2013 IRSAC Small Business/Self Employed Report
The IRSAC Small Business/Self-Employed Subgroup (hereafter “Subgroup”) consists of six tax professionals from wide-ranging backgrounds. Its members include attorneys, certified public accountants, certified payroll professionals, U.S. Tax Court practitioners, and enrolled agents serving the tax system in public practice, education and in private industry. The Subgroup’s membership reflects the broad range of taxpayers served by the SB/SE Division of the Internal Revenue Service (hereafter “SB/SE”).
The Subgroup enjoys a close working relationship with the professionals within SB/SE. The relationship has granted this subgroup the opportunity to consult with SB/SE leadership on many issues over the past year. The Subgroup and SB/SE consulted both formally and informally on all of the issues contained in this report.
The Subgroup respectfully recommends the following three actions relating to the three issues raised in this report:
- Strategies to Increase Use of Online Payment Agreements
SB/SE management asked the Subgroup to recommend strategies for increasing taxpayers’ use of Online Payment Agreements (OPAs). Although OPAs are significantly more efficient for the IRS and for the taxpayer, less than 3 percent of those eligible utilize it. We recommend leveraging the practitioner community more through specific outreach steps, creating a one page flyer for distribution, and adding OPA instructions to tax software.
- Modifications to Notice CP2030
The IRS has recently introduced Notice CP2030 to communicate to businesses that there is a discrepancy between information reported by third parties and the business’ annual income tax return. This notice is the business counterpart to CP2000 which is used to identify discrepancies between IRS Form 1040 tax return and third party information returns. The Subgroup recommends modifying these forms to more clearly identify taxpayer options by changing the first page to summarize the issue, list steps for resolution, highlight both the deadline for response and the consequence of no response, by changing the layout to clarify the tax assessment is proposed and not a final assessment, and by highlighting the ability to authorize the IRS to discuss the information with an authorized party.
- Strategies to More Fully Utilize Technology for Stakeholder Outreach
The IRS has asked IRSAC to provide feedback and options for enhancing outreach to stakeholders through technology by leveraging our experience in the private sector and association relationships. We recommend better coordination with stakeholder groups’ communication teams and when a meeting is not face to face, stakeholders be able to preview the discussion topic and utilize technologies that facilitate more interaction.
The members of IRSAC were asked by the IRS to provide suggestions to expand awareness of the Online Payment Agreement (OPA) function so it would have greater usage among tax professionals and individual taxpayers.
When taxpayers owe the IRS and are unable to pay their outstanding liability, a taxpayer can make payments over a specified time period utilizing an installment agreement. In the past, obtaining an installment agreement typically involved significant interaction with the IRS and disclosure of taxpayer’s personal financial information. The OPA was developed to allow taxpayers, who meet the appropriate criteria, to establish an installment agreement online at IRS.gov. Of the more than 3.1 million total installment agreements created in FY 2012, less than 3 percent (92,519) used the OPA to enter into an installment agreement.
There are many ways that taxpayers can pay the IRS, including paying the debt in full or making installment agreements to pay the debt over time. Installment agreements are generally paid either by check or by direct debit out of the taxpayer’s checking account. An installment agreement can be requested by using Form 9465, Installment Agreement, or over the telephone by speaking with an IRS assistor.
The OPA is designed to assist individuals who owe a balance of $50,000 or less. We understand that certain system enhancements will be effective March 2014, including making businesses qualifying taxpayers.
To use the online application, an individual must have filed all tax returns and be able to pay the total amount within 72 months. Payments can be made using a payroll deduction agreement, under which an employer withholds the payment from paychecks and sends it directly to the IRS, by direct debit of the taxpayer’s bank account or by check. Direct debit is required if the amount owed is $25,001-$50,000, while taxpayers who owe $25,000 or less can make their monthly payments by check. The OPA can also grant a full pay agreement of up to 120 days, change payment due dates and/or amounts on existing agreements, and change an existing agreement to or from payroll deduction or direct debit. Prior to the OPA, these types of changes had to be done with personal contact with the IRS. This is an inefficient use of IRS resources and inconvenient for the taxpayer.
