* It used to be that penalties were assessed as a means to encourage voluntary compliance. Many tax pros feel that is no longer the case, and penalties are being used as a means to raise revenue. An example is the penalty assessed for late filing of a partnership return: $195 per month per partner. Take a 10-person partnership, file a week late and face a $1,950 penalty. There is little consideration for the size of the partnership, its total assets or revenues - or the fact that partnerships do not pay federal taxes.
* Penalties are assessed even when taxpayers are trying to do the right thing. For example, enter into a reportable transaction, disclose it on your tax return but forget to file a copy with a second office and you will be assessed a penalty. Fail to disclose the transaction at all and you will be subject to the same penalty.
* The IRS is automatically asserting penalties. For example, for fiscal year 2015, the IRS assessed over 40 million penalties on individuals and businesses. To put that in context, there were approximately 243 million returns filed for the period.
* Many penalties can be waived if the taxpayer can show "reasonable cause," but many tax professionals believe the IRS has so narrowed the definition as to be almost unreachable, unless you are willing to die. To aggravate the matter, the IRS has also instructed its personnel to substitute "first time abatement" (FTA) for reasonable cause as a matter of policy. While the IRS argues that FTA is easier to review and administer than reasonable cause, there exists a high degree of skepticism. Why would a taxpayer automatically burn a "get out of penalty-jail free" card if the taxpayer otherwise has reasonable cause? Wouldn't a taxpayer want to keep that card available just in case?
* If an insurance claim is not paid in the year of casualty AND there is a reasonable prospect of recovery, then the loss is deferred until one can determine the amount of recovery.
* If there is no hope for insurance - or the prospect of recovery is unreasonable - then the loss is deductible in the year of the casualty.
COMMENT: There is enough "what if" to this rule that even a tax professional could blow it.
Petitioner's error (regarding the proper year of deduction of the portion of a casualty loss for which there is no reasonable prospect of recovery from insurance) is considerably different from the errors made by a taxpayer whose failure to file, late filing, or late payment is chronic. Erroneously deducting a loss in a year later than the correct year is not usually considered to be a blatant tax avoidance technique ..."
Taking into account all of the facts and circumstances, we conclude that petitioner exercised ordinary business care and prudence under the difficult circumstances in which she was living at the time leading up to the due date of her 2009 return...."