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TAS Significant Hardship Definition | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

Sometimes, a taxpayer may find himself in a situation where his problem cannot be resolved through normal IRS channels. In this case, one of the options is to secure the help of the Taxpayer Advocate Service (“TAS”). TAS can issue a Taxpayer Assistance Order (TAO) to require the IRS to desist from a certain action that causes the taxpayer to suffer or about to suffer a significant hardship. At this point a logical question arises: what does “significant hardship” mean in this context? In this article, I will try to answer this question and introduce the readers to the Significant Hardship definition.

Significant Hardship Definition: Background Information

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS, led by the National Taxpayer Advocate (“NTA”). Each state has at least one Local Taxpayer Advocate (“LTA”), who is independent of the local IRS office and reports directly to the NTA.

 TAS helps individual and business taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS by:

  • • Ensuring that taxpayer problems not resolved through normal IRS channels are promptly and impartially handled;
  • • Assisting taxpayers who are facing hardships; identifying issues that impact taxpayer rights, increase taxpayer burden or otherwise create problems for taxpayers, and bringing these issues to the attention of IRS management; and
  • • Recommending administrative and legislative changes through the National Taxpayer Advocate’s Annual Report to Congress.

Pursuant to §7811(a)7803(c); Reg. §301.7811-1(a)(1), NTA has the authority to issue TAO when the taxpayer is suffering or is about to suffer a significant hardship as a result of the manner in the administration of tax laws, including action or inaction on the part of the IRS. TAO may have broad implications, including obligating the IRS to release a levy, stop a collection action and even stop an audit.

Significant Hardship Definition: General Definition

Treas. Reg. §301.7811-1(a)(4)(ii) defines “significant hardship” as “a serious privation caused or about to be caused to the taxpayer as the result of the particular manner in which the revenue laws are being administered by the IRS.”  Significant hardship includes situations in which “a system or procedure fails to operate as intended or fails to resolve the taxpayer’s problem or dispute with the IRS”.

The regulations state a non-exclusive list of four situations that the IRS classifies as significant hardship:

“(A) An immediate threat of adverse action; (B) A delay of more than 30 days in resolving taxpayer account problems; (C) The incurring by the taxpayer of significant costs (including fees for professional representation) if relief is not granted; or (D) Irreparable injury to, or a long-term adverse impact on, the taxpayer if relief is not granted.” Id.

It should be pointed out that even if the taxpayer’s situation falls within any of these four situations (or a similar situation that the NTA agrees that it constitutes significant hardship), it does not mean that NTA will automatically issue TAO.  Rather, NTA must still determine whether the facts and the law support such a dramatic relief for the taxpayer.

Let’s go over each of the four categories of significant hardship one by one.

Significant Hardship Definition: Immediate Threat of Adverse Action

The Treasury Regulations do not detail the definition of this category except to provide the following example of what “immediate threat of adverse action” means:

“The IRS serves a levy on A’s bank account. A needs the bank funds to pay for a medically necessary surgical procedure that is scheduled to take place in one week. If the levy is not released, A will lack the funds necessary to have the procedure. A is experiencing an immediate threat of adverse action.”

Significant Hardship Definition: Delay of More Than 30 Days

There are two situations when a delay of more than 30 days may result in significant hardship. First, “when a taxpayer does not receive a response by the date promised by the IRS.” Treas. Reg. §301.7811-1(a)(4)(iii). Second, “when the IRS has established a normal processing time for taking an action and the taxpayer experiences a delay of more than 30 days beyond the normal processing time.” Id.

The regulations give the following example of a delay causing significant hardship: “B files a Form 4506, ‘Request for a Copy of Tax Return.’ B does not receive the photocopy of the tax return after waiting more than 30 days beyond the normal time for processing.”

