proposed Tax Increases

Last week, I posted on the new plan from California Democratic lawmakers to increase taxes, which is quite a controversial issue here in Sacramento. The other day I saw this interesting opinion article on The author thinks the proposals are “hogwash,” and encourages readers to take action. Below is a quote from the opinion.

“On Thursday, we began publishing a ‘days without a state budget’ box on this page as a reminder of the ineptness of our state's policymakers. Today we add a "who to contact" box. We intend to continue publishing both until California gets a spending plan for its current fiscal year.

Despite the voters' best intentions (voiced through the California Constitution and an approved ballot proposition) and a growing $15 billion deficit, the legislative budget talks are a mess.

The matter is now headed to the so-called Big Five, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said Wednesday, referring to the state's top five legislative leaders. The five are the governor, Bass (because of her position as speaker as the ranking Assembly Democrat), state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (the top Senate Democrat), and the top Republicans in their respective houses, state Sen. Dave Cogdill and Assemblyman Mike Villines.

Bass spoke after the Democrats presented their plan to fix the deficit: $8.2 billion in new money, primarily through tax increases. Bass said, in essence, ‘no more cuts’ and fell back onto the controlling Democrats' long-standing line that California does not have a spending problem; ‘It has a revenue problem.” (Republicans are holding firm to a no-tax-increase stance.)

And, in hyperbole at its lowest extreme, Bass asserted there was nothing left to cut except the pay of elementary school teachers, high school principals or firefighters.”

Victims of Storms in Six States have Until August 29 to File Certain Returns

According to the latest IRS news release, they are postponing the deadline to file certain tax returns, to make certain tax payments and to perform time-sensitive acts for storm, flood, and tornado victims in presidential disaster areas in six states, until August 29.

“Previously, these deadlines varied by state, and the postponement provides people affected by the disasters with additional time.

‘Our hearts go out to the people hit by these disasters,’ IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. ‘We realize that as people put their lives back together, they need additional time to work on these tax issues.’

This announcement will affect counties in Indiana, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, West Virginia and Wisconsin that qualify for individual assistance. Affected counties in Missouri previously have been granted relief until Aug. 29.”

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

8 Signs the U.S. Economy is Headed Towards a Recession

By definition, the United States economy can be considered in a recession when it finishes two consecutive financial quarters with negative economic growth. Although people in the media regularly claim that the economy is in a recession, technically it is not. Between January and March of 2008 the economy actually grew at a rate of 0.9%, which is actually higher than the 0.6% many economists predicted early in the year.

However, many economists still say the 0.9% growth rate is a sign of a “looming” recession. “Normal” growth for our economy is usually between 2.5 and 3%. Many experts are expecting the April to June growth rate to be 0.1%, but I wonder if these are the same economists who underestimated the first quarter’s economic growth?

Although the question of whether our economy is headed for recession is one even leading experts cannot agree on, I thought it was fitting to examine the signs that are we are headed to a recession. As I did with the gas tax holiday, I intend to post about both view points in this blog. But for now, think about these 8 signs that point to a looming recession.

``By almost every measure the U.S. economy is moving sideways or slightly down for the last few months,'' claims Martin Feldstein, President of the National Bureau of Economic Research. ``I think this recession could be substantially more severe [than the past several downturns]”.

1. Unemployment

With large companies, franchises, and businesses of all sorts closing down every day, the unemployment rate is on the rise. The rise in unemployment is expected to go from 5.0 to 5.5%, and this figure is likely to increase even further over the next year. However, it is important to note that these rates are still lower than those in the 2001 recession.

2. Hiring Freezes

As hundreds of businesses make headlines for record lay-offs, countless others are implementing other strategies to cut labor costs without as much bad publicity. One strategy that has gained popularity is known as a hiring freeze, where no new employees are being hired even if there is a new vacancy.

3. Real Estate Crash

It should be no surprise to anyone that the real estate market crash made the list. You can barely go a few days without hearing about foreclosures hitting record rates, and the crumbling mortgage industry. The bottom line is that consumers are not looking to purchase homes. Families with dire employment situations will get further and further behind on their mortgages. Moreover, as homes continue to decline in value, “wealth” will continue to fall.

