Tax Shelter Penalty Cases Hurt Thousands of Small Business Owners

Gerson Lehrman Group

March, 2011

  • Analysis by: GLG Expert Contributor Lance Wallach

Summary

Insurance agents and others sell 412i, 419, captive insurance and section 79 plans to unsuspecting business owners. Since the IRS is calling these plans abusive tax shelters, many small business owners are getting audited and getting penalties under IRC 6707A. They have even fined material advisors and accountants for their participation, and small business owners need to know how to protect themselves from the long reach of the IRS.

Analysis

Insurance agents and others sell 412i, 419, captive insurance and section 79 scams to unsuspecting business owners. The IRS considers many of these plans abusive tax shelters, listed transactions, reportable transactions, or what it calls “similar to,” which allows them to target the plan. The unsuspecting business owners then get audited by the IRS, lose their deductions, and pay interest and penalties. Then comes the bad news. The IRS comes back and fines the business owners a large amount of money for not properly filing under IRC 6707A. They have even fined hundreds of business owners who have filed. The IRS says that they prepared the forms incorrectly or filed improperly, or lied to the IRS.

Taxpayers must report certain transactions to the IRS under Section 6707A of the Tax Code, which was enacted in 2004 to help detect, deter, and shut down abusive tax shelter activities. For example, reportable transactions may include being in a 419,412i, or other insurance plan sold by insurance agents for tax deduction purposes. Other abusive transactions could include captive insurance and section 79 plans, which are usually sold by insurance agents for tax deductions. Taxpayers must disclose their participation in these and other transactions by filing a Reportable Transactions Disclosure Statement (Form 8886) with their income tax returns. People that sell these plans are called material advisors and must also file 8918 forms properly. Failure to report the transactions could result in very large penalties. Accountants who sign tax returns that have these deductions can also be called material advisors and should also file forms 8918 properly.

The IRS has fined hundreds of taxpayers who did file under 6707A. They said that they did not fill out the forms properly, or did not file correctly. The plan administrator or a 412i advised over 200 of his clients how to file. They were then all fined by the IRS for filling out the forms wrong. The fines averaged about $500,000 per taxpayer.

A report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that the procedures for documenting and assessing the Section 6707A penalty were not sufficient or formalized, and cases often are not fully developed.

TIGTA evaluated the IRS’s effectiveness in identifying, developing, and applying the Section 6707A penalty. Based on its review of 114 assessed Section 6707A penalties, TIGTA determined that many of these files were incomplete or did not contain sufficient audit evidence. TIGTA also found a need for better coordination between the IRS’s Office of Tax Shelter Analysis and other functions.

“As penalties are meant to encourage voluntary taxpayer compliance, it is important that IRS procedures for documenting and assessing them be well developed and fully documented,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement. “Any failure to do so raises the risk that taxpayers will not receive consistent and fair treatment under the law, and could further reduce their willingness to comply voluntarily.”

The Section 6707A penalty is a stand-alone penalty and does not require an associated income tax examination; therefore, it applies regardless of whether the reportable transaction results in an understatement of tax. TIGTA determined that, in most cases, the Section 6707A penalty was substantially higher than additional tax assessments taxpayers received from the audit of underlying tax returns. I have had phone calls from taxpayers that contributed less than $100,000 to a listed transaction and were fined over $500,000. I have had phone calls from taxpayers that went into 419, or 412i plans but made no contributions and were fined a large amount of money for being in a listed transaction and not properly filing forms under IRC section 6707A. The IRS claims that the fines are non appealable.

On July 7, 2009, at the request of Congress, the IRS agreed to suspend collection enforcement actions. However, this did not preclude the issuance of notices of assessment that are required by law and adjustment notices that inform the taxpayer of any account activity. In addition, taxpayers continued to receive balance due and final notices of intent to levy, and demands to pay Section 6707A penalties.

TIGTA recommended that the IRS fully develop, document, and properly process Section 6707A penalties. The IRS agreed with TIGTA’s recommendation and plans to take appropriate corrective actions. I think as a result of this many taxpayers who have not yet been fined will shortly receive the fines. Unless a taxpayer files properly there is no statute of limitations. The IRS has, and will continue to go back many years and fine people that are in listed, reportable or substantially similar to transactions.

