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Archive for Annette Nellen

Temporary Tax Law Changes Should Be EASY!

Temporary Tax Law Changes Should Be EASY!

We are in tough times! The pandemic is in it’s second year and the March 13, 2020 disaster declaration is still in effect. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed into law on March 11, 2021 is the 5th major piece of COVID-19 relief enacted since mid-March 2020. The tax changes in these laws are numerous and complex in terms of new definitions, special rules, confusing interaction with other rules, and more.

The IRS could not even open the 2021 filing season until February 12 – later than usual. The IRS is still processing paper filed 2019 returns.

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Child Tax Credit Change For 2021 Brings Equity And Complexity

Child Tax Credit Change For 2021 Brings Equity And Complexity

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-2; H.R. 1319; 3/11/21) provides a variety of financial and other relief for COVID-19 problems. Most of the changes are only for 2021.  At least two are for 2020 and mean that the IRS has to update forms and computer systems and get information out to taxpayers quickly including what to do if you already filed your return.  These two changes for 2020:

  1. $10,200 of unemployment compensation receivd in 2020 is non-taxable if the taxpayer’s AGI is under $150,000 (if MFJ and both spouses received such comp, each get to exclude up to $10,200). [IRS guidance of 3/12/21]
  2. Not having to repay an advance Premium Tax Credit if the individual’s income turns out to be over 400% of the federal poverty line.

Some of the 2021 changes are not solely tied to the pandemic as these changes help low-income families by making the tax system more equitable and have been proposed by President Biden and others. One of these changes is making the $2,000/child tax credit fully refundable and increasing the credit.

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Spending In The Tax Law Exceeds Discretionary Spending!

Spending In The Tax Law Exceeds Discretionary Spending!

On February 11, 2021, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released: The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2021 to 2031. It is grim as CBO estimates that the federal budget deficit for FY 2021 will be $2.3 trillion. But, that is $900 billion less than for 2020. The 2021 deficit is the second largest since 1945 (WWII) based on the deficit as a percent of GDP.

Something else interesting in the report is an appendix on tax expenditures. Tax expenditures are spending that exists in the tax law. For example, the American Opportunity Tax Credit provides taxpayers with a $2,500 tax credit for each of the first four years of college. While this government spending could have instead been given by a direct grant payable to the university to cover the students tuition, it was put into the tax law as a tax reduction. Whether as a tax credit or a direct grant, the financial effect to the government budget and the student are the same. Per CBO, there are over 200 tax expenditures (special rules) in the Federal income and employment taxes.

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Ideas For States For Pandemic Tax And Budget Policies

Ideas For States For Pandemic Tax And Budget Policies

My latest Moving Forward? article for Tax Notes State is: Suggestions for Pandemic State Tax Policy Endurance (12/17/20). I include a variety of suggestions to help individuals, businesses and state and local governments. I hope you’ll take a look – here.

Examples:

  • Federally-declared disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic allow the IRS to extend due dates for tax returns and tax payments. Last year, the result was a July 15 due date rather than April 15. Most states followed suit. But a big deal for states is that their fiscal years end June 30. The shift of payments to the next fiscal year likely resulted in greater borrowing and costs for the states. However, many high income taxpayers were quite capable of paying taxes normally due on April 15 and June 15. The better message (and true for any future disaster) is to include a plea that if you can pay at the normal time, please do so to reduce costs to the state.
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We Need More Tax Policy Discussion!

We Need More Tax Policy Discussion

We have a few proposed changes under consideration that very much need a deep policy discussion rather than only a cost estimate and a general like or dislike. Here are three such items:

1. What is an appropriate phase-out rule for the next economic impact payments? The current ones cause a credit to still be allowed for high income taxpayers who have a few children. The CASH Act (H.R. 9051; 116th Congress) that the House passed late 2020, called for EIP of $2,000 including for dependents. If a married couple has 4 dependents, they credit would be $12,000. The phaseout rule would not cause this entire credit to reach $0 until AGI reached $390,000!  That is not an income level in need of assistance typically.

2. Should the TCJA be made permanent? On 12/22/20, Senator Grassley sent a letter to President-elect Biden suggesting this. While this could be done with a single piece of legislation, it really needs major tax policy discussions. This should include what the goals were of the TCJA beyond the need to reduce the corporate tax rate and move the international tax system for businesses to be more territorial rather than worldwide. Examples of things to discuss:

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Federal Tax Guidance Considerations (No Time For Public Comment Was Provided)

Federal Tax Guidance With No Public Comment

To help figure out all of the COVID-19 tax law changes enacted since March 2020, we have seen a variety of guidance from the IRS. This includes FAQs and some items just posted to an IRS website. These are non-binding items. Some guidance was published in the weekly Internal Revenue Bulletin (revenue rulings, revenue procedure, notices and announcements) so is binding on the IRS.

Since these changes mostly expired in less than one year, there wasn’t time for public comment and binding guidance for everything. Taxpayers and practitioners wanted insights as quickly as possible.

But what about other tax rules that are here for longer? Why aren’t regulations used more often particularly for unclear areas where public comments would be useful. For example, some of the information on taxation of virtual currency are FAQs or a revenue ruling where there was no public comments and there are issues as to whether the guidance is correct.

