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News and miscellaneous legal topics – 2010

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Various legal items emphasizing Missouri and federal taxes, archived from the RSS ("rich site summary") feed xlm logo

F.T.C. Accuses Tax Relief Company of Empty Promises new 10/8/10

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that despite collecting $60 million to $100 million in upfront fees from often-desperate clients in recent years, American Tax Relief rarely, if ever, delivered on its promises. NY Times article. FTC web site.

Rental Income Recipients have to Report Payments over $600 to the IRS in 2011 new 10/4/10

Persons engaged in a trade or business must report payments to another person of $600 or more in any tax year to the IRS. The 2010 Small Business Act provides that solely for purposes of Code § 6041(a), and except as provided in § 6041(h) (2), a person receiving real estate rental income is considered engaged in a trade or business of renting property, and consequently must report payments of $600 or more to a service provider, e.g., plumber, painter, or accountant, to the IRS and to the service provider (typically using Form 1099-MISC), effective in 2011. § 6041(h)(2) exceptions include de minimus rental income under IRS regulations, active military or intelligence service members, and where "substantially all" the rental income results from renting the individual's principal residence on a "temporary" basis. The terms "substantially all" rental income and "temporary" basis are not defined and leave many situations open to question, e.g., renting while trying to sell a home for an extended period due to current market conditions. You must obtain the recipient's tax id number for the information return, because failure to provide the number results in a substantial penalty.

IRS adds page of tips for searching irs.gov new 9/17/10

Oklahoma Notice Rule for Out-of-State Internet and Catalog Retailers Submitted for Approval

Notice requirements for Internet and catalog retailers contained in OK H.B. 2359, Laws 2010, has been adopted by the Oklahoma Tax Commission and submitted to the governor and Legislature for approval. Remote sellers would be required to provide notice to customers that use tax may be due on purchases. Notice on a Web site would be required to appear on a page necessary to facilitate the transaction, and the inclusion of a prominent notice link worded in specified language would be sufficient. Invoice notice for Internet purchases would be required to occur on the electronic order confirmation. Notice in a catalog would be required to be part of the order form. For Internet purchases, notice on the checkout page would satisfy both the Web site and the invoice notice requirements. If a retailer were required to provide a similar notice for another state in addition to Oklahoma, the retailer would be permitted to provide a consolidated notice, so long as the notice contained the information required by Oklahoma. New language is added to the proposed rule that would prohibit remote sellers from displaying that no tax is due, unless the seller knew that a purchase was exempt, or unless the seller also displayed the required notice. "Display," in this context, would include a summary of the transaction containing a line designated "sales tax" showing the amount of sales tax as "0.00" or "zero." The second proposed version of the rule stated only that a non-collecting retailer would not be permitted to advertise on its retail Internet Web site or retail catalog that no tax was due on purchases for use in Oklahoma.

Proposed Rule 710:65-21-8, Oklahoma Tax Commission, submitted for approval on August 26, 2010

New IRS video series ?Your Guide to an IRS Audit??follows 3 hypothetical small business taxpayers step-by-step through the audit process new 9/3/10

2010 Kansas Tax Amnesty Program Begins September 1 new 8/26/10

The amnesty is for delinquent tax liability (income, withholding, sales, privilege, severance, estate, liquor, cigarette and tobacco products) effective between September 1, 2010, and October 15, 2010, and for tax periods ending on or before December 31, 2008. Amnesty applies to interest and penalties if the delinquent tax liability is paid in full during the amnesty period. Amnesty is not available for certain liabilities that exist on or after September 1, 2010, such as audits, tax liabilities subject to administrative or judicial appeal, those in bankruptcy, or in criminal investigation or certain criminal or civil litigation. Taxpayers may contact the DOR at (785) 368-8222 to discuss eligibility, and applications may be made via telephone with a department agent.

Illinois Amnesty Will Begin October 1 new 8/26/10

The amnesty for any taxable period ending after June 30, 2002, and prior to July 1, 2009 runs from October 1, 2010, through November 8, 2010. On payment the department will abate and not seek to collect any interest or penalties that may apply and will not seek civil or criminal prosecution for any taxpayer for the period of time for which the amnesty was granted. Failure to pay all taxes due to the state during the amnesty period invalidates any amnesty granted. Amnesty is not available to taxpayers under criminal investigation or any civil or pending criminal litigation for nonpayment, delinquency, or fraud in relation to any state tax. Participation in the amnesty precludes a taxpayer from claiming a refund on an issue unrelated to the amnesty or for an overpayment of tax by taxpayers estimating a non-final liability. A taxpayer with a tax liability for the amnesty period that does not satisfy it during the amnesty program will be charged double the amount of any interest or penalty that would otherwise apply.

