First-time Penalty Abatement in California

What kills people when they have an IRS tax debt is the interest and penalties.  If you don’t file and pay your taxes when they become due, you can eventually find yourself owing much more than the original tax assessment.  It is possible to negotiate an abatement of penalties, but it isn’t always easy, especially for “repeat offenders.”

By “repeat offender” I mean those who have a history of non-compliance, (i.e., failure to file on time and/or failure to pay on time).  The IRS treats repeat offenders differently.  If you have no missing returns and no prior penalties for the preceding three (3) years, then you may qualify for “first-time abatement penalty relief.”  First-time abatement may be granted without consideration of individual circumstances and excuses.  However, if you do not meet the criteria for first-time abatement, then your only recourse would “reasonable cause penalty relief,” which can be very difficult to prove.  Chances are, what you consider a reasonable excuse for not filing on time or not paying on time will not be considered reasonable by the IRS.

The California Legislature is currently considering adoption of a bill that would provide a first-time abatement option for California taxpayers.  Under AB 1777, the Franchise Tax Board would give preference to non-repeat offenders like the IRS.  The requirements would be as follows:

  1. No prior timeliness penalties imposed for current year and four (4) prior years;
  2. The taxpayer has paid all current tax due, or is in a valid installment agreement;
  3. The taxpayer is otherwise compliant with FTB filing requirements

As you can see, the first-time California late-filing penalty abatement, as proposed, would be more restrictive than the Federal version, as it requires a slightly longer history of compliance.  It seems like California looks to the IRS for guidance in administration of its tax laws, and then tries to figure out how it can make things just a little bit tougher for California taxpayer.

Lawmakers Seek to Punish IRS and Reward TIGTA

A House subcommittee led by Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) agreed on a spending measure that would cut the IRS’ budget by 24 percent in 2014.  And on the other side of the coin, the bill would mean a $5.5 million budget increase for TIGTA (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration), the agency that has brought to light so many of the recent IRS missteps.

The bill is meant to “crack down,” “clean house,” and otherwise encourage the agency to be more careful and responsible in its administration of the tax laws.  It would also specifically address most of the problems we have read about in the news these last several months:

  • political targeting
  • training videos
  • lavish conferences
  • employee bonuses

Basically it would withhold funding until the IRS implements TIGTA recommendations.  TIGTA’s primary responsibility is to keep an eye on the activities and procedures at the Internal Revenue Service.  They are continually conducting audits, reporting on their results, and offering “recommendations” to the IRS when it is shown that they have fallen short.  Well, lawmakers are now hoping to make certain recommendations mandatory — mandatory in the sense that if they don’t make the changes then they won’t get full funding.

But the bill still has a long ways to go: first to the full Appropriations Committee, then to the House floor, then on to the Democrat-controlled Senate where it will face plenty of opposition.