Stopping Interest on Proposed Liabilities

You may not know this unless you’ve been through it, but when the IRS makes proposed adjustments to your taxes, interest begins to accrue beginning on the tax return due date.  And it is an even lesser known fact that one can completely stop interest from accruing on proposed tax balances by making what is called a “remittance.”  There’s a special term for it because we’re talking about proposed liabilities (before anything has officially been assessed).  After taxes are assessed, it is simply called a payment.

Why would anyone want to make a remittance?  The primary reason for making a remittance is that the taxpayer plans on disputing the adjustment, which could take a long time (especially if taken through the appeals process), and the taxpayer could potentially be on the hook for quite a bit of interest.  Paying a remittance sufficient to cover the total tax, penalties, and accrued interest will stop interest from running on the date it is received.  And if the taxpayer is successful in getting the liability reduced, the IRS will either return the excess or apply it to other tax liabilities.

There are two types of remittances: a deposit and an advance payment.  If you clearly designate your payment as a deposit, the IRS must return it to you, upon request, unless the IRS has already applied it against an assessed liability.  You may even qualify for interest being paid to you for the time that the IRS held your funds.  To qualify, you must provide a written statement that includes the tax type, tax year, and a copy of the 30-day letter.  An advance payment, on the other hand, is treated just like a regular tax payment and will only be refunded to you if you make a valid claim for a refund.

This is all fully explained in IRS Notice 1016 (Feb. 2006) which is often included as an insert in various IRS correspondence.  Be careful not to confuse this process with the cessation of interest on assessed tax liabilities.  The procedures above apply to proposed liabilities only.  Who knows how many of my clients have received this insert and read the title only (“How to Stop Interest on Your Account”) and assumed there is a way to stop interest on their assessed liabilities without paying in full.  The IRS should probably modify the title of this insert so that it is absolutely clear.

 

 
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IRS Makes Plans with Private Sector to Curb Future Cyber Attacks

John Koskinen, Commissioner of the IRS, announced yesterday in a press conference that his agency is making plans to join forces with states and the entire private tax industry to combat cyber tax criminals like the ones who recently accessed taxpayer data through the “Get Transcript” application of the IRS website.  It’s the whole “it takes a village” concept applied to the ongoing battle to protect sensitive information on the internet. Government and industry plan to share information in ways they have never done before.

As a tax relief attorney, I don’t know a lot about computers and information technology.  If the top level guys at the IRS are IT ninjas, I’m probably a yellow belt noodle maker.  But commingling of IRS and private sector data makes me nervous, if that’s what they’re talking about doing.  I understand the desire to cooperate on this monumental task of stopping international cyber-criminal syndicates, but I feel like a little separation between public and private sector computer systems is healthy.  It seems to my naive mind that the more connected they are, in the event of a large-scale hack, the more likely we all go down together.

Here are a few nice words from Koskinen’s press conference:

[A]ny organization in the public or private sectors with IT systems and sensitive data faces a battle that seems to grow every day. The nation’s tax system is no different….No single organization can go it alone….None of us has a silver bullet to defeat this enemy….Working together we can achieve results that none of us, working alone, could accomplish.

Such an American thing to do, don’t you think?  Everyone joining forces and working together to defeat a common enemy and prevent a crisis.  I hope this is a step in the right direction and not just the IRS telling us what we want to hear.  The upside to all this for the IRS is that the next time their systems are compromised, maybe they can share the blame with businesses and states.

 
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Could the Latest IRS Data Breach have been Prevented?

The head of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), J. Russell George, testified before Congress today concerning the latest data breach at the IRS involving the “Get Transcript” application.  At this point we have some preliminary estimates on the damage done by this cyberattack: $39 million in fraudulent refunds.  And while George stopped short of saying that it all could have been prevented, he clearly did place some blame on the IRS.  Every year for the past several years, TIGTA has identified weaknesses in IRS security systems and makes “recommendations” for improving them.  As of March 2015, there were around 50 problem areas that still required attention.

The problem is that most of the time these “recommendations” are simply acknowledged by the IRS and taken into consideration, and nothing further.  In other words, the IRS will agree with the recommendation but not take the additional steps necessary to correct the problems.  I have been frustrated by this pattern for years and wished TIGTA somehow had the authority to require action, rather than kindly make recommendations.

IRS Commissioner, John Koskinen, was also present during George’s Congressional testimony and you can probably guess his response: budget cuts have hampered the IRS’ ability to combat cyber criminals and has kept the IRS from upgrading their computers and cybersecurity technology.  But after realizing that he had painted himself into a corner, he quickly tempered his remarks:

Not every problem is a budget problem, so I don’t want to wander around town every time we have a challenge saying, “Ah, if we had more money, we’d fix it,” … [t]his is a technology issue, not a budget [issue]…

The other part of his response was that implementing TIGTA’s recommendations would not have prevented this particular cyberattack.  It’s apples and oranges.  There was apparently something different about this data breach; it was very sophisticated and was orchestrated by multiple groups located in foreign countries.  According to Koskinen, it was a “sophisticated international syndicate” that was responsible for this latest data breach.  In other words, this was a tricky group of criminals and nothing could have stopped them.

