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An Update on Section 6751 Penalties

Tax penalties are always a hot topic here. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a large arsenal when it comes to grounds for asserting penalties on income tax deficiencies, ranging from the common 20% penalty under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6662(a) to higher penalties ranging from 40% (gross valuation or basis misstatements and economic substance) to 75% (fraud).

However, before the IRS can assert most penalties against taxpayers, it must comply with the procedural requirement in Code Section 6751(b): That the “initial determination” to assert the penalty be “personally approved (in writing) by the immediate supervisor of the individual making such determination.” As the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit explained in Chai v. Commissioner, US Congress imposed this requirement because it “believes that penalties should only be imposed where appropriate and not as a bargaining chip” and “[t]he statute was meant to prevent IRS agents from threatening unjustified penalties to encourage taxpayers to settle.”

Over the past several years, there has been substantial litigation over the proper interpretation and application of Code Section 6751(b). The US Tax Court’s recent opinion in Oxbow Bend, LLC v. Commissioner is the latest development. In Oxbow Bend, the Tax Court rejected the taxpayer’s position that the “initial determination” was made on the date that the examining agent prepared a penalty lead sheet reflecting her recommendation to assert penalties and stated in a telephone conference with the taxpayer’s representative on that same day that penalties were being considered. Approximately three months later, the examining agent’s supervisor approved the penalty lead sheet, and the IRS issued a Notice of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment asserting the penalties. The Tax Court, relying on its prior precedent, held that the word “determination”:

  1. “has an established meaning in the tax context and denotes a communication with a high degree of concreteness and formality”
  2. “signifies a consequential moment of IRS action”
  3. is not a “mere suggestion, proposal, or initial informal mention of penalties”
  4. “will be embodied in a formal written communication that notifies the taxpayer of the decision to assert penalties.”

Thus, under the Tax Court’s analysis, an “initial determination” can only be made in a “written” document that is provided to the taxpayer.

Oxbow Bend is a memorandum opinion of the Tax Court and, therefore, is limited to its facts and technically not precedential, as we have discussed in the past. However, memorandum opinions are often cited by litigants, and the Tax Court does not disregard these types of opinions lightly. One has to wonder whether, under different facts where an examining agent makes an explicit oral statement to a taxpayer that penalties “will” be asserted, courts might reach a different result given Congress’s express intent that examining agents should not threaten penalties and use them as a bargaining chip for settlement purposes. Further, Code Section 6751(b) expressly requires that the supervisory approval be “in writing” but contains a written requirement for purposes of the [...]

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Weekly IRS Roundup October 11 – October 15, 2021

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of October 11, 2021 – October 15, 2021. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

October 12, 2021: The IRS released a notice, announcing that the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the IRS intend to amend the regulations under Section 987 to defer the applicability date of certain final regulations by one additional year. The deferred regulations will apply to tax years beginning after December 7, 2022. For calendar year taxpayers, the 2016 final regulations and the related 2019 final regulations will apply to the tax year beginning on January 1, 2023. The IRS and Treasury do not intend to amend the applicability date of Treasury Regulation § 1.987-12.

October 13, 2021: The IRS published an updated Form W-8BEN-E (Certificate of Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting (Entities)) and related instructions.

October 14, 2021: The IRS and Treasury published a notice and request for comments concerning assumption of partner liabilities. The rules relate to a partnership’s assumption of certain fixed and contingent obligations in connection with the issuance of a partnership interest, as well as to Section 358(h) for assumptions of liabilities by corporations from partners and partnerships and temporary regulations concerning the assumption of certain liabilities under Section 358(h). Written comments are due on or before December 13, 2021.

October 14, 2021: The IRS and Treasury published a notice and request for comments concerning Form 1127 (Application for Extension of Time for Payment of Tax Due to Undue Hardship). Written comments are due on or before December 13, 2021.

October 14, 2021: The IRS and Treasury published a notice and request for comments concerning Revenue Procedure 99-50, which permits combined information reporting by a successor business entity (i.e., a corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship) in certain situations following a merger or an acquisition. Written comments are due on or before December 13, 2021.

October 15, 2021: The IRS published draft instructions for Form 8949 (Sales and Other Dispositions of Capital Assets). The updated form reflects reporting for Section 1061, which concerns recharacterizing certain long-term capital gains of a partner who holds one or more applicable partnership interests as short-term capital gains.