4. Oil Prices

With more cars on the road everyday, the demand for oil never seems to cease. Some experts say oil could be up to $150.00 a barrel by the end of the summer. Consequently, Americans are being forced to pay record prices at the pump.

5. Retail Sales Dropped

Consumer spending accounts for nearly 70% of economic indicators in the United States. With job cuts, gas prices, and high cost of groceries, American consumers cannot afford to spend as they used to. Retail sales drop drastically when the rest of the economy suffers, and is a huge red flag of a looming recession. Some experts even consider this the biggest indicator of negative economic growth.

6. Declining U.S. Dollar

Reaching a record low against the Euro and brushing shoulders with the Canadian dollar, the U.S dollar is on a constant downward slide. As it reaches an even lower point, foreign investors are beginning to lose confidence in the U.S dollar and are seeking investments in other currency.

7. Harder to open a Small Business

Starting your own business is never an easy task, but starting your own business in a hurting economy can be almost impossible. Foreclosures, bankruptcies, and even bad credit can make it almost impossible for a new business owner to get funds to live their dream.

8. Aviation Industry

Major airlines have been having trouble staying afloat for decades now. Unfortunately, the gas prices are making it nearly impossible for them to continue business. Some experts claim that the entire United States aviation industry could crumble within two years. One can only imagine the effect this would have on the already poor economy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

CA Lawmakers Propose $9.7 Billion in new Taxes on Wealthiest

California Democratic lawmakers presented a plan earlier in the week to help reduce the state’s budget deficit that has soared to over $15 billion. Most of the revenue would come from tax hikes that would affect the richest Californian taxpayers the hardest. Conservative lawmakers, on the other hand, fear that these taxes would encourage wealthy individuals and business owners to move out of the state. Below are the details of the tax increases thanks to

1. Income tax on wealthy

Additional Revenue: $5.6 billion

Who Pays: The state income tax rate for joint filers whose taxable income is above $321,000 is now 9.3 percent. The Democrats' proposal would increase the rate to 10 percent for joint filers who earn at least $321,000 and 11 percent for those who earn more than $642,000.

2. Deductions on net losses

Additional Revenue: $1.1 billion

Who Pays: Suspends the deduction for net operation losses for corporations. Companies that experience a loss now are allowed to take a deduction for the same amount in the following year.

3. Suspend tax adjustments

Additional Revenue: $815 million

Who Pays: Suspends certain tax adjustments for all income brackets, resulting in a slight increase of income taxes for all individual taxpayers. Higher-income taxpayers would pay more income taxes. For example, a taxpayer whose taxable income is $50,000 would see an increase of about $34 a year, while a person whose income is $97,000 would pay about $180 more.

4. Corporate tax

Additional Revenue: $470 million

Who Pays: The top corporate tax rate would be increased from 8.84 percent to 9.3 percent. Democrats say the change would restore the top rate to what it was before being reduced in 1997.

5. Dependent credit

Additional Revenue: $215 million

Who Pays: The dependent credit for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is more than $150,000 would be reduced from $294 per child to $94 per child.

6. Tax amnesty

Additional Revenue: $1.5 billion

Who Pays: Institute an amnesty program that allows individuals and companies that have fallen behind on their tax payments to pay them without penalty.

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Mortgage Crisis Slams Wall Street

According to, the stock market had record drops today as Dow went below 11,000 for the first time in nearly two years.

“The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) lost over 200 points, or 1.9%. The Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite (COMP) both fell at least 1.7%.

Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) fell around 30% and Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500) fell 33%, adding to the weeklong battering for the government-sponsored mortgage backers amid worries about their ability to stay afloat.

As speculation grows about government intervention, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Friday morning that the government is focused on assuring the health of the two companies. Fannie and Freddie trimmed losses on his comments, but remained deep in the red.

Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500) lost another 19% amid continued uncertainty about the brokerage's solvency since it reported a nearly $3 billion second-quarter loss last month. (Full story).”

New Scammers use Fax and E-mail to Pose as IRS

In a new press release, the IRS warns taxpayers to be aware of a few new scammers who are using fax and e-mail to pose as representatives of the IRS. Below are the main scams the IRS is warning about, but you can read the full release at Scammers Use e-Mail, Fax to Pose as IRS.