IRSAC recommends that the IRS increase marketing efforts and leverage its existing outreach programs to taxpayers and tax professionals. The IRS should highlight the specific benefits of the OPA for each group (e.g., ease of use, taxpayers are not required to reveal sensitive financial information to the IRS, and the IRS does not file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien when the OPA is used by the taxpayer to establish a payment agreement), so tax professionals can comfortably recommend that their clients use the OPA.
The following recommendations focus on outreach to taxpayers:
- The IRS should prepare a one-page flyer that can be used to educate taxpayers, preparers and stakeholders on the benefits of using OPAs. A sample flyer is attached to this recommendation.
- The OPA flyer and current video should be updated to reflect the enhancements available in March 2014 and the increased benefits of using the OPA should be highlighted on IRS.gov.
- The IRS should include the OPA flyer with notices and bills sent to qualified taxpayers who meet the application criteria. In addition, the OPA URL at IRS.gov should be prominently displayed on all relevant notices, bills and other correspondence whenever a balance of $50,000 or less is due.
- The IRS should prominently display the OPA process and application at the IRS.gov website, especially during the months of March and April when qualified taxpayers are most likely seeking ways to pay their current year tax obligation.
- The IRS website should display the Online Payment Agreement Application at the top of the Payments page (as of 8/12/13 it was listed at the bottom, after U.S. Residency Certification Fees), which allows the list to more closely resemble the potential topic usage. The OPA information is also listed under Tools (as the last item in the first column), but since the current video shows this placement, it should only be changed with updated video presentations to avoid confusing taxpayers.
- The IRS should investigate whether it is possible to make the OPA available to taxpayers 24/7.
- The instructions on the OPA site should be updated. Section 2 of the OPA, “Gather Your Information,” directs the taxpayer to “obtain their Caller ID number, shown at the top of your recent notice.” However, the OPA is available even before a notice is generated. This instruction should be revised to indicate that this step is optional.
- The phone numbers listed on the OPA website for assistance should be updated to include those who are knowledgeable about the OPA website, and IRS representatives should be more fully trained on the program. Currently, when users have issues with the OPA site, the screen instructions direct the user to call 1-800-829-1040 or 1-800-829-0994 x684. However, when calling either of these numbers, an IRS representative advises how to do an installment agreement or filing the Forms 9465, Installment Agreement Request and Form 443-D, Installment Agreement. The representatives do not offer assistance with the OPA, state they have no knowledge of the OPA, and give instructions that are in direct contradiction with the qualifications for using the OPA (i.e. if the balance is over $25,000 then an installment agreement can’t be done online).
- IRS.gov should be hyperlinked to the IRS Video that shows taxpayers how to use the OPA. We recommend that the language be changed from “Learn more about the Online Payment Agreement Application “ to “Watch this video to learn more about the Online Payment Agreement Application“.
The following recommendations are focused on outreach to tax professionals:
- The IRS should provide information about the OPA to the various tax professional groups (e.g., American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, National Association of Enrolled Agents, National Society of Accountants, and National Association of Tax Preparers) and request that they share this information with their members in newsletters or at their conventions or educational events to increase awareness. The information can also be shared during existing outreach programs (e.g., IRS Nationwide Tax Forums and Stakeholder Liaison meetings). Communications should focus on highlighting the OPA’s advantages and recent changes in direct debit payment requirements. In addition, the flyer can be disseminated electronically to the stakeholder groups and meeting organizers so it can be distributed to their members and those attending the outreach meeting; this allows the stakeholder groups to manage the flyer copying and distribution.
- The IRS can increase marketing efforts during the January through April filing season using IRS tweets, e-News for Tax Pros, e-News for Small Businesses and other messages that are focused on Wage & Investment and Small Business/Self-Employed taxpayers who are most likely to use this option.
- The IRS should request software developers include information about the OPA when the taxpayer has a balance due. This payment option can appear in software used by taxpayers who self-prepare and those used by tax professionals. Most tax software contains system-generated diagnostics or recommendations that identify items that may have been missed by the preparer or taxpayer. When the return indicates a balance is due, most software suggests payment options including credit card or electronic methods. The OPA should be listed as a possible alternative on the software-generated payment diagnostics.
