The IRS will open the 2015 filing season on January 20th and both the agency and taxpayers are preparing for some turbulence. The IRS is going into the filing season with a reduced budget, which could translate into fewer audits. Legislation passed by Congress in late 2014 could delay the start of the filing season, although to date, the IRS has not announced a delay. Taxpayers and the IRS are on alert for identity theft, a pervasive problem during filing season. Additionally, new requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act kick-in.
Budget cuts impact audits and service
The IRS must do more with less after Congress voted in December to cut the agency’s budget by some $345 million. In fact, the IRS has been doing more with less for the past several years as its budget has been reduced nearly every year. In December, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the agency’s employees that he was instituting a hiring freeze, with only a few mission-critical exceptions.
Koskinen also acknowledged that the number of taxpayer audits will likely decline because of staffing cutbacks and budgetary pressures. The audit coverage rate for individuals hovers around one percent and that rate could go down. Between 2012 and 2013, the audit rate experienced a decline, largely due to budgetary constraints at that time, according to the IRS.
Going into the filing season, the IRS has cautioned that its customer service functions will be challenged by the budget cuts. With limited budgetary resources, the agency will likely need to shift personnel from other functions to customer service during the filing season. This could slow the processing of refunds, Koskinen said. As a last resort, Koskinen indicated that the agency could consider furloughing employees for one or more days. Koskinen said the IRS spends $29 million every day to keep operating.
When Congress make changes to the Tax Code late in the year, the IRS must scramble to incorporate these changes into its return processing systems. This year is no different. The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, signed into law by President Obama in December, makes some 500 changes to the Tax Code through language extending the tax extenders, technical corrections and the removal of so-called “deadwood.”
The IRS has been upgrading its return processing systems for the new law. At this time, the agency has not delayed the start of the filing season. In past years, the IRS has opened the filing system generally but asked filers of certain returns and schedules, impacted by legislation, to hold off. Our office will keep you posted of developments.
Tax return identity theft is a growing problem. Identity thieves gather information financial information through phishing scams, discarded tax returns, and other records containing personal and financial information. Identity thieves typically file false returns early in the filing season with hopes to get a refund. Often, taxpayers discover for the first time that they are victims of identity theft when they file their returns.
The IRS has devoted significant resources to identifying false returns. The agency has developed special filters for its return processing systems. Special identity protection numbers have been assigned to victims of identity theft. The IRS receives some 150 million individual returns and issues around 110 million refunds, so the challenge is daunting.
Affordable Care Act
Unless exempt, taxpayers will need to report on their 2014 returns if they are covered by minimum essential health coverage. Individuals without minimum essential coverage – unless exempt – will make a shared responsibility payment. The IRS is bracing for a flood of questions about what is minimum essential coverage, how to calculate the shared responsibility payment and who is exempt. The IRS has revised Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, and created new forms, such as Form 8965, Health Coverage Exemptions.
Individuals who obtained health insurance through the ACA Marketplace in 2014 may be eligible for the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit. If they are, they will need to file a new form, Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, with their 2014 return. If taxpayers received advance payments of the credit, they will need to reconcile the difference between the advance credit payments and the allowable amount of the credit. Taxpayers could discover that their advance payments exceeded their allowable amount. In that case, they will need to repay the excess, subject to certain limitations.
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