Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Extenders: Baucus Balks

September 23, 2013

Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he’s had it with extenders. These are tax benefits that have expiration dates but regularly get renewed, usually for a period of just a year or two. Individuals rely on a number of these, such as the itemized deductions for state and local sales tax and private mortgage insurance (PMI). Several of them are important to businesses as well.

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Key Tax Question on Gay Marriage

August 5, 2013
By Kaye A. Thomas

Update: The IRS has issued a ruling that addresses the most important issues discussed in this post. We’ll have detailed guidance in the near future but for now here are the main points:

  • For federal tax purposes, the IRS will treat same-sex couples as married if the marriage occurred in a state or country where such marriages are legal, even if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize such marriages.
  • IRS will not require couples to amend prior year returns, but couples are permitted to do so if an amended return would produce a refund for a year when they were married but required to file single, provided that year is still open under the statute of limitations.
  • Civil unions, domestic partners and similar relationships will not be treated as marriages.

More to come.


The Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act raises many complicated tax issues. One of the most important is whether the marital status of same-sex couples will be determined based on the state of celebration or the state of residence. What happens if a couple has been married in a state where same sex-marriage is legal but now resides in a state where such marriages are not recognized? (more…)

Self-Directed IRA Implodes

May 20, 2013
By Kaye A. Thomas

Individual retirement accounts typically hold conventional investments such as publicly traded stocks, bonds, mutual funds and certificates of deposit. If you want it to hold something unusual, such as real estate or an interest in a business that isn’t publicly traded, you have to establish a self-directed IRA at a financial institution that will accept these entities. I’m not a fan of the idea, and a recent Tax Court case illustrates one of the dangers.

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IRS to Shut Down Nationwide

May 18, 2013

No joke: all offices of the IRS throughout the country are going to shut down. But don’t get excited, it will be just for a day: May 24. And then for three other days: June 14, July 5 and August 30. IRS employees will be on unpaid furlough those days due to what the agency calls “the current budget situation, including the sequester.” Filing deadlines will not be affected, but on these days you won’t be able to reach the IRS by telephone, and the Service won’t be accepting or acknowledging electronically filed returns or conducting any compliance activities.

  • There’s no word on how the shutdown might affect the feverish pace at which the IRS has been working to process exemption applications from conservative groups.

Obama to Propose Retirement Account Cap

April 9, 2013
By Kaye A. Thomas

The Obama administration has revealed that the budget proposal to be published later this week will include a $3 million cap on retirement accounts.

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Sergio Garcia Beats Retief Goosen

March 28, 2013

The Tax Court has issued a ruling favorable to Swiss golfer Sergio Garcia. (If you follow golf, you probably think of him as Spanish, but his residence in Switzerland entitles him to certain tax benefits.) At issue was how much of his TaylorMade endorsement income is subject to U.S. income tax. The payment has to be apportioned between income for personal services and royalty income. A previous decision involving golfer Retief Goosen, who has an endorsement contract with the same manufacturer, allocated the payment 50-50. In this case, the court found reasons to allocate 65% of the payment to royalty income, which escapes U.S. income tax under a tax treaty with Switzerland. More striking, though, is the value of a dynamic personality in the world of golf endorsements. Goosen, who has won the U.S. Open twice, had a contract worth $400,000. Garcia, who has never won a major, commanded a $5.5 million contract. We wonder how much of that figure is ultimately attributable to a single shot Garcia hit in 1999 — golf fans know the one — eyes closed as he struck the ball from a seemigly impossible position behind a tree, then ran out onto the fairway and leaped in the air to see over a mound as the ball sailed onto the green.

Opinion: Garcia v. Commissioner (PDF)

Value Determined in Demutualization Case

March 28, 2013

The demutualization saga continues to play out. These cases involve holders of insurance policies issued by mutual insurance companies that convert to business corporations (a transaction known as demutualization). Mutual insurance companies are owned by their policyholders, who therefore receive shares of stock in a demutualization. A number of taxpayers have challenged the IRS position that these shares have zero basis, asserting that a portion of the premiums paid on the insurance policies should be allocated to basis of the shares. We previously reported on the Dorrance case, in which the court determined that a factual determination would be required to allocate premium payments to basis. The court has now published its determination that the basis of the shares was over $1,000,000, which was roughly half the price at which the shares received in the demutualization were sold.

The IRS does not agree with the result in the Dorrance case, and litigation over this issue continues. Taxpayers who sold shares received in a demutualization in years that are still open under the statute of limitations should consider filing protective claims. Under the general rule the oldest year still open is 2009, and that year closes on April 15, 2013, the third anniversary of the due date for income tax returns for that year.

Big Love Comes Up Short

March 11, 2013

The IRS has denied tax-exempt status to a religious organization espousing a belief in “celestial marriage,” which includes “a plurality of wives.” The organization argued that celestial marriage is a private religious relationship and does not constitute bigamy, but the IRS pointed to contrary rulings and said, “Because you advocate and engage in activities that contravene state laws and state and federal public policy, you cannot be a valid religious trust.”

RIP IRB

March 11, 2013

Changes are coming to two resources that are often used by tax researchers. The IRS says they will continue to produce the Internal Revenue Bulletin, a weekly collection of rulings, procedures and other guidance, but will stop mailing paper copies. No great loss there: the PDF is readily available online. The Cumulative Bulletin, a semiannual compendium of this guidance (together with some other items) won’t be produced at all. If your collection runs through 2008 (the last ones produced) it is now complete.

Elimination of the largely redundant Cumulative Bulletin will be a time-saver for legal publishers who have had to run a last minute check before publication to determine whether a citation to IRB has to be updated to CB.

IRS Now Accepting All Returns

March 5, 2013

The IRS has announced that forms previously on hold for reprogramming due to late changes in the tax law will now be accepted.


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