May 30, 2012

The Federal Tax Gap

The federal tax gap imposes an unfair burden on many taxpayers, and the Department of the Treasury and the IRS are committed to narrowing the gap between what is owed and what is paid. The tax gap is defined as the aggregate amount of true tax liability imposed by law for a given tax year that is not paid voluntarily and timely. In a report prepared by the IRS, new initiatives to improve tax revenue collection, both through improved voluntary compliance and through effective enforcement were proposed.

The IRS collects 96 percent of the government’s total receipts, approximately $2.7 trillion in FY 2008. The vast majority of those revenues come from taxpayers who voluntarily report and pay the taxes that they owe. The IRS has estimated the overall voluntary compliance rate to be approximately 84 percent.

Despite the voluntary compliance rate and vigorous enforcement by the IRS, a significant amount of revenue remains unreported and unpaid. In 2005, the IRS estimated this gross tax gap to be approximately $345 billion. After subtracting revenue obtained through enforcement actions and other late payments, the IRS estimated the net tax gap to be approximately $290 billion. These estimates, which remain the most recent estimates available, were conducted using data collected in tax year 2001 and before.

Noncompliance takes three forms:

Underreporting (not reporting one’s full tax liability on a timely-filed return);

Underpayment (not timely paying the full amount of tax reported on a timely-filed return); and

Nonfiling (not filing required returns on time and not paying the full amount of tax that should have been shown on the required return).


Underreporting (in the form of unreported receipts and overstated expenses) constitutes over 82 percent of the gross tax gap. The single largest sub-component of underreporting involves the individual income tax, which represents more than 50 percent of the total tax gap. Underpayment constitutes nearly 10 percent, and nonfiling almost 8 percent of the gross tax gap.

The U.S. Treasury developed a seven-component strategy for reducing the tax gap. The components of that strategy are:

1. Reduce Opportunities for Evasion (Implement and Expand Information Reporting Authorities)

2. Make a Multi-Year Commitment to Research (Measuring the Tax Gap)

3. Continue Improvements in Information Technology

4. Improve Compliance Activities (Multi-Year Investment in IRS Enforcement)

5. Enhance Taxpayer Service (Providing Innovative Online Services, Streamline Written Communications with Taxpayers)

6. Reform and Simplify the Tax Law

7. Coordinate with Partners and Stakeholders (Tax Return Preparer Review, Enhanced Collaboration with Partners and Stakeholders)

Since the publication of the last tax gap report, the IRS published a new strategic plan for FY 2009-2013. The strategic plan outlines the service and enforcement goals of the IRS, along with the strategic foundations that underpin both. The plan recognizes that the IRS must excel at both service and enforcement. The plan also outlines five long-term measures for evaluating the IRS’s progress in achieving its goals, and which directly relate to the tax gap strategy.

Need help to resolve your tax problem? Call attorney Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259 for a free phone consultation.

May 23, 2012

New Flexible Offer-in-Compromise Terms Help More Struggling Taxpayers

The IRS announced the other day that it is offering more flexible terms to its Offer in Compromise (OIC) program that will enable some of the most financially distressed taxpayers to clear up their tax problems and in many cases more quickly than in the past. In general, an OIC is an agreement between a taxpayer and the IRS that settles the taxpayer’s tax liabilities for less than the full amount owed.

The new guidelines are announced in a news release by the IRS (IR-2012-53, May 21, 2012). More details are available in Attachment 1 to Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) 5.8.5 Financial Analysis. The changes are extraordinary.

The IRS recognizes that many taxpayers are still struggling to pay their bills so it has been working to put in place common-sense changes to the OIC program to more closely reflect real-world situations.

An OIC is generally not accepted if the IRS believes the liability can be paid in full as a lump sum or a through an installment agreement. The IRS looks at the taxpayer’s income and assets to make a determination of the taxpayer’s reasonable collection potential.

The announcement focuses on the financial analysis used to determine which taxpayers qualify for an OIC. This announcement also enables some taxpayers to resolve their tax problems in as little as two years compared to four or five years in the past.

The new guidelines also include changes to the necessary living expenses:

Allowing taxpayers to repay their student loans.

Expanding the Allowable Living Expense allowance category and amount.

Revising the calculation for the taxpayer’s future income.

Allowing taxpayers to pay state and local delinquent taxes.