- When the IRS notifies employers of its intent to garnish a specific employee’s wages or the IRS notifies banks and financial institutions of its intent to levy a taxpayer’s account, the one-page OPA flyer should be included. Although this would create additional costs for the IRS, if this added step reduces the number of levies issued, (which is labor intensive and costly for the IRS, and also increases the number of delinquent taxpayers who are now paying their back taxes), then this recommendation will result in an overall cost savings. Typically, large employers and banking institutions do not offer tax advice, however, they can tell an affected person where to obtain information. By sharing this IRS OPA flyer with employers and banking institutions to provide to qualified taxpayers whose wages are in the process of being garnished or whose bank accounts are in the process of being levied, they are providing a resource for the taxpayer to find appropriate tax guidance for their situation without offering tax advice.
- Part of the IRS’s current marketing plan includes a webinar for the 2013 filing season. This webinar should be updated annually, and an hour of continuing education credit can be granted for completing questions at the end of the webinar.
The CP2030 is a new form, modeled after the current AUR/CP2000, used to communicate with business taxpayers that data reported by third parties on information returns does not appear to be properly reflected on the entity taxpayer’s income tax return. IRSAC was asked to assist the IRS by reviewing this new form. Similar to the CP2000, the CP2030 is a proposed assessment that has specific implications for future actions with the IRS. Because they serve a similar purpose and SB/SE taxpayers are often recipients of the CP2000 notice due to differences in Schedule C reporting and 1099-Misc reporting, our recommendations and comments also include references to Form CP2000. The CP2030 (and similarly the CP2000) could be modified to be less adversarial by clarifying that the taxpayer may disagree with the proposed changes. IRS notices must be understandable, complete and reflect the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), but modifications can increase tax compliance by promoting more productive discussions between taxpayers and the IRS.
The IRC requires a number of information returns to be filed by businesses making payments to taxpayers. The IRS matches this data with information reported by taxpayers on annual income tax returns. If amounts do not appear to be properly reported, the IRS notifies taxpayers that there is a discrepancy and proposes a tax assessment as a result of adjustments to income, deductions or credits. Although individuals may receive a soft notice prior to receiving a CP2000 on their individual tax return, this is not the case with entity tax returns. The CP2030 is often the first communication that an entity taxpayer receives from the IRS. Recently enacted legislation requiring reporting by credit card companies has increased the third party information reporting received by the IRS and will increase the notices with all types of taxpayers about discrepancies on tax returns.
It is important that taxpayers understand these forms and the actions they can take to resolve the discrepancies. While IRSAC believes that the forms are generally clear in stating that the IRS will assess the proposed tax unless the taxpayer takes certain actions, the notice language could be revised to more clearly indicate that taxpayers can correct the reported information by communicating with the IRS. Currently the top of the notice states the amount due and due date in bold, large font. The notice states, “As a result, you owe $X,XXX.XX, which you need to pay by DATE.” Careful reading of the full notice reveals that this is a proposed assessment with which the taxpayer can disagree; however, this requires astute attention to detail that very few taxpayers engage when they receive an IRS notice. The suggested modifications would increase a taxpayer’s understanding of alternative courses of action, provide better service to taxpayers and enhance compliance with our voluntary tax system.
IRSAC commends the IRS for publishing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding this form as this increases the public’s understanding of alternative courses of action. However, FAQs should not be viewed as an alternative to making modifications to the form.
Recommendations (note that some of these recommendations apply to both the CP2000 and the CP2030)
- In general, the notice should advise the taxpayer that the assessment was generated by comparing income reported by third party payers and that the IRS document matching may not result in proper assessment and taxpayers have the right to disagree with IRS proposed changes. We reviewed a sample Form CP2030 and recommend the following specific changes:
- The bold lettering stating an amount due and due date should be eliminated.
- The initial communication of information includes the sentence “As a result, you owe $X,XXX (including interest), which you need to pay by DATE.” This sentence should be revised to read “If this information is correct, you owe $X,XXX (including interest), which you need to pay by DATE to avoid future interest charges and possible penalty assessments.”
- Language on the CP2030 “Billing Summary” should be changed to language used in the CP2000’s section entitled “Summary of Proposed Changes.”
