Monday, December 15, 2014

#1 On the Naughty List?

"Christmas comes this time each year," as the Beach Boys astutely observed in "Little Saint Nick." That means Santa Claus will be making his annual "list," checking it twice, and letting us know who's naughty or nice. (That's right, Santa "audits" himself by checking it twice.) This year, one San Diego resident will be somewhere near #1 on the "Naughty" list.
Lloyd Irving Taylor graduated from San Diego State University and Loyola Law School. As a CPA, he's authorized to prepare tax returns and represent clients before the IRS. And as an attorney, he's authorized to prepare tax returns, represent clients before the IRS, and represent them in court. He's well aware of what the law says he and his clients can do to pay less tax, and what will land him a big lump of coal in his stocking.
But Taylor apparently hates paying taxes with a Grinch-like grinchiness. No Burgermeister Meisterburger could tell him he can't have his toys!
So, he started off by stealing the identities of at least nine deceased children, some of whom had died as far back as the 1950s. He used those identities to finagle fraudulent passports from U.S. embassies in Europe. Then he used those passports to open financial accounts to hide his income and assets, including $1.6 million in gold coins.
Maybe stealing those identities made Taylor feel guilty. Why else would he have gone and made up over a dozen phony churches, too? He opened 31 more bank and investment accounts in the names of those churches. Then he argued that the churches' tax-exempt status meant he didn't owe tax on their income.
Things might not have been quite so bad if he had at least reported the income from his schemes. But Taylor, who's now 71, has filed tax returns just seven times since he finished school. That works out to once every six years. Those un-filed returns add up to $5 million in unreported income and $1.6 million in unpaid taxes.
Let's be honest here. It doesn't say much for the elves at the IRS that Taylor flew under their radar for so long! But he eventually did wind up in the cross hairs of the San Diego Regional Fraud Task Force, an alphabet soup of agents from the IRS, Secret Service, San Diego Police Department, and State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security. (Bet you didn't know those last guys even existed!)
Taylor has been in custody since April, 2013 — the judge at his bond hearing noted his international travel on false passports, the millions in cash he controlled through his network of bank accounts, and his history of lying to banks as reason to rule him a flight risk. Last month, the jury at his trial took just 30 minutes to convict him on 19 felony counts. (They probably voted him guilty in the first two minutes, then had a cup of coffee or two just to make it look like they actually "deliberated.") The judge sentenced Taylor to 57 months with his fellow naughty-listers in an institution not noted for the cheerfulness of its holiday decorations. Taylor also owes $2.2 million in restitution.
What makes Taylor's case so outrageous, of course, is that he knows you don't need to steal a dead child's identity or establish a bogus church to pay less tax. You just need a plan to take advantage of all the IRS-approved deductions, credits, and strategies the law allows. You don't even have to wait for Santa to leave them in your stocking — just call us, and see what holiday savings we can deliver!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Battery-Powered Tax Savings

