What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

I regularly speak to the collection system or process that underlies IRS and state collections. A common theme that is promoted in our collection representation education courses is to try and control as much of the collection process as possible. There is nothing more powerful to one’s role in the collection process than knowledge and communication.

These key components of dealing with the IRS are true for individuals and businesses alike. And yet, when we talk about knowledge and communication we are so often referencing areas of improvement for business owners. Small to medium-sized business (SMB) owners are typically inundated with responsibilities. Not only are the company’s employees looking to owners for their livelihood, but many are still directly involved in the company’s production, its product.

Take these burdens and couple them with an IRS system that sends an extraordinary volume of mail to report on even the slightest detail (a change in reconciling small dollars on a return) and certain problem patterns develop. There are two very common scenarios that lead to the owner getting behind and thus losing control of the collection process very early on:

  1. Not opening IRS mail
  2. Empowering someone other than themselves to control the payroll process

The IRS is infamous for its mountains of mail. Taxpayers know it, tax professionals know it and the IRS knows it.  For the IRS, it’s a crucial and relatively cost effective way to fulfill certain statutory obligations such as the need to keep taxpayers notified. And while it works there can also be a point of diminishing returns. It is not at all uncommon for the volume of mail to lead to the feeling that the letters never have any substantive material. This fosters an almost apathetic approach to the next letter that leads to missing key pieces of information such as notification of ability or an appeal.

That same feeling of apathy can develop in relationships within a business. Sometimes it’s not a lack of interest that creates the problem but rather putting too much unchecked trust in someone responsible for something as important for payroll. In any business, the owner carries the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that payroll tax obligations are met and met timely.  Although someone can be hired for a specific skill like accounting, a business owner cannot delegate responsibility for employment taxes. There is no way to move that burden. A business owner will always be in a position to know where their company stands with its payroll tax obligations if this is clearly understood. 

I recommend to my clients nothing short of weekly meetings, even if they are quick, to review the critical functions of their company. With many small businesses, there are going to be some issues. Knowing about the problems so they can be addressed is vital to getting back on top. Let us be of assistance when it comes to answering any of your questions by

Let us be of assistance when it comes to answering any of your questions by contacting us now, we are always here to help. You can also learn more about payroll tax issues, here.

Business Owner? Pitfalls of Not Paying Attention

Business owners wear many different hats and often times work long hours to ensure that they provide quality products and services for their clientele. Over the years, I have worked with many business owners that take considerable pride in their given trade. Whether I am working with an electrician, hair stylist, physician or daycare owner, there exists a certain level of experience and passion, a calling if you will, that leads one to start their own business. While applying a skill set in a particular trade is undoubtedly a vital aspect of running a successful business, the role of the business owner does not stop there.

Many small business (SMB) owners are forced to delegate duties and responsibilities to others as there are simply not enough hours in any given day to “do it all.” Delegation frees up more time to focus on strategic hands-on work, instead of worrying about small details. While effective, business owners must be cautious when delegating responsibilities relative to tax issues. It is not uncommon for a business owner to rely on a CPA to prepare tax returns, or a bookkeeper or payroll service to handle income statements and payroll tax deposits. Ultimately, however, a business owner must maintain accountability despite the fact that someone else is “handling” the taxes.   

The issue of accountability becomes paramount when dealing with tax liabilities in general, but particularly when that liability stems from unpaid withholding taxes. While it is clear that the IRS will attempt to collect unpaid withholding taxes from a business, many owners are surprised to learn that the IRS can also make assessments against willful and responsible parties under the provisions covering the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty. Regardless of whether or not a business owner is delegating the federal tax deposit responsibilities to others, in most cases the IRS will still find the owner responsible on a personal level.

Anyone that has dealt with IRS Collections has probably received numerous letters and notices regarding their liability. In fact, I would go so far as to say that IRS Collections can inundate taxpayers with notices over time. While no one wants to receive a letter from the IRS, it is imperative that business owners pay attention to each notice.  Often times these notices will include requests for a response or additional information, and may contain important deadlines. Failure to respond to a notice could result in audit, additional tax, interest and penalty assessment, or levies, garnishments and possibly seizure.

When it comes to tax issues, business owners must take an active role in reviewing tax returns, federal tax deposits, and notices on a consistent and on-going basis. Paying attention to the details may make the difference between working out a reasonable resolution or facing an insurmountable obstacle. When in doubt, it is essential to seek professional help. Contact us today, and we can help to answer any questions while simultaneously getting you and your business back on track.

Sometimes the Best Advice is Tough to Give

Recently, I came across an article on a major clothing company highlighting a payroll hiccup during which the employees went temporarily unpaid. From the sounds of it, this company has been facing money problems for quite some time, ultimately filing for bankruptcy protection in October 2015. The company chalked up the problem to a procedural error by a global banking and financial services company, specifically stating that its money woes had nothing to do with it.

Whether the company’s line is true is not the point. Let’s assume for a moment the worst, that the payroll problem was related to the finances. Then, let’s take a moment to applaud them for making the responsible decision to hold the net payroll, temporarily, until all of the payrolls related obligations could be met.

A company’s ability to fulfill its payroll tax obligations has a direct impact on the company, the owner, investors and the employees. It affects the company’s very existence. The responsibility to collect and remit payroll taxes is statutory, required by law. The law states that a company has the burden to collect and remit payroll taxes from its employees when the employees are paid. Therefore, if payroll is delayed so is the obligation to remit the tax-related aspects of the payroll.  

It goes without saying, but running a company with employees carries a host of responsibilities. After all, a company’s employees rely on it to provide for their general well-being. But, to a business owner, the importance of trust taxes, specifically payroll, cannot be overstated. Therefore, when beginning a new representation case, it is critical to introduce an educational component to the work. It’s imperative for clients to understand how to make good decisions in the face of financial distress. We understand that it’s certainly not easy to have a conversation with employees about a payroll being held. After all, those people are likely counting on it because of obligations of their own.  Nonetheless, this can be the correct decision in some cases.

Holding a payroll is not the only answer and in some cases can be the wrong answer to a tough spot. But compared with the fallout from missing a payroll tax deposit, such as an IRS levy, it can actually prevent a bad situation from getting much worse. Dealing with IRS Collections is about ensuring that a company facing duress survives for everyone involved over the long term. The questions about what to do and when make it vital to have a qualified and competent professional to lean on.

If you are a business owner and find yourself facing a payroll problem, make it a priority to give us a call today. The longer you wait, the more complicated and difficult your situation can become. If you happen to be a tax professional with a client who could use our assistance, either contact us directly or fill out our client referral form, here.

“I’ve Got My Tax Liability Under Control”

Over the nearly 20 years that I have been in practice I can’t tell you how many times I spoke with taxpayers believing that they had their resolution under control by making voluntary payments.  These soon-to-be clients suffered from all too common misperception that these payments would in some way deflect attention from their case or cause it to be put to the bottom of the collection pile.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t be more wrong and it’s usually a levy or lien that brings about the realization.  Yes, of course, voluntary payments are important to paying unpaid taxes.  In fact, they are the first thing I recommend in nearly every case, especially employment tax cases.  But to think that voluntary payments alone will alter the course of one’s case can be a huge miscalculation.  State and IRS collections are done by system.  They’re not whimsical or based on good faith.  Until a tax liability is paid in full or a formal resolution, such as installment agreement, is agreed to the collection process moves forward exposing taxpayers to liens and levies.

Just recently, in fact, I encountered this very situation.  A taxpayer came to me at the end of last year irate about being levied by the IRS.  The company owes the IRS just over 100k in employment taxes but the owner of the company had been making voluntary payments of $2,000 per month.  He hadn’t spoken with the IRS but had noted less mail was coming since beginning the voluntary payments.  He was angry that the levy followed his very obvious effort at resolving the situation.  Unfortunately, this taxpayer had assumed that his payments had directly influenced the IRS’ lack of urgency with his case.

Immediately, I began my effort of educating the taxpayer about the collection process.  Most every state and definitely the IRS has a set protocol for collecting unpaid taxes.  The process begins with notification of a balance due, letters with an increasing demand for payment and ultimately assignment to a field personnel for collection.  Every collection case goes through this protocol until the liability is paid or a collection determination is made.  A collection determination means the state or IRS’ decision on how the liability will be resolved.  A tax practitioner’s goal is to mold and influence that collection determination within the rules to their clients’ best interests.

The point here is that making voluntary payments, while advisable, does not alter the collection process.  Short of full paying the liability proactive and consistent contact with the authorities is not just recommended but required in order to ensure that a client remains protected from enforcement action.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is now more important than ever to get in contact with us. We are always here to answer any questions that you might have about your particular situation. Make it a point to contact us today so that we can get your life back on track.

Spending Bill Increases IRS Funding

In a rare success story relating to the IRS budget, President Obama signed into law on Friday a spending bill that provides an increase in funding to the Internal Revenue Service.  According to an article written for The Hill, Naomi Jagoda explains how the $1.1 trillion omnibus provides an additional $290 million for the IRS, an increase of 3 percent over the last fiscal year.

The IRS budget has been in a free fall ever since the controversy erupted over the agency’s heightened scrutiny of Tea Party groups.  In fiscal year 2015, Republican law makers continued the trend by slashing another $346 million – a budget at its lowest level since 2008.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities conducted an analysis of IRS numbers back in September.  The analysis notes that since 2010, the IRS’ budget has been cut 18% after adjusting foMoneyr inflation.  The result is over 13,000 fewer employees, lowest individual and business audits in more than a decade and fewer than half of customer service calls being answered.

In granting the boost to the budget, lawmakers specified that the funding is to be used for “taxpayer services to ensure that the agency responds to taxpayer questions in a timely manner, and to improve fraud detection and prevention and cybersecurity,” according to a summary from Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee.  Despite the compromise that lead to the additional funding, tensions are still running high between Republicans and the IRS with four articles of impeachment introduced in October still looming over the Commissioner of the beleaguered agency.

While the funding increase seems to signal a sign that some recognize the difficulties that the political infighting has created for taxpayers and practitioners, there is still quite a bit left to be done before the IRS can operate in a more proactive capacity.  What’s more, new laws will inevitably stretch the IRS even further than before. For example, the Affordable Care Act, private debt collector provision of the transportation bill as well as initiatives like the passport revocation program and return preparer licensing.  To address meaningful reform within the IRS, lawmakers have to restore the IRS’ budget to a level that allows it to realistically address its mission.

 

New Law Broadens IRS Enforcement

Fun in the sun in Mexico?  Maybe not if you owe the IRS back taxes.  On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, also known as the FAST Act.  What does that have to do with taxes and your ability to travel?  Everything…

The FAST Act includes a new provision in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), Section 7345, titled Revocation or Denial of Passport in Case of Certain Tax Delinquencies.  In short, the law says that the State Department can revoke, deny or limit passports for anyone the IRS certifies as having a seriously delinquent tax debt. US Passport

So, what is a “seriously delinquent” tax debt?  The bill defines a seriously delinquent tax debt as one that is unpaid and legally enforceable, in excess of $50,000 (including penalty and interest) and has been assessed along with a Notice of Federal Tax Lien or Notice of Levy.  The $50,000 limit with be adjusted each year for inflation but still is a relatively low number especially considering the inclusion of penalty and interest.  After all, penalty alone can accumulate up to 47.5% and interest compounds daily.

Thankfully, there are exceptions to the rule.  A taxpayer that is subject to an Offer in Compromise, an installment agreement, due process rights or innocent spouse relief will not be affected.  But how the IRS will ensure those that are exempt raises the practical question of how exactly this information will be communicated to the State Department.  The law indicates that the State Department must rely on Treasury for a list of those taxpayers that may be affected by this law.  How often will the IRS send a list?  Will the list include every taxpayer owing over $50,000 or will the IRS set a higher bar, at least initially?  And what about a taxpayer listed by mistake or one that pays the tax debt? The concern then becomes: how quickly can they be removed.

Only time will tell how the IRS chooses to employ this new power.  And there is some question about whether a taxpayer that lands on the list will challenge it in court.  In the meantime, it behooves every taxpayer that could fall into this category to reach an understanding on repayment with the IRS as soon as possible.

 

The Importance of Compliance

When working with the IRS Collections Division, tax compliance is fundamental to resolving any case.  Compliance in this regard refers to the filing of all outstanding returns and the remittance of required tax deposits for the current period.  This is also known as being “current.” Specifically, a taxpayer who is current can show they are capable of meeting deposit requirements.  Their representative can also argue that they should not be subject to collections and are eligible to be considered for a formal resolution.  In turn, the IRS can make a case that further accruals have stopped and they are no longer a risk to the Service.

Most importantly, compliance is a prerequisite to any case resolution.  When a case is with IRS collections, the taxpayer’s compliance with returns and deposits is subject to higher scrutiny.  The Service simply seeks to draw a line in the sand to stop accruals otherwise known as “pyramiding.” When an individual or business is current and not pyramiding, they are more likely to be protected from collections such as bank levies and garnishments.  They can be protected by being placed into “pending installment agreement status” if a formal proposal is made.  Further, an IRS revenue officer is also more likely to grant a hold on collections and work on a timeline for resolution.  Finally, if an appeal is filed, the Office of Appeals is more likely to consider their case without collections to achieve a resolution.

In its simplest form, the IRS can only formalize a resolution with a taxpayer who is compliant, for the exact periods with balances due.  If returns are outstanding or current deposits are not made, the total balance due is also unknown and terms for an agreement cannot be set. More so, after an agreement has been established, if a taxpayer does not rForm 1040emain compliant, new periods outside of agreement have been created.  This automatically breaks the terms of any agreement and the entire process must start over to encompass all periods with balances due.

For an individual, this means that all personal income tax returns (Forms 1040) must be submitted.  Keep in mind an extension to file a return is not an extension to pay.  Therefore, if a balance is expected on any return on extension, it should be filed at once so it can be included in the resolution.  In addition, if required, sufficient year to date estimated income tax deposits must be made in order to show compliance.

For a business, all payroll tax returns (Forms 941), unemployment returns (Forms 940) and corporate income or partnership returns (Forms 1120 & 1065) must be filed.  Primarily the business must show that in the quarter in which it is currently in, sufficient and timely payroll tax deposits have been made.  If current deposits are late, sufficient payments to cover penalties should be addressed as well.

Very often the IRS is also more likely to formalize a resolution for a taxpayer who is compliant in working with a third party payroll service provider.  Specifically, payroll service providers can help establish a very efficient, formal schedule for deposits and filings under the control of a business owner.  This significantly lowers the risk for accruals, which helps both the taxpayer and IRS in the future.

Overall, cases can easily turn in a taxpayers favor when they first can establish compliance.  Being current must be the primary focus of any individual or business working with IRS collections.  Ultimately, having the experienced representatives at 20/20 Tax Resolution, Inc. will make this process easier and more successful in the long run. Please feel free to contact us with any questions — we are here to help.

[Infographic] 7 Types of Installment Agreements

Installment Agreements (also known as Payment Plans) are the most accepted and common resolution strategy with the IRS. It takes experience, time and preparation to successfully negotiate an Installment Agreement and no negotiation goes exactly like the other.

We’ve created this simple guide to help illustrate the various types of Installment Agreements that may be available to you depending on your particular situation.  Take a few minutes to better familiarize yourself with their differences — and remember, we are always here to help.

2020TaxResolution_InstallmentAgreements_Infographic

Learn more about ways we can help or feel free to contact us with any questions.

To download a high-resolution version of this infographic, please click here

Are You Receiving the Proper Notices?

Before the IRS is able to issue a levy against you individually or against your business, it is required to provide you with the proper notices. But how can you be sure that you are receiving all of the correct notices up until this point? The IRS typically starts with a notice telling you there is a balance due on the particular return you filed and then progresses to a “Final Notice of Intent to Levy.” A taxpayer has 30 days from the date of this letter to either fully pay the liability or take some sort of action on the account. Otherwise, the IRS can issue a levy.

Whether you are dealing with the Automated Collection Division of the IRS or local revenue officers, they are for the most part issuing the proper notices before taking any type of action.  However, there is one specific area where notices aren’t always being properly issued.  According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) this is happening when there is an additional tax assessment.

US Mail BoxWhen it comes to an additional tax assessment, a completely new notice should go out, giving the taxpayer an additional 30 days before any type of levy action can occur for that particular period. Even if the taxpayer had received the final notice previously and 30 days had run by, once the additional assessment takes place the new notice trumps the old one and the 30 days would start over again. It’s important to point out that the new notice would only be for the particular period in which the additional tax assessment took place. If you owed for multiple periods, the IRS could still levy on the periods that did not receive the additional assessment.

Should the IRS ever issue a levy against you or your business on a period with an additional tax assessment and it either didn’t give you the proper additional notice or didn’t wait the statutory required 30 days, there are steps you can take to fight back and get that levy released. The good news is that the IRS is aware that it isn’t always following procedure when it comes to additional assessments and it is taking the necessary steps to correct the problem. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it’s always important to know and understand your rights as a taxpayer. We can help.

If you own a business and are facing tax troubles, learn more about IRS levies here. Or, if you are an individual with a tax liability, you can learn more about IRS levies here.

 

 

 

Payroll Tax Problems

If you own a small business, you may have been put in a position where you don’t have enough money to cover your entire gross payroll. Whether it’s because your largest account didn’t pay on time, there was a downturn in the industry or you simply didn’t foresee this cash problem early enough, it is a situation that there’s no easy answer for.

When you’re faced with this situation, what should you do? Go to your employees and ask them to hold your check? If you want to keep your employees, probably not. Get short term financing? Beg, borrow or steal?

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Most of the time there is no good answer.  Employees need and deserve to get paid and paid on time.  What happens the majority of the time is that the net payroll is met and withholding taxes go unpaid. Obviously, this is costly.  The IRS will charge a late payment penalty and interest that exacerbate the problem.  When the quarterly 941 tax return becomes due, many people decide against filing it with a balance due for the previous quarter’s liability, generating another penalty for failure to file timely.

All of this snowballs and before you realize it, there is a significant payroll tax problem on your hands.  If you are in this situation, it’s time to act now. Contact us today and find a solution that will end this.

To learn more about business payroll tax problems, click here.