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 FTB 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.  The California tax underpayment penalty imposed by the FTB is 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.

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.

IA Eligibility Requirements

Who is eligible to pay back taxes to the California Franchise Tax Board via an installment agreement?  It can be a little complicated.

It’s difficult not to compare FTB and IRS collection tactics.  Both almost always first demand/request payment in full.  The collection notices are worded in a way that if you don’t read beyond the first sentence, it will appear that full payment is your only option.  And when you call them up, that’s the first thing out of their mouth.  IRS will usually say “Do you have the ability to pay your tax bill in full?” If you cannot write them a check, then the discussion typically shifts to what is required for an installment agreement.  However, the FTB will often (at least at first) demand full payment without regard for your ability to pay and then very reluctantly tiptoe around the option of paying back your taxes in installments.

The eligibility requirements for an FTB installment agreement are more stringent than the IRS requirements.  First and foremost, it is very difficult to obtain an installment agreement with FTB if you have an active earnings withholding order (EWO).  An EWO is just another word for “wage garnishment” or “wage levy.”  Once the FTB has brandished this collection tool, and they have a steady stream of payments coming in, it is very difficult to convince them that they should trade these “guaranteed” payments for a promise to pay from the taxpayer.

Like the IRS, the FTB does require that all back tax returns have been filed so there is no question as to how much is owed.  Also, like the IRS, FTB requires that the entire tax debt be paid off within a specified time frame.  They give as much as 60 months for some tax debts, but only 36 months for others.  The IRS will allow a full 72 months for tax debts under $50,000.

Both FTB and IRS recognize certain events that will cause an installment agreement to default.  Some of these events include (a) failure to make timely payments, (b) failure to timely file a future tax return, and (c) incurring a new tax debt.

Whether you owe FTB or IRS (or both) it would be a mistake to think that you can always just request an installment agreement to avoid enforced collection action.  It’s not always that simple.

Kookie or Not, You Still Have to Pay Your Taxes

photo via starpulse.com

In his Twitter profile, Stephen Baldwin describes himself as “an actor, author, Jesus Freak, Radio Talk Show Host, and the kookiest of the Baldwin brothers.”  Stephen, also the youngest of the Baldwin brothers, was arrested in New York yesterday for failing to address his tax problem properly.  Ok, that’s a nice way to put it.  He is being charged with failure to file (and pay) his 2008-2010 New York state tax returns.

The state of New York is without question trying to drive home a bold message here. You can’t live in NY and take advantage of the its public benefits (especially in this economic climate) and expect everyone else to pay the bills.  I am not familiar with the New York state taxing authority, but it is uncommon for the IRS to take such a heavy-handed approach with similarly-situated taxpayers.  However, the cardinal rule is that you should always file your taxes, even if you know you can’t pay.

If the Kook portion of Baldwin’s persona is responsible for getting him into this criminal tax debt debacle, then maybe the Jesus Freak will be able to set him free.  Yesterday he found time to address his followers in a somewhat penitent tweet:

Thnx4all the prayers, Been trying2 work this out4some time! Want2correct this&of course pay what I owe! Difficult situation. God is good.

Another Fresh Start Gem: State Tax Installment Payments

Filing an Offer in Compromise (OIC) can be quite an ordeal if you’re not prepared.  If the IRS decides your offer is worth considering, then they will look very carefully at every aspect of your finances, including assets, income, and expenses.   The result of this analysis is your “reasonable collection potential” (RCP) — the single most important factor in determining whether or not your offer is accepted.

When the IRS looks at expenses, they determine which ones can be allowed, and of the expenses that can be allowed, how much can be allowed.  Generally speaking, more/greater expenses result in a lower RCP and a lower offer. 

Formerly:  The IRS did not allow payments made pursuant to a state or local tax installment agreement (IA) in the RCP analysis.  The underlying reasoning for this was that the laws of the federal government trump the laws of state and local governments when it comes to collection of revenue.  The IRS simply ignored the practical realities of the situation.

Currently:  Under the Fresh Start program, the IRS will allow state or local tax installment agreement payments — not all of them all of the time, but compared to the way the IRS used to treat them, this is a step in the right direction and very good news for those in need of tax relief.

Fee Increase for California Installment Agreements

Starting October 26, the Franchise Tax Board will be raising the fees for installment agreements as follows:

Personal Income Tax Installment Agreements: $34 (previously $20)

Business Entity Installment Agreements: $50 (previously $35)

See the Installment Agreement information page for more information, but note that it has not been updated with the new amounts yet.

Fees are still subject to change (again) without notice.

Extension on CA State Taxes Ends October 17th

The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) issued a news release on Friday reminding Californians of the extended tax return deadline and also siting some interesting statistics.

Like the IRS, the California tax authority does cut some slack for procrastinators. And like the IRS automatic extension, the California version also comes to an end on October 17th. Sometimes the tax relief most needed is just some more time. The FTB tries to make it as convenient as possible to both file and pay your state taxes.

Filing CA Taxes

  • ReadyReturns (partially completed returns just waiting for the taxpayer to complete online)
  • CalFile free e-file program
  • other free or fee-based e-file services listed on FTB’s website
  • view wage & income information online with MyFTB Account

Paying CA Taxes

And now for the statistics. This year over 1.5 million Californians requested an automatic extension and will have to file by the October 17th deadline. This actually eases the burden on the state in April by spreading out the work a little more evenly throughout the year. By now California taxpayers have filed more than 14.7 million personal income tax returns of which 11.7 million were e-filed. Also, the state has issued 9.5 million refunds totaling $8.1 billion.

FTB Live Chat

Starting today the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is expanding its Live Chat program to business entity questions. Live Chat is a web-based communication application that was first launched about 6 months ago and is open to both taxpayers and practitioners. It is a quick way to get answers to general state tax questions — quicker, apparently, than waiting on the phone. However, account-specific questions will not be addressed in this manner. If you have questions or issues to address about a specific tax account, you must go through the normal channels.  Live Chat is available 8:00am to 5:00pm Monday – Friday. Check it out here.