Caution, downloading securities Form 1099-Bs into TurboTax often leads to incorrect tax filings

March 4, 2013 | By: Robert A. Green, CPA

By Robert A. Green, CPA and Darren Neuschwander, CPA

April 10, 2013 postscript: A securities Form 1099-B often has an amount listed in box 5 “wash sale loss disallowed.” For an active trader, it’s typical to see a large number in box 5, but don’t be alarmed by that amount. The box 5 amount represents wash sale losses disallowed throughout the entire year. It’s not the amount of 2012 wash sale losses that are deferred to 2013, which amount is generally far less or even zero. This latter amount is what taxpayers are most interested in as it’s the amount that affects their tax liability. The box 5 number may count the same deferred wash sale loss over-and-over again as the wash sale loss is kicked down the road in active trading throughout the year. The same wash sale loss is added to cost basis over-and-over again, too. The box 5 amount is like the below example for “wash sale loss disallowed for the year.” 

March 12, 2013 postscript: We added new content under the heading “Potential wash sales” toward the bottom of the blog to better explain this term.

March 13, 2013 TradeLog Blog Tip: Important Functions for Option Traders

We were quoted on this topic in the Wall Street Journal article ”When Your Broker ‘Outs’ You” (Tax Report), By Laura Saunders (March 1, 2013). Excerpt: Check 1099-Bs for mistakes. Robert Green, an accountant who heads GreenTraderTax, a tax preparer for more than 1,000 investors, urges taxpayers to double-check brokerage cost-basis reports against their own records. “Often the 1099-Bs don’t match trading logs,” he says, especially for frequent traders. In some cases, he has seen income over- or understated by $10,000 or more. Problems arise most frequently with wash-sale reporting, he says. Investors subject to the new reporting should think twice before filing early, says Mr. Green’s partner, Darren Neuschwander. Last year, some clients received five corrected versions of the same 1099-B, he says. Early indications are there will be many corrected forms this year, too, he adds. 

Many taxpayers and tax preparers are taking a dangerous short cut on their 2012 tax return preparation. They are downloading brokerage firm “profit and loss” reports used to prepare securities Form 1099-Bs into TurboTax and other consumer tax preparation software programs. While this sounds like it would ease the tax preparation process and lead to better tax return accuracy, it’s actually a bad idea.

Securities 1099-Bs are apples and your tax return is oranges
Securities brokerage firm profit and loss reports and their Form 1099Bs are prepared by brokerage firm accountants and IT people to meet the brokerage firm’s tax compliance rules with the IRS. As it turns out, the IRS rules for taxpayers are very different from brokerage firm rules. Doesn’t that sound incredulous? Aren’t 1099s supposed to be tax information statements sent to clients and the IRS — statements taxpayers can rely on for their tax preparation? It turns out that is not always the case. While it is with Section 1256 contracts, W-2s and 1099-INT (interest), it’s not with 1099-Bs for securities. There were many errors on 2011 securities Form 1099-Bs; we are waiting to see if 2012 1099-Bs are better. Stay tuned for our updates coming soon.

How did this mess happen?
Before 2011, Form 1099-Bs for securities reported proceeds on equities to the IRS, and nothing else (including but not limited to cost-basis, wash sales and options). Lots of taxpayers conveniently omitted options and wash sale loss deferrals at year-end, and they overstated cost basis on appreciated stock received by gift where they need to use the donor’s cost basis.

In 2008, Congress instituted mandatory “cost-basis reporting” for brokers to implement on their 1099-Bs starting with 2011, with phase-in through 2014. Now brokers report a lot more tax information to the IRS, which will rein in the tax cheats. But where does that leave honest taxpayers who need to comply with these onerous cost-basis reporting rules written for tax cheats? Honest taxpayers are stuck between a rock and a hard place! They can either rely on 1099-Bs and potentially botch their taxable income/liability, or consider the 1099-B probably incorrect and report accurate taxable income. Even if brokers followed all the IRS rules, their 1099-Bs would in many cases be wrong for taxpayers because of apples and oranges in the rules. Shouldn’t these IRS rules be recalled and fixed?

Online brokers botched 1099-Bs in 2011
Full-service Wall Street bank brokers have handled realized gain and loss reports reasonably well for decades, but they did not account for wash sales in the past. They weren’t caught on their heels with the IRS cost-basis reporting rules. Even now, they still can’t calculate wash sales across multi-brokerage firm accounts.

