Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brown to propose new corporate tax package

Gov. Jerry Brown will ask lawmakers Thursday to tighten a corporate tax formula in exchange for giving manufacturers a sales tax exemption and offering enhanced jobs tax credits, according to legislative sources.

To enact the plan, the Democratic governor must win votes from at least two Republicans in each house, which Brown failed to do in his state budget fight earlier this year. Brown will portray his plan, which would start in 2012, as a job creation package as California grapples with a 12 percent unemployment rate.

The linchpin is a requirement that multi-state companies calculate their corporate tax liability only on the proportion of sales they have in California relative to elsewhere in the nation, a method called "single sales factor."

Under a 2009 budget deal, firms won the ability to pick the more generous of two tax formulas starting this tax year, making California one of only two states to give companies that choice on an annual basis.

Brown wanted a mandatory single sales factor in January to raise nearly $1 billion for the state budget, but Republicans and business groups blocked that plan. Proponents say that making that formula mandatory would benefit companies that build facilities and create jobs in California. But it would force some major firms to pay more taxes and has divided the membership of leading business groups.

Rather than use the money to attack the deficit, the governor now wants to direct it toward a nearly 4 percent state sales tax exemption for manufacturing start-up companies and a 3 percent state sales tax exemption for existing firms, legislative sources said. The exemption would also apply to the biotechnology, software and clean energy industries.

Brown also wants to enhance employer tax credits by expanding the amount from $3,000 to $4,000 per worker and providing it to businesses with up to 50 employees, rather than 20.

The latest Brown proposal builds on Senate Bill 116 by Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. SB 116 is on the Senate floor and has yet to be heard in the Assembly. The California Chamber of Commerce, California Taxpayers Association and California Manufacturers and Technology Association oppose the bill, according to a Senate analysis.

Brown called a Capitol press conference for Thursday morning, his first in nearly two months since reaching a tentative budget deal with Democrats. The governor has faced mounting criticism for ignoring job creation while other state leaders, most notably Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, have announced their own ideas.

"Promoting job creation in California should be a top priority for all legislators," said Brown spokesman Gil Duran in an e-mail. "We are hopeful that there will be bipartisan support for job creation in California."

Parcel number required for property tax deductions

From Spidell Publishing Inc.®

The California Franchise Tax Board is planning to add a line to Schedule CA of Form 540 asking taxpayers who deducted property tax to list the address and parcel number of the property. There will apparently be language cautioning taxpayers that certain payments, such as Mello Roos, are not deductible property tax payments.

Interestingly, Schedule CA is used to adjust federal income for California nonconformity items and California conforms to federal law as it pertains to individuals who claim deductions for property tax.

More IRS Cops, More Audits, Says Treasury Report

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Social Security disability on verge of insolvency
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER - Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Laid-off workers and aging baby boomers are flooding Social Security's disability program with benefit claims, pushing the financially strapped system toward the brink of insolvency.

Applications are up nearly 50 percent over a decade ago as people with disabilities lose their jobs and can't find new ones in an economy that has shed nearly 7 million jobs.

The stampede for benefits is adding to a growing backlog of applicants — many wait two years or more before their cases are resolved — and worsening the financial problems of a program that's been running in the red for years.

New congressional estimates say the trust fund that supports Social Security disability will run out of money by 2017, leaving the program unable to pay full benefits, unless Congress acts. About two decades later, Social Security's much larger retirement fund is projected to run dry as well.

Much of the focus in Washington has been on fixing Social Security's retirement system. Proposals range from raising the retirement age to means-testing benefits for wealthy retirees. But the disability system is in much worse shape and its problems defy easy solutions.

The trustees who oversee Social Security are urging Congress to shore up the disability system by reallocating money from the retirement program, just as lawmakers did in 1994. That would provide only short-term relief at the expense of weakening the retirement program.

Claims for disability benefits typically increase in a bad economy because many disabled people get laid off and can't find a new job. This year, about 3.3 million people are expected to apply for federal disability benefits. That's 700,000 more than in 2008 and 1 million more than a decade ago.

"It's primarily economic desperation," Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said in an interview. "People on the margins who get bad news in terms of a layoff and have no other place to go and they take a shot at disability,"

The disability program is also being hit by an aging population — disability rates rise as people get older — as well as a system that encourages people to apply for more generous disability benefits rather than waiting until they qualify for retirement.

Retirees can get full Social Security benefits at age 66, a threshold gradually rising to 67. Early retirees can get reduced benefits at 62. However, if you qualify for disability, you can get full benefits, based on your work history, even before 62.

