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Form 1040 income tax return

The AICPA provides tax practice tools to help members elevate their practices and maintain the highest ethical standards. The AICPA also advocates sound tax policy and effective tax administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Bills

RMDCPAs are the frontline in mitigating the impacts of Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

CPAs have the opportunity to be proactive in helping their clients take advantage of the tax break for charitable IRA rollovers, technically known as QCDs (qualified charitable distributions). After my IRA update session at the AICPA ENGAGE conference, this topic generated the most questions of everything I discussed. It’s an easy provision to follow, and it’s even easier to know exactly which clients qualify.

The topic of QCDs is an important one for CPAs, because it’s an opportunity to provide real value to clients who are unaware of the provision. One of the most heavily emphasized messages from the ENGAGE conference was how to offer competitive services in the future. The answer always came down to relationships based on knowledge resulting in higher value services. QCDs fit perfectly into this.

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3 Tax Technologies You Shouldn’t Ignore

Cloud technologyOMG CLOUD. Cloud, cloud, cloud. You’ve heard it. Repeatedly. By now you probably even know what it means. But running a successful tax practice is about more than acknowledging the technology du jour. It’s about knowing which technologies make the most sense for you, and using them to their fullest potential. But no matter your firm’s size, market or specialty, here are three tax technologies you shouldn’t ignore.

Cloud-Based Servers/Software as a Service

An IT department is a luxury many small- and medium-sized firms can’t afford. Even in larger firms, the demands of day-to-day management of client systems can overtax an IT department to the point where managing servers is a time-draining hassle, not to mention expense.

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Tax Refunds and Financial Responsibility

Tax refundThe very same week our accountant (my father) informed us we would be getting a $1,550 tax refund (thank you, 2016, for the purchase of our first home and birth of our second child), my husband and I discovered a sizeable leak in our garage roof. So now, instead of using that money for a home repair we actually wanted to make, or to boost our savings account, or add to college savings plans, or more likely, to help pay for two kids in diapers and daycare, we’re buying a new flat roof. Lucky us. But this episode got me thinking—what do most people do with tax refunds? And what do CPAs advise they do? Is there a happy medium between fiscal responsibility and fun?

Aim for No Refund at All

First and foremost, the goal, according to most CPAs, is to not get a refund. While many people love getting a large chunk of change every spring, it indicates you’re overpaying and essentially giving the government an interest-free loan. Getting no refund at all means you’re paying the IRS exactly the right amount. Of course situations change from year to year (see my home purchase and birth of kid references above) so you might not always get it right.

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21 Songs to Motivate You for the Busy Season Homestretch

Shutterstock_233268223The end of March is here, which means that the end of busy season is just a few weeks away. Congratulations! You have accomplished a great deal so far.  I know it is easy to get discouraged at this point. You are likely feeling sleep-deprived and stressed about your looming deadlines. How will you ensure that you will finish this season strong? Maybe you stay motivated by thinking about the time you will have to catch up on your favorite shows, work out at the gym, or relax with family and friends once April 18 rolls around. Or maybe you push through to the end by turning up the music.

Whether you look for tunes with inspirational lyrics and catchy beats or songs that promote focus, there are numerous options out there, so why not create a motivational playlist?

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Why the ACA Executive Order Doesn’t Void the Rules for CPAs

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.

--Abraham Lincoln

ACAOn Inauguration Day, President Trump followed through on his campaign position regarding the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and issued an Executive Order (“EO”) with the stated intent of minimizing the economic burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) pending repeal. Sec. 2 of the EO Addresses removing certain burdens from both the government and taxpayers surrounding compliance with the ACA. 

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Here’s the Skinny on Driver’s License Information for State Tax Returns

LicenseAs you have probably heard, several states have added a request or a requirement for a driver license number (or other state identification number) to be entered into the tax software system for the return to be electronically filed. As practitioners, you likely understand the reasoning for the request – this information helps states confirm the identity of taxpayers, which aids in reducing identity theft. However, the logistics of obtaining the information and explaining this requirement to your clients may prove to be difficult.

Here are some frequently asked questions (and answers) to help you with this issue.

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The Pieces to Make Tax Reform Happen are Lining Up: Knight to H3?

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"Today only happens once in a lifetime. Make the most of it."

-Michael Ray, Country Music Singer

It’s hard to believe that it’s been seven months since I blogged about tax reform; I guess I was distracted by IRS service issues. But here we are again and it looks like the stars are aligning for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for tax reform. Or in my case, a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  I was around in 1986 for that monumental tax act and 15,000 changes later, here we are again.  Our legislative process is part of the price we pay for democracy and that isn’t all bad.

(Chess and the legislative process have a lot in common, hence the reference to Knight to H3, the dangerous but noble move Ron Weasley makes to achieve checkmate in the movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.)

Magic, however, is not one of the optional responses to the test I’ve given in my tax reform blogs:  “What will be the greatest driver of tax reform?”

