Archive for 'News'

Nov 29

IRSTargetsThousandsOf Small BusinessesForExtraScrutiny – In 3 Parts

 

Part I – What the IRS is doing.

 The IRS has always been able to match individual tax returns against information statements and propose under reporter adjustments that come in the form of CP2000 notices. ?? But things are changing, and a new era at the IRS is upon us. ?? Now, the IRS is using information statements to find under reporting on business returns.

 

Thetaxagencyisdoingsome targetingofitsown,fingeringatleast 20,000smallbusinesses. Andthatnumber willgrow. Thescrutinyonthisgroupandinthisway isalittlefrightening.   Smallbusinesspeople acrossAmericaarereceivingIRSnotices. Morewillbecoming.TheIRSgathersdata frommanythirdparties-including credit cardcompanies-toseeif youpickedup everynickelofincome. Remembertorecordandpay

tax on all transactions?

 

In September, the IRS started its first information return-matching program for business return Forms 1120, 1120S and 1065. This program matched business return incomes to the total amounts reported on all information returns. ??  That would include merchant reporting of credit cards and third party network payments and cash reporting.

 

This year, business taxpayers also started receiving Form 1099-K, Merchant Card and Third-party Network Payments, reporting amounts received from payment settlement entities (from debit/credit cards and third-party network payers such as PayPal). To avoid taxpayer burden, the IRS stated in a letter to the National Federation of Independent Business on Feb. 9 that it will not require taxpayers to separately report amounts from Forms 1099-K on returns, and has no plans to in the future. ??

 

Wait a minute; not everyone is convinced. One Congressman, Sam Graves (R­ Mo), Chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, notes that the IRS’s first sentence begins, “Your gross receipts may have been underreported.” Says Congressman Graves that sounds like the IRS is looking for more than just additionalinformation. It soundslikeitcouldmeanmoretaxes,penalties andinterest,Sam Graves wroteinthislettertothe agency.

Mr.Gravessuggeststhattheletterscouldintimidate businesses.Hesaysthatasmallbusinessowner receivingthisnoticemaybealarmedandfeel threatened. TheIRSnoticegoesontosayyour receiptsareofffromanIRSaverage. Within30 days,pleaseprovidedocumentationtoprovewhy yournumbersdon’tfallwithinIRS’sstandard,the IRSasks.

 

YettheIRSdoesn’trevealitssourceanddoesn’tsay

whatthestandardisorwhereitcamefrom. It soundslikeyouarebeingaskedtoprovethat youdidn’tunderreportyourincome. That’s provinganegative,andcouldrequireextensive correspondenceanddocumentation.

 

AsaresultofForm1099changesandtheever-increasingwebofreporting,theIRSreceives detaileddataaboutcredit-anddebit-card transactions. TheIRSminesthedataandmaythink thatahighpercentageofcardtransactionsmay meanyouarenotreportingall thecashyoureceive.

 

‘Pleaseexplain,’theIRSmayask. – go to Part II

May 13

May 12 from Reuters -

When U.S. tax agents started singling out non-profit groups for extra scrutiny in 2010, they looked at first only for key words such as ‘Tea Party,’ but later they focused on criticisms by groups of “how the country is being run,” according to investigative findings reviewed by Reuters on Sunday.

Over two years, IRS field office agents repeatedly changed their criteria while sifting through thousands of applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status to select ones for possible closer examination, the findings showed.

At one point, the agents chose to screen applications from groups focused on making “America a better place to live.”

Exactly who at the IRS made the decisions to start applying extra scrutiny was not clear from the findings, which were contained in portions of an investigative report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA).

Expected to be made public this week, the report was obtained in part by Reuters over the weekend as a full-blown scandal involving the IRS scrutiny widened, embarrassing the agency and distracting the Obama administration.

In one part of the report, TIGTA officials observed that the application screening effort showed “confusion about how to process the applications, delays in the processing of the applications, and a lack of management oversight and guidance.”

After brewing for months, the IRS effort exploded into wider view on Friday when Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, apologized for what she called the “inappropriate” targeting of conservative groups for closer scrutiny, something the agency had long denied.

At a legal conference in Washington, while taking questions from the audience, Lerner said the agency was sorry.

She said the screening practice was confined to an IRS office in Cincinnati; that it was “absolutely not” influenced by the Obama administration; and that none of the targeted groups was denied tax-free status.