Don’t believe it.  We know the IRS’ track record and they make a lot of mistakes.  There is a reason why they immediately took that part of their website down following last week’s announcement.  I am also very skeptical of the statement I keep seeing that the main IRS computer systems were not compromised in this cyberattack.  Remember when top IRS officials were certain that Lois Lerner’s emails were not recoverable?  There are times (and I see this on a daily basis in my communications with IRS rank & file) when the IRS does not appear to be all that familiar with its own systems.  We’ll have to keep a close eye on this story.  I would not be surprised if more information is discovered in the coming weeks that calls into question this statement about IRS’s main computer system.  I hope I am wrong.

 
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IRS Downplays Latest Data Breach

The IRS recently announced the unauthorized access into 100,000 tax accounts by cyber-criminals through the “Get Transcript” application on the IRS website.  Virtually every word in Commissioner Koskinen’s statement is calculated to either downplay the seriousness of the breach, deflect the blame, or put a Band-Aid on it, almost to the point that it causes increased suspicion.  It’s like when someone begins a statement with the words, “to be honest,” and you can’t help but wonder if they really are.  I will list everything the Commissioner said that could be taken that way and, of course, let you read between the lines:

  1. The information that allowed the criminals access was obtained from an outside source
  2. The crime was very sophisticated
  3. Access to “Get Transcript” is only obtained through a multi-layer authentication process
  4. The matter is under review by TIGTA and IRS’ Criminal Investigation division (CI)
  5. IRS main computer systems were not affected & remain secure
  6. Although there were 100,000 successful data breach attempts, there were another 100,000 that were unsuccessful
  7. All 200,000 affected taxpayer accounts will get letters from the IRS explaining what has happened
  8. IRS is offering free credit monitoring to those whose accounts were successfully accessed
  9. “Get Transcript” application has been shut down temporarily

And then there was the obligatory and generic “make-them-feel-good” statement:

[T]he IRS takes the security of taxpayer data extremely seriously, and we are working aggressively to protect affected taxpayers and continue to strengthen our protocols.

I totally understand the need to keep the comments positive in this kind of situation.  Any corporation would do the same sort of damage control in the form of some similar carefully worded, lawyer-drafted statement.  We definitely don’t want panic spreading across the nation in response to something like this.  But we are not stupid either.  If this data breach were really as benign as they want us to believe then why did they take the application down?  As much as the IRS has tried to deflect the blame for the data breach, I think they know that there are ways to tighten up security.  Nothing spells this out more clearly than the fact that the IRS immediately deactivated the application to fix it and make it more secure.

 
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Clinton Foundation Under Fire for Tax Errors

Filing an amended tax return is normally not that big of a deal.  It is not uncommon for folks to make mistakes or leave out information on their Form 1040 personal income tax filing.  To amend a previously filed Form 1040, you need to complete a “1040x.”  If you want to make corrections on multiple tax years, you need a separate 1040x for each year and you need to mail them in separate envelopes to ensure they are processed correctly.  The basic structure of a 1040x is pretty straightforward: Column A shows the figures as reported on your original 1040, Column B shows the corrected figures, and Column C shows the difference between the two.  Furthermore, barring other relevant facts, the filing of a 1040x does not automatically put you into a high audit risk group.

The problem with Hillary Clinton and her foundation is there are a few “other relevant factors” that have placed their actions in the spotlight (catch up on the story here).  For one, we’re talking about million dollar mistakes, meaning they put “zero,” when the correct number was something in the tens of millions of dollars range.  Kind of hard to swallow, right?  And similar “mistakes” were made three years in a row.  In the words of charity law experts:

It [is] not remarkable for a charity to refile an erroneous return once in a while, but for a large, global charity to refile three or four years in a row [is] highly unusual.

Now House republicans are calling for an IRS investigation.  Most letters to Commissioner John Koskinen would probably be ignored or referred out to a different IRS department in typical IRS style, but I’m guessing this one will get adequate attention.

 
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Board of Equalization is not of fan of Denny’s in California’s central valley

Have you been to one of the Denny’s operated by Abdul Halim? He operates three Denny’s restaurants located in Lathrop, Manteca, and Stockton. If you have a craving for a Moons Over My Hammy and live in the California’s central valley, you may soon be out of luck.