Out-of-state taxpayer should collect and remit Missouri sales tax on sales that are drop shipped by its suppliers to the taxpayer's customers in Missouri new 7/27/10

All of out-of-state taxpayer's sales to Missouri customers are subject to Missouri sales tax because title to the products transfers to taxpayer when the products are delivered in Missouri, and then passes from the taxpayer to the taxpayer's customers. Consequently, the taxpayer should collect and remit sales tax on these sales. Taxpayer's suppliers located within Missouri are the place of business for determining the local sales tax. For sales drop shipped by the taxpayer's supplier from outside Missouri to the taxpayer's Missouri customers, the local sales tax is determined by where title passes for the product and taxpayer should collect the local sales tax in effect at the customer's location. MO Letter Ruling No. LR6271 (May. 20, 2010)

IRS announces one-time filing relief allowing tax-exempts to file Form 990 by Oct. 15 to save exempt status new 7/27/10

Two types of relief are available: (1) a filing extension for the smallest organizations (eligible to file Form 990-N); and (2) a voluntary compliance program for small organizations (eligible to file Form 990-EZ). IRS News Release 2010-87, 7/26/10.

Individual marginal income tax rate reductions set to expire new 7/27/10

Unless Congress acts, the individual marginal income tax rate reductions under the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) will expire In less than six months. President Obama's proposals to resurrect the top two pre-EGTRRA -- individual rates of 36% and 39.6% after December 31, 2010 were recently reviewed by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT).

IRS Revokes Notice Regarding Out-Of-Date Addresses For Filing Certain Documents new 7/27/10

The IRS issued Notice 2010-53 (see news link) on July 14 containing updates for out-of-date addresses for filing various elections, statements, returns, and other documents. The new notice is effective for such documents filed on or after August 2, 2010. As a result of theIRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, the IRS replaced its national, regional and district structure with organizational units that serve particular industries and taxpayer groups, so the addresses listed in the IRS's previous notice had provided taxpayers with the addresses to file certain documents as a result of the IRS's reorganization. However, many of the locations listed are now inaccurate.

Federal Bill Would Bar Discriminatory Taxes on Digital Goods and Services new 7/17/10

The Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act of 2010 (H.R. 5649), introduced by Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas on June 30, 2010, has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, would prohibit States and localities from imposing multiple or discriminatory taxes on the sale or use of digital goods or digital services. "Digital good" and "digital service" include any good or service delivered or transferred electronically to a customer, including those accessed or used remotely, but not a telecommunications service or an Internet access service, or an audio or video programming service that is provided by, or comparable to programming provided by, a radio or television broadcast station. All taxes on the sale or use of a digital medical service, digital education service, or digital energy management service would be prohibited.

A tax on the sale or use of a digital good or digital service would have to be imposed explicitly, could only be imposed on retail sales, not sales for resale, and only by the jurisdiction whose territorial limits encompass the customer's "tax address." Charges for digital goods or digital services that are bundled with charges for other goods and services could be taxed similarly, unless the seller's books and records could identify the charges for the digital goods or digital services.

A tax on the sale or use of a digital good or digital service. A regulation or administrative ruling could not construe a tax on the sale or use of tangible personal property (or telecommunications, Internet access, or audio or video programming services) to apply to the sale or use of a digital good or digital service.

Oklahoma Rule Proposed for Out-of-State Internet and Catalog Retailers new 7/17/10

Oklahoma H.B. 2359, Laws 2010 required "noncollecting retailer" making sales of tangible personal property from a place of business outside Oklahoma for use in Oklahoma and which are not required to collect use tax, must provide notice on their retail Internet Web sites or retail catalogs, and onthier invoices provided to customers, that use tax is imposed and must be paid by the purchaser (unless an exemption applies) on the storage, use, or other consumption of the property in Oklahoma, effective after a corresponding emergency or permanent administrative rule takes eff ect.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission issued a proposed draft of an emergency sales and use tax rule that would govern the notice requirements. If a non-collecting retailer does not provide an invoice to a purchaser, it may send a confirmation e-mail containing the notice. The proposed rule would also apply to any "online auction website". A "de minimis retailer," currently defined as any non-collecting retailer that made less than $100,000 total gross sales in the prior year and reasonably expects less than $100,000 sales in the current year. Oklahoma Tax Commission, June 30, 2010.

