Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Howard’s Inner Circle, No. 15: Dramatic Changes in Tax Planning

I met Dean Zerbe a number of years ago when he became National Director in alliantgroup's Washington, D.C. office. He was formerly a Senior Tax Counsel on the Senate Finance Committee. I took a liking to him immediately and was lucky enough to hear him speak last week at a Firm of the Future free breakfast hosted by Philip Whitman of Whitman Business Advisors and Robert Fligel of RF Resources.

Dean Zerbe understands intimately the dynamics of tax legislation and is especially attuned to the changing winds in Washington. I like that his free newsletter is only sent out when he has something important to say. Most importantly he pulls no punches when he describes the factors and the players that influence tax legislation.

There were some keys points he made that morning indicating to me that accounting firms should be making changes in their approach to tax planning, and in identifying which clients and potential clients are impacted by tax legislation.

Tax legislations’ increased industry focus.--It was particularly evident in the recent health reform legislation according to Zerbe that taxes were imposed on industries or a tax benefit was given to an industry. Take the therapeutic credit/grant which is a limited $1 billon program which ends once that amount is allocated. Interestingly if a qualified company picked by the IRS can’t use the credit it gets a grant. Zerbe points out the IRS form for applying was expected to come out momentarily and there is a very limited time to file. He expects future tax legislation to continue to focus on specific industries as that is easier than changing tax rates in general. Another example of this continued type of focus is a controversial proposal trying to increase payroll taxes for S corporations where shareholders are professionals.

Taking the penalty.—Zerbe expects more companies to pay the penalty for not proving medical insurance benefits as that will result in a greater savings than continuing to pay the benefits. He predicts taking the penalty as increasingly being viewed as a viable option in other situations.

Choosing to pay the estate tax for those dying in 2010.--Zerbe predicts one option that Congress might select is allowing certain estates of those deceased in 2010 subject to carryover basis to pay an estate tax instead and get a stepped-up basis for the property. If this option is adopted or the carryover basis rules are left alone, there are significant fiduciary obligations for these executors and administrators and planning opportunities for the disposal of property with a carryover basis with regard to heirs.

Watch out for tax whistleblowers—According to Zerbe, underpayment of tax whistle blowing is on the increase such as the reporting of companies taking advantage of promoted tax shelters. With downsizing, a move to independent contractors, and the informality of e-mails, it should come as no surprise that a disgruntled ex-employee might seek a reward from IRS. What is fascinating is the number of law firms who are specializing in this. Just do a search on the Internet.

Highlight costs of compliance-- CPAs and the organizations representing them need to put a greater effort in convincing Congress to calculate the costs of compliance when a tax law change is proposed suggests Zerbe. The figures could be included in Congressional reports the same way the revenue impact of specific law changes are displayed.

© 2010
The above is from the newsletter, Howard’s Inner Circle, which periodically appears on the blog, “Instigator” at http://howardwolosky.blogspot.com/. It may be reproduced in full if that fact is stated and Howard Wolosky is credited as the author.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Howard’s Inner Circle, No. 14: What is a Community?

Some might suggest a dictionary is the best place to find the definition of the word “community.” Others might point to the entry in Wikipedia. After reading, Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community, it is readily apparent that the definition depends upon the context in which you are using that word.

You no longer have to live in the same town, nor have direct personal and business contacts, or vote in the same local election to be part of a community. The Internet, e-mail, and other technologies have really broadened what constitutes a community and how many members can belong at any particular time. Also a member of a virtual community takes many forms including being an observer, a registered member, an active participant, and a community administrator. The form can change in an instant. Unlike geographic communities, there are often few ties (a job, home, family, etc.) which bind you tightly. You can simply leave that community and go to another if it doesn’t serve you well.

What do you look for in a virtual community? How about a mission statement you feel comfortable with, that the members believe in, and try to follow. Throw in a code of ethics and list of responsibilities for all its members and participants, including advertisers? How about transparency and full disclosure? And like some geographic communities, security, comfort, and diversity. Deep down a community that promotes the common good, while still encouraging, within reason, self-interest.

Much of business is obtained from referrals. In my experience, writing about CPA firms for many years, they were often the result of a CPA’s relationship building skills with clients and other professionals in the immediate geographic area. The problem is those geographic communities don’t have the stability they once had. Globalization, changing economic conditions, and technology are decimating some communities and creating new ones, often at a dizzying rate.

What communities you belong too is an important decision. In the past, it often revolved around the geographic location and great thought and due diligence would occur before joining a particular community. Because of the ready instant access and the need to participate within these virtual communities, I believe similar standards should be applied in selecting all the communities that we “live” in.

© 2010
The above is from the newsletter, Howard’s Inner Circle, which periodically appears on the blog, “Instigator” at http://howardwolosky.blogspot.com/. It may be reproduced in full if that fact is stated and Howard Wolosky is credited as the author.