Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category

The 2014 tax breaks you’ll be able to take

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Originally Posted on CNN Money


Well, finally.

Congress on Tuesday night extended dozens of expired “temporary” tax breaks for 2014.

It took the Senate, by a 76 to 16 vote, until the week after Congress was supposed to adjourn to pass the bill, which the House had already approved.

The bill will now be sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

The majority of tax breaks in the bill pertain to businesses, but a handful will affect individuals.

Among those who will benefit from the retroactive extension to January 1, 2014: Teachers who buy classroom supplies, mass-transit commuters, residents of states with no income tax, parents with kids in college, some homeowners and some retirees with IRAs.

The bill also includes a new provision that will benefit disabled adults.

What’s not clear yet is whether passage of the tax extenders bill so late in the year will force the IRS to delay when you can start filing your 2014 taxes, which typically begins in mid-January.

But whenever tax season starts, here are the extended tax breaks that you can take on your 2014 tax return:

Deduction for teachers’ expenses: This measure lets school teachers deduct up to $250 for the costs of classroom supplies that they buy with their own money. It’s available to all teachers, whether they itemize or not.

Equal treatment of commuting costs: All commuters may reduce their pre-tax income to account for their commuting costs. Under the law, however, those who drive to work and pay for parking are allowed to exclude more ($250 per month) than those who use mass transit ($130 per month). This measure again provides parity by also allowing mass transit riders to exclude $250 per month.

State and local sales tax deduction: If you itemize your taxes, this measure lets you deduct the state and local sales taxes you’ve paid in lieu of state income taxes.

The deduction can be a boon for itemizers who live in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Those are the seven states that don’t impose an income tax but where residents pay sales taxes, either at the state or local levels.

Tuition deduction: Among the many education tax breaks on the books, this one is available to all tax filers, whether you itemize or not. With it, you may deduct up to $4,000 in qualified tuition, fees and related expenses for post-secondary education, such as college and graduate school. The deduction may be taken for yourself, your spouse or your dependents.

But there are income limitations, and if you take it you may not take other types of education tax breaks, such as the Lifetime Learning Credit. Your deduction also is reduced by any grants and scholarships received to pay for school, as well as any money withdrawn from tax-advantaged, education savings accounts.

Deduction for mortgage insurance premiums: If you only put down a small amount to buy a home you may be required to pay for mortgage insurance to protect the lender against default. This tax break lets you deduct the cost of your premiums if you itemize your deductions.

Income exclusion for mortgage debt that’s been forgiven: When you sell your home for less than what you owe the bank or your home is foreclosed, the bank may agree to forgive the remaining debt you owe. But the IRS typically treats that forgiven debt as taxable income to you. This tax break lets you exclude it from your income.

Tax-free IRA withdrawals for charity: With this measure, anyone over 70-1/2 may take tax-free distributions of up to $100,000 from a traditional IRA if the money is distributed directly to an eligible charity.

While retirees can’t also take a deduction for that contribution, the money won’t count as income. So it won’t hurt when it comes to other taxes, such as those imposed on Social Security benefits when income exceeds a certain level, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst for tax publisher WoltersKluwer, CCH.

Tax-free savings for people with disabilities: Attached to the extender bill is the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. That act will permit people who were disabled before the age of 26 — as well as their family and friends — to contribute up to a combined total of $14,000 a year to an ABLE account.

Earnings would grow tax free and the money would not disqualify the disabled person from receiving federal assistance benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income so long as it is used to pay for housing, transportation, education and wellness.

Obamacare Tax Problems to Watch Out For

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Originally Published in ACCOUNTINGTODAY.COM

Affordable Care Act-related tax issues await CPAs and those who prepare their own returns this upcoming tax season, according to the National Conference of CPA Practitioners.

Medical Mysteries

There has been very little clarity about many ACA policies, leaving significant opportunities for error as people try to carve out their own interpretations. Businesses and individuals will be required to be compliant, but the reality remains that many may not know how to go about achieving this goal. Here are some ACA tax issues that NCCPAP feels CPAs and their business and individual clients should know about now.

