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Tax Blawg

Tax Talk Blog for Tax Pros

Welcome to TaxBlawg, a blog resource from Chamberlain Hrdlicka for news and analysis of current legal issues facing tax practitioners. Although blawg.com identifies nearly 1,400 active “blawgs,” including 20+ blawgs related to taxation and estate planning, the needs of tax professionals have received surprisingly little attention.

Tax practitioners have previously lacked a dedicated resource to call their own. For those intrepid souls, we offer TaxBlawg, a forum of tax talk for tax pros.

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Posts from March 2010.

Welcome to all TaxProf readers who found their way over here, and many thanks to Prof. Caron for his warm welcome to the blogosphere.  While you are here, please feel free to stop over and enjoy Employee Benefits Law Unplugged, a sibling blog written by our colleague, Jewell Esposito.

The passage of President Obama's health-care legislation will no doubt have long-lasting consequences for the economy in general and the health-care industry in particular.  Less noticed by the general public, but central in the minds of tax professionals, has been a single provision in the accompanying reconciliation bill that codifies the so-called "economic substance" doctrine.  Having often been introduced in bills that eventually died in the catacombs of the legislative process, many practitioners were beginning to believe that codification was a cousin of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster - often spotted, but never confirmed.

Categories: Legislation

The Internal Revenue Code provides a basic exclusion from income taxation of the proceeds of a life insurance policy.  However, what happens if a taxpayer surrenders the life insurance policy with loans against the cash value?  The formal rule is that amounts received upon the surrender of a life insurance contract which are not received as an annuity are specifically included in gross income to the extent that they, when added to amounts previously received under the contract and excluded from gross income, exceed the investment in the contract.  How this works was illustrated in the sad ...

Let's face it: employees are wonderful.  We couldn't do without them.  However, they can be expensive.  Beyond their base compensation, employers must pay federal taxes – in addition to withholding the employee's share of income tax, FICA and Medicare, there is an employer’s share of Medicare and FICA that must deposited regularly.  There's also annual FUTA tax, as well as quarterly state unemployment tax.  And there are benefits, ranging from medical coverage, to vacations, to sick leave, to name just three, that employers must pay.

When business is down, it is natural to try to find ...

The recent decision in Bemont Investments, LLC v. United States, USDC E.D. Tex., No. 4:07-cv-00009 (March 9, 2010) is another burr in the IRS’s saddle when it comes to enforcement of the substantial valuation and gross valuation misstatement penalties.  These two penalties, particularly the 40% gross valuation misstatement penalty, are powerful weapons in the IRS’s arsenal to deter taxpayers from entering into transactions the IRS considers abusive.  Bemont, out of the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, was a Son of BOSS case that the IRS characterized as a sham ...

Categories: Litigation

Predictably, there has been a good deal of consternation accompanying the release of IRS Announcement 2010-09, which continues the trend away from the Service's traditional "policy of restraint" in seeking to uncover uncertain tax positions.  The first chink in this long-standing policy of restraint was exhibited in Announcement 2002-63, where the Service expanded the circumstances under which it would seek tax accrual workpapers.  Prior to the earlier Announcement, workpaper demands were limited to workpapers relating to listed transactions provided such transactions had been disclosed.  Thereafter, a taxpayer who engaged in more than one listed transaction, whether previously disclosed or not, was subject to a demand to disclose all workpapers.  The IRS's summons enforcement action in Textron relied on Announcement 2002-63 to seek all of the taxpayer's workpapers (arguing that six separate SILO transactions fit within the scope of its new policy).

Announcement 2010-09 goes significantly further in eroding the policy of restraint by placing the onus on the taxpayer to make its own affirmative disclosures of uncertain positions rather than requiring the Service to deduce them from the taxpayer's workpapers.  What has received little attention, however, are the implications of the Service's intention to require the new disclosure form not only for taxpayers who record a reserve in their financial statements for uncertain tax positions, but also taxpayers who "expect[] to litigate the position."

In her column last Monday, Lee Sheppard criticized Judge Holmes of the Tax Court for, as she put it, “strain[ing] to find a reason to hold for the taxpayer” in the recent case of Container Corp. v. Comm’r, 134. T.C. No. 5.  According to Ms. Sheppard, Judge Holmes "appears to have assumed equitable powers in deciding" the case, and "the tax law is the worse for it."

The basic issue in Container Corp. was whether guarantee fees paid by a U.S. corporation to its Mexican parent in respect of a debt guarantee provided by the parent should be treated as U.S.-source income (and therefore subject to withholding tax on payment to the Mexican parent).  Because the rules for sourcing income don't address how guarantees are to be treated, the court framed its analysis as whether the guarantee fees were more like interest (which is sourced to the location of the borrower) or more like services (which are sourced to the location of the provider).

Ms. Sheppard excoriated Judge Holmes for even contemplating that a debt guarantee could be treated as a service.  To her, it "[s]ounds pretty obvious" that the parent corporation was simply protecting its investment in the subsidiary, not providing a service to the subsidiary.

We previously discussed how the Wyden-Gregg bill proposes reducing interest deductions to the extent the interest simply compensates for inflation.  Inflation affects tax calculations in two ways.  First, it affects the dollar figures in the Code so that, for example, when your wages keep up with inflation, but you are pushed into a higher tax bracket, the resulting “bracket creep” is caused by inflation.  Second, when the value of your investment simply keeps pace with inflation and does no better, you still recognize a “gain” when you sell it.  Here, the measurement of real income has been distorted by inflation.

Many “bracket creep” issues are taken care of through section 1(f) of the Code, which adjusts dollar amounts in the Code to account for inflation.  But the Code has not generally corrected for the effects of inflation on the measurement of income.  A proposal made by the Treasury after the 1984 election would have broadly attacked the effects of inflation on income measurement.

To see an example illustrating the two ways inflation affects tax calculations as well as further discussion of the 1984 Treasury proposals, keep reading.