If you or your clients have tax problems and owe California State income taxes, the Tax Man Cometh! The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) is collecting delinquent tax debts through the Financial Institution Record Match (FIRM) program. FIRM uses automated data exchanges to locate bank accounts held by Californians who have tax debts. The FIRM program will match records on a quarterly basis in order to collect tax debts from both individuals and businesses. No financial institution doing business within the state of California is exempt from participating in the program. However, in rare cases temporary exemption or suspension of participation may apply. Banks that chose not to comply are subject to large fines each year. Accounts that are eligible for tax levies include checking and savings accounts, as well as mutual funds. FIRM is similar to the Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) program, which is used to collect delinquent child support debt.
The FIRM program allows the FTB to use data obtained from banks to find assets and garnish bank accounts up to 100 percent of the amount owed. As of April, the FTB began to serve tax levies on the bank accounts of individuals who have delinquent balances, including penalties, interest, taxes and fees that have been identified through FIRM. With the help of the FIRM program, the FTB expects to issue 475,000 tax levies this fiscal year, a 75 percent increase from last year.
In order to avoid tax levies you or your tax lawyer should consider possible alternatives including installment agreements, offers in compromise and bankruptcies.
Data between FTB and FIRM can be exchanged in two ways. In the first method, information regarding open accounts is given directly to the FTB for the Board to match accounts with delinquent taxpayers. This method is only available to institutions that are unable to match the information against their own records. Institutions that do not qualify for the first method must match taxpayer information against their own records. Banks can choose to hire a third-party transmitter to aid in matching the data. Because the accuracy of the data is of the utmost importance, banks must verify matches from third-party services before submitting them to the FTB.
A 10-day holding period follows the issue of the tax levy to the bank. During this time, the taxpayer or a tax attorney on the taxpayer’s behalf may negotiate the amount due or, if financial hardship is creating tax problems, discuss payment options. If the FTB levied an account in error, they will delay the garnishment while they verify the mistake and then issue a garnishment release notice. If the bank has already issued the payment, the Board will return the payment.