Employer Shared Responsibility

Effective Jan. 1, 2015, one of the main provisions of the Affordable Care Act—employer shared responsibility—will begin. This means all employers with 100 or more employees are required to offer health insurance. Further, all employers will have required reporting for 2015. All employers will need to file the Form 1095-C with both the IRS and their employees by the end of January 2016. This form will provide essential information for employees to prepare their taxes. Specifically, it will verify the months that each employee had minimum essential coverage.

Minimum Essential Coverage

There are no mandatory ACA employer filing requirements for 2014. The IRS is telling CPAs to use their best judgment to determine if a person had minimum essential coverage, which is a bronze plan, but also requires an individual to have had coverage for all 12 months.

Careful Before Checking the Box

If taxpayers are preparing their own returns, many may mistakenly check the box that affirms they did have minimal essential coverage, even in cases when that is not accurate. This is because individuals either don’t know what minimal essential coverage entails, or are intentionally trying to avoid a penalty

Avoid the Penalty

For example, those who had insurance for half the year with an employer, but who were unemployed for half the year without health insurance, might think they had minimal essential coverage. In this situation they would be wrong since each person is required to have coverage for all 12 months to avoid paying a penalty. 

Truth or Dare

There is no way the government will be able to verify whether or not a person is telling the truth because employers have no mandatory reporting requirements for 2014. Even if someone had purchased an individual plan on their own, since the health insurance companies have no reporting requirements for 2014, there is no way for the government to verify whether someone had an individual plan or had no insurance at all.

Watch the Timeframe

If someone purchased health insurance on the exchange, the government would be able to prove the months they were covered with the exchange-purchased insurance through Form 1095-A. For example, if an individual were uninsured for six months and covered with exchange-purchased insurance for six months, the government would only be able to see the timeframe the individual had exchange-purchased coverage. Essentially this person would not meet the minimal essential coverage guidelines and would be subject to a financial penalty—that is if the government had documentation to prove the gap in coverage, which it doesn’t.

Religious Exemptions

There is a lot of concern and confusion regarding all of the various ACA exemptions. Some are very clear: if you’re a member of a religious sect, such as the Amish, or a member of a federally recognized Native American tribe, you are exempt from minimal essential coverage. Some Catholic religious orders like nuns don’t need to have contraception coverage. Those are the basic and obvious exemptions.

Fuzzy Wording

Not all exemptions are that easy to interpret, according to Stephen Mankowski, CPA, who is the Tax Policy Chair for NCCPAP, and a partner in the Bryn Mawr, Pa., accounting practice, EP Caine & Associates. “Here is where it gets fuzzy,” Mankowski said. “You may be eligible for an exemption if you had financial difficulties, received shut-off notices, experienced the death of a close family member or were in prison for part or all of the year. In these situations, so much is left up to the taxpayer for interpretation. For example, how does one define financial difficulties, or a ’close’ family member?  If you claim either of those, it could land you a cushy three-year exemption, according to ACA guidelines. Of course proving these in the event of an IRS audit could cause problems down the road.” Mankowski said. “There are many more exemptions beyond what I’ve listed here that will cause confusion to CPAs and the American taxpayer.”

Federal Repayments

“The repayment of premium tax credits is starting to get more attention,” said NCCPAP President Sandra G. Johnson, CPA, who runs a practice under her name out of Bellmore, N.Y.  ”This is a conflict that has been underreported for a long time,” Johnson stated. “Now people are realizing for the first time that they had a premium discount for the health insurance premiums they paid in 2014 because their premium cost was based on their 2012 income. When their income increased in 2014, their premium tax credit decreased. These individuals are now going to owe the government money, and payback will occur through their 2014 federal tax return. More and more taxpayers will be faced with this sad reality.” Johnson is referring to how many taxpayers did not understand that their reasonable premiums were due to a government-offered discount based on the income they stated on their application (in many cases from their 2012 taxes). A higher 2014 income means taxpayers must now pay the government back for that premium discount that was initially credited to them if they are found ineligible.

