It can happen to the most honest of us. It could be fraud. It could be a financial issue. But it happened. You're facing a tax issue. Is there anywhere you can go to for help?
CTEC Chair, Brandon Chanley, chats with Steve Sims - former Taxpayer Advocate for the Franchise Tax Board and nationally-recognized state tax expert. Hear stories of how he's helped taxpayers with taxing situations and who you can trust for help.
Unknown Speaker 0:02
Thank you for downloading taxpayer beware. This podcast was created by the California Tax Education Council, a nonprofit organization required by the state of California to protect you against fraud and help you find a legally qualified tax professional. There are 40,000 tax preparers registered with the council, also known as CR TPS, CR TPS are one of only four tax professionals approved by the state to do your taxes. Anyone doing business who hasn't met state requirements is breaking the law. And there are 1000s doing just that. Now, here's your host, Brandon Chanley.
Unknown Speaker 0:38
Hi, I'm Brandon Chanley, Chair of the California Tax Education Council or C tech for short. Welcome to the taxpayer beware podcast. Today's episode, you're facing a tax issue now what? So it can happen to the most honest of us, it could be fraud, it could be a financial issue, but it happened, you're in a taxing situation. And I think the first thing anybody would ask is Is there anything I can do about it? What can be done? Joining joining us for more insight today, Steve Sims. So I'm going to go through Steve's resume here in case people don't know who Steve is, but I have a feeling by this most of you probably have heard the name. Steve's an award winning nationally recognized California income tax expert. He's also an enrolled agent and has over 32 years of experience with the Franchise Tax Board, most notably his seven years as the tax payer advocate. He also served as the director of state and local tax controversy and KPMG. Sacramento office for two years. Steve is now an independent consultant helping taxpayers facing state tax problems. Some of this includes helping clients get certain penalties waived or helping them through collection issues. Issues a lot of us didn't even know we could negotiate. And let's be honest, California's income tax laws are definitely complicated. Oh, definitely. Yeah, in some cases, you really do need a professional to help you out. If not, in all cases, I think it's advantageous to have a professional. So let's we want to bring you on just kind of talk about your experience seeing things that you've seen. So let's kind of start out with, you know, your work as a tax payer advocate for the Franchise Tax Board. So you did that for about seven years, if you could to share with the audience, what were some of the typical issues you dealt with, and maybe the most common that people people may have?
Unknown Speaker 2:22
Okay, well, first of all, I became Taxpayer Advocate in 2008. And the advocates been around a lot longer than that. But once I became an advocate, you know, they wanted to advocate to be a little more visible, want to be out working with the public with business owners, with tax practitioners, I participated in a lot of, you know, a lot of speeches throughout the years. So I basically put myself out there and in a position to kinda like hear many of the issues that you're referring to. First of all, it's important that that people understand the role of the Taxpayer Advocate, basically advocate is to make sure taxpayers rights are protected, right, I mean, just, they have what's called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, I'm not going to get into that I'm gonna allow you to go to the website, or I think one of the other podcasts is going to have the actual advocate on current advocate, you know, on the cast, but they have the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. So what that means that means different things to different people. Unfortunately, for the most part, before you like involved advocate, you're supposed to have tried normal channels, when normal channels fail, you go to the advocate, because it's not that big of a unit. And if all the taxpayers that are having issues go straight to the Taxpayer Advocate, they be overwhelmed. So in many cases, you know, you may try to go to the advocate. And if you haven't taken certain actions on your own, if you came straight to them, then they might redirect you to another resource, which is which they actually have to do, because otherwise they wouldn't be able to, to handle their workload. Now, excuse me. Now, as advocate some of the cases that I got involved in, they were, there's, there's definitely a need just to give you some of the ones that, that I that I really felt good and being able to help out, you know, attach pair. There was one employer, this guy, he wasn't he was an employer. He had tax issues with regard to his business. He had balances due but he also had maybe like about 15 employees. And what he would do by on when it's time to do payroll, he would move money to his bank account, so that the money would be able to cover the payroll for the employees. Well, Franchise Tax Board, the involuntary collection cycle, basically, that's when, you know, it's pretty much computer science, you know, it'll check bank accounts, and other you know, properties. And it's done automated, it doesn't really, you know, know that you have employees, the bottom line is Franchise Tax Board, pretty much Levy, his bank account, and his employees we're getting ready to go and try to catch Tax and money wasn't there. So, Franchise Tax Board and the IRS basically, we have a provision that basically prevents them from levying funds that were intended for payroll. So he was able to come to the advocate, he didn't have time to go to collections, because payroll was the very next day. So fortunately, he was able to get hold of myself. And we were able to, of course, requests and documents like prior payroll to show that okay, how much did you pay in payroll last week, or last pay period? Because I mean, it you know, the amount of the current payroll is 20,000. And then we in the Franchise Tax Board takes 40,000. And he then we go to him and say, Well, how much is your payroll, and he says, 40,000, if you can't show that he paid 40,000, prior, then there are only released the amount that he paid before, unless he's able to show that there were new hires. So that was a situation where payroll was basically delayed just one day to get that money freed up. But that that was a good example, right there.
