Articles Posted in Miscellaneous Tax Information

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

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