When it comes to raising revenue, governments usually find it most efficient to follow the immortal advice of bank robber Willie Sutton and go “where the money is.” They turn to income, payroll, property, and sales taxes to fund most of their operations. They’ll throw in the occasional gas tax or sin tax for fun. Most of the time, those “nuisance taxes” don’t amount to much. But that’s not always the case.

In 1989, New York state imposed a so-called mansion tax, a flat 1% on home sales of $1 million or more. Now the state has “remodeled” that tax, adding seven new brackets for sales in New York City beginning January 1, 2020. The rate increases to 1.25% on sale amounts from $2-3 million, 1.75% on amounts from $3-5 million, and steps all the way up to 4.15% on amounts over $25 million. Officials expect the new tax to raise $365 million per year, and plan to use it to finance $5 billion in bonds for public transportation.

So far so good, right? Well, for starters, should a tax on million-dollar homes really be called a “mansion” tax in the first place? Maybe that was true when the Empire State first levied it in 1989. But these days, a million bucks isn’t even “mansion-adjacent,” especially in Manhattan. Right now, you can pay $1,499,000 for a 52nd-floor alcove studio in Hell’s Kitchen. (Hell’s Kitchen!) There’s no separate bedroom, of course. Not even a bathtub! But the bathroom has a very nice marble-lined shower.

Of course, some pads really do qualify as “mansions.” Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin just dropped $238 million for a penthouse at 220 Central Park South, an oligarch-friendly tower on “billionaire’s row.” Griffin’s new pad includes 23,000 square feet sprawling over four floors, with 16 bedrooms and more bathrooms than your mansion. It’s the most expensive home sale in U.S. history — and Griffin plans to use it as “a place to stay when he’s in town” for business. (How’s that for “let them eat cake” moments in American history?)

The extra tax would have cost Griffin $7.2 million if he had waited until next year to buy. Sure, that sounds like a lot to you. But Forbes estimates Griffin’s net worth at $11.8 billion, meaning it probably wouldn’t have stopped the deal. (The place comes unfinished, meaning he’ll have to spend tens of millions more before he can unpack his toothbrush!)

Griffin isn’t the only plutocrat buying pricey real estate he won’t be occupying. So many deep-pocketed foreigners have decided to stash part of their gains in Manhattan condos, without ever moving in, that some high-end buildings stand nearly dark at night. The city even floated a “pied-a-terre”tax for those part-time residents using those condos as safe-deposit boxes without pouring anything else into city goods and services.

Pied-a-terre tax fans pointed out the politically convenient fact that part-time residents don’t vote in New York, which makes it easier to pluck them without making them squawk. But ultimately, real estate insiders shot it down as class warfare. They objected that it would be too hard to determine which owners are truly absentee and deserve to get hit with the tax. And they argued, quite reasonably, that out-of-towners buying $5 million condos aren’t taking up space on city buses and subways.

We don’t care if you live in a mansion, an apartment, or a van down by the river. We’re pretty sure you don’t want to pay more than your legal fair share. That’s where our tax planning service comes in. So call us and see how much you might save. You might free up enough to spend some seriously fun weekends in the city!

Sunday night, millions of Game of Thrones fans who waited breathlessly for 20 months finally got rewarded with their next installment what’s become the biggest TV show on the planet. Cersei discovered (redacted). Jon Snow learned that …. (sorry, no spoilers here). And that guy with the eye patch and flaming sword probably does great on Tinder. (Seriously, what fair maiden wouldn’t swipe right on him?)

Last week, we speculated about how taxes work in Game of Thrones and concluded there are two groups of winners, at least as far as taxes are concerned. The first are the governments collecting taxes from the show’s creators, cast, and crew. The second are those collecting taxes from tourists visiting the show’s spectacular filming locations, like Spain’s Alcazar Palace or Gaztelugatxe. (Remarkably, not a typo.) But there’s another important lesson worth spending a second week on. (If you’re not a fan, don’t worry, we’re not turning this into the Westerosi Weekly Tax Journal.)

