In Richard H. Levin and Linda D. Levin v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2018-172, Filed October 15, 2018, the Tax Court ruled that IRS Appeals had acted appropriately in denying taxpayers’ proposal for an installment agreement and sustaining IRS Collections proposed levy action. Taxpayers created a liability for tax year 2010 of $468,696, prior to assessment of penalties and interest. Taxpayers’ representative proposed a payment agreement to the IRS wherein taxpayers would pay their liability within four months. During that time, taxpayers made a $50,000 payment. The IRS issued a final notice of intent to levy, at which point the taxpayers requested a Collection Due Process hearing with IRS Appeals. There is a lengthy narrative in this case regarding the details of financial information. During this time, the Appeals office indicated that the taxpayers must remain compliant with their current tax liabilities in order to qualify for a payment agreement. Taxpayers also requested a face to face meeting with IRS Appeals. IRS ultimately agreed to the face to face meeting – which caused a lengthy delay of over a year. Rather than take advantage of the time to liquidate assets and pay down the tax debt, taxpayers liquidated one of their four homes and paid off other creditors in an amount in excess of the IRS debt – approximately $575,000. These creditors included State taxing authorities and credit cards. They additionally capitalized taxpayer husband’s new law firm in the amount of $281,000. Persistently during negotiations with the IRS, the taxpayers’ representative argued that the filing of a tax lien would have a detrimental effect on taxpayer husband’s ability to earn income in his law firm. The Court ruled that the taxpayers “have repeatedly chosen not to prioritize payment of their 2010 outstanding Federal income tax liability. Indeed their failure to use net proceeds of $843,293 from the sale of their Los Angeles, California home to pay their 2010 liability was particularly brazen.” The Tax Court confirmed the reasonableness of the Appeals’ Settlement Officer to file a notice of Federal Tax Lien and to reject the taxpayers’ proposed installment agreement.
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The United States Court of Federal Claims granted summary judgment in favor of the IRS to sustain penalties in the case of Shih-Fu Peng and Roisin Heneghan v. The United States, No 16-1263T, Filed October 24, 2018. The plaintiffs were assessed late filing penalties in relation to their 2012 tax return. They allege that their return was filed late due to four reasons: 1) The father of one of the taxpayers died in July 2012, 2) their child was born in January 2013, 3) The grandmother of one of the taxpayers died in October 2013, and 4) their accountant was at times unresponsive while trying to prepare their 2012 return. Of course the Court applied the standard of I.R.C . 6651(a)(1)-(2) in determining if relief was appropriate – was the failure to file due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect? Their argument relating to the accountant failed as they only argued that he was the reason they did not file their extension. Ultimately, their return was filed after the extension due date. As such, even if they were correct, their return was still filed late. As for the other events that delayed the taxpayers’ filing, the Court indicated that it has recognized personal hardship as reasonable cause for failure to timely fund under some circumstances - such as an illness or debilitation that, because of its severity or timing, make it virtually impossible for the taxpayer to comply. The Court also explained that a taxpayer could supply evidence of incapacity caused by mental or emotional circumstances. Unfortunately for these taxpayers, it was not clear that their life events made it “virtually impossible,” for them to comply with the filing deadline. As such, no relief was granted.
The United States Tax Court in Jeffrey D. Gregory v. Comm’r, Docket No. 1090-16L, filed November 20, 2018, held that a “reprint” of a notice of deficiency is evidence of the creation of the notice before assessment, even though the reprint was prepared more than two years after the alleged mailing of the original notice and omitted or misstated information that would have appeared on any notice actually mailed. Further, the Court ruled, that the omission from a notice of deficiency of the last day to timely file a petition for re-determination does not invalidate the notice. This case was before the Tax Court for review of a determination by IRS Appeals Office to sustain the filing of a notice of Federal Tax Lien for unpaid income tax liabilities. The Petitioner conceded all aspects of the case except the validity of the notice of deficiency issued by the IRS. The IRS asserted that they issued the petitioner a notice of deficiency for the relevant tax period but admitted there was no copy of the original notice that could be reproduced. The Court ultimately ruled that it did not see why the reprints couldn’t serve as evidence that the IRS prepared the notice of deficiency, even if they were not deemed duplicates. The Court inferred from the inclusion in the IRS database of the information about the taxpayer on the reprint that it had created the notice of deficiency in accordance with its “customary practice.” As for the lack of a date to file the Petition in Tax Court, the reprint would not reflect that information as the IRS had explained this information is entered by hand when the original is issued.
This is a hard fought case on a narrow issue that ultimately went in favor of the IRS. The Tax Court in Scott T. Blackburn v. Comm’r, 150 T.C. No. 9, filed April 9, 2018, was asked to review the verification of compliance rule of I.R.C. section 6751(b), as required by sections 6330(c)(1) and (3)(A). The Appeals officer must “obtain verification from the Secretary that the requirements of any applicable law or administrative procedure have been met.” Sec. 6330(c)(1). The Petitioner did not argue or contest the liability issue relating to assessment of the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty against him. The Revenue Officer in this instance has recommended assessment and said assessment was approved by the Revenue Officer’s manager using Form 4183. The name of the manager was listed on the form, but no signature was present. The taxpayer argued that in creating section 6751(b), Congress could not have meant to require a meaningless, supervisory “rubber stamped” signature. Petitioner asked the IRS many times to provide some evidence that the supervisor’s review was meaningful. Petitioner relies on the Internal Revenue Manual to suggest an argument that the signature of a supervisor in support of a penalty is not in itself a sufficient showing to comply with section 6751(b). The Court indicated that caselaw review applying these code sections has only required the officer to review the administrative steps taken before assessment of the underlying liability. To impose the requirement of a substantive review on the officer would allow the taxpayer to avoid the limitations of pursuing the underlying liability in a review under section 6330 and apply a level of detail in the verification process that has never been previously required, the Court explained.
IRS Planning increased collection activity against federal employees'
Thrift Savings Plans (TSP)
The National Taxpayer Advocate has reported in its Fiscal Year 2016 Objectives report to Congress that a proposal by the IRS to expand collection efforts against retirement plans of federal employees "infringes on taxpayers' rights to a fair and just tax system." Federal employees have the ability to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is similar to a private sector 401(k) plan in that employee savings are tax deferred and qualify for some level of employer, (in this case the federal government), matching.
Taxpayers, including federal government employees, who owe taxes are subject to IRS levy on their property and rights to property. This power extends to retirement accounts, including the TSP. However, given the importance of retirement savings to an individual's welfare during old age, the IRS has historically regarded a levy on retirement funds as a special case that requires additional scrutiny and a manager's approval.
Essentially, before a field Revenue Officer can levy a retirement benefit, the agent would determine what property is available to levy - both retirement and non-retirement, determine if the taxpayer has acted in a flagrant manner, and finally determine if the retirement funds are required for necessary living expenses. There are distinct problems with these factors, but that has been partially mitigated by other requirements prior to issuance of the levy. The field Revenue Officer must either secure the signature of the Area Director of Field collections, or secure a manager's approval.
In order to obtain a collection manager's approval in this instance, the field Revenue Officer is required to draft a detailed memo that sets out a summary of all information provided to the agent by the taxpayer, whether the taxpayer has exhibited any flagrant behavior, and more importantly, other collection alternatives that have been considered and rejected. In other words, the retirement account falls into a secondary level of collection after the field Revenue Officer reviews other property or income to levy.
Recent activity at the IRS has created a pilot program to levy TSP accounts. Most importantly, and of greatest concern, this program will be administered by ACS employees. ACS is the Automated Collection System unit. When a taxpayer's account is in ACS, it is not assigned to a single employee for collection, rather, there are various employees in functions and units that work on similar matters. These employees do not receive the same level of financial analysis training as a field Revenue Officer.
In addition to the reduced training received by ACS employees, the pilot program calls for ACS employees to document any information that a retirement is impending and that the taxpayer will be relying on funds from the TSP for necessary living expenses. This lacks any analysis regarding other property the taxpayer may have that would be available to collect from, or if the taxpayer acted in a flagrant manner, all requirements of a field Revenue Officer.
Finally, the pilot program requires managerial approval prior to levy on retirement accounts - but that is a requirement of many collection actions by ACS employees - hardly elevating these situation to a special case status. What is not referenced is the required memo to the manager detailing information provided by the taxpayer and collection alternatives considered and rejected before proposing levy to the retirement account - all requirements of the field Revenue Officer.
In summary, the IRS is targeting one type of retirement account, the TSP, for increased collection activity, over all others. ACS does not have the ability to levy any other retirement accounts at this time. The National Taxpayer Advocate believes that this pilot program undermines both taxpayer rights and retirement security policy. As such, the National Taxpayer Advocate is going to continue to push the IRS to abandon the Thrift Savings Plan levy pilot program If the IRS adopts the program, the National Taxpayer Advocate is prepared to accept all TSP levy cases coming from ACS. Taxpayers should take advantage of this opportunity to protect their retirement income. Additionally, where possible, taxpayers should seek assistance from the Appeals division in order to entertain collection alternatives through Appeals' Collection Due Process hearing procedures. Feel free to contact Caraker Law Firm, P.C. with any questions you may have.
IRS institutes Early Interaction Initiative for Employment Tax matters
It is expected that the IRS will be instituting swifter action against employers that are falling behind on their Federal Tax Deposits (FTD’s) for employment taxes. Those taxpayers who have had interaction with a field Revenue Officer are likely hearing from those Revenue Officers more quickly if they fall behind on their required deposits. However, the IRS announced in December 2015 that it is instituting efforts to identify employers who appear to be falling behind on their tax payments – apparently even before their employment tax return is being filed.
The IRS has indicated that their identification efforts will result in letters, automated phone messages, and other communications which could include a visit from a field Revenue Officer. The IRS has indicated that this effort will reduce the likelihood of the problem becoming uncontrollable. Many taxpayers simply do not realize how steep the penalties can be for failure to properly make tax deposits, pay employment taxes timely, or failure to file timely returns. Further, it is unlikely that most taxpayers understand the personal liability that can be assessed from unpaid employment taxes. A liability that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
While the education efforts are beneficial, certainly there is an enforcement aspect of this activity by the IRS. The IRS readily admits that two-thirds of federal taxes are collected through the payroll tax system. With a reduced budget, this activity makes good sense for the IRS. However, it is most likely going to be most burdensome for small businesses.
No doubt early action is best. If you know you have been falling behind on your payroll tax obligations and need assistance planning before you hear from the taxing authorities, feel free to call.
8th Circuit Ruling Affects Characterization of Payments from Conservation Reserve Program:
The US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit recently handed down a decision in Morehouse v. C.I.R, (8th Cir. Oct. 10, 2014), which decided whether or not payments received under the Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) should be included as income from self-employment on a taxpayer’s return.
In this case, the taxpayer inherited 1223 acres of land in 1994, located on three different properties in South Dakota (503 acres in Grant County, 320 acres in Roberts County, and 400 acres in Day County). All of the land was tillable cropland with exception of a gravel pit on the Grant County property and 129 acres on the Roberts County property that the taxpayer’s father placed under the CRP program. The taxpayer never farmed any of the land.
In 1997, the taxpayer enrolled the remaining acreage of the Roberts County property and the tillable land in Grant County in the CRP program. The primary purpose of the CRP program is to reduce soil erosion and improve soil conditions on highly erodible cropland by limiting the taxpayer’s use of the property. Therefore, by enrolling in the program, the taxpayer entered into a contractual obligation with the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) requiring him to implement conservation plans for the properties in the program. These plans required the taxpayer to establish and maintain certain types of grass or vegetative cover on the land and engage in periodic weed and pest control. As compensation for implementing the conservation plans, the taxpayer was reimbursed for a portion of his costs and was paid an “annual rental payment.”
In both 2006 and 2007, the taxpayer received CRP payments of $37,872. The taxpayer included the CRP payments on his return in both years as a rental payment received from real estate. As a result, on October 14, 2010 the IRS sent the taxpayer a notice of deficiency stating that the CRP payments should have been reported as self-employment income on a Schedule F, Profit or Loss from Farming. The taxpayer petitioned the Tax Court for review of this determination, claiming that the CRP payments were rentals from real estate under 26 U.S.C. §1402(a)(1), and therefore should be excluded from his net earnings from self-employment. However, the Tax Court sustained the service’s conclusion that the CRP payments constituted self-employment income reasoning that because the payments were proceeds from the taxpayer’s own use of the land they did not constitute rental payments.
On appeal, the primary issue centered on whether or not CRP payments should be categorized as “net earnings from self-employment.” In deciding this question, the Appeals Court first looked at types of payments that would generally be classified as self-employment income. The Court explained that self-employment income consists of the gross income derived from the taxpayer’s trade or business. Or in other words, the trade or business must give rise to the income before it can be included as self-employment income.
Contrary to the Tax Court’s opinion, the Appeals Court found that the CRP payments did not derive from the taxpayer’s activities on the land because the only reason the taxpayer engaged in any activities such as tilling and seeding on the land was because it was required by the CRP contracts. The Appeals Court further determined that because the contracts reserved a right of entry for the government onto the CRP property for purposes of inspection, that the government was “using” the land as much as if not more than the taxpayer. Therefore, the CRP payments were given to the taxpayer in consideration for this right to use and occupy the taxpayer’s property.
Next the Court looked at how similar payments to taxpayers have been categorized in the past. In doing so, the Court looked to Rev. Ruling 60-32, 1960-1 C.B. 23 (1960) concerning the CRP’s predecessor, the Soil Bank Act. In this ruling the IRS concluded that soil bank payments to people who did not operate or materially participate in a farming operation were to be viewed as rental income, not self-employment income. However, the ruling further stated that soil bank payments made to farmers were self-employment income. Although this precedent was not controlling, the Court decided that given the significant overlap in the CRP and Soil Bank programs, and because it reflects a longstanding and reasonable interpretation of the Agency’s regulations, the revenue ruling was persuasive. Therefore, the Court decided to follow the Soil Bank Program distinction between payments to farmers and non-farmers in concluding that CRP payments to the taxpayer in this case were rental income because he was not engaged in farming operations. Looking forward it appears that at least in the 8th Circuit, taxpayers who receive payments from the CRP program will be able to include the income as rental income rather than self-employment income on their tax return, if they are not operating farming activities on the land.
If you have any questions about how this ruling might affect the characterization of your CRP payments, please feel free to contact our office.
Texas Receives “High Performance Bonus” Under Federal Worker Misclassification Initiative:
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently awarded $10.2 million in grants to 19 states as part of the Department’s Misclassification Initiative. The Misclassification Initiative was created in 2011, as part of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the DOL and IRS. The MOU formed an agreement between the two agencies to work together to reduce the incidence of worker misclassification, by sharing information and coordinating enforcement efforts.
A worker misclassification occurs when an employer or business owner classifies a worker on their tax returns as something other than an employee (such as an independent contractor), when they should be classified as an employee. Generally, the distinction between an employee and independent contractor is in how much control the person paying for the service has over (1) what work will be done and (2) how that work will be done. The more control the person paying has over the work being done, the more likely it is that the person providing the service should be classified as an employee.
From the worker’s perspective, misclassification can mean denial from benefits and programs such as family medical leave, overtime, minimum wage, and unemployment insurance. From the government’s perspective, misclassification leads to a substantial loss to the Treasury by way of lost Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and worker’s compensation funds.
While the Misclassification Initiative was started in 2011, this year is the first year that individual states were eligible to receive grant funding for their efforts to decrease worker misclassification. Although several states already had existing programs designed to reduce misclassification, under the federal Misclassification Initiative individual grants up to $500,000 were awarded to 19 states under a competitive award process.
The Misclassification Initiative also offers additional grant funding to states through its “High Performance Bonus” program. This bonus program is based off the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the food stamp program, which also provides bonuses for high performing states. So far, four states (Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, and Utah) have received such bonuses. Of those states, Texas has received $775,529 in bonuses, which is almost $300,000 more than the next highest recipient, New Jersey. According to the DOL the bonuses are awarded to the states that are most successful in detecting and prosecuting employers that fail to pay taxes due to misclassification. The bonus program is designed to give states both an extra incentive to carry out enforcement actions and additional funds to upgrade their misclassification enforcement programs.
If you’re unsure how your workers should be classified and would like assistance, please contact our office.
Tags: employment taxes, Department of Labor, High Performance Bonus, Misclassification Enforcement, W-2, Tax, Employee Misclassification, Grant Funding, 1099, Misclassification Initiative, DOL, Employee, Independent Contractor, Self-employment tax, IRS
In the past couple of years, the IRS has dramatically changed its formula for calculating the amount a taxpayer must pay to settle a tax debt. Fundamentally, the changes were favorable for the taxpayer and the IRS appears to better understand that acceptance of an Offer in Compromise likely results in collection of more tax dollars than simply continuing to enforce collection efforts through levies and lien filings. However, the movement towards a more favorable calculation by the IRS of the taxpayer’s ability to pay, and thus the taxpayer’s reasonable collection potential, has actually been further adjusted in a manner that removes some of the initial excitement about formula changes to Offer calculations.
The basis of acceptance of most Offers in Compromise is doubt as to collectability. Basically, the IRS performs an analysis of a taxpayer’s financial situation and if the taxpayer’s ability to pay is less than the amount they owe, then the taxpayer could theoretically qualify for an Offer in Compromise settlement. The ability to pay analysis consists of the calculation of both a taxpayer’s equity in assets and “future income potential.”
A taxpayer’s future income potential for a settlement is typically calculated by performing a monthly financial analysis in which the IRS compares gross earnings to allowable expenses to determine if there is any excess monthly income remaining from which the taxpayer could pay the IRS. If so, this excess income was historically multiplied by a factor – either 48 or 60, to determine the future income potential portion of a settlement Offer. The taxpayer would be allowed to multiply the excess monthly income by 48 if the Offer was for a lump sum settlement, and 60 if the payments were to be made over a couple of years.
Recently, a favorable adjustment was made to the multiplier. Rather than asking the taxpayer to multiply excess income over expenses by 48 for a lump sum Offer, the IRS dramatically adjusted this number down to 12! And, rather than multiplying by 60 for a short term payment Offer over up to a couple of years, the multiplier was altered to 24!
This seemed almost too good to be true. And in part, it was. The IRS clarified, through the adoption of guidance in its Internal Revenue Manual, that even if a taxpayer calculates that he or she qualifies under the new formula, the taxpayer will not qualify for a settlement Offer if the IRS could collect the entire debt through establishment of an Installment Agreement over the statutory period of collections, unless there are special circumstances.
What this means is that at the time of analyzing a taxpayer’s situation, it is important to be aware that even though the formula indicates a taxpayer would qualify for a settlement, if the monthly excess income over expenses would retire the debt under the statute of limitations, then the taxpayer is wasting time submitting an Offer. Furthermore, the taxpayer will be putting the statute of limitations for collection on hold while the defective Offer is under review, and for a period of time after rejection.
Here’s a simple example of how this would work. Assume a taxpayer owes $50,000 in tax debt. If the taxpayer just filed the return, the IRS will have 10 years, or 120 months to collect the debt, with exceptions for extensions of time – such as when an Offer is filed. If the taxpayer has no equity in assets, but a financial analysis shows an ability to pay $1,000 a month, the taxpayer might think a lump sum Offer would be a good way to put the debt to rest forever. Under the lump sum analysis, the future income potential would be $1,000 x 12 or $12,000. With no equity in assets, this is less than the tax debt and would make this look viable. Even the short term Offer looks good as the future income potential would be $1,000 x 24 or $24,000. The settlement would be paid over 24 months, or $1,000 per month.
The reality in the above example is that the Offer will be rejected, absent special circumstances, because the monthly future income potential of $1,000 multiplied by the life of the collection statute exceeds the tax debt as follows: $1,000 x 120 months (or 10 years as the return was just filed) = $120,000. The exception to this is if special circumstances exist as disclosed on submission of the Offer. Generally, special circumstances would include creation of economic hardship, or alternatively, compelling public policy or equity factors, such as health concerns or age, could tip the analysis in favor of settlement, in spite of the above.
Fundamentally, and especially because of the fact that the statute of limitations is placed on hold during a lengthy analysis period (several months), a taxpayer has to be careful to review their particular situation so that submission of an Offer in Compromise doesn’t do more harm than good. If you would like assistance with your tax matter, or the tax situation of a client, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Tags: Installment Agreement, Collection Statute Expiration Date, Future Income Potential, Partial Payment Installment Agreement, Offer in Compromise, IRS debt, Tax Debt, Internal Revenue Manual, CSED, Protracted Installment Agreement, IRS
New IRS Regulations Aim to Fight Identity Theft Through Use of Truncated Taxpayer Identification Numbers
This week, in an effort to safeguard taxpayers from identity theft, the IRS issued its final regulations regarding the use of Truncated Tax Identification Numbers or (TTINs). The final regulations, published on July 15, are amendments to the Income Tax Regulations and Procedure and Administration Regulations, which allow the tax filer to truncate a payee’s identification number on certain documents. The Service states that the amendments are specifically targeted at reducing the risk of identity theft, which can stem from the use of an employee’s entire identification number on documents.
A “Truncated” identification number simply takes an existing nine-digit identification number and replaces the first five numbers with either asterisks or “X”s so that only the last four digits remain. (i.e. A tax identification number of 99-9999999 would become XX-XXX9999). Because a TTIN is merely a method of masking taxpayer identification numbers that already exist, use of a TTIN does not require the Service to issue any new identification numbers or expend any funds for the taxpayer to be able to use a TTIN. The new regulations allow for TTIN to be used for a taxpayer’s social security number (SSN), IRS individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), IRS adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN), or employer identification number (EIN) on payee statements and certain other documents.
Before issuing their final regulations, the IRS ran a pilot program, which allowed certain qualified filers to truncate an individual’s payee identification number on a paper payee statements for Forms 1098, 1099, and 5498. This program ran from 2009 to 2010. In 2011 the IRS extended the pilot program for two more years and modified it by removing Form 1098-C from the list of eligible documents.
In January of 2013, the US Treasury and the IRS issued proposed regulations, in response to the growing threat of identity theft and associated tax fraud. The proposed regulations largely mirrored the pilot program, with TTINs permitted on electronic payee statements in addition to paper statements.
The final regulations became effective on July 15, 2014 and permit the use of TTINs “on any federal tax-related payee statement or other document required to be furnished to another person….” TTINs may not be used (1) on any return or statement filed with, or furnished to, the IRS, (2) where prohibited by statute, regulation, or other guidance by the IRS, or (3) where a SSN, ITIN, ATIN, or EIN is specifically required. Further a TTIN cannot be used by an individual to truncate their own identification number on any statement or other document that they give to another person. This includes an employer’s EIN on a W-2 or Wage and Tax Statement that they might give to an employee, and also an individual’s identification number on either a W-9 or Request for Taxpayer Number and Certification.
If you have questions about the use of TTINs, please contact our office.