IRS Tax News

  • 04 Oct 2011 8:33 AM | Anonymous
    The IRS has lifted the two-year time limit on a particular type of innocent spouse request in this new YouTube video.
  • 04 Oct 2011 8:21 AM | Anonymous
    Just a reminder as you start your business promotions: there are limitations on the use of the term Registered Tax Return Preparer. All PTIN holders are now subject to the advertising and solicitation provisions under Circular 230. No one, as of yet, is a Registered Tax Return Preparer. You also should refrain from using variations, i.e. Registered Tax Preparer or Registered Return Preparer. Review Notice 11-45 for further guidance.
  • 29 Sep 2011 6:08 PM | Anonymous
    On Oct. 31, 2011 at 2pm EST, IRS Presenters Joseph Tiberio - Program Manager, Employment Tax - and Stephen Tackney (Special Counsel to the Associate Chief Counsel (TEGE), Office of Chief Counsel) will present a webinar that will explain what employers and employees need to know about the provision including:
    • What changes employees will see in their Form W-2
    • When employers must begin reporting the benefits on the Form W-2
    • Transition relief for certain employers, plans, and situations
    • Which employers need to include the benefits on the Form W-2
    • How employers report the benefits on the Form W-2
    • What valuation methods employers can use to determine the amounts to report on the Form W-2
  • 29 Sep 2011 6:07 PM | Anonymous

    WASHINGTON – The Internal Revenue Service today launched a new program that will enable many employers to resolve past worker classification issues and achieve certainty under the tax law at a low cost by voluntarily reclassifying their workers.

    This new program will allow employers the opportunity to get into compliance by making a minimal payment covering past payroll tax obligations rather than waiting for an IRS audit.

    This is part of a larger “Fresh Start” initiative at the IRS to help taxpayers and businesses address their tax responsibilities.

    “This settlement program provides certainty and relief to employers in an important area,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “This is part of a wider effort to help taxpayers and businesses to help give them a fresh start with their tax obligations.”

    The new Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) is designed to increase tax compliance and reduce burden for employers by providing greater certainty for employers, workers and the government. Under the program, eligible employers can obtain substantial relief from federal payroll taxes they may have owed for the past, if they prospectively treat workers as employees. The VCSP is available to many businesses, tax-exempt organizations and government entities that currently erroneously treat their workers or a class or group of workers as nonemployees or independent contractors, and now want to correctly treat these workers as employees.

    To be eligible, an applicant must:

    • Consistently have treated the workers in the past as nonemployees,
    • Have filed all required Forms 1099 for the workers for the previous three years
    • Not currently be under audit by the IRS
    • Not currently be under audit by the Department of Labor or a state agency concerning the classification of these workers

    Interested employers can apply for the program by filing Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, at least 60 days before they want to begin treating the workers as employees.

    Employers accepted into the program will pay an amount effectively equaling just over one percent of the wages paid to the reclassified workers for the past year. No interest or penalties will be due, and the employers will not be audited on payroll taxes related to these workers for prior years. Participating employers will, for the first three years under the program, be subject to a special six-year statute of limitations, rather than the usual three years that generally applies to payroll taxes.

    Full details, including FAQs, will be available on the Employment Tax pages of IRS.gov, and in Announcement 2011-64.

  • 16 Sep 2011 1:10 PM | Anonymous

    Here are some frequently asked questions and answers for electronic accounting software records requests and submissions during Small Business/Self-Employed examinations

    Q1. Why is the IRS using electronic accounting records instead of continuing to use traditional paper books and records in examinations?

    A: Electronic information management has become the standard in the private sector and is now being used to enhance the IRS examination process. Obtaining accounting records in electronic format provides significant advantages:

    • Reduces burden because taxpayers and/or representatives don’t have to print records provided electronically.
    • Provides a complete set of the taxpayer’s accounting records, decreasing the number of items included in the initial document request and follow-up requests.
    • Increases efficiency of the examiner’s analysis and testing of the books and records.

    Q2. How and when will the IRS request electronic accounting software records?

    A: The IRS will request electronic accounting software backup files using Form 4564, Information Document Request (IDR), early in the examination. IRS will also request the administrator's username and password, as they are needed to read most data files.

    The backup file should be provided on a CD, DVD, or a flash/jump drive. E-mail must not be used to transmit electronic records to or from the IRS, a taxpayer, or their representative, to ensure security.

