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Archive for National Taxpayer Advocate Report

NTA: IRS Free File Program Is Failing To Achieve Its Objectives And Should be Substantially Improved Or Eliminated

National Taxpayer Advocate - Nina Olson

In this week’s National Taxpayer Advocate blog, I highlight my concerns with the IRS Free File program, which I also discussed in my 2018 Annual Report to Congress and my recent testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight. I also describe my personal experience using Free Fillable Forms and make some recommendations for improving these products. This is a bit of a long post, but the topic requires some background discussion to understand how we got to where we are today.

Background

The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 directed the IRS to set a goal of increasing the e-file rate to at least 80 percent by 2007. In 2002, the IRS entered into an agreement with a consortium of tax software companies, known as Free File, Inc. (FFI), under which the companies would provide free tax return software to a certain percentage of U.S. taxpayers, and in exchange, the IRS would not compete with these companies by providing its own software to taxpayers. The agreement has been renewed at regular intervals, and for at least the past decade, the agreement has provided that the consortium would make free tax return software available for 70 percent of taxpayers (currently, about 105 million), particularly focusing on increasing access for economically disadvantaged and underserved communities, as measured by adjusted gross income.

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Know How Getting Married Changes Your Tax Situation

Tina Olson- Know How Getting Married Changes Your Tax Situation

When you get married, your tax situation changes. Your marital status as of Dec. 31 determines your tax filing options for the entire year. If you’re married at year-end, you have two filing status choices:

  1. filing jointly with your new spouse, Married Filing Jointly, or
  2. filing separate from your spouse, Married Filing Separately

Most married couples file jointly because it is simpler and makes you eligible for many tax deductions and tax credits. However, if either spouse owes back taxes, whether federal or state, or owes certain other non-tax debts, such as delinquent child support or student loans in default, the IRS may offset your joint tax refund to satisfy the individual debts. Also, individuals who file a joint return incur “joint and several liability” explained later. Filing separately may seem like a good idea if you’re aware of prior tax and other liabilities of your spouse and don’t want to be responsible for them, but there’s potentially a downside. Filing separately may make you ineligible to claim certain tax deductions and tax credits, such as the child-care credit and the earned income tax credit (EITC). Refer to IRS Publication 501 for more information.

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IRS Fraud Detection – A Process That Is Challenging For Taxpayers To Navigate An Outdated Case Management System Resulting In Significant Delays Of Legitimate Refunds – Part 2

Nina Olson - IRS Fraud Detection - Part 2

In my last blog, I discussed issues that arose during the 2018 filing season that contributed to the delay of taxpayers’ refunds when those taxpayers’ returns were selected into the non-IDT refund fraud program, including:

  • timing issues with the matching of third-party information;
  • how the system does not consider how third-party information would affect a taxpayer’s refund, and
  • how the pre-refund wage verification program’s case management system, Electronic Fraud Detection System (EFDS), had to have third-party information uploaded manually instead of systemically.

These issues resulted in an unprecedented increase in Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) case receipts in 2018 as more affected taxpayers sought TAS assistance.

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IRS Fraud Detection – A Process That is Challenging For Taxpayers To Navigate With An Outdated Case Management System Resulting In Significant Delays Of Legitimate Refunds -Part 1

Nina Olson- December 2018

As we approach the filing season, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss an issue that affects many taxpayer returns, namely the IRS processes for identifying and stopping refund fraud. Attempted refund fraud has become a significant problem in our tax system. According to the most recent figures available, in calendar year (CY) 2016, identity theft (IDT), refund fraud alone, cost the government roughly $1.7 billion. I fully support the IRS’s efforts to reduce refund fraud and protect revenue. However, I have expressed concern over several years that the refund fraud false positive rate (FPR) is too high and that the IRS takes far too long to process legitimate taxpayers’ returns once it has determined that they have been inaccurately selected. For some taxpayers who rely on their tax refund to pay for necessary living expenses, their anxiety increases every day that their refund is delayed.

