Friday, December 16, 2011

The IRS Wants More Levy Power

The IRS wants Congress to expand its tax levy authority.
This is a response against the taxpayer protections under the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA). One of the changes required the IRS to provide at least 30 days notice of a levy action, as well as the taxpayer right to appeal such action. The purpose is to slow down collections and allow the taxpayer to propose alternatives or to reiterate information that collections has chosen to ignore.
After enactment of the RRA, the number of IRS levies dropped by approximately 85 percent, from 473,000 for fiscal 1998 to 75,000 in fiscal 2000. This has reversed recently, and there was a 73 percent increase from fiscal 2009 to 2010. During fiscal 2010 the IRS filed approximately 667,000 levies.
The IRS does have some valid arguments. In some circumstances, timing requirements may require multiple levy actions. Some sources of income are difficult to reach and are currently beyond the reach of a continuous levy.
NOTE: A continuous levy remains in effect until cancelled and provides recurrent cash to the IRS. The most common example is a wage garnishment. This is in contrast to a bank levy, which is good for only one instance. Should the IRS want more cash, it has to file another bank levy.
The IRS wants to expand the continuous levy to reach rental income, nonemployee compensation, royalties and fishing boat proceeds.
Then there are questionable IRS arguments. For example, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) reviewed a sample of 30 cases where the taxpayer appealed a levy action. It found that appeals can be used to delay collection action. Gosh, I could have told them that without a study; it doesn’t mean, however, that the appeal right per se is without merit. In 28 cases Appeals upheld the levy action. The IRS extrapolates this to mean that the appeals protection under RRA is being abused.
Let’s talk about IRS abuses. The RRA protections were not enacted because the IRS was an innocent party. There are cases where the IRS has pursued levies for less than $30.  There are cases of IRS levies without any notification. We presently have a representation client where collections is pursuing more than $20,000 while we simultaneously are reducing that amount by almost 80 percent through a reconsideration. We put in a CDP request to put the brakes on collections and clue them that there is a favorable adjustment coming from exam. Do I even need to comment on IRS inflexibility with an unemployed/underplayed taxpayer who cannot continue a payment plan at the same amount as before being unemployed/underemployed?
Let me clue you in on a tax “secret.” The IRS says it will work with you if circumstances overwhelm your payment plan. However, the IRS keeps a golden key to itself. The IRS can reject a restructuring if one has defaulted on a payment plan. Think about this. I have a client who entered into a payment plan. Circumstances have been difficult, including foreclosure. She has continued her payments to the IRS, although sometimes in smaller amounts than agreed to. She takes pride in having lived up to her obligation. I contacted the IRS to formally restructure the plan to something like the following:
                First three months          $25 per month
                Next three months         $50 per month
                Next three months         $75 per month
               
The IRS refused. Why? Because she “defaulted” on her plan. Now think about this for a moment. My client is held in the same regard as a tax scofflaw who has never paid and has no intention of ever paying. Her default? She reduced her payment because she works for $7.50 per hour and is broke. She did not miss a payment, mind you, only reduced it. To be fair, we will work something out with the IRS, but it is a needless headache for both her and me. I do think it shows a blockheaded attitude at the IRS. Some of us – government employees excluded, apparently – can be fired.

Count me on the “nay” side of any proposal to expand IRS levy authority. Show me some proof of “kinder and gentler” before I board this bus.

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