The Trade Preference Extension Act of 2015 (TPE) was signed into law on June 29. The TPE mainly focuses on foreign competition and retraining domestic workers. But if you read the fine print, you’ll see that it also includes important — but little-noticed — changes to the penalty regime for failing to file required information returns with the IRS and failing to furnish required statements to payees (recipients of payments).
Here’s what you should know to protect yourself from unexpected IRS penalties.
Information Return and Payee Statement Basics
The Internal Revenue Code imposes potentially harsh penalties for failing to file complete and accurate information returns with the IRS. The most familiar information returns are Forms 1099, which are used to report various types of income (such as interest and dividends) and payments to independent contractors, and Form W-2, which companies use to report wages paid to employees. But there are also many other less-familiar information returns.
In many cases, copies of the returns must be sent to payees as well as to the IRS. For these types of returns, penalties can be imposed for both failing to send returns to the IRS and failing to send copies to payees.
Penalty amounts depend on the duration of the failure to file with the IRS (and send copies to payees if applicable), whether the failure was unintentional or willful, and the size of the taxpayer that committed the transgression.
Penalties for Unintentional Failures to File
Beginning with affected information returns required to be filed with the IRS after December 31, 2015, the TPE increases the failure-to-file penalties as follows:
- The penalty for one unintentional failure to file an information return with the IRS increases from $100 to $250, and the maximum penalty on any one taxpayer for multiple unintentional failures during a calendar year increases from $1.5 million to $3 million.
- For unintentional failures that are corrected within 30 days of the information return due date, lower penalties may apply. However, the TPE increases the lower per-return penalty from $30 to $50. In addition, the maximum penalty on any one taxpayer for multiple unintentional failures during a calendar year that are corrected within 30 days increases from $250,000 to $500,000.
- For unintentional failures that are corrected more than 30 days after the information return due date but by no later than August 1, another set of lower penalties applies. However, the TPE increases the per-return penalty for one failure from $60 to $100. The maximum penalty on any one taxpayer for multiple unintentional failures during a calendar year that are corrected by August 1 increases from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
Maximum Penalty Amounts for Small Taxpayers
“Small” taxpayers — defined as those with average annual gross receipts of no more than $5 million for the three preceding tax years — are subject to lower maximum penalty amounts than larger taxpayers. However, the TPE raises their limits for unintentional multiple failures to file information returns as follows:
- The maximum penalty on any one small taxpayer for multiple unintentional failures during a calendar year increases from $500,000 to $1 million.
- The maximum penalty on any one small taxpayer for multiple unintentional failures during a calendar year that are corrected within 30 days increases from $75,000 to $175,000.
- The maximum penalty on any one small taxpayer for multiple unintentional failures during a calendar year that are corrected more than 30 days after the due date but by no later than August 1 increase from $200,000 to $500,000.
Penalties for Willful Failure to File Information Returns
Even stiffer penalties apply to willful failure to file information returns with the IRS. For example, the penalty for willfully failing to file one information return can be $500 and up. And there’s no upper limit on the penalty for multiple willful failures to file under the TPE. A willful failure occurs when a taxpayer intentionally disregards the rules.
Similar Penalties for Failure to Provide Payee Statements
The same penalty regime that applies to failure to file information returns with the IRS generally applies to failures to provide required statements to payees. The best-known example of a required payee statement is the copy of Form W-2 that an employer must send to employees shortly after the end of the preceding calendar year.
Given the double-whammy between failing to file with the IRS and failing to provide copies to payees, IRS penalties under the TPE will quickly add up. Contact your tax adviser if you have questions or want more information on this important issue.
Increased Penalties Apply to IRS Forms 1094 and 1095
The penalty increases described in this article apply to IRS Forms 1094 and 1095, which involve new reporting requirements for health coverage providers and applicable large employers.
If your company has 50 to 99 full-time equivalent employees, you have to meet new IRS filing requirements using these forms next year. The requirements relate to the “shared responsibility” rules of the Affordable Care Act. (Larger employers already started this.)
Beginning in 2016, applicable large employers must file Forms 1094 or 1095 to provide 2015 health coverage information to the IRS and plan participants. The forms are used by the IRS to enforce employer penalties under the federal tax code, as well as individual mandate and tax credit eligibility rules.
Note: The IRS previously announced limited relief from penalties for Forms 1094 and 1095 filed in 2016, for applicable large employers that show a good faith effort to comply with the new requirements. Although the new penalty increases in the TPE don’t seem to affect that relief, they provide additional incentives for applicable large employers to at least satisfy the good faith standard for the approaching 2016 deadlines.