The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) announced in IR News Release 2023-247 (December 21, 2023) its new Voluntary Disclosure Program (“ERC VDP”) that allows employers who may have received questionable Employee Retention Credits (“ERCs”) to pay them back at a discount. The ERC VDP is a part of the government’s ongoing fight against questionable ERC claims.
As you may recall, on November 7, 2022, the IRS issued COVID Tax Tip 2022-170. It warned employers to be wary of third-party vendors offering assistance in applying for ERCs. In fact, the IRS stated in that notice:
“Employers should be wary of third parties advising them to claim the employee retention credit when they may not qualify. Some third parties are taking improper positions related to taxpayer eligibility for and computation of the credit.
These third parties often charge large upfront fees or a fee that is contingent on the amount of the refund. They may also fail to inform taxpayers that wage deductions claimed on the business’ federal income tax return must be reduced by the amount of the credit.
If the business filed an income tax return deducting qualified wages before it filed an employment tax return claiming the credit, the business should file an amended income tax return to correct any overstated wage deduction.
Businesses should be cautious of schemes and direct solicitations promising tax savings that are too good to true. Taxpayers are always responsible for the information reported on their tax returns. Improperly claiming the ERC could result in taxpayers being required to repay the credit along with penalties and interest.”
The government’s stated goal of the ERC VDP is twofold:
On April 5, 2023, Commissioner Daniel I. Werfel issued the Internal Revenue Service Inflation Reduction Act Strategic Operating Plan (“Plan”). The Plan, which spans over 145 pages, is a roadmap to how the Service will deploy over the next decade the approximately $80 billion in supplemental funding it will receive as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act enacted by Congress last year (“IRA”).
In the Plan, Commissioner Werfel sums up the strategic goals for the IRS as follows:
“We will make it easier for taxpayers to meet their tax responsibilities and receive tax incentives for which they are eligible. We will adopt a customer-centric approach that dedicates more resources to helping taxpayers get it right the first time, while addressing issues in the simplest ways appropriate. We will address noncompliance, using data and analytics to expand enforcement in certain segments. We will become an employer of choice across government and industry. These changes will enable us to serve all taxpayers more equitably and in the ways they want to be served.”
More than two decades ago, the Service announced its intention to consider simplifying the entity classification rules in Notice 95-14. It stated:
“The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department are considering simplifying the classification regulations to allow taxpayers to treat domestic unincorporated business organizations as partnerships or as associations on an elective basis. The Service and Treasury also are considering adopting similar rules for foreign business organizations. Comments are requested regarding this and other possible approaches to simplifying the regulations.”
The Service asked for public comments on simplification of entity tax classification. It scheduled a public hearing on the matter for July 20, 1995.
In May 1996, proposed entity classification regulations were issued by Treasury. About seven months later, on December 17, 1996, Treasury finalized the regulations. The regulations are found in Treasury Regulation Section 301.7701.
The regulations were clearly designed to accomplish the IRS’s stated goal – simplifying entity tax classification. The regulations, commonly referred to as the “Check-the-Box” regulations, successfully brought an end to much of the long existing battle between taxpayers and the Service over entity tax classification. The regulations generally became effective on January 1, 1997. In a little over a month from now, they will be 25-years old.
The regulations, despite judicial challenge (e.g., Littriello v. United States, 2005-USTC ¶50,385 (WD Ky. 2005), aff’d, 484 F3d 372 (6th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 128 S. Ct. 1290 2008)), have persevered, making the entity classification landscape free of many tax authority challenges and providing taxpayers with some objectivity and more importantly, much needed certainty. That said, despite the simplification brought into the world of entity tax classification by the Check-the-Box regulations, for which tax practitioners applauded the government, several new hazards were created. Whether these new hazards were intentional or unintentional is subject to debate. Unfortunately, not all of these hazards are obvious to taxpayers and their advisors. If taxpayers and their advisors are not extremely careful in this area, disastrous unintended tax consequences may exist. Accordingly, a good understanding of the regulations and the consequences of making, not making or changing an entity tax classification decision is paramount.
Last month, I presented a White Paper that I authored on the regulations at the NYU 81st Institute on Federal Taxation in New York City, and I will be presenting it again for NYU in San Diego on November 17, 2022. The paper provides exhaustive coverage of the regulations and covers numerous nuances and traps that exist for unwary taxpayers and their advisors. An issue which is often overlooked by practitioners is whether using the regulations to change entity status for income tax purposes is always a good idea. While I discuss the issue in some detail in the paper, the sub-issue of whether a taxpayer should use the regulations to change the tax status of a limited liability company (“LLC”) taxed as a partnership to a corporation taxed under Subchapter S needs discussion. I explore that sub-issue below.
The Taxpayer Advocate Service (“TAS”) is an independent body housed within the Internal Revenue Service (the “Service” or “IRS”). Its mission is to ensure taxpayers are treated fairly by the Service and that taxpayers know and understand their rights with respect to the federal tax system. Further, the TAS was created by Congress to help taxpayers resolve matters with the IRS that are not resolved through normal IRS procedures. Additionally, the TAS was established to address large-scale, systemic issues that impact groups of taxpayers.
The TAS is currently led by Ms. Erin M. Collins, who joined the TAS in March 2020. She serves as the National Taxpayer Advocate (“NTA”). The NTA submits two reports to Congress each year, namely an “Annual Report” in January and what is called an “Objectives Report” in June.