One of the main drivers behind these issues is the timing between when the IRS selects returns to be analyzed for possible refund fraud, and when it receives payor information that would either verify or disprove this possibility. But before we get into specific concerns surrounding the IRS’s fraud detection program, here is a little background on how the systems that select possible fraudulent returns work.

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The IRS Might Recover EITC Using Its Newly Discovered Post-Processing Math Error Authority, But Is It Constitutional?

Nina Olson- IRS Might Recover Earned Income Tax Credit

My June Report to Congress included an Area of Focus entitled: “The IRS Has Expanded Its Math Error Authority, Reducing Due Process for Vulnerable Taxpayers, Without Legislation and Without Seeking Public Comments.”  The post-processing math error issue came up after a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) said the IRS improperly paid refundable credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), to those filing 2016 returns with taxpayer identification numbers (TINs) (e.g., Social Security Numbers) that were issued after the due date of the returns. TINs are long strings of numbers that can easily contain typos. The IRS committed to “evaluate this population for inclusion in the appropriate post-refund treatment program.”  Perhaps because it costs $1.50 to resolve an erroneous EITC claim using automated math error authority (MEA) compared to $278 for an audit (according to TIGTA), the Wage and Investment Division (W&I) planned to use MEA to recover these credits in 2018.

I asked Counsel about the legality of using MEA to disallow credits long after the IRS had processed the returns (i.e., post-processing) and paid them. Counsel responded on April 10, 2018, with a Program Manager Technical Advice (PMTA) that approved the practice (here). It concluded there were no due process concerns. This blog explores the due process that the government may be constitutionally required to provide before recovering EITC from those who depend on it to survive.

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National Taxpayer Advocate: 2019 Objectives Report To Congress

Nina Olson, 2019 Taxpayer Advocate Objective

The advocate states in the current environment, it is critical for the IRS to direct its resources where they have the greatest positive effect on achieving tax compliance, particularly voluntary tax compliance.  Over the long run, voluntary compliance is the least expensive form of compliance to maintain.  It is also the least burdensome from the taxpayer’s perspective.  Importantly, voluntary tax compliance is heavily linked to customer service and the customer experience.

The President’s Management Agenda for 2018 states: “Federal customers . . . deserve a customer experience that compares to – or exceeds – that of leading private sector organizations, yet most Federal services lag behind the private sector.”  The Agenda identifies several Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goals, including CAP Goal 1: Modernize IT to Increase Productivity and Security, and CAP Goal 4: Improving Customer Experience with Federal Services.  The Agenda notes that “the 2016 American Consumer [sic] Satisfaction Index and the 2017 Forrester Federal Customer Experience Index show that, on average, Government services lag nine percentage points behind the private sector.” How do the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) and the Forrester Federal Customer Experience Index assess the IRS’s customer service relative to other federal agencies and the private sector? The American Customer Satisfaction Index ranks the Treasury Department 12 out of 13 Federal Departments and says the Treasury Department’s score is effectively an IRS score because most citizens make use of Treasury services via the [IRS] tax-filing process.

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Statement Of Nina Olson – National Taxpayer Advocate Joint Hearing On Continued Oversight Over The IRS

Nina Olsen National Taxpayer Advocate

Thank you for inviting me to testify at your hearing today on IRS operations. As you know, I lead the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent organization within the IRS that advocates for taxpayers. TAS has two main functions – “case advocacy” and “systemic advocacy.” In most years our case advocacy operations
assist more than 200,000 taxpayers in resolving account problems with the IRS.2 On the systemic side, TAS identifies problems that are harming groups of taxpayers, and we make administrative and legislative recommendations to mitigate those problems.
By statute, I am required to submit two annual reports to the congressional tax-writing committees each year, and I describe, and make recommendations to mitigate, the “most serious problems” facing taxpayers in my December 31 report.

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