How to Respond When the IRS Makes a Mistake
Charged with administering, enforcing, and collecting taxes from millions of Americans, the IRS understandably makes mistakes. If the IRS is trying to charge you penalties or assess taxes incorrectly, or is attempting to seize your bank account or put a lien on your house, you have options for disputing the IRS action and arguing your case.

How to Handle Incorrect Tax Assessments

If the IRS sends you a Notice of Deficiency and you do not believe you actually owe the tax, you should file a petition in Tax Court. You have 90 days from the date of the notice to file your petition. If you miss this chance, you will only be able to argue your case in court AFTER paying the full amount and filing a refund claim.

South Carolina Bank Involved in Employment Tax Fraud Scheme
The former Vice President of a South Carolina-based bank has pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by participating in an employment tax fraud scheme that resulted in over $1 million in unpaid payroll taxes. This case shows that the Department of Justice will go after those who are complicit in employment tax fraud in addition to businesses or individuals that fail to remit payroll taxes.

Douglas Corriher made several loans to a bank customer who operated staffing companies in North Carolina. These loans were made through nominees to circumvent federal laws that limit the amount that can be loaned to a single entity. Engaging in illegal activities is one of the badges of tax fraud, so these illegal loans may have indicated to the IRS that an intentional violation of a known legal duty was occurring.

The staffing company handled the payroll responsibilities—including remitting payroll taxes and filing W-2 forms—for thousands of low-wage temp workers. The W-2 forms indicated that the employment taxes had been withheld from the workers’ wages, even though they had not actually been paid.

What is an IRS Summons?
An IRS summons is an official order to produce information or provide testimony to aid in an IRS investigation. Summonses may be issued to the taxpayer being investigated or to third parties who may have information that the IRS wants to use in the investigation. If you receive a summons, you should immediately consult with a tax litigation attorney to determine what information you are required to produce, what arguments you have for refusing to disclose certain information, and whether you may incriminate yourself by producing certain information.

Before you receive a summons, you should receive several other notices from the IRS, beginning with an Information Document Request (IDR). An IDR is a more informal notice, but will often be requesting the same information as the summons. The IRS would prefer that you respond and give them the information they want without requiring the issuance of an official summons, which can be enforced by a federal district court.

The IRS will have to prove to the court that the summons is necessary to obtain information that may be relevant to a legitimate investigation. The taxpayer will be asked to show why the summons is not proper, and a failure to respond to the summons after a district court orders it enforced will usually result in a citation for contempt which can include time in jail.

What is IRS Tax Lien Subordination?
Once the IRS files a federal tax lien, all other creditors or potential buyers have notice of the lien.  If someone buys your home, they will be buying the home subject to the lien unless you are able to negotiate a lien discharge. If you attempt to refinance your home, you will run into difficulties because the lender will not want their lien to be in a junior position to the IRS tax lien.

The general rule for lien priority is “first in time, first in right”, so if your first mortgage was recorded prior to the recording of the IRS tax lien, the first mortgage lender retains their priority. However, if the loan were refinanced, the lender would lose priority and fall behind the IRS if the home was foreclosed upon and the funds were disbursed to lienholders.

The IRS could give up its priority—which is known as tax lien subordination—which would allow the new lender to take a senior position to the IRS lien. Unfortunately, the IRS is not going to make such a gesture out of goodwill alone. They are only going to subordinate their lien interest if you have something to offer them, which usually takes one of two forms.

Can I Sell My Home Subject to a Federal Tax Lien?
Shortly after you fail to comply with an official demand for payment of your tax debt from the IRS, a secret lien attaches to all of your real property and personal property. However, the IRS can also file an official notice of federal tax lien on your home, and other property at the county recorder’s office, which puts the public on notice of the tax lien. This can seriously interfere with your ability to sell your home because any buyer would have to take the home subject to the lien.

However, the IRS will remove the lien—known as a lien discharge—in certain situations. By removing the lien, the IRS is giving up its right to this specific piece of property, which can be assigned a specific monetary value. The IRS will generally only give up this right if it receives something of equal value, or if there is sufficient equity in your other assets to convince the IRS that it will be able to get the money from your other assets.

For example, if you want to sell your home for $400,000, and you owe $300,000 on the first mortgage, the IRS has a lien interest of $100,000 on your home. If you want the IRS to give up this interest, you will have to either give $100,000 in value or show that you have other assets satisfactory to the IRS that will satisfy their claim.

What Happens After I Receive an IRS Notice?
The IRS sends taxpayers millions of notices per year. Whenever you receive correspondence from the IRS you should read it carefully and attempt to understand what the IRS is trying to tell you. This can be difficult because some notices are unclear to those who do are not familiar with tax laws or IRS procedures.

IRS notices can be informational, such as when you are notified that your tax return is going to be adjusted. However, you may still disagree with this notice, and you can attempt to take action to dispute the mistake by the IRS.

Other notices will warn you that the IRS is about to take a specific action. This could a Notice of Intent to Levy, which means that the IRS is about to seize some of your assets, including the funds in your bank account or a state tax refund. Another common notice is the Notice of Deficiency, which states that the IRS is planning to assess a tax liability against you, and gives you one last chance to dispute the amount in Tax Court before the IRS begins to collect it.

When the 50 Percent Penalty Applies During Offshore Voluntary Disclosure
The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) normally comes along with an “offshore penalty” equal to 27.5 percent of the highest aggregate account balance of the previously unreported foreign financial assets. However, the penalty is increased to 50 percent for taxpayers who have accounts at foreign financial institutions that are under investigation by the IRS or Department of Justice, or who are cooperating with the U.S. government regarding accounts held by U.S. persons. These foreign financial institutions have been referred to as “bad banks”, and the list of bad banks has continued to grow each year.

How the 50 Percent Penalty Works

Not only does a taxpayer face a 50 percent offshore penalty for any assets held at a bad bank, the taxpayer must pay the 50 percent penalty on all of their unreported foreign assets. For example, a taxpayer with a $10,000 account at a bad bank and $500,000 at a foreign bank that is not under investigation will be subject to the 50 percent penalty on the total of both accounts, despite the fact that the majority of their funds are held at a bank that is not under investigation.

How Does Living Overseas Impact Your FBAR and FATCA Obligations?
U.S. taxpayers who live overseas may still have a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) and form 8938 filing report for their foreign financial accounts. In general, your FBAR obligations will not be impacted by the fact that you live overseas. If you are a U.S. person and your aggregate account balance of foreign accounts exceeded $10,000 during the year, you must file an FBAR, regardless of where you live.

Your Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) obligations using form 8938 require a bit more discussion. Whether you need to file a form 8938 could be impacted by country of residency because there are different threshold amounts depending on whether you live in the U.S. or abroad.

Form 8938 Thresholds for Taxpayers Living Abroad

What is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) sets reporting requirements for both foreign financial insinuations and U.S. taxpayers who hold specified foreign assets. If your foreign financial institution is in a country that has an agreement with the United States, then you will be asked whether or not you are a U.S. person for tax purposes. Answering “yes” to this question will trigger a requirement on behalf of the financial institution to report your account information to the IRS.

Individual Requirements Under FATCA

By requiring foreign financial institutions to report account information for U.S. taxpayers, the government and the IRS have made it easier to track tax evasion by individuals who are hiding money in foreign bank accounts. In addition, taxpayers must file their own report of their foreign accounts, which is done on form 8938.