First of all, why is it so weird for the head of the IRS to go to the White House? Even if Doug Shulman did visit 157 times as some foaming-at-the-mouth media outlets are – apparently, incorrectly – reporting, who cares? He works right down the street. He's the guy in charge of getting our […]
In case you weren't paying attention, the IRS's Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP) program just got shit-canned by a federal judge. Of course, as CPAs we don't really have to care about the RTRP program because we're exempt, as are our minions, as long as we promise to micromanage them. Regardless, schadenfreude feels pretty damn […]
Yesterday, the IRS announced that commissioner Doug Shulman's last day at work would be November 9th. For the American people, Shulman's mug served as the face of most beloved government agency that has ever existed in the history of governments. For tax professionals, DS was more like Moses – someone who ventured to dark and […]
This is the first post from our slew of freelancer candidates. The following is by Jeremy Woodward. The House Appropriations Committee has settled on an IRS budget, and it’s not good news for everyone’s favorite group of suits and ties. The $11.8 billion allocation is $1.2 billion below what they requested. Probably not enough for […]
It's that time of year again when lobbyists dust off their agendas and head to Washington to represent the voice of America's CPAs and their clients for the spring meeting of AICPA Governing Council. Once again I'll be covering the festivities however since hardly any of you actually care about legislative news or anything serious […]
NPR's attempt to offer up something other than the usual tax day fare includes sharing IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman's workout playlist. Yes, even bureaucrats enjoy music! [I]f you're stressing over getting your taxes done before midnight Tuesday, Shulman has some songs that might inspire you to keep slogging through that return — the same songs that […]
Come November, we're going to have a new Commish: Douglas Shulman, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, said he doesn’t intend to stay in the job after his five-year term expires in November. “My plan is to leave at the end of my term,” he said during a question-and-answer session today at the National Press […]
The new preparer regulation system is up and running. Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting, collects millions to process PTINs, while millions more go to Prometric, to administer the “competency exams.” Everyone, I mean, everything, is under control. Except for the little matter of billions of taxpayer dollars going out the door to identity thieves claiming tax […]
Yesterday, the IRS announced a major expansion of its Fresh Start initiative which attempts to help taxpayers unable to cover their tax bills. The Installment Agreement program has also been expanded, making it available for more taxpayers who are behind on their taxes. Under the new provisions, some taxpayers who have been unemployed for 30 […]
Wouldn’t life be sweet if our bosses gave us more money when we failed? Gee, I wouldn’t have hit on the client’s daughter at that bar if only you paid me better… Yet that’s just what we’re supposed to do with the IRS. Caleb notes that the Taxpayer Advocate pointed out all sorts of ways […]
If your creepy uncle, known for bad behavior with underaged girlfriends, bought an ice cream truck, you’d not trust him to limit himself to selling ice cream. Last year the Taxpayer Advocate’s Office tried to force the IRS to stop luring people who have foot-faulted their foreign account reporting obligations with the promises of leniency, […]
Doug Shulman believes in third chances: IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who announced the program’s renewal Monday, said previous efforts in 2009 and 2011 resulted in the collection so far of $4.4 billion from 33,000 people. He said the government could gain several times that amount, as a result of both the newest initiative plus people […]
Our resident tax nerd, Joe Kristan, touched on the IRS competency exam a couple of weeks ago but yesterday the IRS officially rolled out the red carpet. So, if you prepare tax returns but aren’t a CPA, lawyer, or enrolled agent, you now have the distinct pleasure of spending $116 to spend a few hours with everyone’s favorite test vendor – Prometric – whose proctors will keep a watchful eye on you to make sure your ostomy bag isn’t a secret answer bank, that you aren’t packing heat and your gum is appropriately disposed of. What’s the point of all this, you ask? IRS Commish Doug Shulman can answer that:
“This is another major step forward in our effort to enhance tax preparation service to millions of taxpayers. People should feel assured that the person they hire to prepare their federal tax returns has a working knowledge of the tax code,” said Doug Shulman, IRS Commissioner. “The majority of tax return preparers are reputable professionals but the few bad apples cause great harm to taxpayers and the industry.”
Got it? It’s for the good of the country. Just make sure you don’t have a runny nose on the day of your test. That’ll get you in trouble.
“Perhaps the most telling indicator of taxpayer confusion over the code’s complexity is that today, 90% of individual taxpayers pay for professional tax preparation or tax software to prepare their tax returns. IRS research estimates that, over the past 10 years, the burden for the typical taxpayer has increased by about 20% and would likely be even more if they had to prepare returns themselves without any aids or tools. Moreover, we estimate individual taxpayers and businesses spend more than 7 [billion] hours each year complying with filing requirements.” [Tax-News via Tax Foundation]
The IRS Commissioner and his subaltern for preparer regulation this week spilled some of the beans about the “competency tests” that they are imposing on the unwashed (non-CPA, non-lawyer, non-enrolled agent) preparers. Some key bits, as reported by Tax Analysts (sorry, subscriber-only link):
- Prometric – the company known for making sure CPA exam candidates don’t hide cheat sheets in their ostomy bags – will also administer the IRS competency test. So don’t even think about hiding cheat sheets in your orthotic leg or enhanced breasts. But then again, you don’t have to, because…
- …They will allow you to use Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, when you take the competency test, and
- They’ll only test on 1040 issues.
This confirms the obvious: the competency test will be a joke. It has to be, or too few preparers would survive to prepare the nation’s returns. It won’t be completely open-book, but it sounds like you will be able to pass if you have adequate skills at reading and using an index.
This all makes it look like the cynics are right – it’s all about extending IRS power over preparers.
Don’t believe me? Listen to Shulman’s own words:
Today, I want to talk for a little bit about some of our priority programs, such as the Return Preparer Program, the evolution of our relationship with our largest corporate taxpayers, including Schedule UTP, and our work on what we’re calling a real time tax system.
