Don’t Give the IRS Every Last Drop

By Lance Wallach

Have you seen the commercials where certain companies advertise that they can settle an IRS debt for “pennies on the dollar”? Usually the offer is too good to be true. Besides, you never want to have the problem in the first place.

The chances of an individual being audited have approximately doubled since 2000. So you need to be careful with your tax return.

IRS officials say research has shown that tax “noncompliance” typically is highest among people who work for themselves, who deal in large amounts of cash, who don’t have taxes withheld from their pay and whose income isn’t reported separately to the IRS, such as by their employer.

Another area that IRS has been focusing on for noncompliance is S corporations. With a typical S corporation, profits or losses flow through to the individual owners, who in turn are supposed to report those items on their individual returns.

Another are that could command attention is capital gains taxes. The reason: IRS officials suspect the government is losing billions of dollars in tax revenue because many investors inflate the cost basis, or the price they originally paid for stocks and other securities, in order to report lower capital gains when the securities are sold.

There have been some significant changes in the way the IRS targets businesses for audits and how it conducts them. Audits are up this year and will continue to increase,

But the numbers are very misleading, because the IRS is getting much smarter about how it chooses returns for audit and how its examiners conduct their audits.

Over the past few years, the IRS has dramatically stepped up efforts to study specific industries, and to educate examiners about business practices, terminology, accounting methods and common industry practices. It has also identified areas of inquiry that produce audit results.

Examiners are told specifically to look for certain red flags to get at what is really going on in a business or transaction. The result: examinations are more sharply focused on potential areas that will generate increased taxes, penalties and interest. Fortunately, there is a positive side to all of this; it’s very easy to obtain a free copy of this information from the IRS.

When you have a certain medical problem, you go to a specialist. The same rule should be applied to financial problems. Always engage an accountant who specializes in your type of business. One of our long-term retirement plan clients recently retained our firm to perform a self-audit. The client, a successful businessman, was concerned when one of his colleagues was found liable for back taxes and penalties because of some mistakes by his accounting firm. Nervous that he might become an IRS target as well. Our client hired us to do an audit of his income taxes for the last three years, both personally and for his various businesses. What we found was shocking. Even though this client had used an accounting firm for his various returns, the taxes he had paid were far from what he owed. Luckily for him, it was an overpayment. This client will get a refund of almost $200,000

Now let us turn to more positive alternatives, things that you can take the initiative on.

  • Cash balance plan: A cash balance plan is a retirement plan that allows large contributions for owners. The deduction for owner sometimes can exceed salary. It can be combined with a 401(k) plan.
  • SEP-IRA or basic profit-sharing plan? Think K instead. Many small business owners have used a SEP-IRA or basic profit sharing plan for their retirement needs due to the simplicity and low cost of these designs. However, recent changes to the Internal Revenue Code have made these designs virtually obsolete. The K is a retirement plan for the small business owner that allows him or her to achieve: greater potential contributions; “catch up” deferrals at age 50+; increased current tax savings; plan loans up to $50,000; expand survivor benefits; complete flexibility; and low costs. Unlike SEP-IRA, a K will allow you to borrow up to 50 percent of your account balance (not to exceed $50,000) as long as you pay yourself back. And whereas a typical 401(k) plan may cost $1,000 or more to establish and perhaps more to administer each year, a K can be established and administered for a fraction of that cost.

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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.

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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.