FTB Call-Back Service

There are many things that the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) does that I would hope the IRS never adopts.  But some might appreciate it if the IRS would follow the example of the FTB when it comes to their customer service phone lines.

Clearly the IRS could never deliver the same level of customer service as a state taxing entity, due to the insanely large number of calls that IRS gets each day.  I don’t think anybody really expects them to compete on that level.  Likewise, it is naive to think that the state should be able to answer every call as it comes in without leaving taxpayers on hold.  However, FTB has figured out a way to make it much more convenient for the caller.  The FTB phone system has a feature that allows the taxpayer to request a call-back during times of heavy call volume.  The system estimates about how long you’ll have to wait on hold if you choose to hold, and then gives you the option of leaving your name and number and having a customer service rep call you back during that same time frame.

This call-back feature is handy for tax attorneys and tax practitioners, but it is especially useful for unrepresented taxpayers.  I have used the call-back feature a few times, but I typically do not mind holding either.  I often have a handful of cases that are queued up and ready to go once they pick up, and while I wait there’s always Instagram and TIGTA reports, but mostly Instagram.  But taxpayers calling in on their own case can be really discouraged by a 30+ minute wait, and it is nice to have the option of saving your place in line without actually waiting on the line.

I understand the administrative burden this feature would cause though.  It’s not a huge amount of extra work, but even a little extra work on such a large scale can be reason enough to just maintain the status quo.  IRS customer service has really gone down the toilet in the last few years, so really status quo wouldn’t seem too awful right about now compared to any additional slippage in service.

 
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IRS Audit Percentages Still Dropping

I have written before about the federal budget cuts and reduction of IRS personnel and what sorts of implications this has on the typical taxpayer.  One of the most noticeable consequences is that when you pick up the phone with a tax question or an inquiry into your tax account, you have about a 50/50 chance of getting through and speaking with someone.  Customer service is at an all-time low.

But something else has hit a record low, at least in the last ten years.  And that something is Audits.  Less than 1 percent of tax returns were selected for audit in 2014, and even fewer will be audited this year.

Obviously this is very good news for the taxpayer, but very frustrating for IRS executives, including Commissioner Koskinen, who stated that this trend “carries serious implications for our tax system and the nation.”  I can’t say for sure, but I’d assume that at least one implication is less revenue.  That’s my attempt at a joke.  Of course that’s one of the implications.  They are the Internal Revenue Service.  What’s the point if they’re not bringing in revenue?  Which leads me to an interesting question: Assuming it is true that your chances of being audited are the lowest they have been in 10 years because there are only about 11,600 revenue agents (and dropping) conducting audits, if you are selected, what are the chances of walking away unscathed?

The fact is some tax return audits result in zero liability.  But I could see that becoming a thing of the past.  First, I could see the IRS becoming more selective in the returns it picks for audit.  They will pick the returns with more obvious issues; ones that will more likely result in additional revenue for the government.  Second, I could see the IRS becoming more rigorous in their audit techniques.  If the overall number of audits is low, then the IRS has to be more “effective” in their audits to keep the revenue flowing.  I apologize in advance for this obnoxious analogy, but a boa constrictor often goes months in between meals, so when it does capture its prey, it is not going to let go before it squeezes the life out of them.  We’ll keep an eye on the IRS and see if these snaky predictions come true.

 
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800,000 Obamacare Enrollees Received Incorrect Tax Forms

Here’s a suggestion for the IRS’ next Tax Tips article: “What you should know about the incompetence of the IRS.” Or maybe this one: “10 reasons why you should not renounce your citizenship and move to Brazil.”  Their latest screw up came on Friday — or at least it was announced on Friday — that 800,000 Obamacare enrollees were sent the wrong tax forms and will need to wait until sometime in March to file their taxes.  Yet another reason to not be so eager about filing early.  And what about those conscientious tax return filers who already pulled the trigger?  Well, the Obama administration hasn’t quite figured out what to do with them yet.

