Sunday, February 24, 2019

UberEats and Employer-Provided Lunches


It is 50 pages long. This is not the time of year for me to read this in detail.

I am referring to an IRS Technical Advice Memorandum. A TAM means that a taxpayer is under examination and the revenue agent has a question. The TAM answers the question.

This one has to do with excluding meals as income to employees when the meals are for the “convenience of the employer.”

I guess I long ago selected the wrong profession for this to be an issue. The instances have been few over the years where an employer has regularly brought in dinner during busy season. I had one employer who would do so on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the offset was working until 9 p.m. or later. As I recall, one virtually needed a papal decree to deviate from their policies, and they had policies like the Colonel has chicken. At this age and stage, I would not even consider working for them, but at the time I was young and dumb.

The classic “convenience of the employer” example is a fireman: you have to be around in case of emergencies. There are other common reasons:
·      To protect employees due to unsafe conditions surrounding the taxpayer’s business premises;
·      Because employees cannot secure a meal within a reasonable meal period;
·      Because the demands of the employees' job functions allow them to take only a short meal break.
What has exacerbated the issue is not your job or mine, but the Googles and Microsofts of the world. For example, Google’s headquarter in Mountain View, California has over 15 cafeterias. Not to be overshadowed, Microsoft in Redmond, Washington has over two dozen. Why would one even bother to go to a grocery store?

Not my world. Not my reality.

The “reasonable meal period” has generally meant that there are limited dining options nearby. I have a family member who works at a nuclear facility. I do not know, but I would expect options thin-out the closer you get to said facility. That reasonable meal period is likely legit in his case.

The TAM is presented in question and answer form. Here is one of the answers:

While the availability of meal delivery is not determinative in every analysis concerning …, especially in situations where delivery options are limited, meal delivery should be a consideration in determining whether an employer qualifies under this regulation and generally when evaluating other business reasons proffered by employers as support for providing meals for the “convenience of the employer” under section 119.

So the IRS is working to incorporate the rising popularity of GrubHub and UberEats into the taxation of employer-provided meals. Wow, if you practice long enough…


I am not too worried about it, other than prompting a chuckle. Why? Because here at CTG command-center we do not provide the occasional lunch because of limited dining opportunities. Rather we bring-in lunch because of in-house training (as an example), and we want everyone there.

Think about it: we give you a sandwich and you get to hear me talk about taxes and watching paint dry.

I suspect you would rather just buy your own lunch.


Sunday, February 17, 2019

IRS Individual Tax Payment Plans


I anticipate a question about an IRS payment plan this tax season. It almost always comes up, so I review payment options every year. It occurred to me that this topic would make a good post, and I could just send a link to CTG if and when the question arises.

Let’s review the options for individual taxes. We are not discussing business taxes in this post, with one exception. If the business income winds up on your personal return – say through a proprietorship or an S corporation – then the following discussion will apply. Why? Because the business taxes are combined with your individual taxes.

YOU DO NOT HAVE THE MONEY BUT WILL SOON

You do not have the money to pay with your return, but you do have cash coming and will be able to pay within 120 days. This is a “short-term” payment plan. There is no application fee, but you will be charged interest.

BTW you will always be charged interest, so I will not say so again.

YOU OWE $10,000 OR LESS

You cannot pay with the return nor within 120 days, but you can pay within 3 years. This is the “guaranteed” payment plan. As with all plans, you have to be caught up with all your tax filings and continue to do so in the future.

If you are self-employed you can bet the IRS will require that you make estimated tax payments. I have seen this requirement sink or almost sink many a payment plan, as there isn’t enough cash to go around.

The IRS says they will not allow more than one of these plans every 5 years. I have had better luck, but (1) I got a good-natured IRS employee and (2) the combined tax never exceeded $10 grand. Point is: believe them when they say 5 years.

YOU OWE MORE THAN $10,000 BUT LESS THAN $25,000

This is a “streamlined” payment plan. Your payment period can be up to six years.  