Prosecutors Drop IRS Civil Forfeiture Case

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Originally Published in ACCOUNTINGTODAY.COM

Federal prosecutors in Iowa have agreed to drop a controversial civil asset forfeiture case in which the Internal Revenue Service seized nearly $33,000 from the owner of a Mexican restaurant whose cash deposits at her bank had aroused suspicion of criminal activity.

The government moved to drop its case against Carole Hinders, who owned Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food in Arnolds Park, Iowa, after hearing her sworn testimony last week, according to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that represented her in the case.

The Institute for Justice is the same group that won another high-profile case against the IRS last year, convincing a federal judge and an appeals court that the IRS’s effort to require mandatory testing and continuing education of tax preparers exceeded its statutory authority.

In the new case, the government will return all of the nearly $33,000 it seized from Hinders in 2013. The Institute for Justice teamed up with her in October to clear her name of any wrongdoing and get her money back.

However, the firm said the IRS is asking the court for the right to refile the case in the future and repeated its claim that the case was justified. The Institute for Justice plans to file a response, asking the court to deny the government any right to refile its case and clear the way for Hinders to get interest on the money that was seized.

“I actually wanted a trial, which would have cleared my name and helped to protect others, but it is good to get the money back,” Hinders said in a statement. “My fight is far from over, though. I am willing to tell my story to Congress to help change forfeiture laws so that no one else has to go through what I suffered.”

She may already have some support in Congress. Last week, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee filed legislation to protect taxpayers against the inappropriate use of civil asset forfeitures by the IRS (see Congressmen Introduce Bill to Curb IRS Civil Asset Forfeitures).

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, also plans to introduce legislation in the Senate to curb the practice. Grassley is expected to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the next Congress. He is a senior member and former chairman and ranking member of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over the IRS.

“I’m working on civil asset forfeiture reform legislation to introduce in the new Congress,” he said in a statement Monday. “News reports including those in The Washington Post have detailed aggressive seizures of cash and property from drivers. In the case of the Iowa restaurant owner and others like it, the IRS has now adopted an enforcement policy under which it won’t seize assets under the structuring law without evidence of underlying criminal activity unless there are extenuating circumstances. I’m looking at ways to make sure the IRS and other federal agencies’ use of these statutes are reformed permanently going forward. Since the IRS changed its approach in these cases, it could change its approach again, and the same is true for other agencies. It’s important to look at getting the right policies set in statute going forward. The government’s power to seize assets should be used fairly and with common sense. The reforms I’m developing are meant to curb instances in which government power unfairly infringes on the rights of motorists, small business owners and other Americans.”

The IRS had seized Hinders’ money under the assumption that she had structured her restaurants bank deposits to keep them under $10,000 to avoid federal bank reporting requirements. Banks are required to file Suspicious Activity Reports if they see large cash deposits coming in over $10,000, but law enforcement also looks for patterns where depositors seem to be attempting to keep the deposits under the level required for the reporting. However, the IRS has indicated that it will not pursue new cases so aggressively.

The case has received significant attention from the press, including The New York Times and Des Moines Register. Hinders owned and operated Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food for 38 years. The restaurant only accepted cash, which meant she made frequent cash deposits at the bank. Federal law requires banks to report cash deposits larger than $10,000. Since her deposits were less than $10,000, the government claimed she was deliberately making small deposits to evade the reporting requirement.

The IRS seized Hinders’ money using civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agencies to take cash, cars and other property without even charging the property owner with a crime. Carole has not been charged with a crime. The government has never claimed that any of the money that it seized from Hinders’ restaurant is the proceeds of illegal activity—only that civil forfeiture law allows them to seize money merely suspected of being involved in crime.

“The IRS should not be raiding the bank accounts of innocent Americans, and it should not take a team of lawyers more than 18 months to get it back when they do,” said Institute for Justice attorney Larry Salzman in a statement. “This case again shows why civil forfeiture laws have become one of the most serious threats to private property rights in the nation.”

