Depressing

May 5th, 2022

TIGTA (the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration) came out this morning with its interim report on the 2022 Tax Filing Season.  I would love to report statistics that make me feel warm and fuzzy; instead, we’re left with more of the same: lots and lots of items sitting around in bins (both virtual and real).

One of the major issues the IRS has faced is hiring.  TIGTA allows us to give numbers to the IRS issues.  On the good side, the IRS has “onboarded” (aka hired) 3,827 Accounts Management employees out of a goal of 5,000 (76.5% of the goal).  However, the IRS hired just 521 Submission Processing employees out of its goal of 5,473 (9.5%).

The backlogs of returns remain.  Here is Figure 3 from the TIGTA report (click on the figure for a larger version):

Work Remaining to be Processed

This is depressing, and I am not changing my estimates of how long paper will take to be processed by the IRS.  If you submit a paper-filed tax return, expect it to take one year to be processed.  If you submit a paper-filed amended return, expect it to take 18 months (1.5 years) to be processed.  If your electronically filed return is unlucky enough to go through Error Resolution, Rejects, or Unpostables (which does not mean you did anything wrong), you’re looking at an average delay of four months.

The report briefly touches on the delays with IRS Account Management functions.  I’m telling clients that when a response is sent to an IRS notice, expect it to take six months to receive the response back from the IRS.  My oldest case is going on three years–it involves a C-Corporation return incorrectly processed as an S-Corporation.  The client owes tax but cannot pay it because it will be sent back to the corporation until the IRS fixes the problem!  (Yes, that has already happened.)  The file has been sent back and forth two times between the IRS offices in Ogden and Cincinnati, and I have no idea when this will be resolved.  We think this case is getting closer–the last two “we need more time” notices have noted the corporation is a C-Corporation (but I’m not holding my breath).  But I digress….

The IRS’s ability to answer telephone calls also remains poor.  The IRS says they answered 19.5% of net calls with a 24 minute average wait.  Recently, the Taxpayer Advocate said that it was about 5% of calls that were answered.  No matter, neither statistic is good, and improvement is desperately needed.

There was one bright spot: The IRS is finding more Identity Theft returns (confirmed fraudulent returns); so far in 2022, they have found 9,626 versus 2,499 found in 2021.  The IRS stopped $807.9 million of fraudulent returns this year versus $12.6 million in 2021.

The conclusions of this report are obvious.  If at all possible, efile your return.  If you do have to mail something to the IRS, bring patience (a whole lot of patience).  And if you’re Commissioner Rettig and you’re stating “everything will be cleared up by year-end,” let’s just say I hope you’re right but I really, really doubt it.

2022 Tax Season: The Tax Season From Hell (Part 2)

May 4th, 2022

In Part 1 of this series we looked at what went wrong with the IRS.  (That post might have been shorter if I had written what went right.)  Today, let’s look at what should be done by Congress and the IRS to fix this mess.

1. Simplify the Tax Code.  Our Tax Code is a mess.  It is far, far too complex.  Most tax professionals now prepare returns for the proverbial husband, wife, 2.2 children living a relatively simple, straightforward life because they cannot do their own taxes due to the complexity!  Congress should (a) pass simplification, not complexity and (b) stop making the IRS a benefits agency (which it isn’t).  Unfortunately, there is no chance of anything like this coming from this Administration.

2. IRS Needs to Stop Stupid Make-Work.  As I noted in Part 1, the Schedule K-2/K-3 regulations on purely domestic partnerships with no foreign operations are a perfect example of this.  There’s no reason for this.  Unfortunately, I have seen no signs of the IRS understanding tax professionals’ needs over the past few years and I have significant doubts of anything like this happening in the near future.

3. Get IRS Employees Back in the Office. One of the things that has led to the massive amounts of paperwork sitting in bins is that IRS employees are still not fully back at their offices.  The IRS announced that all employees will be back in their offices by June 30th.  Here, it’s time for me to give kudos to the IRS for resolving one of the factors that has led to issues.

4. Hire More IRS Employees.  To the IRS’s credit, they are trying to hire more employees but the current environment and the federal government’s pay scale makes this difficult.  I do expect this to resolve over time.