The common thread that runs through them is points of leverage and working smarter.
Points of leverage sounds like what a wrestler uses to pin an opponent. The IRS can use these “points of leverage” to make preparers more subjects of the government and less advocates for their clients. And in their own sweet time, they will.
For those of you that haven’t nailed down the CPA yet, hopefully you’re not amongst those receiving nastygrams from the IRS for not complying with the new ID requirements.
And, on behalf of the thousands of tax preparers who did comply with the new rules, Doug Shulman doesn’t appreciate your apathy, “The vast majority of federal tax return preparers complied with the rules. We owe it to the compliant tax preparers to make sure that everyone is on a level playing field.” [Bloomberg]
In 2008, the year for which most recent data was available, IRS computer programs flagged compliance issues for more than 8,000 of its 109,469 employees and ultimately determined that almost 2.8% had not complied with the law. But those monitoring systems missed 133 additional employees who were potentially not compliant with tax law over a two-year period, according to the audit. The employees were flagged for potentially filing their tax returns late, paying their taxes late, not reporting all of their income and at least one example of a criminal investigation with an additional tax assessment.
“Cuts such as those in the House budget resolution would actually increase the deficit by decreasing revenue,” IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.
He said the House proposal would cut $2 billion from the agency’s budget next fiscal year. “Cuts of this magnitude would be substantial and affect all of IRS operations,” from answering taxpayers’ questions on the phone to being able to conduct audits, he said. Shulman said that for every dollar invested in the IRS, the agency collects roughly $200 in revenue. [Dow Jones]
In a report released today, the inspector general said attrition and a heightened workload have combined to leave the IRS understaffed.
The new hires in the agency’s small business and self-employed division resulted in a net gain of just 580 revenue officers by the end of fiscal 2010, according to the report. The IRS watchdog predicted a net gain of 127 revenue officers by the end of fiscal 2012. The study could affect the debate over funding for the agency. It comes two days before IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman is scheduled to testify before a congressional panel on the agency’s budget. The inspector general warned that, unless the IRS is fully staffed, compliant taxpayers are at a disadvantage. “If the IRS does not have a sufficient number of qualified” revenue officers, the report said, “it could create an unfair burden on the majority of taxpayers who fully pay their taxes on time.” [Bloomberg]
The IRS is on you like white on rice.
The Internal Revenue Service is taking steps to stop tax preparers with criminal tax convictions or permanent injunctions from preparing tax returns. This is just one of several recent moves to improve the quality and oversight of the tax preparation industry.
More than 700,000 tax preparers nationwide have registered with the IRS and obtained Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs). This nine-digit number must be used by paid tax return preparers on all returns or claims for refund. Paid preparers must renew their PTINs annually to legally prepare tax returns.
“We owe it to all taxpayers and the many honest tax return preparers to remove the relatively small number of bad actors from the tax preparation industry,” said Doug Shulman, IRS Commissioner. “Just one unscrupulous tax return preparer can cause a lot of financial damage to both taxpayers and the tax system.”
Nineteen ne’er-do-wells have already gotten word that they’ll be stripped of their PTINs for unseemly behavior of some kind or another. Best get that CPA so you don’t have to mess with the whole thing…until you the IRS lumps them in too.
Back in February, the IRS announced that it would be giving offshore bank account holders another chance to come clean on their tax-avoiding ways. Tax amnesty 1.0 went pretty well and last year, the IRS had a whale of time sticking it to UBS and a number of customers who were holding out. But in all honesty, we all know that picking off a bunch of blondes with above-average chocolatiering skills was some low-hanging fruit. Today the IRS, along with the DOJ, announced their next target of their sniffing-out-offshore-bank-account world tour. HSBC India! – come on down!
The United States is seeking an order from a federal court in San Francisco authorizing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to request information from HSBC Bank USA, N.A. about U.S. residents who may be using accounts at The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in India (HSBC India) to evade federal income taxes, the Justice Department announced today.
The government filed a petition with the court to allow the IRS to serve what is known as a “John Doe” summons on the bank. The IRS uses a John Doe summons to obtain information about possible tax fraud by people whose identities are unknown. If approved, the John Doe summons would direct HSBC USA to produce records identifying U.S. taxpayers with accounts at HSBC India, many of whom are believed by the government to have hidden their accounts from the IRS.
And if anyone is getting the idea that this is an HSBC/Hong Kong/India issue, Doug Shulman would like you to know that this is not personal, it’s simply the IRS doing the Treasury’s dirty work, “The IRS continues to focus its attention on international tax evasion,” the Commish said. “This summons request is focused on obtaining more information to help us determine if additional actions are needed. As I’ve said all along, our international efforts are not about just one country or one bank – it’s about our wider effort to ensure compliance with the nation’s tax laws.”
The Treasury isn’t going to fill itself now, is it?
Doug Shulman wants you to put that notion right out of your mind:
Doug Shulman, the IRS commissioner, said that people who file electronically during a shutdown would likely not face any delays in having their returns – and potential refunds – processed. But taxpayers who file by paper, Shulman added, may see some delays. “We’ve got a 100,000 employees. Not all of them are going to be coming to work. But we’re going to have a complement here,” Shulman said. “The nuances of who is going to be doing what I’m not ready to get into. The most important thing for people to know is: We’re going to be accepting tax returns and people should file.”
So as Adrienne just mentioned, you can either ask the AICPA for help, call your tax advisor or simply curl up into a ball and shudder in the corner until the 18th passes.