We know something that's on your holiday shopping list. And we don't even have to read your mind to know it. You're buying batteries — and you're buying lots of 'em. If you have kids, you're buying batteries for their electronic games and toys. If you have grandchildren, you're buying batteries for their stuff. (You may not have a clue what you're actually getting them, but you still know it needs batteries.) No kid wants to work hard all year to make the "nice list" and wake up on Christmas morning without the batteries they need to power the presents they earned!
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, America's second-richest man, is buying batteries too. But he's doing it a little different from you and me. He isn't just buying batteries. He's buying the company that makes the batteries. And he's saving a billion dollars in taxes along the way! Just try doing that the next time you stop at Radio Shack for a pack of AAs (if they're still open by the time you read this, that is).
Last month, Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, announced that would buy Duracell from Procter & Gamble for $4.7 billion. Ordinarily, this would be the sort of wheeling and dealing the Fortune 500 engage in every day. Buffett likes adding well-known brand names to his collection, which already includes GEICO, Fruit of the Loom, and Dairy Queen. At the same time, P&G is shedding "nonessential" businesses to focus on the company's core cleaning and beauty products. (They don't even own Jif anymore — talk about some choosy mothers!)
Here's what makes the deal interesting. Buffett "just happens" to have $4.7 billion worth of P&G stock sitting in his sleigh, stock he acquired for $336 million. Now, he could certainly sell that stock and use the cash to pay for Duracell. Unfortunately, that would mean paying 35% corporate tax on his gain, which would leave him a hair under $3.2 billion to use for his batteries. But, by swapping that P&G stock directly for the battery company, Buffett avoids paying tax on his entire gain. Zero! The strategy is called a "cash-rich split-off," and it's perfectly legal. It won't land Buffett in hot water with the IRS. It won't even put him on Santa's "naughty list"!
You might think that sort of strategy only works for billionaires like Buffett. But you can take advantage of a similar strategy, at least when you make charitable gifts. Let's say you paid $1,000 for some shares of stock that are now worth $10,000. You want to donate that stock to your church. You could sell the stock, donate the after-tax proceeds, and take a deduction for your after-tax gift. Or, you could just give the stock and let the church sell it. That avoids tax on the gain, just as Buffett did with his cash-rich split-off, and even gives you a deduction for the full pre-tax value of your stock.
Buffett hasn't been shy about criticizing the tax system. In 2011, he made headlines when he pointed out that his secretary pays a higher marginal rate then he does. President Obama even dubbed his proposal to impose a minimum tax of 30% on incomes over $1 million the "Buffett Rule." But while Buffett may think the law is unfair, still isn't going to pay any more than it requires. He told Fortune magazine "I will not pay a dime more of individual taxes than I owe, and I won’t pay a dime more of corporate taxes than we owe.” And the Duracell deal isn't even his first cash-rich split-off for 2014!
Warren Buffett wants the same thing for Christmas that you do — tax savings! And he knows he can't just wait for Santa to leave them under his tree. He knows he needs a plan. Fortunately, you don't have to be a billionaire to get the plan you need. There's even time to put it on your Christmas list! Don't write a letter to Santa, just pick up the phone and call us — while there's still time to save in 2014!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Taxation for the Other Guy's Representation

ur United States of America was forged in the flame of tax protest. As early as 1750, our Founding Fathers objected that taxation without representation is tyranny. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence condemned King George III for assenting to Parliament's laws that "impose Taxes on us without our Consent." So is it any surprise the anti-tax movement that gained steam after the 2008 recession took its name from the patriots who dumped a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor rather than pay the Townshend Act duties?
In the two centuries since we traded "God Save the Queen" for "Hail to the Chief," the U.K. has become one of our closest allies. But we Yanks still chafe at paying British taxes. Most recently, the Mayor of London says our diplomats owe £7 million in "congestion charges" on their vehicles in Central London. But our Embassy considers that a tax, argues that our diplomats are immune, and refuses to pay.
It's ironic, then, that that same Mayor is protesting an American tax on the sale of his London home.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was educated at Eton and Oxford. (Where else does a Brit with a name like "Alexander Boris de Pfeffel" go to school?) He began his career as a reporter, columnist, and editor for The Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Spectator. He then turned his sights towards politics, serving as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Henley and rising to Shadow Minister for Higher Education. He's served as Mayor since 2008, and there's even talk of him succeeding Prime Minister David Cameron as head of the Conservative Party.
So why on earth would Johnson attract attention from tax authorities on our side of the pond? Well, he was born in New York City, when his English father was studying on a Harkness Fellowship, and lived there until age 5. This means he holds dual American and United Kingdom citizenship. And that, in turn, makes him subject to U.S. tax on all his worldwide income, wherever earned.
Back in 1999, Johnson and his wife paid £470,000 for a house on Furlong Road in the London suburb of Islington. (That's about $750,000 at today's exchange rate.) Since then, London real estate prices have shot through the roof, and in 2009, they sold the house for a £730,000 profit. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs doesn't tax home sale gains, but the IRS taxes anything above a $500,000 allowance. The bottom line on Johnson's gain is a six-figure tax bill in either currency.
Naturally, Johnson is not amused. An NPR correspondent recently asked him point-blank if he would pay, and he literally sputtered: "No, is the answer. I think, it's absolutely outrageous. Why should I? I think, you know, I'm not a — I, you know, I haven't lived in the United States for, you know, well, since I was 5 years old."
That may not be the only tax issue lurking in Johnson's past. He earns £144,000 per year as Mayor, plus another £250,000 as columnist for the Telegraph. Theoretically, he should be paying U.S. tax on everything above a "foreign earned income exclusion" of about £62,000. No word on whether he's been paying all these years, or whether our friends at the IRS want to confront that sticky wicket.
So, 239 years after "the shot heard 'round the world" launched the American Experiment, tax collectors on both sides of the Atlantic think it's jolly good sport to reach into each other's pockets. The good news is, no matter where you're paying, if you want to pay less, you just need a plan. If you don't already have that plan, call us now, while there's still time to save in 2014!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

