It’s the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld, a classically hilarious show which, surprisingly, has a few things to teach us about the IRS. Here are our top 7 favorite tax lessons, listed in a recent article in Forbes.
The IRS can take anything they want. In an episode aired September 25th, 1991, the IRS investigates Jerry’s $50 charitable contribution to the people of Krakatoa. Of course the charity was a fake, and Jerry found out that the IRS “is like the mafia. They can take anything they want.”
But the IRS has limits. Technically Jerry should have been safe since the audit was for 1986 and the show aired in 1991. There are a few exceptions, but if you do things the way you’re supposed to, there’s a three-year statue of limitations on audits.
Write-offs don’t mean free. In an episode aired October 17th, 1996, we’re treated to this enlightening exchange:
Kramer: “It’s just a write-off for them.”
Jerry: “How is it a write-off?”
Kramer: “They just write it off.”
Jerry: “Write it off what?”
Kramer: “Jerry, all these big companies, they write off everything.”
Jerry: “You don’t even know what a write-off is.”
Kramer: “Do you?”
Jerry: “No. I don’t.”
Kramer: “But they do, and they are the ones writing it off.”
More than a few people don’t understand that writing something off merely means you don’t pay taxes on that amount of income.
The IRS frowns on ridiculous expenses. In an episode that aired November 14th, 1996, Elaine, as president of the J. Peterman catalog company, buys George an $8,000 hat and claims it as a business expense. The company’s accountant lets her know that’s not the way it works.
Awards can be subject to tax. When Kramer is hired as a seat-filler at the Tony awards in an episode that aired May 15th, 1997, he accidentally receives a Tony award that he’s allowed to keep if he fires Raquel Welch. He agrees, but he’ll have to pay taxes on the value of the award, since he received it as payment.
Classifying employees as independent contractors is an old no-no. In an episode that aired April 30, 1998, a maid’s boss avoids paying payroll taxes by declaring that his maids are independent contractors. He tells Jerry, “I’m an independent contractor. Tax purposes!”
You can claim losses — sometimes. After Kramer fires Raquel Welch, she destroys Kramer’s Tony. (Can you blame her?) Kramer could claim the Tony as a loss only if the Tony’s value exceeded 10% of his adjusted gross income. Since it doesn’t appear that Kramer actually works, his only income may be the Tony, and in that case, he could claim it.
Who knew you could learn so much about taxes from a sit-com?