As scamming tactics become more sophisticated even knowledgeable taxpayers can get scammed
With taxes on everyone’s mind this time of year, it’s not surprising that this is also a particularly busy time of year for tax scams. Some of the scam tactics that get covered in news stories aimed at the general public seem so obvious that it’s easy to get over-confident and overlook the more subtle tricks scammers use to get access to your personal info and financial resources.
Most folks that read alerts from accounting firms know enough about their taxes to understand that a phone-caller demanding an immediate payment via gift cards to resolve an outstanding tax liability is not from the IRS. But the fraudsters adapt so quickly that by the time the IRS can describe one scam they’ve already moved on to the next plan to rip off the unwary.
How to Distinguish Fraudulent Contacts from Official IRS Business
The best way to protect yourself is to focus less on the description of any individual ruse and more on the identifying details that can help you distinguish fraudulent contacts from official IRS business. Here’s a few tips for confirming that a communication comes from the IRS and not a tax scammer:
- Almost every IRS correspondence with a taxpayer starts with at least one snail-mail letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. If the first contact you get on an issue is by phone or e-mail, do not provide personal information or click on links until you take steps to independently verify the authenticity of the contact.
- Be suspicious of any purported IRS contact that doesn’t start with a letter. Some recent scams have started with seemingly friendly calls or e-mails from a less threatening division of the IRS like the Taxpayer Advocate Service. An unexpected call or e-mail suggesting that you are entitled to some kind of refund of which you weren’t aware should serve as a red flag.
- The last four digits of your Social Security number are easier for hackers to obtain than your full identity. Any unexpected IRS contact that claims to be official but includes only the last four digits of your tax i.d. number should be treated with suspicion.
- If scammers have already hacked your tax records and you aren’t aware, it’s possible that the first suspicious event you see will be a refund deposited to your bank account that you did not file for. If that happens, you need to act quickly before things go from bad to worse. The IRS has specific instructions on how to notify them and resolve the problem.
- When the IRS tells taxpayers that they owe money, the Service instructs them to make payments to the “United States Treasury.” Any instruction to pay an agency or individual other than the U.S. Treasury should be treated as suspicious and reported to the IRS via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- According to the IRS, it does not:
- Demand payment without an opportunity to question or appeal the amount the Service says you owe.
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method like a debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.
- Call about an unexpected refund.
- Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law-enforcement agencies. The IRS cannot revoke your driver’s license, business licenses, or immigration status.
How to Handle Scam Contacts
Your response to a potentially fraudulent IRS contact might vary depending on what you know about your current tax situation.
For example, if you get a call or e-mail purporting to be from the IRS and you think you might actually owe taxes or be due for a refund, consult with your tax advisor. If you don’t have an advisor, you can verify the authenticity of the contact by calling the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. That’s the main IRS info line and hold times can be significant. But the time you spend on hold could pale in comparison to the time you might spend resolving a theft of your tax information.
We also recommend that if you get a call or e-mail purporting to be from the IRS and you think it’s a fraud, end the contact immediately. If it’s a phone call, hang up. If it’s an e-mail, do not click any links. You can report suspected fraud attempts to email@example.com or to the Treasury Inspector General’s IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page.
- Most importantly:
- Never provide personal information to someone who initiates a phone contact with you, and
- Never click on links in e-mails that you weren’t expecting.
The key to protecting yourself from tax-related fraud is to remember that time is on your side. A contact that instructs you to act immediately should always be verified before you make any payment or share any sensitive information. The more urgent an unexpected tax claim is, the more serious and immediate the alleged consequences are, the more likely it is that you’re being targeted for fraud.
Don’t Forget to Protect Your Loved Ones from Tax Scammers, Too
Even if you stop 100% of the fraud attempts on your tax accounts, you can still have your life disrupted if a family member, especially a dependent, falls victim to a scam.
Elderly taxpayers on a fixed income might be easier for scammers to bully into an immediate payment over the phone, especially if their pension or retirement accounts are threatened. Your kids might pay off a fraudster without saying anything to you because they fear you’ll be angry with them for messing up their taxes. Take some time to talk to family members about protecting their tax information and communicating openly with you about tax issues.View full article
Employees should still review withholding to make sure they are not surprised by a significant balance due at tax time.