California’s Board of Equalization recently publicized its version of a perp walk. Abdul Halim, of Tracy, California will serve 10 years formal probation, perform 3,500 hours of community service, and pay $790,428 in restitution for pleading guilty to two felony and one misdemeanor count of sales tax evasion. The ordered restitution includes the sales tax, penalties, and interest owed to the BOE.

California’s Board of Equalization is charged with the duty of collecting and enforcing payment of California sales tax. BOE Investigators determined that Mr. Halim failed to pay nearly $525,000 in sales tax collected from Denny’s customers between 2007 and 2011.

If you need help fighting the BOE in California’s central valley or in the greater Sacramento area, call our law firm for a free consultation. We may be able to help save your business and keep you from being the next “perp” publicized by the BOE.

 
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FTB Dishes out Penalties in Droves

If you’re familiar with the way the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) operates in the process of collecting delinquent taxes, then you know that they impose a bunch of different penalties.  There are some common sense penalties, like the penalty for filing late and the penalty for paying late.  But there are some other more obscure penalties that may surprise you:

1. Cost Recovery Fees

If the FTB has to do anything to collect the tax due (besides sending you a bill), then they are likely going to charge some sort of collection fee.  And when I say “anything,” I mean anything, such as filing a tax lien, seizing and selling property, intercepting a federal tax refund, filing enforcement, and even simply assigning your case to the collections department.  The fee is supposed to cover the theoretical costs of these revenue collection efforts and I’m sure are rarely commensurate with the actual collection costs.

2. Dishonored Payment Penalty

If your check bounces, or your FTB payment is otherwise rejected due to insufficient funds, then FTB will impose a $25 penalty.  If your payment is $1,250 or more, then the penalty is 2 percent of the payment amount.

3. Mandatory e-Pay Penalty

Certain large payments over $20,000, or payments made where the total tax liability exceeds $80,000, must be made electronically according to California law.  FTB imposes a 1 percent penalty for failure to comply.

4. Demand to File Penalty

If you don’t file your tax return by the filing deadline, then FTB charges a 25 percent late filing penalty.  If you still do not file after FTB demands that you file, then they will impose a 25 percent penalty on top of the initial failure to file penalty.  This is particularly brutal because they can actually impose penalties and interest even if your tax return shows that a refund is due!

5. Estimated Tax Penalty

This is the penalty imposed  for failure to pay an estimated tax installment.  It also applies when you pay late or underpay.

6. Post-Amnesty Penalty

Taxpayers who have been granted amnesty for any particular tax year must not subsequently owe any new or additional tax, otherwise… you guessed it, another penalty.

 
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Florida Man Charged with Violent Threats against IRS

There are some pretty fierce-sounding gangster names in the history of American white collar crime.  You’ve got your “Greasy Thumb,” your “Pistol Pete,” “The Butcher,” and “Big Tuna,” just to name a few.  I gotta believe that some of these guys imagined their thuggish names in print or revelled in the thought of becoming a household name.  But the latest tax criminal out of South Florida clearly didn’t give his nickname much thought.

“The Squirrel” borrowed an acquaintance’s phone to call the FBI and inform them that a nearby IRS building would “go up in smoke” in two hours.  The police traced the call to the phone’s owner who thought the perp’s name was “The Rabbit,” (obviously not a memorable enough name) but when he was found, he was quick to correct the authorities, telling them that his true moniker was actually The Squirrel (because that’s so much better, right?).  I can imagine him spelling it out for the FBI and making sure they got it right.  Maybe this is just me, but if I’m caught and I’m going to go through the trouble of correcting my thug name, I’m going to come up with something a little better than “Squirrel.”

And, although he did confess to placing that call to the FBI, the lawyer in me sees at least a couple harmless interpretations of the phrase “go up in smoke.”  Maybe he saw a vision of the place burning down and he called to warn them.  Maybe.  By the way, Florida seems to be a gathering place for not just anti-tax folks, but the serious IRS-haters and tax criminals.  I’m still not sure why.

If this article has inspired you to work on your own nickname, you might want to check out this gangsta name generator, although I personally have to question the results as mine came out “La Llorona,” which I think means “the crybaby” (feminine form).  Gangstaname.com generated a more accurate name, I think: “Machete Masta Crab Whacka.”

 
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IRS Fails Taxpayers Again in 2015

Based on the interim report published by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the IRS achieved a 38.5 percent Level of Service and a 24.6 average hold time on IRS phone lines during the 2015 filing season.  I don’t really know what Level of Service entails, but I know that 38 percent is really only good if we’re talking batting average.  You may be wondering, “How do you get such a low score?  I could probably score higher than 38 percent on a test by guessing.”  Well, this is how: you get 45.6 million phone calls and you answer only 4.2 million of them.  BAM.  Done.

Read the report.  It will make you cringe.

 
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