December Tax News Recap: Shutdowns, Changes, and more Scams

Oh December! As the world winds down for the holidays, tax preparers gear up for tax season – a season that is bound to be a tough one between the threat of a government shutdown and all of the tax law changes that go into effect. Here are the top stories in the tax industry for December.

Will they/won’t they… shut down? Tax-News

Will there be a government shutdown? Only time will tell. Either way, the IRS seems confident that it won’t affect the start of the tax season. It will, however, delay returns if the shutdown happens and continues through the start of the season. The IRS’s contingency plans in the event of a government shutdown were updated in November and can be found here.

IRS News

A few things came up on the IRS Newswire in December. First, the IRS announced a number of e-Services changes that will make account registration easier on tax pros. Student loans have been added to the alternative list of financial account data that the IRS will accept for verification. There’s also a new exemption process that allows tax pros who don’t have an e-Services account and who can’t complete the identity-proving process online to instead go through the process in person at an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center. You can read all about it here.

Second, the IRS is giving non-profits leeway on the tax provision that eliminated deductions for pre-tax commuter benefits. The law previously set a 21 percent tax rate for nonprofits on so-called fringe benefits like parking and commuter fair provided to employees.  You can read more about it here.

Third, a reminder from the IRS for those with disabilities: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made major changes to Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts. Eligible individuals may now put more money into their ABLE account and also roll money from their qualified tuition programs (529 plans) into their ABLE accounts. And certain contributions made to ABLE accounts by low- and moderate-income workers may now qualify for the Saver’s Credit.

A Speech from the Commish

As you know, the IRS has a new Commissioner, Charles Rettig. In his first speech as the commissioner at the AICPA National Tax Conference, about his plan to improve the technology at the IRS for interacting with both taxpayers and practitioners and to ready the agency for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“I, Chuck Rettig, work for the Internal Revenue Service and I’m very proud to do so. I hope that as my term moves on, others inside the Internal Revenue Service will stand up and say the same thing and that each practitioner will actually reach out and shake their hand.”

Watch out… 

…for scammers! The IRS has recently seen a surge of fraudulent emails where the sender impersonates the IRS and uses tax transcripts as bait to entice users to open documents containing malware. Don’t Mess with Taxes has the details here. Scammers have also been caught sending fake emails to tax professionals as part of payroll direct deposit and wire transfer scams. More on that here.

…for the IRS! Be careful what you post on social media. Because the IRS is watching! A request for information issued by the IRS’s National Office of Procurement suggests that the IRS is looking for ways to use social media platforms in its quest to catch tax cheats.