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Top 10 Resources for the 2017 Tax Season

FootballAs we prepare this list for all of our current members, we cannot help but feel like a pair of college football coaches rallying the team before the big game. So to everyone out there looking at their screen, we ask you to take a knee (figuratively) and lean in for a huddle.

We are on the eve of the big game. People are watching and will be expecting your all. The competition will be fierce, the plays will change frequently and you can expect someone or something will be coming at you from all directions. But fear not! You’ve got this. (Fist pump).

All your years of training have led to this very moment. Now is the time to stretch your muscles, gather your equipment and focus on the game plan. We want to help by putting some tools at your fingertips to get you warmed up, refreshed and staying sharp.

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ID Theft: Two Prevention “Hassles” Worth Your Time

ID theftEven if you aren’t personally a victim of identity theft, as a CPA you still bear the burden of combating it on behalf of your clients. More often than not, for tax practitioners, the big cost is your time.

Recently, to help combat thieves, the IRS implemented various authentication measures, which emerged from the Security Summit. While many of these measures may not be noticed, some are quite visible. One measure, two-factor authentication for e-Services, has already prompted comments and complaints and another, the optional W-2 pilot program, is not being used much by practitioners and I suspect time has a lot to do with that too.

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Tax Reform in the 115th Congress?

Shutterstock_184356782 (1)Tax reform has been actively studied and discussed for the past six years by the 112th, 113th and 114th Congresses. At the start of the 112th Congress in 2011, Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI), then chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced the first in a series of hearings on fundamental tax reform to simplify the Internal Revenue Code and improve economic growth and job creation. Since then, Congress has held over 80 hearings on tax reform. In addition, several congressional study groups were formed and various proposals introduced. Yet, despite President Obama and congressional leaders supporting a lower corporate tax rate for international competitiveness purposes, tax reform did not occur in that six-year span.

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Earlier Date for Information Returns Brings Penalty Risk

Time for ActionWe are all now facing a new Jan. 31 deadline for filing Forms W-2 with the Social Security Administration and 1099-MISC (when reporting nonemployee compensation payments in box 7) with the IRS. The earlier deadline will allow faster matching of W-2 and 1099 information with tax returns, which helps combat identity and refund theft. Unfortunately, when something is done to combat identity theft, it sometimes means extra work for practitioners, and with this new rule comes increased risk of penalties for not timely filing so we urge you to act quickly.

 

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Unclaimed Property: When Does the Auditing Go Too Far?

Money and lockYou know those gift cards you never got around to using? It’s possible they are now being counted as revenue by the state. Same goes for uncashed payroll checks and other financial instruments that were never claimed or used. States’ interest in unclaimed property as a source of revenue continues to grow. CPAs need to be extremely alert to state abandoned and unclaimed property (AUP) laws (which continue to evolve) and AUP reporting requirements to limit surprises related to an audit.

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Text Me Not: Hidden Perils of Modern Communication for CPAs

Woman on iPhoneTweets. Likes. Posts. Not so long ago, those three words were not only unrelated, they had nothing at all to do with communication. But as communication methods and strategies have advanced, the speed of information has approached infinity. As a result, expectations have grown that responses will be similarly fast and, in many cases, extremely concise. There’s an old saying about the kind of person who is incapable of a simple answer: ask them what time it is, and they’ll tell you how the watch works. Today, tolerance for that trait is at an all-time low.

But while pithy responses can be good for personal communication, they might not always be suitable for business. For CPAs in particular, there can be consequences for choosing an inappropriate means of communication with clients on certain matters. Text messaging in particular is fraught with perils. I recently spoke with Gerard Schreiber Jr., CPA, principal at Schreiber & Schreiber in Metairie, LA, to discuss how communicating with clients has changed over the years, especially with regard to texting.

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5 Scary Tax Characters to Watch Out For

ZombieHalloween is my favorite holiday, bar none. Once a year, we all have license to use our imagination and be someone or something else. And beyond the goblins, pumpkins, ghosts and black cats, there is the absurd amount of candy floating around the stores and office. 

The late Vincent Price, an actor who unquestionably had the best horror movie voice in the world, said, “It’s as much fun to scare as to be scared.” Vincent, wherever he is, may be pleased to know something can spook the unwary taxpayer in the same way his voice could invoke fear and trembling: tax creatures like the ones listed below. The good news is that you can avoid or at least minimize these horrors if you start thinking about these things now.

  • Count AMT (aka Line 45 on Form 1040) – Dracula could not have devised a better way to suck the money or refund out of your life than the alternative minimum tax. If your income reaches a certain amount, you must recalculate the tax you owe based on a higher income, one that does not have some of the deductions that helped to lower it. Devised as a tool to ensure that wealthy taxpayers could not use loopholes to avoid paying taxes entirely, the AMT now preys on taxpayers who are not so wealthy. The current AMT exemption is $59,900 for single taxpayers and $83,800 for joint filers. Talk to your CPA about ways to soften the impact and be aware that certain deductions act as triggers for the AMT.