House legislation submitted to implement the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax new 7/17/10

The Main Street Fairness Act (H.R. 5660) to give member states of the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax (SST) Agreement collection authority over remote sellers was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 1, 2010 by Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., who sponsored similar legislation in the last several Congresses, and the bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. A companion bill is expected to be introduced shortly in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. Introduction of these bills has been expected since the current 111th Congress convened in January 2009, but has been delayed while the SST Governing Board engages in ongoing negotiations with stakeholders over the parameters of the required vendor compensation, small seller exception, and inclusion of communication services. In addition to the Agreement's current requirements, the legislation would mandate the following: reasonable vendor compensation for all sellers, which may vary by the complexity of state law and the characteristics of sellers; a small seller exception to the collection requirement; application of the minimum simplification requirements to taxes on communication services; a path to SST membership for any federally recognized Indian tribe that complies with the Agreement; and judicial review of Governing Board actions by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Taxpayer Advocate Mid-Year Report to Congress new 7/17/10

IRS News Release IR-2010-83,Internal Revenue Service (Jul. 7, 2010)

Expanded Business Information Reporting

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) eliminates the exception to the reporting requirement for payments of $600 or more made to a corporation in the course of a trade or business, other than for corporations exempt from tax, applicable to payments made after December 31, 2011. Vendors must furnish, and businesses must collect, Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs), or the business must impose back-up withholding at 28% of the purchase price. Additionally, businesses will have to keep records of all purchases sorted by TIN and produce and transmit information reports. Busiesses must file Forms 1099 electronically if it makes qualifying purchases from at least 250 vendors during the calendar year.

Tax communications

Olson reported more than 19 million pieces of mail are returned to the IRS as undeliverable every year, including refunds, notices, letters, and other correspondence. Most non-certified mail returned to the agency is generally destroyed and no attempt is made to locate a current address or correct a faulty one. Only selected notices and letters (such as final notices and compliance letters) are processed to try to obtain a possible current address.

Enforcement and services

Enforcement spending makes up more than 2/3 of all IRS spending. The IRS projects enforcement spending will rise by 13.7% while taxpayer services spending will decline by 7.2% over the next 2 years

IRS Will Phase-In Mandatory E-File For Preparers Over Two Years new 7/17/10

Mandatory e-filing for tax return preparers under the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 (2009 Worker Act) will be phased-in over two years, and beginning January 1, 2011 for preparers who anticipate preparing 100 or more federal individual or trust tax returns during the year; or January 1, 2012 for preparers who anticipate preparing 11 or more federal individual or trust tax returns during the year. An individual income tax return for purposes of the 2009 Worker Acts e-file mandate encompasses any return of the tax imposed by Subtitle A on individuals, estates, or trusts.

IRS will not follow district court ruling that severance payments aren't subject to FICA tax new 7/1/10

An IRS spokesperson recently stated that IRS is continuing to follow an older decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that held that payments made to involuntarily terminated workers should be classified as "wages" for FICA tax purposes. IRS will not follow a recent pro-taxpayer district court decision to the contrary. Mary Gorman, Assistant Division Counsel, Office of Chief Counsel, for the IRS Small Business/Self-Employed Division, indicated during the Forum on Federal Payroll Issues at the American Payroll Association's (APA) 28th Annual Congress, that IRS is still denying claims that seek a refund of FICA tax paid on severance payments. She said that IRS will appeal the district court case.

