COVID Tax Tip 2020-71: An extension to file is not an extension to pay taxes

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If you have tax related questions, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020.  The following materials were originally published on the IRS Tax Tips website.

For most taxpayers the filing and payment deadline was postponed July 15. Those who need more time to file beyond the postponed date, can request an extension to file. Taxpayers must request an extension to file by July 15. This gives them until October 15 to file their tax return. An extension to file is not an extension to pay. Taxes must be paid by July 15.

How to request an extension to file
To get an extension to file, taxpayers must do one of the following:
•  File Form 4868 through their tax professional, tax software or using Free File on IRS.gov.
•  Submit an electronic payment with Direct Pay, Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or by debit, credit card or digital wallet and select Form 4868 or extension as the payment type.

An automatic extension of time to file will process when taxpayers pay all or part of their taxes electronically by the Wednesday, July 15 due date.

Although the tax filing deadline has been postponed to July 15, 2020, the IRS continues processing electronic tax returns, issuing direct deposit refunds and accepting electronic payments.

The agency is now is back to processing paper tax returns sent by mail. However, taxpayers who mailed a paper tax return will likely experience a longer wait time. Those who have already mailed a paper tax return but, it hasn’t yet been processed, should not file a second tax return or write the IRS to check the status of their tax return or Economic Impact Payment.

More information:
Coronavirus Tax Relief: Filing and Payment Deadlines
Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments

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IRS.gov helps taxpayers get tax information they need; find tools for filing, paying, checking accounts and answering questions

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If you have tax related questions, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020.  The following materials were originally published by the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service reminds taxpayers today about several online tools available to help them get the tax information they need as the IRS has limited operations due to the coronavirus.

More taxpayers are using IRS.gov than ever before; as of May 8, the agency’s website had been visited a record 1 billion times, up 141% compared to the same time last year.

The tools on IRS.gov are easy-to-use and available 24 hours a day. Millions of taxpayers use them to help file and pay taxes, find information about their accounts and get answers to tax questions.

Take advantage of Free File products 
The IRS Free File program, available only through IRS.gov, offers 70% of all taxpayers the choice of 10 brand-name tax preparation software packages to use at no cost. The software does all the work of finding deductions, credits and exemptions for which the taxpayer qualifies. It‘s free for those who earned $69,000 or less in 2019. Some of the Free File packages also offer free state tax return preparation.

Any taxpayer, regardless of income, who is comfortable preparing their own taxes can use Free File Fillable Forms. Taxpayers also use this electronic version of paper IRS tax forms to file tax returns online.

The IRS automatically extended the federal income tax filing due date from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. Individual taxpayers who need more time to file their income tax returns beyond the July 15 deadline can use IRS Free File to electronically request an automatic tax-filing extension. This gives the taxpayer until Oct. 15 to file their tax return. To get the extension, the taxpayer must estimate their tax liability and pay any amount due.

Choose from a variety of payment options
Taxpayers should visit the “Pay” tab on IRS.gov to see their payment options. Most tax software products give taxpayers various payment options, including the option to withdraw the funds from a bank account. These include:

Last month, the IRS also announced that taxpayers generally have until July 15, 2020, to pay federal income taxes originally due on April 15. No late-filing penalty, late-payment penalty or interest will be due. This includes estimated tax payments normally due April 15 and June 15, which are now extended to July 15, 2020.

View tax account information online
To see their tax account, taxpayers can use the View Your Account tool. They’ll find information such as a payoff amount, the balance for each tax year owed, up to 24 months of their payment history and key information from their current tax year return as originally filed.

Taxpayers can use the Get Transcript tool to view, print or download their tax transcripts after the IRS has processed the return. Taxpayers will notice a delay in the processing of their Forms 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return, because of closed IRS offices due to COVID-19. Tax return transcripts show most line items from an original tax return, along with any forms and schedules, but not any changes made after the taxpayer filed it. The tool is free and available on IRS.gov. Ordering a tax transcript will not speed up a taxpayer’s refund or provide an updated refund date.