Thrones creator George R.R. Martin modeled his fictional Seven Kingdoms after England during the Wars of the Roses. So taxes probably work in conventionally feudal ways. Smallfolk kick up to their lords in the form of currency, crops, or labor. The lords kick up a share to the great houses, and the houses kick up a share to the crown. If it all sounds like something out of “a certain Italian-American subculture,” it should — remember, Thrones producers originally pitched their epic as “the Sopranos in Middle Earth.”

But can taxes alone be enough to sustain a group of squabbling kingdoms against a more existential threat? Martin’s characters spent seven seasons fighting amongst each other to make it to this week’s premier. (Well, at least the few dozen who survived the first 67-episode slugfest of death.) Now they’re facing a common enemy from the north. The Army of the Dead has lain low for thousands of years. Now they’re marching south, and the night is dark and full of terrors. A man wants to know, how do you kill an army of soldiers who are already dead? (This isn’t going to end well, is it?)

The Westerosis are going to need everything they can find to battle those enemies. They know that Valyrian steel, dragonglass, and actual fire-breathing dragons can destroy White Walkers. They’ve also got wildfire, the deadly green liquid that can engulf an entire navy or a portion of an ancient stone city with the spark from a single candle. We don’t know for sure if wildfire kills the undead, but it certainly can’t be good for them.

Are you one of those fans who likes guessing what comes next? (Who’s going to sit on the Iron Throne when the series closes forever on May 19? Danaerys? Arya? Hot Pie?) If so, you’ve probably guessed we’re using all of this to draw a metaphor. Taxes are like the White Walkers, advancing from the north to slow down your financial progress. And if you’re like Jon Snow, you know nothing about strategies to pay less. You don’t have Valeyrian steel, dragon glass, or wildfire.

But what we can give you is an ever-expanding menu of concepts and strategies to slow or stop the White Walkers of unnecessary taxes. If you want to pay the legal minimum, you need someone who speaks “taxes” as fluently as Danaerys’s translator Missandrei, who can say “loophole” in 19 different languages. Think of out Tax Blueprint® as Valyrian steel, our Tax Operating Service® as dragonglass, and our Financial Gravity Wealth services as wildfire. So when you’re done watching Thrones, call us to put it all to work!

On April 14, millions of fans will gather around the biggest screen they can find for the start of one final season in Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin’s epic Game of Thrones. The show, which producers pitched as “The Sopranos in Middle Earth,” has leaped from television into the broader culture. In 2013, 241 babies were named “Khaleesi” after the title Danaerys Targaryen takes by marrying the Khal Drogo. UC Berkeley offers a class in “invented languages” featuring Dothraki, which sounds like what you’d get if you mixed Spanish and Arabic and ran it through a wood chipper.

Martin doesn’t tell us much about how taxes work in Westeros. And HBO certainly isn’t interested in exploring those details — how would they find time between introducing 257 major characters in Season One and killing most of them off in increasingly cringeworthy fashion through the next six seasons? But fortunately for us, the series leaves occasional bread crumbs to help us understand whether the show’s tax collectors worship the lord of light or the lord of darkness.

The Iron Throne’s principal tax man is Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the King’s urbanely oily Master of Coin. (Picture Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but with chainmail and some super-sketchy side gigs.) Apparently, collecting taxes is just another entrepreneurial opportunity for Littlefinger. In Clash of Kings, Martin writes, “Ten years ago, Jon Arryn had given him a minor sinecure in customs, where Lord Petyr had soon distinguished himself by bringing in three times as much as any of the king’s other collectors.”

Sadly, Littlefinger’s greediest efforts aren’t enough to satisfy King Robert Baratheon’s lust for wine and tournaments. Baratheon spends down the surplus left by the Targaryens, then borrows millions of golden dragons from the House of Lannister and the Iron Bank of Braavos, Westeros’s version of the International Monetary Fund. We don’t know how much interest Braavos charges — but if you default, they don’t just send swordsell goons to break your legs. They finance a rival power, then collect when the rival overthrows you!

As for those scheming Lannisters, we know “a Lannister always pays his debts.” But do Lannisters always pay their taxes? Or do they cleverly avoid them? In Season Three, Lord Tywin Lannister imposes a penny tax on brothels, called “the dwarf’s penny,” to boost public morals and pay for Joffrey’s upcoming wedding. Now, come on . . . is there any idiot in any village in Westeros who doesn’t see through that blatant attempt to shift the burden from the 1% to the commoners? Discuss.