“Instead of simply returning the money with interest and an apology to Carole for the nightmare they put her through, the IRS is shamefully attempting to mask their retreat by insisting on the right to refile the case in the future,” said IJ attorney Wesley Hottot. “This was an outrageous abuse from the start and the government should recognize that.”

Obama Threatens Veto of Emerging Tax-Break Agreement in Congress

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Originally Published in ACCOUNTINGTODAY.COM

(Bloomberg) President Barack Obama would veto a tax-break agreement being negotiated in Congress by Senate Democrats and House Republicans.

“The president would veto the proposed deal because it would provide permanent tax breaks to help well-connected corporations while neglecting working families,” Jen Friedman, a White House spokeswoman, said in an e-mail today.

Lawmakers are nearing an agreement on extending U.S. tax breaks that lapsed at the end of 2013 and making others permanent. The proposal would add about $450 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade, said a Democratic aide.

A veto would require an override by two-thirds of lawmakers in the House and Senate, a high barrier for a deal that could draw opposition from some Democrats.

The biggest beneficiaries of the breaks would include corporations that conduct research, residents of states such as Washington and Texas that lack an income tax, and wind-energy producers concerned that their tax benefit would end all at once instead of being phased out. Tax breaks for low-income families that lapse at the end of 2017 wouldn’t be extended.

The tax break for corporate research, which would be expanded and made permanent, benefits companies including Intel Corp. and Johnson & Johnson. A benefit for small-business investments also would be locked in.

The plan would make permanent a provision allowing individuals to deduct state sales taxes, an issue important to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. In that state 22 percent of tax filers take advantage of the break, the second- highest percentage in the U.S., according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Wind Energy
The production tax credit for wind energy would be phased out over several years, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the package wasn’t yet public.

A tax break for mass-transit commuters would be permanently extended as would a tax credit for college tuition, the aide said. Those are items championed by Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Senate Democrat.

Other breaks that may be made permanent include incentives for landowners to donate conservation easements and for individuals to make charitable donations directly from tax- advantaged retirement accounts.

Dozens of other tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013 would be continued through 2015. Among those that have lapsed are a provision that lets home sellers exclude from income the forgiven debt from short sales, as well as accelerated depreciation for motorsports tracks.

Child Credit
After reports of an emerging agreement yesterday, the Obama administration issued a statement signaling that it opposed a package that doesn’t extend expansions of the child tax credit and earned income tax credit that lapse at the end of 2017.

“An extender package that makes permanent expiring business provisions without addressing tax credits for working families is the wrong approach, at the expense of middle-class families,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said yesterday. “Any deal on tax extenders must ensure that the economic benefits are broadly shared.”

Congress returns on Dec. 1 to finish its post-election session, and lawmakers want to leave Washington by Dec. 11.

That time frame might make it difficult for Obama to veto any plan, especially because the Internal Revenue Service has warned that waiting could delay tax refunds next year.

If this proposal falls apart, House Republicans’ fallback plan is to extend the lapsed breaks through Dec. 31, 2014, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp said yesterday.

That approach would require lawmakers to return to the issue next year, when Republicans will control the House and the Senate.

IRS Offers Rules on Hardship Exemptions from ACA Individual Mandate

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Originally Published in ACCOUNTINGTODAY.COM

The Internal Revenue Service has issued a notice, regulations and other guidance related to the Affordable Care Act, including information on getting a hardship exemption from the individual mandate for health insurance coverage.

Notice 2014-76 provides a list of the hardship exemptions that taxpayers can claim on a federal income tax return without obtaining a hardship exemption certification from the health insurance marketplace.

Under the Affordable Care Act, for each month beginning after Dec. 31, 2013, Section 5000A of the Tax Code requires individuals to either have minimum essential health coverage for themselves and any nonexempt family member whom the taxpayer can claim as a dependent, qualify for an exemption, or include an individual shared responsibility payment with their federal income tax return.