It is clear from the TIGTA findings that Lerner was informed in June 2011 that the extra scrutiny was occurring. Key words in the names of groups – including ‘Tea Party,’ “Patriot’ and ’9/12′ – were being used to choose applications, TIGTA found.

“Issues” criteria were also used, TIGTA found. Scrutiny was being given to references to “Government spending, Government debt, or taxes; Education of the public via advocacy/lobbying to ‘make America a better place to live;’ and Statements in the case file (that) criticize how the country is being run.”

Under these early criteria, more than 100 tax-exempt applications had been identified, according to TIGTA.

Briefed on the practice, Lerner ordered changes.

CONSTANTLY SHIFTING CRITERIA

By July 2011, the IRS was no longer targeting just groups with certain key words in their names. Rather, the screening criteria had changed to “organizations involved with political, lobbying, or advocacy.”

But then it changed again in January 2012 to cover “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, social economic reform/movement,” according to the findings contained in a Treasury Department watchdog report.

In March 2012, after Tea Party groups complained about delays in processing of their applications, then-IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman was called to testify by a congressional committee. He denied that the IRS was targeting tax-exempt groups based on their politics.

The IRS said on Saturday that senior IRS executives were not aware of the screening process. The documents reviewed by Reuters do not show that Shulman had any role.

In May 2012, the criteria for scrutiny were revised again to cover a variety of tax-exempt groups “with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (raising questions as to exempt purpose and/or excess private benefit),” according to a TIGTA timeline included in the findings.

THOUSANDS OF APPLICATIONS

Each year the IRS reviews as many as 60,000 applications from groups ranging from charities to labor unions that want to be classified as tax-exempt. “Social welfare” groups dedicated to the general good can be tax-exempt under tax law 501(c)4.

These groups do not have to disclose the identities of their donors and they can spend money on advertising for general issues, but they may not endorse specific candidates or parties.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 “Citizens United” ruling unleashed a torrent of new political spending and 501(c)4 groups became a popular conduit for some of it, on both ends of the political spectrum, but especially for conservatives.

The number of applications sent to the IRS by groups seeking 501(c)4 status rose to 3,400 in 2012 from 1,500 in 2010. As money poured into 501(c)4 groups, campaign finance activists began to raise questions and demanded a crackdown by the IRS.

 

Feb 07

Everyone’s check is smaller!

The rate of workers’ payroll taxes, which fund Social Security, has been 4.2% for the past two years. As of Jan. 1, it’s back to 6.2%, on the first $113,700 in wages.

The tax break was always meant to be temporary.

Workers earning the national average salary of $41,000 will receive $32 less on every biweekly paycheck. The higher the salary (up to $113,700), the bigger the bite, but business owners say their lower wage employees will feel it most.

Jul 06

We are beginning over here to re-review the tax aspects of ObamaCare after the Supreme Court’s decision last week. There are several tax changes, but today we will revisit the new investment income tax and the new earned income tax. These will happen in 2013, so let’s go over them.

Investment Income

If you are single, you will owe a new investment tax if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is over $200,000. If you are married, you will owe the new tax if your AGI is over $250,000. (I know, twice $200,000 is considerably more than $250,000. I did not write the law). If this is you, will owe a brand-new 3.8% tax on your investment income.

Let’s be clear: it is not necessarily ALL your investment income. Rather it will be on investment income over $200,000 or $250,000, as the case may be. If you are married and retired and your entire adjusted gross income of $250,000 is interest and dividends, you will owe no NEW tax. You will owe plenty of OLD tax, though.

What is investment income? Let’s go with the easy examples: dividends, interest, capital gains (short-term and long-term), royalties and annuities outside retirement plans

NOTE:  Net investment income is also defined to include income from a passive activity. This concerns me, as the rental of a duplex is a passive activity, as is passthrough income to a “passive” member in an LLC. Under Section 469, these activities were considered “trades or businesses,” although the activity could be further tagged as “passive” or “nonpassive.” They were not however tagged as “investment.” This new tax appears to use the language differently from Section 469 and equates “passive” with “investment.” The IRS unfortunately has yet to issue formal guidance in this area.

How can this tax surprise you? Here are a few ways:

(1)   You sell your business.

(2)   You get married.

(3)   You sell your principal residence, and the gain exceeds the $250,000/$500,000 exclusion.

(4)   You inherit and sell stock from a parent’s estate.

Earned Income

If you are single, you will pay an extra 0.9% Medicare tax on your earned income over $200,000. If married, that threshold changes to $250,000.

