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Archive for National Taxpayer Advocate

National Taxpayer Advocate: Planning To Travel Outside The U.S. This Year? Don’t Risk A Passport Revocation

National Taxpayer Advocate

The Internal Revenue Service is urging taxpayers to resolve their significant tax debts, $50,000 or more, to avoid putting their passports in jeopardy. If you owe $50,000 or more and haven’t made payment arrangements, please contact the IRS now to avoid travel delays later.

Why is the State Department allowed to limit or revoke my passport due to unpaid taxes?

In December 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. That act authorized the IRS to certify to the State Department taxpayers who owe a seriously delinquent tax debt. A seriously delinquent tax debt is an unpaid, legally enforceable federal tax debt totaling more than $50,000 (Please note that this amount is adjusted annually for inflation.) for which a notice of federal tax lien has been filed and all administrative remedies under IRC § 6320 have lapsed or been exhausted, or a levy has been issued. The IRS began certifying these debts to the State Department in 2018. Under the law, the State Department must deny your passport application and may revoke or limit your passport if the IRS has certified you as having a seriously delinquent tax debt. A seriously delinquent tax debt does not include non-tax debts collected by the IRS, such as the FBAR penalty and child support.

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IRS Agrees To Temporary Exclusion From The Passport Certification Program For TAS Cases

National Taxpayer Advocate

In my first blog as the Acting National Taxpayer Advocate, I’d like to address a topic that has been in the news a good deal over the past year—“passport certification.”  Under section 32101 of the FAST Act, if the IRS “certifies” a taxpayer as having a “seriously delinquent tax debt” (currently more than $52,000 and meeting certain other requirements under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 7345(b)), the Department of State must deny the taxpayer’s passport application (original or renewal) and may revoke or limit an existing passport.

Previous National Taxpayer Advocate blogs have discussed aspects of the passport certification program, including the lack of a stand-alone notice issued to taxpayers before the IRS certifies their debts and the IRS’s refusal to hold off on certifications while taxpayers are working with TAS to resolve their liabilities.

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National Taxpayer Advocate Objectives Report Features IRS Responses To Most Serious Problems (Volume 2)

National Taxpayer Advocate

Each December, the National Taxpayer Advocate identifies the Most Serious Problems facing taxpayers and makes recommendations for addressing them in the Annual Report to Congress (ARC). Each June, the National Taxpayer Advocate submits the Objectives Report to Congress, which includes a second volume that contains the IRS’s responses to our recommendations together with our analysis of the IRS’s responses.

As the Acting National Taxpayer Advocate, I believe it is important for taxpayers, tax practitioners, and Members of Congress to see how the IRS responded, and I will highlight a few examples of its responses and related analysis.

  • Most Serious Problem 1 – Tax Law Questions: The IRS has agreed to study the feasibility of returning to its previous practice of answering in-scope tax law questions year-round on the phones.
  • Most Serious Problem 2 – Chief Counsel Transparency: IRS Counsel has agreed to clarify the standards that should be considered when deciding whether legal advice should be issued in a formal memorandum.

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IRS Agrees To Temporary Exclusion From The Passport Certification Program For Taxpayer Advocate Services Cases

IRS National Taxpayer Advocate Services

In my first blog as the Acting National Taxpayer Advocate, I’d like to address a topic that has been in the news a good deal over the past year—“passport certification.”  Under section 32101 of the FAST Act, if the IRS “certifies” a taxpayer as having a “seriously delinquent tax debt” (currently more than $52,000 and meeting certain other requirements under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 7345(b)), the Department of State must deny the taxpayer’s passport application (original or renewal) and may revoke or limit an existing passport.

Previous National Taxpayer Advocate blogs have discussed aspects of the passport certification program, including the lack of a stand-alone notice issued to taxpayers before the IRS certifies their debts and the IRS’s refusal to hold off on certifications while taxpayers are working with TAS to resolve their liabilities.

In today’s blog, I have some good news to report. The IRS recently agreed to temporarily exclude taxpayers with open TAS cases from passport certification and to reverse certifications for TAS taxpayers who were certified before coming to TAS. Although not permanent at this time, this change is a step in the right direction that protects taxpayers who are working with TAS to resolve their liabilities from the severe consequences of passport denials and revocations.

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The Taxpayer Roadmap 2019 – A Lifeline For Taxpayers And Tax Professionals

Nina Olson The Taxpayer Roadmap

In the words of a comment made by one of our readers on a previous post on the taxpayer’s journey, “Whatever time and money was spent on this flowchart is some of the best taxpayer dollars ever spent! I am going to pretend my 2018 tax bill went towards this project, which will make me feel so much better about paying my taxes.”

