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Kevin Spencer focuses his practice on tax controversy issues. Kevin represents clients in complicated tax disputes in court and before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the IRS Appeals and Examination divisions. In addition to his tax controversy practice, Kevin has broad experience advising clients on various tax issues, including tax accounting, employment and reasonable compensation, civil and criminal tax penalties, IRS procedures, reportable transactions and tax shelters, renewable energy, state and local tax, and private client matters. After earning his Master of Tax degree, Kevin had the privilege to clerk for the Honorable Robert P. Ruwe on the US Tax Court. Read Kevin Spencer's full bio.

Each New Year, many of us look back on the previous year’s activities, and determine what we want to accomplish in the coming year – lose weight, start exercising, read more tax articles, etc. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business & International (LB&I) Division memorialized its New Year’s resolutions for 2019 in Publication 5319. So, for taxpayers with more than $10 million in assets, you may want listen up and see what the IRS has in store for 2019!

LB&I’s goals come during a time of significant reduction in workforce and increase in responsibilities. LB&I experienced a significant reduction in workforce between October 2017 and October 2018, reducing its workforce by a net of 344 employees (down from 4,868 to 4,524) spread across several positions. This included 18 individuals in leadership, 218 revenue agents and 25 tax examiners. With the exception of tax law specialists, which remained at 24, every other position saw a reduction in personnel. This reduction in personnel comes at critical point for LB&I, as it undoubtedly spent much of its time and resources last year working on guidance necessary to implement the substantial changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in late 2017. It will continue to be responsible for training and compliance related to those changes. Continue Reading IRS LB&I Division Announces Its New Year’s Resolutions

On March 2, 2018, President Trump nominated Michael Desmond to be the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unfortunately, the Senate did not get around to confirming him. On January 16, 2019, President Trump renominated Mr. Desmond, and the US Senate Committee on Finance has scheduled a hearing for February 5th to consider his renomination.

The Chief Counsel is the top legal advisor to the IRS Commissioner on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws. The Chief Counsel also provides legal guidance and interpretive advice to the IRS, Treasury and to taxpayers. Mr. Desmond clerked for Judge Ronald S.W. Lew of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. From 1995 through 2000, he served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division at the Department of Justice, and from 2005 through 2008 he served as tax legislative counsel at the Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Policy.

Mr. Desmond has a strong reputation in the tax community, and we hope that his nomination is acted on immediately.

On January 29 and 30, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service’s Large Business and International (LB&I) division released new Practice Units on Permanent Establishments, which can be found here and here. Permanent Establishments create taxing nexus for foreign businesses doing business in the United States and for those who have “effectively connected income.” The Practice Units provide the IRS’s LB&I audit teams with a general guide on the tax concepts related to permanent establishments. The Practice Units provide examples of the analysis necessary to determine whether a foreign company has a permanent establishment, for example, as a result of its agent concluding contracts on its behalf in the United States. Additionally, the Practice Unit on treaty exemptions describes whether an activity has a preparatory or auxiliary character for purposes of determining whether a foreign enterprise has a US permanent establishment. LB&I auditors will use the Practice Units as tools to help analyze whether a US permanent establishment exists and an income tax adjustment is necessary.

Practice Point: If you have potential PE issues, it is a good idea to look at what your auditors are looking at. The Practice Units are helpful to understand the perspective of IRS auditors on these issues, the types of questions they are likely to ask and the information that they will request.

Clients ask us all of the time, “What is the Joint Committee on Taxation’s (JCT) process for reviewing refund claims granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?” Recently, the JCT has released an overview of its process. Wait, what? After the IRS has agreed to issue you a refund, there is a congressional committee that has to check the IRS’s work? Yep!