An individual is exempt from the requirements for a month if he or she has a hardship exemption certification issued by the health insurance marketplace certifying that the person has suffered a hardship affecting their ability to obtain minimum essential coverage that month.

The IRS simultaneously released Revenue Procedure 2014-62, which announces the indexed applicable percentage table for calculating an individual’s premium tax credit for taxable years beginning after 2015. The document also announces the indexed required contribution percentage for determining whether an individual is eligible for affordable employer-sponsored minimum essential coverage for plan years beginning after 2015.

The same Revenue Procedure cross-references the required contribution percentage, as determined under guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, for determining whether an individual is eligible for an exemption from the individual shared responsibility payment because of a lack of affordable minimum essential coverage, beginning after 2015.

In addition, the IRS issued TD 9705, finalizing its regulations for minimum essential coverage and other rules regarding the individual shared responsibility payment, also known as the individual mandate.

Budget Cuts Hit IRS’s Ability to Collect Delinquent Taxes

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Originally Published in ACCOUNTINGTODAY.COM

Years of budget cuts are having a negative impact on the ability of the Internal Revenue Service to collect delinquent taxes, according to a new government report.

The IRS’s Automated Collection System is responsible for answering incoming taxpayer calls and working the inventory of taxpayer delinquent accounts, the report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration noted. Since fiscal year 2010, the ACS workforce has declined by 39 percent due to attrition or reassignment, TIGTA found. Because those resources are needed to answer telephone calls, fewer resources are available to work on the inventory of past-due taxes.

This has contributed to unfavorable trends in several ACS business results, the report noted, including the amount of new inventory of cases of uncollected taxes outpacing closures of such cases; the inventory of delinquent tax cases taking longer to close; more cases being closed as uncollectible; fewer enforcement actions being taken; and more aged cases being transferred to a holding file queue that the IRS maintains of uncollected taxes.

In addition, the IRS has not established performance metrics to measure the effect that answering incoming calls has had on compliance business results, TIGTA pointed out. Capturing such data would allow ACS management to assess the impact of prioritizing call handling.

“IRS management should take steps to ensure that inventory routing and ACS resource capabilities are aligned with overall IRS tax administration priorities and their vision for the role of the ACS in the Collection enforcement strategy,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS re-examine the ACS’s role in the collection workflow process, including inventory delivery to the ACS as well as case retention criteria, and align ACS resources accordingly. The IRS should also request a study to determine the impact of the policy change to not require Notice of Federal Tax Lien determinations on certain unpaid balances, according to TIGTA. The IRS should also establish performance metrics for ACS call handling data to measure the impact that answering taxpayer calls has on compliance business results, the report suggested.

IRS officials agreed with the recommendations and plan to take corrective actions. “We recognize the critical role ACS plays in our Collection program and, while it is our intent that ACS’s role not be diminished going forward, the current budget environment requires us to continually evaluate our programs and priorities in light of declining resources,” wrote Karen Schiller, commissioner of the IRS’s Wage & Investment Division, in response to the report. “To that end, the Wage & Investment and Small Business/Self-Employed Divisions are currently realigning our compliance programs. As part of this effort, we are creating a single Collection organization within the Small Business/Self-Employed Division. The executive lead of this new Collection organization will have end-to-end accountability for the Collection program and will be responsible for reducing redundancies in our Collection processes and improving taxpayer services while identifying emerging Collection issues. While we are continuing to develop the structure and the concept of operations for this new Collection organization, ACS will be a key component. And, as part of our work on the concept of operations for the new Collection organization, we will be reviewing our ACS program to determine whether the Collection responsibilities and authorities currently assigned to our ACS employees need to be enhanced. We are proud of ACS’s contributions to our Collection program and it is our intent that ACS’s role be enhanced going forward.”

