The IRS’s Transcript Delivery System (TDS) will be down tomorrow beginning at 12:01am, and will not come back up until Tuesday morning. The IRS announcement indicates they will be performing maintenance during this period. TDS is supposed to be back up by 6:00am EDT on Tuesday, July 5th.
Archive for the ‘IRS’ Category
One of my clients was quite upset this morning. She had received an IRS Automated Underreporting Unit (AUR) notice alleging that she owed about $4,000 in additional tax. She sent me a copy of the notice and I looked at the change: The IRS added self-employment tax to her return.
My client (and her husband) were both employees in the year in question. There was no self-employment tax on the original return because you have to be self-employed to owe self-employment tax. As I told my client, this ranks with the most ridiculous of IRS notices I’ve seen.
Still, my clients had to respond to the notice; if they didn’t tax would be assessed. My client completed the response form, included a short letter noting why they didn’t owe self-employment tax, and they mailed it off (certified mail, of course).
I don’t know why my client got “lucky” and got this notice. The only conclusion I can draw is the computer goofed. When I spoke to my client, I let her know that two-thirds of IRS notices are wrong in whole or in part. Yet the IRS keeps sending them out for a simple reason: People pay them blindly. “If it comes from the IRS it must be right,” they think. The reality is sadly different.
Most of the AUR notices I see (even those that are wrong) have at least a kernel of truth in them. Clients do forget to include 1099s, or they misclassify items on returns. This notice was one of the rarer ones where nothing on it made sense. Well, they did spell my clients’ names correctly….
A client was in IRS Appeals contesting the late filing penalty for his 2012 tax return. His return, which was ineligible for electronic filing, was on extension. The extension was timely electronically filed. The client believes he went to the Post Office and mailed his return on October 15, 2013. The IRS said it was mailed one week later. Unfortunately, in a move his records were lost by the movers. The problem is that if you don’t file timely (within the extension period), it’s as if you never had an extension!
The IRS Account Transcript shows the return was late filed. Using the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained a copy of the Administrative Record for his return; that included a copy of the envelope he mailed the return in. It clearly shows the postage being purchased at a post office on October 15, 2013. The envelope has two postmarks: The original (purchased at a post office) and a second from halfway across the country a week later! Most likely, the Postal Service routed the envelope incorrectly, so it ended up going through the system twice. In any case, I showed the Appeals Officer the copy of the envelope, and he agrees that the return was timely filed (for purposes of the late filing penalty) and my client now owes nothing. (My client had already paid the tax, interest, and the late payment penalty.)
Yes, my client was lucky that the administrative record showed the envelope. Yes, it would have been easier had he still had the certified mail receipt (or had the movers not lost that particular box).
Consider what would have happened if he had not used certified mail (or the envelope had not been shown in the record): He would be writing a check for about $20,000. Certified mail costs $3.30 (a return receipt will add $1.35 or $2.70 to that cost depending on whether you have it emailed or mailed to you). Yes, you have to wait in line at a post office, but that’s well worth it when you compare the alternative.
Last week Congress held a hearing on the IRS refusing to return wrongly seized small business owners assets. Only the IRS could unite Democrats and Republicans this year, and once again the IRS managed to do so. As reported in The Hill:
“You’ve brought a subcommittee together who can’t agree about what time of day it is,” said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, which held a hearing on the topic.
“The capacity to treat people in the dismissive way in which the departments have treated them is the part that all of us really find just jarring,” Roskam added.
The top Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, agreed that this is a topic on which Democrats and Republicans are strongly united.
“On this issue, we are on one accord,” he said.
There’s not much to say on this. There are apparently more than 600 taxpayers who have had $43 million seized that are still waiting for their money to be returned. While the IRS has apparently apologized over this (Commissioner Koskinen has stated that’s been done), I suspect individuals would much prefer having their funds returned. Unfortunately, Kenneth Blanco, deputy assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice, could not give a time-frame when this would occur.
The only solution to these sorts of issues is a rule that imposes the same deadline and penalties on the IRS as are imposed on taxpayers. I’m not holding my breath on Congress enacting this.
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 2015 is due June 30, 2016; there are no extensions.
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 year-end Treasury Department conversion rates 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 probably 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 due June 30th this year and there are no extensions.
Now this is the real end of our Bozo Tax Tips for the 2016 Tax Season. I’ll be back no later than April 25th with new content.
My brother is a wine connoisseur. As all my friends know, I’m anything but a wine aficionado. But I have learned one difference between fine wine and a notice from the IRS: Wine can age very well but IRS notices don’t.
Almost all IRS notices come with deadlines. You need to act to stop the IRS. If you ignore the notice, you usually will get a second notice. After that, you may receive a Notice of Deficiency. If that ages the tax is assessed.
Yet most IRS notices are wrong in whole or in part! The last study I saw showed that two-thirds of IRS notices are wrong. That’s a shockingly high percentage. An obvious question is why doesn’t the IRS change its procedures so that the bad notices aren’t issued? The answer is simple: People pay those notices. The IRS’s Automated Underreporting Unit is a huge profit center for the agency.
What does this mean for you? Put simply, if you get an IRS notice read it carefully. Let your tax professional know about it when you receive it, not on the day a response is due. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to act earlier in the process than later.
My brother tells me that some of the best wine he’s tasted have been old varietals. I can tell you that I’ve never seen a tax notice get better with age.
Ah, Spring is in the air. And with that come the inevitable wedding invitations. I had an invitation to a wedding on April 9th. No, I didn’t attend.