Internal Revenue Code (IRC) §6405 prohibits the IRS/US Department of the Treasury from issuing certain refund payments to taxpayers until 30 days after a “report” is given to the JCT. Only refunds “in excess” of $5 million for corporate taxpayers and $2 million for all other taxpayers (partnerships, individuals, trusts, etc.) are required to be reported to the JCT. A refund claim is an amount listed on an amended return (e.g., Forms 1140X and 1120X), tentative carrybacks (e.g., Forms 1139 and 1045), and refunds attributable to certain disaster losses. Numerous types of refund payments are excepted from JCT review, including refunds claimed on originally filed returns, resulting from litigation and employment taxes. It is important to note that this process is not limited to the IRS Examination stage; it can also occur at the IRS Appeals stage or even in tax court litigation. Continue Reading Joint Committee Releases Overview of Its Refund Review Process

On November 28, 2018, the IRS issued a memorandum to its Appeals division employees, providing guidance on how and where to conduct Appeals conferences with taxpayers. As we have previously reported, the IRS Appeals division has been in flux for the last several years constrained by limited resources, retiring Appeals Officers, and an ever-growing case load. Because taxpayers have a right to seek redress before an independent Appeals Officer, the IRS has been exploring different ways to use technology to hold virtual taxpayer conferences. Numerous taxpayers, however, continue to believe that an in-person conference is the most efficient and beneficial way to resolve their differences with the IRS. Apparently, the IRS recognizes this as well.

In a memorandum to Appeals employees, the IRS provides “interim” guidance for in-person conferences. The memo includes revisions to the Internal Revenue Manual. Of particular note is the ability of IRS Appeals to send cases to offices that can accommodate in-person conferences. Additionally, there is a clear mandate to hold Appeals conferences (upon approval of a manager) in “other federal buildings, when feasible and necessary to provide a conference opportunity.”

Practice Point: We are big fans of in-person Appeals Conferences. Although holding a conference over the phone or through some internet portal may save travel time and expense, it is typically a poor substitution for face-to-face negotiations. Consider how much easier it is to tell your daughter that she cannot go to the mall with her friends on the phone versus to an in-person plea! An Appeals Officer measures the settlement possibilities by a “hazards of litigation” standard. Part of that analysis may include sizing up the taxpayer and representative, their case, and willingness to “go all of the way.”

Back in April, we discussed possible changes to the Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure based on comments made at the Tax Court Judicial Conference in Chicago. On November 30, 2018, the Tax Court announced the adoption of amendments to its Rules in several areas. Certain amendments are discussed below.

Payments to the Tax Court

Payments to court, which previously were required to be made by cash, check or money order, may now be made electronically through Pay.gov.

Filing

A paper may be filed electronically either during or outside of business hours, unless the paper relates to an ongoing trial session, in which case it generally must be filed at the session. A document electronically filed is considered timely if filed at or before 11:59 pm, Eastern Time, on the last day of the applicable period for filing. This amendment comports with the practice in other federal courts, e.g., US District Courts.

Signature

A signature on an electronic filing does not have to be handwritten if the filing meets the standards required by the court. An email address must be provided immediately beneath the signature.

Electronic Filing of Petitions

The court is in the process of implementing procedures to allow the electronic filing of a petition to commence a case. Additional information will be furnished to taxpayers on the Tax Court’s website in its electronic filings guidelines.

Evidence

In accordance with recent legislation, the Rules were updated to require that the court to follow the Federal Rules of Evidence instead of the rules of evidence applicable in trials without a jury in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Passport Actions

In accordance with recent legislation, new Rules are provided regarding the court’s jurisdiction and review of determinations to certain passport revocation actions.

Interest Abatement

Certain changes were made to the interest abatement rules and a corresponding change was made to the sample form of petition contained on the Tax Court’s website.

Lately, we have been frequently asked the question: “I file US tax returns and pay taxes here. Are my cryptocurrency transactions taxable or reportable in the US?”