If you are, or were in a 412i, 419, captive insurance or section 79 plan you should immediately file under 6707A protectively. If you have already filed you should find someone who knows what he is doing to review the forms. I only know of two people who know how to properly file. The IRS instructions are vague. If a taxpayer files wrong, or fills out the forms wrong he still gets the fine. I have had hundreds of phone calls from people in that situation.


Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for more than 20 publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and his side has never lost a case. Visit www.taxaudit419.com for more on this subject.

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

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Abusive Insurance, Welfare Benefit, and Retirement Plans

 

Tax Practice: Tax Notes

March 2, 2009

 

By Lance Wallach

 

The IRS has various task forces auditing all section 419, section 412(i), and other plans that tend to be abusive.  These plans are sold by most insurance agents.  The IRS is looking to raise money and is not looking to correct plans or help taxpayers.  The fines for being in a listed, abusive, or similar transaction are up to $200,000 per year (section 6707A), unless you report on yourself.  The IRS calls accountants, attorneys, and insurance agents “material advisors” and also fines them the same amount, again unless the client’s participation in the transaction is reported.  An accountant is a material advisor if he signs the return or gives advice and gets paid.  More details can be found on http://www.irs.gov and http://www.vebaplan.com.

Bruce Hink, who has given me written permission to use his name and circumstances, is a perfect example of what the IRS is doing to unsuspecting business owners.  What follows is a story about how the IRS fines him $200,000 a year for being in what they called a listed transaction. Listed transactions can be found at http://www.irs.gov.  Also involved are what the IRS calls abusive plans or what it refers to as substantially similar.  Substantially similar to is very difficult to understand, but the IRS seems to be saying, “If it looks like some other listed transaction, the fines apply.”  Also, I believe that the accountant who signed the tax return and the insurance agent who sold the retirement plan will each be fined $200,000 as material advisors.  We have received many calls for help from accountants, attorneys, business owners, and insurance agents in similar situations.  Don’t think this will happen to you?  It is happening to a lot of accountants and business owners, because most of theses so-called listed, abusive, or substantially similar plans are being sold by insurance agents.

Recently I came across the case of Hink, a small business owner who is facing $400,000 in IRS penalties for 2004 and 2005 because of his participation in a section 412(i) plan.  (The penalties were assessed under section 6707A.)

In 2002 an insurance agent representing a 100-year-old, well established insurance company suggested the owner start a pension plan.  The owner was given a portfolio of information from the insurance company, which was given to the company’s outside CPA to review and give an opinion on.  The CPA gave the plan the green light and the plan was started.

Contributions were made in 2003.  The plan administrator came out with amendments to the plan, based on new IRS guidelines, in October 2004.

The business owner’s insurance agent disappeared in May 2005, before implementing the new guidelines from the administrator with the insurance company.  The business owner was left with a refund check from the insurance company, a deduction claim on his 2004 tax return that had not been applied, and no agent.

It took six months of making calls to the insurance company to get a new insurance agent assigned.  By then, the IRS had started an examination of the pension plan.  Asking advice from the CPA and a local attorney (who had no previous experience in these cases) made matters worse, with a “big name” law firm being recommended and over $30,000 in additional legal fees being billed in three months.

To make a long story short, the audit stretched on for over 2 ½ years to examine a 2-year-old pension with four participants and the $178,000 in contributions. During the audit, no funds went to the insurance company, which was awaiting formal IRS approval on restructuring the plan as a traditional defined benefit plan, which the administrator had suggested and the IRS had indicated would be acceptable.  The $90,000 in 2005 contributions was put into the company’s retirement bank account along with the 2004 contributions.

In March 2008 the business owner received a private e-mail apology from the IRS agent who headed the examination, saying that her hands were tied and that she used to believe she was correcting problems and helping taxpayers and not hurting people.

The IRS denied any appeal and ruled in October 2008 the $400,000 penalty would stand.  The IRS fine for being in a listed, abusive, or similar transaction is $200,000 per year for corporations or $100,000 per year for unincorporated entities.  The material advisor fine is $200,000 if you are incorporated or $100,000 if you are not.

Could you or one of your clients be next?