Significant Hardship Definition: Significant Costs

The Treasury Regulations again do not detail the definition of this category except to provide the following example of what “significant costs” means:

“The IRS sends XYZ, Inc. a notice requesting payment of the outstanding employment taxes and penalties owed by XYZ, Inc. The notice indicates that XYZ, Inc. has small employment tax balances with respect to 12 employment tax quarters totaling $10x. XYZ, Inc. provides documentation to the IRS that it contends shows that if all payments were applied to each quarter correctly, there would be no balance due. The IRS requests additional records and documentation. Because there are 12 quarters involved, to comply with this request XYZ, Inc. asserts that it will need to hire an accountant, who estimates he will charge at least $5x to organize all the records and provide a detailed analysis of how to apply the deposits and payments. XYZ, Inc. is facing significant costs.”  Treas. Reg. §301.7811-1(a)(4)(iv).

Significant Hardship Definition: Irreparable Injury

The IRS again fails to detail the definition of this category beyond providing an example of an “irreparable injury”:

“D has arranged with a bank to refinance his mortgage to lower his monthly payment. D is unable to make the current monthly payment. Unless the monthly payment amount is lowered, D will lose his residence to foreclosure. The IRS refuses to subordinate the Federal tax lien, as permitted by section 6325(d), or discharge the property subject to the lien, as permitted by section 6325(b). As a result, the bank will not allow D to refinance. D is facing an irreparable injury if relief is not granted.” Id.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with IRS Audits

If the IRS has informed you that your federal tax returns are subject to an audit and you have foreign assets/foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.  We are a team of dedicated tax professionals, headed by an international tax attorney Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, with extensive experience in IRS audits of US taxpayers with foreign assets. We can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Singapore Solution Fraud Scheme Co-Creator Pleads Guilty |  SDOP lawyer Minneapolis

On December 21, 2023, the IRS and the US Department of Justice announced that Mr. Rolf Schnellmann, a Swiss national, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States for his role in the creation and implementation of a fraud scheme related to foreign accounts and foreign income called “Singapore Solution”.  In this small essay, I will discuss the Singapore Solution, the facts of the Schnellmann case and the lessons one can draw from this case.

Singapore Solution: Basic Description of the Tax Evasion Scheme

The idea behind the Singapore Solution is fairly simple. Funds owned secretly (i.e. without a proper disclosure to the IRS on FBAR, Form 8938, et cetera) by US persons in a Swiss bank are first transferred to a series of nominee accounts in other jurisdictions (for example, Hong Kong). In the meantime, the Swiss bankers established (usually indirectly through a law firm) a Singapore-based asset management firm which opens new bank accounts in its name in the Swiss bank. After passing through nominee accounts, the US-owned funds are returned to the Swiss bank and placed in the new bank accounts opened by the asset management firm.

In other words, the Singapore Solution basically represents a circular scheme where the ownership of funds is artificially obscured by involvement of third parties. Obviously, the US owners of the undisclosed funds handsomely compensated the Swiss bankers, the managers of the asset management firm and the nominees for their work. Also obviously, this scheme crosses the line between asset/tax planning and criminal tax evasion.

Singapore Solution: Basic Facts of Schnellmann Case

According to court documents and statements made in court, Rolf Schnellmann was the head of Allied Finance Trust AG, a Zurich-based financial services company and a subsidiary of the Allied Finance Group in Liechtenstein.  Between 2008 to 2014, Schnellmann and his co-conspirators helped high-net-worth US taxpayers set-up and implement the Singapore Solution concerning their undeclared bank accounts at Privatbank IHAG Zurich AG (IHAG), a Swiss private bank. 

According to the Department of Justice, Schnellmann and his colleagues transferred more than $60 million from the US-owned undeclared IHAG bank accounts through a series of nominee accounts in Hong Kong and other locations before returning the funds to newly opened accounts at IHAG in the name of a Singapore-based asset-management firm that Schnellmann helped establish.

IHAG participated in the 2013 IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program for Swiss Banks.  Surely, as a result of this process, IHAG disclosed a lot of information concerning the Singapore Solution.  This allowed the IRS to track down not only the noncompliant US clients of that bank, but also the Singapore Solution creators and facilitators, like Mr. Schnellamann.  He was arrested in August of 2023 in Italy and extradited to the United States.

The IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) conducted the investigation with the help of the US Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, Interpol, Italian law enforcement authorities, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Trieste and the Italian Ministry of Justice.

Singapore Solution: Consequences of the Guilty Plea for Schnellmann

As a result of the guilty plea, Mr. Schnellmann is scheduled to be sentenced on July 19, 2024. He now faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.

Singapore Solution: Lessons

The Schnellmann case and the Singapore Solution that he co-authored allow us to deduce certain lessons.  First and most obvious, one must respect the difference between legitimate even if aggressive tax planning and criminal tax evasion.  Mr. Schnellmann crossed that line and will pay a high price for it.

Second, US taxpayers must declare their foreign accounts to the IRS on FBAR, Form 8938 and Schedule B of Form 1040.  Failure to do so may bring very painful consequences in the form of high IRS civil and even criminal penalties.

Finally, there is really no safe place for noncompliant taxpayers to hide. Even if they have been lucky to avoid IRS detection of their noncompliance so far, a disclosure from third parties may lead to an IRS investigation that may ultimately result in the discovery of the noncompliance.  In this case, the IRS will most likely impose very heavy penalties for noncompliance (made even heavier by the fact that the IRS had to invest a lot of resources and man-hours into the case).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the Voluntary Disclosure of Your Undisclosed Foreign Assets and Foreign Income

For all of these reasons, noncompliant taxpayers should explore their offshore voluntary disclosure options before the IRS finds out about their noncompliance. Otherwise, an IRS audit will make it impossible for them to lower their IRS noncompliance penalties through a voluntary disclosure.

Sherayzen Law Office is a leader in the IRS offshore voluntary disclosures, including disclosures that involve foreign income noncompliance and foreign asset reporting noncompliance (on FBAR, Form 8938, 3520, 3520-A, 5471, 8865, 8858, et cetera).  Led by Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, a highly-experienced international tax attorney, our international tax team has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with the IRS while lowering and sometimes even eliminating IRS penalties.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate | IRS Audit Tax Lawyer & Attorney

One of the most challenging issues during an IRS audit is establishing cost-basis in foreign real estate.  This issue most frequently comes up in the context of real estate that was obtained through inheritance or gift many years ago.  In this article, based on my IRS audit experiences, I would like to discuss the main challenges and case strategies associated with establishing the cost-basis in foreign real estate in a manner that would satisfy the IRS during an audit.

An important note: I will not be discussing this issue in the context of an IRS audit of an offshore voluntary disclosure and how it would affect the calculation of an Offshore Penalty.  This essay is strictly limited to an IRS audit that involves US international tax issues without the taxpayer ever going through a voluntary disclosure.

Another important note: this article is written more for the benefit of other international tax lawyers, not the general public.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Importance

Before we discuss the problems associated with establishing the cost-basis in foreign real estate, we need to first understand why this issue is so important.  There are three main consequences to establishing cost-basis in the context of an IRS audit. 

First, the income tax impact of failure to establish cost-basis in a foreign property on the audited taxpayer may be truly disastrous.  Obviously, if you cannot prove any cost-basis in a property (or you can only convince the IRS that there was minimal cost-basis), you will have to recognize all proceeds from the sale of this property as capital gains (or potentially subpart F income if you owned a property though a foreign corporation).

Second, there is a very important psychological impact on the entire audit if you have a large unreported gain from sale of foreign real estate.  The IRS agent in charge of an audit is likely to take a more aggressive position not only on this issue, but also on other issues irrespective of whether they are directly related to unreported gain.   The most frequent victims of this hardened attitude of an IRS agent are the legal arguments in support of a reasonable cause.

Finally, a large gain from a sale of foreign real estate is likely to encourage the IRS to dig deeper and even expand the audit to more years.  In one of my audit cases, an IRS agent initially believed that there was a large capital gain and expanded the audit to five prior years; however, he reversed this decision once I was able to show that the sold real property had a much higher cost-basis due to numerous improvements that were made by my client over a number of years.