Unknown Speaker 6:01
So that was an example where the business owner actually came to you as well.
Unknown Speaker 6:05
Well, here's the deal. Yeah, I was a small business owner. Yes, I understand. I mean, there's, this guy was not a big employer, he's a small business owner, which a lot of your people listening, probably everybody almost owns a small business now of some sort, right? Not all of them have employees, but most people have small businesses. And a mistake he made also was, he had some personal taxes doing, he didn't separate his bank accounts. He had his personal stuff in his business bank account, it was kind of a mess. But, you know, again, we was able to get the payroll done prior period and freed up the money. Another case involving an individual is there's a taxpayer, a lady, she's older, elderly, course, senior citizen. She's on Social Security only. And that's how she survives. However, she needs the help of her son. So her son basically was on her bank account, to help write checks and, you know, get the funds that she needed. But what she didn't know is that the son had his own tax liabilities. And she didn't have anything to do with it. And so his name was on that bank account. So they contacted me because they didn't know what to do, because it was time for her to pay her rent, and they took the son's tax liability out of her bank account. So they came to me, and we were able to show that No, he's just on that count, to help take care of his his mom, and that the funds that went into that account, were only social security. So I did have to get like at least one month's bank statement to show what was deposited in there. Because once again, you have people that will try to use, you know, the grandmother's bank account to put their own money in their thinking that they won't touch it, because it's not my bank account. So you know, we're there is, if someone has tax liabilities do, don't put them on your bank account,
Unknown Speaker 8:00
guilt, guilt by association, right?
Unknown Speaker 8:02
You're all gone. Right? You know, because this whole product inventory collects, it's automated, no one's gonna call you up and say, Hey, is this your money? No, they're not gonna do that they see the money there, your names on the account, they're gonna, they'll hold it, though, they don't just transfer the money over, what happens is the bank puts a hold on the money, and they notify you and you have a certain number of days, usually seven to 10 days to get back to the bank and say, hey, you know, that don't don't send that money over there. And then the bank is gonna say, well, you're gonna have to get released from Franchise Tax Board. And that basically has to happen, but sometimes they don't find out about that hold for like, two or three days as they went by before, and now you're down to like, they're gonna send the money, like three or four days, right? So you don't have time to go to collections, you don't have time to go to normal channels. Because I mean, at certain points in time, it's really difficult to get through. And I'm sure everyone's experiencing that. And, and, you know, the employees at the Franchise Tax Board and IRS, I'll be honest, they are doing the best they can. And they are quite friendly. When you get a hold of them. The only problem is, you know, you just it's just tough. They're, they're overwhelmed. In terms of calls coming in.
Unknown Speaker 9:13
Yeah. And I think, you know, you hit on a good point there. You know, I think the first thing that happens if anybody's contacted by F TV or the IRS, I mean, it's instant panic, you know, you get a letter and you're like, What in the world do I do? What's going on? How can I help? You know, how can I be helped? And I think people think, well, if I just throw the letter away, or just move on, it'll just disappear. So I think it's great. I mean, like, you're saying, you know, the name name says it all advocate, you know, you're, you're there to try to help them through the process.