What is earned income? The easiest way is to ask whether you paid or will pay social security or self-employment tax on the income. If the answer is “yes”, you have earned income. Note that this definition excludes your pension, 401(k) and IRA distributions.

Let’s go over a few examples.

EXAMPLE 1: A married couple filing jointly has $360,000 of adjusted gross income—$240,000 of wages plus $120,000 of interest, dividends and capital gains. They have $110,000 of investment income` over the $250,000 threshold. They will owe an extra 3.8% of that $110,000, or $4,180, in tax.

EXAMPLE 2: In the following year, the same couple has $400,000 of income, the difference being a $40,000 bonus. All their investment income is now above the threshold amount. Their new investment income tax will be $4,560. In addition, since their earned income is now above $250,000 they will owe the new earned income tax of $270 ((280,000- 250,000) times 0.9%).

EXAMPLE 3:  After many years, you move from Purchase, New York. You sell your house for $920,000 and are single.  Your exclusion amount on the sale is $250,000 so the taxable gain is 670,000. Assuming that you earned income is over $200,000, the new investment income tax will be $25,460 ((920,000 – 250,000) times 3.8%).

We will discuss other tax changes in a future blog. Some are delayed (such as the employer penalty) and others are already in place but are somewhat esoteric (the prescription drug fee).

Jun 27

Would you be aggressive on your taxes if your job was on the line?

I am reading Agbaniyaka v Commissioner. Benjamin Agbaniyaka (Ben) started with the IRS in 1986. He received excellent evaluations, several promotions and a Master’s Degree in taxation from Long Island University. Between the years 1988 and 2006 Ben engaged in a side business selling African arts and crafts.  Here are the business results for selected years;

            2001    no sales and a loss of $5,661

            2002    sales of $3,216 and a loss of $15,232

            2003    sales of $1,372 and a loss of $7,624

            2004    sales of $200 and a loss of $6,383

He also claimed itemized deductions, including annual expenses for “Union Dues” and “Accounting Journals.”

He gets audited for 2001.

Let’s go over what the IRS expects when it sees that Schedule C on your return. It expects you to maintain records so that you can compile a tax return at the end of the year. Records can be as simple as a checkbook with a year-sheet recapping everything by category. The IRS also wants you to keep invoices and receipts, to allow a third party to trace a check to something. There are some expenses where Congress itself tells the IRS what documentation to review. Meals and car expenses are two of the most common examples. With those two, the IRS is somewhat limited in its flexibility because Congress called the tune.

Then we have the hobby loss rules. The idea here is that a business activity is expected to show a profit every so often. If the activity has always shown losses, it is difficult to buy-into the argument that it is a business. An actual business would eventually shut down and not throw good money after bad. There are exceptions, of course, but it is a good starting point.

The third point is that a revenue agent is going to be held to a higher standard. There is the education and training involved, as well as that whole working for the IRS thing.

The IRS audits 2001. It finds the following:

(1)   Ben deducted expenses for a course on trust and estates. He cannot provide any documentation, however. He also has other unsubstantiated education expenses, including his journals.

 (2)   Ben claimed a deduction for union expenses. He cannot present any proof he paid the union.

 (3)   Ben is hard-pressed to persuade the IRS that there was any profit intent to his arts and crafts activity. The problem is that Ben never reported a profit – ever. The IRS simply disallowed the loss.

 (4)  The IRS is now miffed at Ben, especially since Ben is one of their own. They argue that the Ben’s failure to make any reasonable attempt to comply with the tax code is negligence. In fact, failure to keep records shows not only negligence but also Ben’s intentional disregard of the regulations. The IRS slapped Ben with a substantial understatement penalty.

The IRS expands the audit to 2002, 2003 and 2004, with similar results.

Can this get worse? You bet. The 1998 IRS Restructuring and Reform Act requires termination of an IRS employee found to have willfully understated his federal tax liability, unless such understatement is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.

Let’s go back to the substantial understatement penalty. One of the exceptions to the penalty is reasonable cause. Ben goes to Tax Court. He pretty much has to. He has to win, at least on the penalty issue. If he can get the court to see reasonable cause, he might be able to save his job.  

The Tax Court is unimpressed. Here are some comments:

We found Mr. Agbaniyaka’s testimony to be general, vague, conclusory, uncorroborated, self-serving and/or questionable in all material respects.”