To this point, I have focused, generally, on the horrors of running afoul of the IRS by participating in a listed transaction, which includes various types of transactions and the various fines that can be imposed on business owners and their advisors who participate in, sell, or advice on these transactions.  I happened to use, as an example, someone in a section 412(i) plan, which was deemed to be a listed transaction, pointing out the truly doleful consequences the person has suffered.  Others who fall into this trap, even unwittingly, can suffer the same fate.

Now let’s go into more detail about section 412(i) plans.  This is important because these defined benefit plans are popular and because few people think of retirement plans as tax shelters or listed transactions.  People therefore may get into serious trouble in this area unwittingly, out of ignorance of the law, and, for the same reason, many fail to take necessary and appropriate precautions.

The IRS has warned against the section 412(i) defined benefit pension plans, named for the former code section governing them.  It warned against trust arrangements it deems abusive, some of which may be regarded as listed transactions.  Falling into that category can result in taxpayers having to disclose the participation under pain of penalties, potentially reaching $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for other taxpayers.  Targets also include some retirement plans.

One reason for the harsh treatment of some 412(i) plans is their discrimination in favor of owners and key, highly compensated employees.  Also, the IRS does not consider the promised tax relief proportionate to the economic realities of the transactions.  In general, IRS auditors divide audited plan into those they consider noncompliant and other they consider abusive.  While the alternatives available to the sponsor of noncompliant plan are problematic, it is frequently an option to keep the plan alive in some form while simultaneously hoping to minimize the financial fallout from penalties.

The sponsor of an abusive plan can expect to be treated more harshly than participants.  Although in some situation something can be salvaged, the possibility is definitely on the table of having to treat the plan as if it never existed, which of course triggers the full extent of back taxes, penalties, and interest on all contributions that were made – not to mention leaving behind no retirement plan whatsoever.

Another plan the IRS is auditing is the section 419 plan.  A few listed transactions concern relatively common employee benefit plans the IRS has deemed tax avoidance schemes or otherwise abusive.  Perhaps some of the most likely to crop up, especially in small-business returns, are the arrangements purporting to allow the deductibility of premiums paid for life insurance under a welfare benefit plan or section 419 plan.  These plans have been sold by most insurance agents and insurance companies.

Some of theses abusive employee benefit plans are represented as satisfying section 419, which sets limits on purposed and balances of “qualified asset accounts” for the benefits, although the plans purport to offer the deductibility of contributions without any corresponding income.  Others attempt to take advantage of the exceptions to qualified asset account limits, such as sham union plans that try to exploit the exception for the separate welfare benefit funds under collective bargaining agreements provided by section 419A(f)(5).  Others try to take advantage of exceptions for plans serving 10 or more employers, once popular under section 419A(f)(6).  More recently, one may encounter plans relying on section 419(e) and, perhaps, defines benefit sections 412(i) pension plans.

Sections 419 and 419A were added to the code by the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 in an attempt to end employers’ acceleration of deductions for plan contributions.  But it wasn’t long before plan promoters found an end run around the new code sections.  An industry developed in what came to be known as 10-or-more-employer plans.

The IRS steadily added these abusive plans to its designations of listed transactions.  With Revenue Ruling 90-105, it warned against deducting some plan contributions attributable to compensation earned by plan participants after the end of the tax year.  Purported exceptions to limits of sections 419 and 419A claimed by 10-or-more-employer benefit funds were likewise prescribed in Notice 95-24 (Doc 95-5046, 95 TNT 98-11).  Both positions were designated as listed transactions in 2000.

At that point, where did all those promoters go?  Evidence indicates many are now promoting plans purporting to comply with section 419(e).  They are calling a life insurance plan a welfare benefit plan (or fund), somewhat as they once did, and promoting the plan as a vehicle to obtain large tax deductions.  The only substantial difference is that theses are now single-employer plans.  And again, the IRS has tried to rein them in, reminding taxpayers that listed transactions include those substantially similar to any that are specifically described and so designated.

