The Problem with PEOs

Sometimes I have the right idea but don’t consider the full spectrum of issues. That’s the definition of a blind spot, and with my post on the $7 million tax fraud yesterday, I had a big blind spot. Thankfully, some of my fellow tax accountants noted the issue.

Joe Kristan noted the problem with Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs):

PEOs that file taxes under their own names and ID numbers have a hidden danger: their clients can’t verify that the IRS has received their payments via the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS). Employers can use EFTPS to monitor payments when they use a payroll service that reports employee taxes under the employer’s own name and Tax ID number. This makes it necessary for taxpayers to investigate PEO-type providers very carefully before trusting them with payroll services. If your payroll taxes are stolen by your payroll provider, the IRS will come after you to collect. Not many employers can afford to pay payroll taxes twice. [emphasis in original]

As noted by Joe and Ann-Margaret Johnston (in a comment to my post), you can’t check PEO tax payments. This means that if you use an unscrupulous PEO, you’re out of luck; the IRS can come after you for the unpaid payroll taxes.

Does this mean you shouldn’t use a PEO? Of course not; there are many PEOs that are well-run. It does mean that you need to be very, very careful using a PEO; you need to check references; you may want to get periodic copies of payroll tax deposits made for your “employees.” Other than that, there aren’t many reliable solutions to this dilemma.

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