Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Preparation and expertise.

An old story has a businessman boasting to his competitor, “Tax day is coming next week. Yep, good old April 15th—that particular day used to scare the pants off me. But you know what? I don't pay the tax man anymore. KPMG did my return this year. I'm getting a refund of $4 billion.”

Preparation and expertise. Let’s get a little more know-how under our belts, and not the type that the businessman boasts about in the gag. Too many taxpayers rely on complicated schemes without real substance and pay large fees to promoters to get tax relief when their own honest effort could give them the breaks they seek. Relevant income tax regulations say in their technical, cumbersome, and boring way that:
Preparation for the activity [in our case, an expression activity,] by extensive study of its accepted business, economic, and scientific practices, or consultation with those who are expert therein, may indicate that the taxpayer has a profit motive where the taxpayer carries on the activity in accordance with such practices.
In other words, hit the books and ask the experts. Study a range of experts, covering all aspects of your niche in expression. Implement what the sages say it takes to succeed in your expressive nook. If an expert advised you to try something and it didn’t work, do more study and consulting and try another sage’s idea or one of your own. Make things happen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

To Facilitate a Means

Some years ago Bill Maher fantasized a tax return of repute, saying George W. Bush's tax returns were a bit different. He claimed the President wrote off the Christian Right as dependents, declared the 2000 election as a gift, and tried to claim the mileage he got from 9/11. Bill, of course, was joking around, fabricating. Don’t make your return that reports your expression activity a truth stranger than fiction, worthy of ridicule by taxing authorities. The Tax Court said:

The purpose of maintaining books and records is more than to memorialize for tax purposes the existence of the subject transactions; it is to facilitate a means of periodically determining profitability and analyzing expenses such that proper cost-saving measures might be implemented in a timely and efficient manner.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Don’t muck things up

John R. McCarthy —I’ll call him Johnny—retired from Rocketdyne, Inc. He’d worked as a scientist and engineer for 35 years writing technical and scientific proposals. Thereafter, he still worked, but was self-employed, utilizing his prior experience.

On various Schedules C, Johnny listed his “principal business or profession” as writing, investing, job shopping, art, engineering, science, consulting, teaching, photography, and research. (A bit unfocused, eh?) Johnny stuck some royalties, interest income, and lecture fees characterized as business income on the Schedule C pertaining to writing. Despite asserting that he used those resources to pay for writing expenses, such income didn’t derive from any writing he had done. Johnny should have reported these royalties and fees as “other income” and the interest income on the interest-income line on his tax return.

The court said that Johnny’s expenses which truly related to writing couldn’t offset such income which didn’t come from writing. Everything Johnny did made it look like he was confused and undecided. To use a cliché, Johnny was a jack of all trades and a master of none. The expenses he listed on various Schedules C related to his writing activity all right. Writing was the only activity he really engaged in with regularity. Concluding that he should have reported everything on a single Schedule C pertaining only to writing, I’ll bet you’re not surprised to hear that the court concluded that he lacked a profit motive. He hadn’t generated any writing revenue. While aspects of his activity were managed in a businesslike manner, Johnny couldn’t explain how he expected to recoup his substantial losses. A sound, focused business plan and accurate and complete financial and non-financial records could have helped—both in making his business profitable and in convincing the IRS he had a “profit motive.”

Don’t muck things up. Forget trying to disguise income from other sources as income for expression activities. That’d be crazy. Keep records—business and non-business—that present operations clearly, completely, and succinctly. Remember the bard’s advice: brevity is the soul of wit. Mind your debits and credits if you use them. If not, don’t scrimp on accuracy, meticulousness, and using the data germane to and used in conjunction with a vibrant, viable and compelling business plan. Make it crystal clear that you have a plan to succeed as a writer—that your goals show that you plan to be as successful as J. K. Rowling or Dave Barry. If you’re convincing enough, you’ll never have to worry about convincing the IRS that you’ll recoup your losses.

Non-financial records should include databases of contacts, customers, and consultants, along with their pertinent information. If you’re a writer, you should keep track of the hours of your writing, researching, and editing. You should have a database to show details about your submissions, including the title of the work, where you submitted it, the date, follow-ups, responses, sales, etc.
One further thing: keep your expression activity records separate from personal records and other business records. Have separate expression activity credit cards, debit cards, checking and savings accounts, and accounts at your favorite vendors. If you have more than a single proprietorship, don’t ever intermingle them. Doing so may subject you to ridicule.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Integrate Financial and Non-financial Records into Your Dynamic Business Plan

Sloppy books and jumbled records can point to a hobby. In one case the Tax Court said, “The record . . . is vague and confusing. There is no clear picture of the exact nature of [the taxpayer]'s recording activities. Nor is there a clear picture of how and when, if ever, these activities are going to result in a profit.” The court goes on to say:

…the record was incomplete, without evidence of an organized, businesslike attempt by [the taxpayer] to engage in an activity for profit. [He] did not introduce evidence of long-range planning or of organized recordkeeping. Nor did he introduce evidence to prove that he had regular customers and receipts— normal attributes of a profit-making enterprise.
Moreover, in many instances the evidence which appears in the record tends to indicate that [the taxpayer]'s activities were motivated by pleasure rather than by a desire to make a profit. At no time through the end of the taxable year in question did [taxpayer] hold himself out to the general public as being engaged in business. Indeed, [the taxpayer] did not even carry on his recording activities during the year in question.
So be certain that your records—financial and non-financial—present a clear picture and the exact nature of your expression activity. Integrate financial and non-financial records into your dynamic business plan.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Debits, Credits, and Other Nincompoopery

A late-night talk-show host some years ago now quipped about an our-of control accounting firm debacle, “If your accountant is Arthur Andersen . . . today is the last day you could have your tax documents shredded by April 15th.”

Let’s face it; the accounting profession has committed sufficient buffoonery ove the years to rival the stench of Yellowstone’s sulfur pots. That’s not to say that accounting is suspect. Yet accountants can be. Watch out for such fatheads.

Many admit that accounting is a yawner, that accountants are . . . well, lackluster. Make no mistake though, for your expression activity to be a trade or business you need to pay attention to its basic accounting. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to know debits and credits or hire a high-falutin’ CPA. If you choose a CPA or other tax professional, make certain it’s someone you can trust. A double-entry system of accounting isn’t necessary, although it certainly won’t hurt if it’s done correctly. The key is accuracy, meticulousness, and using the data in conjunction with a vibrant, viable business plan. Regulations and court cases point out that those who maintain good books and records for their activities are more likely to have “intent to profit” and thereby escape the “hobby” label even when they have successive losses.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Plan, Pursue the Plan, Adapt

The Court in Stasewich's new case (Richard A. Stasewich v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo.2001-30. The earlier case was Stasewich v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo.1996-302.) said:

"[Richie] has not made any significant changes in the operation of his artist activity, during the years in issue here, that would create a market or allow him to benefit from a market for his artwork or allow him to make up for his substantial losses. In [his earlier case before this court], we explained [that] ‘The large unabated expenditures, the absence even at this late date of any concrete business plans to reverse the losses, and the manner in which [Richie] conducted his artist activity lead to the conclusion that this was not an activity engaged in for profit."

Make a business plan and make it live. Your new business should change and develop just as a new baby grows and matures.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Richard Stasewich (I’ll call him Richie) of Chicago attended Northern Illinois University between 1971 and 1977, majoring in art and minoring in accounting. Richie didn’t graduate. By 1978 he was registered as a CPA and by 1983 Illinois had licensed him as a public accountant. Between 1978 and 1984 Richie worked in various positions utilizing his accounting background.

From 1992 to 1995 Richie operated both his accounting and artistic activities out of the building where he worked and lived. Beginning in 1984, he treated his artist and accounting activities as sole proprietorships for Federal income tax purposes. He reported net profits and losses for his two separate Schedule C activities as follows:

Richie’s income from artist activities without expenses for 1992 to 1995 was only $770, $320, $266, and $357, respectively. Needless to say, he didn’t support himself from this expression activity, and his accounting-activity income came in handy for his sustenance. Not only did he support himself with such work, but he kept good financial records and was able to show the IRS substantiation for all of the expenses he claimed on his returns.

Richie had a Certificate of Registration from Illinois that permitted him to engage in business, selling tangible personal property at retail. He filed state sales and use tax returns and completed Forms W-2 for the art students he employed.

What Richie didn’t keep were records of a budget or financial projections for his artist activity, or records of costs he might incur in attempting to develop his artist activity. That is, he didn’t plan well.

At trial Richie explained that before 1992 he had decided to create a commercially viable product from nude drawings. He tried fashion illustrations and spent a lot of money on materials and props, but never secured a large client and never earned anything from it. Around 1992, his artist activities changed from nude drawings and fashion illustrations to portraitures and installation art displays. For $1,200, he placed two advertisements in his local newspaper to solicit work as a commissioned artist of portraits. He painted two portraitures between 1992 and 1995 that generated about $850 in revenue. From 1992 to 1995 he created four displays of installation art consisting of peppers, dolls, pumpkins, and cucumbers. These he displayed in front of his residence. The exhibition of dolls received media attention, was the subject of two newspaper articles in 1994, and was mentioned in another newspaper article in 1995. (I guess journalists passed on reporting about the exhibitions of peppers, pumpkins, and cucumbers.)

Richie's income from the installation displays totaled a measly $88.04 . . . of donations.

The IRS audited Richie first for 1988-1991. The dispute ended up in the Tax Court, where he lost. This didn’t deter Richie from claiming his expression activity losses from 1992-1995 and again taking the matter to court. We'll talk more about this in the next posting, too.