The head of the IRS said Thursday that a government shutdown during tax season would be a challenge the agency has never confronted before — and one that would become more complicated as the April filing deadline draws closer. Doug Shulman, the IRS commissioner, also signaled at a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing that his agency was discussing how to address a potential shutdown with the Obama administration, though he did not spell out any details of those talks. “We run a $13 billion financial services operation, so the idea of stopping it for a few days or a few weeks is strange,” Shulman said, adding that he was hopeful, based on ongoing negotiations, that a shutdown could be averted. [The Hill]
All this resentment of the IRS has got to stop. It’s counter-productive, cowardly and most of all, annoying. The gang at Boulder, Colorado-based Webroot understands that you shoo away more IRS flies with honey than with vinegar, so they’ve made a simple suggestion: “This tax season get on the IRS’s good side.”
How does one do that, you ask? Well, Webroot has given you three options to show some love:
1. Send a flower to Doug Shulman – Behind that rough exterior, The Commish is a softee. Sign up for this option and a flower will be added to the bouquet and your name included on a card that will accompany warm his bureaucratic heart. You do have the option of donating a flower anonymously if you’re still not sure Dougie is nothing but a taxborg that gets plugged in every evening.
2. Pro-IRS Stamps – Don’t you just love it when you get unique stamps in the mail? Imagine how good you would feel if the stamp had a tattoo heart with your name in the middle of it. I’ll bet the IRS would like it if you used one to mail in your tax return. Those “Forever” stamps are boring anyway.
3. Like the IRS on Facebook – Seriously, people. Is there a better way to show your appreciation? Besides, I’ve seen what some of you ‘Like’ on FB and quite honestly, it’s far more embarrassing than liking the IRS.
Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a statement today that the agency would make it easier for taxpayers to seek withdrawal of liens when they pay a tax debt or make arrangements to pay in installments for debts of less than $25,000. The agency also raised the dollar thresholds before liens are typically filed. “We are making fundamental changes to our lien system and other collection tools that will help taxpayers and give them a fresh start,” Shulman said in the statement. “These steps are good for people facing tough times, and they reflect a responsible approach for the tax system.” [Bloomberg]
Apparently this video is from last year but whatevs. Since the new year is creeping up fast, it serves as a friendly reminder that all the tax jockeys out there carry some heavy responsibility, stimulating the economy year after year.
Okay, let’s forget about the refunds for two. What’s really worth noting is all the CPAs out there scarfing bagels and guzzling coffee from January until March/mid-April because their time is far to valuable to bother going to the grocery store to buy a piece of fruit. Then think about all the late night take-out. The profession is single-handedly keeping bagel shops, pizza joints and various Asian restaurants in business year after year.
Then Joe Kristan makes the following point:
Never mind that the refunds are a result of overwithholding, or anti-stimulus, the rest of the year. Actually, in a way, it underlines how all “stimulus” spending really works: it takes our money all year, and we’re supposed to feel stimulated when they give a little of it back.
So in reality, the only stimulus is CPAs giving a boost to various segments of the restaurant industry. It’s not ideal but it’s an annual boost they can rely upon, nonetheless.
There’s a small part of us that hopes the lame-o Congress just throws their hands up and lets all the outstanding tax policy issues expire, just to see what the fallout would be.
While we wish no harm to our practitioner friends like Joe Kristan, watching the pols in Congress squirm from the wrath of the American populace would be rather enjoyable.
Doug Shulman, on the other hand, does not share our impish impulses and wrote a letter to Congressional members on the Senate Finance and House Ways & Mean Committees, reminding them that if they let this one get away, his agency will have one hell of a mess on their hands.
Reuters has some excerpts:
“Of course, if legislation has not passed by the end of this year, our computers will have been programed incorrectly and we will need to delay filing for these individuals,” he said in a letter to the top lawmakers on the congressional committees charged with tax policy.
Realizing that the members might not quite understand what all this crazy-talk means, the Commish gave some details:
“It would be an unprecedented and daunting operational challenge to open the tax filing season under one set of tax laws with respect to AMT and extenders, begin accepting tax returns, and then have the law change,” Shulman wrote.
So essentially, re-doing a bunch of work. Nobody wants that. Luckily for everyone involved, Shulman appears to understand that while dysfunction is standard operating procedure on the Hill, most CPAs prefer providing above average client service.
We’re asking this question in a collective sense. Call it a hunch but we’re pretty sure that Doug Shulman votes “T” on the T&A question.
To clarify, we’re talking about breast feeding. More specifically about breast pumps for nursing mothers.
You see, the IRS isn’t convinced that breast-feeding has enough health benefits to qualify as a form of medical care, thus, the pumps are not covered. From a tax/health policy standpoint, the Service is more concerned with teeth (false), skin (clear) and noses (not stuffy).
Denture wearers will get a tax break on the cost of adhesives to keep their false teeth in place. So will acne sufferers who buy pimple creams.
People whose children have severe allergies might even be allowed the break for replacing grass with artificial turf since it could be considered a medical expense.
But nursing mothers will not be allowed to use their tax-sheltered health care accounts to pay for breast pumps and other supplies.
That is because the Internal Revenue Service has ruled that breast-feeding does not have enough health benefits to quality as a form of medical care.
The Times explains that under the healthcare overhaul, “preventive procedures” were going to be encouraged to control costs. Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, the IRS isn’t budging on the issue:
I.R.S. officials say they consider breast milk a food that can promote good health, the same way that eating citrus fruit can prevent scurvy. But because the I.R.S. code considers nutrition a necessity rather than a medical condition, the agency’s analysts view the cost of breast pumps, bottles and pads as no more deserving of a tax break than an orange juicer.
Because tools that will help a mother feed a new-born human being natural food is exactly the same thing as the Omega 4000. Got it.
But that’s exactly what they got! The pro-Israel nonprofit Z Street filed suit against IRS Commish Doug Shulman because Z Street and other “pro-Israel groups whose policies conflict with that of the [Obama] administration,” are getting the stinkeye from the IRS.
