- Joe Kristan
- December 18, 2009
Editor’s note: Welcome to GC’s first edition of “Taxes: Because We’re the Little People” by Joe Kristan. Joe Kristan is a tax shareholder for Roth & Company, a Des Moines, Iowa CPA firm, where he works with closely-held businesses and their owners. Prior to helping start Roth & Company, he worked for two of what are now the Final Four CPA firms. He writes the Tax Update Blog and is available for seminars, first communions, Bar Mitzvahs, etc.
Sure, those Northwest pilots who missed Minnesota were off the mark. So was Arthur when he signed off on the Enron audit. But as badly as they missed the target, they look like Annie Oakley compared to Congress in its response to Enron.
Congress takes aim at the national firms whose audits failed to spot the looting at places like Enron. The result? SarBox, the greatest gravy train for the Final Four firms since the invention of the senior accountant.
The Congressional response on the tax side took a different approach. Rather than reward the guilty, they chose to beat the innocent. Hence Section 409A.
The Enron scandal featured elaborate deferred compensation plans to provide executives a gilded liferaft when the ship sinks. Congress responds with a code section affecting schoolteachers. They showed Ken Lay what for by designing a tax on folks on money they may never see because of somebody else’s foot fault.
Sec. 409A clobbers its victims two ways:
• It taxes employees on their deferred comp balances when the plan is out of compliance, even if the employee doesn’t get the money, ever.
• It hits them again with a 20% excise tax.
Worse, the code section imposing these penalties is so complicated that it took 3 years to complete the regulations that run to 200 pages, and are so complicated and intrusive that accidental noncompliance must be rampant.
This all makes Sec. 409A my choice as the worst tax enactment of the decade. But tastes differ. Let us know your nominee for the worst tax provision enacted from 2000 through 2009 in the comments and if we get some good submissions, we’ll put it to a vote.
- Adrienne Gonzalez
- July 9, 2014
News recently came out that a few well-known celebs — among them, George Michael, the […]
- Joe Kristan
- August 5, 2010
The top individual tax rate is scheduled to jump to 39.6% on January 1, 2011. To those of us who do private business tax returns for a living, one effect is obvious: this will raise the tax rate on LLC and S corporation income.
But now Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says that all my small business clients thy rich law partners and CEOs (my emphasis):
Ninety-seven percent of small businesses in this country would not pay a penny more due to letting these upper-income tax rates expire.
Now some have argued that even if only a few percent of small business owners make over $250,000, these few make up a vast amount of supposedly small business income.
This argument apparently counts anyone who receives any type of partnership or business income as if they were a small business.
By this standard, every partner in a major law firm and every principal in a major financial institution would count as a separate small business. A CEO who has board fees or speech fees would also count as a small business owner under this overly broad definition.
Well yes, Timmy, “some” have argued for that “overly broad definition” — your friends who say 97% of small businesses won’t be affected by the scheduled tax increase. A 2009 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a source of the talking point that only a tiny fraction of businesses will be affected by the expiration of the tax increase. They define a small business 1040 as:
…any tax unit that receives any income (or loss) from a sole proprietorship, farm proprietorship, partnership, S corporation, or rental income.
So while a CEO who has board fees will count as a separate small business — as will President Obama, for that matter — so will every taxpayer that has a schedule C, schedule E or Schedule F. Your office Mary Kay girl or Shacklee dealer counts as a small business. Everybody who moonlights and reports their income is a small business. Everybody who rents out a duplex or vacation home counts, as does every taxpayer who holds, even briefly, an interest in a publicly-traded oil and gas partnership.
So how much small business economic activity will be hit by the increase in the top rate? A lot more than 3%. The center-left Tax Policy Center estimates that 44.3% of taxable income of these “small businesses” will be hit with next year’s scheduled tax increase (hat tip: Howard Gleckman). That seems low, if anything, based on what I see in practice.
It’s the successful, growing and profitable S corporations and partnerships that push their owners into the top tax brackets. Growing businesses typically distribute only enough income to owners to cover taxes — either by inclination or by agreements with lenders. Their remaining earnings go into growing the business or paying off the bank. If you increase their taxes, it either reduces growth and hiring or their ability to service their debt — neither of which does much for the economy.
When Tim Geithner says that the only people who will get hit by his tax increase are rich lawyers and director fee millionaires, it may tell us something about his social world. It tells us nothing about how the tax increase will hit business owners.