May 2012 Archives

IRS Does 180 on Offers in Compromise! "Pennies on the Dollar." Is it Back?

May 22, 2012,

The IRS has completely revamped its offer in compromise guidelines to greatly increase the number of taxpayers who will be able to qualify. Our tax attorneys will be revisiting many of the offers in compromise that are pending, and we recommend that all tax lawyers, enrolled agents, and CPAs who have clients who have submitted unsuccessful offers in compromise in the past review their clients' current financial condition to see if they will qualify under the new offer in compromise guidelines.

The new guidelines are announced in a news release by the IRS (IR-2012-53, May 21, 2012). More details are available in Attachment 1 to Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) 5.8.5 Financial Analysis. The changes are dramatic! And like all tax law changes they are complicated and loaded with ambiguities.

The most revolutionary change that our tax attorneys have noted is the methodology of calculating the offer amount. The amount of the offer in compromise has always been determined by the amount of the reasonable collection potential (RCP). RCP is determined by adding the realizable value of the taxpayer's assets to his Future Income (FI). Thus
Offer amount = RCP +FI

Future income is defined as an estimate of the taxpayer's ability to pay based on an analysis of gross income, less necessary living expenses, for a specific number of months into the future. In the past a taxpayer who could pay the offer amount in 5 monthly payments would multiply his monthly available income by 48 months to arrive at Future Income. A taxpayer who wanted to pay the offer amount over a 24 month period was required to multiply his monthly available income by 60 months to arrive at his Future Income. In both cases Future Income was added to the realizable value of the taxpayer's assets to arrive at RCP, or the offer amount.

Under the new offer in compromise guidelines Future Income will be arrived at by multiplying the monthly available income by 12 if the offer can be paid in 5 monthly payments or less. If the taxpayer needs 24 months to pay the offer amount in full then the Future Income will be determined by multiplying the monthly available income by 24. The deferred payment option which allows payment over the life of the statute is no longer available. Our tax attorneys have formulated a simple example.

A taxpayer who has $50,000 in realizable equity in assets, and monthly future income of $2,000 will pay $74,000 if the offer amount can be paid in 5 months or less, and $98,000 if the offer will be paid over a 24 month period. This compares to offer amounts under the old guidelines of $146,000, or $170,000, respectively. The higher the monthly future income, the greater the discrepancy.

The new guidelines also include changes to the necessary living expenses:

  1. Payments on delinquent State taxes may be allowed in full or in part.

  2. Minimum payments on student loans guaranteed by the federal government will be allowed for the taxpayer's post-high school education (note it says nothing about loans incurred by parents to pay for their children's' tuition).

  3. When the taxpayer owns a vehicle that is six years or older or has mileage of 75,000 miles or more, the IRS will allow additional operating expenses of $200 or more per vehicle. (A variation of this has actually existed in the past, but it has been buried in the IRM so deeply that most IRS offer in compromise specialists are unaware of the existence of this provision).

  4. The first $400 per vehicle of retired debt will not be added back to monthly available income.

Another welcome modification; the calculation of so-called "dissipated assets" has been radically altered. While the exact details are subject to numerous exceptions, and clarifications, in general assets which have been dissipated three years or more prior to the submission of the offer in compromise will not be included in the RCP. For example, if the offer is submitted in 2012, any asset dissipated prior to 2010 should not be included.

One thing that hasn't changed is that zealous advocacy on the part of tax attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents will still be essential to negotiate the best possible deal with the IRS. Careful planning on the timing of offers is also essential.

One of the few negatives is that even before these changes were announced the IRS was overwhelmed with the number of offers in compromise it was receiving. Things are likely to get worse. Our tax lawyers are guessing that very few offers in compromise will take less than a year for the IRS to process.

Another negative is that this is bound to bring unscrupulous "offer mills" out of the woodwork. Even with the new guidelines an offer in compromise is not for everyone, and the danger is that desperate taxpayers will wind up giving up their hard-earned dollars in the hopes of realizing a benefit which is not available to them.

