New Commish, 2014 Tax Season, EITC

A few noteworthy events caught my eye in the world of tax relief today.

First, the Senate approved Obama’s nomination of John Koskinen in a 59-36 vote, confirming him to fill the top position at the IRS; a position that has been vacant for over a year.  Commissioner Koskinen will take his post beginning next week and we’ll definitely keep a close eye on him to see if he will fulfill his promise of restoring public trust to the agency that has been fighting a dismal public perception for years.  Obviously, this is not something that he’ll be able to do overnight.

Second, the IRS announced that the opening of the 2014 tax season will be on January 31st.  This is when the IRS will begin accepting 2013 tax returns.  The IRS encourages taxpayers to file electronically.  If you are due a refund, this is definitely the quickest way to get it.  Also, the IRS reminds us that we always have the option of requesting an automatic six-month extension using Form 4868.  The IRS tends to encourage extensions because it spreads out the influx of tax returns so that things don’t get too bottlenecked.

And finally, TIGTA, the IRS watchdog, reported on increasing abuse of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by tax preparers.  The IRS has always had a problem with EITC abuse and fraud because it is a refundable tax credit that can mean money in the pocket of whoever claims it and qualifies (or appears to qualify).  TIGTA noted that too many tax preparers fail to do their due diligence by completing and attaching Form 8867, the Paid Preparer’s Earned Income Credit Checklist.

IRS Return Preparer Program

After yesterday’s comments from the Commish (that’s IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman) at the AICPA fall meeting, there is reason for some tax preparers to be concerned. They have to be careful that their desire to offer taxpayers maximum tax relief and maximum refunds does not override their desire to perform their duties ethically.

Boiled down to its essence, the program will ensure a basic level of competency for return preparers while enabling us to focus on finding unscrupulous preparers.

~ Douglas Shulman, IRS Commissioner

The enforcement segment of the IRS Return Preparer Program will include:

  1. Letters to preparers who have been identified as “high risk,” making sure they are doing their due diligence.
  2. In-person visits with preparers who have been identified as “egregious.”
  3. Letters and in-person visits to return preparers who are not using the Earned Income Tax Credit correctly.
  4. Special crackdown on “ghost preparers” (those who don’t sign or identify themselves with their PTIN)
  5. Undercover shopping visits to preparers who are suspected of engaging in fraud.
  6. Civil and/or criminal prosecution where appropriate.
  7. Coordinated effort with the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department of Justice.
While there are many undefined terms being thrown around, there appears to be a spectrum of poor conduct and discipline emerging. At one end is the return preparer who has exhibited a pattern of honest-appearing errors who will receive a letter from the IRS (this is something new). At the other end is the preparer who is suspected of something more “egregious” who very well could be tracked down and thrown in jail (this is not new).

IRS Will be Watching EITC Claims More Closely in 2012

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable credit for low to moderate income households. It is a very desirable form of tax relief because it actually puts money back in their pockets . . . if they qualify.  The problem is that over the years the IRS has also paid out in circumstances where the taxpayer doesn’t really qualify. In fact, in 2009 over 26 million people received nearly $59 billion through the EITC.

In an effort to promote more accuracy (and less fraud) in connection with EITC, the IRS is likely going to make it a requirement that all paid tax preparers include Form 8867 with all returns that include the credit. Right now it is a proposed regulation still awaiting public comment and final approval. In years past, tax preparers were required to complete this form (to prove their due diligence) and retain it in case of audit. But under the proposed regulation, paid tax preparers would be required — beginning January 1, 2012 — to actually file the form along with the return.