Category Archives: Tax Tips

Why Tax Resolution Software Isn’t the Answer

When you hire a doctor or attorney, you expect them to have an expert level understanding of your situation and how they can remedy the problem you came to them with.  Tax resolution is no different.  While the IRS authorizes any Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant, or Attorney to represent a taxpayer before them in the collection process, these designations also serve other forms of representation such as ​tax preparation or bookkeeping.  Each one of these credentials permits a professional to work in many capacities as a representative, but it is up to the professional to determine their ​area of focus and educate themselves on the ins and outs of the representation they choose to undertake.

With bookkeeping and accounting comes the requisite knowledge to adequately track the day to day revenue and expenses of a business and record it properly.  There are countless accounting techniques that only someone with specific training and continuing education in the field of bookkeeping​​ and accounting would know.  With tax preparation comes the need to have an in depth working knowledge of the tax code to minimize each clients tax liability with a reasonable basis for each position taken.  Tax resolution is no different than these two forms of representation and in fact requires a multitude of profic​i​encies.

Resolution work requires familiarity with the IRC and IRM, an ability to interpret a taxpayer’s entire situation and apply their needs to a resolution that fits, the ability to recognize when the IRS or state has stepped out of line and not followed proper procedure, knowledge on how to move from one resolution strategy to another seamlessly without exposing the taxpayer to enforced collection, and in an esoteric sense, the ability to motivate taxpayers to seek compliance and establish systems to prevent the issue that caused a need for resolution from recurring.​ Business people shaking hands, finishing up a meeting.These profic​i​encies cannot be gained by simply accessing software that assists with the completion of forms and documents required for a specific resolution option.

The key takeaway we want to leave each reader with is that while there are many ways tax professionals can foray into the resolution world, walking down that path should not be done under the guise that software designed to facilitate the resolution process will create the ability to provide excellent representation.  Excellent representation comes from a working level understanding of the resolution process gained over time through study and work experience​.​ ​Just as accounting software does not make you a competent accountant nor tax preparation software make you an expert at tax preparation, determining the best approach to resolving back tax debt cannot be determined by inputting data into a program.

Dananananananana Tax Scams!

If you can hear yourself reading that title to the tune of the old Batman song, you’re not alone.  Unfortunately, not even Batman can help you if you fall victim to one of the many tax scams targeting taxpayers this time of year.  The two most prevalent and pervasive scams prey on taxpayers soon to receive refunds and those that have a delinquent balance owed to the government.batman

The first type, one which preys on refunds, is carried out by attempting to steal identifying information so a fraudulent tax return can be filed on the taxpayer’s behalf in order to have the refund sent to the criminal.  Ways in which one might fall victim to this is by way of an e-mail or link impersonating an official organization requesting information that would typically be found on a tax return.  Such information includes your social security number, address, past tax return information and potentially even your pin # that you may have chosen with the IRS.

If you believe you have fallen victim to this type of scam, there is something that can be done immediately.  The filing of Form 14039 with the IRS notifies them that you may have had your information stolen and they will begin to work with you to correct any fraudulent returns filed on your behalf.  It also results in the creation of an Identity Protection PIN which can be used for future returns and should not be shared with anyone.  Taxpayers can also preemptively file Form 14039 to request the creation of an IP PIN in order to protect their filing process before it becomes compromised.

The second type of scam is one we see far too often here at 20/20.  When a taxpayer has a delinquent tax account and owes either the state or IRS, it is common for a lien to be filed against them.  Scammers will typically pose as state agents or IRS revenue officers claiming that there is a tax lien of public record in your name and insist you pay immediately while making threats of criminal consequences.  The IRS insists they will not initiate contact with a taxpayer by phone, however that comes with the caveat that they may make contact by phone after previously sending notices regarding the tax debt.  This contact is typically made by a revenue officer and you can request they provide their ID # as well as contacting your local IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center to confirm their legitimacy.

If you still believe you cannot safely handle your back tax debt alone, we are here to help.  At 20/20, our Enrolled Agents work directly with Revenue Officers and State Agents every day to assist taxpayers in need of affordable resolution options.  Contact us immediately to get a Tax Facts Report and engage us to step in on your behalf to lower your tax liability and find a manageable resolution.

A Perfect Storm

The 2000 film, “The Perfect Storm”, details the harrowing events of the fishing vessel, Andrea Gail. In the film, the ship and crew were lost at sea as a result of numerous weather elements coming together to form a force of nature that was unstoppable. A similar storm may be forming with respect to the enforcement and collection of unpaid payroll taxes.

A year ago, the Treasury Inspector General For Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) published a report in which they indicated a greater need for a focused strategy in effectively addressing egregious employment tax crimes. In the report, TIGTA recommended that criminal prosecution be sought by the Department of Justice more frequently to create a greater general deterrent.