In 2002, the Court of Federal Claims held that severance pay was not subject to FICA. (CSX Corp. v. U.S., (Ct of Fed Cl 4/1/02) 89 AFTR 2d 2002-1935 (4/18/2002). Iin 2008, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed and held that the severance pay involved in the taxpayer's various downsizing programs was subject to FICA. ((CSX Corp. v. U.S., (CA FC 3/6/2008) 101 AFTR 2d 2008-1120 (3/13/2008). In February of 2010, a federal district court ruled in U.S. v. Quality Stores, Inc., (DC MI 2/23/2010) 105 AFTR 2d 2010-1110 (3/04/2010) that payments made to involuntarily terminated workers by a company going out of business should not be classified as "wages" for FICA tax purposes. The district court said that "where severance payments are intended to serve the same purpose as Social Security benefits, i.e., support for workers in lieu of a lost ability to earn wages, the collection of social benefit taxes on the wage-replacement benefits makes little sense." The court believed that the severance payments at issue were properly viewed as wage-replacement social benefits, not taxable remuneration for the employees' services or wages. Therefore, the court reasoned that the severance payments were not subject to taxation for FICA purposes.

Taxpayers should consider filing a protective claim to preserve their opportunity to receive a refund if the courts were ultimately to decide that severance payments aren't subject to FICA tax. Protective refund claims are filed to preserve a taxpayer's right to claim a refund when the taxpayer's right to the refund is contingent on future events (e.g., future litigation), and may not be determinable until after the statute of limitations expires. Without a protective refund claim, taxpayers will only have a three-year statute of limitations in which to seek a refund.

IRS to prepare for joint country audits of multinational corporations new 7/1/10

IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman said the groundwork was being prepared for joint country audits of multinational corporations in prepared remarks delivered on June 8 before the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)/BIAC (the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD). The IRS is now working on developing a protocol for joint audits with other countries. He stressed that a joint audit wouldn't be a simultaneous exam but, rather, two or more countries joining together to carry out a single audit of a company with cross-border business activities. Shulman summarized the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which was enacted as part of the HIRE Act ( P.L. 111-147 ), as making it much more difficult for U.S. individuals to hide assets in offshore accounts by:

Shulman also believes that the mere enactment of FATCA should "prompt preparers and advisors to expand their due diligence regarding offshore account issues, including, but not limited to income tax reporting."

The Seventh Circuit holds spouses must request innocent spouse relief within 2 years of first collection activity new 7/1/10

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has reversed a Tax Court decision that invalidated Reg. §1.6015-5(b)(1), which provides that a spouse must request equitable relief under Code Sec. 6015(f) no later than two years from the first collection activity against the spouse. Lanz v. Comm., 105 AFTR 2d 2010-2780 (7th Cir. 6/08/2010).

The IRS announced the implementation of the Quality Examination Process (QEP) new 7/1/10

"a systematic approach for engaging and involving Large and Mid-Size Business (LMSB) taxpayers in the tax examination process, from the earliest planning stages through resolution of all issues," replacing IRS's Audit Planning Process, and the LMSB Guide for Quality Examinations in Internal Revenue Manual §4.46 is being updated to reflect this change. In the Pub, IRS explains that the examination can generally be divided into 3 phases: planning, execution, and resolution.

Planning phase:

The execution phase includes:

The resolution phase includes:

The IRS also noted that LMSB "Quality Examination Process Reference Guide" (a tool for LMSB revenue agents and exam teams) is available.

Tax lien without filed notice of tax lien continues to apply to excluded property after chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge new 6/30/10

The Tax Court in Wadleigh v. Comm. found that the automatic section 6321 tax lien continued in effect against taxpayer's pension excluded from his chapter 7 bankruptcy estate even absent IRS filing of a notice of tax lien.

New Accounting Standard Affects Leased Spacenew 6/23/10

The Financial Accounting Standards Board is working to merge its generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) with the International Accounting Standards Board standards, with an impact on the accounting for leases. Currently, American and foreign companies list many leases as footnotes in their financial statements. A new standard to be completed next year and enacted in 2013 that will require companies using GAAP to book leases as assets and liabilities on their balance sheets. Companies will record the cost of rent over the remaining term of the lease as a liability (reducing over the term) and their right to use the space as an asset. There will be no grandfathering under the rule, so any active leases will have to be recorded on the balance sheet.

Landlords will record the obligation to provide space as a liability and rents they are to receive as an asset. Landlords currently book their revenue as rental income, but under the new standard rents received will be recorded partly as interest income and partly as a reduction in the obligation to provide space.

