The Internal Revenue Service began its “Dirty Dozen” list for 2022, which includes potentially abusive arrangements that taxpayers should avoid.
The potentially abusive arrangements in this series focus on four transactions that are wrongfully promoted and will likely attract additional agency compliance efforts in the future. Those four abusive transactions involve charitable remainder annuity trusts, Maltese individual retirement arrangements, foreign captive insurance, and monetized installment sales.
“Taxpayers should stop and think twice before including these questionable arrangements on their tax returns,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Taxpayers are legally responsible for what’s on their return, not a promoter making promises and charging high fees. Taxpayers can help stop these arrangements by relying on reputable tax professionals they know they can trust.”
The four potentially abusive transactions on the list are the first four entries in this year’s Dirty Dozen series. In coming days, the IRS will focus on eight additional scams, with some focused on the average taxpayer and others focused on more complex arrangements that promoters market to higher-income individuals.
“A key job of the IRS is to identify emerging threats to compliance and inform the public so taxpayers are not victimized, and tax practitioners can provide their clients the best advice possible,” Rettig said.
“The IRS views the four transactions listed here as potentially abusive, and they are very much on our enforcement radar screen.”
The IRS reminds taxpayers to watch out for and avoid advertised schemes, many of which are now promoted online, that promise tax savings that are too good to be true and will likely cause taxpayers to legally compromise themselves.
Taxpayers, tax professionals and financial institutions must be especially vigilant and watch out for all sorts of scams from simple emails and calls to highly questionable but enticing online advertisements.
The first four on the “Dirty Dozen” list are described in more details as follows:
Use of Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT) to Eliminate Taxable Gain. In this transaction, appreciated property is transferred to a CRAT. Taxpayers improperly claim the transfer of the appreciated assets to the CRAT in and of itself gives those assets a step-up in basis to fair market value as if they had been sold to the trust. The CRAT then sells the property but does not recognize gain due to the claimed step-up in basis. The CRAT then uses the proceeds to purchase a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA). The beneficiary reports, as income, only a small portion of the annuity received from the SPIA. Through a misapplication of the law relating to CRATs, the beneficiary treats the remaining payment as an excluded portion representing a return of investment for which no tax is due. Taxpayers seek to achieve this inaccurate result by misapplying the rules under sections 72 and 664.
Maltese (or Other Foreign) Pension Arrangements Misusing Treaty. In these transactions, U.S. citizens or U.S. residents attempt to avoid U.S. tax by making contributions to certain foreign individual retirement arrangements in Malta (or possibly other foreign countries). In these transactions, the individual typically lacks a local connection, and local law allows contributions in a form other than cash or does not limit the amount of contributions by reference to income earned from employment or self-employment activities. By improperly asserting the foreign arrangement is a “pension fund” for U.S. tax treaty purposes, the U.S. taxpayer misconstrues the relevant treaty to improperly claim an exemption from U.S. income tax on earnings in, and distributions from, the foreign arrangement.
Puerto Rican and Other Foreign Captive Insurance. In these transactions, U.S owners of closely held entities participate in a purported insurance arrangement with a Puerto Rican or other foreign corporation with cell arrangements or segregated asset plans in which the U.S. owner has a financial interest. The U.S. based individual or entity claims deductions for the cost of “insurance coverage” provided by a fronting carrier, which reinsures the “coverage” with the foreign corporation. The characteristics of the purported insurance arrangements typically will include one or more of the following: implausible risks covered, non-arm’s-length pricing, and lack of business purpose for entering into the arrangement.
Monetized Installment Sales. These transactions involve the inappropriate use of the installment sale rules under section 453 by a seller who, in the year of a sale of property, effectively receives the sales proceeds through purported loans. In a typical transaction, the seller enters into a contract to sell appreciated property to a buyer for cash and then purports to sell the same property to an intermediary in return for an installment note. The intermediary then purports to sell the property to the buyer and receives the cash purchase price. Through a series of related steps, the seller receives an amount equivalent to the sales price, less various transactional fees, in the form of a purported loan that is nonrecourse and unsecured.
Taxpayers who have engaged in any of these transactions or who are contemplating engaging in them should carefully review the underlying legal requirements and consult independent, competent advisors before claiming any purported tax benefits. Taxpayers who have already claimed the purported tax benefits of one of these four transactions on a tax return should consider taking corrective steps, such as filing an amended return and seeking independent advice. Where appropriate, the IRS will challenge the purported tax benefits from the transactions on this list, and the IRS may assert accuracy-related penalties ranging from 20% to 40%, or a civil fraud penalty of 75% of any underpayment of tax.
While this list is not an exclusive list of transactions the IRS is scrutinizing, it represents some of the more common trends and transactions that may peak during filing season as returns are prepared and filed. Taxpayers and practitioners should always be wary of participating in transactions that seem “too good to be true.”
The IRS remains committed to having a strong, visible, robust tax enforcement presence to support voluntary compliance. To combat the evolving variety of these potentially abusive transactions, the IRS created the Office of Promoter Investigations (OPI) to coordinate service-wide enforcement activities and focus on participants and the promoters of abusive tax avoidance transactions. The IRS has a variety of means to find potentially abusive transactions, including examinations, promoter investigations, whistleblower claims, data analytics and reviewing marketing materials.