October 15, 2021: The IRS published a news release, updating its process for certain frequently asked questions (FAQs) on newly-enacted tax legislation. The IRS is updating this process to address concerns regarding transparency and the potential impact on taxpayers when the FAQs are updated or revised. The IRS is also addressing concerns regarding the potential application of penalties to taxpayers who rely on FAQs by providing clarity as to their ability to rely on FAQs for penalty protection. The IRS stated that significant FAQs on newly-enacted [...]

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IRS Provides Guidance on Reliance of FAQs for Penalty Protection Purposes

On October 15, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a news release and fact sheet for IRS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), which are typically posted on the IRS’s website. The purpose of the fact sheet is to confirm and explain the extent to which FAQs can be relied upon for purposes of avoiding civil tax penalties. (For a primer on penalties and defenses, see our prior article in the Tax Executive.)

The Internal Revenue Code and Treasury Regulations, along with relevant case law, provide rules on what can (and cannot) be relied upon for penalty protection purposes. The most common penalty defenses are reasonable basis (sometimes coupled with a disclosure requirement), substantial authority and reasonable cause. Substantial authority is an objective standard, and Treasury Regulation § 1.6662-4(d)(3)(i) contains a laundry list of such authorities. Absent from this list are IRS FAQs. Reasonable basis has generally been viewed as an objective standard as well (at least outside the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit), and satisfaction of the substantial authority standard suffices for reasonable basis purposes. Reasonable cause is a subjective standard based on consideration of all the facts and circumstances, with the most important factor being the extent to which the taxpayer took steps to determine their proper tax liability.

For many years, taxpayers and practitioners have debated the value of IRS FAQs. On the one hand, they provide much needed guidance that can be helpful to taxpayers. On the other hand, FAQs are not published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin, are not treated as precedential or binding on the IRS and may be removed or changed by the IRS at any time (without any repository available to find prior versions of FAQs). The IRS relies heavily on FAQs to provide immediate guidance to taxpayers—sometimes in the form of substantive guidance—but has historically disclaimed any ability for taxpayers to rely on its FAQs or for IRS personnel to follow its FAQs. This has led to uncertainty in the tax community as to whether (and to what extent) taxpayers can and should follow IRS FAQs for both substantive positions and penalty protection purposes.

Prior to his return to private practice earlier this year, former IRS Chief Counsel Michael Desmond noted the need for better transparency and permanency around certain IRS FAQs. That transparency and permanency has finally arrived, although the weight of its value still remains uncertain. In the new release and fact sheet, the IRS announced as follows:

FAQs are a valuable alternative to guidance published in the Bulletin because they allow the IRS to more quickly communicate information to the public on topics of frequent inquiry and general applicability. FAQs typically provide responses to general inquiries rather than applying the law to taxpayer-specific facts and may not reflect various special rules or exceptions that could apply in any particular case. FAQs that have not been published in the Bulletin will not [...]

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Reasonable Cause for E-Filing Errors?

Tax return filing season is fast approaching, and taxpayers big and small are preparing to file their returns. A recent US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision, Haynes v. United States, No. 17-50816 (5th Cir. Jan. 29, 2019), indicates that many of those taxpayers will face uncertainty if their returns are late due to preparer errors or technological issues when electronically filed (e-filed).

The court in Haynes declined to rule on whether the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Boyle, 469 US 241 (1985), applied to e-filing a tax return. The court instead remanded the case to resolve factual issues. In declining to examine the application of Boyle, the decision leaves in place uncertainty for many taxpayers who e-file their returns.

Internal Revenue Code Section 6651(a)(1) excuses a taxpayer from penalties for failure to file a return on time if they show the failure was “due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect.” In Boyle, an estate executor hired an experienced lawyer to prepare estate tax returns, but the lawyer failed to put the filing date on the calendar. Nevertheless, the court held that determining a deadline and meeting it did not require any special skills, and therefore relying on an agent was unreasonable. Accordingly, the Court in Boyle did not excuse late filing, and the taxpayer was subject to penalty. (more…)




LB&I Announces Six New Campaigns

On May 21, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International Division (LB&I) announced the identification and selection of six new campaigns. These new campaigns follow the initial 13 campaigns announced on January 31, 2017, followed by 11 campaigns announced on November 3, 2017, and 5 campaigns announced on March 13, 2018. (more…)




IRS OVDP Ending | Time Is Now for Coming into US Tax Compliance – Especially for Those with Willfulness Issues

On March 13, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will begin ramping down the current Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) and urged taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets to apply for the program prior to its close on September 28, 2018. We have previously reported on developments in the OVDP.

