There’s a harsh tax penalty that you could be at risk for paying personally if you own or manage a business with employees. It’s called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty” and it applies to the Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld by a business from its employees’ wages.

Because taxes are considered property of the government, the employer holds them in “trust” on the government’s behalf until they’re paid over. The penalty is also sometimes called the “100% penalty” because the person liable and responsible for the taxes will be penalized 100% of the taxes due. Accordingly, the amounts IRS seeks when the penalty is applied are usually substantial, and IRS is aggressive in enforcing the penalty.

Wide-ranging penalty

The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty is among the more dangerous tax penalties because it applies to a broad range of actions and to a wide range of people involved in a business.

Here are some answers to questions about the penalty so you can safely avoid it.

What actions are penalized? The Trust Fund Recovery Penalty applies to any willful failure to collect, or truthfully account for, and pay over Social Security and income taxes required to be withheld from employees’ wages.

Who is at risk? The penalty can be imposed on anyone “responsible” for collection and payment of the tax. This has been broadly defined to include a corporation’s officers, directors and shareholders under a duty to collect and pay the tax as well as a partnership’s partners, or any employee of the business with such a duty. Even voluntary board members of tax-exempt organizations, who are generally exempt from responsibility, can be subject to this penalty under some circumstances. In some cases, responsibility has even been extended to family members close to the business, and to attorneys and accountants.

According to the IRS, responsibility is a matter of status, duty and authority. Anyone with the power to see that the taxes are (or aren’t) paid may be responsible. There’s often more than one responsible person in a business, but each is at risk for the entire penalty. You may not be directly involved with the payroll tax withholding process in your business. But if you learn of a failure to pay over withheld taxes and have the power to pay them but instead make payments to creditors and others, you become a responsible person.

Although a taxpayer held liable can sue other responsible people for contribution, this action must be taken entirely on his or her own after the penalty is paid. It isn’t part of the IRS collection process.

What’s considered “willful?” For actions to be willful, they don’t have to include an overt intent to evade taxes. Simply bending to business pressures and paying bills or obtaining supplies instead of paying over withheld taxes that are due the government is willful behavior. And just because you delegate responsibilities to someone else doesn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook. Your failure to take care of the job yourself can be treated as the willful element.

Never borrow from taxes

Under no circumstances should you fail to withhold taxes or “borrow” from withheld amounts. All funds withheld should be paid over to the government on time. Contact us with any questions about making tax payments. 

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The May 17 deadline for filing your 2020 individual tax return is coming up soon. It’s important to file and pay your tax return on time to avoid penalties imposed by the IRS. Here are the basic rules.

Failure to pay 

Separate penalties apply for failing to pay and failing to file. The failure-to-pay penalty is 1/2% for each month (or partial month) the payment is late. For example, if payment is due May 17 and is made June 22, the penalty is 1% (1/2% times 2 months or partial months). The maximum penalty is 25%.

The failure-to-pay penalty is based on the amount shown as due on the return (less credits for amounts paid through withholding or estimated payments), even if the actual tax bill turns out to be higher. On the other hand, if the actual tax bill turns out to be lower, the penalty is based on the lower amount.

For example, if your payment is two months late and your return shows that you owe $5,000, the penalty is 1%, which equals $50. If you’re audited and your tax bill increases by another $1,000, the failure-to-pay penalty isn’t increased because it’s based on the amount shown on the return as due.

Failure to file 

The failure-to-file penalty runs at a more severe rate of 5% per month (or partial month) of lateness to a maximum of 25%. If you obtain an extension to file (until October 15), you’re not filing late unless you miss the extended due date. However, a filing extension doesn’t apply to your responsibility for payment.

If the 1/2% failure-to-pay penalty and the failure-to-file penalty both apply, the failure-to-file penalty drops to 4.5% per month (or part) so the total combined penalty is 5%. The maximum combined penalty for the first five months is 25%. After that, the failure-to-pay penalty can continue at 1/2% per month for 45 more months (an additional 22.5%). Thus, the combined penalties could reach 47.5% over time.

The failure-to-file penalty is also more severe because it’s based on the amount required to be shown on the return, and not just the amount shown as due. (Credit is given for amounts paid via withholding or estimated payments. So if no amount is owed, there’s no penalty for late filing.) For example, if a return is filed three months late showing $5,000 owed (after payment credits), the combined penalties would be 15%, which equals $750. If the actual tax liability is later determined to be an additional $1,000, the failure to file penalty (4.5% × 3 = 13.5%) would also apply for an additional $135 in penalties.

A minimum failure to file penalty will also apply if you file your return more than 60 days late. This minimum penalty is the lesser of $210 or the tax amount required to be shown on the return.

Reasonable cause 

Both penalties may be excused by IRS if lateness is due to “reasonable cause.” Typical qualifying excuses include death or serious illness in the immediate family and postal irregularities.