In other words, establishing cost-basis in a sold real estate property may be one of the most crucial issues in an IRS audit.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Top 3 Challenges

The challenges to establishing cost-basis in foreign real estate are highly dependent on the facts of the case.  However, there are three main themes that usually appear in one form or another in every IRS audit case.

The first challenge is absence of documentation.  This is by far the most common and most important battleground between the IRS and the taxpayer during the vast majority of IRS audits in this area, especially if the direct documentation is absent due to passage of time.

The second challenge is the potential opposition from the IRS to proving cost-basis indirectly through usage of circumstantial evidence and third-parties.

The third challenge is establishing the credibility of evidence. For example, in one of my cases, the IRS initially refused to accept a valuation report prepared by a local professional valuation expert because the report lacked a proper explanation of how he arrived at the proposed values.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Top 4 Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

There are numerous strategies to deal with the cost-basis establishment challenges. Your choice among them should depend on the facts and circumstances of your case.  Sometimes, you will even come up with a brand-new strategy tailored specifically to the unique challenges of your case.

Nevertheless, there are four common themes to the strategies used in overcoming the aforementioned challenges.  First, you need to recreate the logical history of the property and capital improvements to the property in order to convince the IRS that the valuation your client supplied is logical and reasonable.

Second, demonstrate to the IRS agent in charge of your client’s audit that you are a reliable source of information.  The more objective you appear (and you actually are), the more the IRS sees that you will not allow false facts or statements to enter the record, the more the IRS sees that your client shares both of these traits, the more likely the IRS agent will accept your position or be willing to achieve a compromise with you (see below).

Third, utilize indirect and circumstantial evidence as well as third-party affidavits/testimony to support the valuation of the property.  In other words, if you have no ability to directly establish the cost-basis of a property, then you need to find creative ways to build the necessary records and establish their credibility through usage of supporting documents and/or testimony. 

For example, in one of my previous audits, the client had no documentation whatsoever except one isolated receipt to prove the substantial improvements made to her foreign real estate over the past almost forty (!) years.  My solution to this problem was to first get an affidavit from my client fully stating all improvements made with approximate cost based purely on her memory.  Then, I obtained additional signed statements from neighbors largely supporting the estimates as well as the fact that these improvements were indeed made. Finally, I obtained a statement from a local construction company owner who stated that he recalled these improvements and confirmed the estimated amounts.  Additionally, all of the improvements were properly explained by the history of how the property was obtained, for what purpose and why so many improvements were needed.  All of these facts and circumstances were explained in a letter to the IRS agent together with the legal basis (i.e., case law) showing how courts have accepted similar evidence in the past. Under the weight of this substantial record (and some other circumstances of this case), the IRS finally agreed to accept all improvements as part of an overall compromise.

Finally, use creative legal strategies to convince the IRS to accept a different cost-basis in a property through operation of tax rules.  This is a very complex strategy, but it is more commonly employed than one may believe.  For example, in one of my prior audit cases, the IRS agreed to disregard the foreign corporation that owned the foreign property allowing the stepped-up basis for this inherited property.

Contact Sherayzen Law office for Professional Help with IRS Audits Involving Foreign Real Estate

If you have foreign assets and you are audited by the IRS, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.  We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their tax affairs in full compliance with US tax laws, including during IRS audits.  We can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule a Confidential Consultation!

Streamlined Submission Audit | SDOP Audit Tax Lawyer

An increasing number of submissions under the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures are subject to an IRS audit (hereinafter “Streamlined Submission Audit”). In this article, I will explain what a Streamlined Submission Audit is and what a taxpayer should expect during the Audit.

Streamlined Submission Audit: Background Information on Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) is a voluntary disclosure option offered by the IRS since June of 2014 to noncompliant US taxpayers to settle their past tax noncompliance concerning foreign assets and foreign income at a reduced penalty rate. In order to participate in SDOP, a taxpayer must meet three main eligibility requirements – US tax residency, non-willfulness of prior noncompliance and absence of IRS examination.

