Category Archives: Tax News

2017 Year in Review: Top Tax News

No matter your perspective on the recent passage of tax reform, there’s no question it is the biggest tax story of the year – and perhaps of the decade. The estimated $1.5 trillion bill is being touted as the savior of the middle class and simultaneously denounced as just another exercise in trickle-down economics. Time will tell how the expansive bill shakes up the economy, but with provisions impacting everything from health care to the standard deduction, the reform is sure to impact just about every American in some way.

Business man holding TAX on blurred abstract background

The rest of 2017’s tax stories are not quite as dramatic, but important nonetheless. Here’s a rundown of the top tax news of the year:

  • Employment taxes: The IRS stepped up efforts to combat delinquent employment taxes in the wake of a scathing report in May from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IRS watchdogs reported that the number and size of payroll tax violations is going up, and IRS penalties alone have not been enough to stop the trend. Although the willful failure to remit employment taxes is a felony, there have historically been fewer than 100 criminal convictions per year.
  • Use of private debt collectors: In June it was announced that the IRS began using private debt collectors to try and recoup overdue money owed the government. The IRS program engages four private-sector collection agencies to pursue the toughest debt. Generally these are cases where money has been owed for multiple years and the case is not currently being worked by federal employees.
  • Tax reform impact on delinquent taxes: A change in pass-through taxation, which impacts taxpayers who have some or all of their business income taxed on their individual return, could aid S corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprieterships. As a result, these entities might have fewer challenges meeting their tax obligations. However, tax reform is not expected to have a major impact on tax resolution needs. As always, “life happens” so some people will owe – and some of those people will inevitably need tax resolution services.

The biggest story of the year may be that nothing really changes. The need to have a solid tax plan in place for individuals and businesses is still essential. Be certain to plan ahead for tax obligations, monitor your business throughout the year to guard against revenue ebbs and flows – and make certain you always have a plan to pay.

Happy New Year to you and yours, and best wishes for a profitable 2018!

Employment Tax Noncompliance Reaching Historic Numbers

As political leaders in Washington consider dramatic cuts to federally funded programs and agencies, billions in employment taxes, interest, and penalties has gone unpaid due in some part to decreasing efforts from the IRS to pursue and collect from the growing number of delinquent employers.

That’s the assessment of experts at 20/20 Tax Resolution, a tax resolution firm that specializes in helping business owners manage and resolve tax obligations when they’ve fallen behind. According to IRS data, nearly $46 billion in unpaid employment taxes and penalties were left unaccounted for in fiscal year 2015. Yet, five consecutive years of IRS budget cuts have reduced the agency’s ability to manage enforcement caseloads.

“Employers are often under tremendous financial pressure to meet tax obligations,” said David Miles, vice president at 20/20 Tax Resolution. “When they fall behind, either through financial necessity or willfully, it’s important that the IRS possess the resources to work with employers to rectify any shortfalls.” IRS Building Sign

According to the federal budget proposed by the Trump Administration in early March, the IRS budget would be reduced to $9.65 billion, a 14.1 percent cut for the fiscal year that begins in October and would mark the agency’s sixth consecutive year of budget cuts. The proposed 2017 cut goes against the stated desires of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who believes the IRS needs more money and staff to fulfill its mission and increase revenue. For taxpayers seeking to meet their tax obligations, the proposed IRS budget cuts would result in fewer personnel available to resolve issues, slower response times and ultimately more frustration.

“It has been shown that every dollar of IRS funding returns four dollars in revenue – and as much as $10 if invested in enforcement activities,” said Miles. “Yet additional cuts to IRS funding will further erode the agency’s capabilities to realize this revenue generation.”

“A properly funded IRS provides necessary resources to garner faster, more efficient and more accurate resolutions to employer tax issues,” Miles said. “To reiterate, when fewer resources are available, the result is a reduction in decision makers, longer wait times and slower resolutions, making employers focus longer on their tax troubles and potentially even dissuading some employers from complying voluntarily.”

“Egregious” employer tax noncompliance (defined as 20 or more consecutive quarters of non-payment) has tripled over a 17-year period, according to IRS records. When collection against an employer is unsuccessful, the IRS pursues the individuals responsible for the company by assessing the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (TFRP). In FY 2015, the IRS assessed the TFRP against approximately 27,000 responsible persons – 38 percent fewer than just five years before as a result of diminished revenue officer resources.

