Wednesday, May 20, 2009

IRS Strategic Plan

Contrary to what may be intuitive, IRS has a strategic plan. It is a plan that ran from 2005 to 2009. You can read it online, at If you can't sleep, I recommend it. The nice thing about the plan is that it expires this year which means there will be a new one. Of course, the IRS can plan all it wants to do this or that, and just like anything else, if it doesn't have the funds to carry out the plan it is all for naught. The same is true of any government agency and it can have profound effects upon any number of things, witness the financial meltdown due to the government's failure to adequately fund agencies that oversee the financial markets.

Anyway, the strategic plan of the IRS will contain a message from the Commissioner of Internal Revenue Service, a statement of the agency's vision and mission. It will give some sense of the organization structure in charts and whatnot. It will then spin its perception of the factors that affect its achievement of its vision and link the strategic plan to the budget and its ability to perform. It will name key partners in achieving strategic goals of the agency.

Among goals listed there, you will find that IRS intended during that timeframe to improve its taxpayer service, it intended to enhance enforcement of the tax law, and it intended to modernize the IRS through its people, processes and technology. If you're interested in any of that gobbledygook you can read it there on the IRS website. Like I said, it is probably all good for sleep inducement. But you might be interested nonetheless and get something useful out of reading it. I doubt it, but maybe you'll want to give it a shot.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bank Deposits Analysis

If a taxpayer fails to file a return, there are several things IRS can do to get around that. If the taxpayer is employed, it gathers the employers W-2s and 1099s and utilizes them to construct what a return would look like. Say, however, the taxpayer is self-employed --- maybe he operates a bookstore or some other retail outlet. What does the IRS do then? Well, if the taxpayer kept checking and savings accounts, IRS might utilize those accounts to reconstruct his income from the deposits in them.

A good example of IRS doing that is a case issued by the United States Tax Court today, the case of BLAKE HYUN SEO. You can view the case at . I'm not certain how long that link will work, though, because the opinion will only be a "today's opinion" today. However, you can do a search any time using his name on the United States Tax Court webpage and find the case.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Office in the Home

Most writers I know plan to do their writing, at least most of it, at home. So I guess if you consider your writing activity a business, the temptation is to deduct every household expense you can conceive of as a business expense. After all, you work at home.

But you need to be careful and be aware of the rules. Remember, tax law distinguishes between what is personal and what is business. Generally, rent, mortgage payments, repairs on a residence and the like are not deductible. They are considered personal living expenses. You have to have some place to live. In tax administration such expenses are usually personal.

In order to get a business deduction for the use of your home you must use part of it (1) exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business, as a place to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business, or in connection with your trade or business where there is a separate structure not attached to the home; or (2) on a regular basis for certain storage use such as inventory or product samples, as rental property, or as a home daycare facility.

Now, the assumption is that you're working as a proprietor, not as an employee of someone else. If you are an employee who receives a W-2, in order for you to claim a deduction relative to the use of your home you must be able to prove, in addition to the other things mentioned above and talked about below, that the use of your home is for the convenience of your employer and that the portion of the home so used is not rented by the employer.

Now let's talk about all of that. First, exclusivity. Note that. It means entirely. It means you don't use it for anything else. Supposedly, you don't eat there, cook there, or do your wash there. You write there. Now, I know there's going to be someone out there who is a freelance writer who specializes in writing articles about cooking and producing cookbooks or some such thing. And they are saying, what about me? My writing about cooking and producing cookbooks entails more than just putting words down on a piece of paper or in a computer. Okay. I can buy that. But it's more likely that you use whatever area you use for cooking as an adjunct to your writing also for personal purposes. Where do you cook your meals that you consume? Or that your family consumes? The more you look for exceptions to what "exclusive" means in this way, the more lack of clarity it has as to "exclusivity" and the more chance you have of having it questioned.

Regular use means that you use the area for your writing on a regular basis, not incidentally or occasionally. Regular versus incidental and occasional. That's the test; only regular use qualifies.


Friday, May 15, 2009


My oldest son brought a gal home tonight for us to meet, a friend he met way back in grade school and hasn't seen for years. The young lady now lives in Boston where she works in real estate as a broker. She says times are rough in real estate right now, not a surprise to me, but fortunately she said her office handles a lot of rentals that apparently keeps her in the black.