In further response to the report, the IRS pointed out that budget cuts are havin g an impact on its ability to collect revenue and taxes. “This report dramatically illustrates the bottom-line impact that IRS budget reductions have on revenue collection and unpaid taxes,” the IRS said in a statement emailed to Accounting Today. “With the IRS funding down by $850 million since Fiscal 2010 and priority programs such as identity theft requiring more resources, staffing for Automated Collection System fell from 2,824 in 2010 to 1,730 in 2013. At the same time, the report notes that tax collection in this program fell by $400 million. This is a clear example that deep cuts to the IRS budget hurts tax collection and threatens the nation’s revenue collection.”

Senators Introduce Bill to Prevent Tax Refund Theft

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Originally Published in ACCOUNTINGTODAY.COM

Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee have introduced bipartisan legislation to improve protection for taxpayers against fraudulent tax refund claims made with stolen identities.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, introduced theTax Refund Theft Prevention Act of 2014, S. 2736, on Thursday.

The bill includes new assistance for taxpayers who have been victims of identity theft and requires the Internal Revenue Service to establish a new security feature that individuals can use to protect their tax return filings.

“Tax refund fraud is a one-two punch for taxpaying individuals,” Hatch said in a statement. “Millions of taxpayers’ identities are compromised, and all taxpayers have their tax dollars wasted. Our bill aims to address such fraud by enhancing the IRS’s capabilities in detecting fraud and by giving victims the assistance and safeguards they need to repair the damage done by tax theft criminals. In order to further deter this crime, we make tax refund fraud a specific category of a felony offense and enhance security features for filers. Hard-working American families deserve a government that protects both their tax dollars and their sensitive taxpayer information. I am pleased Chairman Wyden has joined me in this advancing this effort.”

“We have to better protect lawful taxpayers from this nightmare issue,” Wyden said. “Earlier this year, I made it clear that taxpayer consumer protection must be at the heart of improving the American tax system. This bill offers a comprehensive, commonsense solution to a growing problem that will help prevent fraud and also provide assistance to those who have been victimized. Senator Hatch and I remain committed to protecting the integrity of our tax system.”

Under the bill, businesses would be required to report both employee compensation and certain non-employee compensation to the government earlier in tax season. The change would improve the IRS’s ability to identify and prevent fraudulent refund claims.“We have to better protect lawful taxpayers from this nightmare issue,” Wyden said. “Earlier this year, I made it clear that taxpayer consumer protection must be at the heart of improving the American tax system. This bill offers a comprehensive, commonsense solution to a growing problem that will help prevent fraud and also provide assistance to those who have been victimized. Senator Hatch and I remain committed to protecting the integrity of our tax system.”

Paid tax preparers would be required to file individual income tax returns and most information returns electronically under the proposed legislation. In addition, the electronic filing requirement for preparers who file over 250 tax returns would be scaled back to 20 returns, over a three-year period, to improve the IRS’s ability to identify and prevent fraudulent refund claims.

The existing access that the Treasury Department has to the National Directory of New Hires database would be expanded for the purpose of identifying and preventing fraudulent tax filings and refund claims.

Victims of tax refund theft would be assigned a single contact person within the IRS for help with correcting their tax records and receiving their tax refunds.

Under the bill, the list of aggravated identity theft crimes that are classified as felonies would be expanded to include tax refund theft. Tax preparers would also face significant new penalties if they inappropriately disclosed taxpayer information in connection with an identity theft crime.Victims of tax refund theft would be assigned a single contact person within the IRS for help with correcting their tax records and receiving their tax refunds.

Individual taxpayers would be able to add password security to their tax filings under the legislation. If a tax return filer elected to add this security measure, then a valid tax return could not be filed without also using the correct password.

Under the bill, due diligence requirements imposed on tax preparers with respect to the Earned Income Tax Credit would be expanded to include a requirement that the preparer verify the tax filer’s identity. The senators’ office noted that many fraudulent returns falsely claim the EITC in order to generate a tax refund.

Under the proposed legislation, he IRS would be prohibited, with limited exceptions, from issuing multiple tax refunds to the same account or address. Annual tax statements received by employees for wages earned would be required to use a truncated Social Security number in order to protect the number from identity theft.