Taxpayers can easily find the most up-to-date information about their tax refund using the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on IRS.gov and on the official IRS mobile app, IRS2Go. Within 24 hours after the IRS acknowledges receipt of an e-filed return, taxpayers can start checking on the status of their refund. Taxpayers should be aware that the IRS isn’t currently processing paper tax returns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get answers to tax questions and Economic Impact Payments
Taxpayers may find answers to many of their questions using the Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA), a tax law resource that works using a series of questions and provides responses. IRS.gov has answers for Frequently Asked Questions. The IRS website has tax information in: Spanish (Español); Chinese (中文); Korean (한국어); Russian (Pусский); Vietnamese (Tiếng Việt); and Haitian Creole (Kreyòl ayisyen).

For questions concerning Economic Impact Payments, visit the Economic Impact Payments section of IRS.gov. Taxpayers will find two tools there to help them get their payments: “Get My Payment” and “Nonfilers: Enter Payment Info Here.” Both tools are available in English and in Spanish.

Taxpayers should use “Get My Payment” to check payment status, confirm payment type and enter bank account information for direct deposit if the IRS doesn’t have that information and hasn’t sent payment yet. Those who don’t normally file taxes must use “Nonfilers: Enter Payment Info Here” to provide simple information, so they can get their payment.

People who receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Railroad Retirement benefits and VA Compensation and Pension (C&P) benefits don’t use the “Nonfilers: Enter Payment Info Here” tool to receive their Economic Impact Payment. The IRS already has this information and those who receive these benefits will automatically receive $1,200. But, for those who receive benefits in these groups and have a qualifying child, they may be eligible for an additional $500 per child. However, their payment will be $1,200 and, by law, the IRS would pay the additional $500 per eligible child amount in association with a return filing for tax year 2020.

For more information on the payments see the Economic Impact Payment FAQs and see our Get My Payment FAQs for more information about this tool.

Watch out for scams related to Economic Impact Payments
The IRS urges taxpayers to be on the lookout for scams related to the Economic Impact Payments. To use the new app or get information, taxpayers should visit IRS.gov. People should watch out for scams using email, phone calls or texts related to the payments. Be careful and cautious: The IRS will not send unsolicited electronic communications asking people to open attachments, visit a website or share personal or financial information. Remember, go directly and solely to IRS.gov for official information.

The IRS is regularly updating Economic Impact Payments and Get My Payment application frequently asked questions pages on IRS.gov. Check IRS.gov/coronavirus often for the latest additions that answer many common questions.

Relief from Penalty for Failure to Deposit Employment Taxes

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If you are an employer with tax related questions, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020.  The following materials were originally published by the IRS.

Notice 2020-22 provides a waiver of additions to tax for failure to make a deposit of taxes for employers required to pay qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages mandated by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act) and qualified health plan expenses allocable to these wages.  This notice also provides a waiver of additions to tax for failure to make a deposit of taxes for certain employers subject to a full or partial closure order due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) or experiencing a statutorily specified decline in business under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  This notice applies to deposits of Employment Taxes (including withheld income taxes, taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act and taxes under the Railroad Retirement Act) reduced in anticipation of the credits with respect to qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages paid with respect to the period beginning April 1, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020.  This notice applies with respect to deposits of Employment Taxes reduced in anticipation of the credits with respect to qualified wages paid with respect to the period beginning on March 13, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020.  This relief ensures that such employers may pay qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages required by the Families First Act or qualified wages under the CARES Act using Employment Taxes that would otherwise be required to be deposited without incurring a failure to deposit penalty.

IRS increases visits to high-income taxpayers who haven’t filed tax returns

If you are a taxpayer or tax preparer experiencing these issues, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020. The following materials were originally published by the IRS.

WASHINGTON – As part of a larger effort to ensure compliance and fairness, the Internal Revenue Service today announced that it will step up efforts to visit high-income taxpayers who in prior years have failed to timely file one or more of their tax returns.

Following the recent and ongoing hiring of additional enforcement personnel, IRS revenue officers across the country will increase face-to-face visits with high-income taxpayers who haven’t filed tax returns in 2018 or previous years. These visits are primarily aimed at informing these taxpayers of their tax filing and paying obligations and bringing these taxpayers into compliance.

