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The Tax Lawyer-Robert Wood “What Is Your Audit Risk”

forbes-logo Do You Feel Lucky?  No one wants to be audited.  And yet as a tax lawyer advising clients about tax issues, I’m required by Treasury Department rules to assume every return will be audited.  In truth, there might be only a 2% chance of audit. When I say there’s a 50/50 chance a tax deduction will be upheld, I must assume it will be examined.

Because of these strict standards, it can be awkward to talk about audit risk.  But understandably, no matter how sure you are of your return, you don’t want to be audited.  You want your return to look plain vanilla, and nothing prevents you from trying to make it sail through as long as you fully and fairly complete it.  See 10 Ways To Audit Proof Your Tax Return.

Audit Witchcraft?  There are many old wives’ tales about what does and doesn’t trigger an audit, but the latest IRS stats are worth a look.  The IRS has pulled back the shroud on audit rates in its 2010 Data Book, providing important clues about your chances.  The numbers reveal some surprising percentages.

Annuity News Now

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The Tax Lawyer, Robert Wood “Need A Tax Receipt?” (Forbes)

robertwood_136 So you’re doing your tax return but don’t have a receipt?  Diehard Seinfeld fans may remember that in ‘‘The Truth,’’ Episode 19, aired Sept. 25, 1991, the IRS questioned Jerry about a $50 charitable contribution to the people of Krakatoa.  In fact, the IRS normally doesn’t require as much substantiation of charitable donations less than $250, so Jerry’s check or bank statement would have sufficed.  For more about Seinfeld and taxes, see Omnipresent Seinfeld Episodes Contain Ample Clues About Tax Policy

More generally of course, receipts are critical.  But if you can’t find one, remember the Cohan Rule, emanating from Cohan v. CommissionerGeorge M. Cohan was an early Broadway pioneer, authoring such hits as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.”  His statue still commands Times Square.  But the IRS disallowed Cohan’s travel and entertainment expenses for lack of receipts. 

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Joe Arsenault-Annuities Can Help Manage Risk and Taxation

retirement-assets-split-during-divorce_-200X200 When retiring clients move to a lower risk investment mix, annuities can help manage both the risk and taxation considerations.  It’s also important, when shifting gears to more fixed income planning, to consider timing and Social Security taxation as it relates to capital transactions involving their assets.

Shurwest Financial Group CPA Joe Arsenault discusses some of the tax, insurance and income stream benefits of an annuity for these clients.


Forbes: The Tax Lawyer-Relying On Tax Advisers May Not Prevent Penalties

forbes_logo_main When you take tax positions that are challenged, the IRS usually adds penalties and interest to your tax bill. Interest generally can't be waived, but "I relied on my tax adviser" can be a potent defense to penalties. Unfortunately, claiming you relied on your tax lawyer or accountant doesn't always work, as a recent Tax Court case reveals.

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Peter Cohan-Egyptian Unrest: Three Scenarios for Oil and Gasoline Prices

In the last week, Egyptians have taken to the streets of its major cities. This will cost you about 10 cents a gallon more at the pump -- around $3.21 a gallon for regular -- for the next few weeks after a 3% spike in crude prices in the last week. But it could be worse.
Mideast_Egypt_Protests-10413_57bfab2336.largeslideshow Although oil prices have risen -- futures are up from $89.11 a barrel on Jan. 24 to $92.19 on Jan. 31 -- the amount of oil that flows through Egypt's Suez Canal is tiny. According to the New York Times, only 2.6% of the world's crude flows through Egypt's Suez Canal -- and it's so narrow (only 1,000 feet wide at its narrowest) that tankers cannot fit through it. So the oil that travels through Egypt's pipelines -- mostly to India and to some Asian markets -- represents 2.9 million barrels a day, slightly more than the 2.5 million in global spare energy capacity.
But even though there's unrest in Egypt, it does not mean that the oil will stop flowing through the Suez Canal, according to Goldman Sachs. However, it also does not put an end to the uncertainty in the region because Egypt is not the only country in the oil rich region with a young population full of angry unemployed people frustrated with an authoritarian monarchy/dictatorship. For example, Saudi Arabia -- that controls 25% of the global oil supply -- is not exactly a bastion of democracy.
So if you're an investor, or just concerned about how much of your paycheck is going to gasoline in the months ahead, the uncertainty surrounding the political situation in the Middle East is worth considering. While there are many possible outcomes, we can frame them with these three scenarios (figures in parentheses represent my very rough estimates if oil prices -- in dollars/barrel  -- and gasoline prices -- in dollars per gallon -- under the various scenarios):

  • Middle East Total Chaos ($300, $10). This worst case scenario would result in Saudi Arabian government losing control of the populace. CommodityOnline suggests that this scenario is not likely because so many large countries are pouring money into the Kingdom and that the population is getting enough of a share of that money to keep it calm. However, the Saudi government is probably quite concerned that unrest nearby could inspire the average citizen.
  • Middle East Moderate Chaos ($150, $5). Under this scenario, the Egyptian unrest leads to a change in leadership which inspires other countries in the Middle East to send frustrated citizens into the streets seeking a change in leadership. For example, The Daily Beast suspects that Jordan could suffer a revolt. However, the country is run by a relatively reasonable monarchy and it's not a big oil player. So the biggest danger of instability in Jordan would be extending the period of oil market volatility.
  • Middle East Swift Resolution ($86, $3.08). Under this scenario, the situation in Egypt is resolved with a relatively peaceful transfer of power to a new leader and the price of oil returns to where it was before -- around $86 and $3.08 a gallon.

Who knows which of these scenarios is most likely. My hunch is that the Egyptian situation will resolve itself peacefully with a new leader -- possibly Mohamed ElBaradei -- taking over in the next few weeks. But if this happens, the successful leadership changes in Tunisia and then Egypt will certainly inspire those in other nations to take to the streets to get their share of the revolutionary fun.
The really threatening issue for the rest of the world is what would happen if Saudi Arabia turned out not to be able to keep its populace under control. Instability there would really throw the global economy for a major loop -- particularly if control of its oil resources fell into the hands of leaders who strongly oppose the West.
While I hope that the Egyptian situation is resolved peacefully over the next few weeks, I would not be surprised to see "success" there -- as viewed by the average citizen in the Middle East -- inspiring more unrest.