When the IRS calculates a taxpayer’s reasonable collection potential, it will now look at only one year of future income for offers paid in five or fewer months, down from four years, and two years of future income for offers paid in six to 24 months, down from five years. All offers must be fully paid within 24 months of the date the offer is accepted. The deferred payment option which allows payment over the life of the statute is no longer available.

Other changes to the program include narrowed parameters and clarification of when a dissipated asset will be included in the calculation of reasonable collection potential. In general assets which have been dissipated three years or more prior to the submission of the offer in compromise will not be included in the reasonable collection potential. For example, if the offer is submitted in 2012, any asset dissipated prior to 2010 should not be included.

In addition, equity in income producing assets generally will not be included in the calculation of reasonable collection potential for on-going businesses unless it is determined the assets are not critical to business operations.

Allowable Living Expenses

The Allowable Living Expense standards are used in cases requiring financial analysis to determine a taxpayer’s ability to pay. The standard allowances provide consistency and fairness in collection determinations by incorporating average expenditures for basic necessities for citizens in similar geographic areas. These standards are used when evaluating installment agreement and offer in compromise requests.

The National Standard miscellaneous allowance has been expanded to include additional items. Taxpayers can use the miscellaneous allowance for expenses such as credit card payments and bank fees and charges.

Guidance has also been clarified to allow payments for loans guaranteed by the federal government for the taxpayer's post-high school education. In addition, payments for delinquent state and local taxes may be allowed based on percentage basis of tax owed to the state and IRS.

If you have a tax problem, then have a tax attorney help. Call Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259.

May 18, 2012

Early Withdrawal Penalty (The "Additional Tax") For Education Expenses Applies To Withdrawals From Rollover IRA

Withdrawals to pay education expenses from your employer's retirement plan before you turn age 59 1/2 are NOT subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Withdrawals for the same reason before age 59 1/2 ARE subject to the 10% additional tax when taken out of your IRA which you funded with a rollover from your employer's retirement plan.

On May 9, 2012, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Young Kim vs. Commissioner of Internal Revenue ruled in favor of the IRS that the taxpayer owes the 10% tax and, because he had not paid it, also owes a penalty for substantial underpayment of taxes.

Here's the opinion in its entirety:

At age 56, Young Kim left his position as a partner in a law firm and enrolled in the London School of Economics. Employees who depart at age 55 and up may withdraw money from the employer’s retirement plan. They must pay income tax (retirement plans contain pre-tax dollars), but they do not owe the 10% additional tax that the Internal Revenue Code imposes on most withdrawals before age 59½. 26 U.S.C. §72(t)(1), (2)(A)(v). During 2005 Kim moved the funds from the law firm’s retirement plan to an individual retirement account. A rollover is not a taxable event. 26 U.S.C. §402(c); 26 C.F.R. §1.402(c)–2. During 2006 Kim withdrew about $240,000 from the IRA. He paid the income tax but not the 10% additional tax. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue concluded that he owes the 10% tax and, because he had not paid it, also owes a penalty for substantial underpayment of taxes. 26 U.S.C. §6662.

Kim sought review by the Tax Court, which held a trial. The parties reduced the scope of the dispute because the money spent on tuition and other education expenses attending the London School of Economics— and the amount Kim paid for his daughter’s tuition and other education expenses at Bryn Mawr College—is not subject to the 10% tax. See 26 U.S.C. §72(t)(2)(E).

The Tax Court held that Kim owes the 10% tax on the withdrawn money that he had put to other uses and also owes the penalty for a substantially inaccurate return. The parties agreed that, if the Tax Court’s decision is correct, Kim owes $20,456.50 under §72(t)(1) and $4,091.30 under §6662. Judgment was entered to that effect. Kim asks us to hold that he owes nothing—or at least that he does not owe the accuracy-related penalty under §6662.

Kim relies on §72(t)(2)(A)(v), which provides that the 10% additional tax does not apply to a distribution from a pension plan “made to an employee after separation from service after attainment of age 55”. His immediate problem is that the distribution from the IRA was not “made to an employee”; he was not an employee of the IRA’s custodian. He had been an employee of the law firm and therefore could have taken a distribution from its pension plan, but that’s not what happened.