On October 17, 2007, the IRS issues Notices 2007-83 (Doc 2007-23225, 2007 TNT 202-6) and 2007-84 (Doc 2007-23220, 2007 TNT 202-5).  In the former, the IRS identified some trust arrangements involving cash value life insurance policies, and substantially similar arrangements, as listed transactions. The latter similarly warned against some postretirement medical and life insurance benefit arrangements, saying they might be subject to “alternative tax treatment.”  The IRS at the same time issued related Rev. Rul. 2007-65 (Doc 2007-23226, 2007 TNT 202-7) to address situations in which an arrangement is considered a welfare benefit fund but the employer’s deduction for its contributions to the fund id denied in whole or in part for premiums paid by the trust on cash value life insurance policies.  It states that a welfare benefit fund’s qualified direct cost under section 419 does not include premium amounts paid by the fund for cash value life insurance policies if the fund is directly or indirectly a beneficiary under the policy, as determined under sections264(a).

Notice 2007-83 targets promoted arrangements under which the fund trustee                                                         purchases cash value insurance policies on the lives of a business’s employee/owners, and sometimes key employees, while purchasing term insurance policies on the lives of other employees covered under the plan.

These plans anticipate being terminated and anticipate that the cash value policies will be distributed to the owners or key employees, with little distributed to other employees.  The promoters claim that the insurance premiums are currently deductible by the business and that the distributed insurance policies are virtually tax free to the owners.  The ruling makes it clear that, going forward, a business under most circumstances cannot deduct the cost of premiums paid through a welfare benefit plan for cash value life insurance on the lives of its employees.

Should a client approach you with one of these plans, be especially cautious, for both of you.  Advise your client to check out the promoter very carefully.  Make it clear that the government has the names of all former section 419A(f)(6) promoters and, therefore, will be scrutinizing the promoter carefully if the promoter was once active in that area, as many current section 419(e) (welfare benefit fund or plan) promoters were.  This makes an audit of your client more likely and far riskier.

It is worth noting that listed transactions are subject to a regulatory scheme applicable only to them, entirely separate from Circular 230 requirements, regulations, and sanctions.  Participation in such a transaction must be disclosed on a tax return, and the penalties for failure to disclose are severe – up to $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for corporations.  The penalties apply to both taxpayers and practitioners.  And the problem with disclosure, of course, is that it is apt to trigger an audit, in which case even if the listed transaction was to pass muster, something else may not.

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxaudit419.com/TaxHelp.html and www.taxlibrary.us

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

How to Beat the IRS

By Lance Wallach

Beware of someone whose fee is based on a percentage of how much you save in taxes.   Or who promises to get you a significantly higher refund than anyone else can.  People like these are likely to prepare outrageous returns that will land you deep in trouble with the IRS.

Just because the IRS says you owe money doesn’t mean that’s correct.  The agency makes mistakes – plenty of them, even computing penalties and interest.

Having a smart, well-prepared tax expert on your side can be a tremendous advantage.  Not only will they know the ins and outs of the tax code, but also they can take over the often-exhausting job of dealing with the IRS – and help you decide how far to push the fight.

If you feel you have a bulletproof case but are getting nowhere with an auditor, stay calm – and consider asking to speak to that person’s manager.  If that doesn’t help either, consider taking your case to By an IRS appeals office.  An IRS publication says, “most differences” between taxpayers and the IRS that reach the appeals level are settled.  For details see IRS publication 556.

You may also consider taking your case to the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service, or TAS, an organization within the IRS created to help taxpayers resolve problems, as well as advocate for changes within the system.

You may be eligible for help if you have tried to resolve your tax problems through normal IRS channels and haven’t gotten anywhere, or if you believe and IRS procedure isn’t working as it should, such as an amended return that hasn’t been processed, as advocate spokesperson says.

If you are facing a financial crisis and have no hope of repaying everything you owe, consider asking the IRS to settle for some lesser amount.

Specifically, IRS employees “will be permitted to consider a taxpayer’s current income and potential for future income when negotiating an offer in compromise,” the IRS said.  “Normally, the standard practice is to judge earnings in prior years.”


Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxaudit419.com/TaxHelp.html and www.taxlibrary.us


The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or other entity.  You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

Advisers staring at a new ‘slew’ of litigation from small-business clients

Five-year-old change in tax has left some small businesses and certain benefit plans subject to IRS fines; the advisers who sold these plans may pay the price

By Jessica Toonkel Marquez

October 14, 2009

Financial advisers who have sold certain types of retirement and other benefit plans to small businesses might soon be facing a wave of lawsuits — unless Congress decides to take action soon.