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Tax Due-Diligence Checklist for Sharing-Economy Clients

UberPeople have been sharing services and property, and generating money from it, for years. For example, someone with a spare bedroom might have posted a note on a bulletin board at the local grocery store or advertised in the local paper to find a tenant. But do we understand the tax implications of the shared economy? That’s where CPAs come in.

Today’s technology allows for easier publishing and access to a wider pool of people for matching offers and acceptances. Using Airbnb or similar sharing websites, the owner with a spare bedroom will find that short-term rentals are relatively simple to arrange. Yet that same owner is unlikely to know the full tax consequences of this convenient rental, so it will be up to the tax preparer to ask the right questions.

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7 Key Communication Points for Your Clients with Extended Returns

SevenAs the final extension deadline of October 15 (for individual clients) approaches, it is hard to believe it is almost time to flip the calendar to another year. Although finalizing your client’s 2015 Form 1040 is the most pressing item on the agenda, it’s important to focus on year-end planning. The good news is that with the tax legislation signed last December, tax planning should be easier since many provisions were extended through 2016 (or longer) or made permanent.  However, this is a presidential election year, and there is uncertainty about how a political change might impact tax reform and/or legislation.

Let’s focus on the good news (and what we can do for our clients). Here are seven topics to discuss with your clients as you wrap up their 2015 returns that will provide them the extra client service that they expect and deserve.

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Partnership Audits –Be Careful what You Wish For?

CrossroadsFor years, everyone involved with audits of partnership tax returns (tax professionals, the IRS and the taxpayers themselves) have complained about the often complicated and unclear Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) rules. Disputes between the IRS and partnerships, as well as between the various partners, often dragged on for years. 

That is  if the IRS even bothered to start an audit – audit rates for partnerships were historically low compared to similar size corporate entities. Once an audit finally was completed, the IRS would face the onerous task of tracking down and collecting the assessments from each partner, often having to dive through dozens of tiers to find these ultimate taxpayers. Naturally, this resulted in difficulty collecting the additional tax, making the whole exercise seem futile to some. A better way was needed. TEFRA had to die.

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Gwen Jorgensen: From Tax Accountant to Olympic Gold Medalist

Gwen jorgensenIt’s not every day a tax accountant from Wisconsin wins a gold medal at the Olympics. But on Saturday, Aug. 20, Gwen Jorgensen, formerly of the EY corporate tax group in Milwaukee, became the first U.S. woman to do just that. Crossing the finish line with a time of 1:56:16, Jorgensen won gold in the triathlon.

Jorgensen, who earned a master’s degree in accounting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and passed the CPA exam, didn’t even take up triathlon until after college. Jorgensen was a runner and swimmer in college, and was approached by USA Triathlon looking for college athletes they thought would be successful in the sport. At the time they contacted Jorgensen, she was still in school and had an offer from EY. She turned USA Triathlon down, but they convinced her to at least try triathlon as a hobby while she worked for EY. And, thus, a grueling schedule began: waking at 4 a.m. to ride her bike to the pool, swimming, and getting to the office at 8 a.m. After work, Jorgensen trained some more. And found that she loved triathlon.

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Taxing Emotions: Death, Section 754 Elections and Serving the Client

Estate Planning 2Confronting the cold monetary and business realities of an estate is extraordinarily difficult in the midst of mourning. Even a well-planned estate’s complexity could mean the process drags on for months or even years, drawing out not only raw emotion but also tax exposure. Careful planning and a detailed explanation of your clients’ wishes are a must if you want to save their loved ones additional suffering.

My mother’s estate was moderate in terms of her personal holdings, but she also participated in substantial limited partnerships that passed to my brothers and me upon her death. While her home and personal effects were relatively simple to liquidate, the partnerships were a different matter.

There was no provision for a buyout of my mother’s interest upon her death. We found ourselves in business with people who didn’t know us, and had conflicting ideas about the future of the entity itself. Like so many partnerships, ours rarely had K-1s prepared in time to allow us to file our individual returns in advance of April 15th. We faced an indeterminate future of filing expensive extensions, estimating our individual tax liabilities and possibly increasing our exposure to an audit.

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5 Tips to Maximize Productivity - Both at Home and at Work

Shutterstock_438684127“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ― Stephen King 

Whether it be racing to the office to conquer the business world, or managing all of our other daily commitments, we work hard every single day. And it’s not easy to stay productive with conflicting priorities. 

To keep you on track (and your sanity intact), below are five tips to inspire productivity at home and at work. 

(1) Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No.” 

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs put it the best. ”Focusing is about saying no.” From a professional standpoint, in order to truly do your job and meet your objectives, every time someone asks you to do something, you need to evaluate whether you are the best person to be doing that job, or even whether it should be done at all. Many of us are people pleasers and want to help, but saying “yes” is not necessarily the best thing for you or the organization. 