“The IRS is committed to fairness in the tax system, and we want to remind people across all income categories that they need to file their taxes,” said Paul Mamo, Director of Collection Operations, Small Business/Self Employed Division. “These visits focusing on high-income taxpayers will be taking place across the country.  We want to ensure taxpayers know their options to get right with their taxes and avoid bigger issues later.”

For the current tax season, the IRS reminds taxpayers that everyone should file their 2019 tax return by the April 15 filing deadline regardless of whether they can pay in full. Six-month filing extensions are also available, although that does not extend the April deadline for paying any taxes owed.

“Taxpayers having delinquent filing or payment obligations should consult a competent tax advisor before waiting to be contacted by an IRS revenue officer, Mamo said. “It is always worthwhile to take advantage of various methods of getting back into filing or payment compliance before being personally contacted by the IRS.”

For the new visits taking place, high-income non-filers taxpayers are those who generally received income in excess of $100,000 during a tax year and did not file a tax return with the IRS. Taxpayers who exercise their best efforts in filing their tax returns and paying or entering into agreements to pay their taxes deserve to know that the IRS is aggressively pursuing others who have failed to satisfy their filing and payment obligations.

During the visits, IRS revenue officers will share information and work with the taxpayer to hopefully resolve the tax issue.

How to pay

There are many payment options for people having trouble paying their tax bill. Payment plans can be set up quickly online.

Once returns are filed or an assessment occurs, there are various online payment options available at IRS.gov, including direct pay through a bank account or using a debit or credit card. Other ways to pay include the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (best option for businesses or large payments; enrollment required), Electronic Funds Withdrawal (using during e-filing), same-day wire (bank fees may apply), check or money order or cash (at a participating retail partner). Those who can’t pay immediately may be able to meet their tax obligation in monthly installments by applying for a payment plan (including installment agreements and those who owe less than $50,000), they can find out if they qualify for an offer in compromise  (a way to settle their tax debt for less than the full amount), or request that the IRS temporarily delay collection until their financial situation improves.

For those who refuse to pay, the IRS has a number of options available under the law, ranging from a series of civil enforcement actions and, when appropriate, pursuing criminal cases against taxpayers. IRS compliance personnel are also now working more closely with IRS criminal investigators on priority compliance issues, including high-income cases.

“These compliance visits underscore the importance of people filing their taxes this April, even if they can’t pay the full amount of tax due,” said Hank Kea, Director of Field Collection Operations, Small Business/Self Employed Division. “Not filing because you don’t believe you can pay at the time of filing makes the problem worse, as interest and penalties mount over time. We have many payment options available on IRS.gov to help taxpayers. It’s better to work on these issues up front rather than ignoring it and ultimately getting to the point of the IRS taking more serious action. Our continued use of ever-changing technologies, coupled with additional enforcement personnel, would suggest that waiting is not a viable option for delinquent taxpayers.”

What’s a revenue officer’s job?
Revenue officers are trained IRS civil enforcement employees who work to resolve compliance issues, such as missing returns or taxes owed. Revenue officers conduct interviews to gather financial information and provide taxpayers with the necessary steps to become and remain compliant with the law. When necessary, they will take the appropriate enforcement actions to collect the amount owed, following the law while respecting taxpayer rights and following the law.

Don’t be confused: Visits are not a scam
For this new initiative, these high-income taxpayers have typically received numerous letters from the IRS over an extended period of time, so they generally realize they have a tax issue.

Revenue officer visits shouldn’t be confused with scams. Here’s what to look for:

  • While most IRS revenue officer visits to a taxpayer are unannounced, they will always provide two forms of official credentials, both include a serial number and photo of the IRS employee. Taxpayers have the right to see each of these credentials.
  • A legitimate revenue officer helps taxpayers understand and meet their tax obligations. The officer will explain the liability to the taxpayer, along with the consequences of failing to comply with the law. The IRS employee will not make threats nor demand an unusual form of payment for a nonexistent liability.
  • Visits by revenue officers generally occur after numerous contacts by mail about an existing tax issue; taxpayers should be aware they have a tax issue when these visits occur.
  • If someone has an outstanding federal tax debt, the visiting officer will request payment but will provide a range of options, including paying by check written to the U.S. Treasury.
  • More information on identifying legitimate IRS representatives and how to report scams can be found at IRS.gov.

