Monday, August 14, 2017

TAX REFORM - A BETTER WAY

Now that the Republicans have been unable to accomplish anything with health care they are moving on to tax reform.
 
I firmly believe that the current “mucking fess” that is the US Tax Code should be completely shredded and we should start from scratch.  And I firmly believe that this new Tax Code must not be used for social engineering, to redistribute income or wealth, or to deliver social welfare and other government benefits.
 
One of the biggest problems with the current system, and a large source of its complexity, is the erroneous use of the tax return to deliver government benefits.  The Internal Revenue Service, and the tax professional community, should not be required to act as Social Workers and administer and verify government program benefit payments.  This practice is not only inappropriate, but it also invites and encourages tax fraud. 
 
I am not saying the government shouldn’t provide financial assistance to the working poor and college students, provide encouragements for purchasing health insurance, making energy-saving purchases and improvements, and other ‘worthy’ actions.  What I am saying is that such assistance and encouragements should not be distributed via the Form 1040.
 
The benefits provided by the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable Child Tax Credit should be distributed via existing federal welfare programs for Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The benefits provided by the education tax credits and deduction for tuition and fees should be distributed via existing federal programs for providing direct student financial aid. The benefits provided by the Premium Tax Credit, the energy credits, and other such personal and business credits should be distributed via direct discount payments to the appropriate vendors or direct rebate programs, similar to the successful Cash for Clunkers program of a few years ago, funded by the budget of the appropriate Cabinet departments.
 
Distributing the benefits in this manner is much better than the current method for many reasons:
 
1. It would be easier for the government to verify that the recipient of the subsidy, discount or rebate actually qualified for the money, greatly reducing fraud. And tax preparers, and the IRS, would no longer need to take on the added responsibility of having to verify that a person qualifies for government benefits.
 
2. The qualifying individuals would get the money at the “point of purchase,” when it is really needed, and not have to go “out of pocket” up front and wait to be reimbursed when they file their tax return.
 
3. We would be able to calculate the true income tax burden of individuals. Many of the current “47 percent” would still be receiving government benefits, but it would not be done through the income tax system, so they would actually be paying federal income tax.
 
4. We could measure the true cost of education, housing, health, energy and welfare programs in the federal budget because benefit payments would be properly allocated to the appropriate departments.
 
So what do you think?

FYI - I have written a "review" of the 36th annual National Conference of the National Association of Tax Professionals at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington DC. that will appear in 2 parts at THE WANDERING TAX PRO.  Part 1 appears today and Part 2 will be posted on Wednesday..
 
TAFN
 

 
I have been preparing 1040s since 1972. Over the years I have developed a collection of forms, schedules and worksheets that have proven very helpful in my practice. 
 
Some of my forms are given to clients to help them provide me with the information I need to properly prepare their returns. Some are used as “memos” to the client’s copy and my office file copy to back-up items reported on the returns. Others are used as attachments to the returns.
 
I offer this compilation to you for only $7.95!
 
Click below for more information-
 

Monday, August 7, 2017

IF I HAD MY DRUTHERS



I am sure we all have a “wish list” for clients – a list of things we wish they would do.  Here is mine - 

(1) I wish that when a client receives a letter or notice from the Internal Revenue Service, or a state tax authority, about a tax return I prepared they would put it in the mail to me, fax it to me, or include it as an attachment in an email to me IMMEDIATELY.

I still have some clients who insist on trying to call me first to tell me that they got a notice from the IRS. This is a total waste of time. My telephone answering machine is turned off during the “regular” year – it is only on during the tax filing season (January 15 to April 15).

And what would happen if they did manage to reach me by telephone? They would tell me that they got a notice from the IRS or the NJ Division of Taxation or whoever and I would tell them to mail, fax or email it to me!

Here is an example. A client tried repeatedly to call me with no success. So he told his mother to try to call me, which she did for a week or so, again without success. The mother mailed me a note saying that her son was trying to get in touch with me. I mailed a note to the son, along with a self-addressed envelope, telling him to mail me the notice.

The notice, which was from the NJ Division of Taxation, was dated October 1st. I received the notice in the mail from the client, finally, on November 10th. Look at how much time was wasted!

And I do have clients who just pay the balance due on the notice without consulting with me first.  I only learn about the notice when the client sends me his or her “stuff” at tax time.  Now I have to try to get the money they erroneously paid back from the IRS or the state.

I have found, as I am sure you have also, that more often than not a notice from the IRS or a state tax agency is wrong – and even more so with state notices.

(2) I wish clients would keep track of the cost basis of all their investments and give the information to me at tax time when they have sold investments.

Or at the very least tell - not ask – their brokers to provide them with – or send directly to me - a detailed Profit and Loss Statement showing dates of purchase and cost basis for every investment sold during the tax year.

Some clients do it right. They set up a file folder for each investment at purchase and put the original purchase confirmation in the file.

If dividends are reinvested they put the annual DRP statements in the file each year. If the investment spins-off or merges or whatever they put any related correspondence, notices and statements in the file.

If they purchase real estate they put the Closing/Settlement Statement in the file along with any receipts for expenses involved in the purchase that were not paid through the closing. They also place any receipts for capital improvements in the file each year.

If they receive an investment (including real estate) by gift they ask the giver to provide them with the cost basis of the investment gifted. If they inherit an investment (including real estate) they ask the Executor of the estate to provide them with the market value or appraised value on the date of death that was used in filing the federal estate, if required, and/or state inheritance tax return or filing.

When the investment is sold they put the sale confirmation, or Closing Statement, in the file and give me the file folder with their tax “stuff”.

To be honest, I would prefer a Profit and Loss Statement from the broker, to save me the time of actually determining the gain or loss on each investment. However, the individual file folder system discussed above would provide more complete and accurate information.

While the new 1099-B reporting requirements have been a big help, the mandatory cost basis reporting only applies to relatively recently purchased securities.    

(3) I wish clients would provide me with specific numbers for deductions they are claiming – instead of telling me “claim the maximum” or “whatever I am allowed” or “same as last year”.

The maximum is what you actually paid. You are allowed what you actually paid. It is very rare that an expense or number of miles driven for an activity is exactly the same as it was the previous year.

I need clients to tell me “$1023.50” or “$20.00 per week for 50 weeks” or “4638 miles”!

Each year I include in my January client mailing worksheets that apply to specific clients’ individual situations – for medical expenses, charitable contributions, rental income and expenses, employee business expenses, etc. I wish clients would fill them out completely and accurately – or provide me with a detailed listing of deductions in any other format.

When clients do not give me the proper information and I have to email or write them, this wastes valuable time and delays the completion of the return.

I want to make sure my clients take advantage of all the deductions and credits to which they are entitled – but I can only do this if I am given complete and accurate information.

(4) I wish clients would make and keep a photocopy of all their Form W-2s for the year before sending me their “stuff” – as I clearly instruct in my annual January client mailing.

Each year during the season I get two or three frantic calls or emails asking me to fax photocopies of the W-2s to a bank, Mortgage Company or to the client. This is not a big thing, but anything that takes time away from actual 1040 preparation is bad.

(5) My invoices all clearly state “payment due upon receipt”. This means once the client receives the invoice and not “30 days net”. I wish my clients would sit down and write my check, and put it in the mail, as soon as they have finished reviewing the finished returns

This is only the beginnings of my client “wish list”. I could probably fill several more posts - and may just do that.

So what is on your client “wish list”?

BTW – as you are reading this I am in Washington DC attending the annual NATP National Conference.  I will post about the conference next Monday.

 
TAFN