But online brokers are struggling with IRS cost-basis reporting and many are still botching the rules. To be fair, we haven’t seen a large crop of 1099-Bs yet for 2012, but we aren’t expecting huge strides of improvement over 2011. We think many brokers are still going their own way with their IT people and we expect vastly different reporting and layout from different online brokers causing confusion for taxpayers and tax preparers.

Wash sales are one of the biggest culprits
One of the biggest causes of divergent reporting are wash sale losses. If you reenter trade 30 days before or after selling a trade at a loss, it’s a wash sale loss deferral. You need to report that wash sale on Form 8949 and also add it to the cost basis of the position that triggered the wash sale.

Brokers report wash sales based on “identical positions” on a “per account” basis. Due to the phase-in rules starting in 2011, many brokers only picked up wash sales on 2011 securities purchased, not wash sale deferrals carried over from 2010.

But the IRS requires taxpayers to calculate wash sales based on “substantially identical positions” which means between stocks and options, and options at different strike dates across all accounts in the tax identification number. Notice the glaring differences here. Identical positions vs. substantially identical positions and per account vs. across all accounts with the same id number. Taxpayers have a much broader universe to consider on wash sales and no one 1099-B can do that.

When you download into TurboTax, TurboTax doesn’t do it either. TurboTax merely relies on taxpayer input and downloads; it doesn’t calculate wash sales on its own. If the broker pushes bad 1099-B data into TurboTax and TurboTax runs with that data as is, where does that leave you, the taxpayer, on your proper tax compliance?

Substantially identical means between Apple stock and Apple options, including different strike dates. Apple stock and Google stock are not substantially identical. Its one symbol and the derivatives of that symbol, but even that’s not the full story.

Across all accounts with the same taxpayer identification number means the husband’s accounts, wife’s accounts, joint accounts and husband or wife’s IRA accounts. Many taxpayers still don’t know that an IRA can trigger a wash sale loss deferral in a taxable account, and that realized loss will be permanently lost. No broker can ever calculate wash sales across multiple brokerage accounts and they don’t even do it across various husband and wife accounts within their same brokerage firm. Wash sales aren’t always bad, though. A business trader with a capital loss limitation can convert a year-end 2012 wash sale loss deferral into an ordinary business loss on Jan. 1, 2013 by making a Section 475 MTM election for 2013.

File a correct 8949 and match the totals to 1099-Bs
Some clients want to download from their broker into TurboTax just to generate a Form 8949 with cost-basis reporting that will better match their 1099-B. They figure it will reduce the chance of audit or IRS questions. But that’s a problem for accuracy of taxable gain or loss. (The problem we are talking about is downloads of profit and loss reports, otherwise referred to as downloads of Form 1099-Bs. They are one in the same.)

We prefer to use TradeLog to handle all taxpayer rules correctly, including cost-basis reporting, downloading items not yet covered on 1099-Bs like options and much more. TradeLog downloads from brokers, but they download the actual trade history — the debits and credits matching trade confirmations on a trade date basis. TradeLog’s Form 8949 often has material differences with the 1099-B, so we enter an adjustment number so the Form 8949 totals match the 1099-B and it doesn’t awaken IRS computers. Our firm’s policy is we can’t rely on 1099-Bs for accurate tax information and we can’t rely on a TurboTax generated Form 8949. Some clients don’t like an adjustment number on Form 8949 with footnote explanation and they want to try the 1099-B download into TurboTax. In these cases, we run TradeLog too to point out differences.

Most brokers haven’t issued their 2012 1099-Bs
Most brokers have not yet issued their 2012 Form 1099-Bs for securities. They had to wait until the end of January to be certain about wash sale losses as Dec. 31, 2012, due to the 30-day rule. 1099-Bs should come late again this year and we expect many corrected 1099-Bs to be issued afterward as well. Brokers issued up to five corrected 1099-Bs for 2011 all the way up to the extended tax deadline of Oct. 15, 2012.

There is no “hard deadline” for when a corrected Form 1099-B must be issued. This IRS documenthttp://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1099gi.pdf (page 5) provides that “if you file a return with the IRS and later discover you made an error, you must correct it as soon as possible.”

In some cases, the securities 1099-B will be okay
In one case recently, we noticed a leading online broker did a better job on the 2012 1099-B than they did in 2011. They did wash sale calculations during the year and added wash sales to cost basis. There were no open wash sales at year-end 2012.