During the years at issue, Mr [] was a trained revenue agent and was fully aware of the requirements imposed by …. Nonetheless, petitioners failed to maintain sufficient records for each of their taxable years 2001 through 2004 to establish their position with respect to any of the issues presented.”

On the record before us, we find that petitioners have failed to carry their burden of showing that they were not negligent and did not disregard rules and regulations, or otherwise did what a reasonable person would do, with respect to the underpayment for each of the years at issue.”

After the Tax Court’s decision, the IRS ended Ben’s employment effective April 15, 2008.

Ben appeals to the Federal Court of Appeals. That too fell on deaf ears:

“… he was undoubtedly aware that he had to substantiate his efforts to conduct a business in 2001 and beyond. Being an experienced and knowledgeable Agency employee, he had to have been aware that he could not substantiate his alleged business activities. By claiming deductions on Schedule C, he knowingly and willfully submitted tax filings to which he was not entitled.”

Ben next tried other channels. In the end, he lost and stayed fired.

How much money are we talking about? The court does not come out and specifically give a dollar amount, but there is enough to approximate the taxes as little more than $10,000.

I question the lack of documentation for some of these claimed expenses. The bank can provide cancelled checks for the subscriptions or seminars, and the union will provide a letter of membership and dues activity.  The court doesn’t elaborate, but it is clear that Ben wasn’t trying too hard.

Would you gamble your job for $10,000? Ben did.

I wouldn’t.

Feb 04

Quotes are solicited under Request For Quotation (RFQ) number TIRWR-10-Q-00023. This announcement constitutes the only solicitation; a written RFQ will not be issued. If your company can provide the product listed in the RFQ and comply with all of the RFQ instructions, please respond to this notice.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) intends to purchase sixty Remington Model 870 Police RAMAC #24587 12 gauge pump-action shotguns for the Criminal Investigation Division. The Remington parkerized shotguns, with fourteen inch barrel, modified choke, Wilson Combat Ghost Ring rear sight and XS4 Contour Bead front sight, Knoxx Reduced Recoil Adjustable Stock, and Speedfeed ribbed black forend, are designated as the only shotguns authorized for IRS duty based on compatibility with IRS existing shotgun inventory, certified armorer and combat training and protocol, maintenance, and parts.

Submit quotes including 11% Firearms and Ammunition Excise Tax (FAET) and shipping to Washington DC.

Feb 02

My favorite is “reform the U.S. international tax system.”

US multinationals operate on a worldwide tax regime. This is quite unusual; most countries do not tax their multinationals in this manner. In most countries, the corporation pays tax on income generated within the borders of that country. The US disregards borders – for the most part. 

Granted the US scheme is somewhat offset by the foreign tax credit, but in turn that is offset by the CFC scheme, on and on…

                 WSJ Chart

Feb 01

In his State of the Union speech, Obama outlined four proposals aimed at small businesses: eliminating the capital gains tax, encouraging lending, and developing tax credits for new hires and for investments in equipment and facilities.

On Friday, January 29, 2010, the President introduced plans to give employers a $5,000 tax credit for each net new worker hired this year. The purpose is to jumpstart hiring. The credit would be based on an unemployment wage base and would require approximately $7,000 of wages to obtain the full $5,000 credit.

Start-up companies would get a $2,500 tax credit for each worker hired.

In addition there would be another credit – a second credit – refunding a portion of the employer’s social security match. The idea is to refund the match paid on wage increases in excess of the rate of inflation. This credit will be based on the social security wage base, so it will automatically cutoff at $106,800 (which is the maximum subject to social security in 2010).

There are anti-abuse provisions. You cannot fire employees and hire them right back, for example. You cannot go “out of business” and pop up the following day or week.

The White House wants the credits to be retroactive to January 1. They would exist only for 2010.

Employers would be able to claim the credit on a quarterly basis, both as an incentive to hire and to get cash into the economy.

By the way, not-for-profits would qualify for the credit.

There is a credit maximum of $500,000 per business. There is a second limit – the credit would cap at 25% of the increase in a business’ social security wage base.

The cost? About $33 billion.

Jan 25

Yes they can.

They can take up to 15% of your social security.

Before they can do so, they have to notify you by mailing an Intent to Levy. You will also receive a CP 91, an IRS notice with the ominous title “Final Notice Before Levy on Social Security Benefits.” Take it seriously. You have only 30 days to respond before the IRS is able to levy you.

Once levied you will have to pay up in full, set up a payment plan, propose an offer or move the account to CNC (cannot collect) status.