Nobody Likes Paying Taxes

March 8, 2010

In a speech last May, President Obama said, “Nobody likes paying taxes . . . . And yet, even as most American citizens and businesses meet these responsibilities, there are others who are shirking theirs.” He was referring to offshore tax havens and other loopholes that wealthy Americans often exploit to reduce their tax burden. But it doesn’t take moving money to Switzerland to avoid paying taxes. If history is any guide, 2010 will be a year in which many Americans use a few simple methods to reduce their tax liability, which could potentially cost the government billions of dollars.

This year is the last before the expiration of tax cuts originally put in place by the Bush administration. If Congress allows these tax cuts to expire, as the president supports, in 2011 the top marginal tax rates will increase from 28, 33, and 35 percent to 31, 36, and 39.6 percent.

Although it is not certain that tax rates will go up, many wealthy Americans are looking at 2010 as the end of the party. “Everybody thinks taxes are going up and tax breaks are being eliminated. Everybody’s thinking this, and they’re planning for it,” says Lance Wallach, a New York author, lecturer, and financial consultant who advises high net-worth clients, including entertainers and athletes. His phone is ringing off the hook with questions from clients about how they can take advantage of this year’s rates relative to 2011’s.

One of the most popular strategies is moving income from 2011 to this year. Usually, accountants encourage clients to postpone income so there is less income taxed in one year. But in 2010, the incentives have flipped. “This is the exact opposite. Accelerating your income makes 100 percent sense,” says Wallach.

Creative maneuvering. This would not be the first year taxpayers have pursued this strategy. In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president with promises to raise taxes on wealthy Americans, which Congress did in 1993, boosting the top marginal rate from 31 to 39.6 percent. In late 1992, many taxpayers, expecting rates to be higher the next year because of Clinton’s victory, moved more income onto 1992’s tax return to avoid paying more with the higher rate. Robert Carroll, an economist at a Washington research organization called the Tax Foundation, estimates that about $20 billion was shifted and paid at the 31 percent rate rather than the 39.6 percent—meaning there was about $1.5 billion that the federal government did not collect in revenue.

Something similar could happen this year. “Anyone who has flexibility with income is going to try to shift their income,” says Carroll. An example of flexibility would be a business owner who gives himself or herself a bonus in December 2010 rather than January 2011.

There’s also an incentive to delay tax deductions. For example, state property and income taxes can be deducted from federal income tax returns. Wallach says he is recommending that clients hold off on paying those taxes until next year, so that the deductions can be cashed in at the higher rate.

Some may choose to delay charitable gifts for the same reason—charitable giving is tax deductible, so some taxpayers may decide to hold off on a gift they would make in 2010 and instead give a larger amount in 2011. “What we know from history, if the taxes go up, people will delay their giving,” says Nancy Raybin, chair of the Giving Institute, an association of nonprofit consultants. But Raybin says such delays usually are not significantly damaging to charities because people will often just push a gift forward a few months—from December to January, for example. “If there’s a 12-month delay, it could be a problem. But if a donor is just delaying one month, it’s not a big problem,” she says.

These tax-avoidance strategies will probably be a one-time deal for those who pursue them. A study by economist Austan Goolsbee, currently a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, found that the 1993 drop-off in reported income was temporary. Income bounced back in following years. If tax rates appear to be steady after 2011, accelerating one’s income or delaying deductions is no longer advantageous. But taxpayers will continue to look for ways to reduce their liability—they just need the time and money to find the loopholes.

Wallach says most of his clients will adjust to higher tax rates with his help. “For the very sophisticated people, there will always be loopholes,” he says, such as deducting travel and entertainment expenses. “None of my clients pay more in taxes than a schoolteacher.” For issues like these Wallach has various websites including www.taxlibrary.us .

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxaudit419.com.

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

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US Health Insurance Trusts

Published: July 1 2010

By Lance Wallach

As their finances deteriorated, Detroit’s automakers earned the moniker “HMOs on wheels” for crippling employee healthcare liabilities (Health Maintenance Organizations are a type of insurer). This was worrisome not only for the companies but also some 850,000 active and retired beneficiaries who feared, with justification, that carmakers might one day go bust and shed these liabilities. That spurred the United Auto Workers union to agree in 2007 to Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Associations (VEBA) to absorb these liabilities. When the trusts were originally negotiated, the carmakers pledged cash contributions of nearly $60bn, somewhat less than their actual healthcare liabilities. As the crisis hit, they supplanted promised payments with their own equity and debt.

The UAW had little choice, but this partly defeated the purpose of creating the trusts. Not surprisingly, the trusts have tried to diversify quickly, most recently accepting around $4bn in cash from Ford, a slight discount for notes receivable, after redeeming stock warrants for $1.8bn earlier this year. General Motors retirees’ healthcare is backed by $13bn in cash plus $9bn in GM liabilities and up to a fifth of the automakers’ equity. That could fetch an additional $10bn once a public market exists. Chrysler’s employees are most exposed with only $2bn in cash plus $4.6bn in notes and up to 68 per cent of illiquid shares in Detroit’s weakest carmaker. Expert Witness Lance Wallach reckons these assets can never cover an estimated 80 years of full benefits.