For years, advisers and insurance brokers have sold the 412(i) plan, a type of defined-benefit pension plan, and the 419 plan, a health and welfare plan, to small businesses as a way of providing such benefits to their employees, while also receiving a tax break.

However, in 2004, Congress changed the law to require that companies file with the Internal Revenue Service if they had these plans in place. The law change was intended to address tax shelters, particularly those set up by large companies.

Many companies and financial advisers didn’t realize that this was a cause for concern, however, and now employers are receiving a great deal of scrutiny from the federal government, according to experts.

The IRS has been aggressive in auditing these plans. The fines for failing to notify the agency about them are $200,000 per business per year the plan has been in place and $100,000 per individual.

So advisers who sold these plans to small business are now slowly starting to become the target of litigation from employers who are subject to these fines.

“There is a slew of litigation already against advisers that sold these plans,” said Lance Wallach, an expert on 412(i) and 419 plans. “I get calls from lawyers every week asking me to be an expert witness on these cases.”

Mr. Wallach declined to cite any specific suits. But one adviser who has been selling 412(i) plans for years said his firm is already facing six lawsuits over the sale of such plans and has another two pending.

“My legal and accounting bills last year were $864,000,” said the adviser, who asked not to be identified. “And if this doesn’t get fixed, everyone and their uncle will sue us.”

Currently, the IRS has instituted a moratorium on collecting these fines until the end of the year in the hope that Congress will address the issue.

In a Sept. 24 letter to Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman wrote: “I understand that Congress is still considering this issue and that a bipartisan, bicameral bill may be in the works … To give Congress time to address the issue, I am writing to extend the suspension of collection enforcement action through Dec. 31.”

But with so much of Congress’ attention on health care reform at the moment, experts are worried that the issue may go unresolved indefinitely.

“If Congress doesn’t amend the statute, and clients find themselves having to pay these fines, they will absolutely go after the advisers that sold these plans to them,” .

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxaudit419.com and www.taxlibrary.us

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

IRS Makes Taxpayers Aware of Many Scams That Will Get Them in Trouble

RetirementSociety.com | January 19, 2011

By Lance Wallach

“Taxpayers should be wary of scams to avoid paying taxes that seem too good to be true, especially during these challenging economic times,” IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said. “There is no secret trick that can eliminate a person’s tax obligations. People should be wary of anyone peddling any of these scams.”

Tax schemes are illegal and can lead to problems for both scam artists and taxpayers who risk significant penalties, interest and possible criminal prosecution.

The IRS urges taxpayers to avoid these common schemes.

Abusive Retirement Plans

The IRS continues to uncover abuses in retirement plan arrangements, including Roth Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). The IRS is looking for transactions that taxpayers are using to avoid the limitations on contributions to IRAs as well as transactions that are not properly reported as early distributions. Taxpayers should be wary of advisers who encourage them to shift appreciated assets into IRAs or companies owned by their IRAs at less than fair market value to circumvent annual contribution limits. Other variations have included the use of limited liability companies to engage in activity that is considered prohibited.

419 Plans

If they have cash value life insurance in them they are abusive. Some of the plans like Nova, run by Benistar can also be criminal. For more on 419 plans visit www.taxaudit419.com

412i Plans

Such plans can be abusive with cash value life insurance. For more information visit www.taxlibrary.com or www.experttaxadvisors.org.

Captive Insurance Plans

These were listed transactions and then taken off the list. IRS still looks closely at them. They are usually sold by life insurance agents.

Section 79 plans

IRS is looking very closely at section 79 plans. They are usually sold by life insurance agents.

Hiding Income Offshore

The IRS aggressively pursues taxpayers and promoters involved in abusive offshore transactions. Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade U.S. income tax by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or through other entities. Recently, the IRS provided guidance to auditors on how to deal with those hiding income offshore in undisclosed accounts. The IRS draws a clear line between taxpayers with offshore accounts who voluntarily come forward and those who fail to come forward.

Taxpayers also evade taxes by using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or life insurance plans. The IRS has also identified abusive offshore schemes including those that involve use of electronic funds transfer and payment systems, offshore business merchant accounts and private banking relationships.

