What if every one of your non-cash financial transactions was automatically reported to a beefed-up, audit-hungry IRS?
(Sovereign Man) A few hundred pages into the latest $1.9 trillion Covid relief law, the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” you’ll find Section 9674, It says that a “third party settlement organization” does not have to report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) any payments to contract workers under $600.
These third parties include Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, eBay, Freelancer, and other platforms which facilitate payments to gig workers. The problem is that this little amendment lowers the reporting threshold from $20,000 to $600. Previously, a gig worker could earn up to $20,000 on these platforms without the IRS being informed of their income.
What this means:
The Paycheck Protection Program offers an alluring loan of up to $10M tax free. If you comply, you don’t even have to pay it back. What’s more, there is no forgiveness of debt income when your loan is forgiven, something that is standard fare if you are relieved of paying back debt. However, IRS Notice 2020-32 confirms you can’t claim tax deductions, even for the wages, rent, etc. that are normally fully deductible. The CARES Act provisions for small business include the Paycheck Protection Program, which calls for up to $10 million in forgivable loans to cover employee payroll, and immediate tax credits that are designed to do the same thing. After the IRS notice, it now appears that Congress could reverse IRS denial of tax deductions.
Since the PPP came out, it has been roiled in controversy, with the SBA and banks offering a less than seamless roll out, and a true run on the bank that depleted all the money very fast. Congress eventually came to the rescue by authorizing more money, but that seems likely not to last very long either. And the FAQs and other pieces of guidance have been fast and furious. So has speculation about various points. There have been debates about the tax deduction point, with some people saying you could still deduct the wages, since the CARES Act did not seem to say otherwise. But under traditional tax principles, it seemed too good to be true that you could get the free money, not pay discharge of debt income, and still deduct the payments of wages and rent made with the free money. The IRS notice confirms that.
The Paycheck Protection Program allows loans of up to $10 million at 1% interest to employers with fewer than 500 workers to cover two months of payroll and overhead. If you keep your workers and do not cut their wages, the government will forgive most or all of the loan and even repay the bank that actually made you the loan. The loan amounts will be forgiven as long as: (1) The loan proceeds are used to cover payroll costs, and most mortgage interest, rent, and utility costs over the 8 week period after the loan is made; and (2) Employee and compensation levels are maintained. Payroll costs are capped at $100,000 for each employee. SBA lenders have details, though there has been controversy and hiccups in rolling out the program.
Your loan forgiveness will be reduced if you decrease your full-time employee headcount. Your loan forgiveness will also be reduced if you decrease salaries and wages by more than 25% for any employee that made less than $100,000 annualized in 2019. You have until June 30, 2020 to restore your full-time employment and salary levels for any changes made between February 15, 2020 and April 26, 2020.
You also have to specifically request loan forgiveness. You can submit a request to the lender that is servicing the loan. The request will include documents that verify the number of full-time equivalent employees and pay rates, as well as the payments on eligible mortgage, lease, and utility obligations. You must certify that the documents are true and that you used the forgiveness amount to keep employees and make eligible mortgage interest, rent, and utility payments. The lender must make a decision on the forgiveness within 60 days.
There are other no-double dip rules too. You can’t get both a small business loan under the PPP and alsoclaim CARES Act tax credits to keep employees. Which is better? It’s one of those annoying ‘it depends,’ so run the numbers. Finally, it now appears that Congress could reverse IRS denial of tax deductions.
Individual US taxpayers are half as likely to get audited than they were in 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal, which notes that IRS tax enforcement has fallen to the lowest level in at least four decades.
In FY 2019, the agency audited just 0.45% of all personal income-tax returns, down from 0.59% in 2018 – marking eight straight years of declining reviews. In a Monday report, the IRS said that in 2010, 1.1% of tax returns were audited. The report did not provide details on audits by income category, or how much revenue has been recovered from the enforcement (or lack thereof).
