Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Posts tagged ‘tax gap’

Gov. Proposed Tax Reforms

Autumn 2011 in Washington, D.C. is expected to be a season of contentious debates over tax reform, and at the heart of the debate is the amount of taxes paid by higher-income individuals.  President Obama wants Congress to raise taxes on higher-income individuals to help reduce the federal government’s budget deficit and to pay for a jobs program.  Many lawmakers, especially Republicans, are opposed to any tax increases. The two sides appear far apart but the need to cut the nation’s deficit could encourage compromise.

Bush-era tax cuts

In 2001, Congress enacted the Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA), which set in motion a gradual decrease in the individual marginal income tax rates and the federal estate tax, along with marriage penalty relief, the introduction of a new 10 percent tax bracket and more.  The Jobs and Growth Tax Act of 2003 accelerated the reductions in the individual tax rates and also reduced capital gains and dividend tax rates (currently taxed at 15 percent for taxpayers in tax brackets above 15 percent and at zero percent for or all other taxpayers).  All of these tax cuts are collectively known as the Bush-era tax cuts.

In 2010, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act. The 2010 Tax Relief Act extended the Bush-era tax cuts through the end of 2012. The extension proved especially valuable for higher-income taxpayers.  Without the extension, the top two individual income tax rates would have risen from 33 and 35 percent to 36 and 39.6 percent, respectively, after December 31, 2010.

White House proposals

President Obama released a Deficit Reduction Plan on September 19 and proposed to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher-income taxpayers and to return the federal estate tax to its 2009 parameters.  The White House broadly defines higher-income taxpayers for purposes of the Bush-era tax cuts as individuals with annual incomes over $200,000 and families with annual incomes over $250,000.

The President’s Deficit Reduction Plan would:

–Allow the Bush-era high-income tax cuts to expire

–Return the federal estate tax to its 2009 levels

–Reduce the value of itemized deductions and other tax preferences to 28 percent for families with incomes over $250,000

All of these changes would apparently take place after 2012.

Keep in mind that if Congress does nothing before 2013, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to automatically expire after 2012. Tax rates would not only rise for higher-income individuals but for all taxpayers.  The federal estate tax would return to its pre-EGTRRA levels (with some minor modifications) and capital gains/dividends would be taxed at much less taxpayer-friendly rates than under current law.

Additionally, higher-income individuals will pay more in taxes after 2012 because of existing laws. An additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income and a 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax on unearned income are scheduled to take effect after 2012 for higher-income taxpayers.

Buffett Rule

President Obama has asked Congress to enact legislation to provide that no household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-income families. President Obama calls this tax treatment, the “Buffett Rule” after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who said that his effective tax rate is lower than the tax rate of his secretary.

The White House has been deliberately vague on the mechanics of the Buffet Rule. In his Deficit Reduction Plan, President Obama said that the Buffett Rule would be enacted as part of overall tax reform, which increases the progressivity of the Tax Code.

The Buffett Rule could take the shape of increased taxes on capital gains and dividends.  Higher-income individuals typically have a significant portion of their income from investment activity. The Buffett Rule could also reform the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The AMT was originally enacted to prevent very wealthy taxpayers from avoiding taxes. Because the AMT was not indexed for inflation, and for other reasons, the AMT has encroached on middle income taxpayers.

Payroll tax cuts

The 2010 Tax Relief Act enacted a temporary payroll tax holiday. The employee-share of OASDI taxes is reduced from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for calendar year 2011 up to the Social Security wage base ($106,800 for 2011). An individual with earnings at or above $106,800 in 2011 receives a $2,136 tax benefit. Self-employed individuals receive a comparable tax benefit.  Under current law, the payroll tax holiday ends after December 31, 2011 and the employee-share of OASDI taxes is scheduled to revert to 6.2 percent.

President Obama has proposed to extend and enhance the payroll tax cut for calendar year 2012.  The employee-share of OASDI taxes for 2012 would be reduced from 6.2 percent to 3.1 percent, under the President’s proposal.

The President’s proposal has a reasonably good chance of being enacted.  Taxpayers have become accustomed to the two percent reduction in effect for 2011. Moreover, lawmakers are reluctant to raise taxes in an election year.  However, opponents of any extension question its impact on the long-term health of Social Security.