Refund e-Mail Scam

There are several variations of the refund scam, in which an e-mail claiming to come from the IRS falsely informs the recipient that he or she is eligible for a tax refund for a specific amount. The bogus e-mail instructs the recipient to click on a link to access a refund claim form. The form requests personal information that the scammers can use to access the e-mail recipient’s bank or credit card account.

This notification is phony. The IRS does not send unsolicited e-mail about tax account matters to taxpayers.

Filing a tax return is the only way to apply for a tax refund; there is no separate application form. Taxpayers who wish to find out if they are due a refund from their last annual tax return filing may use the Where’s My Refund? interactive application on this Web site. is the only official IRS Web site.

Economic Stimulus Payments Scam

In this scam, a taxpayer receives an e-mail pretending to come from the IRS which tells the recipient he or she is eligible for an economic stimulus payment. The message recommends direct deposit into the taxpayer’s checking or savings account. To receive the payment, recipients must click on a link to complete and submit an online form by a certain date; otherwise, the e-mail warns, payment may be delayed. The form requests personal and financial data, including checking or savings account numbers that the scammers can use to gain access to the accounts.

In reality, the way members of the public receive their economic stimulus payment is to file a tax return with the IRS, not a special form. Additionally, the IRS does not request personal or financial information via e-mail.

Substitute Form 1040 Fax Scam

This scam consists of a cover letter and form that are faxed, rather than e-mailed. The cover letter is addressed “Dear Valued Tax Payer (sic)” and appears to be signed by an IRS employee. The letter says that the IRS is updating its files and that recipients who supply the requested information will receive a nominal tax refund. It also states that those who fail to immediately return the completed form risk additional tax and withholding. The attached form is labeled a substitute Form 1040 and is titled “Certificate of Current Status of Beneficial Owner For United States Tax Recertification & Withholding.” It requests a large amount of detailed personal and financial information, such as mother’s maiden name (often used in security screening), bank account numbers, estimated assets and more. It asks the recipient to sign and fax back the completed form, as well as a copy of the recipient’s driver’s license and passport.

Company Report Scam

This e-mail appears to come from an e-mail address, addresses recipients by name and references the company the recipient works for. These personalized details may convince the recipient that the e-mail is legitimate. The e-mail says that the IRS has a report on the company and asks the recipient to review a copy by clicking on a link to download the report. However, when the link is clicked, malware is downloaded to the recipient’s computer.

There are various types of malware, which can hijack a victim’s computer hard drive to give someone remote access to the computer, search for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer, or cause other types of identity theft or damage.

The IRS does not compile reports on companies or send e-mails to company staff asking them to review a report. Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers.

Tax Court Scam

In this scam, an e-mail that appears to come from the U.S. Tax Court contains a petition involving a court case between the IRS and the recipient. The document instructs the recipient to download other files. The downloads transfer malware, or malicious code, to the recipient’s computer.

There are various types of malware, which, for example, can hijack a victim’s computer hard drive to give someone remote access to the computer, or can search for passwords and other information and send them to the scammer.

The truth is that the Tax Court is not e-mailing notices to anyone who currently has a case before the court. Visit the court’s Web site at for more information. Recipients are advised to avoid clicking on any links in the e-mail and to delete the e-mail.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Discussing Presidential Tax Views on the Thom Hartmann Radio Show

Earlier in the week, I was featured as a guest on the Thom Hartmann Radio Show. During the segment we discussed the presidential candidates’ tax policies and how they affect Americans. It was an honor to be a guest on the show, and to discuss a topic that I love so much. I had a great time, and hope they invite me to be a guest again! Click the image below to download an MP3 of the interview.

Interesting Opinion on Charitable Contributions

The New York Times posted an interesting new opinion on charitable contributions by Ray D. Maddiff. Below is a snippet of the opinion, but you can check out the full text at: Dog Eat Your Taxes?

“The latest news from the Palace, that Leona Helmsley left instructions that her charitable bequest of as much as $8 billion be used for the care and welfare of dogs, rubs our noses in the tax deduction for charitable gifts and its common vehicle, the perpetual private foundation. Together these provide a mechanism by which American taxpayers subsidize the whims of the rich and fulfill their fantasies of immortality.