- In the CP2030 “What you need to do immediately” section, we recommend the following:
- There are two alternative courses of actions described depending on whether the taxpayer agrees with the changes or disagrees with the changes proposed by the IRS. The first alternative discussed is the actions needed if the taxpayer agrees with the changes. To better communicate that taxpayers can disagree with these proposed changes, the first course of action discussed should include the actions required if the taxpayer does not agree with the changes. This includes contacting thrid party payees for corrected documents, identifying the line an income item was reported on, etc.
- A third course of action should be included to explain how an extension of time to respond can be obtained, noting that interest, if due, will continue to accrue from the original due date until payment is made.
- Final flush language should repeat the information at the top of the notice that provides a phone number to contact to discuss the notice.
- In the “If we don’t hear from you” section, we recommend the following:
- The first clause should be modified to read “If you do not respond or provide additional documentation such that we receive it by DATE…..” The current language does not convey that a taxpayer may wish to provide documentation for some of the items listed, agree with some of the items, and start a dialogue regarding other items. The notice should be clear that the taxpayer has the right to disagree with some or all of the proposed changes and clarify the steps the taxpayer can use to provide the IRS with information about the proposed changes.
- It is important to continue to prominently display the deadline for communication and note that failing to meet this deadline could result in additional interest and possible penalties.
- In the Response form under the “1. Indicate your agreement or disagreement” section, we recommend the following:
- A bullet states that the entity can challenge these changes in the U.S. Tax Court only if the IRS determines after the date the form is signed that additional taxes are due. While taxpayers are precluded from pursuing a claim for this assessment in Tax Court, there are other judicial processes open to the taxpayer and this should be clarified.
- The notice should clarify that agreeing to the tax assessment does not preclude the IRS from examining this or other items on the return or the taxpayer from later amending the return.
- The taxpayer is directed to fax documentation to a specific number. Because faxing is no longer a common form of communication, other means of providing documentation (e.g., first class mail, email, overnight delivery services) should be discussed.
- The Response form should provide a section that the taxpayer can use to authorize individuals other than the addressee to discuss the information in this notice with the IRS.
- Although the sample CP2030 we reviewed did not have the “enclosed envelope” that is indicated in the notice and the IRS address was sanitized, we recommend that the IRS addresses on the notice be consistent. The address in the upper left corner on page 1, the addresses on the response form, and the enclosed envelope should be consistent. Recognizing that any enclosed envelope will likely get separated from the letter, that taxpayers don’t generally understand the importance of the various IRS addresses, and that taxpayers rarely notice there are several different addresses on a letter, the CP2030 should limit the likelihood that taxpayers send a response to the wrong address.
- The first page of the CP2030 should contain appropriate summary information to allow an entity taxpayer to direct the correspondence to the appropriate internal individual at the company. Business owners rarely perform a detailed review of every letter they receive. Instead, they scan the letter and determine who in the organization should respond. The current CP2030 summarizes the taxpayer’s obligations, but does not emphasize key issues in a summary format on page 1 with the details to follow on subsequent pages.
- Consistent with IRSAC 2010 recommendation regarding the AUR/CP2000, we recommend that the IRS acknowledge receipt of taxpayer information and state that additional communication will not be sent until after the taxpayer’s response has been reviewed.
- Although IRSAC understands that these notices are used for different types of taxpayers, we recommend that CP2000 be modified to reflect the type of summary information used on the CP2030 including the “Summary of Proposed Changes,” “What you need to do immediately,” and “If we don’t hear from you.” The current CP2000 format is confusing to most taxpayers; using a revised layout similar to the proposed CP2030 may make it easier for the taxpayer to understand the notice and clarify what actions are required.
The IRS has asked IRSAC to provide feedback and options for enhancing outreach to stakeholders through technology by leveraging private sector and association experience. Over the last decade, professional associations, software companies and employers have changed the way training is delivered to maintain participation as cost and workload requirements make it difficult to devote significant time to training out of the office. The cost of sending employees to multiple off-site sessions and the time away from client work must be balanced with the need for employees to improve their knowledge and perform well in their jobs. The private sector has been able to significantly decrease on-site instructor led training (ILT) sessions and with limited resources, the IRS should expand its virtual educational outreach initiatives where feasible, concentrating on more interactive training.