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Criminal Tax: Tax Fraud and Tax Evasion vs. Failure to File Tax Returns

May 14, 2012,

A physician in Kentucky was arrested and charged last month with four counts of tax fraud pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 7201, and two counts of failure to file tax returns in violation of IRC section 7203. According to the indictment Dr. Werner Grentz had failed to file income tax returns since 1999. There is a common myth that it is better not to file a tax return at all than to file a false tax return. Like most myths there is some truth to this one. The willful failure to file a tax return is a misdemeanor punishable by "only" one year in jail, and a fine of not more than $100,000. IRC Section 7203. On the other hand tax evasion a/k/a/ tax fraud is a felony, and the resulting imprisonment can run up to 5 years, plus a fine of not more than $100,000. IRC Section 7201.

One advantage of a misdemeanor over a felony conviction is that it won't result in possible deportation for green card holders. We talked about this tax problem in a past blog post. Still, as Wesley Snipes found out, three years of failing to file a tax return can result in three years in prison.

Any "advantages" should not be used as an excuse not to file a tax return when there is some uncertainty about the correct position to take on a return. It is much better to file a return with missing or even incorrect information (provided that appropriate disclosures are made) than not to file a return.

In addition, in some instances the failure to file a tax return can be charged as tax evasion. That's what happened to Dr. Grentz. The indictments spells out that he was being charged with failure to file for two of the years, but tax evasion for four different years. In order to be convicted of tax evasion it is necessary for the IRS to show an "affirmative act", not merely an omission to do something like the failure to file a tax return. According to the indictment in addition to not filing his tax returns he engaged in the following affirmative acts:

  • He filed Form W-4 claiming that he was exempt from income tax; and

  • He set up bank accounts in the name of two corporations (which the IRS referred to by the pejorative term "nominees"), and deposited some of his compensation into bank accounts set up in the corporate names.

Those two actions were enough to cause a shift from charges of not filing a tax return to tax evasion.

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Tax Fraud: Criminal Tax Conviction For Failure to Pay Payroll Taxes Upheld

May 8, 2012,

The criminal tax conviction of a New Jersey couple (the DeMuros) for failure to pay payroll taxes to the IRS was affirmed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. DeMuro (3d Cir. 2012). The willful failure to pay payroll taxes is a violation Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7202, and is punishable by up to five years in prison. Of course the willful failure by a responsible officer to pay trust fund taxes is also a violation of IRC Section 6672, and will result in a trust fund recovery penalty (TFRP) being assessed against the responsible officers. Obviously the criminal tax conviction is much more serious than the assessment of the trust fund recovery penalty.
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The DeMuros failed to pay trust fund taxes for their business of more than $546,000 over 21 calendar quarters from 2002 to 2008, resulting in a 21 count indictment. While that is a lot of money it is easy to see how a failing business could wind up in that situation since it amounts to about $25,000 per quarter, and was spread over a seven year period. A large sum, but not shocking, at least not to tax lawyers, and other tax professionals who see this type of underpayment on a semi-regular basis.

The DeMuros tried to argue that their failure to pay wasn't willful, but to no avail. The IRS pointed to evidence that during the same time period the DeMuros spent over $5 million dollars from their personal and corporate bank accounts. Apparently several witnesses testified at trial about the DeMuros "luxury vacations, nice homes, and [Mrs. DeMuros] substantial home shopping network expenditures," and the DeMuros argued on appeal that the admission of this evidence was "prejudicial." The response from the Third Circuit was: "[w]hile we are sensitive to the effect that evidence of a defendant's liberal spending habits can have on a jury, particularly in these lean economic times, the evidence admitted in this case, i.e. evidence of vacations, jewelry, cars and parties, was not so inflammatory as to carry a great risk of prejudice."

Mrs. DeMuro argued at trial that she was not responsible for paying the payroll taxes. The IRS response was to show that that Mrs. DeMuro had the authority to fire employees and signatory authority over corporate bank accounts.

Interestingly the IRS also called as a witness the Enrolled Agent that represented the DeMuros before the IRS with regard to the payroll tax problems. The Enrolled Agent testified that he had reviewed two appeals that the DeMuros had filed, and that in his opinion they were meritless, and therefore should have been withdrawn. Advice which apparently the DeMuros didn't follow, and the IRS relied on this as evidence of bad faith on the part of the DeMuros.

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