Tax Problem Attorney Blog

Articles Posted in Tax Disputes

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Bankruptcy Appellate Panel Finds in Favor of the Taxpayer in Late-Filed Taxes Discharge Question

In the previous blog post we set forth the facts in a bankruptcy proceeding where the IRS argued that taxes filed even one day past assessment would result in the nondischargeability of the debt in bankruptcy. In this post we will examine the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel’s (BAP) analysis and issued guidance in the proceeding In re Kevin Wayne and Susan Martin, EC-14-1180-KuKiTa (9th Cir. BAP 2015).

Bankruptcy Court Found the Tax Debts Were Dischargeable

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The Internal Revenue Code and the Bankruptcy Code are each complex laws, but when they intersect things can get quite confusing, and seemingly inconsequential facts can have serious legal consequences. In a recent unpublished opinion, In re Kevin Wayne and Susan Martin, EC-14-1180-KuKiTa (9th Cir. BAP 2015), the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP) provided some guidance as to the effect the non-filing of a tax return or the filing of a tax return post-assessment can have on one’s eligibility for discharge through bankruptcy. While the court did not provide a bright-line rule, it did provide an explanation as to the applicable standards regarding what constitutes a “return” for purposes of a bankruptcy discharge. Taxpayers and their bankruptcy and tax attorneys can consider and apply the announced standard to gain a better insight into the impact their non-filing may have on contemplated bankruptcy proceedings. Of course the story may not be over, and the IRS may still appeal the BAP ruling.

Providing further clarity and a rejection of the harsh consequences imposed by a literalist approach and the IRS-advocated positions, the court also addressed a number of other arguments regarding the proper definition of a “return” and the analytical framework when determining a taxpayer’s eligibility for a bankruptcy discharge. In doing so the BAP rejected an approach that had gained favor in other courts. In doing so the BAP refused to follow other courts which had interpreted tax and bankruptcy law in a way which would make a tax debt nondischargeable whenever a tax return is filed even one day late. It also rejected the IRS position that once the IRS makes an assessment in the absence of a filed tax return that tax debt is non-dischargeable even though the taxpayer subsequently files a tax return.

The Taxpayers Failed to File Their Tax Returns for Multiple Tax Years

USA passport, compass and foreign coins sit on a map of Europe for an international travel concept.
One’s failure to understand the obligations and duties one holds under the U.S. Tax Code can always result in significant additional penalties and interest on any unsatisfied tax debt. Aside from these serious penalties, a proposed provision contained within the pending 2015 highway & transit funding bill, aka the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, would introduce new consequence on top of fines and penalties for certain taxpayers with “seriously delinquent taxes.” This new measure would permit the IRS to submit a list of individuals who are subject to non-renewal, cancelation, and restrictions on their U.S. passports.

The Bill has been passed by both the House, and the Senate, but there are still impediments to its final implantation. A provision in the bill authorizes the U.S. government to revoke, deny, or limit one’s U.S. passport if the person owes more than $50,000 in “seriously delinquent tax debt.” This $50,000 threshold includes all penalties and interest that may be added on due to a taxpayer’s failure to satisfy a tax debt that is due and owing. However, the tax enforcement provisions regarding the cancelation of one’s passport can only be utilized after the IRS has filed a lien or a levy against the taxpayer. The Bill provides that if the provision passes, it will go into effect on the first day of 2016.

Many groups are likely to be effected by these harsh potential new penalties. However, few groups are likely to be as affected as the 8 million strong American expatriates already grappling with FATCA and other offshore account compliance initiatives. Facing FATCA or other tax penalties and failing to address the matter before January 1st could lead to dire circumstances for expats due to potential passport cancelation. While the $50,000 threshold seems like it would be difficult to reach, penalties and interest can add up much more quickly than the average taxpayer would imagine.

IRS File Drawer Label Isolated on a White Background.
No taxpayer wants to receive news of a tax deficiency, tax audit, or other bad news from the IRS; however, it may turn out that the only thing worse than receiving bad news from the IRS is not receiving notice that you need to take action to correct a past tax filing or past tax mistake. Almost invariably, the longer a taxpayer takes to fix his or her underpayment of tax or outstanding tax bill the greater the amount of interests and penalties he or she is likely to pay. Thus, while it may be painful to receive notice of a tax lien or other adverse action by the IRS, not receiving the notice in a timely manner is worse.