The IRS currently utilizes a variety of tools to conduct educational outreach including social media outlets, web-based applications for video-conferencing and online meetings, DVDs, conference calls, podcasts, widgets, and subscriptions. [Exhibit A] Many of these tools are also available in Spanish. These outreach tools are utilized by the IRS in addition to its more traditional educational initiatives that include working with partners and participation in face-to-face (F2F) meetings such as forums, conferences and training programs.
With significant restraints on both human and financial resources, finding alternate lower cost, efficient and effective ways to disseminate information in a clear and concise manner is extremely important to promote taxpayer compliance. In 2012, the IRS conducted a number of outreach and educational events that included small business tax workshops and industry and practitioner seminars, payroll and practitioner meetings, small business forums, internal meetings and other industry events.
Taxpayers and the IRS have a mutually beneficial interest in increasing and promoting both training and education. Although both play a vital role in assisting taxpayers with their tax compliance obligations, there is a distinct difference between training and education. Typically, training is conducted to explain a specific process or procedure or teach a person how to accomplish a task. Training may easily be accomplished by providing picture tutorials in a variety of fashions (e.g., on-demand video, podcast video, YouTube, DVD, etc).
Alternatively, education is used to provide examples, explain concepts, share a full-picture view, relate the effects of the topic on other areas that need to be considered, and help the recipient learn how to operate in a more efficient and effective manner. Depending on the length and complexity, education initiatives may be better delivered F2F during an ILT session, though there are certainly times when other, less costly, methods are equally effective.
As commonly utilized in business, the IRS should consider adopting the following methods for either education or training conducted on a regular basis:
ILT/F2F: Typically, this type of training is used for the most complex/complicated topics or where material will cover three or more hours of time; F2F meetings are also used to build relationships. Uses of ILT/F2F include certification test preparation and multifaceted topics, such as handling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements or other complex tax changes. Advantages of ILT/F2F include: building relationships; giving the IRS a human face; enabling participants to have questions answered; creating a channel for the IRS to receive constructive feedback from participants, the ability to review materials which have been distributed electronically before the meeting; broadcasting throughout the country; and encouraging remote participants to use social media (Twitter, Facebook) to send in questions. The IRS has knowledgeable employees with strong speaking skills who can serve as ambassadors to promote IRS positions and policies. Disadvantages include costs for event space and setup, printed materials and travel costs.
ILT webinar: Typically, this type of training is used for information distribution, explaining new laws and enhancing compliance through reinforcement of existing rules, processes and procedures. It is best used for sessions that are less than three hours. These types of sessions are most useful when they allow participants to interact with each other and the speaker. An ILT webinar can be recorded with or without video. For smaller groups, participants can share information during the presentation, as controlled by the presenter. Larger sessions could utilize more than one presenter or both a presenter and an administrator; participants can write their questions and the second presenter or administrator can review, consolidate as applicable, and provide the questions to the presenter for short Q&A every 15-20 minutes throughout the training. Sessions that need to limit the number of participants due to technology limitations, should be offered multiple times during a relatively short time frame (i.e., 5 sessions over a 2-week period). There are both free web-sharing sites as well as free 800# conference call services. ILT webinar sessions may also be recorded for future use as on-demand content. The major disadvantages are limited bandwidth for many participants and using video can slow the presentation or disconnect participants.
On-Demand: As recorded content, this is best used for sessions no longer than 90 minutes where content is not complicated. This method can explain concepts, guidelines, or assist with forms completion. Material can be made available in an offline mode for viewing. The major advantages are that this can be viewed at will, viewed multiple times, and the content can be saved for future reference. Smaller bits of content are more easily accessible and more likely to be remembered by the participant. The major disadvantage is that if the material cannot be downloaded to a local machine, internet access must be available for the entire viewing time.
YouTube: This tool is helpful for demonstrating how to do something. For example, YouTube can be utilized to show taxpayers how to connect with the IRS on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. with tips on how to reach the appropriate IRS channels.