According to the Journal, years of budget cuts and a heavier workload are to blame for the steady erosion of audit – which, experts say, is depriving the Treasury of billions of dollars while budget deficits rise.
The IRS budget is about 20% below the 2010 peak in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office. During that time, Congress has given the agency more responsibility, including the implementation of the 2010 health care law and the 2017 tax law.
In Monday’s report, the IRS said the agency had lost almost 30,000 full-time positions since fiscal 2010, in areas including enforcement and criminal investigation. It now has about 78,000 workers and has been hiring over the past year. But the agency also projects that up to 31% of remaining workers will retire within the next five years. –Wall Street Journal
“The audit rate reported for 2019 was less than half of what it was in 2010, underscoring the depleted state of the IRS enforcement function, which urgently needs to be rebuilt,” said Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive group in Washington.
Investing in enforcement and tightening rules could generate about $1 trillion over a decade, according to Harvard University economist Lawrence Summers, who served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, and University of Pennsylvania professor Natasha Sarin. The government estimates that each additional dollar spent on tax enforcement could yield more than $4 in revenue, and Democratic presidential candidates have made increasing IRS funding part of their agenda. –Wall Street Journal
Cuts to the IRS budget began after Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, and was further reduced after the Obama administration’s IRS targeting scandal in which the agency admitted in 2013 that it had given improper scrutiny to conservative nonprofit groups.
According to Trump-appointed IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, the administration has been trying to find new ways of remaining aggressive for tax-dodgers by using data analytics.
“Our compliance employees have a commitment to fraud awareness as we continue our enforcement efforts in the offshore and other more traditional compliance-challenged arenas,” writes Rettig in Monday’s report. “We want to maintain a visible, robust enforcement presence as we continue to explore innovative strategies and techniques in support of our mission.”
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced Friday that it has begun sending letters to taxpayers who own cryptocurrency, advising them to pay any back taxes they may owe or to file amended tax returns regarding their holdings.
In a news bulletin, the agency said that it began mailing what it called “educational letters” last week. According to the statement, there are three variations of the letter that were sent.
The IRS further said that it will have sent such letters to “more than 10,000 taxpayers” by the end of this month,” adding that “the names of these taxpayers were obtained through various ongoing IRS compliance efforts.”
“Taxpayers should take these letters very seriously by reviewing their tax filings and when appropriate, amend past returns and pay back taxes, interest and penalties,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. “The IRS is expanding our efforts involving virtual currency, including increased use of data analytics. We are focused on enforcing the law and helping taxpayers fully understand and meet their obligations.”
In May, it was reported that the IRS is beginning to work on new guidance regarding cryptocurrencies, its first such effort since 2014. A number of organizations and industry advocates have called on the agency in past years to update its guidance following its decision to treat cryptocurrencies as a form of intangible property for tax purposes.
On Thursday, a user of the r/bitcoin subreddit described receiving such a letter. Lawyer Tyson Cross, writing for Forbes, also detailed how a number of his crypto-focused clients have received this kind of letter from the IRS.
The United States’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is allegedly considering requiring tech giants to report on crypto activity by users, according to a presentation reportedly from an IRS presentation and provided by a Twitter user on July 9.
According to the documents shared, the IRS hopes to use Grand Jury subpoenas on firms such as Apple, Google and Microsoft to check taxpayers’ download history for crypto-related applications.
Citing the document, Walter concluded that the tax authority is conducting exhaustive research into detection of criminal tax evasion cases involving crypto. As such, the IRS is considering carrying out interviews, open-source and social media searches, as well as electronic surveillance, the expert noted.
Specifically, the 181-page document reads:
“Grand Jury Subpoena should be considered for Apple, Google, and Microsoft for the Subject’s complete application download history. Each application’s function should be explored to determine whether or not the application can transmit, or otherwise allow, transactions in bitcoin.”
As Walter emphasized, the presentation envisions that IRS agents ensure that taxpayers are not notified about the obtained information regarding their use of cryptocurrencies to prevent detrimental to the investigation.
