Articles Posted in Miscellaneous Tax Information

What Expats Should Know About Their U.S. Tax Obligations
Expats may decide to leave the U.S. due to work, retirement, or other reasons. Tax reduction may also be a motivation for moving to a foreign country, but the United States uses citizenship-based taxation. Therefore, the taxpayer still has a continuing obligation to file and pay U.S. taxes (although they may be eligible for some exclusions, such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion).

Tax Mistakes Expats Should Avoid

First, expats need to continue to file and pay their taxes. Many other countries use territorial-based taxation, which only taxes income earned inside the country. The United States, on the other hand, taxes citizens on all worldwide income.

IRS “Substance Over Form” Argument Fails
The Sixth Circuit reversed a Tax Court decision and denied the IRS’s “substance over form” argument by allowing a clever tax reduction technique that was legal under the letter of the law. In Summa Holdings v. Commissioner, the court rejected the IRS’s position and declined to let Congress off the hook for allowing a loophole that was used by the taxpayer to avoid the contribution limits on Roth IRAs.

The Beneson family used a domestic international sales corporation” (DISC) to transfer money from their family-owned company to their sons’ Roth IRAs. DISC dividends are subject to a tax on unrelated business taxable income, but once the DISC dividends go into a Roth IRA, the earnings would grow tax-free, and the distributions would also not be subject to tax.

In other words, the Benesons avoided the Roth IRA contribution limits (currently $5,500 per account annually) using this strategy. Between 2002 and 2008, the Benesons transferred over $5 million into two Roth IRA accounts.

What Are the Penalties for Failure to File a Tax Return?
If you owe tax and fail to file a return on time, the IRS can assess both civil and criminal tax penalties. The penalty for failure to file is separate from the penalty for failure to pay taxes, and both civil and criminal penalties can be assessed for the same return.

Penalty for File to File a Tax Return

The penalty for failure to file is 5 percent of the tax owed per month. Contrast that with the failure to pay penalty of only half a percent per month, and you can see why it is a good idea to file your return on time, even if you cannot pay your tax.

Can You Request the IRS Waive Penalties Based on Medical Hardship
The IRS may offer penalty relief for taxpayers who can show a reasonable cause for failing to file tax returns or pay taxes. IRS penalties can be waived in certain cases, but the IRS will examine all of the facts and circumstances to determine if a reasonable cause exists in your particular case.

A typical situation that the IRS will consider a sound reason for failing to file or pay taxes is death, serious illness, incapacitation, or unavoidable absence of the taxpayer or a member of the taxpayer’s immediate family. If you owe a substantial amount of IRS penalties, you may want to consult with a tax attorney.

Facts Need to Establish Reasonable Cause Due to Medical Hardship

Can a California Tax Lawyer Help Me with Tax Problems in Other States
Tax laws vary greatly from state to state, and in fact, nine states don’t even charge a state income tax. With such diversity of tax laws, it isn’t feasible for a tax lawyer to be fully versed in the statutes of all the other 41 states. However, federal tax laws apply to all 50 states, and a tax attorney with experience dealing with the IRS may be able to assist you with federal tax problems even if you live or do business in another state.

A California Tax Lawyer for State and Federal Tax Problems

For federal tax problems, it’s important to find an attorney that specializes in tax matters. The United States Tax Court will admit attorneys that are members of the bar in any state or Washington D.C. without requiring an examination. If you have a case before the Tax Court, an attorney from another state can help you if they are admitted to practice before the Tax Court.

Tax Piles
Periodically, the Brager Tax Law Group surveys tax preparers and/or taxpayers on a variety of issues. Our most recent survey targeted tax preparers and their interaction with the IRS in a number of areas, including disclosure programs, FBARs and marijuana businesses.

The survey contained several quantitative questions with a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 as poor and 5 as excellent. The lowest scoring statement was respondents’ experience in getting a response from the IRS within a few business days, which scored only 1.96. The highest score was on respondents’ experience in participating in the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, which scored 3.20. Overall interactions with the IRS scored 2.79.

No survey respondents have been contacted by the IRS subsequent to filing amended returns as part of the Offshore Streamlined Procedure submissions.

Closeup of tax wooden blocks on mallet at table in courtroom
The IRS announced that effective Oct. 1, 2016, it will rarely conduct Appeals Conferences in person. More specifically, Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) 8.6.1.4, blandly entitled “Conference Practices,” provides that ALL conferences will be held by telephone except under certain specific enumerated circumstances. Those circumstances are as follows:

  • There are substantial books and records to review that cannot be easily referenced with page numbers or indices
  • The ATE [that’s Appeals Team Employee, aka Appeals Officer, or Settlement Officer] cannot judge the credibility of the taxpayer’s oral testimony without an in-person conference

Retirement Jar
The Taxpayer Advocate is a tireless champion of taxpayer rights. The Taxpayer Advocate is required by law to issue reports to Congress. Her most recent mid-year report was recently released. One of her issues was that the IRS continues to levy on retirement accounts even though the IRS guidance to its revenue officers is “insufficient to protect taxpayer rights.” As her report points out, the IRS has identified three steps which MUST be taken before a Notice of Intent to Levy can be issued on a retirement account such as IRA Qualified Pension, Profit Sharing, and Stock Bonus Plans under ERISA, and Retirement Plans for the Self-Employed (such as SEP-IRAs and Keogh Plans). These steps are:

  1. Determine what property (retirement assets and non-retirement assets) is available to collect the liability;
  2. Determine whether the taxpayer’s conduct has been flagrant; and

Close up of a yellow pencil erasing the word, 'Bankruptcy.' Isolated on white.
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

Taxes
If you were to ask people about the things that they should do every single year, they are likely to mention visiting the doctor for a physical, taking their car in for preventative maintenance, and maybe even a tradition that the person spearheads every year. It is unlikely, however, the individual will mention their yearly duty to file and pay taxes. While taxes are due each and every year, they are typically something that we prefer not to dwell on, unless forced to. In fact, many people will not even consider taxes until days before the due date when the media is saturated with messages about tax filing. As tax attorneys we work to provide strategies that mitigate the risk or consequences of civil or criminal tax exposure. The simplest one is to file your tax return on time!

Nearly all citizens and green card holders have an obligation to file taxes

Nearly all US citizens or legal permanent residents, have an obligation to file taxes due to their level of income or for other reasons. For instance for the 2014 tax year, an individual under age 65 who is filing as single would have an obligation to file taxes if he or she makes $10,150 or more. The same would apply to a married couple filing jointly if they earn more than $20,300 a year. In some cases even smaller amounts of income can require the filing of a tax return. In short, the income thresholds to trigger a tax reporting obligation are not high and apply to almost all US citizens and green card holders.