“It becomes a challenge for employers to seek resolution when the resources required to remedy tax issues are not available or are exceedingly difficult to manage,” Miles said. “For the sake of taxpayers and the nation as a whole, a fully supported IRS offers the best way to help employers meet their obligations.”

IRS Collections Going Private this Month. Be Wary of Tax Scams.

After months of conversation, and criticism, taxpayers across the country will finally start hearing from private debt collectors starting this month. If you are unfamiliar with this initiative, please take a moment to read through our blog post “IRS Turning to Private Debt Collectors.” This piece provides a great overview of what the program entails.

Interestingly, the conversation about the IRS’ third go-around with private debt collection has really shifted from its past failures to how the IRS will separate itself from the many IRS scammers passing themselves off as a private collection firm.  To do its part to combat IRS scammers the IRS has, in the past, leaned heavily on the fact that it does not make outbound phone calls to collect taxes. That will change under private debt collection.

It has been announced that private debt collectors are only going to be assigned cases that are inactive. This means that these entities are going to be calling taxpayers that have not heard from the IRS in quite some time making the potential risk of confusion about who is calling much higher. The IRS recognizes the issue and has given advice to taxpayers to help distinguish the legitimate private debt collectors from others.

According to a recent IRS announcement, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen explains, “Here’s a simple rule to keep in mind. You won’t get a call from a private collection firm unless you have unpaid tax debts going back several years and you’ve already heard from the IRS multiple times.” He continues with, “The people included in the private collection program typically already know they have a tax issue. If you get a call from someone saying they’re from one of these groups and you’ve paid your taxes, that’s a sure sign of a scam.” The concern is that the Commissioner’s explanation may not resonate with many taxpayers.  As a result, if scammers attempt to leverage private debt collection into a new tactic, taxpayers may not know who is who.

As expected, the IRS is urging all taxpayers that owe back taxes to work through a resolution sooner rather than later.  And for those taxpayers unsure of where they stand with IRS the Commissioner suggests that they take the necessary steps to determine what taxes, if any, remain unpaid.

If you find yourself unsure about what you owe, contact us today.

*Want to read more? Click here to check out the latest IRS announcement.

Unpaid Taxes Will Impact Your Future Travel Plans

It was hard to miss the dramatic changes to tax collection introduced at the end of 2015 in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). At the time, journalists and tax professionals alike wrote about and discussed FAST’s re-implementation of the IRS’ use of private debt collection agencies and the IRS and Department of State teaming up to revoke or suspend passports over unresolved tax debt. While private debt collection agencies dominated the narrative come the end of 2016, recent talk of how the new passport rules in FAST will play out have taken center stage.

The IRS issued guidance in early 2017 providing insight on how the program will be run. According to Section 32101 of the FAST Act, the Secretary of Treasury upon receipt of a certified list of seriously delinquent taxpayers will provide such list to the Secretary of State for action with denial, revocation or limitation of the passports for those on the list. The law describes “seriously delinquent taxpayers” as those having an assessed liability of more than $50,000 for which a Notice of Federal Tax Lien has been filed (and appeal rights exhausted or lapsed) or a levy has been issued.

There are, however, exceptions. The law reads that liabilities that have been resolved by an installment agreement or Offer in Compromise, have exercised Collection Due Process Rights (CDP) in response to a levy, or cases in which collection has been suspended due to an innocent spouse claim will not qualify for certification from IRS. The good news is that if you find yourself on the list, you can get off of it. The law provides for reversal of such certification, generally within 30 days, of the liability being satisfied or in the event that the taxpayer meets one of the aforementioned exceptions.

Despite the IRS’ guidance there undoubtedly remains a degree of uncertainty with the continued development of the program and its inner workings. For example, will the initial IRS certification include every taxpayer that could qualify or is the IRS going to exercise some internal judgment on a smaller class of more “serious” delinquencies? How often will the IRS be providing a list its seriously delinquent taxpayers to the State Department? Will the IRS include taxpayers that have been placed into Currently Not Collectible status? How will the State Department develop its protocols and how strict will those be? Can the IRS abide by its requirement to decertify a taxpayer within a certain timeline and how quickly will State subsequently respond to the decertification by releasing a taxpayer’s passport? All valid questions and concerns that will eventually need to be addressed.