Unknown Speaker 9:41
Right. And there's certain situations where you really, you can't help. Yeah, there's one case where this guy, he's a friend of mine, and he was in construction, and he just kind of worked under the table. Right? And just, you know, but at the same time, he had tax liabilities that were due and He met the woman of his dreams, you know, to the airline pilot, she made a lot of money. She had a lot of withholding taken up, she was used to getting anywhere between like a 15 to $20,000 refund each year. Okay, she was used to that. And he did. So they got married, and first year, they were married, they filed a joint return. Now, if you file a joint return, and there's a refund due on that return, it doesn't matter that you know, because he called me up, you know, what can you do, man? I mean, it's my liability. She she, you know, I got that before she got married. And I'm like, Look, dude, you filed a joint return that refund of community property. You know, he goes, oh, minutes, you know, you know, she's gonna She's gonna kill me. I'm like, Wait, you can't sleep on my couch? Because I don't want to get hit. But there was nothing I could do. And you're like, oh, no, there's nothing man. I mean, you know, she should never she should you know, she should never file a joint return, you know, file married, filing separate next time is what I told him. Needless to say she divorced him. And they never filed. He didn't disclose. He didn't prepare. He had all kinds of issues. I was at the wedding. I started to tell her but you know, not my business. Yeah.
Unknown Speaker 11:15
No, but yeah, that's a good point, too. I mean, there's, you know, you're there to help. But there's you sometimes you can't help. I mean, that's plain and simple. It still needs to be within the regulations of the IRS and Franchise Tax Board and California state law for sure. Oh, yeah.
Unknown Speaker 11:29
Yeah, I mean, the advocate basically has a lot of attitudes, it's a very powerful office, and there's things that you can do you have direct contact with all of the program areas, you can actually shine light on an issue that really needs to be resolved as soon as possible. You know, many times I kind of disagreed with the action that had been taken. But just because I disagree, doesn't mean they change it, you know, a couple times I give some additional information, and a change gets made. And then sometimes it just, you know, they says, Hey, Steve, we've looked at this, and there's nothing that we can do. But uh, you know, the point you make is that, yeah, you have to operate within the parameters. It's there's, even though it's an advocate, you know, and you report directly to the executive officer, you still have certain constraints.
Unknown Speaker 12:18
Let's kind of switch gears. So I, you know, that's kind of what you did as a taxpayer advocate. And I know now that you're, you know, independent and doing some things on your own doing some consulting and helping taxpayers. Let's just talk a little bit about, you know, how are you helping taxpayers now, what are some of the issues that you see and things you're helping them with?
Unknown Speaker 12:36
Okay. Okay. So currently, we're not when you say taxpayers, I know our audience. There's there's just your average taxpayer hear that that's, that's, you know, maybe maybe a W two worker, but just in case we have business owners that yeah, you know, I just kind of want to give it a general description of kind of what I do. Like, although I was the California Taxpayer Advocate, as you said, in my bio, you know, I'm an enrolled agent. So I basically, I kind of handled pretty much everything I worked with issues involving the Internal Revenue Service, California Franchise Tax Board, Edd, California Department of tax and fee administration, formerly known as Board of Equalization, the only thing I don't work with is child support, because I've had some child support is really, really tough to undo. And there's nothing that's going to make that go away, you can't bankrupt it. Get the you know, you got you know, some people come to me, Hey, can you work on this? You know, my kid is 32 years old, and I'm still not paying, you haven't paid it. The problem is they're still looking for it. So I don't touch support. But some of the things I do touch I did a lot of I get a lot of work from people get filing enforcement notices, meaning California found out that you have a let me turn this off just one second. Because Alright, California has basically a filing enforcement program where, you know, you have taxpayers that just don't think they have a, they need to file or they basically know they need to file but they don't file California is very sophisticated in terms of being able to determine if you may or may not have a filing obligation, so they send notices to taxpayers, says, hey, it looks as though you have a mortgage and you paid X amount in mortgage interest, but we don't see where you file the tax return. How is it that you could pay this mortgage and not pay taxes? Of course, you know, they cleaned it