5. Congress Needs to Increase the IRS’s Budget to Allow Multi-Year IT Projects.  Congress did increase the IRS’s budget for the current year, but IRS management has (rightly) complained about the budgetary process.  The main IRS computer system is older than I am (it dates to 1959).  Do you, in your office, use 63-year old computers?  To be fair to Congress, one of the reasons the IRS’s budget got cut was the Lois Lerner/IRS nonprofit scandal from a few years ago: The only tool Republicans had to protest was cutting the IRS’s budget.  While I see the IRS’s budget being increased, I think Congress will do it incrementally rather than significantly because Republicans still don’t trust the IRS.  A factor that impacts this is the ProPublica release of taxpayer information–which the current Administration appears to be ignoring.

6. Change the Tax Filing Deadline to May or June 15th.  I hated writing this, but the reality is that Tax Season is far too compressed and tax returns have gotten more complicated with more busy work.  It’s just impossible for most tax professionals to set a mid-March deadline and get all the returns filed.  (Indeed, as I’ll mention in Part 4 we plan on changing our deadline for receiving paperwork.)  Many of our clients didn’t receive their brokerage 1099s until late March.  Many of our clients still haven’t received their K-1s.

7. Go to the California System Where Extensions Are Automatic (But You Need to Pay the Tax).  I’m not a fan of how California taxes residents, but the California system where extensions are automatic as long as you pay 90% of the tax due is an excellent one.  Filing extensions is more make-work.  This would also cause more individuals to make estimated payments–an added benefit to our tax system.  Unfortunately, this change likely requires legislation, and getting this through Congress is unlikely.

I would love to be an optimist and see these seven solutions implemented.  The reality is that other than seeing IRS employees in their offices, only small incremental change at the IRS is likely.  Who suffers from this?  All of us: taxpayers, tax professionals, and the IRS.  But I promised to be realistic in this series, and we have to deal with the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

In Part 3 of this series (next week) we’ll look at the failures of my business.

We’re Under Attack!

April 26th, 2022

This afternoon, I was answering email and I accidentally clicked on Outlook’s “File Information.”  I happen to notice that the last login was from Buffalo, New York.  I’m just 3,000 miles away in Las Vegas, so I immediately sent a message to my IT person.  He both reassured me and made me worry–a lot.

No, no one from Buffalo had logged in.  However, someone was trying to log in, and per the IT logs someone was actively trying to break into our email server using a brute force technique from somewhere in Asia (spoofing various US cities).  I suspect they think that from the email server they can then get into our regular network (they can’t; they’re completely separate).  Still, my IT person wanted to immediately implement a couple of new security procedures for our email and I gave my go-ahead.  I’m not going to detail them (sorry, hackers), but they should make it far, far more difficult to even try to break-in.

The reason I bring this up is that tax professionals are targets.  We have a ton of wonderful information that hackers want (lots and lots of personal information), and I’d prefer not to have to use my cyber insurance.  If your IT person/department is not periodically checking your logs to see if you’re being targeted, you need to rectify that immediately.  I didn’t know that hackers were targeting email servers, but they are.  So be vigilant tax professionals: We’re under attack.

2022 Tax Season: The Tax Season From Hell (Part 1)

April 26th, 2022

Mr. Murphy says, what can go wrong will go wrong.  This was definitely the case for the 2022 Tax Season.  In this four-part series, we’re going to cover IRS and government (Congress and the President) failures, our failures, and what we can do to get this right–or at least better–in the future.  As for the prognosis, well, it’s not pretty.

For this series:

Part 1 covers IRS and government issues.  In Part 2, we’ll look at government solutions and the possibility that any of them will occur.  In Part 3, I’ll take a look at taxpayer and tax professional issues this year (including the failures of my company).  In Part 4, we’ll look at solutions for taxpayers and tax professionals, and an overall conclusion.  So onward into the Tax Season From Hell!


This year began with the promise of a “normal” Tax Season.  The pandemic was going to be in the rear-view mirror, we would have the IRS and state tax agencies back to normal, and we could play “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” every day.  Let’s see what went wrong with that picture–starting with the failures of the IRS.

