Procedures for Granting Installment Agreements to Self-Employed Taxpayers Can Be Improved
Reference Number: 2003-30-195
This report has cleared the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration disclosure review process and information determined to be restricted from public release has been redacted from this document.
September 16, 2003
MEMORANDUM FOR COMMISSIONER, SMALL BUSINESS/SELF-EMPLOYED DIVISION
FROM: Gordon C. Milbourn III /s/ Gordon C. Milbourn III
Assistant Inspector General for Audit (Small Business and
SUBJECT: Final Audit Report - Procedures for Granting Installment Agreements to Self-Employed Taxpayers Can Be Improved (Audit # 200230040)
This report presents the results of our review of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) procedures for granting Installment Agreements (IA) to self-employed taxpayers. The overall objectives of this review were to determine whether IAs granted to self-employed taxpayers were proper and whether taxpayers were continuing to remain compliant and pay estimated taxes if required.
Through April 2003, there were approximately $2.3 billion in outstanding IAs for all individual and business taxpayers, about $1.8 billion of which had been granted by the Automated Collection System (ACS) function.
In summary, our review of 57 IAs granted by the Collection Field function (CFf) showed that employees performed adequate financial analyses when determining the taxpayers’ abilities to make monthly payments, and managers properly approved IAs. However, improvement is needed in the ACS function when granting IAs. Our review of 56 IAs granted by the ACS function showed that employees did not perform sufficient financial analysis in 31 cases (55 percent), and managers did not document approval of the IAs in 41 cases (73 percent). Without adequate financial analysis and managerial approval, taxpayers can misstate expenses and income and not pay an appropriate monthly amount for the IA.
Also, we determined that taxpayers were not always current in paying estimated taxes when they were granted IAs. Of 113 taxpayers in our sample, 87 were required to pay estimated taxes, but 37 (43 percent) of the 87 were not current with estimated taxes. IRS guidelines and interpretation among managers are not consistent with regard to granting IAs when estimated taxes are due from taxpayers. Inconsistent guidelines make it difficult for employees to know the correct procedures to use and can result in inconsistent treatment of taxpayers when their attempts to obtain IAs are accepted or rejected. If taxpayers have not paid required estimated taxes at the time they request an IA, they will potentially owe additional taxes and be in the same situation that led them to need an IA.
Finally, we reviewed a sample of 67 IAs granted in Calendar Year 2001 to track taxpayers’ subsequent compliance with paying estimated taxes and to determine whether the IRS should pursue legislation to terminate IAs if taxpayers do not remain compliant. Our results showed that there was insufficient support to recommend that the IRS pursue legislation for terminating IAs when self-employed taxpayers do not make estimated payments.
We recommended that the Director, Compliance, Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) Division, implement a systemic control in the ACS that would automatically route an IA over $25,000 to a manager for approval, reemphasize procedures and requirements to ACS employees for granting IAs, and for certain situations, reevaluate and make consistent procedures for granting IAs when estimated taxes are due from the taxpayers.
Management’s Response: The Commissioner, SB/SE Division, agreed with our recommendations. SB/SE Division management plans to request a systemic control in ACS that would automatically route all IA cases over $25,000 to a manager for approval. In addition, management will issue a memorandum of instructions to employees and managers reminding them of the substantiation required for financial analysis and the criteria for streamlined agreements, and instruct managers to cover financial analysis in group meetings. Finally, SB/SE Division management will amend appropriate sections of the Internal Revenue Manual to ensure consistency in the procedures for granting IAs. The Commissioner, SB/SE Division, did not agree with all the outcome measures reported; however, we believe that the rationale used for estimating potential Federal taxes due from the taxpayers is valid. Management’s complete response to the draft report is included as Appendix VI.
Copies of this report are also being sent to the IRS managers who are affected by the report recommendations. Please contact me at (202) 622-6510 if you have questions or Parker F. Pearson, Director (Small Business Compliance), at (410) 962-9637.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) expects taxpayers to pay the full amount of taxes owed when they file their tax returns. However, the IRS allows taxpayers to pay their taxes in installments, with interest and penalty, when full payment is not possible. IRS procedures allow taxpayers to enter into Installment Agreements (IA) any time during the collection process. Only IAs that provide for full payment of liabilities may be granted. After an IA is granted, taxpayers must remain current with the payment requirements of the IA.