SDOP is likely to be the most convenient and the least expensive voluntary disclosure option for taxpayers whose prior tax noncompliance was non-willful. SDOP is very popular; in fact, it has quickly surpassed the traditional IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) in the number of participants with over 18,000 submissions just in 2016.

The Origin of the Streamlined Submission Audit

Streamlined Submission Audit originates within the very nature of SDOP. Unlike OVDP, SDOP voluntary disclosures are not immediately subject to a comprehensive IRS review of tax return items (although, there is a review process which may lead to a Streamlined Submission Audit, but it is not as comprehensive as that of the OVDP prior to the Audit). Hence, the IRS reserved the right to audit any SDOP submission at any point within three years after the submission of the original SDOP voluntary disclosure package.

Streamlined Submission Audit: Process

The exact process of a Streamlined Submission Audit varies from case to case, but all of such audits have a similar format: initial letter with request for a meeting, meeting with an interview, review of submitted documents and (very likely) additional requests for information, interview of other involved individuals (such as a tax preparer) and, finally, the results of an audit are provided by the IRS to taxpayer(s) and/or the representative indicated on Form 2848.

A Streamlined Submission Audit commences in a way very similar to a regular IRS audit: a letter is sent to taxpayers and (if there is a Form 2848 on file) to their representative. The letter explains that the IRS decided to examine certain tax returns (usually all three years of amended tax returns) and asks for submission of all documentation and work papers that were used to prepare the amended returns. Additionally, the letter requests that the taxpayers’ representative (or taxpayers if not represented) contact the IRS agent in charge of the audit to schedule the initial meeting.

During the initial meeting, the IRS agent will review (at least to make sure he or she has what is needed) the documents supplied. In larger cases, the IRS will need a lot more time to later examine all of the submitted documents and see if additional documents are needed. If a case is very small, it is possible for an agent to cover everything in the first meeting, but it is very rare.

Also, during an initial meeting, there is going to be an interview of the taxpayer(s). I will discuss the interview separately in a different article.

Once the review of the initial package of documents is concluded, it is very likely that the IRS agent will have questions and additional document requests. The questions may be answered by the taxpayers’ attorney during a separate meeting with the agent; smaller questions may be settled over the phone.

If additional documentation is needed, an IRS agent will send out an additional request to taxpayers and/or their attorney. The answer will most likely need to be provided in writing.

Once the IRS completes its interview of other involved parties and reviews all evidence, it will make its decision and submit the results of the audit to the taxpayers and their tax attorney in writing. The taxpayers’ attorney will need to build a strategy with respect to the taxpayers’ response to the audit results depending on whether the taxpayers agree or disagree with the results of the audit.

Differences Between Streamlined Submission Audit and Regular IRS Audit

At first, it may seem that there are no big differences between a regular IRS audit and a Streamlined Submission Audit. While procedurally this may be correct, substantively it is not.

The greatest difference between the two types of IRS audits is the subject-matter involved. While a regular IRS audit will concentrate on the tax returns only, a Streamlined Submission Audit will involve everything: amended tax returns, FBARs, other information returns and, most importantly, Non-Willfulness Certification. In other words, a Streamlined Submission Audit will focus not only on whether the tax forms are correct, but also on whether the taxpayer was actually non-willful with respect to his prior tax noncompliance.

This difference in the subject-matter examination will carry over to other aspects of a Streamlined Submission Audit: the taxpayers’ interview will focus on their non-willfulness arguments, third-party interviews of original tax preparers become a regular feature (this is very different from a regular IRS audit when tax preparers may never be interviewed), and the final IRS results must necessarily make a decision on whether to challenge the taxpayers’ non-willfulness arguments.

Failure by a taxpayer to sustain his non-willfulness arguments may result in a disaster during a Streamlined Submission Audit with a potential referral to the Tax Division of the US Department of Justice for a criminal investigation.