1. The Internal Revenue Service misplaced the word “service.”  In actuality, this could be points 1 to 5.  The failures of the IRS this year were legion.  First, there is some large number of tax returns sitting in bins at IRS Service Centers.  As the National Taxpayer Advocate has said, paper is the IRS’s Achilles heal.  Well, there are (we think) 20-30 million tax returns and an unknown amount of correspondence that are taking forever (or something akin to that) to be processed.  Tax refund processing is 90% of the time excellent.  Unfortunately, if you are in the 10% that has to be manually processed it makes the DMV look good.  And if you want to make that 10% look good, pity those of you who get an IRS Identity Protection verification notice.  It’s close to impossible for you to reach that group.  When you make the DMV look good….

2. The IRS issued nonsensical regulations impacting Tax Season, further condensing Tax Season.  A perfect example are the new K-2/K-3 regulations.  The IRS believed (almost certainly correctly) that they weren’t getting enough information to accurately assess partnerships with foreign operations.  So they issued the new Schedule K-2 and K-3 regulations last summer.  I looked at them when the rules were issued, but believed (wrongly) that they had little impact on my practice.

Au, contraire!  In January (2022), the IRS issued new instructions that (a) causes a circular problem and (b) forced K-2/K-3s onto purely domestic partnerships with no foreign operations and no foreign partners.  The instructions state if a partnership has an owner who must file Form 1116 (foreign tax credit), the partnership must issue these Schedules.  Assume Acme Manufacturers LLC makes widgets here in Las Vegas.  Russ and Scott are the active owners, but there’s a third owner: Martin.  Martin is a passive investor, and invests in all sorts of businesses.  He and his wife file Form 1116 every year.  Thus, under the new instructions Acme must file Schedules K-2 and K-3.

As an experiment, I prepared K-2s and K-3s for my own business.  It added about 20 minutes of work, but for a completely domestic entity wasn’t difficult.  However, there is no reason that this needs to be done.  If Martin is audited, the IRS from the already prepared Schedule K-1 has all the information needed to accurately assess Martin’s liability for his investment in Acme.  The IRS doesn’t need the K-2/K-3–it’s useless make-work.

But that’s not all.  Let’s assume Martin doesn’t have a Form 1116 filing requirement each year, but occasionally does.  What should Debbie, who prepares Acme’s returns do?  Include the useless K-2/K-3s which most of the time aren’t needed or wait until September when she might know for certain?  Neither answer helps in tax preparation for obvious reasons.

But there are other “make-work” items thrust on tax professionals.  We must record IRS Submission ID Numbers (the number assigned by the IRS to each submission of a tax return) on either the signature document or in some other method.  It doesn’t take long–but the minute spent on this (and our tax software automatically notes this for posterity) is a waste of time.  Consider a tax practice with 500 clients.  That’s 500 minutes wasted, or about a day’s worth of work that I must pay someone for.  (Yes, that cost is passed on to you, the tax professional’s customer.)  There are needless interviews we are required to do with clients regarding various tax credits or I can be fined.  And these are just two of many examples.

3. Like all businesses, tax professionals must deal with an array of regulations–many of which are at cross-purposes.  And you, the tax professional’s clients, pay for them all.  We, like most tax professionals, have an Engagement Letter we require all clients to sign. When I started it was one page.  It’s now just over four pages.  Why has it grown?  Regulations and our litigious society.

The IRS requires I engage in best practices (it’s part of Circular 230, how I’m regulated).  I think it’s a good idea to use best practices as much as realistically possible.  But we’re not just regulated by the IRS.  Other regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over me include:

  • City of Las Vegas Business Licensing
  • Clark County (Nevada) Health Department
  • State of Nevada Health & Safety
  • OSHA
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The above is not an exhaustive list.  When I started my office here in Las Vegas the regulatory notices fit on a single poster.  They now take two.  You, the tax professional’s customer, pay for this.  I, the regulated, also pay for this in having to do many things that are not useful but are required by law and regulation.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I do not believe in violating the law.  Most regulations and laws are in place for good reasons.  However, it’s like mandatory ethics training for two hours every year (and yes, I am required to take that).  I listen, and every so often learn something (usually something I must now implement to cover myself, not something that helps taxpayers).  I have in the past taught ethics to tax professionals.  But consider if I were an unethical tax professional.  Couldn’t I just goof off during those two hours since just being in the audience gets me the required continuing education hours?  I leave that for you, the reader, to decide.