A renewal option term must be included in the term and thus included on the balance sheet if it is likely that the lessee will execute the renewal option. Because this increases debt on the balance sheet, renewal options could become less popular. Retailers with contingent rents based on a percentage of sales will have to estimate their sales numbers over the entire term of the lease to book the contingent rent on their balance sheet. These estimates will have to be reviewed and adjusted annually. Having to estimate the likelihood of exercising a renewal option or future sales requires forecasting what the lessee is going to pay rather than their legal obligation to pay.

The new rule is meant to stop significant off-balance-sheet lease activity and remove many of the differences in the way companies account for property that they own and property they lease. It may most heavily affect companies already struggling under heavy debt loads, large retailers with hundreds or thousands of leases, and commercial banks with multiple branches. It may cause more companies to buy their offices and drive down demand for leased space, and shrink the length of leases to diminish the amount required to put on the balance sheet.

The Governor signed SB928 reversing the effect of the Missouri Supreme Court ruling in ICC Management v. Department of Revenue,

which held that a company selling products to a local government or tax exempt entity could not consider the sale a retail sale and, therefore, could not claim the sale for resale exclusion, and Music City Centre Management, LLC v. Director of Revenue, requiring collection of sales tax on tickets to places of amusement sold to time share operators who gave them to tour participants and did not resell them. Under SB928, sales to an exempt entity as was the case in ICC Management are treated as a sale for resale, and the place of amusement collects sales tax on arm's length sales to unrelated entities, unless otherwise exempt, and no tax is due on any subsequent resale of the tickets. new 5/20/10

The IRS will hold an open house 9:00AM-2:00PM on Saturday May 15 to help small businesses and individuals solve tax problems new 5/7/10

The IRS updated the procedures for taxpayers to notify it of a change of address. new 4/22/10

The IRS uses a taxpayer's "address of record" when mailing certain notices and documents that the agency is required to send to taxpayer's last known address, which is legally effective and binding even if the taxpayer never receives the notice because the address of record is incorrect. Taxpayers can verify the IRS has their correct address by calling the agency.

On April 14, 2010, House members passed the Taxpayer Assistance Act of 2010 (TAA) (H.R. 4994)

repealing the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (TIPRA) requirement that offers in compromise submitted after July 16, 2006 be accompanied by a non-refundable 20% deposit. The repeal is not effective until final passage and signature by the president. new 4/22/10

The IRS issued new collection allowable expense standards on March 1, 2010. new 4/16/10

New IRS information posted

Sellers to Government and Exempt Entities Must Pay Sales Tax on Purchases.

[see Senate Bill 928 new 5/20/10] The Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling in ICC Management, Inc. v. Director of Revenue, 290 S.W.3d 699 (Mo. banc 2009), that impacts sellers' use of the resale exclusion, which applies to all affected transactions occurring after September 1, 2009, the date the decision became final. new 3/19/10

Taxpayer provided nontaxable services to counties and municipalities in Missouri, and claimed that tangible personal property it purchased to perform those services was resold to the local governments, which are excluded from the sales tax, and was therefore not subject to tax. The Court held that the sale to the local governments was not a sale at retail because it was not subject to tax, and consequently, ICC could not claim the sale for resale exclusion and must pay tax on its purchases.

The Court relied primarily on two cases: Greenbriar Hills Country Club v. Director of Revenue, 935 S.W.2d 36 (Mo. banc 1996), and Westwood Country Club v. Director of Revenue, 6 S.W3d 885 (Mo. banc 1999). In Greenbriar Hills, the Court held that a private country club that only sold meals to its members and guests did not have to collect and remit tax on the sales of those meals because the statute only imposed tax on places "in which rooms, meals or drinks are regularly sold to the public." Meals sold only to members and guests were excluded from the taxing statute. In Westwood, another private country club claimed it did not have to pay tax on its purchases of food used to sell meals to its members and guests because they were sales for resale. The Court held that because the sales of meals were excluded from tax, they did not constitute sales at retail. Because the sale for resale exclusion is contained in the definition of sale at retail, a transaction that is not a sale at retail cannot be a sale for resale. As the Court noted, Westwood invoked the principle of avoiding double taxation "to avoid being taxed even once." 6 S.W.3d at 888.

