Professional Assistance With Long-Term Tax Delinquencies Can Be Key To A Turn Around

If you have experienced a continuing struggle with handling your ongoing employment and income tax filings and payments, you may be facing the stark reality that managing these obligations is getting more and more difficult.  Some businesses have operated off the premise that the federal and state government will perpetually respond to their tax problems in a certain way.  That response by the government, through a series of notices, delayed responses, and payment plans, is changing faster than ever.  This is especially true at the state level.  Businesses should not make what was once predictability of tax collections by the government a part of how they manage their ongoing business expenses.

While the government may not upgrade their technologies as quickly as the private sector, the actions being taken are making a difference in closing the Tax Gap. This is true at the federal level and even more so at the State level.  As Bloomberg Business Week reports, states are taking much more aggressive action to capture lost sources of tax revenue.  States are using better resources of data collection along with other enforcement tools to prevent businesses, large and small, from operating in a non-compliant tax status.

From a business perspective, the stark reality is that there are some businesses on the fringe of existence that may simply be forced to cease operations as the tax collection activity described here intensifies.  It’s my opinion that this is not necessary.  Rather, if these businesses spend less time juggling some of these obligations and direct their time towards the expertise they have related to their primary business function, their likelihood of success is much greater.  We have seen the most success for clients who have long-term tax delinquencies when that client acquires proper legal and accounting assistance.  For a long-term problem, a long term solution is necessary. 

Certified Public Accountants and other tax return specialists can provide a level of service that is invaluable to any business.  Assistance from a tax lawyer can be an important tool which allows for a delinquent taxpayer to create a long term plan for tax debt resolution which is then executed upon by the taxpayer, its accountant and lawyer.  Most clients find that the support of professionals that can readily provide expert guidance on stressful tax matters are invaluable.  The relief provided to the business owner typically gives them the breathing room they finally need from a stressful situation to focus on the reason they entered their business to begin with.  It is highly rewarding for the tax lawyer and accounting professional to observe this process.  No business operation will ultimately succeed with the passion of its owners for the services or products it provides. 

As a tax lawyer I have observed that the combination of a Certified Public Accountant or other tax return professional with the guidance of a tax lawyer is a highly beneficial combination for a delinquent business taxpayer.  The reality is that the Certified Public Accountant or tax return professional likely has all the expertise to resolve these issues, but due to the reality of the tax season, that person lacks the time to provide the level of assistance demanded from a Revenue Officer or other collection agent.  Without the obligations of providing return preparation services for clients, I have found the ongoing demands of dealing with delinquent tax matters for clients to be manageable. 

Ideally, the long term is a viable business with a plan to manage ongoing tax obligations while addressing delinquencies in a manner that does not effectively shut down the business.  Once that plan is in place, the taxpayer’s Certified Public Accountant or return preparation professional can provide services to manage current tax filing and payment obligations.  Should the government return for review of the client’s ability to address the tax delinquencies, the tax lawyer can return to representation to assist with that issue. 

As a business owner with a long term delinquency a critical perspective to have when acquiring professional assistance is that there is no “quick fix.”  A multi-year problem will likely take many months, if not years, to resolve.  But it can, and does, happen.  Feel free to contact us to discuss these issues if you have them.

Income Tax Consequences of Terminating a Whole Life Insurance Policy

The United States Tax Court just handed down a decision in Black v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, T.C. Memo 2014-27, that explains what the income tax consequences are when this situation occurs.  In the opinion, the taxpayer had been the owner of a whole life insurance policy for over twenty years.  The policy had both cash value and loan features.  The policy allowed the taxpayer to borrow up to the cash value of the policy.  Loans from the policy would accrue interest and if the policy holder did not pay the interest then it would be capitalized as part of the overall debt against the policy.

The taxpayer had the right to surrender the policy at any time and receive a distribution of the cash value less any outstanding debt, which could include capitalized interest.  If the loans against the policy exceeded the cash value, the policy would terminate.  In this case, the taxpayer invested $86,663 in the life insurance policy, his total premiums paid for the policy.  Prior to the termination the total the taxpayer had borrowed from the policy was $103,548, however with capitalized interest over time the total debt on the policy was $196,230. The policy proceeds retired the policy debt at termination.

The taxpayers in this case were issued a 1099-R showing a gross distribution of $196,230 and a taxable amount of $109,567.  The non-taxable difference of $86,663 was the taxpayers’ investment in the policy – premiums paid. None of the information was included on the taxpayers’ return.  The taxpayers eventually amended their return and included as income the amount of $16,885 which represented the difference between the loan principal amount borrowed of $103,548 and the amount of premiums paid of $86,663.  Ultimately, the IRS disagreed with the taxpayers’ representation of the tax consequences of the life insurance policy termination.

The primary issue in the case then centered around whether or not the capitalized interest from the outstanding policy loans should be included in income. The Court explained that the money borrowed from the policy was a true loan with the policy used as collateral.  There were no income tax consequences on distribution of loan proceeds from the insurance company to the taxpayers.  Further, the Court explained that this is true of any loan as the taxpayers’ were obligated to re-pay the insurance company the debt owed.