4. Government regulations cause the tax professional community to shrink.  There’s an excellent quote: “Whatever you tax you get less of.”  Regulations have the same impact.  My professional society, the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA), strongly believes that the IRS should regulate all tax professionals because it would weed out bad preparers.  I disagree.  If someone wants to be a bad professional, it’s easy and no amount of regulation will stop it.  It’s “whack-a-mole.”  But regulations also make it harder for me to operate, with costs passed on to you (the taxpayer).

5. Covid regulations. One of my employees got Covid in March.  He was ill for one day, and he felt fine and ready to come back to work a couple of days later.  Well, one week later he was back in the office.  He was out three to five extra days because of regulations.  (No one else in our office got Covid, but you will see in Part 3 we weren’t very lucky on the illness side this year.)

For those who think I have just become a killer, well, I disagree.  We’ve always had the policy that if you’re ill you go home.  That’s common sense.  It’s also common sense that (a) Covid is now ubiquitous (if you haven’t had it, unfortunately you will), (b) that anyone who wants to can get vaccinated (now, up to four times), and (c) for almost everyone, Covid today is akin to the flu in the death rate (and the death rate for children without serious pre-existing conditions is 0% per the Wall Street Journal).

Overall, the biggest problems came from the IRS.  In Part 2, I look at how we can fix these issues and give you the odds of any of my solutions happening.

The Worst Written IRS Notice Ever?

April 21st, 2022

A client, living in a foreign country but who receives his mail in New Jersey (because mail to New Jersey is far more reliable than where he resides) received an IRS notice on his 2021 tax return:

Your refund has been reduced
We’ve reduced your penalty for failing to pay estimated taxes

We reviewed your Form 1040 for the tax period ending 2021 and found that you miscalculated your estimated tax penalty.

If you were in a disaster area, you may have been granted additional time to file returns and pay taxes. We considered any such time when we computed your penalty. Our correction reduces the penalty to $2,000.00.  You are due a refund of $4,500.00.

The taxpayer, when we filed his return, made an EFTPS payment of $200,000 which included a $6,500 estimated tax penalty. He owed tax–substantial tax, as noted.  He paid it in full.  It wasn’t a refund being reduced; rather his estimated tax penalty was reduced causing him to receive a refund.

Additionally, he doesn’t deserve this refund.  He does not reside in North America and the last time I checked the President cannot declare a disaster area in Europe.

In any case, my client was baffled by the wording and I think we have a “winner” (or, at minimum, an early leader) in the worst written IRS notice of the year.

Bozo Tax Tip #1: No Tax Form, No Income!

April 15th, 2022

A new client was on the phone with me last week:

“Russ, I just found out that I don’t get a tax form for the income I earn.  That means I don’t have to report it, right?”

This individual is filing his first tax returns.  He just graduated college, and is self-employed.  He (thankfully) did keep good books and records, but no one sent him a 1099-NEC (several businesses should have) so his uncle told him he didn’t have to report anything.

Yes, the US has a ‘voluntary’ tax reporting system, but here voluntary doesn’t mean you can skip income without paperwork.  A better word than voluntary is “self-reporting.”  We self-report our income, and the fact that tax paperwork isn’t sent for everything is one of the causes of the tax gap.  As I explained to my client, all income is taxable unless Congress exempts it.  Congress didn’t exempt his self-employment income (indeed, it’s over $100,000).  I asked him if he might want to buy a home in the next two years (which I already knew he did want to do).  I asked him how he was going to qualify for a mortgage without tax returns filed showing income.

I explained to him that his uncle was correct in that many individuals do receive income ‘under the table’ and don’t report it.  I also explained to him that not filing a tax return when you have income is a crime, and you can go to ClubFed for it.  It’s a lot easier to file and pay your taxes and sleep peacefully at night then to do the opposite.  My client agreed, and his return was filed.