In the end, the show’s biggest winners may be the real tax collectors across the world. Series creator George R.R. Martin earns a reported $25 million per year from HBO and book royalties. Thrones tourists have pumped millions more into the show’s real-life filming locations, including Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik — a Croatian city most fans had never heard of before they saw it standing in for King’s Landing. We can assume that all of their governments are happy to collect their share of all those Thrones dollars raining down like flaming arrows.

If you’re like most “Thronies,” you’d love a dragon of your own to ease your path to the top. (Or do you worry the King would find a way to tax them, too?) Fortunately, you don’t need a fire-breathing reptile to keep more of your golden dragons. You just need a plan. So call us when you’re ready to escape the King’s yoke, and see how glorious a castle you can build with the savings!

Nobody really likes to pay taxes. It’s no surprise, then, that so many people work so hard to avoid them. As humorist Fran Lebowitz once said, “a dog who thinks he is man’s best friend is a dog who has obviously never met a tax lawyer.” Truly proactive tax professionals like us understand that you don’t just want to know how much you owe. You want us to use the ins and outs of the tax code to help you pay less.

And so this week’s episode of Beat the Tax Man takes us to David Burbach, a municipal swimming pool consultant and designer from warm, sunny Wisconsin. Now you might think that cash-strapped local governments would rather pay for sewer systems or orange barrels than swimming pools. But Burbach is clearly good at his job — he’s designed over 600 pools nationwide. Naturally, that’s led to some big personal income tax bills. Burbach had also started worrying about legal sharks feasting on his riches if one of his pool designs were to fail.

Burbach’s search for asset protection and tax relief led him to an accountant named George Eldridge, who marketed himself as more than your run-of-the-mill, numbers-in-boxes kind of guy. Eldridge presented himself as a bare-knuckle brawler, gleefully taking on the IRS on his clients’ behalf:

“Are you a Beleaguered American Taxpayer? Is the Grizzly Bear {the IRS} feasting sumptuously in [sic] your money that you have earned by work? * * * Are you ever going to use Rule of Law to stop paying maximum taxes to the Grizzly Bear? Do you have the heart to use Rule of Law through me? * * * What is your decision?”

Burbach is an engineer by training, and he probably would have done more homework if he were buying a used Volkswagen Jetta. But he dove right in and agreed to pay Eldridge $12,000 per month for his protection.

Eldridge set up one corporation to hold Burbach’s business, another to hold his real estate, a third corporation that never seemed to serve any purpose, and a nonprofit corporation to hold Burbach’s collection of historic Ford cars, trucks, and tractors. (The goal was to open a “museum” that would be open from 8AM to 10AM, weather permitting, during summer months, only. Uh, right.) Eldridge also formed a defined benefit pension plan based on “director’s fees” from his corporation.

Now, corporations, nonprofits, and defined benefit pension plans are all perfectly legitimate tax-planning tools. Unfortunately, Eldridge’s follow-through didn’t hold water. For starters, he never even bothered filing Burbach’s taxes! (Eldridge told him that corporations have six years to file.) Burbach’s empty promises led Burbach down a path that might have been funny if he hadn’t wound up in court.

Burbach had to know he was going to get doused with taxes. However, he argued he had reasonably relied on Eldridge’s advice, so he should avoid penalties for Eldridge’s failures. Tax Court Judge Holmes opened his opinion on Burbach’s claim by quoting from Professor Harold Hill of The Music Man. And you can probably guess that quoting a fictional con man isn’t a good sign for the taxpayer.

This week’s story offers all sorts of lessons. But the most important one is something you learned long before you knew about taxes: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So don’t be afraid to challenge us to show you the receipts. You’ll wind up paying less tax and sleeping better, too!

Moving to a new home can mark an exciting transition in life. Maybe you’ve just gotten married and you’re settling into a real house after a series of walk up apartments. Maybe your children are finally out of the house and you’re trading four bedrooms and a suburban backyard for lofty downtown sophistication. Maybe you’re ready to retire and opt out of snowy winters for good.

