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What are the Time Limits for Assessing Additional Federal Tax and Filing a Refund Claim?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) must follow the “statute of limitations” as stated in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6501 to “assess” additional federal tax. Likewise, taxpayers must seek a tax overpayment or refund within the statutory period stated in IRC Section 6511. In this article, we’ll answer some of the most common questions regarding when the IRS can assess additional federal tax and when taxpayers must file a refund claim.

WHEN DOES THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR ASSESSING ADDITIONAL TAXES START?

Typically, the period during which the IRS can seek additional tax starts when the taxpayer files their tax return. A taxpayer “self-assesses” when the amount of tax is stated on the return, but tax assessment can also occur when the IRS creates a “substitute for return” under IRC Section 6020. (For example, when the taxpayer fails to timely file a return.) Assessment merely means that the IRS records the tax liability on its official ledger for each taxpayer. An assessment is significant because it is legally considered a debt of the taxpayer for which the IRS can commence collection activities, like placing a lien and levy on property.

Self-Assessment Example: The taxpayer reports on a timely filed return a tax liability of $10,000 and submits payment of $5,000. The $10,000 tax is automatically assessed and constitutes a tax debt of the taxpayer, despite only a partial payment. In this case, the IRS would seek to collect the balance due ($5,000) from the taxpayer under the collection rules.

WHAT IS A TAX ASSESSMENT?

The IRS assesses tax by recording the amount owed in its official records. The assessment establishes the fact and amount of the tax liability that’s due to the IRS and starts the period during which the IRS can collect the amounts due and owing. Generally, the IRS may not lien or levy a taxpayer’s property until after an assessment is made.

There are three primary types of assessments:

  1. A “summary assessment” occurs automatically when the taxpayer reports an amount of tax on a return.
  2. A “jeopardy assessment” occurs when the IRS determines that the taxpayer may abscond with property that the IRS may need to lien and/or levy to satisfy a tax deficiency.
  3. A “tax deficiency assessment” occurs after the IRS determines the amount owed by the taxpayer and follows its procedures to permit the taxpayer to challenge its determination (usually after an audit).

STATUTORY NOTICE OF DEFICIENCY (THE 90-DAY LETTER)

If the IRS audits a return and determines that the taxpayer owes additional tax, it generally cannot assess the tax before sending the taxpayer a statutory notice of deficiency, or the so-called “90 day letter.” The letter must be sent by certified or registered mail to the last known address of the taxpayer (which is usually the address listed on the last return filed with the IRS). If the taxpayer does not file a timely petition with the US Tax Court in response to the 90-day letter, the IRS may then assess [...]

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Section 965 Statutes of Limitations for Partnerships

On May 26, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued PMTA 2020-08 to provide guidance on the period of limitations for Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 965, transition tax-related adjustments of partnerships. Typically, pursuant to IRC section 6501, the IRS has three years to assess a tax liability for a tax year. However, IRC section 6501(e)(1)(C) states that if the taxpayer omits from gross income an amount properly includible in income under IRC section 951(a), the tax may be assessed at any time within six years after the return was filed. Moreover, this special six-year limitation on assessment applies to the entire tax liability reportable on that return. Because special assessment and adjustment rules apply to partnerships, the IRS issued guidance on how the rules are applicable to certain partnerships and partners with section 965-related items.

For a deferred foreign income corporation’s (DFIC) last taxable year beginning before January 1, 2018, IRC section 965 imposes a one-time tax on a US shareholder’s pro rata share of the DFIC’s earnings and profits (E&P) otherwise deferred from US taxation. The IRS describes three steps for the calculation under IRC section 965: (1) IRC section 965(a) deems the DFIC to repatriate its untaxed E&P through a subpart F inclusion in the US shareholder’s gross income equal to the greater of its E&P as of two measurement dates in 2017; (2) IRC section 965(b) reduces the IRC section 965(a) inclusion by the E&P deficits of the US shareholder’s other foreign corporations; and (3) IRC section 965(c) provides for a deduction (based on the aggregate IRC section 965(a) inclusion amount and on cash positions) that has the effect of reducing the effective rate of US tax on the US shareholder’s IRC section 965(a) inclusion.