Of course, for those who want to live on the edge you can: Ignore income that doesn’t come with tax paperwork.  You may want to remember that if you’re ever audited the IRS might just do a bank account analysis and wonder where those deposits are coming from.


That’s it for this year’s Bozo Tax Tips. We’ll be back with some interesting (I hope) thoughts about Part I of the 2022 Tax Season in a couple of weeks.

Bozo Tax Tip #2: Anger Your Tax Professional!

April 14th, 2022

If you are a tax professional living in Las Vegas, and you’re interested in working for me for the 2023 Tax Season (2022 tax returns filed in 2023)–or you are in Las Vegas and you’re interested in becoming a tax professional–we may have an opening for you.  So why am I starting a post in regards to Bozo Tax Tips with my possibly expanding my staff for 2023?

The reason is the “Great Resignation.”  The tax professional community skews older in age: I saw a statistic that the average age of a tax professional is in the mid-50s.  Finding good tax professionals is not easy (indeed, hiring in any profession isn’t easy), and I’m blessed to have the staff that I do.

From February 1st through the date this post is being written (March 10th), I have been averaging over two inquiries a day into using our services.  Indeed, my next available appointments are in May!  From talks with my friends in the business, they’re seeing the same things: not enough staff, and demand through the roof.

This equates to a seller’s market.  We increased our rates (for 2021 returns prepared in 2022) by 10%, and I’ve already concluded I didn’t raise them enough.  The law of supply and demand holds in every industry: if supply decreases and demand increases, prices go up.  Yes, you’re going to pay more.

So let’s get back to the title of this post: angering your tax professional.  Those who have met me know my salt and pepper hair is now mostly salt.  I enjoy what I do, but I do not enjoy (and have never enjoyed) dealing with misanthropes.  Given the high demand, your tax professional almost certainly feels the same way.  Every year, tax professionals send letters to clients who are about to become former clients because they’re either no longer a fit for them or the tax professional cannot make a profit from them (because they require too much time or will not pay what the tax professional believes to be a fair price).  I’ve sent these in the past, but I never enjoy doing that.  I’m vowing to send some at year-end unless conditions radically change.

The average tax professional is very stressed out.  Dealing with the IRS has been a disaster for the last few years.  The pandemic hasn’t helped in any way.  Congress (and the IRS) have added new regulations and forms (e.g. Schedules K-2/K-3) that add tremendous busy work with little gain.  My Office Manager recently saw me blow up (and I rarely do that).  I have marked a client that he is getting a “Dear Former Valued Client” at year-end because of what he put me through.  (I’d like to send one to Congress, too, but I can’t do that.)

So do not anger your tax professional…unless you want to find a new one.

Bozo Tax Tip #3: Ignore Cryptocurrency!

April 13th, 2022

Right underneath your name and address (and your spouse’s name) on Form 1040 is this question:

“At any time during 2021, did you receive, sell, exchange, or otherwise dispose of any financial interest in any virtual currency?”

All taxpayers must answer this question.  The IRS is basically telling everyone, thou shalt report your cryptocurrency gains and losses. 

It’s clear the IRS means business.  Over the last few years the IRS has successfully enforced summonses against several US-based cryptocurrency exchanges. To date, most IRS enforcement efforts in cryptocurrency have been going toward the low-hanging fruit: individuals who have not reported their cryptocurrency. I do expect the IRS to start looking at auditing large users of crypto. Given Commissioner Rettig’s remarks on the Tax Gap, IRS management clearly believes that there’s a lot of tax dollars to be found in cryptocurrency.

There is one truism, though: If you don’t report your cryptocurrency gains (and losses), you’re violating the law. So if you need to take some time to figure it out before filing your 2021 returns, make an estimate of your gains (or losses) and file an extension. Or you can choose the Bozo behavior of ignoring your cryptocurrency.

Bozo Tax Tip #4: They Shoot Jaywalkers, Don’t They?