Also, people who qualify for Social Security disability automatically get Medicare after two years, even if they are younger than 65, the age when other retirees qualify for the government-run health insurance program.

Congress tried to rein in the disability program in the late 1970s by making it tougher to qualify. The number of people receiving benefits declined for a few years, even during a recession in the early 1980s. Congress, however, reversed course and loosened the criteria, and the rolls were growing again by 1984.

The disability program "got into trouble first because of liberalization of eligibility standards in the 1980s," said Charles Blahous, one of the public trustees who oversee Social Security. "Then it got another shove into bigger trouble during the recent recession."

Today, about 13.6 million people receive disability benefits through Social Security or Supplemental Security Income. Social Security is for people with substantial work histories, and monthly disability payments average $927. Supplemental Security Income does not require a work history but it has strict limits on income and assets. Monthly SSI payments average $500.

As policymakers work to improve the disability system, they are faced with two major issues: Legitimate applicants often have to wait years to get benefits while many others get payments they don't deserve.

Last year, Social Security detected $1.4 billion in overpayments to disability beneficiaries, mostly to people who got jobs and no longer qualified, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Congress is targeting overpayments.

The deficit reduction package enacted this month would allow Congress to boost Social Security's budget by about $4 billion over the next decade to invest in programs that identify people who no longer qualify for disability benefits. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that increased enforcement would save nearly $12 billion over the next decade.

At the same time, the application process can be a nightmare for legitimate applicants. About two-thirds of initial applications are rejected. Most of these people drop their claims, but for those willing go through an appeals process that can take two years or more, chances are good they eventually will get benefits.

Astrue has pledged to reduce processing times for applicants' appeals, and he has had some success, even as the number of claims skyrockets. The number of people waiting for decisions has increased, but their wait times are going down.

"It's ludicrous to say that the backlog problem is getting worse," Astrue said. "The backlog problem has gotten dramatically better."

Patricia L. Foster said she was working as a nurse in a hospital in Columbia, S.C., in 2005 when she was attacked by a patient who was suffering from a mental illness. Foster, 64, said she injured her neck so bad she had a plate inserted. She said she also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Foster was turned down twice for Social Security disability benefits before finally getting them in 2009, after hiring an Illinois-based company, Allsup, to represent her. She said she was awarded retroactive benefits, though the process was demeaning.

"I have to tell you, when you're told you cannot return to nursing because of your disability, you don't know how long I cried about that," Foster said. "And then Social Security says, 'Oh no, you don't qualify.' You don't know what that does to you emotionally. You have no idea."

Friday, August 19, 2011

IRS Lowers Interest Rates in Fourth Quarter
Washington, D.C. (August 18, 2011)
By Michael Cohn, Accounting Today

The Internal Revenue Service said Thursday that interest rates will decrease in the fourth quarter for tax underpayments and overpayments by a full percentage point.

For the calendar quarter beginning Oct. 1, 2011, the IRS is lowering the interest rate to 3 percent for overpayments, or 2 percent in the case of a corporation. That’s a percentage point lower than the rates in the third quarter for corporations and other taxpayers.

For underpayments, the interest rate will be 3 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 4 percent in the third quarter.

For large corporate underpayments, the interest rate will be 5 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 6 percent in the third quarter.

For the portion of a corporate overpayment exceeding $10,000, the interest rate in the fourth quarter will be 0.5 percent, down from 1.5 percent in the third quarter.
Under the Tax Code, the rate of interest is determined on a quarterly basis. For taxpayers other than corporations, the overpayment and underpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 3 percentage points. Generally, in the case of a corporation, the underpayment rate is the federal short-term rate, plus 3 percentage points and the overpayment rate is the federal short-term rate plus 2 percentage points.

The rate for large corporate underpayments is the federal short-term rate plus 5 percentage points. The rate on the portion of a corporate overpayment of tax exceeding $10,000 for a taxable period is the federal short-term rate plus half a percentage point. The interest rates are computed from the federal short-term rate during July 2011 to take effect Aug. 1, 2011, based on daily compounding.

The IRS describes the interest rates in more detail in Revenue Ruling 2011-18.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Social Security Mistakenly Reports Thousands of Deaths
by Blake Ellis

More Americans are being erroneously killed off by the Social Security Administration every day.