As of the end of April 2003, the IRS had about 251,000 outstanding IAs, totaling approximately $2.3 billion. These IAs had been granted through the Collection Field function (CFf) (14,086 totaling approximately $497 million) and the Automated Collection System (ACS) function (237,356 totaling approximately $1.8 billion). These figures include both individual and business taxpayers.
When granting an IA, CFf and ACS employees must properly analyze the taxpayer’s financial information to determine the taxpayer’s ability to make monthly payments. Delinquent tax payments and taxpayer defaults on IAs may result if the taxpayer’s financial information is not properly analyzed.
Decisions for granting IAs to self-employed taxpayers are more complex than those for taxpayers who work for wages because verifying their incomes is more difficult. In addition, self-employed taxpayers usually are required to make periodic estimated tax payments since they do not have withholdings on their income, as wage earners do. As of the end of August 2002, approximately 169,000 IAs totaling about $702 million had been granted to self-employed taxpayers. Of these, 3,039 had outstanding IAs with liabilities over $25,000, totaling about $150 million.
Taxpayers with individual tax liabilities (aggregate unpaid balances including assessed taxes, interest, and penalties) over $25,000 need to provide detailed financial information to the IRS. In addition, IAs over $25,000 require managerial approval. Because of these additional risks, our review was limited to self-employed taxpayers who were granted IAs greater than $25,000.
We conducted the audit from October 2002 to June 2003 in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Nashville, Tennessee, ACS sites and the Compliance Field Areas 3 (Pennsylvania, New Jersey) and 5 (Florida). The audit was conducted in accordance with Government Auditing Standards. Detailed information on our audit objectives, scope, and methodology is presented in Appendix I. Major contributors to the report are listed in Appendix II.
Our judgmental sample review of 57 IAs granted by the CFf showed that employees performed adequate financial analyses of taxpayers’ abilities to make monthly payments by evaluating and verifying the taxpayers’ income and expenses. CFf employees allowed taxpayers to claim only the allowable standard expense amounts when applicable. Also, we determined that employees were being flexible when applying the standard expense amounts. For example, following current IRS procedures, employees allowed all reasonable expenses if taxpayers were paying off their Federal tax liabilities within 60 months. Finally, managers properly approved the IAs.
IRS procedures state that employees must obtain and analyze detailed financial information from taxpayers to determine their ability to make monthly payments for IAs over $25,000. ACS function procedures require employees to allow the taxpayers to only claim the standard expense amounts unless the taxpayers provide adequate substantiation for additional expenses. In those situations, the employees should document the case history. If taxpayers can pay off their Federal tax liabilities within 60 months, substantiation is not required. Procedures also require employees to document reasons for taxpayers’ income amounts that are significantly different on their financial statement and their last filed income tax return. Managers are required to approve IAs over $25,000.
Our judgmental sample review of 56 cases showed that ACS employees were not properly analyzing financial information. In 31 (55 percent) of the 56 sampled cases, the case history either did not include any financial information, or differences in income and expenses allowed over the standard were not explained. A summary of the 56 cases follows:
§ In 14 cases, no documentation existed explaining why expenses claimed by the taxpayer were more than the standard amounts, or the income differences were significant.
§ In 25 cases, financial information was properly obtained and analyzed.
Additionally, managers did not document approval of the IAs in 41 (73 percent) of the 56 cases.
One factor potentially contributing to these conditions is that employees may be confused regarding the requirements for processing IAs as streamlined agreements. We determined that in many cases, employees coded cases incorrectly, indicating that the cases were streamlined agreements. Streamlined processing should only be used for IAs with an unpaid balance of $25,000 or less. Detailed financial information and manager approval are not required for streamlined agreements. If employees thought these were streamlined agreements, it may have been the primary cause for not performing the financial analysis and obtaining managerial approval.
When IAs are granted without sufficient financial analysis and verification of income and expenses, the potential exists for taxpayers to understate expenses and/or show more income than is available and, therefore, be unable to make the monthly payments. This would result in additional staff resources needed to be used by the IRS to later collect the liabilities. Conversely, the taxpayer could have overstated expenses and/or shown less income and, therefore, possibly paid more each month, resulting in a quicker payoff of the liabilities.
The Director, Compliance, Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) Division, who is responsible for implementing policies for the Collection function, should:
1. Consider implementing a systemic control in ACS that would automatically route an IA case over $25,000 to a manager for approval.
Management’s response: SB/SE Division management will prepare a Request for Information Services, through the Office of Compliance Center Collection, to implement a systemic control in ACS to route all IA cases over $25,000 to a manager for approval.
2. Reemphasize procedures to employees and managers regarding substantiation required for financial analysis and criteria for streamlined agreements.
Management’s response: SB/SE Division management will issue a memorandum of instructions to employees and managers reminding them of the substantiation required for financial analysis and the criteria for streamlined agreements. Managers will also be instructed to cover financial analysis in group meetings.
Estimated taxes are periodic payments made by individuals who do not have sufficient Federal taxes withheld and/or have other income, such as self-employment income. Estimated taxes should be considered as an expense when determining a taxpayer’s monthly payments for an IA. Also, to prevent the delinquency situation from occurring again, a taxpayer should be paying estimated taxes for the current year and continue to pay estimated taxes on subsequent tax liabilities.
The IRS procedure for working Collection cases is to bring taxpayers into compliance with filing current returns and making current Federal tax deposits and estimated taxes before addressing taxes that are already owed. An IA is a way to address tax liabilities already owed. The procedures for determining whether to grant an IA to a taxpayer who is not current in paying estimated taxes are confusing and are located throughout various sections of the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM). For example, the wording in one section states that taxpayers should be current from the date of the IA and forward. However, another section related to rejecting a proposed IA states an IA should be rejected if the taxpayer has not paid estimated taxes for the current tax quarter. SB/SE Division Compliance function managers informed us that they are revising the procedures to be more consistent. See Appendix V for examples of other IRS procedures that relate to this topic. Inconsistent guidelines make it difficult for employees to know the correct procedures to use and can result in inconsistent treatment of taxpayers when their attempts to obtain IAs are accepted or rejected.
Our review of 113 IAs (57 closed by the CFf and 56 closed by the ACS function) showed that 87 taxpayers were required to pay estimated taxes. Of those 87 taxpayers, 37 (43 percent) were not current in paying their estimated taxes when the IRS granted them IAs. We considered taxpayers not current if they had not made estimated tax payments as required in the current year. Some taxpayers in our sample received an IA in early 2003, when 2003 estimated taxes were not yet due; we considered them not current if they had not paid estimated taxes for the prior year.
Our interpretation of whether a taxpayer was current in paying his or her estimated taxes differs from those used by IRS management, which also vary among individual offices. Managers in two offices informed us they expect employees to determine if taxpayers are in compliance with estimated taxes for the current quarter. Other management officials informed us that taxpayers must be current with estimated taxes from the IA date and forward, and current compliance is not a condition of granting IAs.
Taxpayers who do not pay estimated taxes could owe additional taxes and be in the same situation that led them to need an IA in the first place. If the 37 self-employed taxpayers in our sample do not pay (or have not paid) estimated taxes, they will potentially owe taxes for Tax Year (TY) 2002. We determined that for those 10 taxpayers who had filed TY 2002 returns, there is currently approximately $123,000 owed in taxes. Based on their most recently filed returns, we estimate that the 27 taxpayers who had not yet filed TY 2002 returns will owe approximately $590,000, if they do not include payment when the returns are filed.
3. The Director, Compliance, SB/SE Division, should ensure IRS procedures are consistent for granting IAs where estimated taxes are involved and reevaluate those procedures for certain situations to require that taxpayers be current with the payment of all estimated taxes when an IA is granted.
Management’s Response: SB/SE Division management will amend IRM sections 5.14 and 5.19 to ensure consistency in the procedures for granting an IA. Management will reevaluate IA procedures for opportunities to further encourage compliance with the payment of all estimated taxes when an IA is granted. An interim guidance memorandum will be issued to the field explaining the changes by December 31, 2003.