The IRS has issued updated payroll withholding tables designed to reflect changes made to the law by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) in December 2017. Employers should begin using the new tables as soon as possible, but no later than February 15, 2018. The new withholding schedules will likely increase take-home pay for many employees, but taxpayers should take steps to verify that they will not be significantly underwithheld at year-end.
The new federal withholding tables are designed to work with the existing Form W-4 withholding allowance certificate that employees file when they start a new job or adjust their withholding. However, that form relies on a calculation based on the number of “personal allowances” the employee claims. While those allowances did not correspond exactly to the number of “personal exemptions” the employee could claim on an income tax return, there was some correlation between the two. The TCJA eliminated personal exemptions in favor of a larger standard deduction. This created a potential disconnect between the tax law and the withholding calculation that could result in a significant difference between amounts withheld and income taxes owed at the end of the year.
The IRS does offer a withholding calculator on its website to help employees understand how much money should be withheld from each paycheck. At this time, the calculator is being revised to accurately reflect the new law. The Service “anticipates that this calculator should be available by the end of February.” Employees should be encouraged to double-check their withholding once the new calculator is available. A new Form W-4 is also in the works, and the IRS states that it will “work with the business and payroll community to encourage workers to file new Forms W-4 next year…”
Until then, taxpayers may want to be more active in managing their withholding amounts than they have in the past.
Freed Maxick CPAs, P.C. is Western and Upstate New York’s largest public accounting firm and a Top 100 firm in the United States. Freed Maxick’s reputation and experience with business and tax issues has made us a go-to firm for businesses and individuals from all over the U.S. and Canada and around the world.
For more insight, observations and guidance on the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, visit our Tax Reform webpage.View full article
By: Sandra DeSimone, CPA, Manager
If your organization is considering applying for tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you may want to consider doing it on-line.
Peter Lorenzetti, the IRS Northeast Exempt Organization Exam Manager, recently presented at the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants Exempt Organizations Conference. The presentation discussed the September 2013 IRS launch of the much anticipated interactive on-line Form 1023 Application for Recognition of Exemption under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
The online version of the form 1023 was designed to make the application process more efficient and user friendly. When the application is being filled out on-line, there are pop-up boxes with instructions and information to assist the user. According to Lorenzetti, since its launch, 166 applications for tax exempt status have been completed using the new interactive Form 1023 and the comments from users have been positive.
How long will it take for an application to be approved?
Recently, the IRS has come under scrutiny for long wait times of application approvals. Lorenzetti noted the average application takes six months to be approved. Some causes for delayed applications are submission of incorrect user fee, and/or inaccurate or incomplete applications. Key wording also needs to be targeted in the narratives, to demonstrate the mission of the organization. It is suggested that the application be thoroughly reviewed before submitting it to the IRS.
We suggest your organization obtain professional advice with your organization’s application for tax exempt status. Freed Maxick CPA’s is an expert in the process. We can either prepare your application or review it before it is submitted. Contact Us today to get connected to a professional who can help.
The Final Tangible Property Regulations - Are You Informed?
Get access to our latest webinar for all the details
On September 13, 2013, the IRS issued final regulations affecting costs to acquire, produce, or improve tangible property and re-proposed regulations affecting disposition of tangible property. The final regulations are effective for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. These regulations will affect all taxpayers that acquire, produce or improve tangible property.
Please check out our recent webinar that highlights the significant changes from the 2011 temporary regulations and discusses implementation planning.
Background and update
Materials and supplies
While the IRS has reported on repairs regulations before, this is the first time they are issuing them in final form. The IRS reports that the final repair regulations will affect all taxpayers that acquire, produce, or improve tangible property. The final regulations provide a lot of technical information that taxpayers have to comprehend and incorporate into their accounting systems. While this may be tedious and feel overwhelming, the regulations do provide some positive benefits for taxpayers. The Treasury has included some of the comments they received into the final regulations in an attempt to reduce the time required to comply with the new regulations.