From Zulu Avenue’s complaint:
The case is brought because, through its corporate counsel, Z STREET was informed explicitly by an IRS Agent on July 19, 2010, that approval of Z STREET’s application for tax-exempt status has been at least delayed, and may be denied because of a special IRS policy in place regarding organizations in any way connected with Israel, and further that the applications of many such Israel-related organizations have been assigned to “a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.” These statements by an IRS official that the IRS maintains special policies (hereinafter the “Israel Special Policy”) governing applications for tax-exempt status by organizations which deal with Israel, and which requires particularly intense scrutiny of such applications and an enhanced risk of denial if made by organizations which espouse or support positions inconsistent with the Obama administration’s Israel policies, constitute an explicit admission of the crudest form of viewpoint discrimination, and one which is both totally un-American and flatly unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Pro-Israel group claims IRS persecution [Politico]
Remember the IRS’ failed outreach to small nonprofits back in the spring? Yeah, the May 17th deadline threw a lot small NFPs for a loop and they up and missed the filing deadline completely.
IRS Commish Doug Shulman figured that, despite the unprecedented outreach, the whole snafu was his bad and that nonprofits shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about missing the deadline, the Service will still take your 990, tardiness notwithstanding.
But that can’t go on forever now, can it? Accordingly, the IRS set a new deadline today to file the 990s and it’s set for a much more memorable October 15th.
WASHINGTON — Small nonprofit organizations at risk of losing their tax-exempt status because they failed to file required returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009 can preserve their status by filing returns by Oct. 15, 2010, under a one-time relief program, the Internal Revenue Service announced today.
The IRS today posted on a special page of IRS.gov the names and last-known addresses of these at-risk organizations, along with guidance about how to come back into compliance. The organizations on the list have return due dates between May 17 and Oct. 15, 2010, but the IRS has no record that they filed the required returns for any of the past three years.
“We are doing everything we can to help organizations comply with the law and keep their valuable tax exemption,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “So if you do not have your filings up to date, now’s the time to take action and get back on track.”
It’s simple people. If your gross receipts are under $25,000, get yourself a 990-N (e-Postcard), fill it out and you’re done. If you have receipts up to $500k, you’ll have to fill out either Form 990 or 990-EZ which will probably take you all of 15 minutes.
Get it? No more blowing this off. OCTOBER 15TH is the drop dead date. After that, Shulman & Co. will be busting down the doors to inform you that you’re no longer tax exempt. And trust us, you don’t want to deal with that.
For those of you keeping score, the ballpark figure of “wealth” is “in the neighborhood of tens of million of dollars,” according to IRS Commish Doug Shulman’s best guess. So if this is you, the time is nigh. You peasants whose net worth falls into the seven figure range probably can rest easy but don’t get too comfortable, you’re still at risk.
And don’t think that this will be a friendly visit between you, your CPA and an IRS representative. No, this will likely be a financial strip search that will be topped off with a latex surgical glove moseying around your nether regions.
This will not be a kick-the-tires type of exam. Instead, think in terms of a major overhaul. Global High Wealth taxpayers and their representatives should expect to confront teams of revenue agents, partnership experts, and international examiners prepared to scrub not only the Forms 1040 and the attached schedules but also any and all related returns. In the background will be specialists in such areas as financial instruments; exempt organizations; retirement plans (whether individually maintained or employer sponsored) and insurance and annuity arrangements.
Granted this is just how Don Rocen, the article’s author (and former deputy chief counsel at the IRS) pictures it but…yeeesh. If you want to come out with your hands up, think they’ll go easy on you?
IRS ‘Wealth Squads’ On The Way [Forbes]
In a show of understanding for nonprofits who may have been completely unaware of the Form 990 requirement in place for the last three years, IRS commissioner Doug Shulman sent out a really sweet letter encouraging smaller NFPs to go ahead and file anyway even though the deadline has come and gone.
Now that the May 17 filing deadline has passed, it appears that many small tax-exempt organizations have not filed the required information return in time. These organizations are vital to communities across the United States, and I understand their concerns about possibly losing their tax-exempt status.
The IRS has conducted an unprecedented outreach effort in the tax-exempt sector on the 2006 law’s new filing requirements, but many of these smaller organizations are just now learning of the May 17 deadline. I want to reassure these small organizations that the IRS will do what it can to help them avoid losing their tax-exempt status.
The IRS will be providing additional guidance in the near future on how it will help these organizations maintain their important tax-exempt status — even if they missed the May 17 deadline. The guidance will offer relief to these small organizations and provide them with the opportunity to keep their critical tax-exempt status intact.
So I urge these organizations to go ahead and file — even though the May 17 deadline has passed.
The Service assures us that the 990 e-Postcard is simple and easy to fill out, no need to drag your CPA into this mess.
Though the IRS sent friendly reminders to 600,000 charities over the 3 years this new rule has been effect, up to 215,000 charities may have missed the May 17th deadline. Seriously, it isn’t too late. Someone get on that.
There were complaints that the IRS was swamped with last-minute 990 filers (go figure) rushing to meet last week’s deadline so we’re going to guess that when Shulman says it’s okay to send those forms in anyway, he kind of means it. And perhaps that will teach everyone to file on time next year.
“The IRS has conducted an unprecedented outreach effort in the tax-exempt sector on the 2006 law’s new filing requirements, but many of these smaller organizations are just now learning of the May 17 deadline.”
~ Doug Shulman, IRS Commissioner
The April 15th deadline has come and gone but that does not mean the IRS’ work is done. In fact, getting money in the Treasury Department’s door is a 24/7/365 sorta deal and in case you didn’t notice, there’s a bit of a deficit problem.
Accordingly, the IRS has decided to host open houses at 200 facilities in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico on May 15th from 9 am to 2 pm local time (locations here). IRS staff will be there to help individuals and small businesses sort out any issues they may have (See? Filing that extension was a good idea).
This marks the second time in 2010 that the IRS has opened its arms to public on the Sabbath, having done so on March 27th. According to the Service, that particular National Day of IRS Friendliness was a resounding success, with 88% of taxpayers getting their issues resolved that day.