Additionally, on March 2nd 2018, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stated that the Trump administration would vigorously pursue offenders that fail to pay payroll taxes. The criminal offense associated with failing to pay payroll taxes is set out by 26 U.S.C.§ 7202. It states that “Any person required under this title to collect, account for, and pay over any tax imposed by this title who willfully fails to collect or truthfully account for and pay over such tax shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution.”Boat in Pond

These reports and comments are typically heard as rhetoric intended to encourage compliance, however a recent case from Wisconsin brings potential for concern. While prosecution rarely happens for minor offenses of 26 U.S.C.§ 7202, a Wisconsin business owner, Gary Auerswald, was recently targeted for prosecution by the US Attorney from the Western District of Wisconsin.  What makes the case unique is that the amount in question was only $24,482.43 and only for the 4th quarter of 2014. While there may be more to the story that is unknown, this may also be the start of the crackdown Rosenstein spoke of.

One thing is for certain; there has never been a more important time to get in front of back taxes, especially unpaid and unfiled payroll taxes. If you think your business may have delinquencies, do not hesitate to contact us and see how we can help you get out in front of any delinquencies and not be another target for the US Attorney to prosecute.

Tax Liens & Credit Reports: Will you benefit with a higher credit score?

Do you have a tax lien?  If so, how it impacts your credit profile may soon change.

The three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, & Experian) have come to the realization that they cannot include tax lien information on consumer credit reports and still be in compliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 (“FCRA”).  The FCRA requires credit reporting agencies to “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates”.  Simply put, credit reporting agencies have found it too costly to accurately report tax liens on consumer reports and will therefore no longer include this information beginning April 2018.Wooden Gavel

It is important to understand how a tax lien impacts your financial profile to determine whether this new development will benefit you.

Credit reporting agencies compile data and then this data is used to formulate your FICO score.  The FICO score was developed in 1956 by Bill Fair and Earl Isaac, to measure consumer credit risk and is used by most financial institutions to make decisions on whether to furnish or deny credit.  Since your FICO score is based off of reporting by the three major credit bureaus that will no longer include tax liens, it is likely you may see an increase in your credit score.  Depending on the type of credit you are seeking, your FICO score can play a major role in determining the cost and amount of credit you are eligible for.  If you received credit of any type while you had a tax lien on your credit report, you may want to consider talking with your lender to see if you are eligible for a rate reduction.  They will likely pull a new credit report and that report should no longer include your tax lien, thereby increasing your score and reducing your credit risk.  This is likely to work with loans that involve a less intensive underwriting process.

Loans that are typically reviewed with greater scrutiny (e.g. mortgages) may not be impacted in any way as a result of this new development.  Lenders will still be privy to tax lien information if they seek it out specifically.  Companies such as LexisNexis offer reports on liens and judgments and claim to be accurate on over 99% of their reports.  If your lender specifically seeks out this data, the removal on your credit report will likely have zero impact on your ability to secure or renegotiate a loan.

If a tax lien is still creating problems for you, there are permanent solutions to find relief.

Form 12277 must be filed with the IRS in order to request a tax lien be withdrawn and no longer reported anywhere.  While anyone can file Form 12277, the filing begins a formal review process that is most successful when navigated by a seasoned tax professional.  At 20/20, we have an excellent track record of formally having tax liens withdrawn.  Please contact us for a consultation to discuss the merits of your tax lien and how we can assist you in obtaining a formal withdrawal.

 

Tax Tip: What to do post resolution

Whew! You made it through to the other side! Congratulations on navigating the difficult maze of regulations, processes and emotions to successfully finalize a resolution to your tax problems. Time to relax, forget about the past and move on to a better future, right?

Well, not exactly. During 20/20’s two decades of working with clients, we’ve seen the pitfalls that can await taxpayers on the other side of the resolution process. We strongly advocate that our clients create a “post-resolution plan” to help them steer clear of future problems. Without a thoughtful approach to your new reality, the chances of needing additional help down the road increases.

The first step is to make certain you understand all aspects of your resolution, any payment plan that may be in place, the expected duration of the plan and – perhaps most important – how you will pay it. Don’t wait until your first payment is due to fully comprehend everything you agreed to in the resolution. Delaying this step is what typically leads to a first mistake: missing a payment (something you don’t want to do).

To avoid missing any payment deadlines, consider scheduling a direct deposit. If you choose to use traditional U.S. mail for your payments, remember that each payment must be received by the actual due date. Unlike filing a tax return, payments are not considered to be on time by their postmark. If you opt for snail mail, make certain to leave enough time for the post office to punctually deliver the payment.