This is why it is so important for a taxpayer subject to a Streamlined Submission Audit to retain the services of an experienced international tax lawyer to handle the audit professionally.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With A Streamlined Submission Audit

If your submission under the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is being audited by the IRS, contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our international tax law firm is highly experienced in offshore voluntary disclosures (including OVDP (now closed), SDOP, SFOP, “noisy disclosures”, “quiet disclosures”, et cetera) and the IRS audits of a voluntary disclosure.
In fact, we have handled voluntary disclosure cases at every stage of the process of a Streamlined Submission Audit described above. We can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

IRS Audit Reconsideration

Have your tax returns been subject to an IRS audit? You should be aware that IRS procedures may allow you to contest the findings through IRS Audit Reconsideration, provided that you meet certain requirements. If the amount is significant or you believe that the IRS was erroneous in its determination, you contact Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC.  Our experienced law firm can assist you with your IRS Audit Reconsideration and help you avoid making costly mistakes.

This article will explain the basics of audit reconsideration. It is not intended to constitute tax or legal advice.

IRS Audit Reconsideration: Reasons the IRS May Reconsider an Audit

There are various reasons for which you may request IRS Audit Reconsideration. For example, if you were not able to appear for your audit, or if you moved during the audit and did not receive correspondence from the IRS, the IRS may grant the request. Additionally, if you believe that you have additional important information to substantiate your case that was not available to you during the audit, you may be allowed to have the IRS reconsider the audit. Further, if you disagree with the assessment from the audit, a request may be granted, depending upon the IRS’ discretion. You are well-advised not to make the determination by yourself about whether you have a sufficient reason for IRS Audit Reconsideration; this is a question for an experienced tax attorney.

Process for Requesting IRS Audit Reconsideration

In general, there are several steps you will need to take if you are requesting IRS Audit Reconsideration. If you are planning upon making the claim that you are presenting new evidence that you did not present before at the audit, you usually should first obtain all the necessary documentation that you will need to substantiate your claim and make sure that the evidence supports the correct tax years in question. You will then need to file a letter explaining your request for reconsideration, along with photocopies (originals will not be returned to you) of the evidence supporting your new claim.

The IRS notes that, provided you meet certain requirements, your IRS Audit Reconsideration request may be granted if: “You submit information that we have not considered previously. You filed a return after the IRS completed a return for you. You believe the IRS made a computational or processing error in assessing your tax. The liability is unpaid or credits are denied.” On the other hand, the IRS usually will not accept IRS Audit Reconsideration request if you signed an agreement agreeing to pay your amount of tax liability (such as a Form 906, Closing Agreement; a Compromise agreement; or an agreement on Form 870-AD with IRS Appeals), if the amount of tax you owe is due to the result of final partnership item adjustments under the Tax Equity Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA), or if the United States Tax Court, or another court, has rendered a final determination on your tax liability.

Once the documentation for the IRS Audit Reconsideration is received by the IRS, the IRS may send you a letter requesting follow-up information regarding your request. The IRS may delay collection activity once your initial letter is received; however, collection activity will resume if you fail to respond to request from the IRS for additional information within 30 calendar days, or if the IRS deems your documentation insufficient to support your claim.

Once the IRS has completed its review of your IRS Audit Reconsideration request, you will be notified as to whether your position was accepted or rejected. If you position was accepted, the IRS may either abate your assessed tax, or partially abate the tax, depending upon the circumstances. If your position is rejected, your assessed tax will stand. If you disagree with the results you may either pay the amount (either in full, or by making other payment arrangements), or by seeking certain other remedies. In future articles, we will explain other options you may have at that point.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With An IRS Audit

If you are currently being audited or the IRS already rendered its decision and you are looking for a way to challenge it, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional legal help. Our experienced legal team will thoroughly analyze your case, determine the available options, implement the chosen course of action (including preparation of any tax forms) and rigorously defend your interests during IRS negotiations.