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IRS online taxpayer accounts expand capabilities

The IRS announced in June (News Release IR-2017-106) that it had added several features to its taxpayer online account tool launched in 2016 on irs.gov. The accounts, which also had been made more secure with two-step authentication access, now allow taxpayers to view up to 18 months of their tax payment history, to view payoff amounts and tax balances due for each tax year, and to obtain online transcripts of Form 1040 series schedules and forms. The latter is done via the Get Transcript service, to which the IRS in June 2016 added multifactor authentication after suspending the service following a massive data breach in 2014 and 2015.

First-time users must register by entering personal data including a Social Security number and financial information such as a credit card or loan number, an email address for verification, and the number of a mobile phone in the user's name capable of receiving text messages. Returning users also receive a security code via text message to complete the login process.


Supreme Court rules church-affiliated organizations' plans are exempt from ERISA

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, No. 16-74 (U.S. 6/5/17), that three church-affiliated hospitals' employee pension plans were exempt from requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), reversing decisions by the Third, Seventh, and Ninth circuits. The lawsuits, brought by employees claiming that the hospitals and others like them have underfunded their plans, sought rulings that the hospitals have wrongly applied 29 U.S.C. Section 1003(b)(2), which exempts from ERISA a "church plan," originally defined by 29 U.S.C. Section 1002(33)(A) as "a plan established and maintained ... for its employees ... by a church" but subsequently expanded by 29 U.S.C. Section 1002(33)(C)(i) to include plans maintained by a "principal purpose" organization—an organization "the principal purpose or function of which is the administration or funding of a plan or program for the provision of retirement benefits or welfare benefits, or both, for the employees of a church or a convention or association of churches, if such organization is controlled by or associated with a church or a convention or association of churches."

The employees argued that the amendment did not negate the requirement that such plans must have been established by a church, and the circuit courts agreed. However, the Supreme Court (excluding Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court after oral arguments and did not participate in the decision) in a unanimous decision held that Congress intended for exempt church plans to include those maintained by principal-purpose organizations, regardless of who established them.


TIGTA finds improved ID theft casework

The IRS resolved taxpayers' problems with taxpayer identity theft more quickly and accurately in 2015—2016 than previously, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reported in an audit (TIGTA Rep't No. 2017-40-036 (June 6, 2017)). TIGTA analyzed more than 51,000 taxpayer-initiated cases of taxpayer identity theft that the IRS closed between Aug. 1, 2015, and May 25, 2016, finding they took on average 166 days from start to closure, an improvement of 112 days, or 40%, from the 278 days TIGTA reported in March 2015. Moreover, TIGTA found a case resolution error rate of 7%, down from the 11% it reported previously.

TIGTA attributed the improvement to the IRS's adoption in July 2015 of the earlier audit's recommendation to establish a centralized case processing "directorate" that requires a single assistor to resolve issues of a victim's stolen identity and tax account, with clearer lines of responsibility and better case processing guidance. Within the directorate, however, TIGTA found in the latest audit that managers were not consistently performing required monthly reviews of employees' identity theft casework. TIGTA recommended, and the IRS agreed, that the reviews be conducted in accordance with internal guidelines.

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