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Modernizing Fax Filings with the IRS


Shutterstock_156974060Federal and state agencies, including the court systems, are modernizing by allowing the electronic filing of petitions and other court documents. For example, Alabama, Texas, Illinois and Missouri have e-filing systems for court petitions. In 2014, two federal courts (2nd and 9th Circuit Courts of Appeals) piloted an e-filing program for all courts in which the user is authorized to file electronically. The program is expected to become national in the next few years.

The IRS is also modernizing, although not as fast as many practitioners (or the AICPA) would like. Calls to the IRS and cases can be routed to any IRS employee or office all over the country. We are seeing more appeals conferences conducted by telephone with the various service centers instead of in person and expect Skype-type conferences to become more common. For many years, the IRS has electronically processed bank account and wage levies on delinquent accounts. Now, the IRS is also able to issue electronic summonses to eBay and PayPal.

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Keeping the Cash Method Promotes Simplicity and Economic Growth

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

   -William Shakespeare

Followers of my blogs know that I periodically write about tax reform, but it’s been a while. So, I’ve decided to dust off this quiz – here we go:

What will be the greatest driver of tax reform?

  • Bipartisan compromise?
  • Congressional leadership changes?
  • Current events?
  • Revenues?
  • Good tax policy?

CompassI know you’re thinking: “Ed, are you forgetting that it’s a presidential election year and you recently predicted that tax reform won’t happen before 2018? Does it really matter?”

Well, it does. (And there may be more than one correct answer to my quiz.) Our profession must remain vigilant on what is being discussed now to safeguard businesses (including our own) and taxpayers later on down the line.

In its current iteration, tax reform has been top of mind on Capitol Hill for about five years. Hearings, task forces, discussion drafts and bills. Lots of conversations. It’s part of the normal vetting process and quite important. It’s how we separate the wheat from the chaff and arrive at much better legislative solutions; a process that continues today even if we “know not” the result.

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The Powerful Impact of Women in Accounting and Tax

Superwoman CPAJane Doe, CPA, also known as Super Woman, woke up this morning at 5 a.m., jumped on her computer to address some urgent work emails, proceeded to pack her children’s lunch, get them out of bed (easier said than done), dressed, and off to school – and then worked all day, leading her team and conquering the business world. She runs from one business meeting to the next, finally stopping only to make dinner for her family, help her oldest child with his homework, bathe her two-year-old, and put both kids to bed. Oh, and she also helped her husband with his PowerPoint presentation, fed the pets and paid the household bills. It’s now 9 p.m., time to jump back on the computer and wrap up more business.

Does this sound familiar? We all know women like this in our accounting profession – and these women should be celebrated.

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States Moving to Conform Tax Due Dates with Federal Law

ConformityAs you recover from yet another grueling tax season, the optimist (and realist sometimes) in me says next year will be better with fewer practitioner frustrations. After many years of AICPA tax policy and advocacy efforts, Congress enacted several AICPA-supported federal due date changes and a de minimis safe harbor of $100 of income/$25 of withholdings for corrected Form 1099s that take effect for 2016 tax returns (2017 filing season).

New Federal Due Dates

As described in detail in the AICPA summary chart, these federal due date changes should provide a more logical workflow next year. Starting with 2016 returns, business entity investors’ Schedules K-1 are due before the investors’ returns are due, and foreign account information (FBAR) is due (and can be extended) when the individual returns are due. Here’s a brief recap of the new federal tax return deadlines: 

  • Partnership and S corporation information returns are due March 15, providing investor Schedule K-1 information to their partners and shareholders (including corporations) before the investors’ returns are due.
  • Tax returns for calendar-year corporations, individuals, trusts and estates, and FBAR are due on April 15.
  • The extended due date for partnerships continues to be September 15, along with corporations (until 2026). The extended due date for trusts and estates is September 30.
  • The extended due date for individuals and FBARs (and starting 2026, for extended corporations) is October 15.

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Hitting it Out of the Ballpark with the IRS’s Future State

Baseball IRSBaseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.

-Yogi Berra

Spring time.  The first busy season is done – that’s when CPAs can catch their breath, relax a little, maybe even catch a baseball game. Speaking of baseball, CPAs are in a league of their own, no question about it, and our Tax Section helps get you there. Baseball also brings me back to my childhood when I was a huge Washington Senators baseball fan. But the future for the Senators was never bright; thoughts of the playoffs, let alone the World Series, were out of the question. But now with the Nationals in town, the future is much brighter.

I’m hoping that’s the case with the IRS as well.  Unlike Yogi Berra’s concept of accounting, the numbers have just got to add up for the IRS and, well, the IRS has dropped the ball in service.  We all know that, including the IRS. With two strikes against them in the realm of public opinion, the IRS has unveiled its Future State Initiative. You may know from reading my recent blog on IRS service levels that I thought the signs were starting to look good in terms of possibly starting to move the IRS service needle back in the right direction. 

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Tax Season Wrap Up

End of the roadCongratulations – you have made it through another tax season! 

