Saturday, December 2, 2017

Not Filing Because You Expect A Refund

I received a call from a client this past week. He is keen on getting his taxes caught-up.

Mind you, he is not a timely filer.  He files every two or three years, at best.

How does he get away with it?

He has the ultimate tax shelter: a net operating loss (NOL).

You have to have a business to have an NOL. It means a business loss so large that it overwhelms whatever other sources of income you may have. It leaves behind a net negative number, and you can use that negative to recoup taxes paid in a prior year (2 prior years, to be exact) or you can use it to reduce your taxes going forward (up to 20 years).

It makes tax planning easy.

Say you have a $1 million NOL carryforward. You anticipate earning $400,000 next year. What tax planning advice would you give?

Here’s one: stop the withholding on that $400,000, if you can.


$400,000 - $1,000,000 = ($600,000).

There is no tax on minus $600,000. There is no point in withholding.

And that is why my client is somewhat lackadaisical about filing his taxes.

Won’t there be penalties for late filing?

Most likely: No. Penalties are normally calculated on any taxes due. No taxes due = no penalties. This is not always true, but it is true enough in his case.

A more common variation on this theme is a taxpayer who always gets a refund. A refund = no taxes due = no penalties. One has to be careful with this, however, because once enough years go by (more specifically: 3 years), the government will keep your money.

I was looking at the Parekh case this week. Here is the Tax Court:
… we conclude that petitioners did not exercise ordinary business care and prudence and that they have not established reasonable cause for failing to file their 2012 tax return timely.”
COMMENT: if you see the words “ordinary business care and prudence” or “reasonable cause,” rest assured that someone is being penalized. Those are code words when one is trying to remove or reduce penalties.
What did Parekh get into?

Let’s see:
  • Mr and Mrs Parekh filed 2009 only after the IRS prepared a substitute tax return for them.
  • They were late in filing 2010 and 2011.
  • They did not extend their 2012 return. They eventually filed it in 2014.
Wouldn’t you know the IRS decided to audit 2012?

Who cares, right? They are always overpaid.

There was something different in 2012: retirement plan distributions. The IRS determined that they owed over $8 grand of Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

Now that there was tax due the IRS also assessed a penalty.

Parekh went to Appeals. He wanted the penalty for late filing abated.

His reason?

He always had refunds. How was he supposed to know that 2012 was different?

Here is Parekh:
I figured, reasonably so I thought, that since I’d be getting a refund it was OK to file late ***. In fact, I had considered the de facto deadline for filing to be three years if one is getting a refund since after that the refund is forfeited. As I take a quick look at some tax advice websites that is pretty much what they say.”
Here is the IRS:
The Appeals officer noted that petitioners had also been delinquent in filing their 2009-2011 returns and that, as of […], they had not filed a return for 2013 or 2014 either.”
One they got to Tax Court – and hired an attorney - the Parekhs added another reason for filing late: his mom was ill and he was routinely travelling to India in 2013 and 2014 to help his father care for her.

The Court did not like the attorney slapping the India thing into the record at the last minute.
Even if we were to credit petitioner husband’s testimony about his heavy travel schedule, it is inconceivable that he could not have found two days in which to fulfill petitioners’ filing obligation, as opposed to filing that return 15 months late.”
The Court said no reasonable cause for not extending and not filing on time. They had to pay the penalty.

Did Parekh’s track record with the IRS hurt him with the Court?

No doubt.

And there is the risk if you routinely file your returns late – perhaps because you expect a refund or because you have always gotten refunds. Have your taxes spike unexpectedly, and it is unlikely you will avoid the penalties that will come with them.

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