As you can see, filing and paying late can get expensive. Furthermore, in particularly abusive situations involving a fraudulent failure to file, the late filing penalty can reach 15% per month, with a 75% maximum. Contact us if you have questions or need an appointment to prepare your return.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The premium tax credit (PTC) is a refundable credit that helps individuals and families pay for insurance obtained from a Health Insurance Marketplace (commonly known as an “Exchange”). A provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the credit.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March 2021, made several significant enhancements to the PTC. Although these changes expand access to the credit for individuals and families, they could increase the risk of some businesses incurring an ACA penalty.

More eligible people

Under pre-ARPA law, individuals with household income above 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL) were ineligible for the PTC. Under ARPA, for 2021 and 2022, the PTC is available to taxpayers with household incomes that exceed 400% of the FPL. This change will increase the number of PTC-eligible people.

For example, a 45-year-old single person earning $58,000 in 2021 (450% of FPL) would have been ineligible for the PTC under pre-ARPA law. Under ARPA, that individual is eligible for a PTC of about $1,250.

Lower income cap

The PTC is calculated on a sliding scale based on household income, expressed as a percentage of the FPL. The amount of the credit is limited to the excess of the premiums for the applicable benchmark plan over the taxpayer’s required share of those premiums. The required share comes from a table divided into income tiers.

Because the required share is less under the new tables for 2021 and 2022 than it otherwise would have been, the PTC will be greater. Under pre-ARPA law, a taxpayer might have had to spend as much as 9.83% of household income in 2021 on health insurance premiums. Under ARPA, that amount is capped at 8.5% for 2021 and 2022.

More penalty exposure

As mentioned, the expanded PTC will help individuals and families obtain coverage through a Health Insurance Marketplace. However, because applicable large employers (ALEs) potentially face shared responsibility penalties if full-time employees receive PTCs, expanded eligibility could increase penalty exposure for ALEs that don’t offer affordable, minimum-value coverage to all full-time employees as mandated under the ACA.

An employer’s size, for ACA purposes, is determined in any given year by its number of employees in the previous year. Generally, if your company had 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees on average during the previous year, you’ll be considered an ALE for the current calendar year. A full-time employee is someone employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week.

Assess your risk

If your business is an ALE, be sure you’re aware of this development when designing or revising your employer-provided health care benefits. Should you decide to add staff this year, keep an eye on the tipping point of when you could become an ALE. Our firm can further explain the ARPA’s premium tax credit provisions and help you determine whether you qualify as an ALE — or may soon will.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

The IRS has issued guidance providing relief from failure to make employment tax deposits for employers that are entitled to the refundable tax credits provided under two laws passed in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The two laws are the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed on March 18, 2020, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, which was signed on March 27, 2020.

Employment tax penalty basics

The tax code imposes a penalty for any failure to deposit amounts as required on the date prescribed, unless such failure is due to reasonable cause rather than willful neglect.

An employer’s failure to deposit certain federal employment taxes, including deposits of withheld income taxes and taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is generally subject to a penalty.

COVID-19 relief credits

Employers paying qualified sick leave wages and qualified family leave wages required by the Families First Act, as well as qualified health plan expenses allocable to qualified leave wages, are eligible for refundable tax credits under the Families First Act.

Specifically, provisions of the Families First Act provide a refundable tax credit against an employer’s share of the Social Security portion of FICA tax for each calendar quarter, in an amount equal to 100% of qualified leave wages paid by the employer (plus qualified health plan expenses with respect to that calendar quarter).

Additionally, under the CARES Act, certain employers are also allowed a refundable tax credit under the CARES Act of up to 50% of the qualified wages, including allocable qualified health expenses if they are experiencing:

  • A full or partial business suspension due to orders from governmental authorities due to COVID-19, or
  • A specified decline in business.

This credit is limited to $10,000 per employee over all calendar quarters combined.

An employer paying qualified leave wages or qualified retention wages can seek an advance payment of the related tax credits by filing Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.

Available relief

The Families First Act and the CARES Act waive the penalty for failure to deposit the employer share of Social Security tax in anticipation of the allowance of the refundable tax credits allowed under the two laws.

IRS Notice 2020-22 provides that an employer won’t be subject to a penalty for failing to deposit employment taxes related to qualified leave wages or qualified retention wages in a calendar quarter if certain requirements are met. Contact us for more information about whether you can take advantage of this relief.

More breaking news

Be aware the IRS also just extended more federal tax deadlines. The extension, detailed in Notice 2020-23, involves a variety of tax form filings and payment obligations due between April 1 and July 15. It includes estimated tax payments due June 15 and the deadline to claim refunds from 2016. The extended deadlines cover individuals, estates, corporations and others. In addition, the guidance suspends associated interest, additions to tax, and penalties for late filing or late payments until July 15, 2020. Previously, the IRS postponed the due dates for certain federal income tax payments. The new guidance expands on the filing and payment relief. Contact us if you have questions.

© 2020 Covenant CPA