While the line-by-line reporting appeared reasonable — and it could be entered to a Form 8949 as such — the totals at the bottom could cause confusion and errors. The online broker showed total “wash sale loss disallowed” at the bottom of the 1099-B in the amount of $1.3 million. The realized gain and loss total showed a loss of $1.6 million. There was no guidance saying to combine all those numbers for the correct $300,000 loss for the year, and there were no open wash sale deferrals at year-end. Plenty accountants still use summary reporting (even though they should not), and these accountants could be confused with the above 1099-B totals.

TradeLog did a better job. It clearly showed the net $300,000 loss and no open wash sales at year-end. Its wash sale calculations were different during the year and that’s not an issue for this client because both the online broker and TradeLog got it right for the year overall.

For files with open wash sales and other issues, the minefield of problems just begins.

“Potential wash sales”
In our guides, blogs, videos and webinars we often use the term “potential wash sales.” For 2012 tax compliance, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase what one leading online broker writes on the bottom of its 2012 Form 1099-Bs: “total disallowed wash sale losses during the tax year.”

See the example under the heading “In some cases, the securities 1099-B will be okay” above. The Form 1099-B displays total wash-sale loss deferrals during tax year 2012 and labels it “wash-sale loss disallowed.” This total may be correct in that it adds up all wash-sale loss disallowances during the year, and the broker added wash-sale losses to cost-basis on subsequent or prior purchases within the 30-day window.

We think the large wash sale totals are deceiving to some accountants and taxpayers because brokers don’t explain it. For example, highly active traders could easily generate a total wash-sale loss deferral amount over $1 million on a small trading account. While the actual realized capital gain or loss might be small along with year-end wash sale losses, the total wash-sale loss disallowed during the tax year may be very high. In these cases, focus on the line by line details on the 1099-B and not the summary numbers.

Don’t believe us? Pin down your broker
Ask any online broker if they are willing to indemnify you for misreporting wash sales based on importing their Form 1099-B information. We would be shocked if they said they would. Ask them to give their answer in writing. They will confirm much of what we write above and lay off the tax compliance responsibility to you and your tax adviser. Well, we are your tax advisors and we just told you we have a big problem here!

Why are brokers encouraging their clients to use TurboTax to download their 1099-Bs? 
It’s a very simple answer: Brokers want clients to import their tax information rather than find unreconciled differences and potential errors through TradeLog or other software using trade history. This happened a lot in 2011 and clients overwhelmed the online brokers’ customer support lines asking for investigation and corrected 1099-Bs.

Some differences may be legitimate like corporate actions (i.e., stock splits), which TradeLog asks you to enter manually. Others are due to differences in the IRS cost-basis rules for brokers vs. clients. Other questions are about the confusing Form 8949 with covered, non-covered and other parts and boxes. Online brokers are working off tight margins with rock bottom commissions and they aren’t set up to handle this onslaught of questions on beefed up tax compliance.

Where does this leave you? 
Once again, on your own. Don’t take the short cut and download your Form 1099-Bs — with all its problems, differences and errors — into TurboTax or another consumer tax preparation solution.

Download trade history into TradeLog and consult with our TradeLog accounting experts when the results appear confusing. Run the TradeLog 1099-B reconciliation, show the gross reconciliation differences with 1099-B proceeds and cost-basis at the bottom of the Form 8949 and explain it all in the tax return footnote we provide on our blog and in Green’s 2013 Trader Tax Guide.

For all of these reasons, we are filing extensions for our securities traders. S-corporation extensions are due March 15, 2013 and individual and partnership extensions are due April 15, 2013. If you have any questions about this problem, visit our cost-basis reporting section, read Green’s Trader Tax Guide and consider a 30-minute consultation with Robert Green, CPA. You can also sign up for one hour of TradeLog accounting time with one of our TradeLog accounting experts.

Visit our cost-basis reporting section for more information.

Disclosure and disclaimer: 
TradeLog is a third-party software product owned by a third-party company Armen Computing Ltd. Green & Company, Inc. features TradeLog on its Website GreenTraderTax.com and is the number one reseller of TradeLog, for which it receives a sales commission. Green NFH, LLC CPAs prefer to use TradeLog because they want to be sure Form 8949 or Form 4797 is correct when they sign tax returns. While Green NFH, LLC CPAs and tax attorneys help Armen Computing with TradeLog, Armen Computing is the sole owner of TradeLog and is responsible for the product. Green NFH, LLC is working with TradeLog and other software companies to find a better solution to the problems laid out here. 

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