Filing False or Misleading Forms

The IRS is seeing scam artists file false or misleading returns to claim refunds that they are not entitled to. Frivolous information returns, such as Form 1099-Original Issue Discount (OID), claiming false withholding credits are used to legitimize erroneous refund claims. The new scam has evolved from an earlier phony argument that a “strawman” bank account has been created for each citizen. Under this scheme, taxpayers fabricate an information return, arguing they used their “strawman” account to pay for goods and services and falsely claim the corresponding amount as withholding as a way to seek a tax refund.

Abuse of Charitable Organizations and Deductions

The IRS continues to observe the misuse of tax-exempt organizations. Abuse includes arrangements to improperly shield income or assets from taxation and attempts by donors to maintain control over donated assets or income from donated property. The IRS also continues to investigate various schemes involving the donation of non-cash assets, including easements on property, closely held corporate stock and real property. Often, the donations are highly overvalued or the organization receiving the donation promises that the donor can purchase the items back at a later date at a price the donor sets. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 imposed increased penalties for inaccurate appraisals and new definitions of qualified appraisals and qualified appraisers for taxpayers claiming charitable contributions.

Return Preparer Fraud

Dishonest return preparers can cause many headaches for taxpayers who fall victim to their ploys. Such preparers derive financial gain by skimming a portion of their clients’ refunds and charging inflated fees for return preparation services. They attract new clients by promising large refunds. Taxpayers should choose carefully when hiring a tax preparer. As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No matter who prepares the return, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for its accuracy. Since 2002, the courts have issued injunctions ordering dozens of individuals to cease preparing returns, and the Department of Justice has filed complaints against dozens of others, which are pending in court.

Frivolous Arguments

Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage people to make unreasonable and unfounded claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. The IRS has a list of frivolous legal positions that taxpayers should stay away from. Taxpayers who file a tax return or make a submission based on one of the positions on the list are subject to a $5,000 penalty. More information is available on IRS.gov.

False Claims for Refund and Requests for Abatement

This scam involves a request for abatement of previously assessed tax using Form 843 Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement. Many individuals who try this have not previously filed tax returns. The tax they are trying to have abated has been assessed by the IRS through the Substitute for Return Program. The filer uses Form 843 to list reasons for the request. Often, one of the reasons given is “Failed to properly compute and/or calculate Section 83-Property Transferred in Connection with Performance of Service.”

Disguised Corporate Ownership

Some taxpayers form corporations and other entities in certain states for the primary purpose of disguising the ownership of a business or financial activity. Such entities can be used to facilitate underreporting of income, fictitious deductions, non-filing of tax returns, participating in listed transactions, money laundering, financial crimes, and even terrorist financing. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and to bring the owners of these entities into compliance.

Zero Wages

Filing a phony wage- or income-related information return to replace a legitimate information return has been used as an illegal method to lower the amount of taxes owed. Typically, a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 is used as a way to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. The taxpayer also may submit a statement rebutting wages and taxes reported by a payer to the IRS. Sometimes fraudsters even include an explanation on their Form 4852 that cites statutory language on the definition of wages or may include some reference to a paying company that refuses to issue a corrected Form W-2 for fear of IRS retaliation. Taxpayers should resist any temptation to participate in any of the variations of this scheme.

Misuse of Trusts

For years, unscrupulous promoters have urged taxpayers to transfer assets into trusts. While there are many legitimate, valid uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, some promoted transactions promise reduction of income subject to tax, deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the promised tax benefits and are being used primarily as a means to avoid income tax liability and hide assets from creditors, including the IRS.

The IRS has recently seen an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to divert income and deduct personal expenses. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering into a trust arrangement.

Fuel Tax Credit Scams

The IRS is receiving claims for the fuel tax credit that are unreasonable. Some taxpayers, such as farmers who use fuel for off-highway business purposes, may be eligible for the fuel tax credit. But some individuals are claiming the tax credit for nontaxable uses of fuel when their occupation or income level makes the claim unreasonable. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim, potentially subjecting those who improperly claim the credit to a $5,000 penalty.

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxaudit419.com and www.taxlibrary.us


The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

Get a $200,000 IRS Fine and Have Your Client Sue You

By Lance Wallach

Over the past decade, business owners have been overwhelmed by a plethora of arrangements designed to reduce the cost of providing employee benefits and taxes while simultaneously increasing their own retirement savings. The solutions ranged from traditional pension and profit sharing plans to more advanced strategies.