IRS Workers Got $1.1 Million in Bonuses Despite Owing Back Taxes

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

originally posted on latimes.com on April 23, 2014

WASHINGTON — The IRS paid a total of about $1.1 million in bonuses over about two years to more than 1,100 employees who had been disciplined for failing to pay their own taxes, according to an inspector general’s report.

Those employees also received awards of more than 10,000 hours of extra time off and 69 faster-than-normal pay grade increases. They were among more than 2,800 IRS employees during that period who got performance awards within one year of disciplinary action, such as suspensions or written reprimands, the report found.

This is bad news for the Internal Revenue Service’s image, “which already has taken some very serious hits over the past couple of years,” said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of National Taxpayers Union.

The Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration noted that the performance awards did not violate the law.

But he said that “providing awards to employees who have been disciplined for failing to pay federal taxes appears to create a conflict with the IRS’ charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration.” The IRS’ contract with the National Treasury Employees Union says disciplinary action or investigations do not preclude an employee receiving a bonus or other performance award unless it would damage the integrity of the agency.

The inspector general’s report, released Tuesday, found that the more than two-thirds of IRS employees received performance awards in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years.

The audit was done because new federal guidelines in 2011 required agencies to reduce spending on bonuses and other awards.

IRS spending on bonuses went down in 2012 compared to 2011.

In 2011, the IRS paid $91.6 million in bonuses and granted almost 520,000 hours of extra time off to a total of 70,500 of the agency’s approximately 104,400 employees, the report said. That amounted to awards for 67.5% of employees.

The following year, spending on cash bonuses dropped to $86.3 million and time off awards fell to about 490,000 hours. But the percentage of employees receiving performance awards increased. The agency gave awards to 67,870 of its 98,000 employees in 2012 — or 69.3%.

Throughout that time, many employees who had been the subject of disciplinary action received performance awards.

From Oct. 1, 2010, to the end of 2012, more than 2,800 employees who had been disciplined received more than $2.8 million in cash bonuses and more than 27,000 extra hours of time off, the report said.

Those included 1,146 employees with tax problems, the report said.

The IRS has been under fire since agency officials said last year that employees improperly targeted applications from conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

IRS employees disciplined for failing to pay back taxes should not be denied bonuses, but the money should be diverted to pay the penalty, said Sepp of the Taxpayers Union.

“If we’re assuming that the awards are given out on true merit … then say, ‘Sorry you owe $800 on a lien and you’ve exhausted all your appeals your reward is reduced accordingly,’ ” he said.

The inspector general, however, recommended the IRS consider a policy requiring managers to consider disciplinary actions, especially those for failure to pay taxes, before deciding on bonuses and other performance awards.

The agency issued a statement saying that it already was making changes to its bonus policy.

“The IRS takes seriously our unique role as the nation’s tax administrator. We strive to protect the integrity of the tax system, and we recognize the need for proper personnel policies,” the agency said.

The IRS said it had developed a policy linking conduct to performance awards for executives and senior-level employees.

Even without such a policy, during the previous four years “the IRS has not issued awards to any executives that were subject to a disciplinary action,” the agency said.

The IRS said it is considering a similar policy for the rest of the agency’s workforce, but that would have to be negotiated with the National Treasury Employees Union.

A spokesman for the union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sepp said he had broader concerns about the large percentage of IRS employees receiving bonuses. “It just doesn’t’ seem in tune with the reality of any workforce, public or private, that more than half of them would get some kind of merit-based award,” he said.

IRS Reiterates Warning of Pervasive Telephone Scam

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Sent In the IRS Newswire

WASHINGTON – As the 2014 filing season nears an end, the Internal Revenue Service today issued another strong warning for consumers to guard against sophisticated and aggressive phone scams targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, as reported incidents of this crime continue to rise nationwide. These scams won’t likely end with the filing season so the IRS urges everyone to remain on guard.