Doug Shulman all but assures your satisfcation in the press release, “Our goal is to resolve issues on the spot so small businesses and individuals can put any issues they have with the IRS behind them. If you have a problem filing or paying your taxes or resolving a tough tax issue, we encourage you to come in and work with us.”
Okay, maybe it’s not exactly a 100% money-back guarantee but the Service is going to work their cans off to get you in compliance and cutting a check that day. Unless of course you’re a Tea Party type trying to get on the six o’clock news, in which case you’ll be dealt with in a swift and decisive manner.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get more exciting in the world of overeating, Dairy Queen has announced that it will be handing out free ice cream in front of the IRS Building in DC tomorrow at 10th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
According to the Washington Business Journal, the Blizzardmobile will be parked outside and mini blizzards will handed out to “taxpayers and accountants” (why didn’t they just say “everyone”?).
This momentous occasion not only marks the end of the traditional return filing season but it is also marking the Blizzard’s 25th birthday. This might, just might, cajole some Tea Partiers to leave their homes as opposed to marching on the Internet (especially since there doesn’t appear to be a limit per taxpayer/accountant).
However! The window of opportunity is short and you’ll only have from noon to 1 pm to get your miniature cup of refined sugary goodness. One might think that since Doug Shulman might be anti-pizza that he also might have something against blended ice cream confections. But on the other hand, Warren Buffet didn’t get filthy rich by giving away crackalicious deserts for free now, did he?
Free ice cream outside IRS building [Washington Business Journal]
While we’re typically not ones to speculate on the difficulty of any particular job (e.g. CEO of a Big 4 firm) the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) probably has the easiest job on Earth.
As far as we can tell, the TIGTA is responsible for criticizing the IRS on, well, pretty much everything that the Service does wrong and then the IRS agrees that they suck and promises to do better.
And if you’re going by the TIGTA website we’re more or less correct:
“TIGTA promotes the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the administration of the internal revenue laws. It is also committed to the prevention and detection of fraud, waste, and abuse within the IRS and related entities.”
We’re assuming that Doug Shulman probably agree with our assessment but that guy doesn’t even like pizza, so who cares what he thinks?
Anyhoo, the latest Monday Morning QBing from the TIGTA is that some of the Service’s senior revenue officers are basically sitting around with nothing to do. Web CPA reports:
Senior revenue officers at the Internal Revenue Service who are supposed to handle more complicated tax cases oftentimes don’t receive any work assignments, according to a new government report…
The relative lack of work for the senior revenue officers to do occurred because there is no systemic means for IRS managers to identify the most complex cases, and the criteria for identifying complex cases are subjective and inconsistently interpreted.
So you’re a senior revenue officer with 5-6 years (?) on the job. You’ve got this gig pretty much figured out. Not only do you know the ropes, you make the fucking ropes. Your manager has suits from DC so far up their ass about collecting every dime available that they can’t see straight, so they just want you busy do anything.
You, being a reasonably lazy (and realistic) person, aren’t going to kill yourself. If you’ve got the choice of picking up a 1040 that’s hundreds of pages long versus a 1040EZ that has fewer pages that a Tony Alamo pamphlet, you’re going to pick up the 1040EZ.
Well now J. Russell George is slapping those managers around with a report deeming this unacceptable which may mean that your slacking days are over:
“I am troubled that IRS managers are not providing employees with work assignments that they are ready and able to do at a time when it is incumbent on the IRS to be as efficient and effective as possible,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement.
JRG is recommending that the IRS improve it’s methods of identifying more complex cases (that the IRS naturally agreed with). We think a tax return thickness analysis is a decent place to start.
This is disappointing on a multitude of levels. On the one hand, the notion of thousands of IRS agents running around the country, kicking doors is kind of exciting.
On the other, if crazed tax-haters can’t threaten the lives of IRS Agents who can they threaten? The census only occurs once every ten years and threatening to gun down OSHA employees just doesn’t seem to be as effective.
Doug Shulman spoke at the National Press Club yesterday and assured everyone (despite what Dave Camp or Ron Paul says) that agents will not be storming your house packing heat if you don’t purchase insurance. The IRS will be counting on insurance companies to help them run identify those who are skipping on the required coverage.
He said insurers eventually will be required to file a document similar to Form 1099 used by financial institutions to report investment income. The agency will send letters to the uninsured notifying them fines could be deducted from their tax refunds for refusing to comply with the new law, Shulman said.
“These are not the kinds of things we send agents out about,” Shulman said. “These are things where you get a letter from us.”
We imagine the letter won’t be particularly friendly but it’s a far cry from jack-booted thugs pointing firearms at your head.
Shulman Says IRS Has Few ‘Punitive’ Ways to Enforce Health Law [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
As you’re no doubt aware, the IRS has taken exception with the notion that many of our favorite celebrities and athletes can do no wrong. As detestable as this thought might be, Doug Shulman and his merry band of tax collectors are not impressed with these pillars of the community turning a blind eye to their patriotic obligations.
Some of the latest examples of celebrity tax avoidance:
• Corey Feldman – Technically it’s Corey Feldman Inc. that owes the IRS $31k but same diff.
• Faith Evans – Widow of Notorious B.I.G. Grammy winner. Soon-to-be reality TV star. The combination of these things somehow doesn’t allow her to scrape together $360k.
• Mel Blount – Okay, we have to admit that we don’t know who the hell this guy is but the sports historians and the entire city of Pittsburgh are probably familiar. For everyone else – he’s a former Steelers’ cornerback that was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989. He owes taxes for every year from 1994 to 2006 (with the exception of ’07) for grand total of $652k. Seriously, this is f—ing ridiculous. Even Nicolas Cage manages to file a tax return once a decade. There’s not one CPA in all of the ‘Burgh that can help this guy?