    Q3. What is the IRS doing to address concerns about sharing the accounting software administrator's username and password for the audit?

    A: The taxpayer can preserve any favorite password by changing the administrator's password to a temporary one, such as "IRS Audit." Create the backup file for submission and then change the password back to the original "favorite" one within the main accounting software working file.

    The temporary password must have administrator access to the backup file provided because the IRS needs to have the same access levels as the administrator. If the examiner does not have the administrative password, he or she will not be able to read the data as needed for the examination.

    Q4. What if a taxpayer uses an accounting software program that is not readable by the IRS?

    A: At this time, IRS has the ability to accept and read data files from accounting software programs that are used by most business taxpayers. Taxpayers should consult with the examiner before submitting any type of electronic files.

    Whenever possible, the IRS will work with the taxpayer and their electronic accounting records to reduce the number of information document requests (IDR's). However if the examiner is unable to read the electronic accounting records, he or she will determine the best course of action to complete the audit in a timely, efficient manner.

    Q5. Now that IRS has the ability to accept electronic information from accounting software programs, will backup files be requested in every examination where the taxpayer uses those programs to maintain their books and records?

    A: Using electronic records to conduct examinations should make the audit more efficient for everyone. Examiners will be requesting these files in the majority of cases where the taxpayer already uses electronic accounting software to maintain their books and records. However, if the audit is limited in scope, such as auditing one specific expense item, the examiner may determine that requesting the electronic accounting software file may not be necessary. In broader scope audits, such as when verifying gross income, the backup file will likely be requested by the examiner.

    The professional judgment of the examiner and his or her manager will be used on a case by case basis to determine whether it is appropriate for a particular examination.

    Q6. How will the electronic data be used?

    A: Most accounting software programs can generate a large number of pre-set reports. Each report can be modified to fit the examiner's needs. When working with these reports, the examiner can "drill down" to the underlying data and documents to further investigate items, as appropriate.

    The software also allows the examiner to test the integrity and veracity of the accounting records in making a determination as to the reliability of the records for examination purposes. However, the examiner may still need to request other documents when such records are necessary to properly test a return item or issue.

    Q7. What is the IRS's legal authority for requesting electronic files and other relevant accounting records? How does Revenue Procedure 98-25 impact the IRS' authority to request electronic records from small business taxpayers?

    A: The legal authority for requesting accounting records in electronic format is based on Internal Revenue Code section 7602(a), Internal Revenue Code section 6001, Regulation 1.6001-1(a) and -1(e) (PDF), Revenue Ruling 71-20 and Revenue Procedure 98-25.

    Note that, although Revenue Procedure 98-25 exempts certain taxpayers from the requirements of the Revenue Procedure, this does not create an exemption for any taxpayer from having to produce electronic books and records if they otherwise exist when a business chooses to use an electronic accounting software program to maintain their books and records.

    Q8. What if a taxpayer refuses to provide the IRS with an electronic accounting software backup file or any other type of electronic data file?

    A: Our tax system is set up in such a way that taxpayers fill out their own tax returns and are responsible for maintaining their own books and records.

    Under Internal Revenue Code section 6001 and Regulation 1.6001-1 (PDF), taxpayers are responsible for maintaining sufficient books and records to support the income and deductions claimed on their tax returns and for presenting this information to the IRS when requested to do so in an examination.

    Further, section 7602(a)(1) grants the IRS the authority to examine any books, papers, records or other data that may be relevant or material to a tax examination. Section 7602(a)(2) grants the IRS the authority to summons the books and records.

    If the taxpayer has concerns with providing a copy of their original accounting software backup file, they have the right to discuss the matter with the examiner's manager.

    If a taxpayer declines to submit the requested materials voluntarily, the IRS has the right to summons the information requested, use indirect methods to reconstruct income and/or disallow the items reported for lack of substantiation.

    If the taxpayer or the taxpayer's representative has concerns that the records contain sensitive or privileged information, please see Q&As #14 and #15 for guidance.

    Q9. What if the taxpayer's representative refuses to provide a copy of the taxpayer's electronic accounting backup file?

    A: If the taxpayer's representative chooses to decline to voluntarily submit the requested materials, the IRS has the right to summons the information and the representative could be in violation of Treasury Department Circular No. 230 (PDF).

    Subpart B, section 10.20(a)(1), of the Treasury Department Circular No. 230 (PDF) regulations states that "[a] practitioner must, on a proper and lawful request by a duly authorized officer or employee of the Internal Revenue Service, promptly submit records or information in any matter before the Internal Revenue Service unless the practitioner believes in good faith and on reasonable grounds that the records or information are privileged."