If you have any questions about the proposals being debated in Washington, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414

Scope of information reporting continues to expand

Information reporting continues to expand as Congress seeks to close the tax gap: the estimated $350 billion difference between what taxpayers owe and what they pay. Despite the recent rollback of expanded information reporting for business payments and rental property expense payments, the trend is for more – not less – information reporting of various transactions to the IRS.

Transactions

A large number of transactions are required to be reported to the IRS on an information return. The most common transaction is the payment of wages to employees. Every year, tens of millions of Forms W-2 are issued to employees. A copy of every Form W-2 is also provided to the IRS. Besides wages, information reporting touches many other transactions. For example, certain agricultural payments are reported on Form 1099-G, certain dividends are reported on Form 1099-DIV, certain IRA distributions are reported on Form 1099-R, certain gambling winnings are reported on Form W-2G, and so on. The IRS receives more than two billion information returns every year.

Valuable to IRS

Information reporting is valuable to the IRS because the agency can match the information reported by the employer, seller or other taxpayer with the information reported by the employee, purchaser or other taxpayer. When information does not match, this raises a red flag at the IRS. Let’s look at an example:

Silvio borrowed funds to pay for college. Silvio’s lender agreed to forgive a percentage of the debt if Silvio agreed to direct debit of his monthly repayments. This forgiveness of debt was reported by the lender to Silvio and the IRS. However, when Silvio filed his federal income tax return, he forgot, in good faith, to report the forgiveness of debt. The IRS was aware of the transaction because the lender filed an information return with the IRS.

Expansion

In recent years, Congress has enacted new information reporting requirements. Among the new requirements are ones for reporting the cost of employer-provided health insurance to employees, broker reporting of certain stock transactions and payment card reporting (all discussed below).

Employer-provided health insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to advise employees of the cost of employer-provided health insurance. This information will be provided to employees on Form W-2.

This reporting requirement is optional for all employers in 2011, the IRS has explained. There is additional relief for small employers. Employers filing fewer than 250 W-2 forms with the IRS are not required to report this information for 2011and 2012. The IRS may extend this relief beyond 2012. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Reporting of employer-provided health insurance is for informational purposes only, the IRS has explained. It is intended to show employees the value of their health care benefits so they can be more informed consumers.

Broker reporting. Reporting is required for most stock purchased in 2011 and all stock purchased in 2012 and later years, the IRS has explained. The IRS has expanded Form 1099-B to include the cost or other basis of stock and mutual fund shares sold or exchanged during the year. Stock brokers and mutual fund companies will use this form to make these expanded year-end reports. The expanded form will also be used to report whether gain or loss realized on these transactions is long-term (held more than one year) or short-term (held one year or less), a key factor affecting the tax treatment of gain or loss.

Payment card reporting. Various payment card transactions after 2010 must be reported to the IRS. This reporting does not affect individuals using a credit or debit card to make a purchase, the IRS has explained. Reporting will be made by the payment settlement entities, such as banks. Payment settlement entities are required to report payments made to merchants for goods and services in settlement of payment card and third-party payment network transactions.

Roll back

In 2010, Congress expanded information reporting but this time there was a backlash. The PPACA required businesses and certain other taxpayers to file an information return when they make annual purchases aggregating $600 or more to a single vendor (other than a tax-exempt vendor) for payments made after December 31, 2011. The PPACA also repealed the long-standing reporting exception for payments made to corporations. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 required information reporting by landlords of certain rental property expense payments of $600 or more to a service provider made after December 31, 2011.

Many businesses, especially small businesses, warned that compliance would be costly. After several failed attempts, Congress passed legislation in April 2011 (H.R. 4, the Comprehensive 1099 Taxpayer Protection Act) to repeal both expanded business information reporting and rental property expense reporting.

The future

In April 2011, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman described his vision for tax collection in the future in a speech in Washington, D.C. Information reporting is at the center of Shulman’s vision.

Shulman explained that the IRS would get all information returns from third parties before taxpayers filed their returns. Taxpayers or their professional return preparers would then access that information, online, and download it into their returns. Taxpayers would then add any self-reported and supplemental information to their returns, and file their returns with the IRS. The IRS would embed this core third-party information into its pre-screening filters, and would immediately reject any return that did not match up with its records.

Shulman acknowledged that this system would take time and resources to develop. But the trend is in favor of more, not less, information reporting.