Moving is also a monumental pain in the butt. We’re not just talking about packing up and sorting through years (decades?) of accumulated stuff. We’re talking about the practical details of changing your address with everyone from your bank to the BMV to your family . . . including, of course, your Uncle Sam. If you don’t dot your i’s and cross your t’s, you can wind up in a fair amount of trouble. And so this week’s story takes us deep into the weeds of something you wouldn’t think the IRS needs to argue about: the all-important “last known address.”

Damian and Shayla Gregory moved from Jersey City, NJ to nearby Rutherford on June 30, 2015. For some reason, they filed their 2014 tax return from their old address in Jersey City. Then they won the lottery. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Powerball, it was the audit lottery. And they didn’t win the $7,000 per week for life they were hoping for — they won a demand for more tax!

While the IRS was auditing them, the Gregorys filed a power of attorney and extension to file their 2015 return from the new address. Now, you’d think that would be enough to put the IRS “on notice” that they had moved. Sadly, you would be wrong. And so, with the audit over, the IRS sent their demand to the Gregory’s old address in Jersey City. (The Post Office returned it as undeliverable.) The Gregorys finally learned about the deficiency three months later. They filed a petition challenging it in Tax Court literally that same day. But the IRS told them no dice.

Naturally, the IRS has miles of red tape governing all of this. 26 CFR §301.6212-2 defines “last known address” as the one that “appears on the taxpayer’s most recently filed and properly processed Federal tax return, unless the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is given clear and concise notification of a different address.” Rev. Proc. 2010-16 goes on to list the forms that qualify, and states clearly that the power of attorney and extension don’t count. Even the instructions for those forms say you can’t use them to change your address. And so the Tax Court ruled for the IRS.

The Gregorys weren’t completely off-base asking the IRS for a break. Courts have said that if the IRS knows a taxpayer has moved, they should exercise due diligence to find them, even if they haven’t given notice. Having said that, last October the Tax Court ruled the IRS didn’t have to sic the bloodhounds on Daniel Sadek, a California subprime lending “mogul” who racked up $25 million in tax deficiencies before fleeing his “last known address” in California to ride out an FBI investigation in Beirut. (Nothing suspicious about that move, right?)

Here’s the broader lesson from this week’s story. Beating the IRS starts with big-picture strategies like choosing the right business entity, finding the right benefit plans, and taking advantage of code-based savings strategies. But concepts and strategies aren’t enough. Implementation is the key to putting them to work, and you can’t overlook the details. That’s where Financial Gravity’s proprietary Tax Operating System® comes in. So call us when you’re ready to work the system and let us put those strategies to work for you!

Early on a Tuesday morning, FBI agents fan out across the country to arrest dozens of people in six states on racketeering charges and other offenses. The next Gambino family mob “rollup”? No, it’s “Operation Varsity Blues” — the newest celebrity scandal, featuring CEOs and Hollywood stars bribing their children’s way into competitive colleges! And, like with most good scandals, there’s a tax angle lurking underneath the juicy gossip.

Some of our most successful CEOs never finished college. The list includes Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, John Pollock, and dozens more. Astonishingly, millions of Americans manage to find happiness and success in life without ever going to college at all! But competition for spots at top schools grows ever more intense (Stanford University’s acceptance rate is down to one out of twenty.) That’s forced striving students to up their game . . . so is it any surprise their striving helicopter parents are upping their game, too?

This week’s story starts with a former teacher named William Singer, who established a college counseling business called “The Key” and a nonprofit called Key Worldwide Foundation. The Key may have been a legitimate-enough service for affluent families who wanted a regular dose of rigging the system. But parents who were willing to pay for VIP-level rigging could make “charitable” contributions to the foundation, which Singer used to bribe test administrators and college coaches. Singer bragged that he had helped 761 families open what he called a “side door” into top schools.

In one case, actress Felicity Huffman shamelessly “donated” $15,000 to Singer’s foundation to doctor her daughter’s SAT results. (Huffman is currently free on $250,000 bail.) In another, Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky in the critically-acclaimed drama “Fuller House”, paid $500,000 to market daughters as rowing team recruits at USC. Of course, neither girl would recognize a scull if you knocked her over the head with it. (Loughlin is free on $1 million bail — bigger bribe = bigger bail.) Both families should probably tell their accountants to expect correspondence from the IRS about those bogus charitable deductions.

