I’ve written on a few occasions about my battles with the IRS over incorrectly assessed Failure to File and Failure to Pay penalties. (See here, here, and here.) As I noted in the last post linked to above, I submitted this to the IRS’s Systemic Advocacy Management System (SAMS). Well, progress has been made.
It turns out there’s not a systemic issue, but at least two of them (and almost certainly at least three). First, the regulation that exists does provide an automatic extension for taxpayers outside of the US on April 15th for any reason. Here’s that regulation again (it’s Treasury Regulation, 26 CFR § 1.6073-4 (c)):
(c) Residents outside the United States. In the case of a U.S. resident living or traveling outside the United States and Puerto Rico on the 15th day of the 4th month of a taxable year beginning after December 31, 1978, an extension of time for filing the declaration of estimated tax otherwise due on or before the 15th day of the 4th month of the taxable year is granted to and including the 15th day of the 6th month of the taxable year.
The woman I’ve been dealing with at SAMS confirmed that the plain language of the regulation does govern. It’s also noted in the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM), which is how the IRS is supposed to resolve penalties. But:
1. IRS publications are likely wrong. Publication 54 notes that an extension is available only if outside of the US on April 15th for business purposes and you have to reside outside of the US. The clear language of the regulation is different and governs, so publications are wrong. They’ll have to be rewritten, which won’t happen for 2013 publications (they’ve already been issued and have a July deadline).
2. IRS staff is not using the IRM to properly resolve the matter. Based on the experiences of my clients, these penalties should have been resolved at the service centers. The staff at the service centers may be using publications rather than the IRM to look up how the Tax Code works. (It’s also possible that the IRM needs to be rewritten in this area to note this situation.) There will be a need to determine why the penalties weren’t resolved at the service center; it’s possible that retraining some staff is required.
3. The IRS computer system likely needs to be reprogrammed to stop these penalties from being assessed in the first place. That’s almost certainly not going to happen before 2013 returns are processed, but the sooner the underlying problem(s) in the programming are discovered, the sooner they can be resolved.
Since SAMS now agrees that there is at least one systemic issue, the matter is being elevated and an analyst (and team) will be assigned to attempt to resolve this…hopefully before 2013 tax returns are filed. Unfortunately for my clients impacted by this for 2012 returns, each such case must be fought individually. While I am now fairly certain my clients will all win in the end, it’s still a pain in the neck.
There are two related matters. First, how many taxpayers were erroneously assessed these penalties and didn’t fight them? I noticed the systemic issue because I had multiple individuals impacted in multiple years. It’s likely there are hundreds or thousands of taxpayers who paid penalties that shouldn’t have. If you happen to be one of them (and the tax year in question is still open), I’d immediately write the IRS requesting a refund of the penalty(ies).
Second, I wish to praise the Taxpayer Advocate’s Office of Systemic Advocacy. They did not blindly assume that the IRS was right on these penalties, and did look fully at the evidence I brought up. While I would have liked SAMS to move somewhat faster, getting the acknowledgment of being correct in four months is probably quite fast in terms of the normal speed of the bureaucracy.