 

It’s important for tax pros to know the signs they are a cyberthief’s victim

If you are a taxpayer or tax preparer experiencing these issues, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020. The following materials were originally published by the IRS.

Tax professionals should learn the tell-tale signs that their office may have experienced a data theft. Such thefts could have resulted in fraudulent tax returns filed in their clients’ names.

Here is a list of warning signs that a tax professional or their office may have experienced a data theft:

  • Their clients’ e-filed returns are rejected by the IRS or state tax agencies. This happens because someone else already filed a tax return with their client’s Social Security number.
  • Clients who haven’t filed tax returns begin to receive taxpayer authentication letters from the IRS. The IRS sends letters such as the 5071C, 4883C and 5747C to confirm a taxpayer’s identity for a submitted tax return.
  • Clients who haven’t filed tax returns receive refunds.
  • Clients receive tax transcripts that they didn’t request.
  • Clients who created an IRS Online Services account receive an IRS notice that their account was accessed.
  • Clients who have an account get an IRS emails saying their account is disabled.
  • Clients unexpectedly receive an IRS notice that an IRS online account was created in their names.
  • The number of returns filed with the tax professional’s Electronic Filing Identification Number is higher than the number of clients they have.
  • Tax professionals or clients responding to emails that the firm did not send.
  • Network computers running slower than normal.
  • Computer cursors moving or changing numbers when the user is not even touching the keyboard.
  • Network computers locking out employees.

More information:

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IRS releases Data Book for 2018 showing range of tax data including audits, collection actions and taxpayer service

For answers to your questions regarding tax returns, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020. The following materials were originally published by the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service today released the 2018 IRS Data Book, a snapshot of agency activities for the fiscal year.

The 2018 IRS Data Book describes activities conducted by the IRS from Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018, and includes information about tax returns, refunds, examinations and appeals. The annual publication is illustrated with charts showing changes in IRS enforcement activities, taxpayer assistance levels, tax-exempt activities, legal support workload and IRS budget and workforce levels when compared to fiscal year 2017 and prior years. Included this year is a section on taxpayer attitudes from a long-running opinion survey.

“Underlying the numbers in this year’s edition of the Data Book is the hard work of IRS employees,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Our employees are the backbone of this agency, delivering our mission efficiently and effectively. They work hard to help taxpayers, and the numbers outlined in the Data Book reflect their commitment.”

Revenue Collection, Returns Processing, Taxpayer Service and Enforcement Actions

During fiscal year 2018, the IRS collected nearly $3.5 trillion, processed more than 250 million tax returns and other forms, and issued over 120 million individual income tax refunds totaling almost $395 billion.

The IRS received and processed more of every major type of form during FY 2018 than during the prior year, with the exception of estate tax returns; those filings were down slightly less than 1 percent compared to the prior year. However, filings by pass-through entities were up in FY 2018; partnerships filed almost 5 percent more forms with the IRS in FY 2018 than in the prior year, S-corporation filings were up almost 6 percent in the same time frame.

The IRS provided taxpayer assistance through more than a half-billion visits to IRS.gov and helped more than 64.8 million taxpayers through different service channels, such as correspondence, toll-free telephone helplines or at Taxpayer Assistance Centers. There were also more than 309 million inquiries to the “Where’s My Refund?” application, up 11 percent compared to the prior year.

Net revenue from delinquent collection activities rose to just over $40 billion, an increase of 1.6 percent compared to the prior year. IRS levies were up 8.3 percent compared to the prior year, but the agency filed about 8 percent fewer liens than in fiscal year 2017.

Compared to the prior year, there were fewer audits during fiscal year 2018. The IRS audited more than 892,000 individual income tax returns during the fiscal year, down slightly from the prior year.