Ironically, the Tax Code includes plenty of legitimate breaks for financing college costs. Scholarships and fellowships are generally tax-free. There’s the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, and an above-the-line deduction for student loan interest. The problem, of course, is that none of those breaks help you get in to that pricey school in the first place! (You can’t even deduct your kids’ SAT test-prep fees.)

As for Singer, he’s been cooperating with feds since September. He pled guilty just hours after the story broke, and it looks like the Justice Department has all the receipts they need to lock down more convictions. That’s typical for federal prosecutors, who don’t bring charges until they have a stack of evidence tall enough to stand on and change a light bulb. Coaches and even some of the parents have been fired, too.

So, how hard are you working to get your kids into college? It used to be enough just to schlep them from soccer games to violin lessons to test-prep classes. Now you’ve got to start committing felonies, too? Are you sure Olde Ivy is really worth it? Fortunately, you don’t have to commit any crimes to put smart tax planning to work to pay for it, wherever they go. You just need a Tax Blueprint®. So call us when you’re ready to ship the kids off to school, and let us help you save enough to throw a party when they graduate!

Choosing where to live is one of the most important decisions we make on this journey we call life. Do we embrace the familiar comfort of the small town where we grew up, or do we strike off for fame and fortune in the big city? Do we celebrate new advances in home snowblower technology, or do we opt-out of winter entirely on a houseboat in the Keys? Choosing where to put down roots is an intensely emotional choice. But for some of us, it’s a tax-planning choice, too.

Bryce Harper is a baseball player who lives in his native Las Vegas. Up until last season, he played right field for the Washington Nationals, where he became the youngest National League MVP ever. He’s especially good at hitting home runs on Opening Day, and was the first player to hit five home runs in Opening Day games before age 25. Last year, Harper made $21.65 million for his effort, which means the umpires at the IRS will be rooting for him all season long.

Harper is 26 now, with a new wife and probably a family on the way. Time to come to the mound for some adult financial planning, right? And so, on March 2, Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s the biggest free-agent deal in American sports, and works out to $156,695.16 per regular-season game. Remarkably, it wasn’t even Harper’s highest offer — the Giants offered $312 million over 12 years, while the Dodgers reportedly dangled north of $35 million per year.

But Harper’s choice is a great example of tax planning. The California offers Harper let go may have looked more generous than the Philly pitch he swung on. But California beans players with a 13.3% tax on income over $1 million, while Pennsylvania caps its tax at just 3.07%. Think of the Philadelphia pitch as a meatball down the middle, while the California offers were more like hanging sliders.

Harper won’t escape California tax entirely. He’ll pay whatever “jock tax” applies to income from road games, which means paying the California rates when he visits National League rivals in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. But the difference could mean Harper keeps tens of millions more in Philadelphia than in California.

Baseball players aren’t the only 1%-ers to consider taxes in their decisions where to work. In 2016, hedge fund manager David Tepper, who earned $6 billion from 2012 to 2015, fled New Jersey for Florida. His move could cost the Garden State hundreds of millions in tax. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which caps deductions for state and local taxes at just $10,000, has nudged residents of high-tax states like New York and New Jersey to consider sunnier tax climates in Florida, Texas, and Nevada.

And Harper can be glad he’s not facing even tougher choice-of-venue questions. For example, the Supreme Court just agreed to decide whether North Carolina can tax the undistributed income of a New York trust based on the beneficiary’s residence in North Carolina. Now, that may sound like a boring technical question. (Ok, it is.) But it’s the kind of debate that gets the coolest kids in the Tax Club really excited.

The bottom line here is important whether you’re at the plate or just watching from the stands. Every financial decision you make has at least some tax consequence. And the choices you make today can produce home runs for season after season. So make the smart choice . . . come to us for a tax plan, and see if we can help you hit it out of the park!

She’s a long-haired European exotic beauty. She lives a life of glamour and luxury that most of us can only dream of. She has 300,000 followers on Instagram. She’s earned $3 million in royalties and endorsements. She’s launched fashion lines, and been the subject of two books. Oh, and she has absolutely no idea how much she pays in taxes, and she wouldn’t care if she did.