Office of Audit Comment: Although SB/SE Division management agreed with the recommendation, management did not agree with the outcome measure that potentially $713,000 in revenue would be lost due to unpaid estimated tax payments. For 27 of 37 taxpayers, we used the taxpayers’ prior Federal tax liabilities to estimate $590,000 of the $713,000 outcome measure. SB/SE Division management stated that a prior year’s tax liability is not a conclusive predictor of current year income or ultimate tax liability. The estimated amount of tax liability may not have materialized in TY 2002 because self-employed taxpayer incomes can and do fluctuate. Unless the returns are reviewed, it cannot be determined if the total tax consists of self-employed income only.
We agree that the outcome measure is not an exact amount. Our estimate is based on the last known filed tax return of the taxpayers, and we think this is the best available information to estimate potential Federal taxes due from the taxpayers. The amount of taxes due when the return is filed could be less, but it could also be more.
To maximize revenue received by the Federal Government and to minimize the use of IRS resources, taxpayers should continue to pay estimated taxes on their potential subsequent tax liabilities to prevent a delinquency situation from occurring again. However, there is no requirement for the IRS to monitor whether taxpayers stay current in paying estimated taxes after an IA is granted. Nor, according to an IRS Counsel opinion, can the IRS default an IA if the taxpayer does not pay estimated taxes. The IRS also cannot default the IA if the taxpayer does not file a return. The IRS can default an IA when a taxpayer files a tax return and incurs an additional tax liability but does not pay, or when a taxpayer does not make the IA payments.
The Department of the Treasury requested legislative changes in 2003 that would allow for the termination of IAs when taxpayers fail to file tax returns or fail to make Federal tax deposits on employment tax returns (business taxpayers). However, the request did not provide for the termination of IAs when taxpayers failed to make estimated tax payments (individual taxpayers).
Since individual taxpayers represent 83 percent ($1.9 billion of $2.3 billion) of the total dollars in IA status as of April 2003, we attempted to determine whether similar legislation might be appropriate for terminating IAs when estimated tax payments are not made. We attempted to identify the rate at which taxpayers pay their estimated taxes after receiving an IA and the volume of IAs in which estimated payments might be applicable.
Our review of 67 statistically sampled IAs granted between January and December 2001 showed that 39 taxpayers are currently required to pay estimated taxes due to business income. The other 28 taxpayers had withholdings that appeared sufficient to fully pay their tax liabilities. Of these 39 taxpayers:
· Fourteen filed subsequent returns and incurred additional liabilities.
In summary, 20 (30 percent) of the 67 taxpayers are not current in their filing and/or paying of taxes, resulting in additional taxes owed to the Federal Government. Another 5 could become delinquent when their returns are due, resulting in 37 percent of the cases causing additional work for the IRS.
Although this is a relatively high percentage, it should be noted that we selected our sample from all of the 760 self-employed taxpayers with IAs granted in Calendar Year (CY) 2001 having tax liabilities greater than $25,000. We do not consider this a significant number of taxpayers when compared to the overall population of 169,000 taxpayers in IA status as of August 2002. (It should be noted that there were another 2,279 self-employed taxpayers with liabilities greater than $25,000 also in IA status as of August 2002, but their IA was granted in a year other than CY 2001, and we only included those granted in CY 2001).
In addition, approximately 166,000 of the 169,000 self-employed taxpayers had IAs with liabilities of $25,000 or less as of August 2002. Many of these had liabilities for which estimated tax payments are not required or amounts would be minimal. Estimated tax amount requirements are based on specific tax periods. The 169,000 self-employed taxpayers with IAs included about 315,000 tax periods. Of those 315,000 tax periods:
§ Approximately 113,000 (36 percent) were for liabilities less than $1,000 per year; therefore, no estimated tax payments are necessary.
§ Approximately 134,000 (43 percent) had liabilities between $1,000 and $5,000, resulting in quarterly estimated payments of only $1,250 or less.
As a result of our tests, we are not recommending at this time that the IRS pursue legislation for terminating IAs when self-employed taxpayers do not make estimated tax payments. IRS management analyzed similar information over the past few years and determined that the return on investment would be marginal. Our results did not show any reason to override that conclusion. The additional costs for the IRS to default these agreements do not seem to justify the limited non-compliance in these situations.