As the title indicates, our advice to these people is to get in touch with Luda “I pay more in taxes than most people would ever imagine” cris ASAP. Whether he’s mastered TurboTax or managed to find a solid CPA, it doesn’t matter because, as you might recall, “you will never hear about Ludacris owing the damn IRS no damn money.”
Source: Tax Watchdog
If you’re a member of the AICPA the biggest benefit you enjoy is not the prestige, not the certificate that you have mounted on your wall but the Journal of Accountancy that shows up in your mail every month. It’s really solid that your firm shells out good money on an annual basis so you can add new Excel tips to your spreadsheet wizard repertoire.
JofA manages to talk to a number of high profile as well, which you would expect from a behemoth professional journal. Case in point, when we received the latest month’s issue we couldn’t help but get a little giddy seeing Doug “Help me, help you” Shulman. We flipped to the Q&A immediately after seeing his handsome mug on the cover only to find the Commish’s picture at right. It makes us think that he’s channeling Monty Burns, which some of you probably find appropriate.
The Q&A is pretty much what you would expect, touching on the new preparer regulations, “We ran a very open, transparent, public dialogue about this,” to threatening offshore tax scofflaws, “The U.S. government is getting very serious about rooting out offshore tax evasion,” and warning whistleblowers not to expect that money any time soon, “[T]his could take multiple years to get the awards out. But I’m a big fan of the program.”
A couple of more interesting statements, include how excited Dougie is that all the assignments that other government agencies don’t want, get dumped on the service, “it’s…a big compliment that we’re seen as a ‘go-to’ agency in government.”
That being said, this particular interview was certainly conducted prior to the passage of the healthcare reform bill and no mention of the IRS’ role in enforcement (or lack thereof) was brought up. Maybe if the JofA had seen the Bill O’Reilly/Anthony Weiner throwndown it would have been a stop the presses moment.
The only other thing worth noting is that pizza parlors around the country might want to tighten up the ship in the coming months, “We will build features into our technology system so if we see, say, a pizza parlor that says they had $90,000 of sales last year and it shows that they had $85,000 of credit card sales and we know that pizzerias have a lot of cash sales, that will be a red flag. We’ll use it to better target our audits, to see where there’s potential noncompliance, and then we’ll use it to better focus our resources.”
Maybe the Commish is just giving an example of what a red flag is but using this particular example rather than say, a celebrity, seem peculiar. Just leave Di Fara alone, okay?
Tax From the Top: Q&A With IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman [Journal of Accountancy]
• IRS officials file lien against Marion Barry [WaPo]
If you’re not familiar with Marion Barry, let’s just say that the guy has been in fair amount of trouble over the years. Check that, dude has been in a lot of trouble. Yet, somehow this man still somehow manages to get elected to public office in Washington, DC. The latest trouble involves a tax lien that has not been paid for taxes owed from 2005 to 2008, according to the Washington Post. It’s only $15,000 but considering what he could potentially spend it on (e.g. crack, girlfriend) the IRS kinda wants it.
It’s not like the Service hasn’t been trying to get the back taxes owed. They’ve been garnishing his wages $1,350 every two weeks and his attorney is quoted as saying that this “isn’t a new thing.” We agree. We’re been used to the idea of Marion Barry being an elected criminal for quite some time now.
• IRS Phishing Scams on the Rise [Tax Girl]
A random email from the IRS requesting things like your SSN#, your shoe size, bank account number and should be taken as seriously as an IKEA give away on Facebook. If the Service wants to get your attention, they do it by snail mail people. Lesson over.
• Tax writers can’t figure out the tax code, either [The Daily Caller]
When the IRS Commish was asked again about using a tax preparer, the Daily Caller quotes his curt response as, “I don’t have time for this … If you want an interview, you can call my office,” and sped away. He’s crackin’. Maybe he should just try doing his own taxes. Joe Biden used to!
If you refuse to use the White House’s tax savings tool purely out of spite then you’ll be happy to know that 180 IRS locations across this great land will be open this Saturday to help you out with things like the Homebuyer tax credit, the American Opportunity Credit, the Making Work Pay credit, and the Expanded Earned Income Credit.
Now we realize that the mere thought of setting foot inside an IRS location will cause many you to break out in boils, the other option is to go to a VITA location and get assistance from one of the many college students out there that are giving amateur advice so that they have one more activity on their resumé. They’re available throughout tax season. They are volunteers, after all.
The Service is trying to make this sound way more fun than it actually is by calling them “open houses”:
“We are holding these special open houses to give taxpayers who are struggling in these difficult economic times more opportunity to work directly with IRS employees to resolve their tax issues,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We will host more than 180 open houses this Saturday.”
Whether Dougie will be on hand at one of the many locations to shed out his wisdom (or maybe get some advice) hasn’t been made clear.
After yesterday’s words of wisdom from Joe Biden on your taxes, we stumbled across the “tax savings tool” that’s so easy
a caveman Joe Biden can do it.
We actually do believe the VPOTUS when he says it’s easy because he made the announcement yesterday with two men who aren’t exactly known to be tax mavens: IRS Commish Doug “I find the tax code complex” Shulman and Tim “I think I’ll try using TaxCut this year” Geithner.
Try your hand this thing and make up your own mind, after the jump.
Our feeling that it’s like tax planning a step or two above what Fisher-Price might put out. Which, for the majority of the American People, might still be tricky.
“A lot of people think of the IRS and have a little bit of fear of the IRS and we want to make sure they know that our doors are open, our people are empowered to make decisions and our goal is to resolve your problem.”
• U.S. delay on global accounting leaves world waiting [Reuters]
The head of financial reporting at the ICAEW is not impressed with the SEC’s plan to string everyone along on IFRS. Although we’re sure Dr. Nigel Sleigh-Johnson is bright guy, we’re not sure what the good doctor was expecting from, you know, the SEC.
