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The Tax Practice of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law
The Tax Practice of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law

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Recent blog posts

Making plans to travel internationally for the winter break? Needing to attend a business conference in Venice? Got tickets to the Radiohead concert in Toronto?

If you owe a significant sum to the IRS, you may be in for a rude surprise. Recent implementation of enforcement policies is resulting in lots of delinquent taxpayers receiving notices that their application for a new passport will be denied or existing passport not renewed.

On December 4, 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“FAST act) became a law, and it created a new Internal Revenue Code section § 7345 which requires the IRS to notify the State Department when an individual is certified as owing a “seriously delinquent tax debt”.

The first alarm rang on January 16, 2018, when the IRS published a Notice explaining the new rules. Additional important details were also added to the Internal Revenue Manual. On January 22, 2018, after the implementation of the passport program, the IRS took its first steps.

To be considered a “seriously delinquent tax debt”, there must be an assessed and unpaid amount of $50,000 or more, and the IRS has filed a notice of lien or a levy was issued. The section provides statutory exceptions for current installment agreements, offers in compromise, and Collection Due Process hearings. Several other exceptions are available as well. The IRS will send a form to a taxpayer after it certifies the seriously delinquent tax debt.

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Posted on in Tax Rants

Many clients have been contacting me these past several weeks and asking what my take is on the IRS after the change in administration.   Will enforcement activities decrease as a result of the new president’s own rancor for the agency?  Or will the Service instead react like the intelligence community, digging in its collective heels and strengthening its entrenched bureaucracy, perhaps even resurrecting the more draconian tactics of past times?

The answer I have been offering to my clients is both frustrating and disturbing:  I really have no idea.   And I do not think anyone really does know what to expect.  Playing a wait-and-see game makes substantive tax planning difficult, and tax controversy representation even more challenging. 

If the new President, with a supporting Congress, follow through on advertised tax reform proposals, the overall rates will be lowered, saving money for middle and upper income taxpayers.  And if the Affordable Care Act is repealed (Obamacare), so goes the 3.8% surtax on investment income.  While it is uncertain if these changes will happen at all, it is even more unclear now whether they would become effective for the 2017 or the 2018 tax year, making the deferral-of-income strategy a difficult recommendation to counsel at this point.

Posted on in Tax Rants

International investment is becoming easier and easier, so long as you have available funds. 

Advancements in technology, as well as the decreasing significance of language barriers and restrictive politics has made it possible for U.S. interests to invest overseas, even if the capital outlay is not massive. 

But the U.S. reporting rules are strict, and compliance essential.  Here’s what you need to know about reporting requirements prior to undertaking even a minimal foreign investment project. 

FBAR Reporting

In February of 2007, the Internal Revenue Service issued a news release outlining the reporting requirements for foreign financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA).    

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Posted on in Tax Rants

Maybe I’m showing my age, but I recall the “reinvention” of the Internal Revenue Service following the nasty Senate hearings in 1998.   

This was before 9/11, when our government’s problems were consistent with a simpler, less troubled time.  For those of you who weren’t of age at the time to care about such things, or perhaps weren’t even inhabiting this planet yet, these hearings were a big deal.  The Tax Collector was put on trial, and the proceedings televised to the nation – the IRS’ Watergate.  Current employees provided testimony behind curtains with masked voices like the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons.  Taxpayers complained bitterly about the “Gestapo-like” tactics of aggressive Revenue Officers and Special (criminal) Agents. 

The aftermath?  Our government’s procurement of a million dollar consultant study analyzing the structural and other problems with the IRS bureaucracy.  The study led to some new legislation – the third, but most significant ever, Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  Also, the IRS reorganized itself, and rolled-out a functionally (rather than geographically) based bureaucracy, while at the same time publicly dedicating itself to improved customer relations and a responsive, educating, client-servicing agency.   The “New” IRS. 

Tax Lien filings and levies dropped significantly in the wake of the roll-out.  Seizures were dramatically reduced and, in part due to the new protective legislation requiring a district court order, the taking of residences to satisfy tax debts all but disappeared entirely from the IRS Collection toolbox.

Shortly thereafter, the offer in compromise program criteria were liberalized, so instead of a 95% plus rejection rate, more and more taxpayers started realizing the “fresh start” promised by the alternative.   And the government reportedly reduced its receivables significantly, making it more resemble a business.  Good for everybody. 

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overpaid, overpayment of taxes, Chicago Tax AttorneysOn our website and blog, we’ve discussed extensively the various scenarios for underpayment of taxes, tax audits, tax court litigation, etc. But what happens when you pay too much in taxes? This happens a lot more than most people recognize, and consequently, many taxpayers do not realize their overpayment until it’s too late.

Won’t the IRS Just Refund My Overpaid Taxes?

Like most dealings with the IRS, the answer to this question is…it depends. The key is if the IRS is aware of the overpayment. For example, if you file a tax return that shows you owing $1000 and you accidentally mail in a check for $1500, the IRS will probably (though there is no guarantee) catch the mistake and refund you the $500 overage. The far more common scenario, however, is an overpayment that the IRS is not aware of. Common examples that fall into this category include failure to claim a credit or deduction you are entitled to (such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or home mortgage deduction) or in the case of a business filer who was entitled to carry a net operating loss from a prior year. There are also cases in which a taxpayer overpays as a result of an audit examination.