Just keep checking in with the IRS on their website.  That’s where the IRS likes to funnel all inquiries these days.  They don’t have enough employees in their call centers to answer the phones usually; I would definitely not recommend you try calling.  I’m sure there will be some sort of extension for those who already filed using the wrong forms.  The Obama administration is great about accommodating people with extensions.  It will be all over the internet, just be sure you are looking to reputable news sources for you info.

There are always ways to describe Obamacare (or IRS) blunders so that it highlights the administration’s incompetence:

The White House tells us in a classic Friday news dump that nearly one million Americans could see their tax refunds delayed because of this president’s inability to implement his own law.

~ Diane Black, Rep Tenn

Not a full-blown “spin” though, in my opinion, because they very well could see their tax refunds delayed.  Years from now we will be able to look back, with experience and time giving us a better perspective, and determine if this is one of several innocent mistakes or if the government really did fail in the administration of Obamacare.  I know a lot of people believe we can make that call now, and would say that it has been a complete flop, not only the administration of the new law, but the whole idea of it in the first place.

 
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More than half of Stanislaus’ FTB non-filers live in Modesto

The Franchise Tax Board is beginning its annual force filing season. Haven’t heard of force filing season? If you are one of the million plus people that the FTB is currently investigating, you will soon.

Force filing season is where a taxing government seeks to file an estimated tax return for you, when the government did not receive a tax return from you. The procedure is a profitable one. Last year the FTB collected more than $715 million through its force filing investigation and assessment efforts.

Since we’re now in tax season, the FTB knows that you should be thinking about your taxes. So, this is the time of year that the Franchise Tax Board notifies taxpayers that it didn’t receive a tax return from a particular tax payer and that it believes that a tax return should have been filed.

If you live in Stanislaus County, in Modesto particularly, you may need to contact a Modesto tax attorney in short time. Of the 6,696 Stanislaus taxpayers that the FTB is investigating, 3,570 of them live in Modesto. That’s more than half of the Stanislaus taxpayers that will likely need a Modesto tax attorney.

The first step in the force filing investigation is for the Franchise Tax Board to identify social security numbers where a tax return was not received by the tax return deadline. The FTB then compares those social security numbers to information provided by banks, employers, local governments, the IRS, and other third parties. If the Franchise Tax Board believes that you were required to file a California tax return, but did not do so, you will receive a tax return demand letter.

So if you are one of the 3,570 Modesto residents that recently received one of these tax demand letters, or one of the remaining 3,126 who live elsewhere in Stanislaus County, you have a potential tax debt looming. Our Modesto tax law firm may be able to help you. Speak directly to one of our Modesto tax attorneys by calling us at (209) 248-7157.

 
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Will IRS Lighten up on Structuring?

By law, you must report to the IRS bank transactions of $10,000 or more.  It is one government tool for curbing white collar crimes.  Manipulating deposits so that they come just under the reporting requirement is called “structuring,” and it is illegal.  The IRS can seize bank accounts without notice to the account holder when structuring is suspected, and they have done so freely in the past, even if the money is obtained legally.

It is obvious to Commissioner Koskinen that this policy is way too harsh.  Today the commissioner apologized to taxpayers who have not been treated fairly “under the code.”  I don’t know how to take this apology.  It seems a little half-hearted to me.  It’s like saying, “we are sorry for seizing the accounts of law-abiding citizens, but we were only doing what we are permitted to do under the code.”  And it’s not necessarily a win for taxpayers until some changes are made to the code.  Semantics aside, it looks like a step in the right direction.

 
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Short Hold Times at IRS Today

Modesto, CA

I only spent about two minutes on the phone with the IRS today.  That’s a first.

I was on and off just like that, and then I went on with my day.  The reason why it was so quick is because THEY DIDN’T TAKE MY CALL.  You know things are bad when they won’t even allow you to wait on hold.  Last week we were experiencing two hour hold times.  Actually, it could have been longer, but the longest I waited (and still didn’t get help) was two hours.  But this week they don’t even want you to bother holding.  After selecting my topic (“discuss a client’s tax account”) the recording on the Practitioner Priority Line states something like “We’re sorry, but due to extremely high call volumes and the topic you requested, we are unable to take your call at this time.  Please try again later, or on the following business day.”

