Department of Labor Delays Implementation of the Fiduciary Rule

Last year, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued a final rule, expanding the definition of a fiduciary, making many broker-dealers and insurance agents fiduciaries. This rule, issued April 2016, was set to become effective June 2016, but was then delayed until April 10, 2017, with certain provisions delayed until January of 2018. However, President Trump ordered a review of the new rule and the DOL issued another delay, of 60 days, to complete the review. With the delay, the expanded fiduciary definition will become effective June 9, 2017.

Under the rule, a person or firm that is deemed a fiduciary is required to act in the best interests of their clients. This includes an obligation to avoid conflicts of interests, or otherwise receive compensation that creates a conflict between the interests of the fiduciary and the client. The new rule poses several issues for certain professionals that will be deemed a fiduciary under the new rule. For example, sales commissions would be deemed a conflict of interest, creating an especially problematic situation for broker-dealers that engage in principal transactions with clients. However, the DOL recognized the issue and created several principal transaction exemptions, but the exemptions require additional burdensome steps. This issue, among others, are central to the review causing the rule to be delayed.

Despite this delay, and the DOL admitting the review will not be complete by June 9, 2017, the expanded definition of fiduciary will be implemented at the end of the 60-day delay. Therefore, broker-dealers, insurance agents, and others that will now be deemed a fiduciary, should be prepared for the additional requirements on June 9, 2017.

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Guidance Issued on Option for Small Business to Apply Research Tax Credit to Payroll Taxes

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued guidance related to options for qualified small businesses claiming the research tax credit. Prior to 2016, the research tax credit could only be used against income tax liability. The Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes (PATH) Act provided that qualified small businesses may elect to apply the tax credit against payroll tax liability.

Qualified businesses have less than $5,000,000 in gross receipts and did not have gross receipts prior to 2012. Such a qualified business can apply up to $250,000 of the research tax credit against the payroll tax liability.

The election is made on Form 6765, which is included with the businesses income tax return, and Form 8974, which is included with the business payroll tax return. For 2016, if a qualified business has already filed its tax return and failed to timely make the election, an amended return may be filed making the election. Such amended return must be filed before December 31, 2017.

For additional information, see Internal Revenue Service, Notice 2017-23, available at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-17-23.pdf.

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IRS Use of Private Debt Collectors Begins April 2017

Beginning this month as result of federal legislation enacted in December of 2015, the Internal Revenue Service will begin using private debt collectors to collect certain outstanding inactive tax receivables. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, in fact, requires the use of private collection agencies for certain tax debt that the IRS is no longer actively working on collecting.

The IRS has announced that CBE, Conserve, Performant, and Pioneer and the four private collection agencies that will be assigned collection matters. With the ever-present risk of tax related scams, the IRS has provided guidance regarding the procedures when the accounts are transferred to the private debt collection agencies.

First, a taxpayer will receive written notices from both the IRS and the private collection agency indicating that the private collection agency will be handling the collection. The private collection agency representatives are also required to identify themselves as debt collectors and will be required to follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Taxpayers who are contacted by a private debt collector should ensure that the contract is from one of the above listed private debt collection agencies and that they have received the proper notices listed above. In the event a taxpayer is contacted regarding a tax debt, you may wish to confirm the accuracy of such debt using the IRS’s new balance check, available at https://www.irs.gov/uac/view-your-tax-account.

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IRS Warns Taxpayers About Recent Phone Scam

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) recently warned taxpayers that an aggressive phone scam that targets taxpayers, often senior citizens, is making rounds throughout the country and costing taxpayers millions of dollars and their personal information. The callers are con artists who claim to be IRS employees. The caller tells the victim taxpayer that the taxpayer owes money to the IRS and threatens the taxpayer with legal action if he or she refuses to pay. The caller often demands immediate payment with a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.

The callers often alter caller IDs to make it look like the IRS is the true caller, know information about their victims, use fake names and IRS identification badge numbers, and leave urgent callback requests. Similarly, callers may tell taxpayers they have a refund due, in an attempt to trick taxpayers into sharing private information.

The IRS reminded taxpayers the IRS will never do any of the following:

• call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method,
• threaten to immediately bring legal action against a taxpayer who refuses to pay,
• demand that a taxpayer pay taxes without providing the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount the IRS claims the taxpayer owes,
• ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

he IRS also reminded taxpayers it will work with private collection agencies for the collection of certain tax debts this year. However, the IRS reported that if a private agency calls, there will not be any threats or immediate payment demands and the call will typically occur only after the agency has mailed the taxpayer a notification about the debt.
The IRS urges taxpayers to protect their personal information at all times and to report scam calls to the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission, or the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

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New Corporate Compliance Guidance Issued by the Department of Justice

Earlier this year, under the direction of the new Attorney General, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) issued new guidance for corporate compliance programs. This guidance applies when the DOJ is investigating a business and determining how to prosecute a business for federal crimes, such as certain types of fraud. The DOJ notes that the recently issued “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs” updates the prior guidance and does not replace or substantially alter the investigation process.

Currently, federal prosecution of a business will follow the United States Attorney Manual, which provides factors for determining whether to charge a business, negotiate a plea, or come to some agreement. When making these determinations, the government will, among other items, evaluate the compliance program instituted by the business entity. The new guidance specifically pertains to the business compliance program pertaining to fraud prevention. The new fraud compliance guidance lists 11 topics to be evaluated by the DOJ, including Analysis and Remediation of Underlying Misconduct, Risk Assessment, Senior and Middle Management, and other topic areas.

The new guidance provides granularity and clarity regarding the DOJ evaluation of corporate compliance programs, when facing corporate criminal investigations. Although designed for corporate criminal investigations, this should guide companies implementing a compliance program, especially those in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and securities. The updated factors issued by the DOJ can be found at the following link: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/page/file/937501/download

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New Year, New Requirements – Employers Must Now Use the New Form I-9

One of the changes the new year brought was a new version of I-9 Form.  Beginning on January 22, all employers should now use the newly revised version of the new I-9 Form for verifying employment eligibility.  The form may be found at https://www.uscis.gov/i-9

The latest version of the I-9 Form may be filled out on-line (although it still must be printed out, signed and retained).  The electronic version should help with reducing potential errors due to the new drop-down lists and on-line instructions.  The new I-9 Form can also simply be downloaded from the government website, if you would prefer.

As a reminder, employers are required to complete an I-9 Form for all new employees not later than the third business day of their employment.

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IRS Issues Final Regulations for Foreign Owned Single Member LLCs

The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued final regulations that will increase reporting requirements for certain foreign owned single member limited liability companies (“LLC”). When a single member LLC is formed, for federal tax purposes, it is a disregarded entity by default. This means that income, loss, and subsequent tax obligations will pass through the entity to the owner. The final regulations change the default rule when a LLC is wholly owned by a foreign person, requiring the LLC to be treated as a domestic corporation separate from its owner.

By having these LLCs treated as a domestic corporation, separate from its owner, the LLC must obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and annually file an information return, Form 5472. The LLC must also maintain records of reportable transactions with the foreign owner or foreign related parties. Ultimately, the IRS believes that this will ensure that disregarded LLCs aren’t used by foreign owners to shield assets from the IRS.

Although this change is designed to prevent abusive practices, this has a practical impact for foreign owners of a domestic LLC, ultimately increasing administrative requirements. For further information, the IRS regulation can be found at the following address: https://www.irs.gov/irb/2016-21_IRB/ar19.html

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