With the road to tax compliance a very complicated one for many, the National Taxpayer Advocate Team spent a considerable amount of time illustrating the taxpayer’s journey from getting answers to tax questions; all the way through audits, appeals, collection and litigation. The road to compliance is complex to navigate and the reason you need a qualified tax expert to guide you through the process. Their stated goal is to expand on the Roadmap to include links in the future to guide you. On behalf of the TaxConnections community of taxpayers and tax professionals, we want to thank Nina Olson and the National Taxpayer Advocate team for an extraordinary job in building The Taxpayer Roadmap. We also want to thank Nina Olson for her outstanding service of 18 years.

TaxConnections Encourages Your Comments Today In Order To Thank National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson Who Retires on July 31st 2019. Great job Nina!

View The Taxpayer Roadmap 2019.

 

 

The National Taxpayer Advocate’s Remarks On The Role Of Trust And Taxpayer Advocate Service In Fostering Tax Compliance

Nina Olson Volume 1

Volume 1, which I present to you today, includes an analysis of the 2019 Filing Season, an assessment of the impact of the recent government shutdown on the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), 12 Areas of Focus, and a discussion of TAS advocacy initiatives, casework, and research studies. Volume 2, IRS Responses and National Taxpayer Advocate’s Comments Regarding Most Serious Problems Identified in 2018 Annual Report to Congress, and Volume 3, Making the EITC Work for Taxpayers and the Government: Improving Administration and Protecting Taxpayer Rights, will be published next month.

Volume 2 will contain the IRS’s general responses to each of the administrative recommendations we identified in our 2018 Annual Report to Congress. Volume 3 will contain a comprehensive assessment of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and will make recommendations designed to increase the participation rate of eligible taxpayers and reduce overclaims by ineligible taxpayers.  During the spring, Professor Leslie Book of the Villanova School of Law, a leading EITC expert, served as a “professor in residence” with TAS, and Margot Crandall-Hollick, an EITC expert with the Congressional Research Service, worked with TAS on a detail.  Together with TAS’s EITC experts, including former Low Income Taxpayer Clinic attorneys and researchers, they conducted a broad review of existing EITC research and drafted a comprehensive set of recommendations to assist Congress and the IRS in improving the program.

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The National Taxpayer Advocate’s Remarks On The Role Of Trust and Taxpayer Advocate Service In Fostering Tax Compliance (Part 1)

Nina Olson Final Words Part1

Volume 1, which I present to you today, includes an analysis of the 2019 Filing Season, an assessment of the impact of the recent government shutdown on the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), 12 Areas of Focus, and a discussion of TAS advocacy initiatives, casework, and research studies.

Volume 2, IRS Responses and National Taxpayer Advocate’s Comments Regarding Most Serious Problems Identified in 2018 Annual Report to Congress, and Volume 3, Making the EITC Work for Taxpayers and the Government: Improving Administration and Protecting Taxpayer Rights, will be published next month.

Volume 2 will contain the IRS’s general responses to each of the administrative recommendations we identified in our 2018 Annual Report to Congress. Volume 3 will contain a comprehensive assessment of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and will make recommendations designed to increase the participation rate of eligible taxpayers and reduce overclaims by ineligible taxpayers.  During the spring, Professor Leslie Book of the Villanova School of Law, a leading EITC expert, served as a “professor in residence” with TAS, and Margot Crandall-Hollick, an EITC expert with the Congressional Research Service, worked with TAS on a detail.  Together with TAS’s EITC experts, including former Low Income Taxpayer Clinic attorneys and researchers, they conducted a broad review of existing EITC research and drafted a comprehensive set of recommendations to assist Congress and the IRS in improving the program.

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Why We Should Repeal The Flora Rule Or Find Another Way To Give Taxpayers Who Cannot Pay The Same Access To Judicial Review As Those Who Can (Part 3 of 3)

Two weeks ago, I discussed how the Flora rule blocks access to judicial review by low income taxpayers and those subject to “assessable penalties.” Last week, I discussed why the policy justification for the Flora rule has faded and why the theoretical ability to petition other courts does not always provide real access to judicial review. In this week’s blog, I discuss the solutions that policymakers should consider. More details are available in my 2018 Annual Report to Congress.