    If the taxpayer or the taxpayer's representative has concerns that the records contain sensitive or privileged information, please see Q&As #14 and #15 for guidance.

    Q10. What if the taxpayer or representative agrees to provide a copy of the taxpayer's company backup file; however, rather than providing an exact copy of the original file they create a new file for the IRS?

    A: If the taxpayer or representative creates or reconstructs a new company file, for example, by re-inputting the transactions for only the year under examination, this new file does not satisfy the requirements or needs of the Internal Revenue Service. The new or modified company file is not a copy of the books and records of original entry. The altered electronic file would not meet the requirements of the Information Document Request or a summons and the taxpayer's representative could be in violation of Treasury Department Circular No. 230 (PDF).

    If the taxpayer or representative wants to condense old or closed transactions for dates prior to the years under examination, see Q&A #13 for guidance.

    Q11. Why should a taxpayer submit an accounting software backup file rather than simply export selected reports to Excel? What are the advantages to using the backup file over Excel?

    A: The backup file is an exact copy of the original books of entry and allows the IRS to review and test the integrity of the original electronic records using the software program. This testing cannot adequately be performed on records that have already been converted into Excel spreadsheets. Examiners are required under IRM 4.10.3.4, Evaluating Taxpayer's Internal Controls, and the related subsections, to acquire an understanding of the accounting system for all types of business returns. An integral part of this process is an evaluation of the taxpayer's internal controls. Examiners use the information obtained during this process to determine the appropriate audit techniques to be used during the examination process.

    Through tests and analysis of the electronic records in their original format examiners can properly evaluate the accounting system (including internal controls) to consider the reliability of the books and records. This process is not unique to examinations where the electronic accounting records have been requested.

    The control structure of an accounting system is often times dependent on the size and nature of the business. Frequently, smaller businesses are not able to establish sophisticated control and accounting processes. This is unlike larger entities where resources are more likely to be available for systems and processes. An examiner will determine the appropriate method(s) for examination based on the accounting system and control structure of the business.

    By reviewing an exact copy of the original backup file, the examiner can view transactions to see the date the transaction was originally created, dates of subsequent changes, what changes were made, and the username of the person who entered or changed the transaction. This type of information is directly relevant to the evaluation of the taxpayer's accounting system and internal controls. If the various reports that are needed for the examination are only provided in spreadsheet format, there is a possibility that certain information, including metadata, could be lost or altered, leaving no reliable audit trail to identify these changes.

    Q12. The accounting software backup file can contain transactional data for several years that are outside the scope of the audit. What, if anything, will the IRS do with that information?

    A: If IRS is given a backup file that includes data for years not under examination, IRS will not utilize that data during the examination of the current year. If based on the results from the current year examination a decision is made to expand the scope of the examination to prior or subsequent years, the taxpayer will be notified. The records may be utilized after that notification.

    However, the examiner may review transactions that occurred in the month prior to and the month after the tax year or the tax periods before and after the ones under examination if the transactions in those timeframes are relevant to the examination. Examiners may also review any transactional data created or changed during the tax year under examination.

    For example, if a business under examination uses the accrual accounting basis, then it will be relevant for the IRS to examine transactions for the month prior to and the month after the tax years under examination to test the cut-off of reported income and expenses. The same is true if a taxpayer creates a transaction to record sales during the year under examination, but the actual transaction is dated in a prior or subsequent year, then the examiner can inquire as to why the taxpayer determined the transaction would not properly be recorded in the year under examination.

    As another example, if the IRS was exploring whether to reconstruct income by an indirect method (e.g., bank deposits or net worth method), then certain information for the tax periods immediately preceding and following the year under audit would clearly be relevant.

    An inspection of the tax returns which are prior or subsequent to the tax years under audit does not constitute an examination of books and records. Examiners are expected to inspect such tax returns in all examinations, and to compare them to the tax returns that are under examination.

    Q13. Can a taxpayer or representative condense or "clean up" the electronic accounting software data file before submission?

    A: Many accounting software programs will condense old, closed transactions occurring prior to a manually selected date. For example, the closing of a prior year. Often this is done to reduce the size of the company data file. The process essentially removes the details of those transactions from the data file and replaces them with summary journal entries, allowing monthly financial statements to be created for old years if needed.

    The ongoing data file (working file) will no longer have the details of old, closed transactions which occurred prior to the manually selected date. However, during the condensing process, the software creates a backup or archive copy of the company data file and this archive copy provides the original detailed records of each old transaction. If you do not have a complete understanding of your software's condensing feature, please contact your software provider for additional guidance before using it.

    Condensed data is not acceptable for the tax year(s) under audit. However, if you choose, the company data file can be condensed (through the clean up or purge feature) for dates prior to the year(s) under audit, as long as they do not include transactions created or changed for time periods under audit, or for transactions from prior years that have an effect on the years under audit.

    If the scope of an audit is expanded, the IRS may request another backup file that was created prior to the date the company file was condensed or request a copy of the archive file created during the condensing process.

    Q14. Accounting software backup files contain sensitive customer, vendor, or other information. Since it is possible that any release of this vital information would damage a business, what assurance does the IRS provide that this information is secure?

    A: The security and privacy of information provided by taxpayers is taken very seriously by IRS. Internal Revenue Code section 6103 prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of information obtained during the course of a tax examination (including any sensitive business information). IRS employees receive annual training on protecting taxpayer information from unauthorized disclosure and are reminded that they could face disciplinary action (up to and including removal) for such disclosures. Also Internal Revenue Code section 7213 provides for criminal penalties for willful violations of section 6103.

    In addition to the section 6103 restriction on disclosure, IRS has procedures in place for examiners on how to protect portable electronic media containing any taxpayer sensitive information. Once the IRS no longer has a business need for the portable electronic media, examiners can return the data to the taxpayer or dispose of it following internal procedures for destruction of sensitive portable electronic media. In addition, any copies made of the taxpayer's electronic files on the examiner's computer will be deleted once the case has been completely closed.

    Q15. What if the accounting software backup file contains privileged information or information that is protected from disclosure by statute?

    A: The issue of privileged communications is the same whether IRS is asking for electronic or paper records. IRM 25.5.5.4.3, Privileged Communications and Summons, provides guidance to examiners when a claim of privileged communication is made. Paragraph (2) of the IRM section states, "[p]rivileged communications cannot be obtained by issuing a summons."

    The taxpayer is encouraged to discuss with the examiner if the electronic backup file contains privileged communications or information that is protected from disclosure by statute. The examiner may ask an IRS Counsel attorney for assistance, if a taxpayer claims that records contain privileged communication or that a statute, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), prevents him from complying with a request for the records. Generally, a customer list would not be privileged but there may be unusual circumstances in a particular case that could possibly make the information, when combined with other information, privileged.

    References/Related Topics

  • 14 Sep 2011 5:24 PM | Anonymous

    WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service today announced it is granting taxpayers whose preparers were affected by Hurricane Irene until Sept. 22 to file returns normally due Sept. 15. The taxpayer’s preparer must be located in an area that was under an evacuation order or a severe weather warning because of Hurricane Irene, even if the preparer is located outside of the federally declared disaster areas.

    This relief, which primarily applies to corporations, partnerships and trusts that previously obtained a tax filing extension, is available to taxpayers regardless of their location.

    This relief does not apply to any tax payment requirements.

    This relief is in addition to the filing and payment relief the IRS is providing to taxpayers located in disaster areas declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For details, visit Tax Relief in Disaster Situations on this website.

  • 14 Sep 2011 5:23 PM | Anonymous

    WASHINGTON -  The Internal Revenue Service today issued guidance designed to clarify the tax treatment of employer-provided cell phones.

    The guidance relates to a provision in the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, enacted last fall, that removed cell phones from the definition of listed property, a category under tax law that normally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers.

    The Notice issued today provides guidance on the treatment of employer- provided cell phones as an excludible fringe benefit. The Notice provides that when an employer provides an employee with a cell phone primarily for noncompensatory business reasons, the business and personal use of the cell phone is generally nontaxable to the employee. The IRS will not require recordkeeping of business use in order to receive this tax-free treatment.

    Simultaneously with the Notice, the IRS announced in a memo to its examiners a similar administrative approach that applies with respect to arrangements common to small businesses that provide cash allowances and reimbursements for work-related use of personally-owned cell phones. Under this approach, employers that require employees, primarily for noncompensatory business reasons, to use their personal cell phones for business purposes may treat reimbursements of the employees' expenses for reasonable cell phone coverage as nontaxable. This treatment does not apply to reimbursements of unusual or excessive expenses or to reimbursements made as a substitute for a portion of the employee's regular wages.

    Under the guidance issued today, where employers provide cell phones to their employees or where employers reimburse employees for business use of their personal cell phones, tax-free treatment is available without burdensome recordkeeping requirements. The guidance does not apply to the provision of cell phones or reimbursement for cell-phone use that is not primarily business related, as such arrangements are generally taxable.

    Details are in the memo and in Notice 2011-72, posted today on IRS.gov.

  • 07 Sep 2011 10:04 AM | Anonymous
    WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service today released the specifications for the competency test individuals must pass to become a Registered Tax Return Preparer.

    The test is part of an ongoing effort by the IRS to enhance oversight of the tax preparation industry. Preparers who pass this test, a background check and tax compliance check as well as complete 15 hours of continuing education annually will have a new designation: Registered Tax Return Preparer.

    The specifications identify the major topics that will be covered by the test, which will be available starting this fall. Although individuals who already have a provisional preparer tax identification number (PTIN) from the IRS do not have to pass the exam until Dec. 31, 2013, they may take the exam at any time once it is available.

    The test will have approximately 120 questions in a combination of multiple choice and true or false format. Questions will be weighted and individuals will receive a pass or fail score, with diagnostic feedback provided to those who fail.

    Test vendor Prometric Inc. worked with the IRS and the tax preparer community to develop the test. The time limit for the test is expected to be between two and three hours. The test must be taken at one of the roughly 260 Prometric facilities nationwide.

    To assist in test preparation, the following is a list of recommended study materials. This list is not all-encompassing, but a highlight of what the test candidates will need to know.


    Some reference materials will be available to individuals when they are taking the test. Prometric will provide individuals with Publication 17, Form 1040 and Form 1040 instructions as reference materials.

    The fee for the test has not been finalized but is expected to be between $100 and $125, which is separate from the PTIN user fee. Currently there is no limit on the number of times preparers can take the test, but they must pay the fee each time. Individuals must pass the test only once.

    Only certain individuals who prepare the Form 1040 series are required to take the test. Attorneys, Certified Public Accountants and Enrolled Agents (EAs) are exempt from testing and continuing education because of their more stringent professional testing and education requirements. Also exempt are supervised employees of attorneys, CPAs, attorneys or EAs who prepare but do not sign and are not required to sign the Form 1040 series returns they prepare and individuals who prepare federal returns other than the Form 1040 series.

    Approximately 730,000 return preparers have registered and received PTINs in 2011. Approximately 62 percent do not have professional credentials. The IRS does not yet know how many preparers will fall into other exempt categories, but those individuals will be required to identify themselves when they renew an existing PTIN or obtain a new PTIN beginning in October 2011.

    The IRS will notify those preparers who have a testing requirement and provide more details. Once the test is available, preparers who have on-line accounts can use their accounts to schedule a test time and select a Prometric site.

    At the time the current version of Publication 17 went to press, there were certain tax benefits that had not been finalized and several tax benefits were subsequently extended. See Legislative Changes Affecting the 2010 Publication 17 on IRS.gov for the details needed for study purposes.
  • 08 Aug 2011 9:53 AM | Anonymous

    The updated Circular 230, revised to reflect the new return preparer oversight program and other changes, is now available on IRS.gov. You may want to bookmark for easy reference.

  • 11 Jul 2011 5:00 PM | Anonymous
    WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service announced today that it has reached an agreement with the Millennium Multiple Employer Welfare Benefit Plan (Millennium Plan).

    The Millennium Plan is presently the subject of a bankruptcy proceeding that was filed on June 9, 2010, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (Case No. 10-13528). Under the agreement reached with the IRS and the terms of the Order Confirming Modified Plan dated June 16, 2011, the Millennium Plan will terminate its operations, liquidate its assets and distribute approximately $80 million in assets to individual participants.

    The agreement with the IRS resolves certain issues relating to an IRS investigation into the design, marketing, operation and management of the Millennium Plan. The agreement with the IRS also provides a procedure for resolving hundreds of income tax and penalty examinations of employers and employees who participated in the Millennium Plan.  Finally, the agreement with the IRS addresses tax issues relating to the liquidation of the Millennium Plan, including information reporting and income tax withholding requirements.

    Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code strictly controls the disclosure of tax information.  In connection with this agreement, the Millennium Plan consented to the IRS issuance of this news release.
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