National Taxpayer Advocate Erin Collins is reiterating her call for the Internal Revenue Service to stop automatically assessing penalties related to international information returns.

In an August 22, 2023, blog post, she also called on the agency to “provide taxpayers due process by affording them the opportunity to administratively present their reasonable cause defense and request FTA [first time abatement] and consideration by the Independent Office of Appeals prior to any assessment.”

The blog post noted that relief was needed because there is “a misconception that IIRpenalties affect primarily bad-faith, wealthy taxpayers who are experiencing consequences of their own making.”

However, that is not the case. Collins wrote that the automatic penalty regime “disproportionately affects individuals and businesses of more moderate resources, and is by no means just a rich person’s problem. Wealthy individuals and large businesses tend to have knowledgeable and well-informed representation and as a result have fewer foot faults. Immigrants, small businesses, and low-income individuals may not be as well-informed about IIRpenalties and may not have return preparers with the same technical expertise on international penalties.”

NTA noted that from 2018-2021, 71 percent of the penalties were assessed to taxpayers with incomes of $400,000 or less, with an average penalty to these people being more than $40,000.

One example of how penalties can be triggered is when an immigrant who is a U.S. citizen starts a small business and includes family members who live abroad. This arrangement could trigger the need for an IIR and if it is not filed, the taxpayer could be automatically assessed penalties, which are defined in Internal Revenue Code Sec. 6038 and 6038A. The blog goes through a number of other scenarios which would require an IIR and penalties for failure to do so.

However, when “taxpayers voluntarily correct their failure to file, this good-faith action can sometimes have the unexpected effect of causing the IRS to automatically assess the penalty,”the blog states. “If the IRS does not administratively abate the penalty, taxpayers will need to pay the penalty in full before challenging by filing suit refund in the United States District Court or the United States Court of Federal Appeals.”

Collins continues to advocate for legislative changes that would allow for changes in due process that would allow for cases to be heard in court before any penalties are paid, as well as providing a more “efficient and equitable regime governing the initial imposition of IIRpenalties and the mechanisms by which they can be challenged by taxpayers while also protecting their rights.”

By Gregory Twachtman, Washington News Editor