Employment / Payroll Tax Adjustments

Final regs include new process for reporting employment tax adjustments and refund claims T.D. 9405, 06/30/2008, Reg. § 31.6011(a)-1, Reg. § 31.6011(a)-4, Reg. § 31.6011(a)-5, Reg. § 31.6205-1, Reg. § 31.6302-1, Reg. § 31.6402(a)-1, Reg. § 31.6413(a)-1, Reg. § 31.6403(a)-2

Mike Habib, EA

IRS has issued final regs on employment tax adjustments and refund claims, effective Jan. 1, 2009. The final regs modify the process for making interest-free adjustments for both underpayments and overpayments of Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) taxes and Federal income tax withholding (ITW).

Background on interest-free adjustments and refunds. While generally interest must be paid to IRS on any tax underpayment and to a taxpayer on any tax overpayment, an exception applies to employment taxes. Where an incorrect amount of tax under Code Sec. 3101 (employee FICA tax), Code Sec. 3111 (employer FICA tax), Code Sec. 3201 (employee RRTA tax), Code Sec. 3221 (employer RRTA tax), or Code Sec. 3402 (ITW) is reported to IRS for any payment of wages or compensation, Code Sec. 6205(a) and Code Sec. 6413(a) allow employers to make interest-free adjustments for underpayments and overpayments, respectively.

Under the prior Code Sec. 6205(a) regs, if a return is filed and less than the correct amount of employee or employer portions of FICA or RRTA tax is reported and paid, the employer adjusts the underpayment (a) by reporting the additional amount due as an adjustment on a current return, or (b) by reporting such additional amount on a supplemental return. For overpayments of employment taxes, Code Sec. 6413(b) allows a refund claim to be filed when an interest-free adjustment cannot be made. Under the prior Code Sec. 6413 regs, IRS allows taxpayers to choose between filing a claim for refund and making an interest-free adjustment to correct an overpayment of employment taxes.

Late in 2007, IRS issued proposed regs on employment tax adjustments and refund claims (see Federal Taxes Weekly Alert 01/03/2008). The proposed regs have now been adopted with only minor changes.

Revised adjusted return process. The final regs are issued in connection with IRS’s development of new forms to report adjustments to employment taxes which will replace the existing process of reporting adjustments on regularly filed employment tax returns. The regs are part of IRS’s effort to reduce taxpayer burdens by allowing employers to make employment tax adjustments on a separately filed form as soon as an error is ascertained, rather than as a line adjustment on the regularly filed employment tax return. The new adjusted return will not affect the liability reported on the current return. Under the regs, the forms used to accept an assessment of employment taxes after an examination (Form 2504, Agreement and Collection of Additional Tax and Acceptance of Overassessment (Excise or Employment Tax), and Form 2504-WC, Agreement to Assessment and Collection of Additional Tax and Acceptance of Overassessment in Worker Classification Cases (Employment Tax)) constitute adjusted returns. (Reg. § 31.6205-1)

Interest-free adjustments. The final Code Sec. 6205 regs set out the procedures for making interest-free adjustments for underpayments of employment taxes. If a return is filed and less than the correct amount of employee or employer FICA or RRTA tax is reported, and the employer discovers the error after filing the return, the employer adjusts the resulting underpayment of tax by reporting the additional amount due on an adjusted return for the return period in which the wages or compensation was paid. The adjustment must be made by the due date of the return for the return period in which the error is ascertained, and the amount of the underpayment must be paid by the time the adjustment is made, or interest will begin to accrue from that date. An underpayment adjustment can only be made within the period of limitations for assessment. For underpayments of ITW where the incorrect amount was withheld, subject to limited exceptions, an adjustment can only be made for errors ascertained during the calendar year in which the wages were paid. (Reg. § 31.6205-1(b)(2))

The final regs also provide for interest-free adjustments of underpayments of FICA tax, RRTA tax, and ITW under certain circumstances where the underpayment arises because the employer failed to file an original return or failed to report and pay the correct type of tax. (Reg. § 31.6205-1(b)(3), Reg. § 31.6205-1(c)(3))