Comprehensive Taxpayer Attitude Survey

The IRS Data Book contains the results of the 2018 Comprehensive Taxpayer Attitude Survey (CTAS) which drew from feedback from 2,000 taxpayers through cell phone, landline phone or online surveys. Their opinions continue to inform IRS’ efforts to improve taxpayer service. Some of the results of the survey for 2018 show the following results:

  • Most taxpayers continued to agree that it is not at all acceptable to cheat on their income taxes. This attitude has remained within a four-point range since 2009.
  • Most taxpayers are still satisfied with their personal interactions with the IRS.
  • Almost half of the taxpayers who responded in 2018 agreed that service and enforcement are properly balanced.

The IRS Data Book’s online format makes navigating data on taxpayer assistance, enforcement, and IRS operations easier. The publication contains depictions of key areas and quick links to the underlying data.

An electronic version of the 2018 IRS Data Book can be found on the Tax Stats page of IRS.gov. Printed copies of the 2018 IRS Data Book, Publication 55B, will be available June 2019 from the U.S. Government Printing Office. To obtain a copy, write to the Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954, or call (202) 512-1800 for voicemail or fax a request to (202) 512-2250.

Proposed Changes to Form W-4 Could Complicate Tax Filing

For answers to your questions regarding tax withholding options, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020. The following materials were originally published by Rachel Fausnaught of PrimePay.com.

…And you thought tax filing season was over.

Just when you thought you understood the IRS’ changes to withholding from last year, there are more changes coming.

The IRS plans to release a new Form W-4 that will incorporate changes brought on by the new tax law. This is to help ensure that the amount held back for taxes in each paycheck is more accurate.

The overall goal of this change is so that taxpayers shouldn’t owe anything or be owed anything once tax time rolls around.

Here are the proposed changes.

Last summer, the IRS released a draft version of the new Form W-4, seeking feedback on it. Here are some of the changes.

As for marital status, employees would now have three marital status options:

  • Single or married, filing separately.
  • Married, filing jointly.
  • Head of household.

Instead of claiming withholding allowances, the new Form W-4 gives taxpayers the option of providing annual dollar amounts for the following:

  • Non-wage income (ex. interest).
  • Deductions from income for the household (ex. itemized of other deductions).
  • Income tax credits expected for the tax year.
  • For employees who have multiple jobs, the total annual taxable wages for all lower paying jobs.

According to Ernst & Young, here are a few more things employers need to know.

Before implementing the income tax withholding calculation in Publication 15 or Publication 15-A, employers would need to adjust the employee’s pay period taxable wages according to the annual dollar amounts entered on lines 5 through 8 on the Form W-4 draft.

If an employee leaves those lines blank, federal income tax would be withheld according to the normal federal income tax withholding calculation. This means it will default two withholding allowances for single or married, filing separately and three withholding allowances for married, filing jointly or head of household.

The revised Form W-4 and the updated method of calculating federal income tax and withholding would apply to employees hired on and after Jan. 1, 2019. It would also apply to existing employees who change their Form W-4 at any time in 2019.

What’s next.

According to the IRS, another draft version of the new Form W-4 is expected by May 31. This will also seek public comment. Once the comments are reviewed, the plan is to post a second draft later in the summer, with the final Form W-4 version to be released by the end of the year.

 

IRS issues guidance relating to deferral of gains for investments in a qualified opportunity fund

For answers to your questions regarding tax returns, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020. The following materials were originally published by the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service today issued guidance (PDF) providing additional details about investment in qualified opportunity zones.

The proposed regulations allow the deferral of all or part of a gain that is invested into a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QO Fund) that would otherwise be includible in income. The gain is deferred until the investment is sold or exchanged or Dec. 31, 2026, whichever is earlier. If the investment is held for at least 10 years, investors may be able to permanently exclude gain from the sale or exchange of an investment in a QO Fund.

Qualified opportunity zone business property is tangible property used in a trade or business of the QO Fund if the property was purchased after Dec. 31, 2017. The guidance permits tangible property acquired after Dec. 31, 2017, under a market rate lease to qualify as “qualified opportunity zone business property” if during substantially all of the holding period of the property, substantially all of the use of the property was in a qualified opportunity zone.

