What You Need to Know
- IRS has shifted “significant' exam resources to boost its focus on high-income and high-wealth taxpayers.
- A Treasury IG report found that millionaires owe the IRS more than $2.4 billion in unpaid taxes.
- Plans to increase IRS enforcement are out-gunned by those wealthy enough to avoid paying their fair share, says Slott.
As new research comes to light showing that high-income earners are evading taxes, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig told lawmakers in recent testimony that the agency has shifted “significant examination resources and technology” to boost its focus on high-income and high-wealth taxpayers.
Tax expert Ed Slott of Ed Slott & Co., however, is skeptical that federal authorities will, or can, close the tax compliance gap, especially without collateral damage to taxpayers with comparatively modest incomes.
A working paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research examined tax evasion at the top of the U.S. income distribution using IRS micro-data from random audits, targeted enforcement activities, and operational audits.
Drawing on this “unique combination of data, we demonstrate empirically that random audits underestimate tax evasion at the top of the income distribution,” the authors wrote.
Meanwhile, a just-released study by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that millionaires owe the IRS more than $2.4 billion in unpaid taxes.
In testimony Thursday before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, Rettig noted that the IRS launched an initiative last year to improve tax compliance among high-income taxpayers by increasing visits to those generally with incomes above $100,000 who failed to file tax returns in 2018 or previous years.
“Substantially all experienced examiners — those who are the most highly trained with substantial accounting skills — are almost entirely focused on high-income taxpayers and the most egregious situations,” Rettig told lawmakers.
IRS exam rates for closed and in-process exams of taxpayers with total positive income (TPI) exceeding $10 million are about 8.16%; for those with TPI between $5 million and $10 million are about 4.39%; and for those with TPI between $1 million and $5 million are about 2.39%, Rettig reported.
“We are also pursuing those who promote and make use of abusive tax shelters, and are especially concerned about certain variations, including abusive syndicated conservation easements and micro-captive insurance shelters,” Rettig said.
‘Even a Bigger Problem Now’
“Maybe Leona Helmsley was right — only the little people pay taxes,” Slott, a CPA, told ThinkAdvisor Monday in an email. “It’s even a bigger problem now.”
Helmsley made the remark in the 1980s, when “tax rates were substantially higher. But now we have the lowest tax rates many individuals and businesses will ever see in their lifetimes and still (according to new studies — same as the old studies) compliance among the super wealthy is not good.”