Take the requisite time to mourn the loss of your time, sleep and missed social events.  Enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation with an activity of your choosing.  Then, if you have not already done so, take the advice of Kool & the Gang and celebrate!

No matter how many years pass, this song always manages to lift me up. So, whether this is your first or 50th tax season, it is an accomplishment and should be celebrated. Embrace the hard work that you have put in and give yourself a pat on the back.

Even as a perpetual optimist, I too fall victim to feeling down when I am exhausted, have hit a roadblock or have experienced a failure. In my many years in tax practice, I often came out of tax season telling myself this was my last. But guess what? By the beginning of the next tax season, I was hyped up and couldn’t wait for those first returns to come in the door.  

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7 Ways to Make Busy Season More Fun


MassageAlthough it can be a daunting and stressful time, busy season is also an extremely lucrative and productive one for tax practices, one that can be just as rewarding for them as the holidays are for retailers. What may be overlooked, however, is that it can also be a great time to build a sense of camaraderie and team spirit because a shared challenge can bring people together. That’s especially true if you add in some enjoyable activities that help maintain your team’s positive outlook and demonstrate your concern for their well-being.

To find out how CPAs are keeping the season upbeat—and even adding some fun to it—the AICPA recently engaged our social media audience and asked two questions: "How does your firm show appreciation for staff during busy season?” and “You get three wishes: What are the best ways to show staff appreciation during busy season?” We then put together the tips below based on their responses and what we’ve heard from other practitioners.

Be nice. This is the easiest and least expensive stress reliever available, so be sure to make the most of it by expressing appreciation for hard work and complimenting or publicly acknowledging outstanding efforts.

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Why “Extension” is not a Four-Letter Word for Tax Season

Tax extensionsUp until January, I worked in public accounting and remember all too well the feeling when the calendar flipped to March; it seemed like all I was hearing from my individual clients was that they still had not received their 1099s from their brokerage accounts. It seems every year the compression of when these 1099s are received and the deadline to file gets closer and closer. Not to mention the frustration of getting those amended 1099s right after the client’s tax return has been assembled. Talk about adding fuel to the fire!

There are strategies and processes you can implement to encourage your clients to bring in all of their tax return data (with the exception of the late 1099s) so that you will have everything ready to go and can quickly finish the return once the 1099 arrives. However, despite these well intended strategies, the reality is that it feels nearly impossible to move all the returns that have complicated, late arriving 1099s through the entire process before April 18th (or April 19th in the case of residents of Maine or Massachusetts).

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ACA: Step Away from that Form 1095 ‘Til You Read This

“Never do today what you can as well do tomorrow” – Aaron Burr

Proceed with cautionThis statement, sometimes written in the context of postponing an unpleasant task, was originally expressed by our country’s third vice-president to acknowledge that in certain circumstances, a premature action may be regrettable. Alexander Hamilton would agree.

The same can be said for reporting on the Affordable Care Act: CPAs may regret completing any related forms without first taking some precautions. We are in the business of helping our clients with a full range of accounting and tax needs, so offering services in this space seems to fall neatly into the area of tax compliance. This is a compliance matter, but the nature of the material required to prepare these information returns adds an additional level of complexity. CPAs who aid clients with the completion of these forms need to consider the applicability of privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

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Advice from a CPA Client - How to Break the News That They Owe

Tax billLet’s just get this out of the way up front: I’m not a CPA. I’m a pictures-and-words kind of guy. Numbers never loved me. They were my bully in school. To this day, the sight of long columns of numbers causes me all manner of gastric discomfort. So when I started my own business and realized there would be bookkeeping involved, naturally I addressed the challenge by running to my CPA.

Now, I have to pause here a moment to say my CPA is the most patient guy in the world. A sample of things he said to me over the years:

“No, Adam, you can’t deduct Warcraft.”

“What do you mean you LOST the checkbook? Don’t you use Quicken? Wait—you DON’T TRACK EXPENSES???”

“No, a 1099. Not a W2. No, that’s a K1—no, not a K9, a K1. Look, just hand me the box of papers and I’ll figure it out. Go home.”

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Update on Taxes and Terrorism: Why Clients’ Data Could Become Vulnerable

Data breachSince this article was initially published in December 2015, the FBI has attempted to compel Apple, Inc. to defeat its own encryption for the purposes of accessing the information on the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, perpetrator of the mass shootings in San Bernardino in December of last year. Apple has thus far refused to obey a federal court order to provide access to the phone, based in part on a first-amendment argument that code-writing constitutes free speech. A federal court in California will hear arguments on March 22, but promises from both the Justice Department and Apple, Inc. to appeal any decision against their respective cases mean the dispute is unlikely to conclude at that time. The case is certain to have far-reaching implications for the nature of digital security both here in the United States and abroad.

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What’s a Hooraycation, and How Can I Go on One?

