Sunday, July 5, 2020

Requesting A Payment Plan With Over $7 Million In The Bank


Sometimes I wonder how people get themselves into situations.

Let’s take a look at a recent Tax Court case. It does not break new ground, but it does remind us that – sometimes – you need common sense when dealing with the IRS.

The Strashny’s filed their 2017 tax return on time but did not pay the tax due.
COMMENT: In and of itself, that does not concern me. The penalty for failing to file a tax return is 10 ten times more severe than filing but not paying. If the Strashny’s were my client and had no money, I would have advised the same.
The 2017 return had tax due, including interest, of over $1.1 million.
COMMENT: Where did the money go? I am curious now.
In June, 2018 the IRS assessed the tax along with a failure-to-pay penalty.

In July, 2018 the Strashny’s sent an installment payment request. Because of the amount of money involved, they had to disclose personal financial information (Form 433-A). They wanted to stretch the payments over 72 months.
COMMENT: Standard procedure so far.
Meanwhile the IRS sent out a Notice of Intent to Levy letter (CP90), which seemed to have upset the Strashny’s.

A collection appeal goes before an IRS officer settlement officer (or “SO,” in this context). In April, 2019 she sent a letter requesting a conference in May.
COMMENT: Notice the lapsed time – July, 2018 to April, 2019. Yep, it takes that long. It also explains while the IRS sent that CP90 (Notice of Intent to Levy): they know the process is going to take a while.
The taxpayers sent and the SO received a copy of their 2018 tax return. They showed wages of over $200,000.

OK, so they had cash flow.

All that personal financial information they had sent earlier showed cryptocurrency holdings of over $7 million. Heck, they were even drawing over $19,000 per month on the account.

More cash flow.
COMMENT: Folks, there are technical issues in this case, such as checking or not checking a certain box when requesting a collection hearing. I am a tax nerd, so I get it. However, all that is side noise. Just about anyone is going to look at you skeptically if you cite cash issues when you have $7 million in the bank.
The SO said no to the payment plan.

The Strashny’s petitioned the Tax Court.
COMMENT: Notice that this case does not deal with tax law. It deals, rather, with tax procedure. Procedure established by the IRS to deal with the day-to-day of tax administration. There is a very difficult standard that a taxpayer has to meet in cases like this: the taxpayer has to show that the IRS abused its authority.
The Strashny’s apparently thought that the IRS had to approve their request for a payment plan.

The Court made short work of the matter. It reasoned that the IRS has (with limited exceptions) the right to accept or reject a payment plan. To bring some predictability to the process, the IRS has published criteria for its decision process. For example, economic hardship, ill health, old age and so on are all fair considerations when reviewing a payment plan.

What is not fair consideration is a taxpayer’s refusal to liquidate an asset.

Mind you, we are not talking a house (you have to live somewhere) or a car (you have to get to work). There are criteria for those. We are talking about an investment portfolio worth over $7 million.

The Court agreed with the IRS SO.

So do I.

Was there middle ground? Yes, I think so. Perhaps the Strashny’s could have gotten 12 or 24 months, citing the market swings of cryptocurrency and their concern with initiating a downward price run. Perhaps there was margin on the account, so they had to be mindful of paying off debt as they liquidated positions. Maybe the portfolio was pledged on some other debt – such as business debt – and its rash liquidation would have triggered negative consequences. That approach would have, however, required common sense – and perhaps a drop of empathy for the person on the other side of the table – traits not immediately apparent here.

They got greedy. They got nothing.

Our case this time was Strashny v Commissioner.

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