Dr. Johnson complains that ‘the world [has] been awaiting clear signals from the Securities and Exchange Commission as to how and when it is going to start the process of completing the convergence to International Financial Reporting Standards,’ which is probably true. Think about it. If 110 countries have jumped on the IFRS ship, they sure as hell would want the US of A on that ship too because that way, if this turns out to be the worst idea in the history of double-entry accounting, then at least the U.S. went along with it too.
• Big Four audits are off the pace [Accountancy Age]
As a group, the Big 4 didn’t fare to well in the inaugural “Accountancy Age Finance 360 survey of client opinions” which asked participants to give their “views on the service they received from their last audit provider”.
Out of twelve firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers ranked the highest at #5, KPMG #9, Deloitte #10, and Ernst & Young brought up the rear at #12. The Age reports that “[E&Y] Staff were described as ‘pretty dire’, short on technical knowledge, confidence and even decent written English. Negative comments outnumbered the positive two to one.” Comments on KPMG and Deloitte were a little better:
While KPMG won plaudits for technical skills, it was let down by perception of its added value, with one FD claiming “very little feedback on potential improvements” their money.
Deloitte also struggled to prove it added value, while clients felt the firm’s audits were “mechanical” and an exercise in “box-ticking”.
One FD felt Deloitte was “more concerned with gathering enough evidence to stand up in court with a defence if there were ever a negligence case”.
All the firms not happy with their ranking essentially said that they were “committed to the highest standards of work” or something like that. You know the drill.
The tops firms in the survey were all included two Global 6 candidates: Mazars at #1 and Grant Thornton at #3 with Horwath Clark Whitehill taking the silver.
• IRS Commissioner Requests Additional $21m So IRS Will Not Answer Taxpayer Phone Calls 25% of the Time [TaxProf Blog]
Doug Shulman asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government for $21 million to improve the customer service. Apparently this would result in a 4% jump in calls answered. That sounds like magical government math if we have ever heard it.
According to the AP, about 50 inmates are allegedly responsible for requesting $1 million in fraudulent refunds from the IRS and collecting around $100,000 for their diligent efforts. The report states that the inmates used “a standard IRS form” (we’re guessing Form 843?) most for $5,000 and that some checks were sent directly to the jail. Oh and the best part is that the scheme was foiled by “a how-to note…found in an inmate’s cell,” rather than a crack squad of investigators.
To say that the IRS needed some good press would be a gross understatement, but for crissakes, they need some good press. Sure getting Nicolas Cage to bone up $14 mil is okay and everyone is stoked for Ron Howard to make the Service hilarious but they could use a big break right now. We called the Florida branch to get their ideas but the spokesman told us that the Herald pretty much had it right and that’s all that he was saying.
At this point, nothing short of Doug Shulman capturing Osama Bin Laden (with an IRS-issued Remington no less) while singing God Bless America and apologizing for all the unanswered customer service phone calls will get the American public to looking fondly upon the IRS. If you’ve got better ideas, let us know but that would be our suggestion for an improved image campaign.
Inmates at S. Fla. jail accused of scamming IRS [AP via Miami Herald]
‘Cause they’re in the market. For those of you that still doubt how serious of a force the Internal Revenue Service is, you’d better start paying attention because the the Service is in the market for guns. You would think, that with a certain hawkish administration recently in charge, every government agency would have
arms dealers Smith & Wesson on speed dial but maybe change really did occur in DC.
Never mind that for now. The IRS is taking bids right now and they know what they want:
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) intends to purchase sixty Remington Model 870 Police RAMAC #24587 12 gauge pump-action shotguns for the Criminal Investigation Division. The Remington parkerized shotguns, with fourteen inch barrel, modified choke, Wilson Combat Ghost Ring rear sight and XS4 Contour Bead front sight, Knoxx Reduced Recoil Adjustable Stock, and Speedfeed ribbed black forend, are designated as the only shotguns authorized for IRS duty based on compatibility with IRS existing shotgun inventory, certified armorer and combat training and protocol, maintenance, and parts.
The only conclusion we can come to is that somebody (Joe Francis?, Nic Cage?) is about to get their doors kicked down with extreme fucking prejudice. OR the initial visits of the thousands the IRS is making haven’t gone so well and arming their agents to the teeth should help them get their point across. OR maybe Doug Shulman just loves the cold steel of a 12 gauge against his naked skin. Whatever is going on, it’s no joke.
Apparently the IRS is not one for timing. Earlier this month the Service announced that if you get paid to crank out 1040s, your life as you know it is more or less over. Well, at least a little more inconvenient. Okay, it’s hella-inconvenient.
Back when the new regulations were announced the Service let it be known that since it can’t get these new regulations implemented for 2010, it was still stepping up its efforts for getting all up in tax preparers’ shit.
The first step being to be to send 10,000 letters to paid preparers nationwide letting them know that they need to be on their A-game. The letters were intended for, “preparers…with large volumes of specific tax returns where the IRS typically sees frequent errors,” and that they should be “vigilant” for errors related to “Schedule C income and expenses, Schedule A deductions, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the First Time Homebuyer Credit.”
Well then. That should cover about EVERY TAX PREPARER IN THE COUNTRY.
Anyway, the IRS is following up the 10,000 “Dear Joe Kristan” letters with phone calls to set up sit-downs with “thousands” of preparers. According to William Stromsem, who wrote a piece over at CPA2Biz, these are “urgent” calls:
In at least one case, the IRS called a practitioner at home and spoke with the spouse by name, asking for a response within three hours and then calling back before that time was up. Another practitioner, who was unable to schedule a meeting during a busy time was threatened with having the refusal passed up the line to a supervisor.
The piece goes to tell us that the visits will be performed in the coming weeks and months and may last up to 3 hours. Does anyone see a problem with this yet?