Some strategies, such as IRS Section 419 and 412(i) plans, used life insurance as vehicles to bring about benefits. Unfortunately, almost all the plans were noncompliant, even though insurance companies vetted them and encouraged their agents to sell them. This fostered an environment that led to numerous IRS crackdowns, disallowing tax deductions, and spurned clients to sue their insurance agents and others.

The result has been thousands of audits and an IRS task force seeking out tax-shelter promotions. In addition, the IRS has been auditing most 412(i) defined benefit retirement plans and all 419 welfare benefit plans — plans offered by many insurance agents. For unknowing clients, the tax consequences are enormous. Yet for their professional insurance advisors, the liability may be equally extreme. If an insurance professional sells one of these plans, and the client takes a tax deduction on that plan the IRS now considers as abusive, to be a listed transaction or substantially similar to such a transaction, the insurance agent may be called a “material advisor.” The fine for being found a material advisor is $200,000 if incorporated, or $100,000 if unincorporated.

Most insurance agents think that they can avoid the fine by filing Form 8918 with the IRS and informing on their clients. But, all of the Form 8918s we have seen have been filled out improperly. In our discussions with the IRS officials who wrote the regulations, the impression that we received was that if the form is filled out improperly, you are lying to the government. That is almost as bad as not filing the form. This has also been a problem with all the forms that we have reviewed for accountants and insurance agents. We have reviewed hundreds of forms, and not a single one has been filled out properly. One of the reasons for this may be that the promoter of the abusive plan sends the form with instructions to the accountant and insurance agent. These instructions tend to protect the promoter, but do not necessarily protect the insurance agent or accountant. So please be careful with this entire situation. We have received hundreds of phone calls from accountants and insurance professionals recently who are in this predicament. But, it is very difficult to help them after the fact.

Recently, there has been an explosion in the marketing of a financial product called “captive insurance.” These so-called “captives” are typically small insurance companies designed to insure the risks of an individual business under IRS Code Section 831(b). When properly designed, a business can make tax-deductible premium payments to a related party insurance company. Depending on circumstances, underwriting profits, if any, can be paid out to the owners as dividends, and profits from liquidation of the company may be taxed as capital gains.

While captives can be a great cost-saving tool, they also are expensive to build and manage. Also, captives are allowed to garner tax benefits because they operate as real insurance companies. Advisors and business owners who misuse captives or market them as estate planning tools, asset protection vehicles, for tax deferral purposes or to obtain other benefits not related to the true business purpose of an insurance company face grave regulatory and tax consequences.

A recent concern is the integration of small captives with life insurance policies. Small captives, under Section 831(b), have no statutory authority to deduct life premiums. Also, if a small captive uses life insurance as an investment, the cash value of the life policy can be taxable at corporate rates, and then will be taxable again when distributed. The consequence of this double taxation is to devastate the effectiveness of the life insurance, and it extends serious liability to any accountant who recommends the plan or even signs the tax return of the business that pays premiums to the captive.

The IRS is aware that several large insurance companies are promoting their life insurance policies as investments with small captives. The outcome looks eerily like that of the 419 and 412(i) plans mentioned above.

Remember, if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. There are safe and conservative ways to use captive insurance structures to lower costs and obtain benefits for businesses. And, some types of captive insurance products do have statutory protection for deducting life insurance premiums (although not 831(b) captives). Learning what works and is safe is the first step an accountant should take in helping his or her clients use these powerful, but highly technical insurance tools.

*Source: This article was first published in the January 2009 issue of California Broker magazine.

Lance Wallach, a member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals and an AICPA course developer, is a frequent and popular speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, reducing health insurance costs and tax-oriented strategies at accounting and financial planning conventions. He does frequent expert witness work and assists insurance professionals, accountants and others in reviewing 8918 forms so they can avoid the IRS $200,000 penalty that applies to material advisors.

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Pubic Radio’s All Things Considered, and others. Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit www.taxaudit419.com and www.taxlibrary.us

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.

Captive Insurance – Buyer Beware!

Parts of this article are from the book by John Wiley and Sons, Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams, authored by Lance Wallach.