400 People Giving Thanks

Back in 1982, Forbes magazine compiled their first "Forbes 400" list of the richest Americans. It took $75 million to gain entry to that first list, which featured an entire country club's worth of Rockefellers, Mellons, and DuPonts. Shipping magnate Daniel K. Ludwig reigned above the rest, with a net worth of $2 billion. (You all remember that guy, right?) Since then, the Forbes 400 has become the magazine's most eagerly awaited feature, with Silicon Valley tech billionaires and hedge fund superstars replacing the blue-blood heirs of yore.
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ten years later, in 1992, our friends at the IRS got into the "400" game, compiling statistics on the 400 highest incomes. And while the IRS isn't telling us everything we want to know (like their names!), the report offers a fascinating peek into the wallets of 400 people with great reasons to give thanks this season.
Last week, the numbers geeks in the IRS Statistics of Income division released their Top 400 summary for 2010. (It took awhile to sift through the 143 million returns the IRS got that year.) It took $99.1 million in adjusted gross income to make the list. (That means that, among others, billionaire Warren Buffet didn't make the list, as he revealed his adjusted gross income for that year was a "mere" $63 million.) The average income for the top 400 was $265.1 million, and the group as a whole reported 1.31% of the entire country's adjusted gross income.
The big surprise isn't how much our top 400 make, it's how they make it. Not salaries and wages — those made up just 6.41% of the total. Not interest and dividends — those made up just 8.54% and 16.41%, respectively. No, the real action came from capital gains, which averaged $165.9 million for each of our top earners. In fact, those 400 taxpayers all by themselves accounted for over 14% of capital gains reported by the entire country.
And how much tax did our top 400 pay? Remember, rates on capital gains were capped at just 15% in 2010, and there was no 3.8% net investment income tax as there is today. So, the average "top 400" tax bill was $47.8 million, and the group as a whole paid 2.01% of the entire country's tax bill. Sure, that sounds like a lot. But it equals a rate of just 18.04% of the average "top 400" income — and barely half the top 35% marginal rate. In fact, 37 of those 400 paid less than 10% of their income in tax, while just 54 paid over 30%.
4,024 taxpayers have joined the IRS Top 400 over the last 19 years. 2,909 of them appeared just once, which reinforces the fact that most of those lucky winners make it by selling something like a business they spend a lifetime nurturing. 504 have appeared twice; 175 have appeared three times, and 126 have appeared four times. Just 95 taxpayers have appeared on the list 10 or more times, and you can imagine the holidays are pretty lavish at their houses.
This holiday season, we want to give thanks to you, our loyal readers. This includes those of you who are clients, and those of you who aren't (yet). We wish you and your families the best, and we understand that the best reasons to give thanks don't show up on your tax returns.
But hey, as long as we're talking — if you haven't called us yet for a plan to pay less tax, what are you waiting for? There's still time left for planning in 2014 — and we're confident that if you do, you'll have more to give thanks for, in 2014 and in all the years to come.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jilting the IRS

