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Posts Tagged ‘IRS’

Colleges and Private Sector Employers Cut Worker Hours, Avoid New Hires to Avoid ObamaCare Fines

In Obama Administration, ObamaCare, Unemployment on January 20, 2013 at 1:48 am
Eddie Bauer store closing, Rockford, IL.  Jan. 20, 2013.  Photo by author.

Eddie Bauer store closing, Rockford, IL. Jan. 20, 2013. Photo by author.

Colleges and private employers are cutting hours to stay under 30 hour per week threshold for paying $2,000 “ObamaCare” annual fines.  Others are using independent contractors rather than hire full-time workers to avoid the 50-employee threshold mandating insurance coverage or fines.

It is fascinating to watch how it plays out.  Any massive law such as “ObamaCare” will have unexpected impacts, many negative.  Middle of the night sessions that create laws cannot possibly anticipate – or control – how everyone will react.  We read how colleges are cutting adjunct hours to keep them under 30 hours, since adjuncts generally are not offered healthcare.  [1] There will be additional effects.  The WSJ article quotes Dan King, executive director of the American Association of University Administrators, saying colleges fear ObamaCare will increase unionization efforts of adjuncts.  Why?  The reason being they will end up with fewer hours, pressuring adjuncts, who earn only a fraction of what full professors earn.

Private sector employers, “particularly restaurant operators, have been moving to cut hours to reduce the number of workers to whom they would be required to offer health insurance.” [1]

A Wall Street Journal article [2] goes into detail about one company that is actually expanding, but doesn’t want to crack the 50 full-time employee ObamaCare threshold.  As a result, the owner will hire independent contractors, who, of course, receive no benefits at all.

During her two-plus years in business, Elizabeth Turley has steadily recruited new employees for her apparel company, Meesh & Mia Corp., to keep pace with its rapid growth. But this year could be different. Instead of increasing her staff, she plans to hire independent contractors for tasks that can be outsourced, such as marketing and product development.

Her reason? Meesh & Mia is on the cusp of having 50 full-time employees. If the company hits that threshold, it will have to provide health coverage that meets government standards or potentially pay a penalty.

Elizabeth Turley, CEO of Meesh & Mia, plans to hire independent contractors this year because of health-insurance changes. Ms. Turley looked at fabric options at a trade show Tuesday.

“We are poised this year to more than double or even triple business,” says the 58-year-old Ms. Turley, whose Idaho-based company makes “spiritwear,” or clothes with licensed college and football-team colors and logos. “And then this happened…. We have to find another way to get there.”

Even though the rule doesn’t go into effect until early 2014, a business could be subject to the so-called employer mandate if, during 2013, it averages 50 or more full-time equivalent employees, according to recently released regulations from the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service.

Employers have the choice to calculate their head counts by averaging the full 12 months of 2013 or a consecutive six-month period during the year.
Many small-business owners haven’t yet realized that the way they structure their firm in 2013 could determine their status under the law in a year’s time.

The government issued the little-noticed regulatory guidance on Dec. 28. Ms. Turley says she wasn’t aware of the rules until a Journal reporter informed her.

….Typically, independent contractors are less expensive for employers, who don’t have to pay taxes on wages or supply benefits, as they would for their employees. Reliance on independent contractors has increased over the years, particularly in the recession, when employers sought less expensive labor.

How far does the hour-cutting and non-hiring go?  No one can tell.  Reduced hours may mean crimped service.  I suspect one impact of the law will be more low-income workers working two part-time jobs of approximately 25 hours each, as employers do everything possible to avoid cracking 29 hours per part-time employee.  Others will work as independent contractors rather than obtain full-time employment.  Either would be examples of unintended consequences of the law.  The article about contractors points out the IRS rules are complex, leading to more disputes and audits.

If anything, [audits] will increase more” in light of the health-care law, says Monique Warren, partner at workplace law firm Jackson Lewis LLP in White Plains, N.Y. “Employers have to be real careful about calling someone an independent contractor.”

Government auditors would determine whether a worker misclassification triggers the health-care law’s employer mandate. That means the stakes are higher for employers, particularly those who have close to 50 full-time employees. They could have to pay back taxes in addition to potential penalties associated with the health-care law, should the revised classification push their employee headcount over the threshold.

“Some businesses may be tempted to classify someone as an independent contractor to avoid the headcount that could subject them to the [employer mandate],” says Edward Lenz, senior counsel at the American Staffing Association, an Alexandria, Va., lobbying group for temporary and contract staffing firms. “If anything, the risks of misclassifications are exacerbated by the [health-care law].”

Adding to the confusion for small firms is that an employer’s view of who is an independent contractor may not align with the government’s. The guidelines defining independent contractors “aren’t black and white,” says Ms. Warren. “To some extent, it is deliberately vague. The IRS can’t… account for every different situation.”

Simply juggling schedules if you’re a part-time worker working 20-25 hours per week at two different employers is a challenge.  In today’s economy, finding one, nevermind two, jobs is tough enough.  More than a few workers will find their hours cut from ObamaCare, reducing their total earnings. 

 

[1] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323635504578213502177768898.html?KEYWORDS=health+law+colleges

[2] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324595704578241510527580352.html?KEYWORDS=cutting+hours+employers+health+law

Store closing picture by author.  IRS Building from Wikipedia Commons.

Yes, There Are Lots of Tax Loopholes!

In Income Tax Rates, Oil, President Obama, Tax Breaks on October 18, 2011 at 1:11 am

Yes, there are lots of tax loopholes!  You can hardly step anywhere in the personal or corporate tax codes without falling into a loophole.  Most every tax break was created in the name of helping a good cause (e.g. electric cars) or encouraging people or corporations to buy of something (e.g. homes or ethanol).  Still, the loopholes reduce tax revenue and add great complexity to the tax code.

 You can see for yourself how ridiculous the tax code is simply by looking at IRS Publication 946 at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p946.pdf.  Be forewarned: it is large .pdf file.  Do not blame the IRS, they are simply enacting what various Congresses and Presidents have put into law. Econscius thinks these 118 pages, which merely cover tax rules for depreciation, are a microcosm of what is wrong with the tax code.  These 118 pages are a like a few drops of water in the lake of tax complexity, too.  But I assume most readers will be perfectly fine with just one helping of accountant-speak. 

What is Depreciation?  When a company buys an asset like a railroad car, it is not allowed to expense the $100,000 cost right away.  The cost is expensed in little pieces over its theoretical ‘useful life’ of, according to the IRS table, 15 years.  Or seven years if the company is using an accelerated depreciation method. 

What is Accelerated Depreciation?  In order to encourage companies to purchase more assets, e.g. more airplanes, the Tax Code includes the ability to depreciate many assets more quickly than their ‘useful life’.  A 15 year asset may be deducted in seven years.

From a taxpayer’s standpoint, accelerating depreciation is valuable.  Increasing your expenses today means less income and less income means less tax paid.  In theory, the government gets all the tax money in the long run but the fact that the deductions are sped up is valuable because of what we call ‘the time value of money’: because of inflation, a dollar today is worth more than dollar five years from now.

I challenge anyone, Left or Right, to skim through the 118 pages and tell me the tax code is not unnecessarily complex.  There are loopholes aplenty, lying right before your eyes. 

On pages 25-28, we find the Gulf Opportunity Zone break, enacted after Hurricane Katrina.  There’s the Qualified Cellulosic Biofuel PLant Property benefit on page 28.  There are extremely generous accelerated depreciation rules on electric cars on page 66.  There are special depreciation rules for Indian Reservations on pages 38-39.  Fruit and nut trees and vines are covered on page 42.

Table B-1, which runs from page 103 to page 112 is a fine print example of tax loopholes.  You will notice there are different columns as there are different depreciation methods.  We can skip the mind-numbing complexity of GDS (MACRS) vs. ADS depreciation to make a few simple points:

(1.) Whenever the GDS and ADS depreciation recovery periods are different, we are really talking about a tax break.  The different method means a potential tax break because companies can depreciate more quickly than the true ‘useful life’ of the asset.  When you look through the IRS Publication 946, you see how most classes of assets do, in fact, have some sort of accelerated depreciation option.

(2.) Are so many classifications really necessary?  There are special depreciation rules for Cable TV-Microwave Systems, Railroad Track, Railroad Wharves and Docks, Manufacture of Foundry Equipment, manufacture of Leather and Leather Products, Sawing of dimensional Stock from Logs, Manufacture of Textile Yarns, and the ever-important Cotton Ginning Assets.

 

My personal favorite depreciation category is found on page 105: “Any Horse That Is More Than 12 Years Old At The Time It Is Placed In Service And That Is Neither A Race Horse Nor A Horse Described In Class 0.1222.” Got that?

There are special tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.  Surely you have heard of them before.   One of the breaks was enacted in 2004 to encourage companies to manufacture in the U.S.  That break lets most companies deduct 9% of profits from domestic manufacturing.   Oil and gas companies were classified as manufacturers, but their deduction was capped at 6%.  [1]  President Obama’s 2009 Stimulus package included an accelerated depreciation tax break for corporate jets on the theory it would encourage corporations to buy more jets, employing more Americans . [2]  President Obama often talks as if the accelerated depreciation for aviation and oil & gas drilling were the only tax breaks in the tax code. 

The oil and gas industry breaks are surely there, but ethanol, solar and wind actually enjoy far more favorable tax treatment.  Anyone looking at this IRS Publication 946 will see how disingenuous it is for politicians to focus on oil when almost every industry seems to have its hand in the till, even highly profitable areas like computers. 

Without question, an awful lot of time goes into interpreting and complying with the tax code.  Corporations and interest groups lobby for their narrow interests within the tax code. 

How do we fix this?  A flatter, simpler tax code with universal rules and few, if any, special deductions would be a place to start.  Ask everyone to give up their favorite tax breaks and we will all be better off; call it mutual tax break disarmament.  The US corporate tax rate in the highest amongst developed nations; why would we not want to lower the rates, drop the loopholes and end up with the same amount of revenue but with a lot less work? While there are some issues with Herman Cain’s proposed “9-9-9 plan”, it is a bold attempt to throw out the old tax code and start afresh.  Ideas like that would help get rid of monstrosities like IRS Publication 946.

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2011-05-12-oil-industry-tax-breaks_n.htm

[2] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/02/18/stimulus-includes-tax-break-promote-private-jet-sales/

Pictures from Wikipedia Commons.  IRS html from IRS link above.

As always comments are welcome.  Love the Tax Code?  Hate it?  Feel free to share below.

Who Pays What Average Income Tax Rates

In Income Tax Rates, Political Rhetoric, President Obama, Warren Buffett on October 9, 2011 at 2:23 am

Average Tax Rate by Share of Income, Source: IRS 2008 Data

There is an awful lot of misinformation floating around about what average tax rates are paid at different income levels.  It is actually very simple, which is why I put together this graph. 
 
Some would have you believe the richest of the rich pay a lower average rate than “a secretary”.  On average, that is simply not the case.  The Bottom 50% of taxpayers paid an average of 2.59% of their Adjusted Gross Income (“AGI”) as income tax.  The Top 1% paid 23.27% of their AGI as income tax.
  

Share of Income Average Tax Rate
Bottom 50% 2.59%
25-50% 6.75%
10-25% 9.29%
5-10% 12.44%
1-5% 17.21%
Top 1% 23.27%
 
The bottom 50% of taxpayers paid 2.7% of all income taxes paid, and the top 5% paid more than half of the total.
 
 

Share of Income Group’s Share of Income Taxes
Bottom 50% 2.70%
25-50% 10.96%
10-25% 16.40%
5-10% 11.22%
1-5%

  20.70%

Top 1% 38.02%
 
Data source: 2008 IRS data from http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html

Is Warren Buffett’s $924,725 Employee Middle Class or ‘Super-Rich’?

In Income Tax Rates, Political Rhetoric, Warren Buffett on August 29, 2011 at 8:32 pm

 

Mr. Buffett’s “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” opinion piece juxtaposes “while the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet” with a few sentences later, “and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office.  Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.” [1] 

The implication seems to be Buffett’s 20 co-workers are middle class. 

Berkshire has 260,519 employees [2], which begs the question which 20 are in his office?  We can be sure the 20 does NOT include a janitor from subsidiary Benjamin Moore paints, an engineer from his BNSF Railroad subsidiary nor even the GEICO gekko, though I’d love to have that little green Australian as a cubicle neighbor myself.

In a typical large corporation, the inner sanctum at headquarters includes the CEO (e.g. Mr. Buffett), the Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”), Corporate Controller, Chief Information Officer, Chief Counsel (top lawyer), head of Human Resources, head of Mergers and Acquisitions, a few other high ranking executives from sales, marketing, legal and finance, and perhaps an executive secretary or two.  They are not middle class workers.  Quite possibly all 20 in Mr. Buffett’s office would be six-figure earners, which explains why they would be paying average federal tax rates in the mid 30%’s (see my post https://econscius.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/trust-a-cpa-warren-buffet-is-wrong-about-tax-rates/).

We know what Berkshire Hathaway’s CFO, Marc D. Hamburg, earns from the company’s 2011 proxy statement.  Mr. Hamburg took in $924,725. [3]  Are Mr. Hamburg and the other 19 workers in Mr. Buffett’s corporate office “middle-class” or are they “rich”, even ‘super-rich’?  As I posted before, the IRS reports the bottom half of all taxpayers paid only 2.9% of taxable income in federal income tax.  Even adding on Social Security and Medicare keeps the percentage below what Mr. Buffett pays.  Mr. Buffett’s comparison of his own tax rates to the 20 in his office is essentially meaningless because his co-workers are neither poor nor middle class.  They most certainly are nowhere near the bottom half of earners.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/opinion/stop-coddling-the-super-rich.html?_r=1

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkshire_Hathaway

[3] http://sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1067983/000119312511062515/ddef14a.htm

Disclosure: at the time of this writing, the author owned common stock in Berkshire Hathaway, Inc.

Buffett picture from Wikipedia Commons.