Small businesses which get behind on their debts also often fail to pay their payroll taxes resulting in payroll tax problems for the owners. Not paying payroll taxes is a big mistake since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can collect the trust fund portion of the payroll tax debt from responsible officers of a corporation under Internal Revenue Code § 6672. Not all corporate shareholders , however, are necessarily persons liable for trust fund taxes under Internal Revenue Code § 6672. For example, if the payroll tax problems were concealed from the owner he might not be personally liable. Some tax lawyers may have thought that an LLC would provide similar protection for its members, but that’s not always true.
According to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that’s not the case for a sole member of an LLC. McNamee v. IRS, 488 F. 3d 100 (2nd Circuit 2007). McNamee, who was apparently an accountant (I don’t know whether he was a CPA), represented himself in court, and didn’t have a tax lawyer. McNamee was the sole member of a limited liability company formed under Connecticut state law. Like most states, Connecticut provides that a member of a single owner LLC is generally not liable for its debts.
IRS regulations allow single-owner limited liability company to choose whether to be treated as a corporation–or to be disregarded as a separate entity. If an LLC elects to be treated as a corporation the owner is subject to double taxation–once at the corporate level and once at the individual shareholder level. On the other hand, the LLC may chooses not to be treated as a corporation, either by affirmative election or by the failure to make any election. In the later instance IRS regulations provide that the LLC is disregarded, and that the member is fully liable not just for the trust fund taxes, but all the payroll taxes including interest and penalties accrued on the overdue payroll taxes. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the IRS regulations were valid, and in so doing hit McNamee personally with a large tax debt.
The rules are different for a multi-member LLCs which is classified by default as a partnership. According to IRS Revenue Ruling 2004-41, absent special circumstances such as transferee liability, members of such entities are not personally liable for payroll tax debts of the LLC without a separate assessment by the IRS under Internal Revenue Code § 6672.
If you or your company has a tax dispute contact Brager Tax Law Group, A P.C. Our tax lawyers represent companies and individuals all over California including Los Angeles County, Orange County, the Inland Empire, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County including the cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, Mission Viejo, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Santa Ana with payroll tax problems with the California Employment Development Department (EDD), and the IRS.