September 24, 2020

Hobbies

Did the Accounting Profession Ruin My Hobbies?

Today I was in a meeting with a 29-year-old accountant who decided to join our firm. It came up in conversation that she was a skater. The fact that Accodex doesn’t have a problem with that was a part of her consideration for joining.

This Guy Can’t Hold a Pencil But He Has a Spreadsheet of the 6,000 Chinese Restaurants He Has Eaten At

Oh, and we're telling you about him because he is a lawyer/CPA: He doesn't use chopsticks, he doesn't like eggrolls, and his wife thinks the whole idea is "silly," but third-generation Chinese American David R. Chan has made a point of eating at almost 6,300 Chinese restaurants across the country over the course of 33 […]

Man Who Claimed $23 Worth of Vegetables Triggered an IRS Audit, Explains His Rationale

A couple of weeks ago, we brought you the tale of Don Dunklee, who claimed that he was audited by the IRS for a paltry $23 in vegetables from his garden. At the time, w Mr Dunklee could have come to such a strange conclusion, considering that it’s pretty obvious the IRS’s efforts at closing the tax gap would be spent in better places than the organic vegetable farmer dynamic.

And as it happens from time to time, the subject of our post reached out to us directly (Big 4 CEOs should take a hint) to explain the situation further.


You see, Don – who is a bit of inventor but not when it comes to stories about tax audits – farms as a hobby and a woman who accepted some vegetables from him stuffed a wad of cash in his pocket that he reluctantly accepted:

I work off farm for Walgreens as does my wife. We reported our entire incomes from our employer as well as the $23, and used only the standard deductions provided by the IRS as we do not have enough “expenses” to write off deductions. The $23 was a lady looking at starting her own organic farm who I refused money from. She insisted to the point she would have been offended had I not kept the money she shoved in my pocket. I kept the cash out of respect to her and reported it as additional farm income. I have a 23 acre farm that I have been building for 27 years with the infrastructure so I can have a farm business when I retire in a few years. People visit my farm to see my off grid solar/wind system, my solar charged electric scooter [Ed. note: see above], and my organic vegetable production. I give away any vegetables anyone wants as I grow much more than I can harvest for myself, in part to learn how to produce enough to make a small retirement income later on, and I like to show off my veggies/farm/lifestyle.

Then Don informed us that he fell victim to the Geithner tax malady:

I do my own taxes. I tried TurboTax for the first time (won’t again) and the $23 was reported, rightly so, as farm income. (investigator suggested I can make up to $400.00 and should consider reporting on the other income line rather than farm income during the end of our interview when she agreed our taxes were correct and made no changes). TurboTax created a form F, farm income for the $23, reported. I claimed no expenses for growing, as I do not have a true farm business.

Then Don gets to the crux of the argument behind his belief that the audit was not “random”:

Farming is my passion/hobby. Had our audit been a true random audit I believe we would have had a general agent and general tax officer doing the audit with questions and info requested related to all of my employment reported. I believe this was a targeted audit as the title of the investigator was “small business and self employed” which does not fit the nature of my return. Her questioning was often off topic from the particulars of my return (fishing?). I would not have a problem if the IRS would be honest and say something to the effect, “we would like to audit your return as we see some irregularities we need clarified.” This might help build trust in the IRS. Knowing they have powers that some consider above or outside of the law in how they deal with taxpayers I was worried. The entire process is intimidating. I do not like feeling like a criminal for being honest. I could not afford legal help, which their literature suggested, further intimidating information they provide creates the impression one is in trouble. I hope this helps clear it up a bit for you.

Giving this a little more thought, we aren’t really surprised since the IRS has shown the willingness to shake down taxpayers for a sum that wouldn’t buy you a Hershey bar in a Mad Men episode. Don told us that he doesn’t have any ill will towards the IRS but he wonders if sometimes they can be a tad misguided, “I do have a lot of respect for the IRS and their mandated task, however I wonder if their very task generates a lot of problems.”

Not sure if the IRS is into self-reflection but that’s why we have TIGTA, s’pose. Thanks to Don for reaching out to us and now that his solar-powered scooter is getting a little more exposure, KPMG (and other firms looking to reduce their carbon footprint) may have a decent alternative to the sherpas.

Tax Court: Don’t Bet Your Bass on Those Hobby Losses

One of the promised benefits of feminism was that both men and women would reap benefits from allowing women to achieve their potential in the workforce. And for Mr. Steve Lowe, it absolutely worked that way.

The Tax Court gives a hint at Mrs. Lowe’s achieved potential:

During the years at issue petitioner wife (Mrs. Lowe) worked full time as a “controller” for Fry Steel Co., where she has worked for over 38 years. She earned $177,219 and $184,181 in 2005 and 2006, respectively, with an additional $12,000 per year for taking notes at the board of directors meetings.

And how did that work out for Mr. Lowe?

In 2005 Mr. Lowe fits run by either American Bass, FLW Strem Series, or Western Outdoor News (WON) and reported gross income on petitioners’ Schedule C of $4,241. In 2006 Mr. Lowe fished in 15 tournaments run by those same organizations and reported $10,932 of gross income. The entry fees ranged from $280 to $825 with an additional $325 for a “coangler” amateur in FLW events.

Yes, Mrs. Lowe’s empowerment enabled her to hold down a fulfilling and well-paid job, freeing her husband to follow his dreams – to go fishing every day.

The only thing that could possibly be better than fishing every day while your wife brings home a nice paycheck is to get a tax deduction for fishing every day while your wife brings home a nice paycheck. And Mr. Lowe gave it a try, deducting $49,067 of fishing expenses in 2005. Unfortunately, he hooked a snag.

The tax law disallows losses from activities “not engaged in for profit” – the so-called “hobby loss” rules. The Tax Court summed it up (my emphasis):

Mrs. Lowe earned substantial income from her job at Fry Steel Co., and the losses from Mr. Lowe’s fishing activity resulted in substantial tax benefits. During the years at issue Mrs. Lowe earned an average of about $180,000 a year from her job, and petitioners were able to deduct an average of about $41,000 per year on their joint Federal income tax returns due to Mr. Lowe’s fishing activity losses. Mr. Lowe was not employed before the fishing activity and was able to pursue this activity because of Mrs. Lowe’s substantial income. We also note that Mr. Lowe fished for recreation and pleasure long before commencing his competitive bass fishing activity. He clearly enjoyed that activity and likely would have incurred significant fishing costs yearly for personal pleasure had he not conducted his claimed business activity.

The case illustrates some hobby loss red flags:

The activity loses money and shows no sign of doing otherwise – It’s fishing, for heavens’s sake.

The losses offset significant other income – If you would be getting the earned income credit otherwise, the IRS doesn’t invoke the hobby loss rules.

The activity is fun – If your money-losing business can be perceived as fun – like fishing, say, or playing slots – it’s that much harder to convince the IRS that you’re really in it for profit. Remember, though, that even miserable activities (like selling Amway or writing blog posts) can run afoul of the hobby loss rules.

So Mr. Lowe lost his deductions. The Tax Court waived penalties, though, and Mr. Lowe, as far as we know, still can fish every day while his wife works. Millions of red-blooded men would take that deal, even without tax deductions.

Joe Kristan is a shareholder of Roth & Company, P.C. in Des Moines, Iowa, author of the Tax Update Blog and Going Concern contributor. You can see all of his posts for GC here.