April 12th, 2022

I have, unfortunately, become quite competent in the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. That form is better known as the FBAR. It used to have the form number TD F 90-22.1 (yes, it really did) but now goes by Form 114. The form must be filed online through the BSAefiling center of FINCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

You must file an FBAR if you have $10,000 aggregate at any time during the year. The report for 2021 is due October 15th (it has a due date of April 15th with an automatic extension to October 15th).

The form is fairly simple and straightforward: Note every foreign financial account you have with name, address, account number, and maximum balance at any time during the past year. Let’s say you have one foreign account, a bank account at the Royal Bank of Canada. You would take your maximum balance and convert it to US dollars from Canadian dollars (you should use the Fiscal Service’s year-end exchange rates to determine the balance in US dollars no matter when the high balance was). The form must be electronically filed and is filed separately from your tax return.

The penalties for not filing it are quite high. Willful non-filing has a minimum penalty of $100,000 or half the balance in the account–and that’s per account! There’s also possible jail time.

So what must be reported:
– Foreign Bank accounts;
– Bank accounts outside the US of a US financial institution;
– Foreign financial accounts where all you have is signature authority;
– Foreign securities accounts;
– Foreign mutual funds;
– Foreign life insurance with a cash or annuity value; and
– Online gambling accounts if outside the US.

There are others, too.

The IRS does have a chart that lists most things that need reporting on the FBAR and Form 8938. Form 8938 is the “cousin” of the FBAR; this form needs to be filed if you have larger balances in foreign accounts.

Millions of FBARs are filed each year. When I started in tax, filing an FBAR was a huge audit red flag; that’s no longer the case. There are just too many FBARs filed. Do note that if you have an FBAR filing requirement you must note that in question 7 at the bottom of Schedule B.

To end this with some humor, one of my pet peeves in dealing with taxes is that there are three different sets of abbreviations for foreign counties used in tax. The FBAR has one set; question 7 at the bottom of Schedule B has another set, and Form 8938 has a third set. Some countries are noted identically while others are not. On one of of the abbreviations Curacao is “CU” while that means Cuba in another.

In any case, the FBAR is no laughing matter. The IRS’s mantra here is to shoot jaywalkers. Don’t become such a person: If you have an FBAR filing requirement, file it! Again, the FBAR is effectively due on October 15th.

Bozo Tax Tip #5: Procrastinate!

April 11th, 2022

Today is April 11th. The tax deadline is just seven days away.

What happens if you wake up and it’s April 18, 2022, and you can’t file your tax? File an extension. Download Form 4868, make an estimate of what you owe, pay that, and mail the voucher and check to the address noted for your state. Use certified mail, return receipt, of course. And don’t forget your state income tax. Some states have automatic extensions (California does), some don’t (Pennsylvania is one of those), while others have deadlines that don’t match the federal tax deadline (Hawaii state taxes are due on April 20th, for example). Automatic extensions are of time to file, not pay, so download and mail off a payment to your state, too. If you mail your extension, make sure you mail it certified mail, return receipt requested. (You can do that from most Automated Postal Centers, too.)

By the way, I strongly suggest you electronically file the extension. The IRS will happily take your extension electronically; many (but not all) states will, too.  If you make an extension payment on IRS Direct Pay (using “Extension” as  the reason for the payment), the IRS will file an extension for you.

But what do you do if you wait until April 19th? Well, get your paperwork together so you can file as quickly as possible and avoid even more penalties. Penalties escalate, so unless you want 25% penalties, get everything ready and see your tax professional next week. He’ll have time for you, and you can leisurely complete your return and only pay one week of interest, one month of the Failure to Pay penalty (0.5% of the tax due), and one month of the Failure to File Penalty (5% of the tax due).

There is a silver lining in all of this. If you are owed a refund and haven’t filed, you will likely receive interest from the IRS. Yes, interest works both ways: The IRS must pay interest on late-filed returns owed refunds. Just one note about that: the interest is taxable.

(Note: If you reside in Massachusetts or Maine, your tax filing deadline for 2021 returns is Tuesday, April 19th.  Thanks to Patriot’s Day you get an extra day this year to file your tax returns and/or extensions.)