A new study from the Tax Policy Center discovered that more taxpayers will be subject […]
“We plan to do everything possible to enact AMT relief legislation in a form mutually agreeable to the Congress and the president. We urge the Internal Revenue Service to take all steps necessary to plan for changes that would be made by the legislation.”
~ One of those “letters” that legislators write to bureaucrats as a form of grandstanding. This particular letter was from Max Baucus, Chuck Grassley, Sandy Levin and Dave Camp to Doug Shulman
Congress has been twisting itself into knots to pass 70-odd special interest “expiring provisions” this spring, though without success. These provisions that have come within one or two votes of being extended one more time are almost all special-interest provisons, providing tax breaks or direct cash subsidies to folks like biodiesel producers and race-track operators.
Meanwhile, the grandaddy of all expiring provisions goes largely unmentioned. Without new legislation, 24 million additional taxpayers will pay alternative minimum tax this year. That will happen because the AMT exemption for joint returns will fall from $70,950 to $45,000, and from $46,700 to $33,750 for single filers.
The AMT is a shadow tax system with fewer deductions and credits and a different rate schedule; it only applies when it gives a higher tax than the “regular” income tax. The reduction of regular tax rates in 2001 brought the regular and AMT brackets much closer, threatening to bring millions of voters into the AMT system. Congress has been passing “patches” to raise the AMT exemption for a year or two at a time since 2001 to avoid that. The last “patch” expired at the end of 2009.
An unpatched AMT would hit hardest taxpayers in the $100,000-$500,000 income range. Congress doesn’t want to anger that many potential campaign contributors. But where will Congress find the $68 billion or so of income that the AMT is budgeted to raise next year without a patch? The six month unemployment extension failed yesterday in the Senate because it would have increased the deficit by $34 billion.
So what will happen? Presumably an AMT patch will pass to appease voters as the election approaches, deficits be damned. Still, that’s not certain, especially in the current political environment.
So what can taxpayers do? They should start by projecting their tax for 2010. If you have one, your tax preparer is likely to have software to enable you to run the projection. If you use home tax software, it may also include a tax projection feature. Otherwise, you will have to use a 2009 copy of Form 6251, but using the reduced 2010 exemption amounts. Then you should fiddle with some items that affect AMT:
• The timing of your state and local tax payments.
• The timing of your miscellaneous itemized deductions.
• The timing of your capital gains, including capital losses.
Don’t be surprised if you find you have alternative minimum tax no matter what you do, especially if you live in a high-tax state. Then call your Congresscritter and ask for your patch.
Accounting News Roundup: Dissecting Overstock.com’s Q1 Earnings; The “Audit the Fed” Drum Still Has a Beat; AMT Patchwork Continues | 05.05.10
Can Investors Rely on Overstock.com’s Reported Q1 2010 Numbers? [White Collar Fraud]
Sam Antar is skeptical (an understatement at best), that Overstock.com’s recently filed first quarter 10-Q is reliable and he starts off by citing their own words (his emphasis):
“As of March 31, 2010, we had not remediated the material weaknesses.”
Material weaknesses notwithstanding, Sam is a little con pany’s first quarter $3.72 million profit that, Sam writes, “was helped in large part by a $3.1 million reduction in its estimated allowance for returns or sales returns reserves when compared to Q1 2009.”
Furthermore, several one-time items helped the company swing from a net loss of nearly $4 million in Q1 of ’09, including nearly $2 million in extinguishment of debt and reduction in legal expenses due to a settlement. All this (and much more) gets Sam to conclude that OSTK’s Q1 earnings are “highly suspect.”
UBS Dividend in Next 2-3 Years ‘Symbolic’: CFO [CNBC]
UBS has fallen on hard times. The IRS, Bradley Birkenfeld, a Toblerone shortage and increased regulation and liquidity requirements have all made life for the Mother of Swiss Banks difficult and CFO John Ryan told CNBC that could hurt their ability to pay their usual robust dividend, “They (capital regulations) are essentially rigorous to the extent that it is unlikely we’ll be able to pay anything other than a very symbolic dividend over the next two or three years,” Cryan said.
While that is a bummer but a “symbolic” dividend is still an improvement over “we’ve recently been informed that the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department will be demanding that we turn over the names of our U.S. clients.”
