Sunday, August 16, 2020

Talking Frankly About Offers In Compromise

I am reading a case involving an offer in compromise (OIC).

In general, I have become disinclined to do OIC work.

And no, it is not just a matter of being paid. I will accept discounted or pro bono work if someone’s story moves me. I recently represented a woman who immigrated from Thailand several years ago to marry an American. She filed a joint tax return for her first married year, and – sure enough – the IRS came after her when her husband filed bankruptcy. When we met, her English was still shaky, at best. She wanted to return to Thailand but wanted to resolve her tax issue first. She was terrified.   

I was upset that the IRS went after an immigrant for her first year filing U.S. taxes ever, who had limited command of the language, who was mostly unable to work because of long-term health complications and who was experiencing visible - even to me - stress-related issues.

Yes, we got her innocent spouse status. She has since returned to Thailand.

Back to offers in compromise.

There are two main reasons why I shy from OIC’s:

(1) I cannot get you pennies-on-the-dollar.

You know what I am taking about: those late-night radio or television commercials.

Do not get me wrong: it can happen. Take someone who has his/her earning power greatly reduced, say by an accident. Add in an older person, meaning fewer earning years remaining, and one might get to pennies on the dollar.

I do not get those clients.

I was talking with someone this past week who wants me to represent his OIC. He used to own a logistics business, but the business went bust and he left considerable debt in his wake. He is now working for someone else.

Facts: he is still young; he is making decent money; he has years of earning power left.

Question: Can he get an OIC?

Answer: I think there is a good chance, as his overall earning power is down.

Can he get pennies on the dollar?

He is still young; he is making decent money; he has years of earning power left. How do you think the IRS will view that request?

(2) The multi-year commitment to an OIC.

When you get into a payment plan with the IRS, there is an expectation that you will improve your tax compliance. The IRS has dual goals when it makes a deal:

(a)  Collect what it can (of course), and

(b)  Get you back into the tax system.

Get into an OIC and the IRS expects you to stay out of trouble for 5 years. 

So, if you are self-employed the IRS will expect you to make quarterly estimates. If you routinely owe, it will want you to increase your withholding so that you don’t owe. That is your end of the deal.

I have lost count of the clients over the years who did not hold-up their end of the deal.  I remember one who swung by Galactic Command to lament how he could not continue his IRS payment plan and then asked me to step outside to see his new car.

Folks, there is little to nothing that a tax advisor can do for you in that situation. It is frustrating and – frankly – a waste of time.

Let’s look at someone who tried to run the five-year gauntlet.

Ed and Cynthia Sadjadi wound up owing for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.

They got an installment plan.

Then they flipped it to an OIC.

COMMENT: What is the difference? In a vanilla installment plan, you pay back the full amount of taxes. Perhaps the IRS cuts you some slack with penalties, but they are looking to recoup 100% of the taxes. In an OIC, the IRS is acknowledging that they will not get 100% of the taxes.

The Sadjadis were good until they filed their 2015 tax return. They then owed tax.

The reasoned that they had paid-off the vast majority if not all of their 2008 through 2011 taxes. They lived-up to their end of the deal. They now needed a new payment plan.

Makes sense, right?

And what does sense have to do with taxes?

The Court reminded them of what they signed way back when:

I will file tax returns and pay the required taxes for the five-year period beginning with the date and acceptance of this offer.

The IRS will not remove the original amount of my tax debt from its records until I have met all the terms and conditions of this offer.

If I fail to meet any of the terms of this offer, the IRS may levy or sue me to collect …..

The Court was short and sweet. What part of “five-year period” did the Sadjadis not understand?

Those taxes that the IRS wrote-off with the OIC?

Bam! They are back.

Yep. That is how it works.

Our case this time was Sadjadi v Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2019-58.

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