Posted tagged ‘Withholding’

Quality Stores Day Of Reckoning Draws Near – What Should Employers Be Thinking About?

January 16, 2014

By Phil Karter

The Quality Stores employment tax refund case was argued before the Supreme Court on January 14, 2014.  An explanation about the issue at stake can be found in prior Taxblawg.net postings.  Although the outcome of the case remains in doubt, the possibility of a taxpayer victory means that employers should start thinking about the need to satisfy an important prerequisite to qualify their claims for refund.

Employment (FICA) taxes have both an employer and an employee component. A taxpayer victory in Quality Stores will enable both employers and terminated employees to recover their respective shares of FICA taxes withheld from the employees’ severance pay.  The obvious question that is likely to arise from an employer’s standpoint is “what incentive do I have to file on behalf of former employees?”

The answer can be found in Treasury Regulation § 31.6402(a)-2(a)(1)(ii), which stipulates that the employer will not be allowed a refund or credit for the employer’s share of withheld taxes “unless the employer has first repaid or reimbursed its employee or has secured the employee’s consent to the allowance of the claim for refund and includes a claim for the refund of such employee tax.”  In other words, merely notifying ex-employees of their rights to claim refunds themselves is inadequate to perfect the employer’s claim to recover its own share of withheld employment taxes. The employer must take affirmative steps on behalf of the terminated employee.

Thankfully, despite the above language about securing consents, the regulation elaborates that the requirement “does not apply to the extent that the taxes were not withheld from the employee or, after the employer makes reasonable efforts to repay or reimburse the employee or secure the employee’s consent, the employer cannot locate the employee or the employee will not provide consent.  Therefore, it is the attempt to secure consents that counts rather than the actual ability to secure such consents. (This same consent procedure also applies to employment tax refund claims arising from the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, wherein the court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional.  Prior to that decision, employers were required to withhold and pay over employment taxes for benefits provided to same-sex spouses of employees.)

Up to this point, a majority of employers that have filed protective refund claims have likely not undertaken the effort to obtain employee consents. There are at least two practical reasons for this.  First, the Sixth Circuit’s 2012 favorable decision in Quality Stores came out only about six months before the expiration of the 2009 statute of limitations (assuming the employer’s return was filed without extension). Thus, for employers eligible for refunds of FICA withholding paid over in that year, there wasn’t a good deal of time to accomplish this task.  Without a full solicitation of consents and tabulation of the refunds owed to employees who had responded affirmatively, there would have been no way to calculate the aggregate employee refund and include it on a refund claim.

Additionally, with the final outcome of Quality Stores, and the consequent entitlement to FICA refunds in doubt, it would have been hard for employers to justify the expense of undertaking the consent process when it wasn’t clear the exercise would be worthwhile when all was said and done.

Assuming the Supreme Court affirms Quality Stores, the simple solution for employers that filed protective claims covering only their share of FICA withholding is to file amended claims to add the aggregate employees’ share for those employees who provide their consents.  The procedure for this is set forth right in the instructions for Form 941-X on which the refund claim is made.  The instructions provide, in pertinent part, as follows:

5b.     . . . In certain situations, you may not have repaid or reimbursed your employees or obtained their consents prior to filing a claim, such as in cases where the period of limitations on credit or refund is about to expire. In those situations, file Form 941-X, but do not check a box on line 5. Tell us on line 25 that you have not repaid or reimbursed employees or obtained consents. However, you must certify that you have repaid or reimbursed your employees or obtained consents before the IRS can grant the claim.

 5c.     Check the box on line 5c to certify that your overreported tax is only for the employer share of social security and Medicare taxes. Affected employees did not give you consent to file a claim for refund for the employee share of social security and Medicare taxes, they could not be found, or would not (or could not) give you a statement described on line 5b.

 5d.     Check the box on line 5d to certify that your overreported amount is only for federal income tax, social security tax, Medicare tax, or Additional Medicare Tax that you did not withhold from your employees.

The Form 941-X instructions also provide a sample consent that can be used as a template by employers:

Employee name ____________________

Employer name  ____________________

I give my consent to have my employer (named above) file a claim on my behalf with the IRS requesting $_________ in overcollected social security and Medicare taxes for 20___. I have not claimed a refund of or credit for the overcollected taxes from the IRS, or if I did, that claim has been rejected; and I will not claim a refund or a credit of the amount.

 Employee signature _____________________

Date _________________

The consents are not sent to the IRS but retained by the employer. However, employers should be mindful not only to retain such consents, but also to adequately document their efforts to obtain consents for all qualifying employees, whether or not they are returned.

On a going-forward basis until Quality Stores is decided, employers can ease the burden of having to track down former employees and send out consent forms to qualify their own refund claims by incorporating a consent form along the lines of the template shown above into the paperwork typically involved in the termination process.  Of course, if Quality Stores is decided favorably, employers from that point forward will no longer be obliged to withhold, obviating the need to continue this practice.

The Moment You Have All Been Waiting For: Payroll Tax Guidance for 2013

January 4, 2013

The IRS released Notice 1036 to assist employer’s with determining the payroll tax consequences of the fiscal cliff.

2013 Withholding Tables. Notice 1036 includes the 2013 Percentage Method Tables for Income Tax Withholding. Employers should implement the 2013 withholding tables as soon as possible, but not later than February 15, 2013. Employers can use the 2012 withholding tables until they implement the 2013 withholding tables.

Social Security Tax. For 2013, the employee tax rate for social security increases to 6.2%. The social security wage base limit increases to $113,700. Employers should implement the 6.2% employee social security tax rate as soon as possible, but not later than February 15, 2013. After implementing the new 6.2% rate, employers should make an adjustment in a subsequent pay period to correct any underwithholding of social security tax as soon as possible, but not later than March 31, 2013. The employer tax rate for social security remains unchanged at 6.2%.

Medicare Tax. The Medicare tax rate is 1.45% each for the employee and employer, unchanged from 2012. There is no wage base limit for Medicare tax.

Additional Medicare Tax Withholding. In addition to withholding Medicare tax at 1.45%, employers must withhold a 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax from wages paid to an employee in excess of $200,000 in a calendar year. Employers are required to begin withholding Additional Medicare Tax in the pay period in which it pays wages in excess of $200,000 to an employee and must continue to withhold it each pay period until the end of the calendar year. Additional Medicare Tax is only imposed on the employee. There is no employer share of Additional Medicare Tax. All wages that are subject to Medicare tax are subject to Additional Medicare Tax withholding if paid in excess of the $200,000 withholding threshold.

Revised Withholding Calculation Rules for Nonresident Alien Employees

February 10, 2011

The IRS recently announced in Notice 2011-12 that Notice 2009-91 will not apply to wages paid after December 31, 2010. 

Previously, Notice 2009-91 revised the withholding calculation rules for nonresident alien employees performing services within the United States.  Notice 2009-91 revised the rules to take into account changes made in the withholding tables to reflect the section 36A Making Work Pay Credit.  However, the Making Work Pay Credit does not apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2010. 

Notice 2011-12 provides that for wages paid after December 31, 2010, employers must determine the amount of income tax withheld from wages paid to nonresident alien employees for services performed within the United States using the procedures outlined in Notice 2005-76 and the current Publication 15.

Businesses should ensure that their payroll departments are aware of this change to avoid compliance issues, including under withholding, penalties and interest.

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Sourcing of Guarantee Fees Rises Again

November 8, 2010

By Jonathan Prokup

It seems that one of our favorite topics is back in the news: the sourcing of guarantee fees.  As reported in today’s Tax Notes, Robert Driscoll, withholding technical advisor for LMSB, was recently quoted as saying that guarantee fees might not be considered U.S.-source income if the guarantor is a qualified resident of a treaty country.  Amy S. Elliott, “Guarantee Fees May Not Be U.S.-Source if Guarantor Resides in Treaty Country, Official Says,” 2010 TNT 215-4 (Nov. 8, 2010).  According to the article, discussions within the IRS National Office have suggested that guarantee fees would probably fall under the “other income” article of the relevant treaty and thus would not be considered U.S.-source income in most cases.  Id.

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What Would Happen If A Taxpayer Asks The IRS For The Same “Deal” That Timothy Geithner Got?

June 25, 2010

By George W. Connelly

As my readers know, I focus my practice on representing people who have “misunderstandings” with the Internal Revenue Service.  I can’t count the number of clients who have made a comment along the lines of “get me Geithner’s deal” since it came to light that he had some significant and frankly embarrassing tax problems while working for the International Monetary Fund.  In point of fact, making a statement like that to an IRS employee is probably one of the worst things a taxpayer could say, because the rank and file IRS employees realize that if they did what Mr. Geithner did, they would be fired on the spot.

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Lee Sheppard Takes on Container Corp.

March 8, 2010

By Jonathan Prokup

In her column last Monday, Lee Sheppard criticized Judge Holmes of the Tax Court for, as she put it, “strain[ing] to find a reason to hold for the taxpayer” in the recent case of Container Corp. v. Comm’r, 134. T.C. No. 5.  (For our prior discussion of this case, see here.  For the text of the opinion, see here.)  According to Ms. Sheppard, Judge Holmes “appears to have assumed equitable powers in deciding” the case, and “the tax law is the worse for it.”

The basic issue in Container Corp. was whether guarantee fees paid by a U.S. corporation to its Mexican parent in respect of a debt guarantee provided by the parent should be treated as U.S.-source income (and therefore subject to withholding tax on payment to the Mexican parent).  Because the rules for sourcing income don’t address how guarantees are to be treated, the court framed its analysis as whether the guarantee fees were more like interest (which is sourced to the location of the borrower) or more like services (which are sourced to the location of the provider).

Ms. Sheppard excoriated Judge Holmes for even contemplating that a debt guarantee could be treated as a service.  To her, it “[s]ounds pretty obvious” that the parent corporation was simply protecting its investment in the subsidiary, not providing a service to the subsidiary.

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