As long as your balance is under $25 grand, the IRS will allow you to send a monthly check rather than automatically draft your bank account.

YOU OWE MORE THAN $25,000 BUT LESS THAN $50,000

This is still a “streamlined” plan, and the rules are the same as the $10-25 grand plans, but the IRS will insist on drafting your bank account.

DOWNSIDE TO THE GUARANTEED AND STREAMLINED PLANS

Have variable income and these plans do not work very well. The IRS wants a monthly payment. These plans are problematic if your income is erratic – unless you sit on a stash of cash no matter whether you are working or not. Then again, if you have such stash, I question why you are messing with a payment plan.

UPSIDE TO THE GUARANTEED AND STREAMLINED PLANS

A key benefit to both the guaranteed and the streamlined is not having to file detailed financial information. I am referring to the Form 433 series, and they are a pain. You have to attach copies of bank statements and provide documentation if you want more than IRS-provided amounts for certain cost-of-living categories. Rest assured that – whatever you think your “essential” bills are – the IRS will disagree with you.

Another benefit to the guaranteed and streamlined is avoiding a federal tax lien. I have had clients for whom the threat of a lien was more significant than the endless collection letters they received previously. Once the lien is in place it is quite difficult to remove until the tax debt is substantially paid.

YOU OWE MORE THAN $50,000

If you go over $50 grand you will have to provide Form 433 financial information, work your way through the cost-of-living categories, fight (probably) futilely with the IRS to spot you more than the tables and then agree on an amount that will pay off the debt over your remaining statute-of-limitations (collections) period.

If you are at all close to the $50,000 tripwire, SERIOUSLY consider paying down the debt below $50,000. The process, while not good times with old friends, will be easier.

YOU CANNOT PAY IT ALL OVER THE REMAINING COLLECTIONS PERIOD

It is possible that – despite the best you can do – there is no way to pay-off the IRS over the remaining statute-of-limitations (collections) period. You have now gone into “partial pay” territory. This will require Form 433 paperwork and working with a Collections officer. If one is badly injured in a car wreck and has indefinitely decreased earning power, the process may be relatively smooth. Have a tough business stretch but retain substantial earning power and the process will likely not be as smooth. 

HOW TO APPLY

There are three general ways to obtain a payment plan:

(1)   Mail
(2)   Call
(3)   Website

There is a charge for anything other than the 120-day plan. The cheapest way to go is to use the IRS website, but the charge – while more if not using the website – is not outrageous.

You use Form 9465 for mail.


Set aside time if you intend to call the IRS. You may want to download a movie.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Do You File An Accurate Return Or A Timely Return?


I have alerted the staff here at CTG command center that I prefer and expect to file all business returns, especially passthrough returns, on a timely basis, irrespective of whether we have all required information. Granted, there is some freeplay – we cannot file if we have no information, for example, or if so much information is missing that a filing would not be construed as substantially correct.

The reason?

Penalties for late filing.

Let’s say that you and a partner have an LLC. The return is due in March and can be extended to September. You file an extension but, for whatever reason, do not file the partnership return until December.

What just happened?

(1)  You might think that the return is only 2 months late, as it was extended until September. That is incorrect. You have until September 15 to file the return. Fail to do so, and it is as if you never filed an extension. That return is now late beginning March 16.
(2)  So what? Here is so what: the penalty is $195 per K-1 per month. There are two K-1s: you and a partner. The penalty is $390 per month. Multiply that by the number of months, and you can see how this gets expensive fast.
(3)  You might be able to get out of this penalty. Revenue Procedure 84-35 allows an avenue for small partnerships with 10 or fewer partners, for example. Depending on the facts, however, there may be no easy out. Like fire, you do not want to be playing with this.

