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On June 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a class action alleging a national bank (defendant) violated state laws in New Jersey by attempting to collect on a debt after it had issued a 1099-C notice to the plaintiff to cover the debt that was discharged. According to the opinion, the defendant obtained a judgment against the plaintiff and his wife for an unpaid debt, which the plaintiff did not satisfy. The defendant issued an IRS 1099-C form to the plaintiffs, indicating that $199,427.80 of the $244,248.49 was discharged. After issuing the 1099-C, the defendant notified the plaintiff that such filing had not caused the defendant to release the judgment and that the plaintiff needed to either pay the judgment or reach a settlement. The plaintiff sued, alleging the defendant violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and other state laws based on defendant’s issuance of a 1099-C IRS Form for cancellation of debt. The district court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant, which the plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued the creditors should not send 1099-C notices unless the debt has actually been canceled, and that sending such a notice while still intending to collect on the debt constitutes an “unlawful practice.” The 3rd Circuit disagreed, holding that the text of the governing IRS regulation, 26 C.F.R. § 1.650P-1(a)(1), indicates that “the filing of a Form 1099-C is a reporting requirement that does not depend on whether the debt has been ‘actually discharged,’ or the debtor has actually been released from his obligations on the underlying debt.” The appellate court further noted that “[t]he satisfaction of this reporting requirement, additionally, does not operate to forgive or extinguish a debtor’s obligations to repay the debt at issue.”
On April 1, FinCEN announced its first enforcement action for failing to comply with the reporting and recordkeeping requirements of a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO). The 2014 GTO in question was designed to combat what FinCEN and the Department of Justice viewed as widespread trade-based money laundering in the Los Angeles Fashion District, in which businesses accepted bulk cash from Mexican drug trafficking organizations as part the black market peso exchange. The GTO required that a wide range of non-financial businesses within the Los Angeles Fashion District, including perfume stores, travel agencies, and electronics stores, report and keep records related to whether they “received currency in excess of $3,000 in one transaction or two or more related transactions in a 24-hour period.” FinCEN imposed a $275,000 penalty on a perfume company in the Los Angeles Fashion District for failure to report more than 114 covered transactions worth more than $2.3 million. According to FinCEN, these failures were first identified in a 2015 examination by the IRS. Later attempts made by the company to submit reports for the 114 transactions were declared “substantially incomplete,” as the reports, among other things, failed to include customer information or any indication that the cash payments were made on behalf of another person or business. The IRS rejected the reports and referred the matter to FinCEN, who conducted an investigation and determined that the company failed to comply with the reporting and recordkeeping requirements until long after it became aware of the GTO.
The $275,000 civil money penalty was assessed based on a number of factors, including the company’s allegedly willful violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and the nature and seriousness of the violations, including the extent of possible public harm and the amounts involved. FinCEN noted that “[w]hile there is no direct evidence indicating that the unreported transactions involved illegal activity or the proceeds of illegal activity, the company’s failures were significant and led to the loss of valuable financial intelligence that could assist law enforcement efforts against significant money laundering activity on behalf of international drug trafficking organizations.” FinCEN also stated that the company’s actions impacted the agency’s mission to safeguard the financial system and target specific illicit financial threats, and that the company’s systemic failure to take any action in response to the GTO enabled them to continue.
“FinCEN’s enforcement action puts nonfinancial trades and businesses on notice that they must comply with Geographic Targeting Orders,” FinCEN’s acting Director Himamauli Das stated. “This action also illustrates FinCEN’s long-standing efforts to partner with other government agencies to combat money laundering schemes designed to launder the proceeds of criminal activity through nonfinancial trades and businesses in the United States.”