The ICC court expressly adopted the Westwood rationale:

This rationale is directly applicable here. ICC's supply of the food and other consumables to the inmates will not be taxed due to application of the governmental sales exemption. As in Westwood, this disqualifies ICC from claiming the resale exemption, because the rationale for that exemption -- the avoidance of double taxation -- does not apply. Indeed, if ICC were correct in its argument that its purchases of consumables are not subject to tax because they will be served to inmates, but that its sales are not subject to tax because of the governmental tax exemption, then no tax would be imposed on the purchase, use or sale of these consumables at all. The purpose of the exemption is not to provide a special benefit to ICC that is not enjoyed by other taxpayers. As in Westwood, the taxpayer must pay a tax on its purchase of consumables where, as here, its resale of the consumables is not taxable.

The IRS recently announced more flexible offer-in-compromise (OIC) evaluation procedures for taxpayers who are unemployed or underemployed.

IRS personnel may use a taxpayer's current lack of income or reduced income in the analysis of the taxpayer's future ability to pay an OIC, effective March 10, 2010, for any OIC currently under consideration and OICs previously rejected that are in their appeal period or where the taxpayer has requested Appeals consideration. If a taxpayer is unemployed and is not expected to return to his or her previous occupation or level of earnings, IRS personnel are instructed to contact the taxpayer to discuss the expected future level of income, and should also allow anticipated increases in necessary living expenses and/or applicable taxes. If a taxpayer is long-term unemployed, the interim guidance instructs IRS personnel to use the taxpayer's current income in the future income calculation. The same treatment applies to taxpayers who are long-term underemployed. The IRS did not remove the requirement that a taxpayer generally must include a nonrefundable 20% payment (in a lump sum offer) when submitting his or her offer. When submitting a periodic payment offer, the taxpayer must include the first proposed installment payment. The IRS also may be flexible for missed payments under an OIC or installment agreement where taxpayers have a record of compliance. IR-2010-29, SB/SE 05-0310-012.

Note that the IRS will require you to update your financial information when the offer specialist finally gets around to reviewing it, with it typically 6 to 12 months after the OIC is submitted. Consequently, your circumstances could change substantially. new 3/17/10

The IRS is conducting annual employment tax audits

of 2,000 selected U.S. companies starting in February 2010. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported that the last IRS estimate in 1984 was that 15% of employers misclassified 3.4 million workers as independent contractors rather than as employees causing an estimated total loss of $1.6 billion in taxes. The IRS audits will include the first IRS study of the non-compliance conducted since 1984. The audits are intended to help reduce the size of the tax gap, i.e., the difference between the tax the IRS estimates is due and the amount actually paid by taxpayers. new 3/16/10

The IRS released the 2010 version of its discussion and rebuttal of many of the more common frivolous arguments used in opposing compliance with federal tax laws. new 2/5/10

The IRS Small Business/Self-Employed Division (SB/SE) released 3 interim optional guidances recognizing how the current economic downturn impacts OICs:

The IRS posts information on its web site on the Health Coverage Tax Credit ("HCTC").

The HCTC is a federal tax credit that enables eligible individuals to pay only 20 % of qualified health insurance premiums for themselves and their family members. new 1/14/10

National Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report to Congress new 1/6/10

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson today [1/6/10] released her annual report to Congress, warning that increased demands on the IRS have eroded the agency's ability to meet taxpayer service needs and expressing concern that IRS collection practices are harming financially struggling taxpayers without producing significant revenue gains. ...

In particular, the report cites IRS lien filing policies as the second most serious problem facing taxpayers. The IRS uses automated systems to file liens against taxpayers in a variety of situations, even when the taxpayer possesses minimal or no property and the lien will do little more than damage the taxpayer's financial viability and access to credit. A study conducted by Olson's office found no obvious causal relationship between the number of lien notices filed and the amount of overall revenue collected.

A second study found that IRS procedures for determining a taxpayer's ability to pay outstanding tax liabilities may be driving some taxpayers into long-term noncompliance because the IRS fails to consider other debts such as credit card balances, school loans, and actual hospital or medical bills. Other tax systems, including Sweden's, consider the taxpayer's overall financial picture.

"Any taxpayer with these debts will tell you that these creditors don't go away," Olson said. "Taxpayers are placed in the intolerable position of agreeing to pay the IRS more than they can actually afford (given their other debts) and then defaulting on the IRS payment arrangements when they channel payments to unsecured creditors in order to get some peace. Thus, the IRS itself fosters noncompliance by its failure to take a holistic approach to the taxpayer's debt situation."

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