Who is this gorgeous creature? Is she latest supermodel sensation, posing for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover on a deserted Croatian beach? Is she Kim Kardashian’s newest best friend? Perhaps she’s about to star in the next James Bond movie? No, no, and no. Her name is Choupette, and until fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld died last week at age 85, she was his . . . cat. She’s also Lagerfeld’s heiress, which may make her the richest cat in the history of her species.

Lagerfeld cut an instantly recognizable figure with his trademark white hair, black sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and starched collars. He’s credited with breathing life back into France’s House of Chanel by revamping their ready-to-wear line after the death of founder Coco Chanel. His efforts earned him a fortune estimated at $200 million. But he died childless, with no partner and no obvious heir. Enter Choupette . . . who gets enough money to pay for all the Little Friskies she can eat for the rest of her life!

Leaving money to pets is more common than you think. It’s not a great tax-planning move because bequests to pets — unlike those to spouses or charities — are subject to estate tax, which starts at 40% on amounts over $11.4 million. But plenty of people love their animals more than their families. Michael Jackson left $2 million for his pet chimp Bubbles. And hotel heiress Leona Helmsley, who served 19 months in prison for tax evasion, left $12 million for her dog Trouble. (That’s more than some of her grandchildren got!)

Obviously, the money doesn’t go to the animals. (Can you imagine standing in line behind a cat trying to use an ATM, or writing a check to pay for groceries?) It goes to a trust, with an actual person controlling the money for the benefit of the animal. In 2016, Minnesota became the last state in the country to authorize pet trusts. Many of those statutes even dispense with the usual “rule against perpetuities” limiting them to 21-year terms, making them appropriate for longer-lived animals like horses or parrots.

Sadly, there’s one complication standing in the way of Choupette getting her paws on her inheritance. She lives in France, where pets are property, and can’t legally inherit anything themselves. (Has PETA been notified?) They can’t even benefit from a trust. So Lagerfeld would have to leave Choupette’s money to a nonprofit organization or a trusted friend to take care of her.

And that, in turn, brings up one final question: who inherits Choupette’s fortune when she dies? France has the highest inheritance tax in Europe, with rates running up to 60%. And while cats may always land on their feet, they can’t hire estate-planning attorneys. (While we’re on that topic, does having nine lives mean Choupette gets to pay the tax nine times?)

We realize you haven’t earned millions in royalties from licensing your image. But if you had, you’d probably want to keep as much of them as you can. So call us, and discover just how stylish tax planning can be!

Oscar night is the biggest night in Hollywood. The stars shine just a little bit brighter. The red carpets stretch just a little bit farther. And the bloated egos get just a little bit bloatier, if that’s possible. (Here’s looking at you, Bradley Cooper.) Ironically, fewer and fewer of us tune in to the actual ceremony. Why give up hours of your life watching celebrities congratulate each other when you could fit a couple of full-length movies in the same length of time?

Nominees for the top five prizes — Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director — bring an extra guest to the party, in the form of the IRS. It’s not because they take home any actual cash. It’s because they leave with an “Everyone Wins” swag bag assembled by Distinctive Assets, a product-placement company that’s not affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, but also not afraid to hitch their wagon to Oscar’s relentless publicity machine.

Distinctive Assets has never been shy about promoting the value of their bag. In 2016, the collection, which included a 10-day trip to Israel, a 15-day “Walk Japan” tour, a year’s worth of Audi rentals, and a 10,000-meal donation to the animal shelter of the donor’s choice, crossed the $230,000 line. That sounds like a lot to the average fan. But it may not mean that much to the stars who can make north of $20 million per picture.

Of course, calling the bag a “gift” doesn’t actually make it a gift. That’s where the IRS comes in. The tax code defines a gift as something you get out of affection or respect. And while the Avaton Luxury Villas Resort in Greece may have really liked watching Christian Bale retreat to an undisclosed location in Vice, the real reason they’re comping him a week at the beach is to attract new guests. So . . . the swag bag is taxable income. In fact, Distinctive Assets even sends the nominee a Form 1099 reminding them to report it!