New safe harbor for routine maintenance for buildings
The 2011 temporary regulations provided that the costs of performing certain routine maintenance activities for property other than a building or the structural components of a building are not required to be capitalized as an improvement. Due to the comments received by Treasury, the final regulations contain a safe harbor for routine maintenance for buildings.
The final regulations use 10 years as the period of time in which a taxpayer must reasonably expect to perform the relevant activities more than once.
Routine maintenance can be performed any time during the life of the property, provided that the activities qualify as routine under the regulations.
For purposes of determining whether a taxpayer is performing routine maintenance, the final regulations remove the taxpayer’s treatment of the activity on its applicable financial statement from the factors to be considered.
The final regulations clarify the applicability of the routine maintenance safe harbor by adding three items to the list of exceptions from the routine maintenance safe harbor:
Amounts paid for a betterment to a unit of property
Amounts paid to adapt a unit of property to a new or different use
Amounts paid for repairs, maintenance, or improvement of network assets
The good news for taxpayers
The final regulations do not provide a bright line test when determining whether improvements need to be capitalized or expensed. Meaning- the IRS regulations give examples but no hard numbers. While some taxpayers like the subjective nature of the rules; many taxpayers do not want to burn up resources training their staff, or have to battle the IRS regarding expenditures that have to be capitalized upon an examination. The inclusion of a “safe harbor” for repairs and maintenance on buildings should alleviate some of these difficulties when applying the improvement standards for restorations to building structures and systems.
Many taxpayers are turning to experts in the field in an attempt to maximize their tax deductions and reduce the total burden of complying with the regulations. This is where a Cost Segregation Analysis is beneficial. Cost Segregation analyses include a thorough review of the property to accurately depreciate the assets and accelerate tax deductions. They also include an intensive review of all blueprints and site visits to verify the assets and determine the quality of those assets. The professionals performing these analyses have an intimate knowledge of the building and building systems and will provide valuable insight when examining repair and maintenance costs to determine if they must be capitalized or expensed.
CSP360 is a subsidiary of Freed Maxick, CPAs in Buffalo NY. Freed Maxick CPAs is a Top 100 accounting Firm, and one of the nation’s leading providers of Cost Segregation and consulting services. Our philosophy is to offer clients a 360 approach of a taxpayer’s assets; pairing engineering and LEED specialists with accountants for a truly unique tax advisory team. Since 1995, our in house team has provided specialty studies to CPAs in a private label arrangement. Products include Cost Segregation, 179D Energy Studies and 263a Repair and Maintenance Review. CSP360 is Circular 230 compliant and has proven methodologies that are sustainable on IRS examinations.
To learn more about our unique approach click here
Due Date of July 31, 2013 for Payment of Tax on Certain Self-funded Health Insurance Plans
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 established the Patient-Centered Outcome Research Institute (PCORI) for the purpose of conducting research to evaluate and compare health outcomes, clinical effectiveness, risks and benefits of two or more medical treatments, services, and procedures. This “PCORI fee” was created, in part, to pay for its activities.
The fee is one dollar, times the “average number of lives” covered under the plan, for each plan year ending after September 30, 2012 and before October 1, 2013 and two dollars per covered person for each plan year that ends thereafter and up through September 30, 2019.
The “average number of lives” is determined by one of four optional methods. For plan years beginning before July 11, 2012 and ending after October 1, 2012 any reasonable method can be used per IRS Form 720.
Employers with self-funded health insurance plans (including VEBAs) are now required to pay a “fee” to the IRS for each plan year ending after September 30, 2012 and before October 1, 2019.
Employers with self insured plans that have year-ends between October 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012 are required to pay the fee and file Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return by July 31, 2013.
The fee is considered to be a deductible tax expense.
Generally, health insurance policies and self-insured plans that provide only excepted benefits, such as plans that offer benefits limited to vision or dental benefits, are not subject to the PCORI fee. The PCORI tax applies to tax-exempt organizations and governmental entities.