And there remains yet another concern for a taxpayer making it on to the IRS’ certification, domestic travel. According to a 2005 law, REAL ID Act only certain types of state ID will be recognized by federal agencies in the future. Think TSA. For taxpayers that have identification issued by states whose driver’s license do not yet meet the federal requirements of the 2005 ID law travel from state to state could also be impacted. To see where your state stands with complying with REAL ID Act, click here.

With such uncertainties on the horizon, the best way to combat these potential scenarios and unanswered questions surrounding the new passport law is to enter into an agreement to resolve your unpaid taxes as soon as possible. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know where to turn or have specific questions regarding your unique circumstances, please contact us now.

Advocate to IRS: Focus on Taxpayer Services

 

Each year the National Taxpayer Advocate authors an annual report to Congress. The report typically focuses on Ms. Olson’s evaluation of how she views the IRS performance when it comes to addressing its mission as well as recommendations for improvement. This year is no different.

“This is arguably the most important piece I have written about the IRS in my fifteen years as the National Taxpayer Advocate.” Nina Olson, National Taxpayer Advocate; 2016 Annual Report to Congress

In the most recent report (which can be found here), Ms. Olson takes aim at the culture of the IRS. She reiterates a message that she has sent to Congress in the past, “To create an environment that encourages taxpayer trust and confidence, the IRS must change its culture from one that is enforcement-oriented to one that service-oriented.” The message is not a surprising one given Ms. Olson’s role as our nation’s taxpayer advocate.

And yet, it is reasonable to assume the IRS may not agree with her vision for the future. Certainly, the IRS has shown signs of a commitment to improving a taxpayers experience with the agency through various initiatives such as the ‘Get Transcript’ portal. But the agency has a long history of viewing enforcement as a critical component of its mission and ensuring taxpayer compliance. In Ms. Olson’s report, it is noted that the IRS allocates 43% of its budget to enforcement and has proposed an increase of that spending by over 7% in the upcoming fiscal year.

Another point made by Olson in highlighting the IRS’ mindset is the IRS’ quiet rewriting of its mission statement. In the Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, Congress directed the IRS to, “restate its mission to place a greater emphasis on serving the public and meeting taxpayers’ needs. In response, the IRS adopted the following mission statement: Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and by applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all. In 2009, the IRS changed it to read: Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the tax law with integrity and fairness to all.

In addition to her emphasis on changing IRS culture, Ms. Olson also makes a strong case for the simplification of the tax code. Olson remarks that it has been 30 years since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the last major effort at significantly simplifying the tax code. And that in each year since the Tax Reform Act the code has grown more complex. The complexity burdens taxpayers and the Service alike and as a result, must be simplified. In this sentiment Olson is not alone. Even among tax practitioners, whose work often centers on assisting taxpayers comply with the tax code, there are calls for consistency and simplification through organizations such as the NAEA and AICPA.

With the political climate seemingly focused on substantive change to government, tax reform may have real potential. A significant shift in the allocation of the IRS’ budget or a change to its mission, however, is less likely.  After all, in past statements Ms. Olson has even stated that 98% of compliance with the IRS is voluntary. Compare that with the fact that the IRS has unpaid assessments of over $137B and a tax gap that stands at well over $400B. Keeping those metrics in mind, one may see the IRS become even more committed to collecting what is legally due.

IRS Turning to Private Tax Debt Collectors

Beginning in the spring of 2017, the IRS is going to take yet another run at using private debt collectors to go after its inactive tax liabilities. This is the third go around for the IRS using private debt collectors—the first two efforts, one in 1996 and the other from 2006-2009, were abandoned due to concerns over their cost-effectiveness and how the private collectors conducted themselves. Despite those failures, in December of 2015 Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), which included a provision that the IRS is required to use private collection agencies for the collection of outstanding inactive tax receivables.

Most recently, the IRS announced the four contractors that will be charged with the task of implementing the program across the country. They are as follows:

  • Conserve Fairport, New York
  • Pioneer Horseheads, New York
  • Performant Livermore, California
  • CBE Group Cedar Falls, Iowa

In this announcement, the IRS has offered clarity on the accounts being assigned to these collection agencies. The agencies will work on accounts where taxpayers owe money, but the IRS is no longer actively working their accounts. Several factors contribute to the IRS assigning these accounts including older, overdue tax accounts or lack of resources preventing the IRS from working the cases. The IRS has also clarified that it will not assign accounts to private collection agencies involving taxpayers who are:

  • Deceased
  • Under the age of 18
  • In designated combat zones
  • Victims of tax-related identity theft
  • Currently under examination, litigation, criminal investigation or levy
  • Subject to pending or active offers in compromise
  • Subject to an installment agreement
  • Subject to a right of appeal
  • Classified as innocent spouse cases
  • In presidentially declared disaster areas and requesting relief from collection

In disclosing the selection of its collection contractors, the IRS offered only a few more details on the ways in which these companies will interact with taxpayers and their representatives. According to the release, the IRS will give each taxpayer and their representative written notice that their account is being transferred to a private collection agency. The agency will then send a second, separate letter to the taxpayer and their representative confirming the transfer. The IRS also offered an assurance that as a condition of the contract the agencies must respect taxpayer rights, including abiding by the consumer protection provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Despite well founded concerns with taxpayer rights and privacy as well as the ongoing flood of IRS-related phone scams, implementation of the law probably couldn’t come at a tougher time. The IRS indicates that it, “will do everything it can to help taxpayers avoid confusion and understand their rights and tax responsibilities.” Seemingly, in direct response to a ploy of the scams, the IRS has said that the private collection agencies will not ask for payment on a prepaid debit card and that all payments should be payable to the U.S. Treasury and sent directly to IRS.

The hope is that prior to implementation, the IRS will offer even more details about how these companies plan to conduct themselves. Any complaints or issues with the private debt collectors should be reported by calling the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) hotline at 800-366-4484 or by visiting www.tigta.gov.

Credit Bureaus to Lessen Impact of Federal Tax Liens

For many years, there has been one thing that taxpayers can count on when taxes are owed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS): A Notice of Federal Tax Lien (NFTL) being filed. While the NFTL is primarily used by the IRS to secure its liability against a taxpayer’s right, title and interest in property it has also become a rather harsh reflection of one’s credit worthiness, something many consumer advocates have strong opposition to.

With that said, big changes may be on the horizon for taxpayers that owe the IRS unpaid taxes. Recent reports indicate that the credit industry is on the verge of adopting new rules that could minimize—or do away with altogether—the negative impact tax liens have on credit scores. This is a noteworthy departure from current procedure in which tax liens cost taxpayers significant credit points.

On July 12, 2016, according to a post on Credit.com, as part of its National Consumer Assistance Plan (the result of a settlement brokered with 31 state attorneys general back in 2015), Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are planning to significantly reduce the amount of tax-lien and civil-judgment information found in consumer credit files. Details have yet to be finalized, but “there will be less of that type of data in credit reports moving forward,” according to Stuart K. Pratt, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade association that represents the credit bureaus, confirmed to Credit.com. Testing is currently underway and a final plan regarding the information is expected to be implemented in July 2017.

 

If we rewind back to 2011, the IRS announced its own attempt at mitigating some of the negative impacts of NFTLs through the Fresh Start Initiative. According to an IRS press release at the time, “The goal is to help individuals and small businesses meet their tax obligations, without adding unnecessary burden to taxpayers. Specifically, the IRS is announcing new policies and programs to help taxpayers pay back taxes and avoid tax liens.” The changes to lien protocol did not, of course, change the way that a lien would be scored in by the credit reporting process. Instead, the Fresh Start Initiative was a collection of procedural changes that provided more alternatives to the traditional lien process.

Interestingly, studies show that the filing of an NFTL by the IRS actually assists in the collection of tax dollars. And yet despite this factual evidence, the IRS has chosen a course of action that yields far fewer notices of liens than any time in the past decade. Still, the proposed changes by the credit bureaus must give the IRS pause for additional thought into the subject. At this point, only time will tell exactly how the rules are changed within the credit industry and we should get a better idea towards the end of this year and in to 2017—observers will want to continue to pay attention to the IRS’ response. It’s only been five years since the IRS’ Fresh Strat Initiative lien changes and there are no significant IRS budget increases on the horizon. It seems unlikely that any major shifts will occur within the IRS as a result of the credit bureaus changing their rules.

Presidential Candidate Tax Returns: Should Voters Care?

Reviewing tax returns can reveal a lot of information about a political candidate. But many tax experts caution the average voter may not be knowledgeable enough to know what all that information means – and they argue that any conclusions based upon a tax return can often be traced back to a voter’s pre-existing political position.