Effort to expand audits of Fed picks up steam in Senate [WaPo]
Going after the Fed makes for good political theatre (*ahem* Ron Paul) and rhetoric to fire up the torches of the populist masses. The “Audit the Fed” drum continues to be beaten by the likes of Rep. Paul (R-TX) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to much success and Sanders is quoted in the Washington Post as saying “We’re going to get a vote.” Pols want to crack open the books at the Fed to find out what the ugliest of the ugly is inside our Central Bank.
Ben Bernanke isn’t hot on the idea because letting the GAO sniff around may expose the Fed to short-term political pressures. For once AG – not a fan of the Beard per se – sides with BSB. As she said last fall:
It’s right there in the footnotes – pulling out the closest Fed annual report I’ve got (Richmond Fed 2007), both Deloitte and PwC agree that the Fed is a special case in Note 3: Significant Accounting Policies:
“Accounting principles for entities with unique powers and responsibilities of the nation’s central bank have not been formulated by accounting standard-setting bodies.”
The note goes on to explain why government securities held by the Fed are presented at amortized cost instead of GAAP’s fair value presentation because “amortized cost more appropriately reflects the Bank’s securities holdings given the System’s unique responsibility to conduct monetary policy.” Right there, you can see why auditing this thing might be a problem.
This might be one of those “careful what you wish for” scenarios.
Why We’re Going to Keep Patching the AMT—And Why It Will Cost So Much [Tax Vox]
The Alternative Minimum Tax has been a unmitigated failure in the eyes of many tax wonks. Congress has been talking reform in this area for some time and yet, the AMT remains largely unchanged, relying on temporary fixes that could eventually turn into a disaster:
Last year, about 4 million households were hit by the tax, which requires unsuspecting taxpayers to redo their returns without the benefit of many common tax deductions and personal exemptions. That would jump to 28.5 million this year, except for what’s become an annual fix to the levy, which effectively holds the number of AMT victims steady.
Here’s what happens if Washington does not continue that “temporary” adjustment. If Obama gets his wish and extends nearly all of the Bush taxes, the number of households hit by the AMT would soar to more than 53 million by the end of the decade—nearly half of all taxpayers. AMT revenues—about $33 million last year—would triple this year and reach nearly $300 billion by 2020. That is a nearly 10-fold explosion in AMT revenues.
Howard Gleckman argues that the AMT is too big of a political threat to let members of Congress let this sneak by and that the patchwork will continue but that it probably shouldn’t, “The President can assume the AMT will be patched indefinitely, but assuming won’t pay the bills. Unless he is willing to raise other taxes or cut spending to pay for this AMT fix, he’ll have to borrow more than $1 trillion to kick the can down the road for the rest of this decade.”
March 15th is just four days away so many of you amped for this first corporate deadline of the year. Tax planning gets a lot of attention during January – March time frame but what about the rest of the year? Should you be thinking about planning for three lousy months out of the year? Please.
But because the timing is not lost on us, we reached out to a CPA who has been around the block a time or two for some tax advice as we approach the corporate filing deadline.
Mike Callahan is a tax director at Spicer Jeffries LLP in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Mike has been sharing his tax wisdom with clients for over thirteen years with an expertise in securities taxation, organizational structure and international taxation of investment partnerships. Mike has been involved in many areas of tax research and planning, including advising broker-dealers and hedge funds, international taxation, multi-state tax planning and compliance and estate and financial planning.
Mike will be paying us a visit with some tax advice or the next week or so as the we head down the stretch in tax season 2010.
Starting off, he gave us six strategies for small businesses that you can keep in mind for yourself or your clients throughout the year, just not for year-end planning:
• Consider a 401(k) safe harbor – If your pension contributions are limited because your employees don’t contribute much to their accounts, contributing 3% of your employees’ compensation to their accounts allows you to maximize your contributions.
• Retirement Plan Credit – Small employers are eligible for a credit of up to $500 for 50% of the administrative cost of setting up a retirement plan.
• Section 179 – Deduct (instead of depreciating) the cost of equipment and furniture on up to $134,000 of additions in 2010 ($250,000 in 2009) under Section 179.
• Hire your children since you give them money anyway – Of course they do have to actually work. Their tax bracket is probably less than yours, some of the income is tax free and they are eligible for traditional or Roth IRA contributions.
• Watch out for the alternative minimum tax (AMT) – It impacts more and more people each year. Tax projections by your CPA are a must! It may be beneficial to defer some deductions until next year instead of paying them this year.
• Work from home? – If your home office is your principal place of business for administration and management of your company, a portion of your rent, utilities, maintenance, etc… are deductible. This also helps reduce your self employment tax.