Halloween is almost here, and if it seems like things have changed since you were a kid, you’re right! Halloween has become big business, with the National Retail Federation predicting Americans will spend $9.1 billion on the festivities. That includes $3.4 billion on costumes, with top choices being superheroes, animals, princesses, witches, vampires, and zombies. And, “pets will not be left behind, with 10 percent of consumers dressing their pet as a pumpkin.” (If you’ve got a dachshund, of course, you have to dress it up as a hot dog. Rule of law.)
Naturally, when the trick-or-treaters at the IRS hear the word “billions,” they reach out for a “fun sized” treat, too. (Why do they call those dinky little candy bars “fun sized,” anyway? What’s fun about a bite-sized Snickers or Milky Way when you can score a full-size bar in the rich kids’ neighborhoods?) Let’s take a quick look at how the IRS taxes our favorite Halloween doppelgangers:
- Superheroes who emigrate from other planets, like Superman (planet Krypton) and Thor (planet Asgard) are subject to U.S. tax on their domestic-source income. (“Resident alien” status doesn’t distinguish between aliens from other countries and aliens from other planets.) Superheroes who meet the “green card” test or “substantial presence” test are taxed just like citizens on Form 1040. Those who don’t meet either test file Form 1040NR.
- Animals don’t pay taxes. (Neither do princesses.) Come on, that’s just silly.
- Witches generally operate as sole proprietors, which means reporting income and expenses on Schedule C. If they sell potions along with casting spells, they’ll include their eye of newt and toe of frog in “Cost of Goods Sold” in Part I, Line 4. IRS auditors understand that witches’ travel expenses can be high because they live so deep in the forest. The good news is, witches can claim the same 53.5 cents/per mile allowance for travel by broom as the rest of us can claim for a full-size truck or SUV.
- Vampires generally live for hundreds of years, which lets them really harness the power of tax-deferred compounding. At the same time, careful planning is required to manage drawdown strategies once required minimum distributions become a factor after age 70½.
- Zombies pose especially frightening tax problems because they’re not dead — they’re undead. If Dad can’t outrun a brain-eating horde and gets zombified, is he “deceased” for estate-tax purposes? If your spouse is zombified, can you still file jointly?
While we’re on the topic of costumes, why don’t kids ever dress up as IRS auditors? That would be scarier than anything else they can come up with. As for the grownups, can you imagine “sexy IRS auditor” costumes sitting on the shelf next to “sexy nurse,” “sexy firefighter,” and “sexy cop” outfits?
You probably never realized tax professionals could be so busy at Halloween! Fortunately, you don’t have to work quite so hard yourself. We’ll teach you the tricks to keep as much of your treats as the law allows!