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WASHINGTON — For the third consecutive year, the IRS places abusive micro-captive insurance tax shelters on its list of "Dirty Dozen" tax scams. The list, compiled annually, describes a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter. Many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or hire others to help them.

"Taxpayers should avoid unscrupulous promoters who encourage the use of phony tax shelters designed to avoid paying what is owed," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "These scams can end up costing taxpayers more in penalties, back taxes and interest than they saved in the first place."

The IRS continues to address those using abusive shelters through audits, litigation, published guidance and legislation.

Tax law generally allows businesses to create "captive" insurance companies to protect against certain risks. Traditional captive insurance typically allows a taxpayer to reduce insurance costs. The insured business claims deductions for premiums paid for insurance policies. Those amounts are paid, either as insurance premiums or reinsurance premiums, to a "captive" insurance company owned by the insured or parties related to the insured.

Under section 831(b) of the tax code, captive insurers that qualify as small insurance companies can elect to exclude limited amounts of annual net premiums from income, so that the captive pays tax only on its investment income.

In abusive "micro-captive" structures, promoters, accountants or wealth planners persuade owners of closely held entities to participate in schemes that lack many of the attributes of genuine insurance. For example, coverages may insure implausible risks, fail to match genuine business needs or duplicate the taxpayer's commercial coverages. Premium amounts may be unsupported by underwriting or actuarial analysis, may be geared to a desired deduction amount or may be significantly higher than premiums for comparable commercial coverage.

Policies may contain vague, ambiguous or deceptive terms and otherwise fail to meet industry or regulatory standards. Claims administration processes may be insufficient or altogether absent. Insureds may fail to file claims that are seemingly covered by the captive insurance.

Captives may invest in illiquid or speculative assets or loan or otherwise transfer capital to or for the benefit of the insured, the captive's owners or other related persons or entities. Captives may also be formed to advance inter-generational wealth transfer objectives and avoid estate and gift taxes. Promoters, reinsurers and captive insurance managers may share common ownership interests that result in conflicts of interest.

In Notice 2016-66 (Nov. 1, 2016), the IRS advised that micro-captive insurance transactions have the potential for tax avoidance or evasion. The notice designated transactions that are the same as or substantially similar to transactions that are described in the notice as "Transactions of Interest." The notice established reporting requirements for those entering into such transactions on or after Nov. 2, 2006, and created disclosure and list maintenance obligations for material advisors.

Congress has also acted to curb micro-captive abuses. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, effective Jan. 1, 2017, established diversification and reporting requirements for new and existing captives.

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Upcoming Tax Dates

February 10 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
File Form 941 for the fourth quarter of 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the quarter timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Certain small employers
File Form 944 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Farm employers
File Form 943 to report social security and Medicare taxes and withheld income tax for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Federal unemployment tax
File Form 940 for 2017. This due date applies only if you deposited the tax for the year timely, properly, and in full.

February 10 — Employees who work for tips
If you received $20 or more in tips during January, report them to your employer Details

February 15 — All businesses
Give annual information statements to recipients of certain payments you made during 2017 Details

February 15 — Social security, Medicare, and withheld income tax
If the monthly deposit rule applies, deposit the tax for payments in January.

February 15 — All employers
Begin withholding income tax from the pay of any employee who claimed exemption from withholding in 2017, but did not give you Form W4 to continue the exemption this year.

February 15 — Individuals
If you claimed exemption from income tax withholding last year on the Form W-4, you must file a new Form W-04 by this date to continue your exemption for another year Details

February 19 — Everyone
Federal Holiday (Washington's Birthday) Details

February 28 — All businesses
File information returns (for example, Forms 1099) for certain payments you made during 2017.

February 28 — Payers of gambling winnings.
File Form 1096 along with Copy A of all the Forms W2G you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2G electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — All employers
File Form W3, Transmittal of Wage and Tax Statements, along with Copy A of all the Forms W2 you issued for 2017. If you file Forms W2 electronically, your due date for filing them with the SSA will be extended to 03-31. The due date for giving the recipient these forms remains 01-31.

February 28 — Large food and beverage establishment employers
File Form 8027, Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips. Use Form 8027T, Transmittal of Employer's Annual Information Return of Tip Income and Allocated Tips, to summarize and transmit Forms 8027 if you have more than one establishment. If you file Forms 8027 electronically, your due date for filing them with the IRS will be extended to 03-31.

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