Section 2301 of the CARES Act, as amended, permits employers to claim employee retention credits (“ERCs”) if they meet certain requirements. Under one of those requirements, an employer may claim an ERC if the employer’s trade or business operations were fully or partially suspended due to a federal or state COVID-19 governmental order (the “Business Suspension Test”).
Monetized installment sale transactions (“MISTs”) have been on the IRS’s radar for some time. On May 7, 2021, IRS Chief Counsel issued an advice memorandum, contending such transactions were “problematic” and “flawed”. And shortly thereafter, on July 1, 2021, MISTs found themselves on the annual IRS “Dirty Dozen” list, or the publication the IRS uses to alert the public of abusive transactions. The IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” list for 2022 and 2023 also includes MISTs.
UPDATE: On August 15, 2022, Judge Otis D. Write II in the Central District of California entered an order approving service of the summons by the IRS on sFOX for account and transaction records. The Department of Justice entered a press release the following day with Commissioner Chuck Rettig quoted as saying “the John Doe Summons remains a highly valuable enforcement tool that the U.S. government will use again and again to catch tax cheats and this is yet one more example of that.” Deputy Assistant Attorney General David A. Hubbert of the Department of Justice Tax Division was also quoted as well saying “taxpayers who transact with cryptocurrency should understand that income and gains from cryptocurrency transactions are taxable.”
The IRS knows it has a problem, in that it knows there are far more cryptocurrency transactions than are being reported on tax returns. The IRS may also get an $80 billion increase in funding for enforcement that will help solve that problem. What can taxpayers and cryptocurrency service providers expect? More John Doe Summonses. If there was any doubt, the IRS filed two new John Doe Summons requests (here and here) this week on cryptocurrency service provider sFOX. sFOX is the full-service crypto prime dealer for institutional investors, providing brokerage services for digital assets. It’s also now a target for information by the IRS and the Department of Justice Tax Division.
Many people, myself included, can sometimes be accused of poor penmanship. As our paperwork becomes more and more electronic, we write less and less down with pen and paper. However, a recent decision from the tax court may be sending more supervisors at the IRS to penmanship classes. The taxpayers, Gregory and Simone Colbert, were assessed income tax deficiencies and associated accuracy related penalties. The Colberts admitted the deficiencies but disputed the interest and penalties.
On June 21, 2022, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a dispute involving split decisions among the circuit courts on non-willful penalties. The Fifth Circuit parted ways with the taxpayer friendly decision of the Ninth Circuit that non-willful penalties are capped at $10,000 per FBAR filing instead of the $10,000 per unreported bank account argued by the government. District courts in New Jersey, Connecticut, California, and Texas had all ruled in the taxpayer’s favor that non-willful penalties were capped at $10,000 per form as well. The case headed to the Supreme Court is United States v. Bittner, where a taxpayer friendly decision from the District Court reduced the $2.7 million penalty to $50,000 based on a $10,000 per form cap on non-willful FBAR penalties. The Fifth Circuit reversed the favorable district court decision and held that the “$10,000 penalty cap therefore applies on a per-account, not a per-form basis.”
In some federal tax disputes, if at first you don’t succeed you may not get to try again. A recent Fifth Circuit decision confirms issue preclusion when the parties and the issue are truly the same. See ETC Sunoco Holdings, LLC v. United States, No. 21-10937 (5th Cir. June 8, 2022). Sunoco sought a refund in the Court of Federal Claims for tax years 2005 through 2008, arguing that they should be permitted a deduction of their costs of goods sold as an excise tax expense even though it did not technically reduce the company’s excise-tax liability. The Court of Federal Claims disagreed. See Sunoco, Inc. v. United States, 908 F.3d 710, 715 (Fed. Cir. 2018). Sunoco then sued again, five years later, for alleged overpayments from tax years 2010 and 2011 but filed suit in the Northern District of Texas instead. Jurisdiction in tax disputes can often be brought in the Federal District Court with local jurisdiction or the Court of Federal Claims that has national jurisdiction. Therefore, jurisdictionally, this was proper. However, District Courts can choose not to hear the case if they conclude that the doctrine of issue preclusion applies.
Properly navigating the IRS labyrinth of rules and regulations is difficult and sometimes taxpayers fail to dot every “i” and cross every “t”. The results can sometimes be devastating for both individuals and small businesses. Especially if the IRS chooses to assess penalties for the unknown failures and then pay those penalties from other funds the taxpayer submits through its offset power. The recent case of Special Touch Home Care Services v. United States, provides an example of how this can sometimes occur.
Although the government bears the burden of production for penalties, this often involves nothing more than showing that the penalties were properly assessed. Penalty relief is usually only given when the taxpayer can marshal their best facts and make a persuasive argument for leniency. This is because the focus is usually on the actions of the taxpayer in properly reporting amounts on the tax return and not the procedures followed by the IRS. However, recent litigation surrounding Code Sec. 6751 has turned added focus onto the IRS procedures for assessing penalties. This focus has resulted in numerous taxpayers having the opportunity to challenge penalties on technical grounds without delving into the actions of the taxpayer’s tax reporting. In some cases, the IRS has even conceded penalties when faced with their own lack of evidence regarding the proper approval procedures.
Dealing with the IRS can be a dangerous labyrinth for the untrained taxpayer or their non-tax advisors. In a recent Federal court case, E. John Rewwer, et al. v. United States, the taxpayers filed the wrong form claiming a refund and both the IRS and the DOJ Tax Division cried foul and tried to dismiss their case. Fortunately, the court found that the taxpayer’s filing met the “informal refund claim” requirements and denied the government’s motion.
The taxpayers received an unfavorable audit determination increasing their tax liabilities for 2007, 2008 and 2009. All amounts were paid and the taxpayers then filed IRS Form 843 (Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement) for all three years. The taxpayer’s attorney, not the taxpayers, signed the requests for refund but didn’t include IRS Form 2848 (Power of Attorney). The IRS allowed the 2008 claim but then denied the 2007 and 2009 claims, so the taxpayers appealed within the IRS. A taxpayer generally has two years from the date of the determination to file a refund suit in federal district court. The taxpayers didn’t hear from IRS Appeals, and the two years was expiring, so they filed their refund suit.
Starting any business has risk, and most businesses take time to become profitable. Unfortunately, the IRS sees multiple years of losses from a business as a red-flag that usually results in further scrutiny. That scrutiny can result in disallowance of legitimate business losses and potential penalties for the underreporting. However, with the proper documentation and testimony, legitimate losses over multiple years can be taken and upheld. A recent Tax Court case on a miniature donkey businesses, Huff v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2021-140, outlines the factors needed to defend multiple years of losses in a business.