IRS

Better Call Saul!

On January 20, 2008, AMC debuted a promising new drama called Breaking Bad. The series chronicled the highs and lows of high-school chemistry teacher Walter White, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and put his knowledge to work opening a meth lab to secure his family's financial future. Millions of viewers became addicted to White's exploits as he plunged deeper and deeper into a life of crime, breathlessly watching him juggle relationships with his DEA-agent brother-in-law, arms dealers, cartel soldiers, and crooked strip-mall lawyer Saul Goodman. All fun to watch, sure . . . but there's a reason the announcer always says, "Kids . . . don't try this at home."

Jack Vitayanon is a 41-year-old, Ivy League-educated attorney in the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility, where he investigates crooked accountants, attorneys, and IRS agents. He even taught a class called "Tax Lawyering and Professional Responsibility in Tax Practice" at Georgetown Law School. But apparently he needed to crank out some adventure in his life. And while we may never know if he drew his ambition from AMC's antihero, it's crystal clear that he decided to join the methamphetamine trade.

It's Freezing Where?

Taxpayers across much of the Midwest and east coast have enjoyed a relatively light winter this year, with mild temperatures and little snow. But Old Man Winter made up for it last week. Temperatures dropped well below zero and wind chills broke records across the country. Friday morning saw thermometers dip below freezing in the Florida Everglades, and parts of North Carolina were colder than in Barrow, Alaska!

Care to guess where else temperatures have been falling? If you said "in Hell," you're right. That's because the House of Representatives, where gridlock appears to have found a permanent home, actually passed a bipartisan tax bill last week. The America Gives More Act would take three of those maddeningly "temporary" tax breaks that Congress barely manages to extend every year, and make them permanent. As the name implies, all three are intended to reward charitable giving:

Master This Green!

The calendar may say that spring officially begins on March 21. But for millions of golfers across the country, the season didn't really start until this weekend — specifically, when Bubba Watson outplayed 20-year-old phenom Jordan Spieth to claim his second green jacket at the 2014 Masters.

Augusta National Country Club, home of the Masters, is America's temple of golf. Augusta's "perennial ryegrass" fairways are manicured to a smoother finish than your living room carpet, and its greens are so hard and fast you could play billiards on them. So, with all that lush green stretching as far as the eye can see, would it surprise you to learn that the residents of Augusta have "mastered" a lucrative tax break? It's become so identified with the legendary golf tournament that it's known as "the Augusta rule." But if you own your own business, you may be able to take advantage of it yourself.

The verdict is in... Bitcoin will be taxed as property, not as currency

We have had more than a few clients this past year ask about Bitcoin and trading in Bitcoins from an income tax perspective.  There has been a lot of urban legends out there that claim, since the IRS has not given any formal guidance, that income taxes don't apply. Like most urban legends, that is simply wrong and making that assumption can land you in some real tax trouble.

When we delivered that news it was sometimes not what our client, or prospective client, wanted to hear. We've had to remind everyone that the primary premise of the U.S. Tax Code, Section 61, is pretty simple. It says that "gross income means all income from whatever source derived." So, unless there is a specific exclusion from taxability for the income source, you're on the hook for taxes.

Largest IRS Phone Scam Spreading

It is tax preparation season and the scammers our there know that taxes are weighing heavy on the minds of many taxpayers. The scammers are relying on the fact that you are thinking about taxes and the IRS right now.

Yesterday the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is warning all taxpayers to beware of phone calls from individuals who claim to represent the Internal Revenue Service, but in reality are trying to defraud you, in what it is saying is the largest ever scam it has seen to-date.

“This is the largest scam of its kind that we have ever seen,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. He commented that TIGTA has thus far received reports of over 20,000 contacts and is aware of thousands of victims who have collectively paid over $1 million (and climbing) as a result of the scam.

Seasoned Octopus

Most of the Internal Revenue Service's 90,000 employees are financial bureaucrats, working to collect the taxes that finance our government. But the Criminal Investigations unit, or IRS-CI, is an elite division of 3,700 financial crime fighters dedicated to protecting those taxes. Last month, they released their Fiscal 2013 annual report. And business sure is booming! In 2013, IRS special agents initiated 5,314 investigations (up 3.7% from 5,125 in 2012) and recommended 4,364 prosecutions (up 17.9% from 3,710 in 2012). There were 3,865 indictments and 3,311 convictions (the IRS doesn't take someone to criminal court unless they're pretty sure they can win). And 2,812 miscreants won themselves the proverbial "three hots and a cot" for terms averaging 25 months.

Most of IRS-CI's targets are plain old crooks. But some of them are just so awkwardly entertaining, we had to share their stories: