Do we really have to guess?
As you may realize by now, I think taxes are kind of fun. For me, finding legitimate ways to use the Tax Code to find some overlooked little nook or cranny is a kick. When I do, naturally, in my capacity as a journalist, I write about it.
The other thing I write about and explore is real people's tax issues. As TaxMama, I get questions from thousands of people year-round, for a decade. Real problems, real issues. Sometimes, it turns out there's either a systemic problem at IRS or there just isn't any clear guidance.
[Systemic problem = that means a process isn't working, or is broken. Or a form has a significant flaw that is causing errors. In other words, it has nothing to do with tax law. Rather it's about operations and administration.]
Generally, when I come across a systemic problem at IRS, I can usually find someone in the system to contact to alert them, and give them a suggested fix for the problem. These days, with people moving around and being assigned all over the place, it's hard to reach the right people anymore. My stakeholder partners keep getting reassigned! (That's a good thing for their careers. But you do tend to miss the people with whom you've built a relationship.) With a bit of persistance, I can still find someone. Sometimes, the fixes can be immediate - like errors on webpages. Those can be fixed within days; sometimes even on the same day. Remarkable!
Other times, the fix is major and needs to go into the pipeline for evaluation and eventual implementation.
For instance, I've lost track of one thing that went into the IMRS pipeline way back in 2006 - the issue of IRS collecting taxes from the more convenient ex-spouse - especially when the taxes were generated by the inconvenient spouse. Does anyone happen to know what ever happened to this issue http://www.taxquips.com/?id=245 ?
Today, the thing that troubles me is that IRS is chickening out. True, the legislature is passing many tax laws quickly and in rapid succession. IRS does not have the time or staff to think through and develop adequate translations, guidelines and policy on everything. That's true. But when asked about something point blank - they back off from defining policy, preferring to use pat phrases like "IRS has issued no guidance on that to date."
It's also true that I bring up questions most journalist don't pose. After all, they are purely journalists, not practicing tax professionals.
Generally, I don't bring them specific examples unless I get the sense that they are affecting a lot of people. When that's the case, I feel it's a good idea to provide guidance and direction to the public. Why should they have to get it wrong? Why should they risk being audited? Wouldn't it save time if they did it correctly in the first place?
Nope! "IRS has issued no guidance on that to date." They will take it on a case-by-case basis.
As a result, they end up with lots of needless audits, stirring up anger and frustration among the taxpaying public.
I am hearing, well...this should really be submitted as a Private Letter Ruling. You're using the Press Office to get free and faster PLRs. Puhleeeze! Things that only affect the occasional individual I deal with myself. But when I start seeing mass rejections from IRS on the homebuyers credit program, I know it's not the rare individual.
When we have millions of homes in foreclosure and a related bankruptcy rate spike, we know lots of those homeowners will have similar questions when it comes to qualify for the $6,500 homebuyers credit for folks who've owned homes for 5 years. They're not isolated instances of how to count the days of ownership to arrive at 5 years, when a BK or foreclosure is in the picture.
Anyway, that's today's gripe.
All I want to do is make life easier for taxpayers and their preparers - and avoid penatlies for all involved.
Is that too much to ask?
"IRS has issued no guidance on that to date."
Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.