The final Code Sec. 6413(a) regs set out the procedures for making interest-free adjustments for overpayments of employment taxes. If an employer ascertains an overpayment error within the applicable period of limitations on credit or refund, it’s required to repay or reimburse its employees the amount of overcollected employee FICA or RRTA tax before the expiration of that period. However, the requirement to repay or reimburse doesn’t apply to the extent that taxes weren’t withheld from the employee or if, after reasonable efforts, the employer cannot locate the employee. In such a case, the employer can make an adjustment for only the employer share of FICA or RRTA tax. An interest-free adjustment for an overpayment cannot be made once a claim for refund has been filed. (Reg. § 31.6413(a)-1)

Once an employer repays or reimburses an employee to the extent required, the employer may report both the employee and employer portions of FICA or RRTA tax as an overpayment on an adjusted return. The employer must certify on the adjusted return that it has repaid or reimbursed its employees to the extent required.

Under the final regs, the reporting of the overpayment constitutes an interest-free adjustment if the overpayment is reported on an adjusted return filed before the 90th day prior to expiration of the period of limitations on credit or refund. Similar rules apply for making interest-free adjustments for ITW overpayments, except that an interest-free adjustment can only be made if the employer ascertains the error and repays or reimburses its employees within the same calendar year that the wages were paid and reports the adjustment on an adjusted return. (Reg. § 31.6413(a)-2)

No repayment or reimbursement for interest-free adjustments of overpayments. Unlike in the proposed reg, in the final regs the employer isn’t required to repay or reimburse the employee or to adjust the overpayment by the due date of the return for the return period following the return period in which the error is ascertained. (Reg. § 31.6402-2(a)(1)) After reconsideration, IRS determined there was insufficient reason to impose a timing restriction other than the period of limitations on credit or refund of taxes. (T.D. 9405, 06/30/2008)

Deposits, payments, and credits. An employer making an interest-free adjustment must pay the amount of the adjustment by the time it files an adjusted return. The timely payment satisfies the employer’s deposit obligations for the adjustment. (Reg. § 31.6302-1(c)(7)) In determining the amount of accumulated taxes in an agricultural employer’s lookback period (which determines the employer’s deposit schedule), adjustments to tax liability made under the filing of adjusted returns or refund claims aren’t taken into account; new agricultural employers are treated as having employment tax liabilities of zero for any lookback period before the date the employer started or acquired its business. (Reg. § 31.6302-1(g)(4))

If the underpayment amount isn’t paid when the adjusted return is filed, interest begins to accrue as of the date the adjusted return is filed. (Reg. § 31.6205-1(b)(2))

The adjusted overpayment amount will be applied as a credit toward payment of the employer’s liability for the calendar quarter (or calendar year for annual returns being adjusted) in which the adjusted return is filed, unless IRS notifies the employer that the credit will be applied to a different return period or that the employer isn’t entitled to the adjustment under applicable laws or procedures. (Reg. § 31.6413(a)-2(b)(2))

Refunds for overpayments. As in the prior regs, instead of making an interest-free adjustment for an overpayment, employers can file a claim for refund for the amount of the overpayment. Furthermore, if an employer can’t make an interest-free adjustment for an overpayment because the period of limitations for claiming a credit or refund for the overpayment will expire within 90 days or because IRS has otherwise notified the employer that it’s not entitled to the adjustment, the employer can recover the overpayment only by filing a claim for refund. (Reg. § 31.6413(a)-2(d))

An employer can file a claim for refund of an overpayment of FICA or RRTA tax, but must certify that it has repaid or reimbursed the employee’s share of FICA or RRTA tax to the employee or has secured the employee’s written consent to allowance of the refund or credit. However, the employer isn’t required to repay or reimburse the employee or obtain the written consent of the employee to the extent that the overpayment doesn’t include taxes withheld from the employee or, after reasonable efforts, the employer cannot locate the employee or the employee, once contacted, will not provide the requested consent. (Reg. § 31.6402(a)-2(a)) The final regs under Code Sec. 6414 set out similar procedures for filing a claim for refund of overpaid ITW, except that an employer can’t file a claim for refund of an overpayment of ITW for an amount the employer deducted or withheld from an employee. (Reg. § 31.6414-1(a))

IRS intends to issue guidance to provide examples of how the final regs apply in different factual scenarios. (T.D. 9405, 06/30/2008)