Employer Mandate Penalty - 2014
Starting in 2014 the ACA will impose an annual penalty on employers who:
(1) do not offer group health insurance coverage to at least 95% of its employees OR
(2) offer its employees coverage that is unaffordable. Health insurance coverage is considered affordable if an employee's required contribution to the plan for self coverage does not exceed 9.5% of the employee's household income (or Form W-2) for the tax year.
For an employer that offers no coverage, the tax is $2,000 for each full time employee (in excess of 30) if at least one employee is certified and enrolled in qualified health care coverage under an insurance exchange. If an employer offers unaffordable coverage, the tax is $3,000 for each employee that is certified. The penalty is calculated on a monthly basis and applies to tax exempt organizations and government entities.
Applicable tax is determined on 2013 employee levels
Only an applicable large employer (ALE) is subject to the tax. The ALE threshold is triggered if an employer hires an average of 50 full time employees (which includes full time equivalents or “FTEs”) in the preceding calendar year. FTEs are determined by aggregating part-time employees under specific rules provided. There are also special rules for seasonal employees. Part-time employees are considered only for purposes of determining ALE status. They are not considered in calculating the penalty.
Thus, for 2014, an employer determines whether it qualifies as an ALE by virtue of its employee count in 2013. An employer can determine whether it has exceeded the ALE threshold by looking at any consecutive six month period it chooses to use in 2013, instead of the full year.
Aggregation of separate businesses may be required in determining ALE status.
Generally, the employee count for separate businesses that share a significant level of common ownership must be aggregated and treated as a single employer in determining whether ALE status applies.
In 2013 employers should assess effort to compile information needed.
Calculating the number of employees subject to the penalty could become very complicated. This is because employers could have a number of different employee “types” (i.e. variable hour, part-time, seasonal, salaried, common law employees v. independent contractors, etc.) Employers should assess the effort needed to make an accurate count of its full time employees There is also an obligation to furnish information to the employees, which is due January 31st of the calendar year following the year for which the employer return is required to be filed. Whether ALEs or employers providing minimal health insurance coverage, there is still a reporting requirement to the IRS even if no penalty is due.
Contact Our Tax Professionals
If you have questions about this issue or other complex tax issues, please contact us for assistance.
By: Howard Epstein, CPA, Director, International Tax
Opening a new front in the U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion, federal investigators have won court approval for a summons on a Caribbean bank, to turn over account data for wealthy American clients. This is just the latest of several overseas banks served with similar demands from the IRS, in an effort to identify federal tax evaders who have assets and income hidden offshore. This comes in response to the IRS leniency program (or Voluntary Disclosure Program), in which Americans can disclose previously secret foreign accounts to the IRS to avoid tax liens and pay back taxes.
The fact that the IRS is using John Doe Summons and other data mining means to flesh out non filers of FBARs provides further proof that they are steadfast in their resolve to find people committing tax fraud. The unfortunate part is that honest people that simply don't know the law are being compromised at the same time. It is important that those innocent people come forward under the current programs available before the IRS taps them on the shoulder and such relief is not available.
FBAR Filing Assistance
At Freed Maxick, we are poised to assist you in assessing your FBAR filing requirements, integrate the necessary information, and prepare your current and past due FBARs. We also have considerable experience helping taxpayers that have not been historically compliant navigate the IRS guidelines, minimizing any potential penalties through the various IRS Voluntary Disclosure Programs that are available.
For a confidential discussion of your FBAR situation, call us at 716.847.2651, or complete and submit this form for more information.
By Joe Burwick, CPA
Crowdfunding is not a new concept, as grassroots fundraising dates back to 1997. But with new platforms, like that of IndieGoGo and Kickstarter, crowdfunding has gained traction in raising revenues for donations, charities, and businesses.
What types are there?
Crowdfunding relies on the concept of asking large groups of organizations and individuals, to contribute to a project. There are three primary types of crowdfunding:
Donation or Reward. When people give money towards a project and receive a gift or promise of one of the finished products in return.
Debt. Receiving funding from people with the expectation they will be paid back with interest in the future.
Equity. This involves getting a large number of people to buy into an idea in return for equity in the project or business.