DVDs: Similar to on-demand or YouTube content, DVD content made available as on-demand and YouTube can also be made available on DVD. This is a perfect way to communicate with those who don’t have a solid internet connection but who either have an optical reader for their computer or a DVD player available.
Podcasts: Can be utilized as video or just audio. If video is not available, this is best used for simple concepts and training, including reinforcement or review of subject matter previously distributed as ILT or On-Demand. Like YouTube, podcasts can be used to give instruction on how to connect with the IRS via social media.
Social Media: This method is best for announcements and news, and it can also be used to direct taxpayers to the right training opportunities to meet their needs.
As with any business decision, careful consideration must be given to the various challenges and issues inherent in selecting from the education and training mediums available. The following situations should be considered during the decision making process:
- The cost to create, update and deliver training content on a regular basis. Once content is created, it may need to be updated for recent tax law changes.
- Determine what content can be used for multiple years with minor changes due to date or index adjustments (standard deduction, personal exemptions, mileage rates, etc.) versus training that has a shorter lifespan.
- Determine what method is best used for any given piece of information that needs to be publicized.
- Timing of participant workloads such as quarter-end, year-end and month-end need to be considered when planning ILT/F2F training to fit the participant audience. For example, payroll-related topics are best done Wednesday-Friday as Monday and Tuesday are usually the busiest time for payroll. Tax professionals are busy meeting deadlines in March, April, September and October. Evaluate whether the IRS can improve its marketing efforts with current technology such as electronic newsletters, social media, etc.
- A large segment of taxpayers may lack understanding or availability of technology.
- Taxpayers may lack an understanding of or be reluctant to use certain types of social media or technology, such as Twitter and Tumblr.
- The difficulty in finding information without a direct link.
- Privacy concerns about “tracking” information searched and viewed, (e.g., what information, if any, will be gathered and kept on file by the IRS).
- Create a list of available content and current method of delivery along with a list of new content that needs to be developed.
- Increase awareness that the IRS provides newsletters and uses social media on a daily basis. All social media is promoted in various e-news subscriptions, but not everyone is aware of e-news subscriptions. More awareness could be accomplished by changing the IRS.gov homepage to place e-news subscriptions information in a prominent place; currently, the link does not exist on the home page. The IRS can explain e-news benefits in the quarterly SSA/IRS Reporter. We recommend the IRS provide a calendar or list of upcoming events in the SSA/IRS Reporter. The IRS can also use other regularly scheduled newsletters, generally available to all businesses, to promote various methods available to receive information.
- Use Rich Site Summary (RSS) feed as a means of deploying just-in-time outreach in addition to current methods of newsletters, Twitter posts, etc.
- Market to and educate the audience on where/how to find information on various education and training opportunities. In addition, provide quick-tips and links to tips and FAQs on how to find, use and navigate various social media tools like Tumblr. We recommend displaying this information more prominently on the IRS.gov home page. Currently, the social media link on the home page is a short video in Spanish; we recommend adding content in English. We also recommend creating a “guide to using social media” and adding it to the ‘IRS News Media/ Connect with the IRS’ webpage.
- Allow access to on-demand education via the IRS-to-Go app so that the app links directly to the correct link on IRS.gov. On-demand education and training includes the various methods described previously.
- Allow all non-ILT webinar content and educational videos from the IRS website to be downloaded directly on to a computer, tablet or smartphone.
- Conduct a more extensive outreach to public sector organizations, community organizations and other non-profit businesses to provide educational and training seminars. Establish relationships with professional associations, industry groups, social and other organizations to provide content specific training to members, as well as, small business in the local area, especially where ILT/F2F is a good fit. Additionally, we recommend partnering with organizations such as public libraries, community colleges and K-12 community education programs.
- Place the IRS website as an external link on professional and other related organizations websites to provide individuals with ‘neutral’ places to get the information regarding taxes. We recommend utilizing existing partnerships to accomplish this goal. For example, the IRS could place an IRS external link on a partner’s website to encourage their visitors to visit IRS.gov.
- Provide timely tools to professional organizations with which the IRS has relationships, so that they may distribute the information to educate their members.
- Consider making appropriate content available in multiple formats in order to reach audiences who may prefer to receive information or training using different delivery methods.