The Court explained that when a policy is terminated then the loan is treated as if the proceeds were paid out to the taxpayers and the taxpayers then retired the outstanding loan by paying it back to the insurance company. The Internal Revenue Code provides that proceeds paid from an insurance company, when not part of an annuity, are generally taxable income for payments in excess of the total investment.  The insurance policy at issue treated the capitalized interest as principal on the loan. Therefore, when the policy is terminated, the loan, including capitalized interest, is charged against the proceeds and the remainder is income. This outcome makes sense or else the return on investment inside of the policy would never be taxed.

The taxpayers ended up with a large tax bill and a tough pill to swallow.  Ultimately, the result is logical in the context of capturing deferred income tax consequences.  Clearly, it would have been beneficial for the taxpayers to have consulted with counsel prior to preparing their tax return in order to avoid an unwelcome tax bill, penalties and interest.

Should you have transactions that you are unsure of when it comes to their income tax consequences, feel free to contact our office.  If you find yourself in receipt of an adjustment to your tax return based on exam action that you disagree with, or an assessment has been made and you have simply decided you were incorrect in your analysis, call us, we can help.

Why do I have to owe over $10,000 to get help with my IRS tax debt?

Everyone has seen on television, or heard on the radio, advertisments for assistance with owing the IRS back taxes.  Turn on the TV late at night to watch reruns of your favorite show and you’re bound to see at least one. But they all have that caveat, saying that you must owe the IRS over $10,000 for them to help you, but why?

The fact of the matter is that you don’t need to owe a certain amount to have representation to assist with your tax debt – at least not from our firm.  If you listen to the television or radio you would think that there is no way to help someone who owes less than this amount.  Most of the businesses that advertise in this way are looking to submit a settlement proposal, known as an Offer in Compromise, to the IRS on your behalf.  This may or may not be possible, but generally that is the only service these businesses provide.  What they know is that due to the manner in which the IRS settles debt, it is nearly impossible to settle a small tax debt.  However, here are several situations that our office sees frequently where taxpayers have a small tax debt, but still need help sorting through their options to come into compliance:

  • Sometimes a client may owe the government a small amount, but has unfiled returns and is preparing to file bankruptcy to discharge health care debt or other obligations.  The bankruptcy code requires the taxpayer to file their last three returns in order to qualify for the bankruptcy.  After filing, the client anticipates owing more.  Perhaps that is a small amount or a large amount.  Regardless, this client needs help with those taxes because they will not be discharged in the bankruptcy.
  • A client may owe a small amount based on a return filed by the government – known as a Substitute for Return (SFR).  However, the client will owe much more later when a proper return is filed.  This can happen when a client is self-employed and receives a few 1099’s that comprise a small amount of the taxpayer’s overall revenue.  Once the return is properly completed, there may be a different picture.
  • Sometimes a client owes tax debt that their spouse created and it is simply unfair for them to be held responsible for the debt.  That client may want to be relieved from the obligation – no matter how small – through the Innocent Spouse Relief process.  Alternatively, a spouse may be harmed because his or her refund was offset to their spouses tax debt.  In this instance, this client may need assistance filing an Injured Spouse claim.
  • A client may have a few thousand dollar tax debt created by automated Exam at the IRS, but if the client merely pays it or sets up a payment agreement to resolve the balance, the taxpayer may be setting himself or herself up for problems with future tax return positions.  If your expense or other deduction is valid and the IRS disallowed it, it may be worth fighting to substantiate it so you do not create a record showing you agreed with the claim or deduction being disallowed.  Therefore, your representative could make arguments to assist in your exam and protect your position for later.
  • Some clients owe less than $10,000 and are interested in relieving themselves from the burdens of a tax lien.  It is now possible to establish a Direct Debit Installment Agreement and apply for a withdrawal of the tax lien.  There are specific procedures for this doing this must be met to qualify, but it is possible.  As a matter of fact, it is now possible to accomplish this if you owe up to $25,000.
  • A client may owe a small tax debt which was originally much larger and triggered the filing of a tax lien.  Though the debt is paid down, it is preventing the sale of a piece of real estate because there is not enough equity to retire the tax debt at closing.  These clients need assistance with a request to Discharge Property from Federal Tax Lien.  This will clear title to the property and allow for the closing, even though the entire tax debt is not being paid off in full.
  • Some of our clients only owe a couple of thousand dollars, but have many years of unfiled tax returns and anticipate owing much more.  A settlement proposal, Offer in Compromise, may be appropriate.  However, it is impossible to know if that is the case until the taxpayer knows the total owed and a financial analysis is performed which includes a review of income, expenses and equity in assets.
  • A client may need assistance when a wage levy is in place, but the balance on their total tax debt is not larger than $10,000.   In those instance, it is very likely that the taxpayer can be moved to a voluntary payment agreement if all returns are filed.  Even if all returns are not filed, substantiation to the IRS of income and expenses could likely result in a partial levy release to relieve the client of some, or all of the wage levy.
  • If any of the above is similar to your situation, or you have some other tax problem, we will be happy to help you, regardless of the size of your debt.  Just give us a call.

