Preparer Penalties and Injunctions

Penalties

Tax preparers, much like ordinary taxpayers, can face significant penalties. For example, a return preparer could be penalized for understating a taxpayer’s liability under IRC § 6694, failing to provide a taxpayer with a copy of their return, or failing to retain a copy of a return or a list of returns prepared.

The principal return preparer penalty that concerns most practitioners is found in IRC § 6694. The law provides in part that:

(a) Understatement due to unreasonable positions (1) In general If a tax return preparer— (A) prepares any return or claim of refund with respect to which any part of an understatement of liability is due to a position described in paragraph (2), and (B) knew (or reasonably should have known) of the position, such tax return preparer shall pay a penalty with respect to each such return or claim in an amount equal to the greater of $1,000 or 50 percent of the income derived (or to be derived) by the tax return preparer with respect to the return or claim. (2) Unreasonable position (A) In general Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph, a position is described in this paragraph unless there is or was substantial authority for the position. (B) Disclosed positions If the position was disclosed as provided in section 6662 (d)(2)(B)(ii)(I) and is not a position to which subparagraph (C) applies, the position is described in this paragraph unless there is a reasonable basis for the position. (C) Tax shelters and reportable transactions If the position is with respect to a tax shelter (as defined in section 6662 (d)(2)(C)(ii)) or a reportable transaction to which section 6662A applies, the position is described in this paragraph unless it is reasonable to believe that the position would more likely than not be sustained on its merits. (3) Reasonable cause exception No penalty shall be imposed under this subsection if it is shown that there is reasonable cause for the understatement and the tax return preparer acted in good faith.

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(b) Understatement due to willful or reckless conduct (1) In general Any tax return preparer who prepares any return or claim for refund with respect to which any part of an understatement of liability is due to a conduct described in paragraph (2) shall pay a penalty with respect to each such return or claim in an amount equal to the greater of— (A) $5,000, or (B) 50 percent of the income derived (or to be derived) by the tax return preparer with respect to the return or claim. (2) Willful or reckless conduct Conduct described in this paragraph is conduct by the tax return preparer which is— (A) a willful attempt in any manner to understate the liability for tax on the return or claim, or (B) a reckless or intentional disregard of rules or regulations. (3) Reduction in penalty The amount of any penalty payable by any person by reason of this subsection for any return or claim for refund shall be reduced by the amount of the penalty paid by such person by reason of subsection (a).

(c) Extension of period of collection where preparer pays 15 percent of penalty (1) In general If, within 30 days after the day on which notice and demand of any penalty under subsection (a) or (b) is made against any person who is a tax return preparer, such person pays an amount which is not less than 15 percent of the amount of such penalty and files a claim for refund of the amount so paid, no levy or proceeding in court for the collection of the remainder of such penalty shall be made, begun, or prosecuted until the final resolution of a proceeding begun as provided in paragraph (2). Notwithstanding the provisions of section 7421 (a), the beginning of such proceeding or levy during the time such prohibition is in force may be enjoined by a proceeding in the proper court. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to prohibit any counterclaim for the remainder of such penalty in a proceeding begun as provided in paragraph (2). (2) Preparer must bring suit in district court to determine his liability for penalty If, within 30 days after the day on which his claim for refund of any partial payment of any penalty under subsection (a) or (b) is denied (or, if earlier, within 30 days after the expiration of 6 months after the day on which he filed the claim for refund), the tax return preparer fails to begin a proceeding in the appropriate United States district court for the determination of his liability for such penalty, paragraph (1) shall cease to apply with respect to such penalty, effective on the day following the close of the applicable 30-day period referred to in this paragraph. (3) Suspension of running of period of limitations on collection The running of the period of limitations provided in section 6502 on the collection by levy or by a proceeding in court in respect of any penalty described in paragraph (1) shall be suspended for the period during which the Secretary is prohibited from collecting by levy or a proceeding in court.

(d) Abatement of penalty where taxpayer’s liability not understated If at any time there is a final administrative determination or a final judicial decision that there was no understatement of liability in the case of any return or claim for refund with respect to which a penalty under subsection (a) or (b) has been assessed, such assessment shall be abated, and if any portion of such penalty has been paid the amount so paid shall be refunded to the person who made such payment as an overpayment of tax without regard to any period of limitations which, but for this subsection, would apply to the making of such refund.

(e) Understatement of liability defined For purposes of this section, the term “understatement of liability” means any understatement of the net amount payable with respect to any tax imposed by this title or any overstatement of the net amount creditable or refundable with respect to any such tax. Except as otherwise provided in subsection (d), the determination of whether or not there is an understatement of liability shall be made without regard to any administrative or judicial action involving the taxpayer.

(f) Cross reference For definition of tax return preparer, see section 7701 (a)(36).

If you are a return preparer under investigation for a preparer penalty like those in IRC §§ 6694 or 6695, McLaughlin Legal can help.

 

Injunctions

The U.S. Justice Department’s Tax Division and the IRS have worked hard to shut down tax return preparers using the civil injunction program. Under the preparer injunction program, the government sues tax preparers to bar them from engaging in specified misconduct or from preparing tax returns for others. The IRS and Department of Justice have used preparer injunctions to shut down over 500 return preparers in the past 10 years alone.

The law generally provides that:

(a) Authority to seek injunction

A civil action in the name of the United States to enjoin any person who is a tax return preparer from further engaging in any conduct described in subsection (b) or from further action as a tax return preparer may be commenced at the request of the Secretary. Any action under this section shall be brought in the District Court of the United States for the district in which the tax return preparer resides or has his principal place of business or in which the taxpayer with respect to whose tax return the action is brought resides. The court may exercise its jurisdiction over such action (as provided in section 7402 (a)) separate and apart from any other action brought by the United States against such tax return preparer or any taxpayer.

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(b) Adjudication and decrees

In any action under subsection (a), if the court finds—
(1) that a tax return preparer has—
(A) engaged in any conduct subject to penalty under section 6694 or 6695, or subject to any criminal penalty provided by this title,
(B) misrepresented his eligibility to practice before the Internal Revenue Service, or otherwise misrepresented his experience or education as a tax return preparer,
(C) guaranteed the payment of any tax refund or the allowance of any tax credit, or
(D) engaged in any other fraudulent or deceptive conduct which substantially interferes with the proper administration of the Internal Revenue laws, and
(2) that injunctive relief is appropriate to prevent the recurrence of such conduct,
the court may enjoin such person from further engaging in such conduct. If the court finds that a tax return preparer has continually or repeatedly engaged in any conduct described in subparagraphs (A) through (D) of this subsection and that an injunction prohibiting such conduct would not be sufficient to prevent such person’s interference with the proper administration of this title, the court may enjoin such person from acting as a tax return preparer.