IRS to Examine Rental Losses More Closely
The Internal Revenue Service has agreed with recommendations in a newly released government report urging the agency to increase its examinations of individual tax returns that report losses from rental real estate activity.
The report, by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, was conducted because a Government Accountability Office report in August 2008 found that at least 53 percent of individual taxpayers with rental real estate activity for tax year 2001 misreported their rental real estate activity, resulting in an estimated $12.4 billion of net misreported income.
The objectives of TIGTA’s review were to evaluate the IRS’s scrutiny of individual tax returns with rental real estate activity and to recommend changes to help identify, select and examine tax returns with rental real estate activity.
TIGTA found that during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the IRS’s rental real estate Compliance Initiative Program examined only a small percentage of the 318,339 examinations conducted by revenue agents and tax compliance officers. TIGTA projected that if the IRS were to increase the percentage of rental real estate CIP tax returns it examined, it could increase potential tax assessments by $27.3 million over a five-year period.
“Given the magnitude of underreporting in our voluntary system of tax compliance, even small improvements in the IRS’s examination of tax returns with rental real estate activity could increase taxpayer compliance and generate substantial additional revenue to the federal government, helping reduce the tax gap,” said TIGTA Inspector General J. Russell George in a statement.
IRS management agreed with all of TIGTA’s recommendations, disagreeing only with the report’s proposed monetary outcome measures.
In its report, TIGTA recommended that IRS officials conduct an analysis to determine the population of tax returns with rental real estate activity that meets the criteria for inclusion in the CIPs. The IRS should also revise the instructions for Form 8582 to require all taxpayers with prior-year unallowed passive activity losses to submit the form with their tax return. The report also recommended that the IRS ensure that the information taxpayers provide to report the net amount of income earned or losses incurred from being a real estate professional is transcribed.
IRS management agreed with all three recommendations. The IRS, in connection with the development of compliance strategies, plans to consider whether additional CIP examinations are appropriate. In addition, the IRS plans to revise the 2011 instructions for Form 8582 and transcribe the information taxpayers provide to report the net amount of income earned, or losses incurred, from being a real estate professional.
“We will ensure the information taxpayers provide to report the net amount of income earned, or losses incurred, from being a real estate professional is transcribed,” wrote Christopher Wagner, the commissioner of the IRS’s Small Business/Self-Employed Division. “These changes will assist in selection of the most high-risk returns for audit.”
However, the IRS disagreed with the proposed monetary outcome measures. “Since the dollars per hour figures were calculated based on actual examinations that were ranked and selected for examination based on their potential yield, the characteristics of these cases are not necessarily an accurate representation of the entire remaining population,” Wagner wrote. “Therefore, because the results of the cases examined do not necessarily represent results from cases not selected, projecting differences in revenues across unexamined cases does not produce accurate revenue estimations.”
TIGTA said it computed the outcomes conservatively using historical data from the examination program. TIGTA officials maintained that the potential $27.3 million of increased revenue over a five-year period is reasonable considering the assumptions used to calculate the estimate.