GalapagosGetting Away from it All After Busy Season: Trips for Any Budget

As busy season finally draws to a close, your senses dulled by long nights staring at a monitor and routing through piles of disorganized receipts, you might understandably be thinking about taking a well-earned break. Recharging your batteries, getting acquainted once again with those people who share your house and enjoying a few days of relaxation mean different things to different people, but in the end it always comes down to budget. Here are three family-friendly vacation types you can plan today, designed for modest, moderate and extreme budgets.

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Writing Off Expenses on a Martian Farm: The Trouble with Oscar-Nominated Clients


LeoIt’s Oscar season, and this year’s list of nominated films includes many characters you definitely wouldn’t want to meet in your reception area on a frantic Saturday morning. As busy season gets into full swing, here are some potential nightmare clients from current and past Oscar-nominated movies that you’ll be happy you don’t have to face in person.

Hugh Glass, “The Revenant.” The bearskin coat kind of says it all, doesn’t it? It’s certainly going to set this man apart from most of the usual clients. Glass is a fur trapper who’s left for dead and faces extraordinary hardships during a long, harrowing journey through the wilderness. At some point he wins a tough fight with a grizzly and uses its skin as a coat. Understandably, he’s not a big talker, so it will be hard to determine his long- and short-term financial goals. You also have to expect that much of his documentation for income and expenses is hard to locate.  

Mark Watney, “The Martian.” Talking about working with a client remotely! This takes virtual services to a new level. And while you may have wrestled with the complications of filing for U.S. expatriate or foreign clients before, when you deal with interplanetary tax situations you’re really breaking new ground. Another wrinkle: Where and how are you supposed to report information on income and expenses from Watney’s Martian farm?

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As Estate Basis Deadline Looms, Executors’ To-Do List Spirals

To do listUpdate: Since this blog post was published, the IRS extended the due date for Form 8971 basis reporting from Feb. 29 to March 31. For more informaiton, see Notice 2016-19.

Who thinks being an executor (or trustee) of an estate is a glorified and envied position? Have you always dreamed of being an executor and having that wonderful title – and I guess a few fees?  Have you ever served as an executor or trustee and wished to never be in that role again? 

In case you didn’t know it already, executors have many duties and responsibilities, including:

  • Setting up a bank account for incoming funds and paying any ongoing bills;
  • Maintaining property until it can be distributed or sold, and then distributing assets and disposing of other property;
  • Dealing with the probate court – filing the will and an inventory of the estate’s assets with the probate court, and representing the estate in court; and
  • Dealing with liabilities and taxes – providing notice to creditors, paying the estate’s debts and taxes, and, starting at the end of February, preparing and filing estate basis statements with the IRS and beneficiaries.

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Absurd Tax Break Requests: Darth Vader and Other "Clients" Weigh In

Darth Vader‘Tis the season that tax practitioners must break it to clients that no, you can't write off that trip to the Bahamas as a medical expense (yes, we understand it reduced your stress), claim the Golden Retriever as a dependent or tell the IRS that Botox use is a legitimate business expense because it helps you sell more homes. To put this annual ritual of wishful thinking in perspective, perhaps it would help to consider what types of tax breaks some of our most famous characters in film, TV and literature would try to claim.

Below are excerpts from focus group interviews with these characters talking about the tax breaks to which they feel that they are entitled. It seems as if they didn't all get along, and maybe it had something to do with that good versus evil thing. Or maybe it was the "but my tax break makes more sense" philosophy that can infect anyone, even the good guys.

Focus Group 1

Facilitator: Thank you all for coming here today to share insights on how the tax code could be improved and made fairer for you. Our group includes Frank Underwood, from “House of Cards,” Sheldon Cooper, star of “Big Bang Theory”, Superman, and Cruella de Vil, of “101 Dalmatians” fame. President Underwood, we'll start with you:

Frank Underwood: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here. I think with so many people needing help, let's eliminate any provisions that benefit people like Jackie Sharp. She's the Assistant House Minority Whip and married to a surgeon – now why would they need a tax break? You really need to take a look at what she's doing. And, I think, perhaps, I should get a deduction just for being me. Maybe even named after me.

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IRS Service Levels: Don’t Give Me Excuses!

CartoonHonest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Abysmal service levels; I hear you, I really do. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in practice but those busy season scars are still with me. I half joke but the memories don’t go away completely.

So, another busy season and the prospects for easily – wait, reasonably – representing your clients with the IRS appear to be no better than they were last year, when I blogged several times about service issues. In May, for example, you may have read about the AICPA governing Council resolution directing the Institute to intercede on a long-term solution to the service crisis. We started those conversations but, frankly, the environment in Washington got worse. Hard to believe, but it did. In October, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) joined 18 members of the committee in introducing an impeachment resolution against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The resolution is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

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Top 10 Tax Resources for the 2016 Tax Season

Top 10 Tax Tips 2016Have you “lost” that shiny new FitBit, depleted the family inventory of holiday goodies and now scrambled through the house trying to dig out Aunt Lucy’s famous fruitcake? Rather than investing $2,500 in a standing desk with a treadmill, it may be time to consider a new resolution!