Harold Hamm was born in Lexington, Oklahoma, the 13th child of Oklahoma sharecroppers. He graduated from high school then went straight to work in an oilfield. But he didn't let his modest background slow him down. He hit his first gusher at age 25. Today, he's CEO of Continental Resources, and his net worth approached $18 billion before the recent fall in oil prices.
In 1988, Harold married his second wife. Sue Ann Hamm was no "bimbo trophy wife" — she's a lawyer who met Harold while she was negotiating land deals for his company. (And just because you'll ask: nope, no prenup.) But sadly, the couple's love was not to last, and in 2012, Sue Ann filed for divorce. The case attracted unusual attention because the amounts were so large. Oklahoma courts typically split the value of any assets that result from the efforts or skills of either spouse. So, how much would Sue Ann get? Would it be more than the record-setting $4.5 billion that Elenea Rybolovlev got from her ex-husband, Russian potash producer Dmitry?
Last week, the judge issued his ruling and surprised most experts by ordering Harold to pay Sue Ann a total of just $995.5 million, or six percent of his peak net worth. While most people would consider that a nice gusher of cash, Sue Ann has already announced plans to appeal. (As for Harold, if you ask him why divorce is so expensive, he'll probably tell you "because it's worth it.")
So, will our friends at the IRS be excited by the outcome? Probably not, even if Sue Ann wins a richer share of her ex-husband's fortune. Internal Revenue Code section 1041 provides that transfers of property "incident to divorce" are tax-free. That means Harold can transfer as little or as much as the court orders to Sue Ann, with no income tax consequences — it's neither taxable to her nor deductible to him. And there are no gift tax consequences, either.
The IRS may reap a nice windfall, however, if Sue Ann sells any of her shares from the divorce. Harold launched the company back in 1967, and still controls 68% of the company's stock. His "basis" in that stock — the amount the IRS uses as the "purchase" price for figuring gain or loss on a sale — is probably next to nothing. And that basis carries over to Sue Ann. That means that when she sells, she'll be subject to a capital gains tax of up to 20%, plus the new net investment income tax of 3.8%. Sell a hundred million of stock, and walk away with a lousy $76.2 million!
The real payoff will have to wait until Sue Ann caps that great well in the sky. At that point, any taxable estate over a $5.43 million is assessed at 40%. On the bright side, her basis in that stock will be "stepped up" to its fair market value as of the date of her death, which means her heirs can sell without paying income tax on all that appreciation during her lifetime.
As for alimony and child support, which won't factor into the Hamms' case, courts use alimony to shift income from the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse. So alimony is deductible by the payer and taxable to the payee. Child support is nontaxable either way, meaning there's no tax consequence to paying it or receiving it.
You've probably heard the joke about the husband who asks his long-suffering wife what she wants for Christmas. She says "a divorce," and he says "I wasn't planning on spending that much." Divorce is hard enough under most circumstances — it's good to know the tax man won't be jumping your claim, too. So call us when you're ready to cut out the IRS — we'll give you the plan you need to protect your stake!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Deduct the Alamo!

In 1836, Mexican General Santa Anna and 1,500 troops laid siege against 182 Texans garrisoned at the Alamo, a Spanish mission designed to resist attack from native tribes. Thirteen days later, the Mexicans stormed the walls and killed every last man inside, including Commander William Travis and frontiersmen Davey Crockett and Jim Bowie. Santa Anna's cruelty inspired Texans to join their army to seek revenge, crying "Remember the Alamo!" on their way to crushing the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Remembering the Alamo has become a central part of Texas history. So, which Texas musician just offered a tax-planning lesson by donating his collection of Alamo artifacts to the Texas Land Office? Was it rock 'n' roll pioneer Roy Orbison, hailing from lonely Vernon near the Oklahoma border? Perhaps it was country legend Willie Nelson, born an hour south of Fort Worth? Wait, wait . . . was it Tejano accordionist Leonardo "Flaco" Jiménez from San Antonio? No, no, and no. The answer, of course, is English singer and drummer Phil Collins, hailing from the London suburb of Chiswick!
Collins fell in love with the Alamo legend at age 5, watching actor Fess Parker play the "King of the Wild Frontier" Davey Crockett. According to Texas Monthly, the rocker's collection includes hundreds of documents, "plus artifacts like uniforms and Brown Bess muskets that belonged to Mexican soldiers, a sword belt believed to have been worn by Travis when he died atop the northern wall, and a shot pouch that Crockett is thought to have given a Mexican soldier just before he was executed." For years, they sat in his basement in Switzerland. But last month, Collins donated over 200 of his pieces to go on display in a new Alamo Visitors' Center.
Collins grudgingly admits to spending "seven figures" building his collection. Today it's said to be worth as much as $15 million. That sort of appreciation would seem to invite attack from the troops at the IRS. (And collectibles like the Alamo artifacts are even subject to a special 28% rate, 8% higher than the regular 20% for regular long-term gains). But there's an easy way for donors like Collins to avoid that tax, and get an even bigger charitable deduction for their gifts.
Let's say you spend $5 million building a collection that grows to be worth $15 million. Then you decide you want it to go to a museum. If you sell it to the museum, you'll owe $2.8 million in capital gains tax, plus $380,000 in "net investment income tax" on your $10 million gain. That's probably not as bad as being overrun by 1,500 soldiers — but it still leaves you with just $6,820,000 of after-tax gain.
Now let's say that instead of selling your collection to the museum, you donate it. Now you won't pay any tax at all. (Why should you? You never really "realize" your gain.) And, because you're making a charitable gift, you get to take a charitable deduction for the full $15 million value of your donation!
That same strategy works for any sort of appreciated property. Let's say you paid $1 million for a piece of property, which is now worth $3 million. Now you want your Alma mater to have that $3 million, even though you know they can't use the property itself. You could sell the property, donate the after-tax proceeds, and take a deduction for your after-tax gift. Or, you could just donate the property and let the school sell it. That would avoid the tax on the gain and give you a deduction for the full pre-tax value!