Just in case this point was unclear, the Internal Revenue Code adds: “Subparagraphs (A)(v) and (C) of paragraph (2) shall not apply to distributions from an individual retirement plan.” 26 U.S.C. §72(t)(3)(A). Kim withdrew money from an IRA, an individual plan; subparagraph 72(t)(2)(A)(v) therefore “shall not apply”.

Kim calls his account a “SEP IRA” (“simplified employee pension”, see 26 U.S.C. §408(k)) as opposed to a “traditional IRA,” but §72(t)(3)(A) does not distinguish among flavors of individual retirement plans. Before reaching 59½, Kim withdrew money from an individual retirement plan, rather than from his former employer’s plan, and therefore must pay the 10% additional tax. Kim insists that this makes no sense. He could have taken the money from the law firm’s pension plan without the 10% additional tax; why should it matter that the money went from the law firm’s plan to an IRA before being withdrawn? The answer is that the Internal Revenue Code says that it matters, and Kim does not contend that §72(t)(3)(A) violates the Constitution.

Many parts of the tax code are compromises, and all parts reflect the need for lines that can’t be deduced from first principles. Why can an employee withdraw money from an employer’s plan without the 10% addition at age 55 but not age 54? Why does the 10% additional tax apply to withdrawals at age 59 and 181 days, but not 59 and 183 days? These questions cannot be answered by logical analysis. The Code’s lines are arbitrary. The law firm’s pension plan put Kim to a choice between taking the money and moving part or all of it to an IRA. He chose to roll over the whole balance, because he did not want to pay any income tax immediately.

The Code allowed Kim to extend the tax deferral at the cost of the 10% additional tax if he later took some of the money before age 59½. Money deposited in pension plans and many IRAs is not subject to income tax until the funds (including interest and capital appreciation) are withdrawn. Tax deferral is expensive to the Treasury, so the Code makes resort to some tax-deferral opportunities costly. Hence someone who puts money in an IRA can’t take it out freely before age 59½; the prospect of the 10% additional tax on early withdrawal makes IRAs less attractive (and the 10% tax also compensates the Treasury for some of the revenue foregone from deferred payment of the income tax on sheltered funds). Subsection 72(t)(2)(A)(v) offers an opportunity for avoiding the 10% tax on withdrawals between age 55 and age 59½, but that opportunity is limited by the “to an employee” language and the proviso in §72(t)(3)(A), lest it effectively reduce the age of free withdrawal from 59½ to 55. The interaction of these provisions is bound to seem irrational to many affected persons, but Congress has concluded that some lines of this kind are appropriate. The judiciary is not authorized to redraw the boundaries. Fidelity Investments, which administers Kim’s IRA, sent him a statement in 2006 informing him that he owed both income tax and the 10% additional tax. But the accountant who prepared his tax return omitted the 10% additional tax, which, coupled with the fact that the deficiency exceeded $5,000, led to the substantial-understatement penalty.

Section 6662 excuses the taxpayer if “there is or was substantial authority for [the tax return’s] treatment” (§6662(d)(2)(B)(i)) or all relevant facts were disclosed on the return and “there is a reasonable basis for the tax treatment of such item by the taxpayer” (§6662(d)(2)(B)(ii)(II)). Kim contends that there was “substantial authority” for his return’s treatment of the withdrawal, but there was and is no authority at all for it. Kim does not contend that any court has accepted his argument that an IRA (SEP flavor or otherwise) is the same as an employer’s plan under §72(t)(2)(A)(v).

The Tax Court treats the “reasonable basis” exception in §6662(d)(2)(B)(ii)(II) as applicable when the taxpayer furnishes accurate information to, and then relies in good faith on, the opinion of a competent tax adviser. See Neonatology Associates, P.A. v. CIR, 115 T.C. 43, 98–99 (2000), affirmed, 299 F.3d 221, 233–35 (3d Cir. 2002); 26 C.F.R. §1.6664–4(c). See also United States v. Boyle, 469 U.S. 241, 251 (1985). The record does not show what information Kim furnished to his accountant or whether the accountant competently analyzed the situation under §72(t). The Tax Court accordingly concluded that Kim could not take advantage of §6662(d)(2)(B)(ii)(II).