A more practical choice may be to make a commitment that will yield positive results for the next few months. Commit to your staff, your clients, your tax practice and your professional goals during the upcoming tax season.  The AICPA wants to help you jumpstart that success by pointing out useful tools to ensure you flex your tax season muscles.

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A Lesson from 2015: Help Clients Avoid Unpleasant ACA Surprises

ACA surprisesWe made it through last year’s tax season thinking Affordable Care Act (ACA) matters were over with until the 2016 filing season, but we were wrong. Individuals who did not indicate on their Form 1040s that they had received the Advanced Premium Tax Credit were surprised to get an IRS notice at the end of 2015 requiring repayment of the credit.

The IRS identified many cases where taxpayers took the credit, but then did not indicate that they did so on their Form 1040. Tax preparers, unaware of the advance credit, calculated it again on the 1040, so taxpayers were effectively paid twice. The IRS caught these double dips, assessed the difference, and included the 20% accuracy penalty (Section 6662) in addition to repayment of the advanced premium tax credit and interest.

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It’s Just Hitting and Catching (and 1040s and W2s and 1099s and 1095s)

BaseballBaseball offseason: the time roughly between Halloween and Valentine’s Day when Major League Baseball teams take a break from hitting, catching and fielding. While there may be not peanuts, hot dogs, cracker jacks, or $12 beers being peddled at baseball stadiums across North America, it does not mean the teams are idle. In fact, in the days lead up to February 18, 2016 (when pitchers and catchers report!), teams are busy preparing for the coming season, the same way tax professionals are gearing up for the impending busy season.

This work behind the scenes is what ultimately lays the groundwork for a successful tax (or baseball) season. Without adequate preparation, both baseball and accounting organizations would find themselves struggling mightily to keep up with the demands of their professions.

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Tangible Property Wins Demonstrate AICPA’s Advocacy for Taxpayers

AdvocacyThe AICPA continually advocates on tax matters to improve tax policy and administration for tax practitioners and taxpayers alike. Though the issues and challenges we grapple with could be difficult, our goals are simple:  transparency, simplicity and certainty.  Taxpayers and practitioners have scored a major victory for certainty and simplicity as AICPA-supported provisions in legislation will soon become law.  Taxpayers will have to deal with fewer late and amended Forms 1099 that have $100 of income or less impact, fewer identity theft situations due to Forms W-2 will soon have truncated Social Security numbers, and clients will be able to rely on several permanent rather than temporary tax credits.

We also achieved more simplicity when the small business tax community received two big wins to make the “repair regs” more taxpayer friendly.

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Taxes and Terrorism: Why Data Could Become Vulnerable

Data breachThe world watched and listened in horror recently as reports of terrorism in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., dominated the airwaves. In what is becoming a regrettably familiar scene, countries around the world joined the victims in mourning. But as the days wore on, attention increasingly turned to the covert, encrypted digital communications of the perpetrators. The government has begun questioning the wisdom of unbreakable encryption as a result. It might all seem a million miles from the concerns of tax practitioners. But is it?

In the wake of potential terrorist attacks, government officials are again addressing the complexities of obtaining intelligence data in an encrypted world. John Brennan, Director of the CIA, recently outlined these complexities in a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington:

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BEPS: FATCA on Steroids or Much Ado About Nothing?

ArbitrationBy now, most CPAs have heard of FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), which requires foreign financial entities to report information on their U.S. account holders to the IRS.  In return, the U.S. (in some cases) is sharing information on accounts held in this country by foreign nationals with the individual’s home country. The goal of this information sharing is to ensure that individuals are reporting all their income properly and paying the appropriate amount of tax.

Now the focus is shifting to tax avoidance by multi-national businesses. In early October, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the final reports from their two-year project targeting Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) activities. BEPS occurs when businesses take advantage of differences in countries’ tax laws, tax treaty provisions and (occasionally) special arrangements with a local tax authority to minimize their total worldwide tax liability. Some of the ways businesses do this include:

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Tax Extenders: Been There, Done That

Hamster in a wheelWhat has been will be again . . . There is nothing new under the sun."

      - Ecclesiastes

It seems like writing about expiring provisions is a regular rite of passage and frankly, it doesn't feel like the religious experience alluded to in Ecclesiastes. The last time I spoke with you about tax extenders (Nov. 28, 2014), I asked: Whats the million dollar topic on membersminds these days? The choices were the following:

  1. The IRS
  2. The congressional lame duck session
  3. Extenders
  4. Starting busy season
  5. Government appropriations
  6. The Keystone Pipeline
  7. Immigration reform
  8. Bipartisan cooperation in Washington
  9. All of the above

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Need Help? 3 Simple Steps to Find CPA Talent

Hiring“I just cannot decide which one of these tax manager candidates to hire”…

Says the rare CPA firm these days.