A lot of managing your resolution just comes down to staying on top of it and identifying problems before they occur. At 20/20, we have been very successful at setting up manageable resolutions for clients for 20 years. We’ve found that very often, the root cause of problems can be traced back to a taxpayer’s individual habits, business practices or organizational skills.

While some businesses struggle to stay current due to genuine financial hardship, we often see business owners and officers neglect to establish effective business practices. One of the most effective ways to ensure compliance is to engage the services of a payroll firm. At 20/20, we partner with payroll and sales tax solutions in order to assist our clients in developing good and effective business practices. It’s important to make an honest assessment of your business and lifestyle to see if these solutions are right for you and your company.

Ask yourself the tough questions: Is your business undercapitalized? Are you overspending? Are there lifestyle changes you should consider to help keep you on better financial track? All of these are important considerations to study to keep you moving forward and avoid future tax problems.

Light at the end of the TunnelFinally, now that you have what probably feels like a new lease on life, don’t take it for granted. Keep vigilant on your resolution and be proactive if and when you have any problems surrounding the payment terms. Remember that communication is key to staving off future issues with the IRS or other tax authorities. Don’t hesitate to speak up when problems arise.

If you’re still concerned about the ability to successfully manage your resolution and steer clear of future problems, 20/20 offers a monitoring program called POA+. POA+ is a monthly, pay-as-you-go service that allows 20/20 to maintain an active role in your tax resolution plan. Our team will be able to receive and monitor notices from the taxing authorities to promptly address issues that arise as well as remain available to answer questions.

However you proceed, enjoy the relief that comes from knowing you are managing your tax obligations and taking the best care of your business. And be certain to stay on top of your resolution requirements! If things ever get out of hand again, remember that 20/20 is here to help.

Tax Returns: Why We Procrastinate

A quick online search of “tax returns” brings up all kinds of conflicting advice. Should you file early? Should you wait for the deadline? Is it damaging to file an extension? There are “experts” out there who will give you the opposite answer for each of the three questions. It’s no wonder people want to cover their heads and just wait until May. But what exactly is causing so many people to delay?

If you fall into one of the above categories (or you’ve cleverly created a new reason to procrastinate of your own), don’t worry. You’re in good company. According to the IRS, about one-third of Americans will wait until the last minute to file their taxes. In fact, in 2016 more than 29 million individual returns were filed between April 8th and Tax Day (this year it falls on April 17, 2018).

So kick back, relax and take your time. After all, it’s only March.

Fight Back Against Scams

It’s tax season, which means that tax scams are on the rise. It’s likely you – or someone you know – has received a suspicious email, phone call or even snail mail and wondered “can this be real?” If you answered “no,” congratulations! You just saved yourself a mess and headache. But unfortunately, thousands of Americans lose millions of dollars as well as their personal information to tax scams each year, according to the IRS.

It’s why the IRS regularly issues “Scam Alerts” to warn taxpayers against the potentially damaging scams. What’s even more alarming is that rip-off artists working to rid you of your money or your identity are finding increasingly clever ways to reach into your pocket. In addition to ordinary taxpayers, scams now target tax professionals, human resource/payroll departments and others. Nearly any entity that might possess your private information can be subjected to a tax scam.

Most recently, an IRS Scam Alert warned of a complex scam where criminals steal client (i.e., taxpayer) data from tax professionals and then file false tax returns under these clients’ names, using the clients’ real bank accounts for refund deposits. Scammers then use a variety of different methods to take back the money once it’s deposited – sometimes even posing as IRS officials and threatening the victims. You can read the full Scam Alert here.

So, what can you do to protect yourself? The first step is to know how the IRS operates and to become somewhat familiar with the types of scams out there (although they are constantly changing and adapting): tax tips tray

IRS protocols. The Internal Revenue Service will NEVER initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text message or social media platforms to request personal or financial information. If this happens to you, it’s a surefire sign someone is trying to scam you.

Deceitful practices. As mentioned above, tax scams come in all kinds of forms – and are delivered to victims in snail mail, email, text message or phone calls. Don’t be fooled by professional looking letterheads and logos or official sounding tax issues raised in the communication. If you have any doubt at all as to its authenticity, do not respond in any way and contact someone you trust to verify the communication.

Variety of scams. As the earlier example demonstrates, scam artists are a clever bunch. There are a variety of ways they will try to wriggle personal information out of you. Whether by asking you to provide private information (“phishing”), impersonating IRS personnel via telephone calls or directing you to official looking websites that infect your computer with malware (making you vulnerable to hacking), criminal scammers will stop at nothing to steal your money.

So consider this a primer to the basics of tax scamming you need to know to protect yourself and your private information. Remember that the IRS will not contact you and request private information arbitrarily via email or text. And finally, always say no to information requests that you are not absolutely, 100 percent positive are authentic.