Kim observes that the Tax Court lacked any evidence from the accountant, but the shortfall is Kim’s own responsibility. After the deadline for submitting expert evidence had passed, Kim filed a motion for a continuance, which the Tax Court denied. That decision was not an abuse of discretion. Kim might have asked the Commissioner to stipulate to what the accountant would have testified, but he did not make such a request. Nor did he make an offer of proof. So we have no idea what evidence the accountant would have provided. Kim testified at the trial but did not tell the Tax Court what information he had furnished to the accountant. With respect to the facts relevant under Neonatology Associates, the record is essentially empty. There is no warrant for upsetting the Tax Court’s decision. Finally, Kim asks us to order the Commissioner to abate interest on his underpayments. That subject was not before the Tax Court and therefore is not before us. CIR v. McCoy, 484 U.S. 3 (1987). Kim must ask for this relief from the Commissioner, and if he is dissatisfied with the Commissioner’s decision he can file a separate petition in the Tax Court. See 26 U.S.C. §6404(e)(1); Bourekis v. CIR, 110 T.C. 20, 25–26 (1998). AFFIRMED

May 17, 2012

Internal Revenue Service Guidance

Here are seven of the most common forms of guidance in the form of documents and publications that provide assistance to charitable groups, business firms and taxpayers.

Notice

A notice is a public pronouncement that may contain guidance that involves substantive interpretations of the Internal Revenue Code or other provisions of the law. For example, notices can be used to relate what regulations will say in situations where the regulations may not be published in the immediate future.

Announcement

An announcement is a public pronouncement that has only immediate or short-term value. For example, announcements can be used to summarize the law or regulations without making any substantive interpretation; to state what regulations will say when they are certain to be published in the immediate future; or to notify taxpayers of the existence of an approaching deadline.

Private Letter Ruling

A private letter ruling, or PLR, is a written statement issued to a taxpayer that interprets and applies tax laws to the taxpayer's specific set of facts. A PLR is issued to establish with certainty the federal tax consequences of a particular transaction before the transaction is consummated or before the taxpayer's return is filed. A PLR is issued in response to a written request submitted by a taxpayer and is binding on the IRS if the taxpayer fully and accurately described the proposed transaction in the request and carries out the transaction as described. A PLR may not be relied on as precedent by other taxpayers or IRS personnel. PLRs are generally made public after all information has been removed that could identify the taxpayer to whom it was issued.

Technical Advice Memorandum

A technical advice memorandum, or TAM, is guidance furnished by the Office of Chief Counsel upon the request of an IRS director or an area director, appeals, in response to technical or procedural questions that develop during a proceeding. A request for a TAM generally stems from an examination of a taxpayer's return, a consideration of a taxpayer's claim for a refund or credit, or any other matter involving a specific taxpayer under the jurisdiction of the territory manager or the area director, appeals. Technical Advice Memoranda are issued only on closed transactions and provide the interpretation of proper application of tax laws, tax treaties, regulations, revenue rulings or other precedents. The advice rendered represents a final determination of the position of the IRS, but only with respect to the specific issue in the specific case in which the advice is issued. Technical Advice Memoranda are generally made public after all information has been removed that could identify the taxpayer whose circumstances triggered a specific memorandum.

Revenue Procedure

A revenue procedure is an official statement of a procedure that affects the rights or duties of taxpayers or other members of the public under the Internal Revenue Code, related statutes, tax treaties and regulations and that should be a matter of public knowledge. It is also published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin. While a revenue ruling generally states an IRS position, a revenue procedure provides return filing or other instructions concerning an IRS position. For example, a revenue procedure might specify how those entitled to deduct certain automobile expenses should compute them by applying a certain mileage rate in lieu of calculating actual operating expenses.

Revenue Ruling

A revenue ruling is an official interpretation by the IRS of the Internal Revenue Code, related statutes, tax treaties and regulations. It is the conclusion of the IRS on how the law is applied to a specific set of facts. Revenue rulings are published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin for the information of and guidance to taxpayers, IRS personnel and tax professionals. For example, a revenue ruling may hold that taxpayers can deduct certain automobile expenses.

Regulation

A regulation is issued by the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department to provide guidance for new legislation or to address issues that arise with respect to existing Internal Revenue Code sections. Regulations interpret and give directions on complying with the law. Regulations are published in the Federal Register. Generally, regulations are first published in proposed form in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). After public input is fully considered through written comments and even a public hearing, a final regulation or a temporary regulation is published as a Treasury Decision (TD), again, in the Federal Register.

To consult with a qualified tax attorney on these or any other tax controversy, call Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259