up? It's a lot nicer than that. But that's basically what they're saying. That's what they because I mean, then you have to file get back to them and say, Well, yeah, but I don't pay the mortgage. Somebody else do it. There's reasons why people could have a mortgage expense and still not have a filing requirement. Their income could not be taxable, but the bottom line is they'll contact you ask you and sometimes they actually do Oh, so I get a lot of people are like I just I'm working on one Now where finally the taxpayer moved around, move around. Now they have a really good job, but they haven't filed taxes since 2013. Right, right, right, right. So then you know what happens. And this one happened at the federal level, because federal, they get their W tos and the federal, what they'll do is they'll they'll do a return. That's called a substitute return, that you actually filing it FTB does the same thing that they're filing enforcement program. But bottom line is, you don't get any deductions for the most part. So the tax is going to be, like huge. So IRS basically had set him up for 2013, all the way up to 2000, like 18, but substitute returns that basically had him owing based on because this guy was, he was a W two person, and he has a 1099 says he was self employed in construction. So this substitute returns had a total total tax liability of like $270,000, approximately a lot of money. Right. But that was based on them. You know, he, he basically had like, in one case, he had like, $150,000 1099, because he did some work. But he there's, there's expenses that are associated with that as a construction worker. Right? You you I mean, he's a general contractor. So bottom line is I had to do two returns, basically create the real returns. And basically, it changed that because with, with penalties and interest that tax liability went above 300,000. Oh, yeah. Well, I was able to get it down to like about 200,000. But at the same time, I went ahead and tried, I'm currently going through an offering compromise, trying to get them to settle for a smaller amount. Um,
Unknown Speaker 16:44
you know, that's, that's a good point there too. Steve, sorry to interrupt you. But, you know, just kind of thinking about that.
Unknown Speaker 16:49
I think that's okay. My wife interrupts me, okay.
Unknown Speaker 16:53
No, I think you can run into those situations where, you know, the penalty and interest and things that are due and oh, looks completely terrifying to someone. However, I mean, the IRS will work with you, as long as you're showing some good faith to make it right. Is Am I accurate? In saying now, you're
Unknown Speaker 17:11
extremely accurate on that? And I'll be honest, and, you know, three of the years, I didn't know where substitute returns, I was actually preparing his offer after having done some of the other years, you know, and the revenue officers. Oh, I see officer, whatever her title is, she basically says, You do realize that some of these these other older use right here, those are substitute returning, so I had to go back in? And do those three years returned. And that's what not some more money off, you know. So. So yeah, I mean, that I would not have noticed that because those were so far back, I would have missed it. And she she pointed that out, and it took care of about you know, about another 100,000? You know, or close to it, like 75 or something like that. Wow. Well, and the same Franchise Tax Board, you know, here's the thing. tax agencies, basically, they have a bad rep that goes back maybe like 40 5060 years, and I don't know if it was deserved or not. But you know, even way before I left, you know, people that work for the tax agencies, you have to understand they don't get a break on their taxes, right? Yeah. I mean, they, you know, they work for JC Penney's or Macy's, you get 10% discount or something like that you don't get anything though. And they also find themselves sometimes in tech situations where they actually owe so you know, I mean, don't get me wrong every once in a while you get a little hater, this shoot, I gotta pay my tax you pay you I mean, those are far and few in between, and I basically haven't come across any of those. And anytime I'm working with the government staff or tax agency staff, they're more than willing to help I mean, so they're there for you. I mean, even the collectors you know, every once in a while some of them might have had a bad day and you know, as a phone Hello, what do you want and I don't say it like that, but that's the feeling you get but right but the bottom line is you talk to them right? And they talk to you right the mistake that some people make and I kid you not It happens all the time, is that they try they get rough verbally rough with the person on the phone with the government agency, they're not in they're not paid to take you know, a whole bunch of screaming at name calling and you still have people that will try to do that you know threaten their you know, here's one thing they don't do anymore they don't threaten to go get their congressman cuz they know that's a waste of time
