Investments

State of the Union 2015

Hopefully you were not waiting until President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 20 to hear about his plans to shake up the tax laws. After all, the details of his tax plan had been leaked days earlier and the entire text of his speech was posted online before the event.

Apparently we have a new State of the Union address tradition. In each of his six previous State of the Union addresses he also proposed tax hikes.

Here are the more significant tax provisions that were proposed.

Toby Keith's "I Love This Tax Problem"

In 2003, country music superstar Toby Keith released "I Love This Bar," the first single from his Shock'n Y'All album. (For those of you under age 25 or so, an "album" is . . . oh, never mind.) Billboard predicted the song would become "a beer-joint staple for years to come," and it promptly shot to #1 on the charts, selling over a million copies.

"I Love This Bar" is just one of Keith's odes to drinking — he's also scored hits with "Whiskey Girl," "Get Drunk and Be Somebody," and "Get My Drink On." "Red Solo Cup," his 2011 smash, made the red plastic cups the symbol of "party time" for the under-30 set. Naturally, with that sort of appeal, Keith had to open a bar of his own. Singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet pioneered the concept, opening dozens of Margaritavilles anywhere middle-aged men of a certain disposition gather to recall their youth. If Jimmy can do it, why can't Toby?

A Little Bit of Tax

It seems like every day brings new questions about the digital currency called bitcoin, which first appeared in 2009. Who is the shadowy "Satoshi Nakamoto" who created the currency's protocol and software? Who stole $450 million worth of bitcoin from the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange? Who was the mystery buyer who used bitcoin to snag a $500,000 house on the Indonesian island of Bali?

Last week, the IRS solved a mystery by ruling on how bitcoin would be taxed, at least here in the United States. And their answer to that question may shoot a hole in bitcoin's hope to become more widely accepted.

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.

I'd Like to Thank the Academy . . . .

Sunday night, millions of movie fans across the globe tuned in as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences presented the 86th Academy Awards. Viewers were amazed that Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews spun a $250 budget into a Best Makeup award for Dallas Buyers Club. They held their breath and wondered how much Kim Novak had to drink before she stumbled her way through the animation awards. And they thrilled as first-timer Lupitsa Nyong'o won Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave. But there's one award we didn't see — and it's a key to getting any movie made. We're talking, of course, about the coveted award for Best Original Tax Planning.

When we think of movies, we immediately think of Hollywood. But most movies aren't

The Naughty List

Christmas is almost here, and that means millions of parents across America are telling their kids to behave themselves or risk winding up on the "Naughty List." (Admit it — if you've got kids, and you celebrate Christmas, you've done it yourself.) But while kids may be on their best behavior, grownups sometimes fail to make the connection between their own behavior and what Santa leaves under the tree. This is especially true when it comes to taxes! Misbehave there, and you risk a lot more than a lump of coal. So here are four cautionary tales to consider as the holiday approaches.

  • Joel Grasman worked as an electrician for the Metropolitan Transit Authority in Long Island. He and his wife owed the IRS $10,000 in tax for failing to report a loan from her pension. So, late one night, Grasman snuck into the yard where he works to steal some welding machines to pay off that debt. He loaded the machines onto his truck just fine, but forgot to lower the long boom on the truck before driving off to store the machines at his brother's garage. Uh oh. “I wanted to get out of there before I attracted any attention and I forgot to put the boom down,