“As a company, 20/20 reviews a lot of tax returns. It’s our job to dispassionately review a  tax record and determine what steps need to be taken to resolve any tax issues,” said Brian Biffle, president of 20/20 Tax Resolution. “Voters review tax returns with a more subjective approach. So, before they pass judgment based on a candidate’s financial history, a ‘tax return primer’ might be in order to understand what they are reviewing.”

According to 20/20, here’s what voters can learn from a candidate’s tax return:

  • Sources of a candidate’s taxable income
  • Clues to business failures in losses or the overall fiscal health of business endeavors
  • Information on charitable deductions (not simply how much but where it’s distributed)

“For some voters this information can, in essence, become a test of character,” Biffle said. “They’re interested in where a candidate’s income originates and what types of charities the candidate supports.”

Other information revealed often causes voters to compare a candidate’s tax history to their own, said Biffle, and make judgments about how “in touch” a candidate is with voters, as well as the candidate’s ability to serve in the Oval Office. For example:

  • The effective tax rate paid by a candidate
  • Information on investments and loans
  • Real estate taxes (abatements, for example)
  • Real estate holdings
  • Information about the existence of offshore accounts, household employees and other holdings

“Voters sometimes view this information almost as a question of transparency,” Biffle said, particularly since candidates are not required by law to release their tax returns. “But in reality, none of these things provide a complete analysis of a person’s ability to lead. It’s only become an important factor to voters in recent elections.”

Although candidates are required to file Public Financial Disclosure Reports since the passage of 1978’s Ethics in Government Act, these reports don’t provide the detailed examination many voters have come to expect, Biffle said.

“We have clients from every walk of life, income level and background,” Biffle said. “At no time does a tax return provide an exact portrait of a person’s character. It simply offers a glimpse into their finances.”

Congress Not Too Keen on IRS Funding Request

Additional funding? Thanks, but no thanks. That’s the sentiment seemingly coming from Congress in response to a tax season reflecting improvements in IRS customer service. The IRS attributed much of its success to the additional $290 million it received from Congress this year. And while a similar provision exists in the House’s 2017 budget, the IRS is not likely to see any other budget increases.

As reported by Nicole Ogrysko, during a July 28th press conference, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen stated, “Our hope is that as we’ve demonstrated to the Congress the great utility of the additional funding we got this year, that that will serve as a basis for an additional increase next year, which would be devoted to cybersecurity, identity theft and taxpayer service.” 

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s mid-year report highlighted taxpayer telephone wait times that were cut from 23 minutes to 11 minutes on average and an increase of the number of taxpayer calls answered from 37 percent to 73 percent. Those are big successes for the IRS after consecutive years of very poor customer service performance. Yet despite those accomplishments, Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen indicated that several other problems in the agency can be attributed to the lack of funding.

Congress’ refusal to consider greater funding increases despite signs that such funding could improve the taxpayer’s experience will continue to be a contentious topic as the rest of this year unfolds.

 

Taxes 2016: Collection Cases, Unpaid Balances Increase

More people owe more money in unpaid taxes than at any other time in U.S. history, according to recently published figures from the Internal Revenue Service. According to the numbers for fiscal year 2015, unpaid tax balances increased by $7 billion and the number of active collection cases grew to 13.5 million.

All this data, coupled with the recent IRS announcement that the agency is planning to hire up to 700 enforcement agents to pursue collection efforts, points to an increasing need for tax resolution services, said David Miles, vice president of 20/20 Tax Resolution in Broomfield, Colo.

“With a growing emphasis on collection and the addition of 700 new enforcement hires, businesses and individuals facing unpaid tax burdens would be wise to take action first before the IRS takes it for them,” Miles said.

According to news reports, IRS hiring will first be focused on the department that monitors small businesses and self-employed individuals. This only increases the urgency for these audiences to address any lingering tax concerns, according to Miles.

“Most of our clients are an adaptable cross-section of American business,” he said. “They have a general sense of business, but the nuances of tax policy are not usually top of mind. Particularly with this new IRS development, our advice is always to err on the side ofover preparation.” 

Primarily, that means planning ahead for tax burdens, closely monitoring financial concerns throughout the year and keeping ahead of any potential IRS action.

“Undercapitalization seems to be the universal issue with companies facing tax problems.” Miles said. “Whether due to poor planning or unforeseen circumstances, undercapitalization often leads to a company’s collection problems. However, many companies compound the problem by ignoring the issue or just hoping it will go away. Being proactive before the IRS takes action is the best way to resolve tax challenges.”