My boy had told her about my tax book for writers and artisans. (He might be impressed." He wanted me to show her a copy, so I did and she ended up taking it with her to read. Her degree is in German and music. She aspires to opera but has had to settle for a more practical occupation. She related how difficult it was for her to fill out online her 1040 this year and how not having properly estimated and paid in estimated payments of taxes in advance had been a shock to her.

I guess it's better to be shocked than to have paid nothing and owed nothing in taxes, for that would suggest not much if anything was made. But still, it is always a good idea, almost a necessity, to keep a running account of where you are profit-wise. That way, you don't get surprised and you can change your mode of operation if you need to. It also means that you're doing a fairly decent job of keeping records.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gabriel the Comedian

In February, the United States Tax Court issued an opinion in the case of Gabriel J. Loup. Agents or auditors of the Internal Revenue Service had determined that Mr. Loup owed more taxes for his 2003 federal income tax return than he had reported or paid. The dispute revolved around his entitlement to claimed business expense deductions. IRS said he couldn't deduct expenses he had wanted to. Gabriel represented himself before the court; he didn't hire an attorney to represent him.

You have to be careful of the judge you get. In this case, Gabriel drew a judge named Wherry. Now, that has to give you pause and make you wary, doesn't it? Some might say it should be enough to let the case go and not argue it. Anyway, I suppose Gabriel didn't know he would draw that judge and decided to proceede anyway. Afterall, Gabriel aspired to a profession in comedy.

Yeah, Gabriel wanted to be a standup comedian and actor. He had some experience to tell the court about. As a matter of fact, in October 2002, he had signed a contract with the Morgan Agency for a one-year period. The agency would act as Gabriel's agent for some television commercials. Gabriel also had a regular job. He was licensed as an intensive care unit nurse and worked as a pharmaceutical company representative.

Gabriel said he became a member of the 9 Layer Dipz, a sketch comedy group, in 2002 or earlier. The group, 9 Layer Dipz, wrote, produced, and directed its own comedy shows.

On his tax return for 2003, Gabriel claimed deductions on Schedule A that totaled $16,704, $12,811 of which were listed as "job expenses and most other miscellaneous deductions" which actually represented $13,761 of expenditures limited by two percent of Gab's reported adjusted gross income for the year. He detailed the expenses on an attachment, a Form 2106-EZ, used for deducting unreimbursed employee business expenses. He also stapled an explanry statement to his return.

The first thing that should be noted is that Gabriel's tax return preparer put these expenses on the Schedule A and then detailed them on the Form 2106-EZ erroneously; they should have gone on a Schedule C. The preparer, it appears, didn't know what he was doing.

During the trial, Gabriel and the IRS argued about whether his activity relative to comedy was a hobby or not. Of course the IRS said it was a hobby and Gabriel said it most certainly wasn't. Most of the evidence Gabriel submitted was intended to prove that the activity wasn't a hobby, but most of the evidence he had also postdated the year at issue, 2003. Eventually, IRS gave up on the hobby issue, conceding it, and argued that Gabriel wasn't in a business yet as a comedian so he couldn't deduct the expenses. It basically said that Gabriel had only done his comedian routines sporadically up to the end of that year and, therefore, it wasn't a going concern. It said he failed to substantiate the expenses and said many of them were personal and not business expenses.

Gabriel provided four advertisements for 9 Layer Dipz but none of them indicated which year they pertained to. Some of them did provide the day and month of a performace but not the year. Gabriel said at least one of them pertained to 2003, but the advertisement itself said it was going to happen on a particular day, a Wednesday or some such, and that particular day on that particular month in 2003 was not a Wednesday. Ah oh! Also, it became apparent that Gabriel had created a log that didn't coincide with anything else and appeared to be made up. Double ah oh!

The evidence indicated that all of Gabriel's performances with 9 Layer Dipz occurred in 2004 not 2003. Even the contract Gabriel had entered into in 2003 was not helpful because it didn't establish that he had ever performed as a comedian or actor in 2003. The court concluded Gabriel had not demonstrated active involvement in acting or comedy in 2003.

Gabriel lost his case because he didn't have his facts straight, didn't have his evidence properly lined up, wasn't entirely prepared, didn't have a business plan, and probably another few dozen reasons that could be listed. Preparation precedes power. If you're not prepared, don't expect to have any power to persuade a revenue agent or a tax auditor, or, for that matter, the United States Tax Court over agains what an agent of the IRS says.