A key part of the newly released guidance clarifies the “substantially all” requirements for the holding period and use of the tangible business property:

  • For use of the property, at least 70 percent of the property must be used in a qualified opportunity zone.
  • For the holding period of the property, tangible property must be qualified opportunity zone business property for at least 90 percent of the QO Fund’s or qualified opportunity zone business’s holding period.
  • The partnership or corporation must be a qualified opportunity zone business for at least 90 percent of the QO Fund’s holding period.

The guidance notes there are situations where deferred gains may become taxable if an investor transfers their interest in a QO Fund. For example, if the transfer is done by gift the deferred gain may become taxable. However, inheritance by a surviving spouse is not a taxable transfer, nor is a transfer, upon death, of an ownership interest in a QO Fund to an estate or a revocable trust that becomes irrevocable upon death.

The guidance (PDF) is posted on IRS.gov. These regulations relate to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the tax reform legislation enacted in December 2017.

For information about other TCJA provisions, visit IRS.gov/taxreform

With new SALT limit, IRS explains tax treatment of state and local tax refunds

For ways to save on taxes on business and investment transactions, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020. The following materials were originally published by the IRS.

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today clarified the tax treatment of state and local tax refunds arising from any year in which the new limit on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction is in effect.

In Revenue Ruling 2019-11, posted today on IRS.gov, the IRS provided four examples illustrating how the long-standing tax benefit rule interacts with the new SALT limit to determine the portion of any state or local tax refund that must be included on the taxpayer’s federal income tax return. Today’s announcement does not affect state tax refunds received in 2018 for tax returns currently being filed.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), enacted in December 2017, limited the itemized deduction for state and local taxes to $5,000 for a married person filing a separate return and $10,000 for all other tax filers. The limit applies to tax years 2018 to 2025.

As in the past, state and local tax refunds are not subject to tax if a taxpayer chose the standard deduction for the year in which the tax was paid. But if a taxpayer itemized deductions for that year on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, part or all of the refund may be subject to tax, to the extent the taxpayer received a tax benefit from the deduction.

Taxpayers who are impacted by the SALT limit—those taxpayers who itemize deductions and who paid state and local taxes in excess of the SALT limit—may not be required to include the entire state or local tax refund in income in the following year. A key part of that calculation is determining the amount the taxpayer would have deducted had the taxpayer only paid the actual state and local tax liability—that is, no refund and no balance due.

In one example described in the ruling, a single taxpayer itemizes and claims deductions totaling $15,000 on the taxpayer’s 2018 federal income tax return. A total of $12,000 in state and local taxes is listed on the return, including state and local income taxes of $7,000. Because of the limit, however, the taxpayer’s SALT deduction is only $10,000. In 2019, the taxpayer receives a $750 refund of state income taxes paid in 2018, meaning the taxpayer’s actual 2018 state income tax liability was $6,250 ($7,000 paid minus $750 refund). Accordingly, the taxpayer’s 2018 SALT deduction would still have been $10,000, even if it had been figured based on the actual $6,250 state and local income tax liability for 2018. The taxpayer did not receive a tax benefit on the taxpayer’s 2018 federal income tax return from the taxpayer’s overpayment of state income tax in 2018. Thus, the taxpayer is not required to include the taxpayer’s 2019 state income tax refund on the taxpayer’s 2019 return.

See the ruling for details on all four examples.

Today’s ruling has no impact on state or local tax refunds received in 2018 and reportable on 2018 returns taxpayers are filing this season. For information, including worksheets for reporting these refunds, see the 2018 instructions for Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, and Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income.

For information about other TCJA provisions, visit IRS.gov/taxreform.

 

Trump’s shutdown could hinder tax collectors for ‘months, and even years’

For answers to your tax questions, please call Kevin M. Sayed, J.D., LL.M., at 252-321-2020. The following article by Joe Davidson was originally published by The Washington Post.

Taxpayer trust in tax system and voluntary compliance have been undermined.

President Trump’s partial government shutdown is over, but the haunting effects are not.

Perhaps nowhere is that demonstrated more than in the Internal Revenue Service, one agency that affects all Americans.

Listen to the words of advocate Nina Olson, an independent official within the IRS. Her latest report describes an agency with a “shocking” level of service, suffering a “cycle of frustration,” and one beset with long-standing problems made worse by the 35-day partial shutdown.