The answer for US persons and US taxpayers most likely is “yes.” US persons are generally taxable on income earned worldwide, regardless of the manner in which that income is paid (e.g. currency (foreign or domestic) or property (tangible, intangible or virtual)). Thus, if you have bought, sold or exchanged cryptocurrency, those transactions could be subject to federal tax. If your cryptocurrency is held offshore, a number of offshore reporting obligations could also apply to these holdings.

Now is the right time to come forward and resolve any US compliance issues related to your cryptocurrency holdings. As we have seen in recent cases like the Coinbase summons enforcement proceeding (which we reported upon in several previous posts), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has stepped up its enforcement efforts regarding undisclosed interests in cryptocurrency worldwide.

How should you come forward? Following an IRS-attended conference earlier this year, comments began circulating that the IRS was considering the creation of a formal voluntary disclosure program for cryptocurrency transactions, similar to the now-ended Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. (We reported on that program numerous times, here.) Unfortunately, the IRS has now squashed this rumor, stating that “IRS is not contemplating a separate program related to offshore [virtual] currencies.” A domestic program was not even mentioned.

Despite this news, a number of disclosure options remain available for bringing your US and foreign cryptocurrency into compliance. The IRS’s longstanding voluntary disclosure policy remains in full force and effect. This policy acts to reduce or eliminate the risk of criminal prosecution related to nondisclosure of domestic or foreign taxable assets, and can provide avenues to reduce civil penalties as well. Further, the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and Delinquent International Information Return Procedures are still active and may provide reduced (or no) penalties for US international tax non-compliance in appropriate cases.

Practice Point: Beyond the short answer of “yes, cryptocurrency is taxable,” a number of open questions regarding the taxation and reporting of cryptocurrency in the US remain. For example, determining what offshore crypto holdings are subject to FBAR and Form 8938 reporting remains complicated and unclear. Also, although tax reform has eliminated the use of Section 1031 exchanges to avoid currently being taxed for personal property like cryptocurrencies, the IRS’s position on exchanges that occurred prior to 2018 is still unknown. There are also open valuation questions, particularly for crypto accounts subject to access limitations like lock-up periods. The tax treatment of so-called hard and soft “forks” is also unclear. Finally, crypto exchanges are navigating a number of open reporting and compliance issues. If you have significant holdings in cryptocurrency, consult with a federal tax advisor who understands the tax aspects of this unique asset to ensure your tax reporting is correct and complete.

Christopher Saddock, a secondee in the Firm’s Dallas office, also contributed to this article.

Andy Roberson, Kevin Spencer and Emily Mussio recently authored an article for Law360 entitled, “A Look At Tax Code Section 199’s Last Stand.” The article discusses the IRS’s contentious history in handling Code Section 199 and the taxpayers’ continued battle to claim the benefit – even after its recent repeal.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Law360, November 2018.

Tax reform made many structural changes to our tax system. Changes to Code Section 274, however, sent shudders through corporate America. As amended, Code Section 274 eliminated the 50 percent deduction for “entertainment” expenses that are related to business activities. Sadly, gone are the days of companies deducting the cost of box tickets to games for the local sport’s team. Gulp! But, in its haste, Congress left what constitutes entertainment expenses substantially undefined. Accordingly, a strict reading of the statute meant—along with the box seats—went the hot dogs and beer! Ugh! So, under this strict interpretation, taking your client to the fancy restaurant to encourage her to buy your product or services would no longer be deductible.

Thankfully, the IRS has recently clarified that meals are not entertainment under amended Code section 274. IRS Notice 2018-76 explains that business meals are still eligible for the 50 percent deduction if they are not lavish and extravagant. And an IRS press release, IR-2018-195, explains that the IRS will release proposed regulations explaining what “entertainment” means.

Practice Point: We can all sigh with relief that Uncle Sam will continue to underwrite the “wining and dining” of our clients. Although eating is officially not entertainment (at least for tax purposes), the recent IRS guidance acknowledges that America does a lot of its business while breaking bread.