To get more information about tax scams and how to identify them, read this comprehensive IRS Tax Scam Alert.

[INFOGRAPHIC] NEW YEARS RESOLUTION: PLAN NOW FOR 2018

According to IRS data, nearly one third of Americans wait until the last minute to file their taxes. With numbers that high, it’s no surprise that our clients are often a part of that percentage. The delay is primarily due to insufficient preparation – and the dread that comes from facing all the paperwork scattered throughout your office. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are the most important things you should resolve to do NOW to ensure you are setting yourself up for a successful year.

Questions about your unique situation? Learn more about ways we can help or feel free to contact us at any time!

Top Five Concerns of People Facing IRS Action

You’ve received a letter from the IRS telling you there’s a problem with your taxes. You’re not entirely clear on what the letter means. Yet you are sweating a little. You’re nervous about what happens and what steps you should take next. You’re anxious and are tempted to ignore it all.

Here’s your first step: DO NOT IGNORE THE IRS NOTICE. For your next step, read the following concerns that 20/20 most often hears from clients calling our office for the first time. With our 19 years of experience helping people overcome tax difficulties, we’ve heard just about every concern. Here are the top five concerns common to our clients. Taking Notes

1. Aggressive enforcement and liens

People who speak with 20/20 agents overwhelmingly express fear that the IRS wants payment immediately and by any way possible. Taxpayers want protection from aggressive enforcement actions like bank levies, accounts receivables levies, wage garnishments and asset seizure. While every person’s case is unique, we have a variety of tools we can use to intercede and ensure that these extreme IRS actions are avoided. In nearly every case, we are able to use these tools to give clients the time and space they need to establish compliance and form a strategy to meeting their tax obligations.

2. Difficulty dealing with or communicating with the IRS

It’s not surprising that the second most-frequent concern we hear is that resolving this issue will require inordinate amounts of time, effort and frustration. Who hasn’t sat on hold trying to reach an account service representative? Taxpayers envision a customer service nightmare multiplied tenfold by government inefficiency. Because we work with the IRS all the time, we’re familiar with the agency’s communications processes and we know how to reach the right person to get the right information. We take over communication and do it for the taxpayer, freeing them up to run their business – and their life.

3. Revenue officer showing up at place of business and employees or others finding out about liability

While the IRS is stepping up enforcement and collection efforts of unpaid or delinquent taxes (particularly employment taxes), the agency does work to respect and protect a taxpayer’s privacy. However, in a busy office where documentation and information is shared widely, it’s entirely possible that some news about tax issues may filter out to others. But any employee or other individual will feel less anxious when they know a qualified, experienced tax resolution company like 20/20 is working on the case. The alternative is to have employees or others worry that nothing is being done to manage the liability.

4. Debt to IRS growing out of control (penalties and interest accrual)

There are very few ways to avoid having to pay interest when a tax obligation is delinquent. However, 20/20 can make certain that all obligations, interest and even any penalties will be the least amount allowable under the law. The bottom line: Doing something to resolve the situation is always better than doing nothing.

5. Getting a good and manageable resolution.

Finally, 20/20 clients are worried about achieving a fair, manageable resolution that won’t break the bank and will alleviate their worries. Fortunately, we’ve been helping clients achieve this goal for almost 20 years so we can say with confidence that we can help most taxpayers. We’ll use our experience to obtain the best resolution available under your specific circumstances.

While reactions to potential IRS action vary, it’s fairly typical for clients to feel some or all of the above concerns. Some people seem unfazed and are not frightened of the IRS at all. Typically, this reaction comes from taxpayers who have dealt with the IRS previously. The strongest fear many people experience is that others (employees, spouses, friends, etc.) will discover the problem. There’s a certain stigma about owing money to IRS – and they worry what others will think.

But the truth is many people experience these types of problems and it doesn’t indicate any lack of character. Taxes are a complicated issue – and running a business is always challenging. What’s important is recognizing when you need help in order to keep any problems from becoming overly burdensome. That’s precisely why we exist.

Summertime Tax Tip: Amending a 1040 Return

As the IRS states, the tax code is a complex set of laws affecting virtually every American individual and business. Last year the IRS processed over 244 million tax returns and other documents. The volume is a tribute to the voluntary tax system as well as the IRS workforce.

Undoubtedly, however, the complexity and volume of our tax system means that errors are almost unavoidable. As representation experts we do our best to find and correct those errors made by the IRS. But, that’s just one side of the equation. Every year countless taxpayers ask us what to do if they discover an error on a return that was already filed. The short answer is to not panic and correct the mistake.

2020 Summer Tax Tip_FINAL_PNG

Questions about your unique situation? Learn more about ways we can help or feel free to contact us at any time!

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