Repeal The Flora Rule

Because Flora is obsolete, I agree with those who have suggested the Flora rule should be repealed (e.g., Steve Johnson here on p. 271). Such a repeal would allow taxpayers to file suit in district court or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims after paying a small fraction of the liability. If Congress prefers a more tailored approach, however, it should consider one or more of the following options:

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Why We Should Repeal The Flora Rule Or Find Another Way To Give Taxpayers Who Cannot Pay The Same Access To Judicial Review As Those Who Can (Part 2 of 3)

Nina Olson- Judicial Review Part 2

In the previous blog post, I discussed how the Flora rule harms low income taxpayers who were not part of the tax system when it was established and sometimes eliminates judicial review for those subject to “assessable penalties,” most of which also did not exist at the time. This week, I discuss the policy justification for the Flora rule, why it has faded, and why the theoretical ability to petition other courts does not provide real access to judicial review for some taxpayers.

The Justification For The Flora Rule Has Faded

As we discussed last week, in 1958 in Flora I and again in 1960 in Flora II, the U.S. Supreme Court held that taxpayers must have “fully paid” an assessment before filing suit in U.S. district court or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. In Flora I the Court said a policy basis for the full payment rule was to protect the “public purse” and cited dicta in earlier decisions, such as Cheatham, which was decided in 1875. This dictum said the rule was needed to protect the very “existence of government” from a “hostile judiciary.” Although the Flora decisions did not repeat the “existence of government” rationale, it relied heavily on CheathamCheatham is cited seven times in Flora I and 20 times in Flora II.

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The IRS Is Not Doing Enough To Protect Taxpayers Facing Economic Hardship

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR) grants taxpayers the rights to privacy and to a fair and just tax system. The Internal Revenue Service’s official explanation of these rights, in Publication 1, states in part: “Taxpayers have the right to expect that any IRS …enforcement action will comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary,” and “to expect the tax system to consider facts and circumstances that might affect their underlying liabilities, ability to pay, or ability to provide information timely.”

At the time the TBOR was codified in IRC § 7803(a), Congress had already created statutory remedies for violations of these rights, including protections to prevent individual taxpayers from experiencing economic hardship while owing a tax liability. For instance, under IRC § 6343(a)(1)(D), the IRS must release a levy if it determines that the levy is creating an economic hardship for the taxpayer. Treasury regulation § 301.6343-1(b)(4) explains that an economic hardship occurs when collection action will “cause an individual taxpayer to be unable to pay his or her reasonable basic living expenses.”

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IRS Examinations – The IRS Should Promote Voluntary Compliance And Minimize Taxpayer Burden In The Selection And Conduct Of Audits

National Taxpayer Advocate

In February of 2019, I released the 2018 Annual Report To Congress in which, among other things, I discuss the influence of tax audits on taxpayers’ attitudes and perceptions, and specifically focus on the three primary types of traditional or “real” IRS audits, which can occur through correspondence, at the taxpayer’s home or business, or at an IRS office. In my 2017 Annual Report to Congress and a related blog post around nine months ago, I described IRS audit rates and the distinction between “real” and “unreal” audits. This blog, however, provides an overview of traditional or “real” audit programs, along with some of my findings.

Why are IRS audits important?

The IRS is authorized to examine books, papers, records, or other data and take testimony to determine the correctness of any return and the liability of any person for tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) § 7602(a). The IRS’s primary purpose in selecting tax returns for examination or audit is to promote the highest degree of voluntary compliance. IRS audits are intended to detect and correct noncompliance of audited taxpayers, as well as create an environment to encourage non-audited taxpayers to comply voluntarily.

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IRS Has Made Some Improvements, Math Error Notices Continue To Be Unclear And Confusing, Thereby Undermining Taxpayer Rights And Increasing Taxpayer Burden

Nina Olson - Math Errors IRS

With the filing season in full operation, many taxpayers are receiving correspondence from the IRS that convey significant taxpayer rights and require taxpayers to take prompt action. In my April 3rd blog post, I discussed a Literature Review in my 2018 report to Congress that investigated how notices can be improved using insights from the available psychological, cognitive, and behavioral science research. As I noted, a major issue with current IRS notices is that many taxpayers have difficulty understanding them. They may be unsure about what the notice requires them to do, the steps they may need to take, or the rights they have to challenge the IRS’s determination in a notice. In this blog, I will focus on math error notice unclarity, which I identified as one of the Most Serious Problems.

What is the IRS’s math error authority?

Congress has granted the IRS “math error authority,” which allows the IRS to make certain summary adjustments to a taxpayer’s return. If the changes lead to a greater amount of tax, the IRS would make an assessment. These “math error” changes can be made when the IRS determines that the taxpayer has made a mathematical or clerical error that is obvious to fix by looking at the face of the return. The types of issues Congress has allowed to be resolved with math error authority have progressively increased over the years, as a result of IRS lobbying, with the IRS now making summary changes for more and more complex issues. A past TAS research study on math errors committed on individual tax returns found that some of these summary changes have led the IRS to incorrectly deny tax benefits to some taxpayers.

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