September 24, 2010

Herol Graham has turned defensive boxing into a poetic art. Trouble is, nobody ever got knocked out by a poem.

—Eddie Shaw

Every accountant knows that increased cash flow and cost savings are critical for businesses in 2009. What is uncertain is the best path to recommend to garner these benefits.

Over the past decade business owners have been overwhelmed by a plethora of choices designed to reduce the cost of providing employee benefits while increasing their own retirement savings. The solutions range from traditional pension and profit sharing plans to more advanced strategies.

Some strategies, such as IRS section 419 and 412(i) plans, used life insurance as vehicles to bring about benefits. Unfortunately, the high life insurance commissions (often 90 percent of the contribution, or more) fostered an environment that led to aggressive and noncompliant plans.

The result has been thousands of audits and an IRS task force seeking out tax shelter promotion. For unknowing clients, the tax consequences are enormous. For their accountant advisors, the liability may be equally extreme.

Recently, there has been an explosion in the marketing of a financial product called Captive Insurance. Small companies have been copying a method to control insurance costs and reduce taxes that used to be the domain of large businesses: setting up their own insurance companies to provide coverage when they think that outside insurers are charging too much. A captive insurance company would be an insurance subsidiary that is owned by its parent business(es). There are now nearly 5,000 captive insurers worldwide. More than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies take advantage of some sort of captive insurance company arrangement. Now small companies can, too.

These so-called “Captives” are typically small insurance companies designed to insure the risks of an individual business under IRS Code Section 831(b). When properly designed, a business can make tax-deductible premium payments to a related-party insurance company. Depending on circumstances, underwriting profits, if any, can be paid out to the owners as dividends, and profits from liquidation of the company may be taxed as capital gains. Single-parent captives allow an organization to cover any risk they wish to fund, and generally eliminate the commission-price component from the premiums. Jurisdictions in the United States and in certain parts of the world have adopted a series of laws and regulations that allow small non–life insurance companies, taxed under IRC Section 831(b), or as 831(b) companies.

Captives can be a great cost-saving tool, but they can also be expensive to build and manage. Also, captives are allowed to garner tax benefits because they operate as real insurance companies. Advisors and business owners who misuse captives or market them as estate planning tools, asset protection or tax deferral vehicles, or other benefits not related to the true business purpose of an insurance company, face grave regulatory and tax consequences.

A recent concern is the integration of small captives with life insurance policies. Small captives under Section 831(b) have no statutory authority to deduct life premiums. Also, if a small captive uses life insurance as an investment, the cash value of the life policy can be taxable at corporate rates, and then will be taxable again when distributed. The consequence of this double taxation is to devastate the efficacy of the life insurance, and it extends serious liability to any accountant who recommends the plan or even signs the tax return of the business that pays premiums to the captive.

The IRS is aware that several large insurance companies are promoting their life insurance policies as investments within small captives. The outcome looks eerily like that of the 419 and 412(i) plans mentioned above.

Remember, if something looks too good to be true, it usually is. There are safe and conservative ways to use captive insurance structures to lower costs and obtain benefits for businesses. Some types of captive insurance products do have statutory protection for deducting life insurance premiums (although not 831(b) captives). Learning what works and is safe is the first step an accountant should take in helping his or her clients use these powerful, but highly technical insurance tools.

Lance Wallach, National Society of Accountants Speaker of the Year and member of the AICPA faculty of teaching professionals, is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning, and abusive tax shelters.  He writes about 412(i), 419, and captive insurance plans. He speaks at more than ten conventions annually, writes for over fifty publications, is quoted regularly in the press and has been featured on television and radio financial talk shows including NBC, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and others.  Lance has written numerous books including Protecting Clients from Fraud, Incompetence and Scams published by John Wiley and Sons, Bisk Education’s CPA’s Guide to Life Insurance and Federal Estate and Gift Taxation, as well as AICPA best-selling books, including Avoiding Circular 230 Malpractice Traps and Common Abusive Small Business Hot Spots. He does expert witness testimony and has never lost a case. Contact him at 516.938.5007, wallachinc@gmail.com or visit http://www.taxadvisorexperts.org or http://www.taxlibrary.us.

The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any other type of advice for any specific individual or other entity.  You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.