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Articles Posted in Miscellaneous Tax Information

In a 2019 U.S. Tax Court case, Palmolive Building Investors, LLC v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 4, (2019) (Palmolive II), the Tax Court held that both penalties determined by the Revenue Agent in a tax audit and additional penalties later determined  by an Appeals Officer in the IRS Independent Office of Appeals met the written approval requirements of I.R.C. § 6751; thus making Palmolive Building Investors, LLC (Palmolive) a two-time loser. Palmolive was initially in Tax Court in 2017 (Palmolive I) over a disallowed charitable deduction for a façade easement.  As the owner of a historical building in Chicago, it had donated a façade easement to a conservation organization and took a large charitable deduction for the easement. In addition to questioning the $33,410,000 valuation of the easement, the IRS argued that the mortgages on the building limited the easement’s protection in perpetuity. The Tax Court agreed and concluded that the façade easement was not protected in perpetuity and therefore failed to qualify for a charitable deduction under I.R.C. § 170(h)(5)(A).

Following the disallowance in Palmolive I, the taxpayer returned to the Tax Court to dispute whether the penalties assessed by the IRS complied with the provisions of IRC Section 6751(b)(1).  During a tax audit, a Revenue Agent had asserted in a 30-day letter that Palmolive was responsible for a 40% penalty for a gross valuation misstatement and a 20% negligence penalty. These two penalties were approved on Form 5701 by the Revenue Agent’s supervisor. Subsequently, a 60-day letter was issued. The taxpayer took its case to the IRS Office of Appeals. The Appeals Officer assigned to the case proposed four penalties: the two assessed by the Revenue Agent and the Substantial Understatement and Substantial Valuation Misstatement penalties. The Appeals Officer’s immediate supervisor approved all of these penalties on Form 5402-c. In Tax Court, Palmolive argued that the initial determination of penalties was made by the Revenue Agent who did not assert the Substantial Understatement and Substantial Valuation Misstatement penalties; therefore the penalties asserted by the Appeals Officer were not approved as part of the first determination of the penalties.

In examining the validity of the penalty assessments, the court cited I.R.C. § 6751(b)(1) which states that penalties can only be assessed when the initial determination of such penalties are approved in writing by the immediate supervisor of the person making the determination. The court also pointed out that the Congressional motive behind enacting this provision was to make sure penalties were not used as bargaining chips. The court first noted that all penalties were approved in writing. The next issue was what defines an “initial determination” for the purposes if I.R.C. § 6751(b)(1). The court held that the initial determination is when the penalties were first communicated to the taxpayer. The court stated that the Revenue Agent’s 2008 mailing of the 30-day letter was the date of the initial determination and the Appeals Officer’s 2014 issuance of the Notice of Final Partnership Administrate Adjustment are both initial determinations. Since the IRS forms were signed by the respective supervisors prior to the time of the initial determinations, the penalties met the requirements of Section 6751(b) (1).

An article this summer in Tax Notes Today examined the United States government’s ability to tax cryptocurrencies. The article came days before cryptocurrencies saw another bullish run in which the value of a single unit of bitcoin once again passed $10,000. Additionally, the article references the comments of IRS special agent Gary Alford who stated the IRS is ready to enforce the taxation of a U.S. taxpayer’s gains from cryptocurrencies. Special agent Alford argues that the public’s familiarity with cryptocurrencies will make it easier for the IRS to file criminal tax cases against some taxpayers who evade their tax reporting obligations. Given this new warning from Alford, criminal tax attorneys need to be prepared to defend their clients who hold cryptocurrencies.

In Notice 2014-12, the IRS wrote that it considers cryptocurrencies to be property and, as such, the disposition or exchange of cryptocurrencies will be taxable. A clear example of a taxable event is where a bitcoin holder exchanges a single bitcoin (or any fraction thereof) for fiat currency. Fiat currency is understood to be currency backed by a national government, e.g. the Euro or U.S. dollar.

A tricky issue for taxpayers may be determining the adjusted basis of their holdings in a cryptocurrency to determine realized gain. Sometimes a single unit of cryptocurrency may have been involved in multiple exchanges and transactions before the taxpayer finally reports to the IRS he or she holds the cryptocurrency. The taxpayer is placed in the difficult task of proving the correct basis of the cryptocurrency. A taxpayer who provides an inaccurate basis is likely to be subject to penalties in addition to the amount in taxes owed.

How to Discharge Property From an IRS Tax Lien
The blanket IRS tax lien automatically applies to all of your property whenever you owe taxes to the IRS. This lien does not result in immediate collection of your tax debt like a bank account seizure or wage garnishment, but it does encumber your property, making it difficult to sell or refinance once the IRS files its Notice of Federal Tax Lien. If you need to sell your property or get rid of the lien, you need to request a discharge from the IRS.

How to Get a Tax Lien Discharged

Once the IRS records a lien, generally by filing it against your real property at the county recorder’s office, any subsequent purchaser takes the property subject to the lien. Since a buyer is not going to want to be responsible for your delinquent tax debt, you will likely need to negotiate a lien discharge before you can sell your home.

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