On December 22, 2018, for the third time in a year, the United States government shut down. Almost two years into his presidency, President Trump, feeling pressure to accomplish one of his many promises from the campaign trail, requested $5.7 billionfrom Congress to fund his proposed wall at the border of the United States and Mexico. Following negotiation efforts by Senate Democrats, the standoff between the President and the Senate ended in a financial default, triggering a partial shutdown. The shutdown became the longest in U.S. history on January 19, 2019, beating the previous 21-day recordset by the 1995-1996 shutdown. The shutdown left an estimated 380,000 government employeeslocked out of work without pay and an even greater 420,000 employees working for no compensation at all, including employees of the IRS. With one of the United States’ most important governmental bodies being almost completely stalled by a lapse in funding, it begs the question: what happens to taxes during a shutdown?
With the implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was passed in 2017, there have been several changes to the tax system. The Opportunity Zone program was a small piece of the tax reform that has recently gained more publicity. The Opportunity Zone program provides tax benefits to real-estate investors. The Trump Administration recently released definitions and rules in a package of proposed regulations.
A provision within the new tax overhaul is emerging as a leading concern for the property and casualty insurance sector. The industry recently experienced growing uncertainties about how a vaguely worded provision within the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax (BEAT) may affect their bottom line. However, the insurance industry is not the only group that may experience these unintentional ramifications; consumers and small businesses are also likely to see an increase in their premiums due to implications of BEAT.
The IRS has decided to shutdown its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) on September 28, 2018. The program offers amnesty from criminal prosecution and a set penalty structure for those who have previously failed to disclose foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, including those held through undisclosed foreign entities. Failure to disclose could include failure to file the annual FinCEN Form 114,most commonly referred to as the foreign bank account report or “FBAR”, as well as the failure to report income from such accounts and assets on tax returns and the failure to provide various other foreign information forms and returns.
Beginning January, 2018, U.S. citizens with unpaid taxes may find their U.S. passport applications denied and their existing passports revoked. The I.R.S. announced that it will begin implementation of procedures to notify the State Department of taxpayers the I.R.S. certifies as owing a “seriously delinquent tax debt.” This may come as a rude awakening to many Americans, although both the press and television news issued warnings going back more than a year ago.
It is commonly accepted that lowering tax rates increases tax compliance and high tax rates encourage tax evasion. The recent U.S. tax reform bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, was enacted partly due to assumptions that lowered tax rates would increase tax compliance and recover lost revenue. Here, I examine the theoretical basis for the claim that lowering income taxes increases compliance, as well as the external evidence regarding the extent of increased compliance due to lowering tax rates.
The IRS suspended its Automatic Substitute for Return (ASFR) Program for lack of resources, Tax Analysts and others report. The ASFR program has long provided an avenue for the IRS to assess taxes on delinquent filers after requests to file returns were ignored by having its computer system automatically calculate the tax due based on Forms 1099 and other information reports that had been filed with the IRS. The IRS could then assess the taxes and attempt to collect based on these substitute returns. However, since deductions were ignored, the tax amounts tended to be inflated, sometimes incredibly so, and significant IRS time was required to respond to contested assessments and collection efforts that were sometimes highly unrealistic.
Captive insurance companies, insurance companies owned by persons related to the insureds, have long served as an important risk management tool for businesses as varied as Sears and The New York Times. In recent years, there has been an explosion of “micro-captive” insurance companies, companies with premiums that do not exceed $1.2 million in a year. Until 2017, $1.2 million was the allowable maximum amount of premiums for an insurance company to elect favorable tax treatment under I.R.C. § 831(b), allowing the small insurance company to be taxed only on its investment income. The IRS believes that these “831(b)” micro-captives are often used as tax-shelters rather than for legitimate business purposes.