Depending on the structure of the transaction (Equity, Debt, or Donation/Reward) there are differing tax implications and reporting requirements. For instance, donations/rewards where the investor receives something in return is a taxable event and must be included in gross receipts. However, if deductible business expenses exceed your crowdfunding revenue and other operating revenue, then you won’t owe income tax (but may owe franchise or minimum taxes).
Depending on how the payments are received, the crowdfunding recipient may get Form 1099-K. If payments are made by credit card or if payment in settlement of third party network transactions (i.e. PayPal) where gross payments exceed $20,000 and there are more than 200 transactions, you may receive one of these forms. The IRS will look to match (and analyze) the income on your return to Form 1099-K you receive.
In response to the growing popularity of Crowdfunding, the JOBS act set the Crowdfunding exemption for equity interest offered to the public at a ceiling of $1,000,000 for the aggregate amount sold to all investors in a twelve month period. Prior to this act you had to either register with the SEC or meet another exception before offering securities to the public.
The act further limits the amount sold to any individual investor based upon their annual income or net worth as follows:
If annual income or net worth is less than $100,000; the aggregate amount sold to such investor cannot exceed $2,000 or 5 percent of net worth / annual income.
If annual income or net worth is greater than $100,000 the aggregate amount sold to such investor cannot exceed ten percent of the annual income or net worth of the investor (not to exceed a maximum aggregate amount of $100,000).
You should consult a tax advisor to determine if the amounts received can be excluded from income (i.e. under Internal Revenue Code Section 118 for a Corporation).
What are the Financial Reporting Requirements?
Not only are there potential tax implications to these equity investments, but you must meet various financial reporting requirements as well. Here is what you have to know to meet the financial condition requirements clause of the JOBS act:
Different offering amounts have different SEC financial reporting standards. Congress has set forth the standards as follows:
If the target offering is $100,000 or less, the most recently completed income tax return and financial statements certified by the principal executive officer of the issuer must be provided.
If the target offering is more than $100,000, but not more than $500,000, financial statements reviewed by a public accountant independent of the issuer must be provided.
If the target offering is $500,000 or more, audited financial statements reviewed by a public accountant independent of the issuer must be provided.
As new provisions of the JOBS Act are rolled out, it seems to have raised more questions than answers for entrepreneurs and online start ups. While the bill was designed to help companies tap investors for the early cash they need to get established and hire workers, easing federal requirements for completing private share offerings; a young company would then be bound by SEC rules protecting the rights of their new stockholders, as well as certain state laws.
Don’t expect state security regulators to ease up anytime soon. As crowdfunding gains traction (and the dollars associated with it grow), so too will the scrutinizing of start-ups that issue shares through crowdfunding. Due to the complexities of parts of the JOBS Act and SEC rules toward crowdfunding, entrepreneurs should talk to a tax consultant; to be aware of all the state and federal regulations and the impact it may have at tax time.
Freed Maxick CPAs
Freed Maxick tax auditors will keep you up to date on the most pressing tax issues. If you would like to know how crowdfunding may affect your business at tax time Contact us and connect with our experts.
IRS Undermines a Family Limited Partnership
Author: Joe Aquino
Recently, the IRS celebrated another victory in its long-running campaign to challenge family limited partnerships (FLPs). In Estate of Lockett v. Commissioner, the agency attacked an FLP for being an invalid partnership under state law. Ultimately, however, it was the decedent’s estate planning that undermined the FLP, thus handing the IRS another win.
Widow takes ownership
Lois Lockett was predeceased by her husband, whose will established a trust for her benefit (Trust A). In 2000, as part of her estate planning, Lockett formed Mariposa Monarch, LLP under Arizona law. The partnership’s formal agreement, signed in 2002, named her sons Joseph and Robert as general partners. Lockett, the sons and Trust A were named as limited partners. At that point the parties hadn’t yet agreed on initial capital contributions or their percentage interests in Mariposa.
Shortly after the agreement was signed, Lockett and Trust A began funding Mariposa. Joseph and Robert never made any contributions. In 2003, Trust A was terminated, and Lockett became the owner of her limited partnership interest in the partnership. An amended agreement was executed to reflect this. The agreement continued to list the sons as Mariposa’s general partners, but an exhibit listed their mother as holding 100% of the partnership and each of the sons holding 0%.