She described an agency so damaged that taxpayer trust and confidence in our tax system have been crippled.

“It is irresponsible for an agency that touches all aspects of people’s lives to be underfunded, understaffed, and at the mercy of shutdowns,” she wrote. “It is making strategic decisions that ultimately burden taxpayers, increase its own rework, and create distance and distrust between taxpayers and the tax agency, thereby undermining voluntary compliance.”

The report provided a slew of statistics demonstrating the depth of the problem. For the last week of the shutdown, ending Jan. 26, 12.8 percent of taxpayer calls on installment agreements and balance-due questions were answered. Those that were answered waited 93 minutes. The day before the shutdown stopped, the IRS had:

  • “Over 5 million pieces of mail that had not been batched for processing.”
  • “80,000 responses to FY 2018 Earned Income Tax Credit audits that had not been addressed.”
  • “87,000 amended returns waiting to be processed.”

Metrics like these “translate into real harm to real taxpayers,” Olson said. “And they represent increased rework for the IRS downstream, at a time when the IRS is already resource challenged.”

IRS officials responded with a statement that said the agency “successfully reopened operations following the shutdown, and the agency is seeing a good start to the 2019 filing season. We are continuing to assess the impact of the shutdown on our various operations across the agency and remain proud of the many IRS employees who have risen to the resulting challenges.”

The full impact of the shutdown won’t be known for “months, and even years, down the road,” Olson predicted. She praised IRS employees who “returned to work with energy.”

National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) President Tony Reardon said that “in some cases, employees are being asked to work overtime specifically to get the agency caught up. Orientation for new hires and refresher training for employees is also behind schedule in some areas. These are all signs of an agency still grappling with a record five-week shutdown on the eve of a tax filing season that was already going to be challenging because of the new tax law.”

Despite its many difficulties, the IRS remains the lifeblood of the federal government. Tax collectors raise about 93 percent of the national budget. They do so on a relative shoestring. The $3.5 trillion collected in fiscal 2018 was on an $11.43 billion IRS budget, a return on investment of about 300 to 1.

“I don’t know how anyone can read this report,” Reardon said, “and not be alarmed at the massive amount of damage that has been done to the agency’s workforce and the taxpayers they want to serve.”

The damage did not begin with the shutdown. Years of taxpayer-advocate reports, congressional testimony, taxpayer protests and employee complaints have chronicled an agency that suffered at the hands of Republican appropriators who wanted to punish the tax collectors. Republicans charged the IRS with unfairly scrutinizing conservative nonprofit organizations under the Obama administration, despite evidence that progressive groups also were scrutinized.

The IRS still has not recovered. The title of the report’s list of “Most Serious Problems” is illustrative — “The Taxpayer’s Journey.”

The problems, which cause “extreme frustration” for taxpayers and employees, include “antiquated technology systems” that if not replaced will “increasingly harm taxpayers and impair revenue collection,” according to the report. Olson also cited agreements between private tax collectors (PCA) and low-income taxpayers “to make payments they cannot afford.” Of “taxpayers who made commissionable payments while their debts were assigned to PCAs,” she added, “24 percent had incomes at or below the federal poverty level.”

Because of the shutdown, employees estimate that “it may take them almost a year to catch up, but many taxpayers cannot wait that long because they need their responses” by April 15, when 2018 taxes are due, said David Carron, a revenue agent speaking as president of NTEU Chapter 6 covering Louisiana and Arkansas. “We would relate this to an assembly line that has been stopped for over a month, but the same amount of products have to be produced” by then.

Federal charity drive extended

The donation period for the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), the federal workplace-giving vehicle for a variety of charities, has been extended until Friday. The original date was Jan. 11, which came during the shutdown.

“Many charities came to the aid of Federal employees throughout the shutdown in December and January,” said a memorandum announcing the extension from Keith Willingham, CFC director for the Office of Personnel Management. “Those organizations are under fiscal pressure with increased demands and because of an interruption.”

That represents a reversal of position.

On Dec. 19, shortly before the shutdown began, Willingham said that “under no circumstances will the 2019 CFC solicitation period be extended.”

Wiser heads prevailed.