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2019 Tax Deductions and Credits

Update on Tax Reform

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The Case for Major Tax Reform in 2013

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Tax Code is “Beast with Hundreds of Heads”

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has been holding a series of hearings in preparation for major tax reform in 2013. In an address on June 11 to the Bipartisan Policy Center, Baucus outlined the basic guidelines for major tax reform. He compared the current tax code to “Hydra, the mythical Greek beast with hundreds of heads.” Baucus noted that the last major tax reform of the entire code was 1986. Since that time, Congress has made 15,000 changes to the Tax Code. He suggested it is long past time to “get rid of the deadwood and simplify the code.” Baucus believes that the Tax Code needs to reflect the major changes in America since 1986.

Deficits and Debt:

There has been a rapid growth in both the deficit and the debt in the past decade. The public debt is now 73% of America’s gross domestic product (GDP). This is the highest level of debt since World War II. In addition, with the reduction in tax revenue from capital gains and other business revenue, the total receipts by the government are the “lowest they have been since World War II.” A combination of higher spending and lower revenues has created a serious debt and deficit problem. Tax reform will need to be accompanied by a sound budget that reduces the national debt and deficit. This will include both tax increases and spending reductions.

World Competition:

All of America faces major challenges because of the changing world. The U.S. economy has grown 88% since 1986. However, most of the gains have gone to upper-income individuals. In the past 15 years, America has 15% more college graduates. However, some of the other nations in the third world have increased their number of graduates by 90%. All of these new college graduates throughout the world are creating substantial competition for job growth. Families have also changed significantly. In 1986, there were more couples with one breadwinner. Now there are more single persons and working couples. There are fewer manufacturing jobs. The American economy has moved steadily from manufacturing to exporting financial services, software and engineering.

Finally, many foreign nations have acted aggressively to modernize their education systems, infrastructure and tax codes. Foreign companies increasingly have grown to join the members of the Fortune Global 500. Many of these large foreign companies have been acquiring U.S. companies and reducing the jobs in this nation. For example, when the European company Unilever acquired the U.S. company Alberto Culver, it closed an Illinois production facility and moved hundreds of jobs overseas.

A Solution?

Baucus foresees a four-part solution. A new tax code will be needed that has a focus on jobs, competition, innovation and opportunity.

1. Jobs.

The primary factor that will increase employment is to reduce personal income tax rates. This will require reducing or eliminating tax expenditures (such as deductions for medical care, retirement plans, mortgage interest, state and local taxes and charitable giving).

2. Competition.

The foreign nations have all reduced their corporate tax rates. America now has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrial world. The corporate tax rate will need to be reduced by eliminating many corporate deductions.

3. Innovation.

America will need to encourage research and new technologies with appropriate incentives.

4. Opportunity.

In the present world, education is more important than ever before. Therefore, a new tax code will need to facilitate higher education opportunities. Baucus stated that he is “making progress on a detailed tax reform proposal that will attract bipartisan support.”

Editor’s Note: Chairman Baucus and House Ways and Means Chair Dave Camp (R-MI) are both holding hearings. They believe that 2013 is the “once-in-a-generation” opportunity for them to craft comprehensive new personal and corporate tax codes.

Conclusion

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On Rising Unemployment

Will Tax Reform Create Jobs?

By Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

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With a jobs report showing 54,000 new jobs last month, unemployment moved back up to 9.1%. Both parties are in agreement that the current economy is not producing a sufficient number of new jobs to reduce the unemployment rate.

House Ways and Means Committee

The House Ways and Means Committee continued to conduct hearings on tax reform that may increase employment. Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) opened the June 2 meeting with a statement that it is time for “a systematic review of the tax code for a very simple reason – the tax code is preventing, not promoting, job creation.”

Chairman Camp notes that it is important to reform the tax code by lowering rates. He suggests that lowering marginal tax rates on business income will facilitate job creation.

Camp stated that the “combined federal-state corporate tax rate of 39.1%” is one of the highest in the world. In addition, there are over 200 federal tax provisions that are expected to expire in the next few years. Without a stable tax system and low rates, it is difficult for companies to grow and create new jobs. Chairman Camp has proposed a reduction in corporate and individual tax rates to 25%. The purpose of the hearings is to discuss how to reduce corporate and personal deductions so that overall tax rates can be lowered.

Ranking Minority Member Sander Levin (D-MI) commented, “I think most of us agree that a lower corporate rate is desirable. But the trade-offs involved in getting there truly matter.”