Access the full article. 




Expect Controversy in the Wake of Tax Reform

Tax reform is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may receive additional funds to implement the new tax law. With lowered tax rates, accelerated expensing and forced repatriation of foreign earnings comes an increased risk of an IRS audit. This brave new tax world has left so many questions that tax advisors’ phones have been ringing off the hooks! But as the end of the 2017 year and first quarter of 2018 dust settles, be mindful of the IRS audit to come. (more…)




E-Filing: Comments Provided to IRS Regarding Transmission Failures

As taxpayers are (or should be) aware, federal income tax returns must be timely filed to avoid potential penalties under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6651. Historically, this meant mailing a tax return and, for returns filed close to the due date, ensuring that the “timely mailed, timely filed rule” applies (see here for our recent post on the “mailbox rule”). In recent years, there has been a push to electronically file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, for one reason or another, the potential exists that an e-filed return may be rejected. (more…)




Prepare for Examination Season

The tax bar is abuzz with the talk of tax reform. Clients are in modeling purgatory, trying to calculate its effects and plan for the future. Public accounting firms are suggesting how to accelerate deductions in 2017 to take advantage of the massive tax rate decline in 2018. Now more than ever, there are substantial economic incentives to accelerate deductions in 2017 and defer income until 2018. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and the end to what bodes to be a historic year for federal tax!

Not to be a Grinch, but consider the following as you prepare for year end. If you attempt to accelerate any deductions, make sure to have a complete, “audit-ready” file if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) decides to test your position. Consider how you will protect against the assertion of any penalties; typically, your ticket to get of out penalty “prison” is to maintain proper substantiation and to establish a reasonable cause defense. An opinion of counsel is one method to meet your burden of establishing that defense. It is always better to be proactive and anticipate an IRS audit than to be reactive and try to compile the proper documentation after-the-fact.




A 360-Degree View: August and September 2017

Upcoming Tax Controversy Activities in September:

September 13, 2017: Tom Jones is presenting an update on Captive Tax in Charleston, South Carolina, at the South Carolina Captive Insurance Association Annual Conference.

September 14, 2017: Robin Greenhouse and Kristen Hazel will be speaking at McDermott Will & Emery’s Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable meeting in New York City about tax ethics.

September 18, 2017: Justin Jesse is speaking at the PLI Basics of International Taxation session in San Francisco about “Tax Concerns for US Persons Investing or Operating Outside of the US (Outbound Investments) – Active Business Operations.”

Wrapping up August:.

Our August 2017 blog posts are available on taxcontroversy360.com, or read each article by clicking on the titles below. To receive the latest on tax controversy news and commentary directly in your inbox as they are posted, click here to subscribe to our email list.

August 3, 2017: Tax Court Addresses “Issue of First Impression” Defense to Penalties

August 7, 2017: President Trump Nominates Copeland and Urda to US Tax Court

August 8, 2017: Record Numbers Are Giving Up US Citizenship

August 9, 2017: TIGTA Pounces on IRS Federal Records Retention Policies; Recommends Changes

August 11, 2017: The IRS Is Struck Down Again in Privilege Dispute

August 14, 2017: McDermott Named “Law Firm of the Year” at 2017 US Captive Services Awards

August 16, 2017: Grecian Magnesite Mining v. Commissioner: Foreign Investor Not Subject to US Tax on Sale of Partnership Interest

August 17, 2017: Sovereign Immunity Principles Bar Taxpayers from Challenging John Doe Summonses

August 23, 2017: Court Rejects Taxpayer’s Claim for US-Swiss Treaty Coverage

August 24, 2017: Internal Revenue Service Updates Golden Parachute Payments Audit Technique Guide, Signaling Key Items IRS May Review on Audit

August 25, 2017: IRS Criminal Investigation Division Announces Two New Initiatives




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