There are a hundred variations on the theme. Let me give you one. This one involves an estate tax return. Let’s review the key points, and you decide whether there is cause for a late-filing penalty. 
  • The decedent died February 24, 1986.
  • On May 6, 1986 the estate was admitted to probate.
    • The wife was appointed executrix.
  • The estate hired an attorney.
  • The estate tax return was due November 24, 1986 (nine months after death). No extension was filed.
  • In January, 1987 the executrix filed an inventory with the probate court. Four assets were listed but given no value. One of those assets was an interest in a trust, which asset took on a life of its own. 
    • The assets which were valued - that is, excluding the four which were unvalued - were enough the require the filing of a federal estate tax return.
  • In 1991 (five years later) the estate filed suit concerning the trust.
  • In 1994 the common pleas court entered judgement.
  • In 1996 the executrix filed a revised and final accounting with the probate court.
  •  In 1997 the estate finally filed a federal estate tax return. 
     The IRS immediately went after late filing penalties. Why wouldn’t it? The tax return was filed more than 10 years after the decedent died.

The gross estate was over $2 million. Those items that could not initially be valued came in around $200 grand.

The IRS charged in and chanted its standard wash-rinse-repeat hymn: the taxpayer cannot escape penalties for the non-extension or late filing of a return pursuant to the Supreme Court’s Boyle decision.

But the estate punched back with reasonable cause: the executrix did not have values for some of the assets that were eventually distributable from the estate. Heck, they had to sue to even get to some of those assets!

What do you think? Is there reasonable cause?

Let me give you a clue: the disputed assets were about 10% of the final estate.

And we come back to a phrase I used early on: “substantially correct.” Tax Regulations require only that the estate return be “as complete as possible.” There are numerous cases where pending litigation – even if the outcome is expected to materially affect the estate’s final tax liability – has not been considered reasonable cause for not filing a return.

The Court pointed out two things:

(1)  The executrix knew (or should have known) early on that the estate was large enough – even excluding the disputed items – to require filing a return.
(2)  She could have paid at least the tax on that amount, or estimated and also included tax on the disputed items.
a.     The Court pointed out that disputed assets were only 10% of the estate.

The executrix did not have reasonable cause. She should have filed and paid something, even if she later had to amend the estate tax return.

My thoughts?

I agree with the Court. I believe the estate was ill-advised. 

There is a sub-story in here concerning the attorney (who thought the accountant was taking care of the estate tax return) and the CPA (who was never told to prepare an estate tax return, at least not until years after the return would have been due). Why didn’t the attorney reach out earlier to the CPA, at least for peace of mind? Who knows? Why didn’t the long-standing CPA – who would have known the decedent - ask about an estate return? Again, who knows?

Our case this time was Estate of Thomas v Commissioner.

COMMENT: I am looking (translation: I printed but have not yet read) a case where a taxpayer did use estimates but still got nailed with penalties. We may come back to that one in the near future.







Saturday, February 2, 2019

A Rant On IRS Penalties


I am reading that the number one most-litigated tax issue is the accuracy-related penalty, and it has been so for the last four years.


The issue starts off innocently enough:

You may qualify for relief from penalties if you made an effort to comply with the requirements of the law, but were unable to meet your tax obligations, due to circumstances beyond your control.

I see three immediate points:

(1)  You were unable to file, file correctly, pay, or pay in full
(2)  You did legitimately try
(3)  And it was all beyond your control

That last one has become problematic, as the IRS has come to think that all the tremolos of the universe are under your control.

One of the ways to abate a penalty is to present reasonable cause. Here is the IRS:

Reasonable cause is based on all the facts and circumstances in your situation. The IRS will consider any reason which establishes that you used all ordinary business care and prudence to meet your federal tax obligations but were nevertheless unable to do so.

How about some examples?

·       Death

Something less … permanent, please.

·       Advice from the IRS
·       Advice from a tax advisor


That second one is not what you might think. Let’s say that I am your tax advisor. We decide to extend your tax return, as we are waiting for additional information. We however fail to do so. It got overlooked, or maybe someone mistakenly thought it had already been filed. Whatever. You trusted us, and we let you down.

