Friday, June 16, 2017

Bill And The Gig Economy

I am inclined to title this post “Bill.”

I have known Bill for years. He lost his W-2 job and has made up for it by taking one or two (or three) “independent contractor” gigs.

However, Bills get into tax trouble fast. Chances are they burned through savings upon losing the W-2 job. They turned to that 1099 gig when things got tight. At that point, they needed all the cash they could muster, meaning that replenishing savings had to wait.

The calendar turns. They come to see me for their taxes.

And we talk about self-employment tax for the first time.

You and I have FICA taken from our paycheck. We pay half and our employer pays half. It becomes almost invisible, like being robbed while on vacation.

Go self-employed and you have to pay both sides of FICA – now called self-employment tax – and it is anything but invisible. You are paying approximately 15% of what you make – off the top - and we haven’t even talked about income taxes.

You find yourself in a situation where you probably cannot pay – in full, at least – the tax from your first contractor/self-employment year.

We need a payment plan.

But there is a hitch.

What about taxes on your second contractor/self-employment year?

We need quarterly estimated taxes.

You start to question if I have lost my mind. You cannot even pay the first year, so how are you going to pay quarterly taxes for the second year?

And there you have Bill. Bills are legion.

We arrange a payment plan with the IRS.

You know what will likely blow-up a payment plan?

Filing another tax return with a large balance payable.

All right, maybe we can get the first and second year combined and work something out.

You know what will probably blow-up that payment plan?

Filing yet another tax return with a large balance payable.

Depending upon, the IRS will insist that you make estimated tax payments, as they have seen this movie too.

A taxpayer named Allen ran into that situation.

Allen owed big bucks – approximately $93,000.

The IRS issued an Intent to Levy.

He requested a CDP (Collections Due Process) hearing.
COMMENT: The CDP process was created by Congress in 1998 as a means to slow down a wild west IRS. The idea was that the IRS should not be permitted to move from compliance and assessment (receive your tax return; change your tax return) to collection (lien, levy and clear out your bank account) without an opportunity for you to have your day.  
Allen submitted financial information to the IRS. He proposed paying $500 per month.

The IRS reviewed the same information. They thought he could pay $809 per month.
COMMENT: You would be surprised what the IRS disallows when they calculate how much you can repay. You can have a pet, for example, but they will not allow veterinarian bills.
There was a hitch. Monthly payments of $809 over the remaining statute of limitations period would not sum to $93,000. The IRS can authorize this, however, and it is referred to as a partial-pay installment agreement (PPIA).
EXPLANATION: Any payment plan that does not pay the government in full over the remaining statutory collection period is referred to as a “partial pay.” The IRS looks at it more closely, as they know – going in – that they are writing-off some of the balance due.
The IRS settlement officer (SO) read the Internal Revenue Manual to say that a taxpayer could not receive a partial pay if he/she was behind on their current year estimated taxes. Allen of course was behind.

Allen said that he could not pay the estimate.

The SO closed the file.

Allen filed with the Tax Court.

Mind you, Allen was challenging IRS procedure and not the tax law itself. 

He had to show that the IRS “abused” its discretion.

It would be easier to get a rhinoceros on a park swing.

I get it, I really do. Take two SO’s. One denies you a partial pay because you are behind on estimated taxes; the other SO does not. That however is the meaning of “discretion.”

Did Allen’s SO “abuse” discretion?

The Tax Court did not think so.

Allen lost.

But there is something here I do not understand.

Why didn’t Allen make the estimated tax payment, revise his financial information (to show the depletion of cash) and forward the revised financials to the SO?

I presume that he couldn’t: he must not have had enough cash on hand.

If so, then abuse of discretion makes more sense to me: someone in Allen’s situation could NEVER meet that SO’s requirement for a payment plan.


Because he/she could never make that estimated tax payment.

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