Of the approximately 2.8 million death reports the Social Security Administration receives per year, about 14,000 -- or one in every 200 deaths -- are incorrectly entered into its Death Master File, which contains the Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, death dates, zip codes and last-known residences of more than 87 million deceased Americans. That averages out to 38 life-altering mistakes a day.

While these errors occur online, in the depths of the administration's database, they have a very real impact on the people who have effectively been declared dead.

"Erroneous death entries can lead to benefit termination, cause severe financial hardship and distress to affected individuals, and result in the publication of living individuals' [personal identifying information] in the [Death Master File]," the Inspector General said in its most recent evaluation of the database.

Laura Brooks, of Spotsylvania, Va., discovered she had been declared dead when she stopped receiving her disability checks, and her rent and student loan payments unexpectedly bounced.

She went to her bank and a representative said her account had been closed because she was dead. Brooks, a 52-year old mother of two, was already on permanent disability because of a severe depressive disorder, so hearing this turned her already difficult world completely upside down.

"It was one of those surreal things, like seeing a UFO," said Brooks. "When you are a person who already thought that maybe you should be dead because life was so bad to you, I thought this could be a premonition."

The bank representative told Brooks she couldn't reopen her account until she could prove she was alive. When she went to the Social Security office in January 2001, she found out she was declared dead on Dec. 6, 2000. To correct this, she had to submit the pay stubs she was receiving from a program that helps people on disability get back to work.

It took two months for the Social Security Administration to finally "revive" her. The administration later explained that a funeral director had mistyped a Social Security number when submitting a death notice to the agency.

Because of that misstep, Brooks said she accumulated between $300 and $400 in fees for bounced checks, and she hadn't received the more than $1,000 in disability payments she was owed. Once she was declared alive again, the Social Security Administration only resumed her payments -- it wouldn't reimburse her for missed payments, she said.

"Those disability checks were everything I had, and the $300 to $400 I had to pay in fees was more than half of that weekly income," she said. "But more than the financial impact of all of this was the psychological shock -- it spiraled me into further depression and really started me on the road to questioning authority."

Making matters worse, Brooks said the Social Security Administration had somehow lost the file containing all of her information, including her disability benefit records and medical history. It took her two years to rebuild it.

Eleven years after being declared dead by the Social Security Administration, Brooks claims the agency has yet to apologize to her for the debacle.

The Social Security Administration said it cannot comment on specific cases but said it works as quickly as it can to fix these types of mistakes and that two months is too long for an error like this to be resolved.

36,657 Erroneous Deaths in Three Years

Of course, Brooks isn't the only living person to have been put in the Social Security graveyard. In a recent investigation, the Social Security Office of the Inspector General, which oversees the Social Security Administration, discovered that the Death Master File contained 36,657 death entries between May 2007 and April 2010 for people who were very much alive.

In fact, the Social Security Administration admits that erroneous entries slip through the cracks.

"It is unfortunate, but some of the death data that we post to our records ... proves to be wrong and we correct it as soon as possible," said administration spokesman Mark Hinkle. "Usually the error was inadvertently caused because of a human typing error when death information was entered into a computer system."

This inaccurate information is then sold to the public, as well as to banks and credit bureaus.

Those who are declared dead not only lose their ability to apply for credit or receive benefits, but they are also at a high risk for identity theft now that all of their personally-identifying information has been made public.

In one review, the Inspector General found that months after the Social Security Administration deleted incorrect information from the database, the personally identifiable information of 28% of the individuals was still publicly available on at least one other web site.

What to Do If You've Been Declared Dead

To avoid the financial hardship or risk of identity theft as a result of being named to the Social Security's death list, the Identity Theft Resource Center recommends that you do the following:

First, find out who reported you as dead.

Then, get a copy of your death certificate from the county clerk's or recorder's office where the death was reported, and fill out a form to amend the certificate. The death certificate will include the name of whoever reported your death. This person is typically contacted to sign the amendment as well.

To remove your name from the database, you need to make an appointment at your local Social Security office. Bring a photo ID and the certified copy of the amended death certificate, the ITRC said.
Once you correct the information with Social Security, you may need to contact your bank, credit bureaus and any other entities that are under the impression that you're deceased to let them know you've been born again.

Social Security's Hinkle said it's typically easier to fix than this.

"It normally involves seeing the person face-to-face and verifying some form of current ID," he said, adding that the administration occasionally writes letters that people can present to other entities to prove they are alive.

"We take these situations seriously and wish they didn't happen at all, but when we find out it has occurred, we help the person fix it," said Hinkle.

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