The charitable deduction enables people to donate as much of their assets as they like for charitable purposes without paying a tax. While some choose to contribute to broad public goals, the law does not require it. In recent years, charitable status has been recognized for organizations with purposes as idiosyncratic as promoting excellence in quilting and educating the public about Huey military aircraft. Indeed, Mrs. Helmsley might have limited her beneficence to the Maltese breed of dogs she favored, and that, too, would have been allowed as a “charitable” purpose.

If this were only a matter of Leona Helmsley wasting her own money, no one would need to care. But she is wasting ours too.

The charitable deduction constitutes a subsidy from the federal government. The government, in effect, makes itself a partner in every charitable bequest. In Mrs. Helmsley’s case, given that her fortune warranted an estate tax rate of 45 percent, her $8 billion donation for dogs is really a gift of $4.4 billion from her and $3.6 billion from you and me."

How Many Economists Support McCain?

A few days ago the McCain camp announced that they had a document signed by 300 economists that “enthusiastically support” his “Jobs for America” economic plan. The immediate assumption was that McCain has built up a lot of support for his views, but upon further investigation, it appears that may not be the case. According to, “it seems a good many of those economists don’t actually support the whole of McCain’s economic agenda. And at least one doesn’t even support McCain for president.

In interviews with more than a dozen of the signatories, Politico found that, far from embracing McCain’s economic plan, many were unfamiliar with — or downright opposed to — key details. While most of those contacted by Politico had warm feelings about McCain, many did not want to associate themselves too closely with his campaign and its policy prescriptions.”

To read the full story head over to In theory, economists support McCain.

National Taxpayer Advocate Sends 2009 Objectives to Congress

The other day National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson delivered a report to Congress identifying the priority issues the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate will address in the upcoming fiscal year. According to the IRS’ news release, the report addresses the three following key issues.

1. Tax-Related Identity Theft

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2007 Annual Report to Congress identified tax-related identity theft as one of the most serious problems facing taxpayers. The report stated that the IRS does not have adequate procedures in place to assist victims of identity theft and does not have adequate systems in place to quantify the number of tax-related incidents of identity theft that occur. The report made eight recommendations, including the creation of a centralized unit to handle identity theft cases and the development of a centralized set of procedures that cuts across IRS functions. The IRS has taken a number of steps to improve its procedures; notably, it has developed a Service-wide identity theft indicator and is studying the creation of a centralized unit to assist identity theft victims. During FY 2009, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate will work with the IRS to improve its procedures in this area.

2. Cancellation of Debt Income

When an individual or business borrows money and the debt is cancelled, the borrower generally must include the amount of the cancelled debt in gross income. This requirement generally affects borrowers who lose their homes to foreclosure or who default on car loans or credit card debts. Taxpayers may exclude the amount of a cancelled debt from gross income under certain circumstances, but to do so, they must take the affirmative act of filing Form 982, Reduction of Tax Attributes Due to Discharge of Indebtedness (and Section 1082 Basis Adjustment), with their tax returns. Very few taxpayers file Form 982, and the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate has focused and will continue to focus on increasing public awareness of the rules and exceptions. It has worked with the IRS to simplify the instructions for Form 982 and to develop an IRS publication that covers the tax aspects of cancellation of debt issues comprehensively, produced podcasts (known as “TAScasts”) that are available online, and provided specialized training for Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) practitioners. The Office of the Taxpayer Advocate will continue to work with the IRS to simplify reporting procedures and will continue to conduct outreach to affected taxpayers and practitioners in FY 2009.

3. IRS Collection Practices

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2006 Annual Report to Congress raised a number of concerns about IRS collection practices. Joint working groups have been established to work on five issues – levies, allowable living expense standards, installment agreements, offers in compromise, and early intervention techniques. However, the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate remains concerned about additional collection issues, including resorting to seizures before all viable collection alternatives have been exhausted, under-utilization of partial-pay installment agreements, and excessive delays in collection that exacerbate taxpayer delinquency problems because of the accumulation of interest and penalties. The IRS is working with the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate to address these concerns, and the collaboration will continue in FY 2009.

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