There is a Supreme Court case called Boyle. It separated tax responsibilities between those that are substantive/technical (and reasonable cause is possible) and those which are administrative/magisterial (and reasonable cause is not). Having taken a wrong first step, the Court then goes on to reason that the administrative/magisterial tasks were not likely candidates for reasonable cause. Why? Because the taxpayer could have done a little research and realized that something – an extension, for example - was required. That level of responsibility cannot be delegated. The fact that the taxpayer paid a professional to take care of it was beside the point.

So you go to a dentist who uses the wrong technique to repair your broken tooth. Had you spent a little time on YouTube, you would have found a video from the UK College of Dentistry that discussed your exact procedure. Do you think this invites a Boyle-level distinction?

Of course not. You went to a dentist so that you did not have to go to dental school. You go to a tax CPA so that do not have to obtain a degree, sit for the exam and then spend years learning the ropes.      
·     
  • Fire, casualty, natural disaster or other disturbances
  • Inability to obtain records
  • Serious illness, incapacitation or unavoidable absence of the taxpayer or a member of the taxpayer’s immediate family
I am noticing something here: you are not in control of your life. Some outside force acted upon you, and like a Kansas song you were just dust in the wind.

How about this one: you forgot, you flubbed, you missed departure time at the dock of the bay? Forgive you for being human.

This gets us to back to those initially innocuous string of words:

          due to circumstances beyond your control.”

When one does what I do, one might be unimpressed with what the IRS considers to be under your control.

Let me give you an example of a penalty appeal I have in right now. I will tweak the details, but the gist is there.
·   You changed jobs in 2015 
·   You had a 401(k) loan when you left
·   Nobody told you that you had to repay that loan within 60 days or it would be considered a taxable distribution to you. 
·   You received and reviewed your 2015 year-end plan statement. Sure enough, it still showed the loan.  
·   You got quarterly statements in 2016. They also continued to show the loan. 
·    Ditto for quarter one, 2017. 
·   The plan then changed third-party administrators. The new TPA noticed what happened, removed the loan and sent a 1099 to the IRS.
o   Mind you, this is a 1099 sent in 2017 for 2015.
o   To make it worse, the TPA did not send you a 1099.     
  •  The IRS computers whirl and sent you a notice.
  •  You sent it to me. You amended. You paid tax and interest.
  •  The IRS now wants a belt-tightening accuracy-related penalty because ….

Granted, I am a taxpayer-oriented practitioner, but I see reasonable cause here. Should you have known the tax consequence when you changed jobs in 2015? I disagree. You are a normal person. As a normal you are not in thrall to the government to review, understand and recall every iota of regulatory nonsense they rain down like confetti at the end of a Super Bowl. Granted, you might have known, as the 401(k)-loan tax trap is somewhat well-known, but that is not the same as saying that you are expected to know.  

I know, but you never received a 1099 to give me. We never discussed it, the same as we never discussed Tigris-Euphrates basin pottery. Why would we?

Not everything you and I do daily comes out with WWE-synchronized choreography. It happens. Welcome to adulthood. I recently had IRS Covington send me someone else’s tax information. I left two messages and one fax for the responsible IRS employee – you know, in case she wanted the information back and process the file correctly – and all I have heard since is crickets. Is that reasonable? How dare the IRS hold you to a standard they themselves cannot meet?

I have several penalty appeals in to the IRS, so I guess I am one of those practitioners clogging up the system. I have gotten to the point that I am drafting my initial penalty abatement requests with an eye towards appeal, as the IRS has  convinced me that they will not allow reasonable cause on first pass - no matter what, unless you are willing to die or be permanently injured. 

I have practiced long enough that I remember when the IRS was more reasonable on such matters. But that was before political misadventures and the resulting Congressional budget muzzle. The IRS then seemed to view penalties as a relief valve on its budget pressures. Automatically assess. Tie up a tax advisor’s time. Implement a penalty review software package in the name of uniformity, but that package's name is “No.” The IRS has become an addict.