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Virtual Currency Gains Prominence On 2020 Tax Return

Virtual Currency Gains Prominence On 2020 Tax Return

The 2019 Schedule 1 (Form 1040), Additional Income and Adjustments to Income, included a new question at the start of the form:

“At anytime during 2019, did you receive, sell, send, exchange, or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency.”

On August 18, 2020, the IRS released the draft 1040 for 2020 and it shows this question has moved to page 1 of Form 1040 right below where you put your name and address.

For 2019, this seemed like an odd question since few individuals out of 150 million have any virtual currency (11% per a 2019 article by CoinTelegraph), and there are better questions to ask that affect far more people and potential income. For example, why not ask: ”Did you receive any funds from any web-based or Internet-based activity?”

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Tax Policy Observations Of COVID-19 Legislation

Tax Policy Observations Of COVID-19 Legislation

The FFCRA and CARES Act enacted in March 2020 and CAA-21 enacted Dec. 27, 2020 provide a variety of financial relief to individuals and small businesses. The recovery rebates (called “economic impact payments” by the IRS) in the CARES act ($1,200 per adult and $500 for child under age 17) helped over 160 million people. The $600 payments in CAA-21 should help a similar number.

Is that the best way to help? There was also increased and longer payments of unemployment compensation to clearly help those who lost their jobs. There were changes to allow those with sufficient retirements accounts to pull out up to $100,000 without penalty and even to pick it up into income over three years as well as to pay it back.

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Common Sense And Tax Policy – Any Connection?

Common Sense And Tax Policy - Any Connection?

I think that often, there is some common sense consideration of tax policy before enacting or changing tax rules. One example was the 1954 decision to enact IRC section 174 to allow for expensing of R&D expenditures. That simplified the law to avoid uncertainties and taxpayer/IRS disputes on the life for amortization purposes of these expenses. It also incentivized these expenditures that also benefit the economy through new technologies to improve our lives. I’m sure we can find more recent examples too.

Of course, before leaving my example, I should note that the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act modified the R&D expensing rule starting after 2021 to require R&D expenditures to be capitalized each year and amortized over 5 years (15 years for foreign R&D).  That’s an odd provision for a piece of legislation intended to improve international competitiveness of our tax system when most other countries have research incentives in their tax law, but oh well. (I think we’ll see this rule forever postponed and hopefully repealed at some point to go back to expensing.)

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Does A Work From Home Tax Make Sense?

Does A Work From Home Tax Make Sense?

On November 10, 2020, Deutsche Bank (DB) released a report, Konzept #19: What we must do to rebuild. Per DB, the report presents “ideas for how economies, businesses, and societies should rebuild from the pandemic. From changing the way we stimulate labour markets, to implementing digital currencies, and even taxing those who work from home, this Konzept is designed to spark the most important of debates. Some of our ideas may seem radical, but we hope they will inspire decision makers as we rebuild from this bracing and tragic period.” Topics include climate change, connectivity, fate of shopping malls, and more.

DB also suggests the need and appropriateness for a tax on employees who work from home after the pandemic, to be paid by the employer. Per DB, the pandemic has resulted in about 5 to 7 times more people working from home and many will continue to (and about 50% will want to) continue to do this.

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Challenges Of Finding Tax Information

Challenges Of Finding Tax Information

In theory, it should be fairly straightforward to find the tax law. At the federal level, we have the Internal Revenue Code (Title 26 of the U.S. Code) available at a congressional websiteCornell Law School site and from commercial tax publishers. Regulations can also be found at the Cornell Law School website, perhaps a few others (including this blogger’sites for regs published in the Federal Register for 2011 through the present), and commercial research publishers. And the U.S. Tax Court and many other federal courts publish their opinions on their websites (but not all). The best way to find everything and have the ability to confirm currency of the information is via a commercial tax publisher.

But, there are challenges of finding the law even with complete access to it for a fee, in how it sometimes is assembled. I’ll demonstrate this using temporary regulations issued in July 1987 (TD 8145), an IRS notice issued in 1989 that modified parts of the 1987 regulations, a 2020 effort to replace the 1989 notice, and an oddity of a incorrect explanation of part of the 1989 notice in the 2019 IRS Pub 535 on business expenses (it was correct in prior versions of this pub). I’ll also attempt to explain why this all happened, AND how it can all be avoided.  After all, the tax law is complex enough and should not be made even more complex by challenges of finding that law!

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34th Anniversary Of TRA86 Enactment – What’s Changed And Still Needed?

34th Anniversary of TRA86 Enactment - What's Changed and Still Needed?

On October 22, 1986, President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (PL 99-514). Take a look at this picture at the Social Security Administration website to see a group of men from the tax committees cheerily watching the president sign the bill outside of the White House. At the time, we had a Republican president and controlled Senate and a Democrat controlled House, all working together and holding numerous hearings about the reforms).

The TRA86 lowered rates and broadened the base. Prior to TRA86, the top corporate rate was 46% and the top individual rate was 50%. Today, the top corporate rate is 21% (flat, no longer graduated) and the top individual rate is 37% (goes back to 39.6% after 2025).

The new rates:

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