Tax-compliance rates in the United States are based, in large part, on how taxpayers accrue income. Those who receive income that is reported by a third-party source, such as wage earners, exhibit near-perfect compliance rates on their salaries – since the payer of the income also reports that income as a deduction, such as the employer deducting wages as a business expense and reporting the wages on a W-2, a copy of which goes to the IRS.
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By contrast, taxpayers who accrue income in hard-to-trace ways exhibit much lower rates of compliance, as no third-party source reports the income to tax authorities. Instead, some of these taxpayers take advantage of the fact that certain income streams are hidden from the IRS, with no information that the IRS can use to detect noncompliance.
Higher-income taxpayers disproportionately accrue less-visible income streams. This tax-compliance divergence means that low- and middle-income taxpayers have higher compliance rates, while upper-income taxpayers likely have higher evasion rates. The Department of the Treasury estimates that the cost of tax evasion among the top 1 percent of taxpayers exceeds $160 billion a year.
Biden Tax Plans
The Biden administration’s efforts to ferret out taxpayers who are not reporting all of their income – and thus are escaping taxation – originally included the idea to require all financial institutions – including banks, Wall Street brokerage firms, credit unions, and private lenders – to report consumers’ account transactions totaling $600 or more annually. This would be done by including two new boxes on the applicable annual 1099 form: one would report deposits into the account, and the other would report the withdrawals.
Although most (74% in 2020) American taxpayers receive a refund each year when they file their income tax returns, there are those who for one reason or another end up owing. Of those who owe Uncle Sam many don’t have the means to pay what they owe by the return due date (usually in April). Generally, tax due occurs when a wage earner has under-withheld on his or her payroll or a self-employed individual failed to make adequate estimated tax payments during the year. This can be a huge problem for those who are unable to pay their liability.
This created a firestorm of opposition from the financial institutions whose job it would be to report consumers’ transactions, which claimed this would be an added burden and expose both consumers and businesses to possible data breaches and privacy intrusions.
On the other hand, supporters argue that the financial institutions’ customers would not be exposed to any new privacy issues or obligations, yet the institutions would be providing the IRS with more information to track down tax cheats and help close the tax gap by an estimated $600 billion annually.
Biden Tax Proposal
On October 19, 2021, in the face of widespread opposition, the Biden administration has backed down and is now proposing raising the reporting threshold to $10,000 in annual transactions while exempting income from which federal taxes are automatically deducted, as well as federal benefits like unemployment and Social Security.
Keep in mind that this reporting requirement is part of the proposed $3.2 trillion package (Build Back Better Act) being negotiated in Congress, and there is no assurance it will be included in the final bill. However, if it is, it would not be effective until December 2022.
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