On June 22, 2022, the NTA submitted the TAS Fiscal Year 2023 Objectives Report to Congress. In addition to identifying the TAS’s objectives for the upcoming fiscal year, Ms. Collins sets out the good, the bad and the ugly relative to the Service’s performance during the year. As a report card, it does not appear Ms. Collins gave the IRS all A’s. She expressed critical comments centered primarily around three areas of customer service that include unprocessed paper-filed tax returns, delays in responding to taxpayer correspondence and failures in answering taxpayer telephone inquiries. Whether the criticism is warranted may be debatable.
More than 25 years ago, effective January 1, 1997, Treasury issued what have been called the “Check-the-Box” regulations (the “Regulations”).1 The Regulations ended decades of battles between taxpayers and the IRS over entity classification. Further, the Regulations simplified entity classification and brought much needed certainty to most entity classification decisions.
Under the Regulations, a business entity with more than one owner is either classified for federal tax purposes as a corporation or a partnership.2 Likewise, a business entity with only one owner is either classified as a corporation or is disregarded for federal income tax purposes as being separate and apart from its owner.3
If a business entity is disregarded, its activities are generally treated for federal tax purposes as the activities of its owner. There are five notable exceptions to that rule.
As many readers have noticed, I have been silent for the past few months. That is partly due to exhaustion from reporting on the flurry of tax events that have occurred since the COVID-19 pandemic commenced in 2020 and also partly due to the need to conserve energy to fully learn, digest and report on the highly anticipated, new broad-sweeping federal tax legislation we should see within the next few weeks. While many commentators are publishing articles on what could be contained in final legislation and what taxpayers should be doing currently, I decided, especially since I do not possess a good crystal ball, to wait until the legislation is passed (or at least gets further along in the legislative process) before reporting on it and advising taxpayers on what they should be doing in anticipation of the legislation. So, all has been calm on the Larry’s Tax Law blog front. Once the legislation is passed, however, I expect a nasty storm to ensue.
I plan to provide you with a summary of the most salient provisions of the law and how those provisions may impact taxpayers. In the interim, I wanted to share some interesting tax trivia just published by the Internal Revenue Service.
On November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act (“Act”) was signed into law by President Barack Obama. One of the many provisions of the Act significantly impacted: (i) the manner in which entities taxed as partnerships are audited by the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”); and (ii) who is required to pay the tax resulting from any corresponding audit adjustments. The new rules sprung into life for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017.
When we thought times were bad enough with the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread social unrest in our country, the West Coast, including the Pacific Northwest, was struck with unprecedented wildfires and massive windstorms, taking lives, destroying property and rendering the air quality throughout the region unhealthy. On September 16 and 17, the Internal Revenue Service announced good news for many taxpayers residing in Oregon.
In News Release OR-2020-23 and News Release IR-2020-215, the IRS announced that, due to the wildfires and windstorms striking Oregon, the deadline for certain Oregonians to file returns and make tax payments will be extended to January 15, 2021.
On August 8, 2020, President Trump issued an executive order, directing the U.S. Treasury to grant employers the ability to defer the withholding, deposit and payment of certain payroll taxes as further COVID-19 tax relief. The deferral applies only to the employee portion of Social Security taxes and Railroad Retirement taxes (i.e., 6.2 percent of wages) required to be withheld and paid under Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Sections 3101(a) and 3201(a) from September 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.
PRACTICE ALERT: The deferral does not apply to required employee Medicare tax withholdings under Code Section 3101(b) (either the standard 1.45 percent on all wages or the additional 0.9 percent tax on wages in excess of $200,000). Further, the deferral is not available for the employer’s share of Social Security (6.2 percent) or Medicare (1.45 percent) taxes.
IRS NOTICE 2020-65
On August 28, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-65, providing guidance relative to the president’s executive order. It provides answers to several important questions.
Notice 2020-65 defines employers required to withhold and pay Social Security and Railroad Retirement taxes as “Affected Taxpayers.” It goes on to provide that the due date for withholding and payment of the employee portion of Social Security taxes and Railroad Retirement taxes for the period September 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 is postponed until the period commencing January 1, 2021 through April 30, 2021.
In News Release 2020-107, issued Thursday, May 28, 2020, the IRS announced that taxpayers will soon be able to electronically file Form 1040-X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. This is welcome news for taxpayers and tax practitioners!
According to the IRS, more than 90 percent of individual taxpayers electronically file their U.S. Federal Income Tax Returns (Form 1040) each year. Likewise, approximately three million amended U.S. Federal Income Tax Returns (Form 1040-X) are filed each year.
Currently, a large number of tax forms may be filed electronically, including U.S. Federal Income Tax Forms 1040, 1065, 1120 and 1120S. Additionally, taxpayers may electronically amend U.S. Federal Income Tax Forms 1065, 1120 and 1120S. They may not, however, amend U.S. Federal Income Tax Form 1040 (Form 1040-X) electronically.
Despite repeated pleas by tax practitioners for the ability to file Form 1040-X electronically, the IRS has not been able to accommodate practitioners. That is about to change!
Larry J. Brant
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder and the Chair of the Tax & Benefits practice group at Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant is licensed to practice in Oregon and Washington. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.