Assessment

At a subsequent meeting the next day with a group in Washington, Levin noted that it is one thing to propose a reduction in rates to 25%. However, reducing the personal rate would require a substantial change in the rules for mortgage interest and health insurance deductions. Similarly, reducing corporate rates would require a substantial change in the manufacturing deduction and the research credit.

While both individuals and corporations like the concept of lower rates, the changes in those deductions will affect many Americans. Rep. Levin suggests that it will be important to have an extensive discussion of those changes before there is legislation.

Editor’s Note: Tax reform for 2011 is still quite uncertain. However, as the unemployment numbers continue to hold near 9%, both parties are clearly concerned about the 14 million unemployed Americans. The high level of unemployment may be a motivator to consider substantial tax change this year.

Conclusion

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Chairman Bernanke Advocates Tax Reform

Reform Coming in 2011?

By The Children’s Home Society of Florida Foundation

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Chairman of the Federal Reserve [the FED], Ben Bernanke met January 7th 2011 with the Senate Budget Committee. He spoke on the topic of tax reform during 2011. According to sources, Mr. Bernanke noted, “Greater clarity and certainty is obviously beneficial, and to the extent you can create more certainty about where the tax code is going to be over the next couple years, that would be helpful.”

Budget Committee Seems to Agree

Chairman Bernanke and the Senate members of the Budget Committee all noted that with the current weak economy and high level of unemployment, it is a very key year for potentially reforming the tax code. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) joined with Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to introduce the bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act of 2010. Sen. Wyden noted, “The big idea for economic growth in our country is fundamental tax reform, where you go in there and clean out this job-killing, thoroughly discredited mess.” Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) agreed that the tax code “is just completely out of date.” He responded, “It does not take account of the world that we live in today.”

Assessment

In the House, the new Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp (R-MI), also showed interest in tax reform during 2011. He suggested that it will be necessary to “streamline the tax code that today is too costly, too complex and too burdensome for families and employers.”

Editor’s Note: Both House and Senate Finance Leaders will be holding hearings this year on tax reform. Because 2011 is not an election year, it is a potentially good year for major tax reform. As was evident from the tax bill that was signed in December 2010, tax reform will require compromise between the Senate, the House and the White House. However, with the unemployment rate currently at 9.4%, there is now a growing consensus on the need for continued improvements in the tax system in order to reduce unemployment.

Conclusion

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Reining In the Tax Collector

IRS Restructuring and the Reform Act

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The “IRS Restructuring and Reform Act” is finally helping some professionals like doctors protect themselves from tax liens and levies

Prior to the Act

Before the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act went into effect almost a decade ago, matters concerning tax liens or levies were routine at the IRS, causing serious problems for medical professionals and family-owned businesses [FOBs]. Revenue officers issued notices of liens and levies merely as they deemed appropriate.

Since the Act

However, since the Reform Act went into effect, revenue officers have been required to obtain a supervisor’s approval before initiating collection activities or issuing notices of liens or levies. Now, supervisors review and investigate a case before a lien or levy is issued (i.e., homes and family business stock).

Specifically, for example, the supervisor must review the balance due from the taxpayer and confirm that the indicated collection action is appropriate given the amount owed by the taxpayer. This provision went into effect immediately upon passage of the act.

However, the effective date for automatic collection activities was delayed until Jan. 1, 2001. This delay was because most liens and levies are automated. Errors commonly occur in automatic liens and levies, but the IRS is working to introduce a human element into the transactions. Many doctors and family business professionals are taking advantage of the lien review requirement, helping clients avoid harsh collection activities.

Jeopardy Assessments Forbidden

In a related change, no jeopardy or termination assessments may be made without written review and written approval of the IRS chief counsel. Within five days of any jeopardy assessment, the IRS must provide the taxpayer with a written statement indicating the reason for taking action. As a result, substantially fewer jeopardy and termination assessments have been made. In addition, some family business professionals and doctors report they have been able to avoid jeopardy assessments and often challenge the basis for making the assessment.

Wage Levy

Under the Act, the IRS must release and cancel a wage levy once an agreement is made that the tax liability is uncollectible. If a wage levy is issued, tax-payers now have a firmer foundation for negotiating an end to the levy. This is helpful because, previously, levies were continued despite un-collectibility.