Unfortunately for more than 24,000 taxpayers, a report from the Treasury Inspector General’s Office shows that problems in the tax lien process do occur.

When Can the IRS File a Tax Lien & What is Its Impact?

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You filed your taxes like you were supposed to and you should be able to spend the rest of the year free from worries about taxes. But, then one day it appears. The envelope is fairly nondescript except for the name and address of the Internal Revenue Service emblazoned upon it. Maybe you tear it open immediately or maybe you wait until you are feeling a little braver, but in either case your mind starts racing and you can’t quite shake the feeling that you’ll soon be facing major tax problems.

However, not every notice from the IRS represents a major issue or concern. But, if you do receive a notice that alleges that serious tax mistakes or tax crimes have occurred, the Brager Tax Law Group may be able to help you resolve your issues with the IRS.

Above all else, do not panic if your see a notice from the Internal Revenue Service

The 6th Circuit recently taught an expensive lesson to a Michigan couple about carefully following procedure when dealing with tax problems and subsequent loss of their $64,000 refund occurred because of a seeming minor error. Following an IRS tax dispute began, as the IRS’ records stated that the envelope containing the Stockers’ amended 2003 return was postmarked four days late. Compounding the Stockers’ tax problems, the IRS failed to retain the postmarked envelope in question. Seeking help in their tax dispute the Stockers brought suit, but the District Court granted the IRS’ motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction due to the suit being barred as past the three-year period for filing a claim for a tax refund. On appeal, the 6th Circuit affirmed.

The 6th Circuit was unmoved by the Stockers’ attempts to prove the mailing date of their return through means other than those set forth in IRC Section 7502. As the IRS’ records indicated that the returns were postmarked four days late, the Stockers could not prove timely delivery under IRC Sec. 7502(a)(1), which states that the postmark of the returns establishes the date of mailing. Additionally, Mr. Stocker’s failure to obtain the certified mail receipt precluded the use of IRC section 7502(c)(1), which states that the “date of registration shall be deemed the postmark date”. The court rebuffed the Stockers’ attempts to prove timely delivery through circumstantial evidence; rather, the Court stated that its own precedent prevented any other method of proof. Finally, the court held that the District Court had not abused its discretion in refusing to draw the inference that the Stockers had timely filed their returns because of the IRS’ failure to retain the postmarked envelope in violation of internal policy.

Despite the seemingly minor nature of the Stockers’ mistakes, the 6th Circuit was highly unsympathetic to their plight. Ultimately, the court reiterated that only certain procedures are available to prove timely filing, and the Stockers’ own mistakes precluded them from receiving relief, despite their innocent nature. While calling it “unfortunate” that the Stockers could not prove the timeliness of their return, the court sent a strong message to taxpayers that it was unwilling to make exceptions for even the most innocent of mistakes.
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Filing a false tax return in violation of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7206 can result in deportation of a resident alien, i.e. a green card holder, according to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kawashima v. Holder (9th Cir. 2010). In a long running case Mr. Kawashima pled guilty to subscribing to a false tax return in violation of IRC Section 7206(1). His wife pled guilty to aiding and assisting in the filing of a false tax return in violation of IRC Section 7206(2).

Generally green card holders can be deported for committing an “aggravated felony.” Tax fraud or tax evasion in violation of IRC section 7201 is specifically defined by the immigration laws as an aggravated felony. Aggravated felonies also include any offence that involves fraud or deceit which exceed a loss to the victim of more than $10,000. The Kawashimas argued that since tax fraud was specifically defined as an aggravated felony Congress meant to exclude all other tax crimes including filing a false tax return. The 9th Circuit disagreed, holding that under the plain language of the statute not only was tax evasion a removable offense, but so was filing a false tax return.

This is just another reminder that the collateral consequences of a criminal tax conviction can reach far beyond the potential prison time.