It has always bothered me when I am in a store asking for help or waiting to make a purchase (almost any type of store; they’re all basically the same) and then the phone rings, and the worker immediately picks up the phone and helps the caller despite the fact that I am present in the store.  I have noticed that they will normally give preference to the caller over the person who is there in person.  Not so with the IRS.

Well, to be fair, I don’t think they get foot traffic at the IRS call centers.  I’m pretty sure that the call centers are just for calls and the walk-in centers are just for walk-ins and appointments.  But realizing this only makes me madder that they can’t answer my call.  They don’t have to divide their attention between callers and walk-ins.  There’s no excuse!  HOWEVER, as much as I love to complain about the IRS and the pathetic state of their call centers, I like my chances on the phone even better than at our local office.

If anyone near Modesto wants to take their chances at the IRS local office, be my guest.  They are at 1700 Standiford Ave. and they are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4:30.  And the Sacramento office is still at 4330 Watt Ave.  Same hours of operation.

 
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California FTB frustrated the poop out of someone this week

Are you frustrated with California’s Franchise Tax Board? The Sacramento tax collectors at the Franchise Tax Board must have frustrated, or possibly scared the poop out of someone recently with their collection efforts. For obvious reasons, in a story not widely publicized this week, someone recently took FTB tax relief to a lower level.

Earlier this week a package sent to the Sacramento FTB office containing a brown liquid with a strong odor required the Sacramento Metro Fire Department to be summoned. Franchise Tax Board personnel, possibly working to assess and collect taxes against the sender of the anonymous package, had to emerge from the bowels of their Sacramento taxing office as a level two hazmat emergency caused an evacuation. The cause … dog poop!

Based on the stress and sleepless nights caused by FTB tax audits and Franchise Tax Board tax collections, I’m surprised it was only dog poop that was sent. Apparently, you can order a variety of crap through the internet. Literally, ranging from elephant crap to cow dung.

Obviously, these types of tax relief tactics are not tax relief at all. They’re a useless waste of time and dangerous. The sender will also likely be in more trouble now than they would have been had they used actual tax law strategy to resolve a tax problem and build a collection defense. Using legitimate legal means to resolve a tax debt will often relieve the stress caused by the taxing agency whether it’s the FTB or the Internal Revenue Service.

 
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The IRS is Confused Enough on their Own; Don’t Make it Worse

Modesto, CA

Good thing I have this blog as a place to vent my frustrations with the IRS.  It has been like my therapist over the years.

I can really identify with Robert Wood’s article today about 1099 forms.  It was obviously written from the perspective of a seasoned (and perhaps a bit jaded) tax veteran who doesn’t really trust the IRS to get things right.  Basically Mr. Wood is of the opinion that if you do not receive a 1099 that you expect to receive, you might want to think twice before calling and asking for it.  Why?  Because you don’t need the actual form in order to file your taxes, as long as you were conscientious enough to track all of your income independently.  You just need the figures.  And if you happen to request a copy of something that was already issued, or is already queued up to be issued, there is a real chance that the 1099 could be sent out twice.  Of course if you get a duplicate 1099, you are smart enough to recognize it as a duplicate, but the same cannot necessarily be said for the IRS.  And if the IRS counts double the income, then there’s a problem.

Yes, it can be very frustrating dealing with the IRS.  All that hype about how difficult the 2015 tax season will be — I don’t think it’s hype.  When calling IRS service centers, I am witnessing hold times that are longer than I can ever remember.  I recently spent an hour and a half on hold with three different phone reps trying to get through to the Collections Department (ACS).  I dialed ACS directly, but each time I was told that I had not reached collections.  I think what happens is, if the phone lines are extra busy, callers are automatically re-routed to non-ACS service centers.  But the system doesn’t alert you when it is doing this, so you are forced to wait until somebody picks up.  In my experience, the Practitioner Priority Service line is not any better.