These chats are designed to be friendly reminders of all the pitfalls out there in tax preparer land; not a compliance visit (but they will remind you of the penalties that can be assessed for any malfeasance). Regardless of the pleasant intentions, the timing has irked CPAs to no end and we can’t say that we blame them. Hope no one is expecting an apology. And one more thing, we’d like to know how the Commish’s CPA feels about this whole thing. Just for fun; he should get a letter.
IRS ‘10,000 Letters’ Program Angers CPAs [CPA2Biz]
Editor’s note: Joe Kristan is a tax shareholder for Roth & Company, a Des Moines, Iowa CPA firm, where he works with closely-held businesses and their owners. Prior to helping start Roth & Company, he worked for two of what are now the Final Four CPA firms. He writes the Tax Update Blog and is available for seminars, first communions, Bar Mitzvahs, etc. You can see his previous posts for GC here.
While the IRS is cracking down on tax preparers and proposing new rules to herd them into
submission compliance, problem preparers aren’t a new problem.
Back in 1982, when the 1986 Code was just a gleam in Dan Rostenkowski’s eye, the nation’s headaches went untreated when people started dying from cyanide-tainted Tylenol. We still live with the hard-to-open containers for almost everything as a legacy of the murder spree. The killer has never been nabbed, but the tax world has supplied one suspect. The Chicago Tribune reports:
James William Lewis, a longtime suspect in the 1982 Tylenol murders, made a rare public appearance on public access television near Boston on Sunday night, hoping to promote his new self-published novel, “Poison! The Doctor’s Dilemma.”
Instead, Lewis was met with a barrage of questions from the show’s host and callers about whether he had a role in the unsolved cyanide poisonings that left seven Chicago-area residents dead, and if his novel had anything to do with the killings.
Why the suspicion?
Lewis said during the 48-minute interview that he regretted having written Tylenol’s manufacturer after the deaths, demanding $1 million to “stop the killing,” for which he was convicted of extortion.
A mistake anybody could make, especially after things have gone bad in your tax practice:
After his extortion conviction in 1983, Lewis served more than 12 years in prison. In the 1970s, Lewis was accused in Kansas City, Mo., of killing and dismembering a client of his tax-preparation business. Charges were dropped after a judge threw out most of the evidence.
That just shows how the new preparer regulations are long overdue. We can be confident that IRS Commissioner Shulman’s new preparer registration and CPE requirements — especially the two annual “ethics” hours — will keep anything like that from ever happening to a preparer today.
[caption id="attachment_23858" align="alignright" width="260" caption="Dude. Code is this thick."][/caption]Just because you’re in charge of the IRS doesn’t mean you know
anything everything. Doug Shulman was on C-SPAN over the weekend (we’re sure you saw it) and admitted that he uses a tax preparer.
His rationale is, “Look, I’m a busy dude, I don’t have time to do my own taxes. Besides, have you seen the size of the tax code? It’s a flippin’ mind job.”
Or in his own words:
“I’ve used one for years. I find it convenient. I find the tax code complex so I use a preparer,” Shulman said.
Pressed on how he would make the tax code simpler, Shulman responded, “I don’t write the tax laws. Congress writes the tax laws so that’s a whole different discussion.”
Unapologetic as usual, Dougie. We’ll give him credit though – admitting that the tax code that you’re in charge of enforcing is too complex is admirable (although not a news flash).
Plus, he goes so far to say that he’s powerless to do anything about it. Now that’s transparent government!
IRS commissioner doesn’t file his own taxes [The Hill]
After yesterday’s news of brand spanking new requirements for paid tax preparers, we mused about the plans of tax prep shops like H&R Block to fall in line with Doug Shulman’s demands.
It was then suggested to us that maybe we should just ask them. Novel idea! So being nosy we did just that.
We got in touch with very helpful H&R Block spokesperson who provided us with the following statement:
H&R Block is pleased to support IRS Commissioner Shulman’s efforts to improve the regulation of tax preparers. We believe the requirements announced by the IRS today are a great first step in delivering on the promise of providing all taxpayers an ethical and accurate tax preparation experience.
We welcome the spotlight that the IRS has cast on our industry and are committed to maintaining the highest possible training and testing standards in the tax preparation industry. H&R Block tax professionals already are required to complete hundreds of hours of training and undergo additional testing each year. Our minimum training standards exceed those the IRS will require.
So there you have it. Challenge accepted. In fact, H&RB will see your IRS standards and raise you. See you in 2011.
Any tax preparers out there that got their stripes by virtue of an 8 hour course in the basement of a church will have to start hitting the books. Today, the IRS announced that it is putting a stop to all the amateur 1040 jockeys out there by issuing new requirements for all paid tax preparers.
The new requirements came after complaints from taxpayer rights’ groups who wanted stronger oversight over the industry. Apparently there are too many “tax professionals” that can’t tell the difference between a W-2 and a sack of doorknobs.
[S]tarting in 2011, all paid tax preparers will have to register with the IRS and include a unique identification number on any returns they prepare. Preparers will be given three years to pass a competency exam in either individual or small business taxation.
Attorneys, certified public accountants and enrolled agents will not be required to pass the competency tests. They will remain subject to the requirements of their respective licensing bodies.
But the exams and new annual, continuing education requirements will impact likely hundreds of thousands of preparers, from employees of chain preparation firms like H&R Block Inc. and Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. to mom-and-pop storefronts that offer tax preparation as one of several services.
Three years to pass an exam? Even the dimmest of CPA Exam candidates manage to finish in 18 months. Also, we’re curious as to what diabolical plot the H&R Blocks and Jackson Hewitts of the world will devise in order to speed their professionals into compliance.
Regardless of the shortfalls, Doug “Don’t expect me to apologize” Shulman said that the new requirements were ‘long overdue’. He also said that the Service will be forming a task force to look into determining the accuracy of tax prep software for possible future standards over that industry.
One thing is for sure, somewhere Doug’s boss is asking his friends if they know any good CPAs.