Always Say Never: Does Financial Distress Create Reasonable Cause Sufficient To Abate Tax Penalties?

By Hale Sheppard

Nearly all taxpayers will face penalties by the IRS at some point, regardless of their sophistication level and size.  Accordingly, tax practitioners, even those who claim not to get involved in traditional “collection” activities, must understand key aspects of abatement and collection procedures in order to effectively advise their clients.  This is particularly true given that the IRS persists in taking extreme positions in the Tax Court, such as the always-say-never approach, that are contrary to the majority of existing legal authorities.  A recent example is Custom Stairs & Trim, Ltd., Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2011-155, a case in which the IRS unsuccessfully argued that financial distress caused by events beyond the taxpayer’s control can “never” constitute reasonable cause for abating late payment and federal tax deposit penalties.  The attached article, called “Always Say Never:  Tax Court Rejects IRS’s Extreme Litigation Position in Penalty Cases,” analyzes Custom Stairs and the valuable lessons that it contains for taxpayers and their advisors.  The article was published in the most recent issue of Journal of Tax Practice & Procedure.

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