I’m done venting now, thanks for listening.   See you next week my therapist-blog.

 
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New Modesto tax relief announced

The City of Modesto recently announced details of a new tax relief and cash incentive program to lure businesses to downtown Modesto. The tax breaks apply variably to new businesses and existing businesses.

The new Modesto tax relief program will be available to businesses located on 10th Street between K Street and H Street; 11th Street between K Street and I Street; and J Street between 9th Street and McHenry Avenue.

New Modesto retail businesses will be eligible for a full refund of Modesto City mill taxes and local sales taxes for the first year of business. Existing Modesto retail businesses that extend their hours will be eligible for a refund of Modesto local sales tax only collected during the extended hours for one year.

The City of Modesto is also promoting cash incentives for job creation in the downtown Modesto area for both retail and non-retail businesses. Other incentives are available for new developments and physical improvements. Full details of Modesto’s business and development incentive program are available on the City of Modesto’s website.

With an overall improving economy it’s good to see local government risk a short-term loss in tax revenue for the long-term impact new businesses may bring. Hopefully for Modesto, the gamble pays off.

 
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Best IRS phone scam – 844-271-8465

I recently received an email from a tax client with a very serious tax problem that my tax law firm has been handling. My tax client was very concerned that the Internal Revenue Service left him a threating message on his home telephone number. The telephone number that my client was to call back to speak with the IRS was 844-271-8465. Since my client actually has a serious tax problem, and since he was smart enough to hire a tax attorney to fight for IRS tax relief, he rightfully contacted me. Based on the stage of his tax problem, he wouldn’t be receiving any calls from IRS collections.

I told him that it was likely a scam. He was adamant that it was not. He said that he called the number and it was definitely IRS collections and he hung up immediately. Out of curiosity I called the number. When calling, the number did sound like the IRS collection line to the untrained ear. The call started with a “welcome to the IRS” prompt. “Push one for a business issue, two for a personal issue” or something of the like. The recording sounded like it was actually recorded from a phone calling the Internal Revenue Service. Then, the phone went immediately to a person without me needing to push a button. Because I didn’t have to wait an hour or two to speak with anyone, this was a huge red flag that this was not an IRS number.

The person who answered my call had a very thick accent, didn’t introduce themselves or provide me with a federal identification number. The person who answered the phone instantly raised his voice and told me that I owed the IRS and I had to pay him. I found this laughable because I was calling from a blocked telephone number and I didn’t tell him who I was. I asked him for his name, identification number and what Internal Revenue Service collection unit he was in. He fumbled a bit and said, “um … you can call me ‘Jack’”. He also told me that he didn’t have to provide me with his identification number and again demanded a payment.

Based on the absurdity of this joker, I’m surprised that anyone would be duped by this scam. But, apparently some people are indeed being scammed. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, they are aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million as a result of this type of IRS scam.

The IRS has been warning of such scams for the past couple years now. I think I have had a call or two myself, between other scams to update my computer, or lend money to a Nigerian prince. But this is the first scam that I’ve experienced where the voice prompts for the number imitates the actual Internal Revenue Service collection number voice prompt. I’m sure it’s been going on for a while as the IRS reports that the caller identification for these numbers also reveal that the number belongs to the Internal Revenue Service or other law enforcement.

These scammers may be scary and persuasive if you, like my tax client, actually have a legitimate IRS tax matter you are trying to resolve. However, if you know that you don’t have tax issues you should not be swayed by these scammer’s tactics. If you’re not sure if you have tax problems, this may be the time to confirm whether you have any lingering tax issues. Our tax attorneys are located in Modesto, California and Sacramento, California. We can help you determine if you have a real tax issue or help you get the tax relief appropriate for your situation. Please call us at (800) 454-7043 for your free consultation.

 
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