IRS Voluntary Classification Settlement Program is Broken

Sometimes employers misclassify their workers as independent contractors (self-employed) when, in fact, they are employees.  And when I say “sometimes” I mean millions of times.  It is very common.  I’m sure some of them do it unknowingly, but I am also certain that some employers do it because they don’t want the responsibility and costs associated with having actual employees.  The difference is that employers must withhold and/or pay a number of taxes when a worker is also an employee, including income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment.

The IRS would love it if taxpayers (including employers) would fall in line with the IRS’ dreams of “voluntary compliance,” but one of the things they do when this doesn’t happen is they set up programs to entice them to come clean on their own.  The IRS doesn’t call it an amnesty program; I don’t think they particularly like that word.  In fact, I put the word “amnesty” in the search box of the IRS website and exactly two results came up, and both of them were in the context of a state amnesty program.  The word tends to have the connotation of getting out of paying taxes or making use of a legal loophole, and the IRS really doesn’t want to suggest that.

But I can use it.  I like the word.  The IRS has an amnesty program for reporting offshore accounts called the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.  And the IRS has an amnesty program for coming clean on worker classification issues called the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program.  But the VCSP has been very poorly administered over the years.  It appears that just about every aspect of the program has some kind of flaw.  Even the most basic things are not working, like correctly determining eligibility for the program, monitoring compliance with the program, and analyzing program performance.  If you want to read about how screwed up VCSP is, be my guest.  Full report here.

Business Use of the Home: New Option for 2013

photo via

Many self-employed taxpayers work from home.  But not all of them can deduct expenses for the “business use of their home.”  The tax worksheet (Form 8829) may be only one page long, but it’s 43 lines of mind-numbing detail (at least for one more year) that you are better off skipping if you see that you don’t meet the threshhold requirements.

In order to qualify for the “business use of the home” deduction, there must be a section (or sections) of your home which you use exclusively and regularly as your principle place of business.  The deduction amount is based on square footage dedicated to this purpose. Therefore, no matter how often you find yourself on your laptop in that 3′ x 3′ area of your mancave occupied by the Lazyboy, if you ocassionally flip on the TV from that same spot, or host superbowl parties or such, you cannot satisfy the “exclusivity” prong of the test.

The good news is the IRS recently announced a new simplified option for “business use of the home” that will apply to 2013 taxes (during the 2014 filing season).  Taxpayers will be able to opt for a straight $5.00 per square food deduction (capped at $1,500 per year) instead of stressing over dreaded Form 8829.  It is believed that more taxapayers will take advantage of the tax relief afforded by this deduction and will save taxpayers something like 1.6 million hours of work and recordkeeping annually.  However, the basic exclusivity requirments explained above will remain in place.

Are IRS Audits Random?

As tax relief attorneys, we frequently get the question, “How likely is it that I will be audited?” or “Does the IRS audit people randomly?”

IRS audits are not completely random. You may have heard that the self-employed are a more common target than wage-earners.  This is true.  Income reported on a Schedule C is, according to some, one of the most likely types of returns (or parts of returns) to be audited. According to Forbes columnist, Robert Wood, the sole proprietorship is one of the most tempting targets for the IRS.  Formation of a legal entity like a partnership or a corporation may add complexity to your business, but it is not as routinely audited as the sole proprietorship.

According to the IRS, cases are selected for audit based on a variety of factors, including statistical formula, document matching, and related examinations.

Nobody can audit-proof your return. There is always a chance that the IRS will scrutinize your income and your business filings. But there are certainly steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of an audit.  One of those steps is to simply avoid filing as a sole prop.

Heightened Enforcement of 1099 Compliance

Politicians are desperately trying to increase revenue without raising taxes.  One way to do this is to beef up enforcement of the tax laws already on the books.  According to the IRS, the best place to focus these efforts is on small businesses and their tax obligations, specifically their 1099 reporting requirements.  The IRS has always had a more difficult time getting money out of the self-employed.

IRS Commissioner, Doug Shulman, recently told a Congressional committee: “the thing you have to remember about the [tax] gap is it’s like a deep shale oil reserve, it’s not money sitting there that’s easily tapped, in many ways we have tapped the easy money… the real answer, the place where we have leverage, is information reporting.”

What this means for the regular taxpayer is that the IRS is going to be furiously ramping up its collection efforts in the coming months.  The government seems eager to pour more money into the IRS.  According to Commissioner Shulman, each 1 percent improvement in compliance will produce an added $20 billion in revenues.  For more details, click here.