I have written frequently about the burdens the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code imposes on taxpayers and the IRS alike. One of the burdens it imposes on the IRS and its Office of Chief Counsel is the responsibility to clarify ambiguities in the law and make reporting requirements workable so that taxpayers, tax professionals, and tax return software developers know how to report items of income, deduction, and credit on federal income tax returns.
The IRS must issue guidance and provide education in a proactive and timely manner. Timely guidance is vital to taxpayers, tax professionals, and industry, and it is just good tax administration. It is key to eliminating confusion and frustration for taxpayers and tax professionals, earning the trust of the American people, and providing quality service. Sometimes, timing is everything.
While the IRS deserves credit for the volume of guidance it provides, there are times when it delays or fails to issue timely guidance and thereby creates serious problems, including uncertainty and confusion, for taxpayers, tax professionals, and tax software developers. Two recent, well-publicized examples stand out as instances where the IRS missed the boat.
Special State Tax Refunds or Payments
The first example relates to the federal tax treatment of special state tax refunds or payments to residents of more than 20 states. Among these states are California, Massachusetts, and Virginia. In California, taxpayers who filed 2020 California tax returns reporting adjusted gross incomes up to $500,000 for a joint return or $250,000 for a single return were eligible for Middle Class Tax Relief benefits worth up to $1,050. To date, nearly 17 million payments have been made.
Are they taxable for federal income tax purposes?
The State of California thinks the answer may be yes. The California Franchise Tax Board website says: “Individuals who received a California Middle Class Tax Refund (MCTR) of $600 or more will receive a 1099-MISC for this payment… The MCTR payment may be considered federal income. You should consult IRS Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, or your tax professional regarding the federal tax treatment of this payment.”
The Commonwealth of Virginia largely agrees. It provided a one-time tax rebate, and its Department of Taxation’s website says: “If you itemized your deductions, you may be required to report the rebate amount you received as income on your federal return. You’ll receive a Form 1099G in the mail, just like you would if you received a state tax refund.”