Unknown Speaker 19:36
aside themselves and just kind of talking trash, you know, right. No, hang up on the government agent. Employee, they'll hang up on you in a second. But yeah,
Unknown Speaker 19:43
you have to have a professional a professional navigate you through this process and help you and he gets the bottom line here is
Unknown Speaker 19:51
well, okay, so now you're talking about a professional Okay, you're right in certain cases. That's a huge mistake that's made sometimes as well. A taxpayer will try to resolve something, and they'll make it worse. You know, they think that they can do it themselves, there is a definite need for our professional in certain instances, you know, towards the end now we'll talk about some things that they can do themselves. But But you brought up a good point, you know, hiring a professional, but you have to hire the right professional, you understand what I mean by that. I mean, there are people that, like, there's certain things I don't touch. Because I've worked a lot, I work a lot of different stuff, but I don't know certain like unitary issues, I don't touch and that's that's like, very complex corporate reporting in multiple states. Don't get me wrong, I can do it. But I don't trust myself to be there, that would just be too much for me, I don't have enough. I'm self employed by myself, I don't have the resources to run it through review. And so I don't take certain types of work. But you do have people that will take work, but they don't understand I'm cleaning something up right now. Someone said they needed returns done. This guy was an entertainer, he went and he got his returns done, you know, by by his cousin, sister's baby mama, I don't know who it was. But the bottom line, they basically, you know, they did tax returns. But what he didn't tell him was that he had, yeah, sure he had W tos. But he also had an escort on the side that that basically had income too. But he hadn't filed this corporate returns. And an escort basically has to blow through the income to the individual. So she did those returns based only on the W two. And so those returns are wrong. Because he didn't include, she didn't include all of the income that he has, they're all wrong. Now, I don't know what he paid. But now, this was a guy that I talked to just last week, and you know, on the go forward, I can work with him. But you know, I can't do anything with those older returns, He wants me to get his corporation back up, you know, and so, you know, suspended corporations is another things I work with, you know, or suspended LLC. But bottom line is, you know, you're right, you have to go to the tax professional, and in certain situations, and a tax professional, that kind of, you know, they're know, they know, their limitations, or certain things that they shouldn't touch.
Unknown Speaker 22:16
You can you can get over your skis pretty quick. Oh, real quick,
Unknown Speaker 22:19
real quick, you know, you know, just like I said, there's still stuff I don't really mess with, you know, I just don't the learning curve is too expensive for me, you know, sure, I could do it. But after doing all my research and everything out, you know, I'm paid $3.50 an hour for doing that. You know, like, I can't I can't work like that.
Unknown Speaker 22:40
Yeah, I think I think people jump into situations like oh, yeah, I can do this return. And then it's holy cow. What am I doing? Well, we'll see if this sticks.
Unknown Speaker 22:46
Well, sometimes it's it's really not the practitioners problem. And sometimes it's just the taxpayer, not disclosing everything that they have going, you know, I basically do my consultations, not in writing I do over the phone, and I'm telling them I like look, you need to tell me, you know, you need to tell me don't don't think that you can tell me and make up an excuse. I'm going to find out, I'm going to do a transcript. I'm going to find out what sources of income the government thinks that you have. Oh, don't don't tell me tell me now. Because I mean, it's like, it's not like I'm gonna give you a price and the facts change that price is gonna stay the same. Because if I you know, if you're gonna like, shortchange me in terms of information and I'm having to do additional steps that I didn't know I was gonna have to do, then you've got a choice to make, you know, tax cut, you know, tax controversy work is something that you don't you know, you don't put that you don't put it on layaway, you get a retainer or a fixed fee paid in advance because you know, they haven't paid the government you know, they're not gonna pay you so always be upfront when you're talking with your tax professional, if you're going to have one so that they can properly diagnose that sounded pretty good I don't like a doctor but properly diagnose your situation or your problem and make sure that they can move forward with what's actually needed to get you you know, back in good standing
Unknown Speaker 24:09
like there's like a movie quote somewhere right? Like help me help you help you.
