Tax Law

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Dan Shaviro has a blog entry on Leandra Lederman's paper. The US IRS has "private letter rulings" and Luxemburg gave advice on how to run business through Luxemburg to save on taxes.

Luxemburg was acting much like a shady tax-shelter law firm, giving strategic advice to clients in the hopes of getting some profitable business. (As with such firms, it can be hard for the client to know whether shelter is legitimate or crooked, though that is crucial to the moral situation for both law firm and client.) And Luxemburg can, and maybe has, replicated the situation by having a private law firm issue the same sort of advice, subsidized by the State if necessary.

I haven't read any US private letter rulings. Do they have the approach of "Well, the scheme you suggest wouldn't reduce your taxable income plus we'd fine you if you did it, but you didn't see how you can manage to reduce your taxes a different way by doing..."? It sounds like that is the spirit of the Luxemburg letters.

Original issue discount bonds are bonds issued at below par with no interest. I might pay $900 in 2020 for a bond which would be redeemed for $1,000 in 2022, for example. Under US tax rules, though, I would be taxed as 2020 income for the part of the interest which they calculate somehow had accrued in 2020. The income in 2022 is NOT treated as capital gains.

If individuals use cash accounting, though, they are not taxed on interest until it is received. My reading of this is that if Smith gives Jones $900 in 2020 for repayment of $1,000 in 2022, this is not treated as an original issue discount bond. I didn't look carefully enough to get this exact, though. It seems also that if Jones does not repay in 2022, Smith is not taxed on the income he is legally due, if he uses cash accounting--- he is taxed only when he actually receives the money. If Smith uses accrual accounting, though, he would be taxed on $100 income in 2022 even if Jones paid late, though he would not pay any additional tax if Jones finally paid him the $1,000 in 2025. Under either kind of accounting, if Jones never paid, Smith could at some point declare the the $1,000 a bad debt and deduct it, though there may be some limitation on deduction if lending is not Smith's ordinary business.