But, by shedding exposure to Detroit and giving themselves the option of trimming benefits to conserve assets, UAW trustees are effectively creating a less-risky defined contribution plan. Beneficiaries may squeal, but something is better than nothing. America’s car industry might have fared better if only unions had let carmakers manage their liabilities with similar flexibility.

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and others.  Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit http://www.taxadvisorexperts.org or http://www.taxlibrary.us.

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or other entity.  You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

Get a $200,000 IRS Fine and Have Your Client Sue You

By Lance Wallach

Over the past decade, business owners have been overwhelmed by a plethora of arrangements designed to reduce the cost of providing employee benefits and taxes while simultaneously increasing their own retirement savings. The solutions ranged from traditional pension and profit sharing plans to more advanced strategies.

Some strategies, such as IRS Section 419 and 412(i) plans, used life insurance as vehicles to bring about benefits. Unfortunately, almost all the plans were noncompliant, even though insurance companies vetted them and encouraged their agents to sell them. This fostered an environment that led to numerous IRS crackdowns, disallowing tax deductions, and spurned clients to sue their insurance agents and others.

The result has been thousands of audits and an IRS task force seeking out tax-shelter promotions. In addition, the IRS has been auditing most 412(i) defined benefit retirement plans and all 419 welfare benefit plans — plans offered by many insurance agents. For unknowing clients, the tax consequences are enormous. Yet for their professional insurance advisors, the liability may be equally extreme. If an insurance professional sells one of these plans, and the client takes a tax deduction on that plan the IRS now considers as abusive, to be a listed transaction or substantially similar to such a transaction, the insurance agent may be called a “material advisor.” The fine for being found a material advisor is $200,000 if incorporated, or $100,000 if unincorporated.

Most insurance agents think that they can avoid the fine by filing Form 8918 with the IRS and informing on their clients. But, all of the Form 8918s we have seen have been filled out improperly. In our discussions with the IRS officials who wrote the regulations, the impression that we received was that if the form is filled out improperly, you are lying to the government. That is almost as bad as not filing the form. This has also been a problem with all the forms that we have reviewed for accountants and insurance agents. We have reviewed hundreds of forms, and not a single one has been filled out properly. One of the reasons for this may be that the promoter of the abusive plan sends the form with instructions to the accountant and insurance agent. These instructions tend to protect the promoter, but do not necessarily protect the insurance agent or accountant. So please be careful with this entire situation. We have received hundreds of phone calls from accountants and insurance professionals recently who are in this predicament. But, it is very difficult to help them after the fact.

Recently, there has been an explosion in the marketing of a financial product called “captive insurance.” These so-called “captives” are typically small insurance companies designed to insure the risks of an individual business under IRS Code Section 831(b). When properly designed, a business can make tax-deductible premium payments to a related party insurance company. Depending on circumstances, underwriting profits, if any, can be paid out to the owners as dividends, and profits from liquidation of the company may be taxed as capital gains.

While captives can be a great cost-saving tool, they also are expensive to build and manage. Also, captives are allowed to garner tax benefits because they operate as real insurance companies. Advisors and business owners who misuse captives or market them as estate planning tools, asset protection vehicles, for tax deferral purposes or to obtain other benefits not related to the true business purpose of an insurance company face grave regulatory and tax consequences.

A recent concern is the integration of small captives with life insurance policies. Small captives, under Section 831(b), have no statutory authority to deduct life premiums. Also, if a small captive uses life insurance as an investment, the cash value of the life policy can be taxable at corporate rates, and then will be taxable again when distributed. The consequence of this double taxation is to devastate the effectiveness of the life insurance, and it extends serious liability to any accountant who recommends the plan or even signs the tax return of the business that pays premiums to the captive.

The IRS is aware that several large insurance companies are promoting their life insurance policies as investments with small captives. The outcome looks eerily like that of the 419 and 412(i) plans mentioned above.

Remember, if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. There are safe and conservative ways to use captive insurance structures to lower costs and obtain benefits for businesses. And, some types of captive insurance products do have statutory protection for deducting life insurance premiums (although not 831(b) captives). Learning what works and is safe is the first step an accountant should take in helping his or her clients use these powerful, but highly technical insurance tools.

*Source: This article was first published in the January 2009 issue of California Broker magazine.

Lance Wallach, a member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals and an AICPA course developer, is a frequent and popular speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, reducing health insurance costs and tax-oriented strategies at accounting and financial planning conventions. He does frequent expert witness work and assists insurance professionals, accountants and others in reviewing 8918 forms so they can avoid the IRS $200,000 penalty that applies to material advisors.

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxaudit419.com and www.taxlibrary.us

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.