Seizure

Unless collection is in jeopardy, any property used in the business and personal property may not be seized without approval of an IRS district director. In determining whether to grant such approval, the taxpayer’s future ability to earn income will be taken into account. This provision has helped many substantially reduce the seizure of their business assets. Taxpayers have a right to contest a levy and to prevent or limit orders of seizures in appropriate cases.

IRAs and Qualified Plans

The IRS can continue to levy on IRA’s or qualified plan balances. However, the 10% excise tax on early withdrawals will no longer apply; this avoids the harsh double penalty of the past. If a doctor is faced with an IRS levy on an IRA or qualified plan, s/he may not want to withdraw the funds from an IRA or qualified plan to pay the obligation. The withdrawal will result in a 10% excise tax.

However, if the doctor pays the taxes with an IRS levy in place, the penalty is avoided. Some financial consultants report they have issued memoranda to their clients on this subject. For example, a taxpayer who previously had a federal tax lien placed on his or her property can have the lien discharged by posting a bond or by depositing the taxes. The cash deposited can be refunded if there is no deficiency, or if the deficiency is reduced. Such bonds are now being used in appropriate cases.

Liens

The IRS must notify a taxpayer if it intends to place a lien on the taxpayer’s property. The taxpayer then can request a hearing within 30 days. He or she also may contest any levy, unless collection of tax is in jeopardy. Doctors routinely are requesting hearings, using this procedure to terminate liens.

In addition, the taxpayer can request an installment agreement prior to levy. Thirty days after a hearing, the taxpayer can appeal the decision to the Tax Court. The act thus provides statutory appeals rights to taxpayers who are subject to a federal tax lien.

The hearing must be impartial and fair. The right of judicial review also ensures that the appeals officers act fairly. Taxpayers are informed of all their rights under these provisions. Congress has imposed a clear cut obligation on the IRS to consider alternatives to liens, such as posting of bonds, installment agreements, or offers in compromise. Thus, the medical professional has several alternatives to now consider. The right of judicial review is a major expansion of taxpayers’ rights.

Employment Taxes

The right of statutory appeal and the right of possible alternative obligations opens up a whole new area of appeal for the doctor and other taxpayers. The Reform Act permits early referral of disputes regarding independent contractors and similar matters. This should permit faster resolution of cases regarding employment status (employee or independent contractor). Many family businesses and/or medical practices contract with individuals employed by an outsourcing firm. The number of audits in this area has increased, and the IRS often regards the individual doctor as an employee of the medical practice or family business. In addition, the IRS has been encouraged to use mediation and arbitration to resolve disputes.

Offers-in-Compromise

Under the Act, the IRS must to consider factors such as equity or hardship when considering offers in compromise. The IRS is expected to forgo interest and penalties in appropriate cases. Rejected offers are subject to administrative review. Some medical professionals are finding the IRS more readily accepting of compromise offers.

Harassment

Many of the protections from harassment afforded to individuals by the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act in the commercial area have been extended to IRS collections. Some of those rights include not calling the taxpayer late at night, not harassing the taxpayer, and not dealing with the taxpayer if s/he has an authorized representative. If a violation occurs, the taxpayer can sue for negligent disregard of the Code. Here too, some doctors report that harassment-type activities have declined.

Innocent-Spouse Relief

The act contains significant provisions designed to protect innocent taxpayers from the tax misdeeds of their spouses the “innocent spouse relief” provision. The Tax Court can review any denials of innocent spouse relief.

Under the new rules, there must be actual knowledge of a tax misdeed before a taxpayer is considered “not innocent.” In the past, the test was whether the taxpayer knew or should have known about the other spouse’s tax misdeeds. Innocent spouse relief is easier to obtain under the “actual knowledge” test and is used routinely now.

Innocent spouse relief also is available on a partial basis. A taxpayer is relieved of liability on a partial basis even if he or she knew about the misdeeds, provided he or she did not know the extent of the misdeeds.

Thus, the spouse should not be liable for the portion of the understatement he or she had no knowledge of. This usually is as an alternative to a complete relief. All provisions (except the automatic lien provision) apply to any liability for taxes arising before, on, or after July 22, 1998.

Assessment

Since the IRS Reform Act passed, some doctors are working to protect themselves from tax collection activities or assessments. This is particularly true in innocent spouse cases. It bodes well therefore, for all family businesses, health practices, physician-executives and medical professionals to become and remain familiar with the provisions in the IRS Reform Act addressing such activities. You may just become grateful for this knowledge one day.

Conclusion

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