With respect to partnerships, in the guidance the IRS indicated that it can make three broad categories of adjustments that affect the computation of IRC section 965 amounts. Revisions could be made to the tax attributes and financial data underlying the computation of the IRC section 965(a) inclusion, the IRC section 965(c) deduction and foreign tax amounts. Such adjustments could affect the IRC section 965(a) inclusion amount and IRC section 965(c) deduction amount reportable by the partnership and affect the IRC section 965(a) inclusion and the IRC section 965(c) deduction reported by the partners. Accordingly, the IRS outlined how to apply the assessment and adjustment period rules apply when there are partners with IRC section 965-related items arising from partnerships subject to different procedures and audit regimes.

Under the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA), the IRS indicated it can make adjustments at any time provided the period for assessing tax attributable to the adjustments is open. The IRC section 965(a) inclusion amount and the IRC section 965(c) deduction amount reported by the partnership may be adjusted for the required reporting year if either: (1) the partner’s IRC section 6501 period of limitations on assessing tax attributable to adjustments to partnership items has not [...]

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Don’t File Fraudulent Returns Because Amending Them Will Not Help

The US Tax Court (Tax Court), in a short opinion, provided a reminder to taxpayers that penalties for filing fraudulent returns cannot be avoided by subsequently filing amended returns. In Gaskin v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2018-89, the taxpayer admitted his original returns were fraudulent. While under criminal investigation, he attempted to cure the fraudulent filings by filing amended returns, reporting more than $100,000 of additional tax. Ultimately, the tax due exceeded the amount reported on the amended returns.

Despite admitting his original fraud, the taxpayer argued that the fraud penalty did not apply because the tax due only modestly exceeded the tax reported on his amended returns. The Tax Court disagreed. Relying on the regulations and Supreme Court precedent, the court held that the amount of the underpayment and the fraudulent intent are both determined by reference to original—not amended—returns. It therefore upheld imposition of the fraud penalty.

Practice Point: Don’t file fraudulent returns! All joking aside, this case reminds us that although filing an amended return can cure some infirmities on your return, you have to be very careful in choosing whether to amend a return. As long as you did your best to accurately calculate your tax due on your original return, you are not required to amend that return if you later find out you were wrong. This is true even if the statute of limitations is still open. Indeed, there is no requirement to amend a return. However, there may be reasons to file an amended return; for example, if you know that you will need to base a future return’s position on a previous return’s position (e.g., the amount of earnings and profits stated on the return). Taxpayers need to be mindful, however, that if you amend your return, it must be accurate to the best of your knowledge when you sign it as to all items and any other errors discovered after the original return was filed must also be corrected. Accordingly, you cannot amend only the favorable positions discovered after you filed your original return.




SOL and the 1603 Cash Grant – File Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Taxpayers are running out of time to file refund claims against the government. If the government reduced or denied your Section 1603 cash grant, you can file suit in the Court of Federal Claims against the government to reclaim your lost grant money. Don’t worry, you will not be alone. There are numerous taxpayers lining up actions against the government and seeking refunds from this mismanaged renewable energy incentive program. Indeed, the government lost in round one of Alta Wind I Owner-Lessor C. v. United States, 128 Fed. Cl. 702 (2016). In that case, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs more than $206 million in damages ruling that the government unreasonably reduced their Section 1603 cash grants.

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Statutes of Limitation and International Taxes

In late 2017, we provided a brief overview of statutes of limitation in the international tax context. At that time, we noted a forthcoming article on the subject.  We are pleased to report that our expanded article on the subject has been published in the January-February 2018 edition of the International Tax Journal.  The full article can be viewed here.




Tax Court Addresses Statute of Limitations Issues in Rafizadeh v. Commissioner

Andrew Roberson and Elizabeth Chao recently wrote an article for Law360 entitled, “A Recent Tax Court View Of Statute Of Limitations Provisions.” The article discusses the Tax Court’s recent opinion in Rafizadeh v. Commissioner on statute of limitations for amounts reportable under Internal Revenue Code Section 6038D.

Read the full coverage on Law360 here.




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