A recent sight visitor posted this link which I found interesting and humorous. I did not post the entire link, so there is more material. Check it out.
Selling Soap as a Hobby - Amway IBO's in Tax Court
Roger S. Campbell, et ux. v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2011-42
The Amway distributorship system is well known to respondent and this Court
Friscia Construction, Inc., et al. v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2000-192
I included the Campbell case in one of my group posts. It concerned someone whose Amway activities were considered a hobby by the Tax Court denying them deductions for losses. That portion of the post was picked up by someone who calls himself Joecool and posted on his blog under the title "Do IBO's have a clue about business?". I found that there are quite a few blogs dedicated to pointing out the downside of the Amway experience including Married To An Ambot by Anna Banana :
The other attraction of Amway to some people is that it might allow them to deduct as business expenses things like cars, part of their home or entertainment that they would have spent anyway. That's probably the aspect of Amway that the IRS finds most interesting. Joecool did a post on how some IBO's think of their income tax refunds (generated by Amway losses sheltering other income) as profit.
To me the most interesting thing that I found in my search is this excerpt from the Internal Revenue Manual for examiners who are doing information requests:
.18.104.22.168 — Amway Corporation
[Last Revised: 12-10-2007]
(1) Amway Corporation has waived the hand delivery requirements of 26 USC §7603 and will accept summonses by personal service, mail, or overnight service at Amway Corporation, 7575 E. Fulton, Ada, MI 49355, Attn.: Director, Legal Division. Direct distributors who further qualify for profit sharing bonuses receive the non-cash part of that bonus through a mutual fund account administered by Amway Mutual Fund, Inc., 7575 E. Fulton, Ada, MI 49355, which requires a separate summons
Now I am subject to the AICPA Statements of Standards on Tax Practice, which among other things forbids me from giving clients advice based on what I believe the audit selection process of a taxing authority is. I wouldn't do it anyway, because I think most people who give that type of advice are guessing. Even if you happen to be one of my clients, I'm speaking to you purely as a reader here when I give you this advice:
You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't take no Schedule C losses from an arrangement with a company that IRS examiners have on speed-dial.
I found 23 cases of IBO's who fought the IRS in Court. (A couple appealed, but I only counted them once)They pretty much all lost. In these type of cases there are really three ways you are denied deductions. The first is substantiation. You didn't prove it. Next is that the expenses are not really ordinary and necessary expenses of the business. When you are talking about cars and business use of the home, those two issues can get blurred together. The third is that there really isn't any business there. Taxpayers fight the IRS and win on that issue frequently even a Vietnamese couple whose "business" was playing slot machines using the principles of Feng Shui. Amway IBO's who take on the IRS on the Section 183 "hobby loss" issue almost always lose.
One of the most common themes is that IBO's seek advice generally only from their "uplines", who of course are not disinterested. They also do not seem to put any energy into trying to control their expenses. I'm going to give you a little snippet from each of the cases and comment a bit on some of them.
LOPEZ v. COMM., Cite as 94 AFTR 2d 2004-7075
Jorge N. Lopez, et ux. v. Commissioner , TC Memo 2003-142
Tax Court properly determined that engineer and wife weren't entitled to business deduction for expenses incurred in connection with their Amway products distribution activity because they didn't engage in activity for profit: although taxpayers showed proof of profit motive, such wasn't sufficient to override govt.'s evidence that included their failure to keep businesslike records, their failure to alter unprofitable methods, their non-dependence on activity income, and their use of activity to socialize with friends and family.
In their own Amway activities, which began in 1996, the Lopezes sold products at cost to both their downline distributors and their customers, which practice eliminated retail sales as a source of gross income. They chose instead to focus their efforts on developing a network of downline distributors to generate performance bonuses. Relying on Amway brochures, the Lopezes concluded that they would need to achieve and maintain a monthly point value of 4,000 for their Amway activities to be profitable. In 1998 and 1999, the Lopezes' point value did not exceed 372 points in any month.
The only advice they sought for their Amway activities was from upline distributors, and when they received unsolicited advice from their accountant, they disregarded it. During the years in question, Mr. Lopez was employed full-time as a petroleum engineer, and Mrs. Lopez was a homemaker.
The tax court ultimately was not persuaded that the Lopezes' primary motive for conducting their Amway activities was for income or profit. It found that the conduct of their Amway activity “virtually precluded any possibility of realizing a profit.” The Lopezes' lack of a business plan for recouping losses and achieving profitable levels of activity indicated the absence of a profit motive. In the face of four consecutive years of losses, the Lopezes still did not change their approach to increase the likelihood of earning a profit. The tax court further found that the Lopezes did not conduct market research to help them assess the potential profitability of their activities. It also noted that, although the Lopezes had no prior business experience, they accepted the advice of upline distributors rather than seeking advice from unbiased, independent business sources.
Since the Mr and Mrs Lopez appealed, they got to lose twice.
OGDEN v. COMM., Cite as 87 AFTR 2d 2001-1299
Michael A. Ogden, et ux. v. Commissioner, TC Memo 1999-397
Contrary to the Ogdens' contention, evidence of profit is not determinative of whether a profit motive exists. See id. at 876 (no single tax regulation factor, nor the existence of a majority of factors, is determinative of whether a profit motive exists). There is overwhelming evidence in the record that, if believed, supports a conclusion that the Ogdens maintained their Amway activity for deductions, personal pleasure and to offset wages. The tax court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for reconsideration.
Amway does not have a quota for sales, its products do not have to be sold above cost, and its distributors are not required to sponsor downline distributors. An Amway brochure, The Amway Business Review, states that the potential for earning income increases as the number of distributors in a sponsor's group grows and as sales increase. Distributors devote as little or as much of their time to Amway activities as they desire. The eight page Amway Business Review in large blocks on four of its pages highlights the fact that “The Average Monthly Gross Income for “Active” Distributors was $88.”
We believe Amway distributors may be biased when discussing Amway because they have a natural desire to advance the organization and/or obtain income from a downliner.
ELLIOTT v. COMMISSIONER, 90 TC 960
Deductions denied for business expenses and depreciation connected with Amway distributorship. Activities were conducted in unbusinesslike manner, taxpayers maintained full-time jobs, and little distinction was made between Amway activities and personal social activities. Also, IRS properly imposed penalties for failure to timely file and negligent or intentional disregard of rules.
A further indication of the unbusinesslike fashion in which petitioners conducted their Amway activity was the thin line dividing business activities from personal and [pg. 973]recreational activities. Petitioners offered scant evidence that their Amway activity required them to do anything other than to maintain an active social life. Although they occasionally attended seminars, most of their activity involved giving parties and taking people out to restaurants. While there is no requirement that profit-oriented work be onerous and unpleasant, the evidence presented by petitioners does not indicate activity motivated by a profit objective. On the contrary, the evidence shows that petitioners made some small modifications in their routine social life, kept cursory notes about their activities, and claimed deductions for the cost of nearly everything they owned or did. On this record, we find as a fact that petitioners' activities were motivated by a desire to avoid tax rather than a desire to generate income.
Roger S. Campbell, et ux. v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2011-42
Activities not for profit—profit objective—distributorship and direct marketing activities. Code Sec. 183 deduction limits applied to expenses pro se married real estate and construction business operators claimed in connection with Amway distributorship activity that they engaged in without requisite profit objective. Lack of profit objective was shown by facts that taxpayers commingled expenses, had no idea if they were making profit for any given year until they filed that year's return, didn't keep complete records, and otherwise didn't conduct activity in businesslike manner. It was also telling that taxpayers didn't have experience in this type of activity, didn't seek out independent advice, used activity losses to offset their real estate and construction business income, and stated that they would continue with activity regardless of whether it ever turned profit. Countervailing facts that they spent significant time on activity and increased gross receipts during years at issue weren't dispositive considering overall record