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Posts Tagged ‘Taxpayer Advocate’

The IRS Median Offshore Penalty 580% of Tax Due For Those Who Make Honest Mistakes

Posted by William Byrnes on January 16, 2014


Published via the IRS Newswire (IR-2014-3) and on the Taxpayer Advocate website of the IRS on January 9, 2014, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson released her 2013 annual report to Congress.  The Taxpayer Advocate, replying on State Department statistics,  cited that “7.6 million U.S. citizens reside abroad and many more U.S. residents have FBAR filing requirements, the IRS received only 807,040 FBAR submissions in 2012.”{1}  The Taxpayer Advocate noted that “more than one million U.S. citizens reside in Mexico and many Mexican citizens reside in the U.S.”  The Report pointed out that most persons that worked in Mexico had to pay into a government mandated retirement account (known as a AFORES), and that this retirement account may be reportable to the IRS as a foreign trust.

Regarding individual international tax compliance initiatives, the IRS Newswire reported that “Analyzing results from the IRS’s 2009 OVD program, the Advocate found the median offshore penalty was about 381% of the additional tax assessed for taxpayers with median-sized account balances, and 580% of the tax assessed for taxpayers with the smallest account balances (i.e., the bottom 10%, with an average $44,855 account balance).  Taxpayers who “opted out” of the OVD program and agreed to subject themselves to audits fared better but still faced penalties of nearly 70% of the tax and interest.”

The Report stated: “Since 2009, the IRS has generally required those who failed to report offshore income and file one or more related information returns (e.g., the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR)) to enter into successively more punitive offshore voluntary disclosure (OVD) programs.  … The programs were punitive, charging average penalties of more than double the unpaid tax and interest associated with the unreported accounts. … On average, the IRS assessed penalties of nearly 70% of the unpaid tax and interest in the audits of those who opted out.”  The FBAR penalty of 50% of the account balance, for up to six years of non-compliance, equals a potential maximum FBAR penalty of 300% of the account itself, without regard to the actual tax due, interest thereupon, and tax penalties.

The finding that small account holding benign taxpayers paid penalties of nearly 600% of the actual tax due appears to be a miscarriage of the intent of policy makers.  This situation has also led the Taxpayer Advocate to conclude that benign actors, in particular those with small non-reported accounts, made either soft disclosures or prospectively began to comply “… without subjecting themselves to the lengthy and seemingly-unfair OVD process.”

Regarding the 2012 IRS Streamlined OVD program, the taxpayer Advocate found that as of September 2013 2,990 taxpayers had submitted returns reporting an additional $3.8 million in taxes.

{1} Report Volume 1, Page 229.

Posted in FATCA, Tax Policy | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Posted by William Byrnes on January 9, 2014


Published via the IRS Newswire (IR-2014-3) and on the Taxpayer Advocate website of the IRS,  National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson today released her 2013 annual report to Congress, urging the Internal Revenue Service to adopt a comprehensive Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR).

The Newswire reminds the public that in a prior report, Olson analyzed the IRS’s processing of applications for tax-exempt status and concluded its procedures violated eight of the ten taxpayer rights she has proposed.  The current Report though provided a broad rationale, based on internal coherence, collection efficiency, and international practices for Congress to codify a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and for the meanwhile the IRS to issue its own.  Examples of international practice included, by example, references to OECD Reports and to Canada’s practice.  The Report quotes Thomas Jefferson: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”{1}

The Newswire quotes the Report “Taxpayer rights are central to voluntary compliance.  If taxpayers believe they are treated, or can be treated, in an arbitrary and capricious manner, they will mistrust the tax system and be less likely to comply with the laws voluntarily. If taxpayers have confidence in the fairness and integrity of the system, they will be more likely to comply.”

Regarding efficiency, the Newswire focuses on the report’s emphasis that the U.S. tax system is built on voluntary compliance: 98% percent of all tax revenue the IRS collects is paid timely and voluntarily. Only 2% results from IRS enforcement actions.  While arguing that knowledge of taxpayer rights promotes voluntary compliance, the report cites a survey of U.S. taxpayers conducted for TAS in 2012 that found less than half of respondents believed they have rights before the IRS and only 11 percent said they knew what those rights are.

Regarding coherence, the Report states: “The Internal Revenue Code provides dozens of real, substantive taxpayer rights.  However, these rights are scattered throughout the Code and are not presented in a coherent way. Consequently, most taxpayers have no idea what their rights are and therefore often cannot take advantage of them.”

The report calls on the IRS to take the taxpayer rights that already exist and group them into ten broad categories, modeled on the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The report says the “simplicity and clarity” of a thematic, principle-based Taxpayer Bill of Rights would help taxpayers understand their rights in general terms.

1. The Right to Be Informed

2. The Right to Quality Service

3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax

4. The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard

5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum

6. The Right to Finality

7. The Right to Privacy

8. The Right to Confidentiality

9. The Right to Retain Representation

10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System, Including Access to the Taxpayer Advocate Service

Read the complete Report at http://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov/2013-Annual-Report/full-2013-annual-report-to-congress/

{1} Report Volume 1, Page 7.

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