Have you heard of the IRS's First-Time Abate penalty waiver program (FTA)? If you haven’t you’re not alone. Few taxpayers and tax professionals were aware of this program until a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (“TIGTA”) came out on October 17, 2012 auditing it. This is because this program is not publicized by the IRS. The only IRS overview of the program is in its Internal Revenue Manual (“IRM”) guidelines (188.8.131.52.6.1), which is a manual for IRS employees. In its report, TIGTA points out that there is no mention of the FTA in the 1040 instructions, on the IRS’s website, “Eight Facts on Penalties,” or on balance due notices sent to taxpayers.
The FTA is an administrative waiver which began for the 2001 tax year. Ordinarily, taxpayers must show reasonable cause, a statutory exception or IRS error before the IRS will abate penalties. A showing of reasonable cause requires an explanation that the taxpayer exercised ordinary business care and prudence in determining his tax obligation but nevertheless failed to comply with his obligation due to some specific circumstances. Instead, the purpose of the FTA is to reward past tax compliance and promote future tax compliance. Therefore, no showing of reasonable cause is required before relief is granted.
As part of this program, the IRS will waive failure to timely file and timely pay penalties for a specific tax year as long as the taxpayer has demonstrated full compliance over the prior three years. This relief is not automatically granted since in order to obtain the FTA waiver, the taxpayer must request it.
TIGTA’s report analyzes the FTA program and provides several recommendations for improvement. The IRS is currently in agreement with many aspects of these recommendations and is working to implement them. If these recommendations are incorporated, the FTA will undergo substantial changes.
- TIGTA Recommends That The FTA Waiver Be Better Used to Promote Tax Compliance
- TIGTA Recommends That The IRS Develop A Process To Address The Negative Impact To Taxpayers Who Qualify for Both FTA And Reasonable Cause Relief.
For example, according to TIGTA's report, If a taxpayer’s penalties are abated due to reasonable cause in 2010, he may qualify for an FTA waiver for 2011. Instead, when the taxpayer is granted an FTA waiver despite his reasonable cause in 2010, he is precluded from using the waiver in 2011. If he has no reasonable cause excuse in 2011, he is left with no recourse.
Furthermore, according to TIGTA's report, under the FTA waiver, abatement of the failure to timely pay penalty includes the assessed amount of the penalty but not the accrued amounts. An abatement of the failure to timely pay penalty due to reasonable cause includes both the assessed and the accrued amounts. The failure to timely pay penalty can reach 25% of the unpaid tax liability if it is left to accrue indefinitely. Furthermore, while the penalty continues to accrue, it is only assessed periodically and most of the penalty is never officially assessed until there are funds in the taxpayer’s account to pay all or part of the penalty. Therefore, a taxpayer seeking to abate the accrued amount of the penalty after an FTA waiver will have to submit an abatement request based on reasonable cause.
As evident from TIGTA's report, the FTA has a lot of room for improvement. Nevertheless, it's an important program of which taxpayers and their representatives must be made aware. Over a million taxpayers are missing out every year on obtaining relief from penalties which they do not have to pay.
This content is not intended as legal advice, and cannot be relied upon for any purpose without the services of a qualified professional.