It is no surprise to CPAs in tax practice that finding and keeping talented staff is no easy task. Gone are the days of a waiting area filled with navy suits, briefcases, and overly qualified CPAs, each praying he or she will be the one chosen for the position. I imagine, instead, a desperate employer fumbling through Internet job sites, which serve as a digital wall too tall and wide to see around, with talented people all over the world on the other side, yet often seemingly unreachable to the employer.

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Change is Scary, but Can Inspire Progress

ChangeEarlier this year, the AICPA decided to phase out the “free/no CPE” option for attending section-sponsored webcasts. This “mixed model” was creating CPE compliance concerns so it was replaced with a selection of free events with CPE while maintaining the event archives for viewing content without CPE.

When the Taxation Team learned that the change would also apply to the Tax Power Hour (TPH), a monthly practice management webcast series, we were concerned about the impact it might have on our members. However, the team quickly came to realize this change was a blessing in disguise.

We had become complacent and had not really followed our own advice: always spend time working on your business, not just working in your business. We had stopped working on our business and were completely consumed with working in our business of serving members with new fresh resources. I’m falling on my sword with a public ‘mea culpa’ in the hopes that our members can learn from our mistakes with this valuable resource. As writer Phyllis Theroux said, “Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.

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Deflategate, Binkygate & Disclosing Open Tax Years

DeflategateNot many things capture our collective attention like investigations into controversial cases. The NFL’s investigation into underinflated footballs, or the ongoing allegations of corruption in FIFA, to whether or not David Beckham is a shoddy parent for allowing his daughter to continue to use a pacifier at age 4 are just a few examples. The accounting profession has its investigations into controversies too. A recent example is the investigation the Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA) conducted about the applicability of the disclosure requirement of open tax years associated with FASB Interpretation No. 48, Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes. The CPEA issued a report on this investigation in March.

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Due Date Changes– A Way Station on the Journey

Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.
― Lewis Carroll

JourneyIt started like most things we do: AICPA members needed it done. One after the other, after the other, and on and on, we heard from members who were tired of receiving complicated K-1s on October 13, 14 or even 15. “Please help us” they asked, so we turned to our Tax Executive Committee and said: “what makes sense?” And so, a multi-year, imaginative effort to craft a solution ended in a “way station” of success on July 31 when President Obama signed into law the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R. 3236).

The law provides for a more logical flow of a broad array of returns. The main idea was to have flow-through returns completed before the returns in which the information is reported – Forms 1040 and 1120; give folks enough time to breathe and digest the flow-through information. And so calendar-year partnerships are due March 15 and calendar year C corporations are due April 15. Partnership returns are due a month earlier than they had been, but six-month extensions are now available. Other fixes were made, too, to Forms 990, 1041 and 5500. Also, the due date for FinCEN Form 114 (FBAR) moves from June 30 to April 15, but for the first time, taxpayers will be allowed a six-month extension.

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Making the Next Tax Season a Better One

Tax lessonsReflections on Tax Season

As we head into the second part of the 2015 filing season (with the 2016 season not far behind), some thoughts come to mind. Many practitioners felt as though recent tax law changes and related guidance was vague, late and not well supported. As a result, the 2015 filing season was more demanding than previous seasons, with uncertainty surrounding the final “repair regulations,” complex financial products and late receipt of client 1099s and brokerage statements.

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“Courteously” Connecting with IRS Service Needs

Phone cut offWords have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.

                        —Edgar Allan Poe

Courtesy disconnect. You may have heard about it. The telephone hold times during this past filing season were so long that the IRS hung up on callers when the hold time reached two hours. Callers were warned they were about to be dropped — hence the courtesy disconnect. 

We heard from so many members about IRS service issues that we conducted a survey of all AICPA members to find out what exactly was going on  correctly — and to give everyone an opportunity to be heard. The survey, conducted right after busy season, included a question about courtesy disconnects. Ten percent of respondents were courteously disconnected once; 12 percent twice; and 17 percent disconnected three or more times. Give our members credit, though. Thirty-nine percent indicated they were too busy to hold on for two hours so they courteously disconnected themselves. 

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Baby on Board? 7 Tax Tips for Expectant (and Hoping to be Expectant) Clients

Connor 10 monthsIn simpler times, all you needed to welcome a new baby into your family was love and an empty drawer in which he or she could sleep. In 2015, babies are expensive and modern parents need a lot of gear: diapers, cribs, strollers and car seats—not to mention child care. The list can seem endless. And, it all adds up fast. When my husband and I were expecting our son Connor, now 10 months old, our first trip to Buy Buy Baby left us dazed and concerned about how we would afford all of it.

The good news is, there are more ways than ever to offset the considerable costs related to having a child. If your clients are expecting or planning to have a child, the seven tax tips below might help.

Infertility Treatments

For couples facing infertility (roughly 10 percent of the U.S. population), costs can start mounting long before the much-coveted positive pregnancy test. In fact, couples who require medical assistance to conceive often get hit with a one-two punch—the emotional pain of infertility and the fear of not being able to afford treatments.

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