Under an IRS levy and think there is nothing you can do about it?

Unfortunately, this feeling of hopelessness is an all too common feeling of clients in this situation.  This blog intends to provide educational articles about tax topics, rather than playing on emotions as many firms do in the tax controversy area.  The reality is that these issues are emotional.  Unfortunately, an emotional issue can trigger irrational decisions.  One irrational decision is buying into the promise of a solicitor that your tax problems are easily resolved because you “qualify” for a settlement.  The fact is that everyone can “qualify” for a settlement.  That’s the wrong analysis to start with.  And, when a firm is approached with a levy situation, it is premature to analyze whether or not a client qualifies for a settlement.

At the time a taxpayer is under levy, the proper analysis is whether or not the taxpayer can get immediate relief of some sort from the levy.  If the levy is affecting the taxpayer’s wages, then the taxpayer’s representative should work through a detailed and documented financial analysis to determine if there is an opportunity for either immediate relief from the entire levy or partial levy relief.  If a taxpayer substantiates that the levy creates economic hardship, then relief may be possible.

Sometimes clients under levy have not prepared all of their tax returns and as such, believe that there is no way to remove the levy until their tax returns are filed.  This simply is not true.  While it may or may not be possible to acquire full relief, an analysis of income and expenses utilizing IRS standards will allow for the taxpayer to obtain at least partial relief to pay for many expenses.  These expenses can include basic necessities such as food, clothing, medicines and health insurance premiums.  Payments for housing and utilities will be allowed up to a maximum amount based on county of residence and household size.  Additional expenses such as car payments and vehicle operational expenses, like gas and insurance, will also be allowed up to a standardized amount.

After seeking partial levy relief, it is then appropriate to file tax returns as soon as possible.  Once the taxpayer has filed all outstanding tax returns, the IRS then makes available a variety of options that are not available when a taxpayer has failed to file all returns.  At that point, the representative can assist the taxpayer with an analysis of their income, expenses and equity in assets to determine if the taxpayer is a good candidate for an installment agreement, a partial payment installment agreement, an Offer in Compromise (settlement), or currently not collectible status.  It is ALWAYS best to go through this analysis as there are opportunities to come into compliance with the tax laws, move yourself out from under the enforcement action, such as a wage levy, and still address the old tax debt.  Many would be surprised to learn that the IRS does work with taxpayers to resolve many issues in a way that isn’t nearly as traumatic as believed.

Obviously, the best case scenario is to take action before a levy is in place, however, once that occurs, there is always something that can be done to make the situation more bearable.  We encourage you to contact our firm if you have any questions or concerns about these matters.

Have You Received an IRS Notice of Intent to Levy?

Unfortunately, this question is more confusing than you would think. The reality is that once a taxpayer owes the federal government, a series of notices will be sent to the taxpayer by the IRS demanding payment and referencing the federal government’s ability to levy, or seize the taxpayer’s assets. While the taxpayer is always encouraged to pay his or her indebtedness to the U.S. government, the risk of enforcement action through levy of assets may only happen if certain statutory requirements are met – even though many IRS notices mention that the government may seize or levy assets.

The Internal Revenue Code authorizes the IRS to levy or seize assets in order to satisfy delinquent taxes. While there is no need for the government to file a lawsuit in order to proceed with such a seizure, it must abide by proper statutory guidelines. The IRS must send a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing at least 30 days prior to actual seizure of assets. The IRS may levy your State tax refund prior to issuing a final notice, but must provide you with a right to a hearing, after. The final notice may be left at your home or business, provided to you in person, or sent to your last known address by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested.

Given the importance of your hearing rights explained below, if the IRS has created a debt for you a few years ago, or you failed to file returns for a period of time after a return with a balance due was filed, then you need to make sure the IRS has your proper address. This can be done by filing Form 8822 – Change of Address. The IRS is most likely to send a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing to the address on your last filed tax return. If you have moved since this return was filed and your mail forwarding notice has expired, you will miss your right to a hearing. Remember, the IRS may have current income source information for you – such as W-2 or 1099 information. So, making sure the government has your proper address makes sure you are properly advised of your rights and provides you with an opportunity to address your debt before the IRS enforces collection action through a wage or bank levy, for example.

A Final Notice of Intent to Levy is only issued one time per tax period. Once issued, a 30 day clock starts. Every taxpayer has the opportunity during this window of time to request a Collection Due Process hearing. That hearing is held by the Appeals Division of the IRS, an  independent division from the Collections Division. When a taxpayer requests a hearing after receiving a final notice, Appeals will make sure that all proper statutory requirements were followed by the Collections Division. Further, and maybe most important, the Appeals Division can entertain collection alternatives at this hearing. This means that you can work with Appeals to set up an installment agreement, a partial payment installment agreement, place your account in currently not collectible status, or work with the taxpayer to process an Offer in Compromise. This is a very important taxpayer right and no taxpayer should miss this opportunity to bring their matters into compliance and eliminate the uncertainty that having a delinquent tax matter creates. Please contact our office if you have any questions about these matters.