Cointelegraph notes that the IRS has not confirmed the authenticity of the presentation’s origin.
According to the documents provided, the IRS is hoping to serve subpoenas to check data from accounts in banks and Paypal for connection with crypto transactions. Additionally, the tax authority is considering reviewing social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter to find and record publicly available cryptocurrency addresses.
Concluding the thread, Crypto Tax Girl wrote:
“There is a ton of other information in there about crypto in general, tracing transactions via the blockchain, limitations of the blockchain, etc. but what you need to know is that the IRS is working HARD to identify criminal tax cases involving cryptocurrency.”
As previously reported, the IRS currently considers cryptocurrencies property. In late 2018, an advisory committee of the IRS expressed its intent to provide additional guidelines for the taxation of crypto transactions.
Recently, Cointelegraph reported on Singapore’s plan to exempt cryptocurrencies that are intended to function as a medium of exchange from Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The IRS will pay Equifax $7.25 million to verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud under a no-bid contract issued last week, even as lawmakers lash the embattled company about a massive security breach that exposed personal information of as many as 145.5 million Americans.
A contract award for Equifax’s data services was posted to the Federal Business Opportunities database Sept. 30 — the final day of the fiscal year. The credit agency will “verify taxpayer identity” and “assist in ongoing identity verification and validations” at the IRS, according to the award.
The notice describes the contract as a “sole source order,” meaning Equifax is the only company deemed capable of providing the service. It says the order was issued to prevent a lapse in identity checks while officials resolve a dispute over a separate contract.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle blasted the IRS decision.
“In the wake of one of the most massive data breaches in a decade, it’s irresponsible for the IRS to turn over millions in taxpayer dollars to a company that has yet to offer a succinct answer on how at least 145 million Americans had personally identifiable information exposed,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told POLITICO in a statement.
The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), piled on: “The Finance Committee will be looking into why Equifax was the only company to apply for and be rewarded with this. I will continue to take every measure possible to prevent taxpayer data from being compromised as this arrangement moves forward.”
The IRS defended its decision in a statement, saying that Equifax told the agency that none of its data was involved in the breach and that Equifax already provides similar services to the IRS under a previous contract.
“Following an internal review and an on-site visit with Equifax, the IRS believes the service Equifax provided does not pose a risk to IRS data or systems,” the statement reads. “At this time, we have seen no indications of tax fraud related to the Equifax breach, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Equifax did not respond to requests for comment.
Equifax disclosed a cybersecurity breach in September that potentially compromised the personal information, including Social Security numbers, of more than 145 million Americans — data that security experts have described as the crown jewels for identity thieves. The company is one of three major credit reporting bureaus whose data determine whether consumers qualify for mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and other financial commitments.
The company has subsequently taken criticism for issuing confusing instructions to consumers, which contained language that appeared aimed at limiting customers’ ability to sue, as well as tweeting out a link to a fake website instead of its own security site. The Justice Department later opened a criminal investigation into three Equifax executives who sold almost $1.8 million of their company stock before the breach was publicly disclosed, Bloomberg has reported.
Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith, who stepped down after the breach, endured a bipartisan shaming Tuesday at a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. The full committee’s Republican chairman, Greg Walden of Oregon, proclaimed: “It’s like the guards at Fort Knox forgot to lock the doors.”
Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) separately penned letters to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen demanding he explain the agency’s rationale for awarding the contract to Equifax and provide information on any alternatives the agency considered.
“I was initially under the impression that my staff was sharing a copy of the Onion, until I realized this story was, in fact, true,” Blumenauer wrote.
The IRS, which has suffered its own embarrassing data breaches as well as a tidal wave of tax-identity fraud, has taken steps to improve its outdated information technology with the help of $106.4 million that Congress earmarked for cyber security upgrades and identity theft prevention efforts.
Hatch questioned the agency’s security systems in a letter to Koskinen last month. Hatch said he was concerned that the IRS lacked the technology necessary “to safeguard the integrity of our tax administration system.”