With weddings comes changes in tax status. Your marital status on December 31st determines your marital status for the year. If you are married, you file as Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. (In some rare cases, if you’re married you can file as Head of Household.) But you can’t file as single. Likewise, if you’re single you can’t file as married.
Perhaps it’s something in the water, but this year I have seen multiple cases of individuals who have ignored that marriage license and filed as single if married. There’s a good reason for that, of course: They save on taxes. A big issue is rental real estate: If you’re actively involved in rental real estate you get to take losses of up to $25,000. But there’s an income cap (the deduction begins to phase out at an income of $100,000 and completely phases out at $150,000). This particular deduction is neither indexed for inflation nor does it vary if you are single or married.
There’s a problem taking deductions you’re not entitled to: tax evasion. It’s a Bozo act to claim things you’re not entitled to.
Marriage has its ups and downs. Claiming you’re single on your tax return when you’re married will in the long-run cause you nothing but downs.
You may have noticed that Bozo Tax Tip #1 appeared last week. Never fear, there’s another #1 Bozo Tax Tip that will appear on Friday. Now on with the countdown:
Today is April 11th. The tax deadline is just seven days away.
What happens if you wake up and it’s April 18, 2016, 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.
But what do you do if you wait until April 19th? (If you reside in Maine or Massachusetts, April 19th is your Tax Day this year.) 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.
I was talking with a friend who is an attorney in the Midwest. She told me about an individual who decided to use ten layers of shell companies to hide his income. It worked so well that the Bozo had trouble accessing his income.
He was using the usual foreign shelter countries: the Cayman Islands (in the Caribbean), the Channel Islands (in the English Channel), the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea), and Vanuatu (in the South Pacific). There was a land-based country in there, too: Panama. In any case, somehow the ownership got so messed up that one of the shells refused to deal with another.
My friend didn’t get involved to get the money situation resolved. No, she got involved because her client ended up going through a messy divorce, and her client happened to find one of the papers dealing with one of the shell companies. My friend’s a divorce attorney, and a good one, and she was able, with some help, find a lot of the hidden money. The judge was not as amused as I was hearing about the difficulties the man was having getting his money out. And neither was the IRS because he had “forgotten” to pay tax on a lot of income.
There are lots of good strategies for businesses to use to lower their taxes. Income balancing to C corporations can be a good strategy. Maximizing Section 179 depreciation is another. So is my least favorite deduction, the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (Section 199). There are many, many others. But hiding income in foreign jurisdictions is a very bad one, and if you get caught you are likely looking at a lengthy term at ClubFed.
An appeals court decision today should end speculation on Democrats’ claims that the IRS scandal is a non-event. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard an appeal last week. The NorCal Tea Party Patriots had filed a class action suit regarding the IRS’s conduct in dealing with applications for non-profit status as a 501(c)(4) organization. The District Court had ordered the IRS to comply with discovery requests. The IRS asked for a “writ of mandamus;” basically, an order to stop the discovery. The first two paragraphs of the decision get to the crux of the matter:
Among the most serious allegations a federal court can address are that an Executive agency has targeted citizens for mistreatment based on their political views. No citizen—Republican or Democrat, socialist or libertarian—should be targeted or even have to fear being targeted on those grounds. Yet those are the grounds on which the plaintiffs allege they were mistreated by the IRS here. The allegations are substantial: most are drawn from findings made by the Treasury Department’s own Inspector General for Tax Administration. Those findings include that the IRS used political criteria to round up applications for tax-exempt status filed by so-called tea-party groups; that the IRS often took four times as long to process tea-party applications as other applications; and that the IRS served tea-party applicants with crushing demands for what the Inspector General called “unnecessary information.”
Yet in this lawsuit the IRS has only compounded the conduct that gave rise to it. The plaintiffs seek damages on behalf of themselves and other groups whose applications the IRS treated in the manner described by the Inspector General. The lawsuit has progressed as slowly as the underlying applications themselves: at every turn the IRS has resisted the plaintiffs’ requests for information regarding the IRS’s treatment of the plaintiff class, eventually to the open frustration of the district court. At issue here are IRS “Be On the Lookout” lists of organizations allegedly targeted for unfavorable treatment because of their political beliefs. Those organizations in turn make up the plaintiff class. The district court ordered production of those lists, and did so again over an IRS motion to reconsider. Yet, almost a year later, the IRS still has not complied with the court’s orders. Instead the IRS now seeks from this court a writ of mandamus, an extraordinary remedy reserved to correct only the clearest abuses of power by a district court. We deny the petition.
Oh, but hasn’t the IRS cooperated with the lawsuit? Hardly. “On the record before us here, the IRS’s response has been one of continuous resistance.” The Court is also making a point by the speed of the decision. This case was heard on March 16th; the decision was released on March 22nd. The Court is sending a message to the IRS: Stop the delaying tactics!
There’s a lot more in this decision, and I hope some tax blogger with far more free time than I do opines on the decision. I’ll end with the Court’s conclusion:
In closing, we echo the district court’s observations about this case. The lawyers in the Department of Justice have a long and storied tradition of defending the nation’s interests and enforcing its laws—all of them, not just selective ones—in a manner worthy of the Department’s name. The conduct of the IRS’s attorneys in the district court falls outside that tradition. We expect that the IRS will do better going forward. And we order that the IRS comply with the district court’s discovery orders of April 1 and June 16, 2015—without redactions, and without further delay.