Filing a Claim for Refund

In the vast majority of cases, there are two ways to file a refund claim when you overpay your taxes.  In many instances, you may be able to file an amended return for the tax year in question to correct the error and claim your overpayment. The other method is to file Form 843 Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement. When filing this form, it is important to clearly state the specific reason(s) for the refund claim. In certain limited circumstances, you may also choose to file an "informal" Claim for Refund – this is just a letter to the IRS claiming an overpayment of a particular amount for a specific reason. This method is seldom used, and you should only choose this option with the assistance of a skilled tax attorney. Whatever method you select to claim your refund for overpaid taxes, it is best to take action sooner rather than later; unless there are extenuating circumstances, the statute of limitations for filing a refund claim is within three years of the date of filing the return or two years of the date the overpayment was made, whichever is later.  Its actually a bit more complicated than just that, though, because you can only claim an overpayment of monies that were paid within the prior two years.  One more thing to be careful of is filing a claim for an excessive or unjustified amount. Because of the high number of frivolous claims, Congress has given the IRS the authority to levy a penalty equal to 20% of the amount of the claim.

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clock, statute of limitations, Chicago Tax AttorneysIt recently came to your attention that you made a mistake on the tax return you filed a couple of years ago.  Do you still need to worry about it?  And if so, for how much longer?  What if you discovered this tax controversy because the IRS sent you a letter pointing out your mistake and telling you that you now owe them more money then you believed at the time?

Without the Letter

If the IRS hasn't alerted you to a problem with your taxes, they must "assess" any additional tax within 3 years from either the due date of the return or the date the return was actually filed (if filed late). There are two exceptions:

  • If the error involves an omission of 25% or more of the gross income reported on the return, they get 3 additional years.
  • If the IRS can prove that you filed a false tax return, a fraudulent tax return, or failed to file any return at all.  In such cases, the statute of limitations goes out the window and they can come after you at any time (i.e., no statute of limitations period on making an additional assessment).

With the Letter

If you've received a letter from the IRS telling you that you owe more taxes for a particular year, this generally means you have already been assessed , so you are now dealing with the "collection" statute of limitations.  

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U.S. Tax Court, tax law, Chicago Tax Lawyers"I guess you will have to go to jail. If that is the result of not understanding the Income Tax Law I shall meet you there. We shall have a merry, merry time, for all of our friends will be there. It will be an intellectual center, for no one understands the Income Tax Law except persons who have not sufficient intelligence to understand the questions that arise under it." Senator Elihu Root, commenting on the complexity of the very first income tax law in 1913. The U.S. Tax Court began its existence as the Board of Tax Appeals in 1924, when it was still a part of the Executive branch. In 1942, an act of Congress renamed it "The Tax Court of the United States," but it was still a part of the Executive branch and existed in the same building as the IRS. It wasn't until 1969 that a second act of Congress converted it into a 'legitimate' Court - part of the Judicial branch - and renamed it (again) as the "U.S. Tax Court."  

In 1974 the U.S. Tax Court finally got its own building in the heart of Washington D.C. Despite its centralized location, the Tax Court  "travels", hearing cases in cities all over the country.  In the major metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, New York, Chicago), the Court will visit and hear cases mostly every month, while in less populous locales, the Court will visit once or twice a year (Billings, Anchorage, Knoxville).

Two Kinds of Cases

If the IRS claims that you owe money, but there is no single year for which you owe $50,000 or more, you can elect for your case to be heard under the 'small' tax case procedures of the Court.  As with the non-small ("regular") cases, you'll generally be required to pay a $60 fee when you file your "petition", which is the document on which you make the small case procedure selection. What is the difference between small case and regular Tax Court procedures? In small tax cases, the Court "relaxes" the rules of evidence, so that if it is not economical for you to hire an attorney (i.e., the amount at issue doesn’t warrant legal fees or you simply do not have the resources to pay a representative), you will not be held to the same strict rules of evidence that would otherwise apply.  However, small tax cases, by statute, cannot be appealed; whatever the judge decides, ends the matter with finality. Regular tax cases are, therefore, a much more formal affair.  But, there is no rule that requires you to hire a lawyer, even in a regular tax court case.  Note that the Tax Court has no equivalent of the 'public defender;' if you cannot afford an attorney, one will

Stipulations

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litigation hazard, tax appeals, Chicago Tax Attorneys"A fair and impartial resolution is one which reflects on an issue-by-issue basis the probable result in event of litigation, or one which reflects mutual concessions for the purpose of settlement based on relative strength of the opposing positions where there is substantial uncertainty of the result in event of litigation." - Internal Revenue Manual section 8.6.1.3(2). When you've sent a Letter of Appeal to the IRS asking for an administrative review of a decision that was made by the Examination function regarding your tax dispute, the IRS assigns an Appeals Officer to determine of there is a possibility for settling the issue. The mission of the Appeals Officer is to resolve your case in a way that:

  • Avoids litigation;
  • Is "fair and impartial";
  • Will encourage voluntary compliance;
  • Represents the integrity and efficiency of the IRS.

Because the Appeals Officer's mission explicitly includes the objective of avoiding litigation, they'll generally begin the discussion by going over the various ways in which you could settle out-of-court by reaching a compromise that fully embraces any hazards to the government of litigating the issue.

Hazards of Litigation Defined 

What the Appeals Officer is actually determining is a quantitative analysis of:

  • The likelihood that, if the case goes to Tax Court on the liability issues, what are the chances the government will prevail, and what are the chances that the taxpayer will prevail.
  • The cost of litigation to the government is simply not an issue.

Application of the Hazards of Litigation Standard

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