When Lois Lockett died in 2004, Mariposa held assets worth more than $1 million. On its tax return, the estate valued Lockett’s 100% ownership interest in Mariposa at $667,000 after applying control and marketability discounts.
IRS raises state law
Initially, the IRS argued that Mariposa wasn’t a valid partnership under Arizona law. In that state, partnerships are defined as an association of two or more persons and are formed to operate a business for profit. The IRS contended that only Lockett contributed assets to Mariposa and that Mariposa wasn’t operated for profit.
Nevertheless, the court found that Mariposa was a valid partnership. Although the sons didn’t hold interests in it, Trust A contributed assets and was therefore a limited partner, satisfying the requirement of an association of two or more persons.
The court also found no requirement that an Arizona business engage in a certain level of economic activity. Moreover, it determined that Mariposa was operated to derive a profit. The partnership hired a financial advisor to manage its stock portfolio, purchased real estate that it leased and made loans requiring annual interest payments. It thus operated as a business for profit.
Trust termination found faulty
Unfortunately for the estate, the IRS had an alternative argument. Even though a valid partnership was formed, it had terminated at the time of Lockett’s death because she had acquired 100% of the interest in it. This occurred when Trust A was terminated in May 2003 (effective Dec. 31, 2002). At that point, Lockett had become the owner of Trust A’s limited partnership interest in Mariposa as well as being its sole partner.
Arizona law provides that a partnership is dissolved when a dissolution event previously agreed upon in the partnership agreement occurs. The Mariposa agreement established that the FLP would be dissolved when one partner acquired all of the other partners’ interests. So on Dec. 31, 2002, Mariposa dissolved and Lockett became the legal owner of its assets.
Many potential errors
Because the FLP had dissolved by the time of Lockett’s death, its assets were included in her gross taxable estate. If her sons had made contributions to fund their general partnership interests or she had gifted them with small interests in Mariposa, the FLP may well have withstood scrutiny and removed the assets from the estate.
Lockett’s mistakes were only a few of the many errors that can sabotage an FLP. To protect your clients from IRS attack, work with financial experts when drafting partnership agreements and making estate plans.
If you have any questions about FLPs or any other issue, give us a call at 716.847.2651, or you may contact us here.
In April of 2010, the Department of the Treasury and the IRS asked for public comment regarding guidance projects and issues concerning interpretation and implementation of the new Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) provisions that stemmed from the HIRE Act of 2010. Unlike its FBAR compliance efforts that rely on delegated authority from the FinCEN and that are restricted due to concerns in the use of tax return or tax return information under Internal Revenue Code ( I.R.C.) 6103, the new provision eliminates these concerns and allows the IRS to use its own tax administration authority.
While there are benefits to the IRS using its own tax administrative authority, there are still some issues. Many of the issues encountered with the FBAR will continue to plague the new provision as well. For example:
The IRS will face the same problem with the new FATCA provisions as it does with the FBAR provisions, as there is no easy method to determine what constitutes the potential population filing base.
The new provision will be self-reported, similar to the FBAR.
Other roadblocks include the burden of what taxpayers will face, and increases filing requirements that have become considerably more complicated as a result of the addition of the FATCA filing. For example:
In addition to the required FBAR filing, taxpayers are now required to file the new FATCA information.
Taxpayers may also find that certain terms are defined differently in the BSA regulations and the Internal Revenue Code. For example, the term United States is defined in the BSA regulations as …the States of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Indian lands, and the Territories and Insular Possessions of the United States.20 While in the I.R.C. it is defined as “United States” when used in a geographical sense includes only the States and the District of Columbia
(Source from IRS.gov/pub/IRS-wd I.R.C 7701(a)(9) (2010).
Are you hitting roadblocks in filing your FBAR and FATCA? Do you have questions on how to navigate the complex IRS tax rules? If so, we can help. Freed Maxick is committed to helping you! Contact us today to get started.