Our overall objectives were to determine whether Installment Agreements (IA) granted to self-employed taxpayers were proper and whether taxpayers were continuing to remain compliant and pay estimated taxes if required. We conducted the following tests to accomplish the objectives:
I. Determined whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has effective procedures to ensure IAs granted to self-employed taxpayers were appropriate and the process and procedures were consistently applied.
A. Obtained guidelines and procedures established for IAs in both the Automated Collection System (ACS) and the Collection Field functions (CFf). We specifically researched guidelines for financial analysis and compliance with estimated tax payments.
B. From the Integrated Data Retrieval System (IDRS), requested data on self-employed individual taxpayers with outstanding IAs as of August 2002 that were processed by the ACS or CFf. We performed the following analyses of the data:
1. Identified a population of 169,169 self-employed individual taxpayers.
2. Validated the data by verifying taxpayer information and liabilities on the IDRS for selected taxpayers.
3. From the population, identified 3,039 IAs with over $25,000 in tax liabilities granted in the ACS or CFf.
4. Judgmentally selected two CFf and two ACS areas from which to select cases for review, based on the population of IAs.
C. Reviewed 113 judgmentally selected IAs over $25,000 from the 4 offices in step I.B.4 to determine whether employees applied procedures and standards properly and consistently and obtained approvals if required (57 CFf and 56 ACS IAs). Due to the method the IRS used to maintain and close case files, we could not obtain a population from which to select a statistical sample. We were only able to select from cases available in closed case inventory on specific dates. We selected IAs that were greater than $25,000 because there was more risk involved in the higher dollar cases.
1. Determined whether the methods of verification of income and expenses were adequate. We determined whether national and local standards were consistently followed and, if not, whether there was proper documentation. We also determined whether estimated taxes were considered in determining the monthly payment amount.
2. Determined whether the analyses of financial information obtained on Collection Information Statements were proper by independently using the IDRS and Choice Point to perform our own research on the taxpayers’ assets, liabilities, and tax information.
3. Determined whether managerial approvals were obtained, if required.
4. Identified instances of noncompliance, inappropriate approval process, and/or inadequate verification of financial information.
II. Determined if taxpayers with IAs who were required to file returns and pay estimated taxes remained in compliance.
A. Obtained procedures for addressing taxpayers who do not remain in compliance with filing or payment requirements and obtained recent IRS Counsel opinions on this topic.
B. Reviewed a statistical sample of 67 IA cases and determined whether the taxpayers remained in compliance with filing and payment requirements throughout Calendar Years 2001 and 2002.
1. From the population of 169,169 IAs in step I.B., identified 760 IAs that were granted between January 1, 2001, and December 31, 2001, where at least 1 tax period had a liability greater than $25,000. These taxpayers may have had additional tax periods; however, based on the way we received the data, this was the most expeditious way to select the population and ensure our sample included balances due greater than $25,000.
2. Selected a sample of 67 IAs based on a 95 percent confidence level, a +/- 5 percent precision, and an expected error rate of 5 percent. We selected every 12th taxpayer on our list to ensure we covered the entire population.
3. Researched taxpayer information on the IDRS and verified IA payments, subsequent filings, and estimated tax payments. We determined whether the taxpayers stayed in compliance with filing and payment requirements.
Parker F. Pearson, Director
Richard J. Dagliolo, Director
Lynn Wofchuck, Audit Manager
James Dorrell, Senior Auditor
Pillai Sittampalam, Senior Auditor
Cristina Johnson, Auditor
Janis Zuika, Auditor
Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement N:SE
Acting Deputy Commissioner, Small Business/Self-Employed Division S
Acting Director, Compliance, Small Business/Self-Employed Division S:C
Chief Counsel CC
National Taxpayer Advocate TA
Director, Office of Legislative Affairs CL:LA
Director, Office of Program Evaluation and Risk Analysis N:ADC:R:O
Office of Management Controls N:CFO:AR:M
Audit Liaison: Commissioner, Small Business/Self-Employed Division S
This appendix presents detailed information on the measurable impact that our recommended corrective actions will have on tax administration. These benefits will be incorporated into our Semiannual Report to the Congress.