The IRS will always send taxpayers a written notification of any tax due via the U.S. mail. The IRS never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone. For more information or to report a scam, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.

People have reported a particularly aggressive phone scam in the last several months. Immigrants are frequently targeted. Potential victims are threatened with deportation, arrest, having their utilities shut off, or having their driver’s licenses revoked. Callers are frequently insulting or hostile – apparently to scare their potential victims.

Potential victims may be told they are entitled to big refunds, or that they owe money that must be paid immediately to the IRS. When unsuccessful the first time, sometimes phone scammers call back trying a new strategy.

Other characteristics of this scam include:

• Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.

• Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim’s Social Security number.

• Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it’s the IRS calling.

• Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.

• Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.

• After threatening victims with jail time or driver’s license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here’s what you should do:

• If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1.800.829.1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.

• If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you’ve never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1.800.366.4484.

• If you’ve been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their “FTC Complaint Assistant” at FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” to the comments of your complaint.

Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to phishing@irs.gov.

More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.

You can reblog the IRS tax scam alert via Tumblr.

Tax Season Unleashes Cyberscams

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Originally Posted on CNN Money

As if tax season isn’t stressful enough, cybercriminals are also out in full force, looking to unleash attacks against unsuspecting small businesses.

Cybercrooks often use current events to disguise their attacks, said Kevin Haley, director of Symantec Security Response.

In 2011, for example, the royal wedding triggered a huge spike in spamming emails. Similarly, the annual tax filing season creates a perfect storm for cyberschemes.

“Not only do criminals exploit its anxiety and fear factor, but the tax season also gives them the opportunity to generate a variety of social engineering tricks,” Haley said.

These typically take the form of (fraudulent) tax-themed messages from the IRS that are actually phishing scams and ransomware.

Related: Most dangerous cyberattacks against small businesses

Small businesses are targeted more than large firms because they’re more vulnerable and the schemes are more lucrative.

“Large companies are better protected,” said Haley. “Cybercriminals know that smaller firms are more lax with their security and probably keep more money in their bank accounts.”

Alex Watson, director of security research at Websense Security Labs, said his firm has tracked a sharp increase in tax-related cyberscams this year against businesses.

“We’re seeing about 100,000 IRS-themed email scams circulating every two weeks in the U.S.,” said Watson. “They started in late December and it’s going strong now.”

Related: Cybercrime’s easiest prey: Small business

Here are the three most dangerous cyberattacks:

Financial Trojans: This type of attack uses names of popular tax-prep programs like Turbotax. Haley said targets receive an email with an attachment disguised as an important tax document from Turbotax.

“In most cases, the attachment looks like a spreadsheet or a document file,” he said.

If you open it, it launches malware on to your computer or phone. Once it’s installed, the malware allows scammers to steal login information and bank account credentials.

Tax-themed phishing scams: Haley said these scams use HTML files that capture personal data and company information and then send it to a server controlled by the cybercrooks.

In its annual list of “Dirty Dozen” tax scams, the IRS highlighted this particular attack, which is carried out through a fraudulent email or website.

The IRS emphasized that it never uses email to request personal or financial information.

IRS-disguised ramsonware: This attack mimics a Cryptolocker threat, meaning the virus seizes control of your computer files and threatens to erase them unless you pay a ransom.

During tax season, Haley said the Cryptolocker virus is disguised in an email that purports to have important tax-related information.

“This is a particularly vicious attack,” he said. “It will not only lock your personal files but also encrypt them and hold them for ransom.”

Some businesses feel they have no choice but to pay, he said.

Want to outsmart the cybercriminals? Regularly back up important files or encrypt sensitive data, Haley said.

There are other steps small businesses can take to protect themselves from cyberscams.

Good security software is a must, said Haley, as is password protection. Just don’t use the same password everywhere! Also, be very careful about clicking on links in an email.

Finally: “Be suspicious,” Haley said. “Scammers are quite good at making emails and links look legitimate. Know that the email ‘from’ the IRS will never be from the IRS.” To top of page