This year’s bag includes the usual collection of glamour vacations, including a small-ship cruise to Iceland, the Galapagos, the Amazon, or Costa Rica & Panama. You’ll also find the sort of only-in-Hollywood treats you would expect: Coda Signature gift boxes with cannabis-infused hand-painted truffles and chocolate bars, private phobia-relief sessions with the world’s #1 phobia expert, a CloSYS “spa kit for your mouth,” and a PETA spy pen to help blow the whistle on animal abuse.

But this year, there’s no price tag. “A great gift has nothing to do with the retail value,” Distinctive Assets founder Lash Fary said in a statement. “For years we have been breaking one of the cardinal rules of gift giving by disclosing the price tag. Instead, we are trying to start a new tradition by simply celebrating the fun and festive nature of this legendary gift bag.” (Of course, they’ll still be declaring an amount on those 1099s they send next January.)

What if Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali doesn’t want the tax headaches that come with his goodies? He can always give some to charity. (Does he really need the Blush & Whimsy limited-edition rose gold lipstick?) But he still has to report the value of anything he re-gifts in his income before deducting it as a charitable gift.

Last year, the Academy proposed a new award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. It would be the first new category since Best Animated Feature in 2001. And it gives us hope that, someday, they’ll add an Oscar for Best Performance in Tax Planning. Wouldn’t that be great? We’ll keep you posted and let you know when to look for us on the red carpet!

Would anyone in their right mind sit down from scratch and develop the tax withholding system we have today? The IRS publishes tables telling employers how much to take out of everyone’s paycheck, depending on their income, their filing status, and the amount they guesstimate they’ll be claiming in deductions and credits. Then, at the end of the year, employees file their actual returns and hope it’s the IRS coming out on the short end.

Lots of Americans use the tax withholding system as a piggy bank. Yes, letting the IRS hold your money for a year amounts to giving them an interest-free loan. And no, they won’t do the same for you. But with savings accounts paying just a hair over 1% right now, plenty of taxpayers decide the forced discipline is worth more than the interest they give up.

In 2018, the average refund amounted to $2,782, which is enough to cover some bills, take a nice weekend trip, or maybe redo your family room for big-screen TV nirvana. But one enterprising 29-year-old named Christopher Blanchett found himself in a position to snag a refund worth writing home about. And when you hear his story, you’ll realize that sometimes these stories of ours just write themselves.

Two years ago, Blanchett sat down to file his return. He had a W2 from a Sizzling Platter restaurant where he worked in Utah reporting $1,399 in income and zero withholding. And somehow, he had a W2 from a Tampa nursing home showing $17,098 in wages and a million dollars in withholding. But where you or I might have thought, “hmmmm, something looks off,” Blanchett smelled opportunity — and he chose not to look his gift horse in the mouth.

So Blanchett chose to file his return with a straight face, based on those W2s. In due time, the IRS sent him a check for $980,000. He took that check and deposited in Sun Trust Bank. Sun Trust suspected fraud (ya think?), froze the funds, and eventually sent the money back to him. So Blanchett took that check and deposited it into a credit union, as one does, “falsely representing that the funds were from the estate of his deceased father.”

And what did Blanchett actually do with his new-found wealth? He bought himself a used Lexus RC 350 sport coupe. Now that’s not a car to sneeze at. The Wall Street Journal calls it “a capering boulevardier with a soundtrack of cute, kitteny growls.” You can get one with all-wheel drive, heated leather seats, and Apple Carplay® integration. But really . . . a Lexus? That seems like an awfully mild play for a seven figure score. (Seriously, you’d think at least part of that windfall would find its way to a Ferrari dealer.)

By that time, the IRS had realized maybe there was a problem with a guy getting back 53 times his income in a refund. Last month, they seized $919,251 that was left in his bank accounts, along with the Lexus. And they’re looking to take $809.94 that Blanchett’s insurance company refunded him when he canceled the coverage on the Lexus. (Kinda like the Grinch taking the last can of Who Hash, right?) Prosecutors haven’t filed charges against Blanchett, at least not yet. But it’s a fair bet this story won’t end well for him.

There’s no real lesson in today’s story, other than don’t be a bonehead. But there’s a great way to give yourself a nice refund, and you won’t risk the IRS showing up with a tow truck and making off with your wheels. That answer, of course, is planning. So call us when you’re ready to save, and enjoy the ride!