Tax planning couldn't save the Texans at the Alamo. But it can shield you from the IRS artillery. So if your year-end plans include charitable gifts, call us. We can help you with ideas to make the most of those gifts, even if you're not deducting the Alamo.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pagans 1, Mind Control Defenders 0

We're all familiar with the idea of "tax exempt" organizations. The theory here is that some groups serve such valuable roles in society that they should be exempt from income, property, or other taxes. Here in the United States, Internal Revenue Code Section 501 lists 28 categories of exempt organizations, including churches, colleges, charities, social clubs, chambers of commerce, fraternal organizations, cemeteries, and even "mutual ditch or irrigation companies."
Nobody gets a tax-exemption "for free," and applying for it can be daunting. IRS Form 1023, "Application for Recognition of Exemption," runs 28 grueling pages. There's a shorter "EZ" version — but the checklist to see if you can even use it runs six full pages! And of course state and local governments have their own hoops to jump through. With that in mind, here are two stories that illustrate how that process can work — and not work.
The Cybeline Revival is a pagan sect founded in 1999 and dedicated to the principle that "the divine feminine, the mother goddess Cybele, is present in everything, thereby creating a connection in all living things, as well as giving rise to an obligation to do charitable work and a responsibility to improve the conditions of all people, particularly women." In 2002, the group bought an old inn located in the town of Catskill, New York, about two hours up the Hudson from Manhattan. They used it as a home for transsexual women and as a headquarters for their faith.
In 2009, the group applied for a property tax exemption for the inn. The town assessor denied the request and a trial court agreed, ruling that the church used the property mainly to house members of the congregation. Last year, however, an appeals court overturned that decision, holding that the church did use the property "primarily for its religious and charitable purposes."
Not everyone who applies for tax-exempt status succeeds, however. In August, the IRS shot down an application from a group dedicated to protecting the human rights of defenseless victims of involuntary microwave and mind control attacks "perpetrated by intelligence agencies, individuals, defense contractors, mental health agencies, and clandestine crime watch organizations who also work with organized crime syndicates."
The group applied for tax-exempt status to help educate the public about involuntary mind control, develop weapons to cancel mind control attacks through electronic jamming, and implement counterattacks for particular victims on a case-by-case basis. They also set out to solicit donations to influence proposed legislation written by the group's founder (who must be a hoot at cocktail parties).
So . . . did our friends at the IRS buy it? Of course not. (C'mon, guys, give 'em a little credit!) In fact, they dedicated 14 pages to not buying it, holding that: 1) the group failed to establish that their activities would be "educational," 2) its funds would be used to reimburse the founder for expenses incurred prior to formation, and 3) its primary purpose was actually to lobby for anti-mind control legislation. (They diplomatically refrained from saying "you're nuts" or "really???")

We don't need to use mind control techniques to know that you want to pay less tax. While we can't protect you from clandestine crime watch organizations or crime syndicates, we can give you a plan to pay the least amount of tax, without lining your hat with tinfoil. So call us for your plan, before someone out there makes you want to pay more!