Unknown Speaker 24:13
Yeah, show me the money
Unknown Speaker 24:17
that would fit in this situation. And I've
Unknown Speaker 24:19
actually used that line before help me to help you to help you Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 24:22
yeah, I mean, at the bottom at the end of the day, you and the taxpayer presenting something to the IRS to be received by them and scrutinized by them so to speak, but you're presenting it to them. Right. I'm gonna give a tip to for ya. So it's gonna I was gonna lead in that's great. Give us some some some tips our audience can leave with here for sure. Yeah, cuz I don't
Unknown Speaker 24:44
know how long we have, you know, and um, but but some tips First tip, that's a continuation of what I was getting ready to say was well, first step. Like I said, this could be up front and sometimes you know, just make sure you explain your situation. You know, tell them that you don't know what you don't know, if you don't guess I was talking to the guy. Just yesterday on another issue, I says, are you an S corp or a C Corp? And he goes, Uh, so let's just said, I know, he didn't know, you know,
Unknown Speaker 25:15
come to break up. No,
Unknown Speaker 25:16
don't don't say, Yeah, I think I will see corporate No, no, you don't think what I do going forward, we can we can figure it out. But don't don't get information, if you don't know. So you don't know, when you're working with people, you know, when you're working with someone that's trying to work with you make sure you do not try to, you know, just just not share some information, it's best to be up front. Now, also, keep in mind that as a tax professional, we're, there's certain things that if you tell us, you know, we might have to walk away from it, just because of our ethics, you know, you know, it's like, well, you know, I, I got this drug business on the side. And I don't want to, like, well, you know, I don't want to hear that, you know, right. I like cuz I can't mean, basically, I can do a tax return, because, you know, illegal income still has to be reported, but you can't deduct any expenses. But no one, no one wants to do that. So you have to be careful, you know, I'm not advocating hide your money, but I'm saying if I'm your tax professional, I want you to be honest, but but make sure you understand that I can't move forward with anything that's going to jeopardize my license or put me in a situation where, you know, I'm culpable. And, you know, I can get in trouble too. So you know, that. When I say be honest, I'm also saying make sure what it is that you're telling them is something that's not going to cause them. You know, I mean, if you want to be 100% up front, but nobody is I'm going to say that nobody is 100% upfront, you just don't know. You know, you just don't know that someone's being 100% upfront. And so, as a practitioner, you have to assume that there's other stuff you don't know about. But, you know, I'm comfortable moving forward, you know, generally with whoever I'm at contact me only one time, I kind of bailed right in the middle of a representation because the tax payer basically. It was IRS, I believe they wanted the guy's financial statements. I mean, it's bank statements, right? To show that, how you spend your money. And I got the bank statements and this guy Oh, like that? Oh, no, I bet a million in taxes. So this guy had bank statements, and what's the place that shows the blue bar to Tiffany's? So there was there was receipt, bank status, Tiffany's. And it was like some huge, large amounts. And he was saying, trying to say he couldn't afford to pay. Yeah, I mean, your bank's name is you're at Tiffany's. He has a $20,000 purchase. What was that? And he goes, Well, don't send them that page. I'm like, what? Yeah. Remove that one. Yes. You know, Thanks, David. So page 110. So you know, you're gonna leave about three pages. And the guy says, No, I can't do that. So I says, I can move forward with this, but I will have to send all pages. And he goes, Okay, well, thank you very much, you know, I'm not gonna need your services. And why let him fire me,
Unknown Speaker 28:13
which is not worth it for, you know, what not worth it. Plus, he
Unknown Speaker 28:17
paid me up front. You know? I mean, yeah, you can't expect me and that's part of my, my statement of work agreement is like, you know, if you misrepresent yourself, and you want to pull out, I mean, I don't, I don't have to give back everything you gave me if it's if there's money left on a retainer. Sure, I'll refund that. But for the work I've done, not, you just can't, you know, pull out like that. Alright. Second thing that I want to tip I want to give is for those tax payers that are seeing those commercials that say, you know, do you owe the IRS $10,000 for just a second? Do you owe the IRS $10,000 or more? And, you know, we can settle for you for pennies on the dollar, right? You've seen that stuff, right? Yep. Yep. Um, I'm not trying to take away from their necessary necessarily from their business. But you have to keep in mind that, in many cases, what I'm finding out because I do get some residual from the pennies on 99 cents is pennies on the dollar, you understand? And there's fees that are associated with, you know, with having them represent you. And in many cases, all they're doing is putting you on an installment payment arrangement. And many times you can do that yourself. You don't need a practitioner. I mean, a lot of people don't need professional help to do a payment arrangement, especially if you don't have to do anything except, I mean, you're a W two worker you've paid you know, you filed your tax returns, you just haven't been able to pay what's due, you know, just you can go online and Do an installment agreement yourself, if you can pay it off within five years. And when you do that, make sure you set the monthly payments as something you can afford start low. It'll tell you if that's not enough, that's not enough and you put another amount in, then then, but you can do it yourself. So some of that offer and compromise, they'll it'll start out with pennies on the dollar didn't I'll take a look below evaluate your situation. And they'll come up with the fact that well, you know, we can't do an offer for you. But we can get you on a payment arrangement, something that's comfortable for you, you could have done it yourself.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai