The IRS Sends a Letter

Thousands of small-business owners have received letters from the Internal Revenue Service questioning whether they are underreporting their business income….

Tax officials say the letters don’t constitute an audit and instead are simply a request for more information.

Sure.  Except that they’re not “requests.”

One typical letter to a small-business owner is headlined, “Notification of Possible Income Underreporting.”  It begins, “Your gross receipts may be underreported.”

The letter instructs the owner to complete a form “to explain why the portion of your gross receipts from non-card payments appears unusually low.”  It says the business owner must respond within 30 days.

No.  Tell me what crime you’re claiming I’m committing or at risk of committing.  Then we can talk about my business model, my decision to emphasize card transactions in my business.  And 30 days is a short deadline for small businesses to investigate their records of individual transactions over the year supposed to be in question.  While you’re about it, explain to me why I’m obligated to do cash transactions at a rate that suits your whim.  Cash imposes additional costs on me, including more accounting effort (card transactions automatically generate their own audit trail for my internal, business use) and greater security costs from having all that cash on hand.

And there’s this example of IRS disingenuousness:

Peter Fleming, a small-business accountant in Carnegie, PA, said a client with a gift and souvenir shop received a letter from the IRS in December saying the revenue she claimed in tax returns the previous year was lower than sales reported in merchant card and third-party payments data.  The retailer reported gross receipts of $243,462, versus $249,994 in the payment data, according to the IRS.  The letter told her to ensure she was “fully reporting receipts from all sources” and gave her 30 days to respond.  Mr Fleming said the discrepancy was because payments data included sales tax, which wasn’t included in revenue claimed in tax returns.  For small retailers, “Sales tax is a liability and is not reported as revenue,” Mr Fleming said.

Of course, the IRS knew a priori this discrepancy was sales tax; the IRS has lots of access to state and community sales tax rates and records.

And a final bit of IRS cynicism:

The IRS has told accountants that a principal aim of its program is to verify the quality of the card-transaction data the agency is getting.

Clearly not.  I if this were true, the IRS would have said so in its dunning letters to those 20,000 small businesses.

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