Type and Value of Outcome Measure:
· Increased Revenue – Actual; 47 taxpayer cases affected (see page 2).
Methodology Used to Measure the Reported Benefit:
We judgmentally selected 56 closed cases where the Automated Collection System function granted Installment Agreements (IA) to self-employed taxpayers. From this sample, we determined that 31 of the 56 cases did not have a proper financial analysis. Also, 41 of the 56 cases were not properly approved. Because a case could have had both conditions, the actual number of cases affected was 47 cases.
Type and Value of Outcome Measure:
· Increased Revenue – Potential; $713,000 (see page 4).
Methodology Used to Measure the Reported Benefit:
We judgmentally selected 113 closed cases where the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) granted IAs to self-employed taxpayers. From this sample, we determined that 87 taxpayers were still required to pay estimated taxes when the IA was granted. Of these 87, 37 (43 percent) taxpayers were not current with paying estimated taxes when the IA was granted. Assuming these taxpayers file a similar subsequent tax return where estimated taxes were required and they owe taxes when they file, this is the money that is potentially at risk.
Specifically, we determined that 10 taxpayers have already filed 2002 returns. For these taxpayers, there is currently approximately $123,000 owed in taxes. We obtained the current module balance for these taxpayers. For the remaining 27 that have not yet filed 2002 returns, we obtained the most recently filed tax return (either 2001 or 2000) and determined the tax liability assessed (we used the transaction code 150 amount on the IRS’ computer files). Because these taxpayers have not paid estimated taxes for 2002, we are assuming they will owe the full amount of any tax liability due. Based on that, we estimate that potential taxes due for these taxpayers if they do not pay with the return would be approximately another $590,000.
The following are examples of sections of the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) related to responsibilities of employees when granting an installment agreement (IA) if estimated taxes are involved. The IRM contains procedures that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses. We paraphrased some of the sections to show the relevant information about estimated taxes.
188.8.131.52.3.1 - Full Compliance Check
Establish whether the taxpayer has filed all returns for which he/she is liable and paid all types of tax, penalties, and interest. Among the items listed to consider are estimated tax deposits.
184.108.40.206.4 (1) - Can Pay Installment Agreement
Filing and paying compliance must be considered prior to determining that the best manner of paying delinquent taxes is through an IA.
220.127.116.11.4.9 (2) - Pending Installment Agreements
An IA should be identified as pending although the taxpayer did not pay estimated taxes while the employee waits for information from the taxpayer or does additional research.
18.104.22.168.4.10 - IA Rejection Criteria
An IA should be rejected if the taxpayer is not current in paying estimated tax payments for the current quarter and/or refuses to agree to make estimated tax payments during the IA period.
22.214.171.124.4.12 (3g) - Rejected Installment Agreements By Independent Reviewer
An IA should be rejected by the independent reviewer if the taxpayer is not current in paying estimated tax payments for the current quarter and/or refuses to agree to make estimated tax payments during the IA period.
126.96.36.199.4.22 (1) - Estimated Tax Payments – Monitoring an Installment Agreement
IRC 6159 does not allow for an IA to be defaulted for non-payment of estimated tax. IRS will continue to make estimated payments a condition for granting an agreement; however, IRS will no longer monitor and default an agreement for non-payment.
188.8.131.52 (5) Page 3 - Identifying Pending and Approved Installment Agreements on the Integrated Data Retrieval System (IDRS)
Requests that meet certain criteria will be identified as pending IAs even if taxpayers are not in compliance with estimated payments requirements.
184.108.40.206.1 (13) - Compliance and Installment Agreements
Compliance with filing, paying estimated taxes and Federal tax deposits must be current from the date the IA begins.
220.127.116.11 (9e) - Installment Agreements and Taxpayer Rights
Inform taxpayers that current returns for taxes must be filed and current deposits (or estimated taxes) must be paid to qualify for an agreement.
18.104.22.168 Table 9.3-1 - Independent Administrative Review
Taxpayers must be in compliance with paying current estimated taxes.
The response was removed due to its size. To see the complete response, please go to the Adobe PDF version of the report on the TIGTA Public Web Page.