On June 30, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued the first government-wide priorities for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) policy (AML/CFT Priorities) pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AML Act). The AML/CFT Priorities were established in consultation with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, SEC, CFTC, IRS, state financial regulators, law enforcement, and national security agencies, and highlight key threat trends as well as informational resources to assist covered institutions manage their risks and meet their obligations under laws and regulations designed to combat money laundering and counter terrorist financing. According to the AML/CFT Priorities, the most significant AML/CFT threats currently facing the U.S. (in no particular order) are corruption, cybercrime, domestic and international terrorist financing, fraud, transnational criminal organization activity, drug trafficking organization activity, human trafficking and human smuggling, and proliferation financing. FinCEN further noted it will update the AML/CFT Priorities to highlight new or evolving threats at least once every four years as required under the AML Act, and issued a separate statement providing additional clarification for covered institutions.
Separately, the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, state bank and credit union regulators, and FinCEN also issued a joint statement providing clarity for banks on the AML/CFT Priorities. The statement emphasized that the publication of the AML/CFT Priorities “does not create an immediate change to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requirements or supervisory expectations for banks.” Rather, within 180 days of the establishment of the AML/CFT Priorities, FinCEN will promulgate regulations, as appropriate, in consultation with the federal functional regulators and relevant state financial regulators. The federal banking agencies noted that they intend to revise their BSA regulations as needed to address how the AML/CFT priorities will be incorporated into BSA requirements for banks, adding that banks will not be required to incorporate the AML/CFT Priorities into their risk-based BSA compliance programs until the effective date of the final revised regulations. However, banks may choose to begin considering how they intend to incorporate the AML/CFT Priorities, “such as by assessing the potential related risks associated with the products and services they offer, the customers they serve, and the geographic areas in which they operate.” Moreover, the statement confirmed that federal and state examiners will not examine banks for the incorporation of the AML/CFT Priorities into their risk-based BSA programs until the final revised regulations take effect.
On January 28, the Small Business Association (SBA) issued an information notice providing an update on the tax treatment of payments related to certain 7(a) loans, 504 loans, and microloans under Section 1112 of the CARES Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in December 2020, the SBA released a guidance document covering the issuances of 1099-MISC forms for 7(a) loans, 504 loans, and microloans. However, due to Section 278(c) of the Covid-related Tax Relief Act of 2020, the SBA now states that lenders “are no longer required to file Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, with the IRS or furnish this form to the small businesses on whose behalf the SBA made Section 1112 payments.” Moreover, the SBA issued procedural notices covering the use of electronic signatures for 7(a) loans and 504 loans and microloans through April 30. Additionally, the SBA issued an extension on the temporary procedures for microloan closings through April 30.
On December 14, congressional lawmakers released the details of bipartisan Covid-19 relief legislation (and accompanying memorandum), titled “the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020,” which would provide $300 billion to the U.S. Small Business Administration to allow for second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to certain businesses after the program’s lending expired in August (covered by InfoBytes here). In addition to capping the maximum PPP loan amount at $2 million, the proposed legislation would limit eligibility of new PPP loans to (i) businesses with 300 or fewer employees that have sustained a 30 percent revenue loss in any quarter of 2020; and (ii) non-lobbying, tax-exempt organizations that have 150 employees or fewer. Additionally, the legislation clarifies that business expenses paid for with the proceeds of PPP loans are tax deductible, and simplifies the loan forgiveness process for loans $150,000 or less. Lastly, the legislation includes set-asides for (i) small businesses with 10 or fewer employees; (ii) loans made by small community lenders, including Community Development Financial Institutions, credit unions, Minority Depository Institutions; and (iii) the Minority Business Development Agency.
On December 8, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released a guidance document covering tax issues relating to payments made on behalf of borrowers under Section 1112 of the CARES Act. Specifically, Section 1112 of the CARES Act authorizes the SBA to cover, for a six-month period, the principal, interest, and any associated fees that small businesses owe on 7(a) loans, 504 loans, and microloans. The guidance states, among other things, that lenders are responsible for issuing Form 1099-MISC for 7(a) loans that have not been purchased by SBA, and for 7(a) loans that have been purchased by SBA and are serviced by the lender. Additionally, Microloan Intermediaries are responsible for issuing Form 1099-MISC for the microloans serviced by the intermediaries. However, the SBA is responsible for issuing Form 1099-MISC for (i) 7(a) loans that have been purchased, and are serviced, by SBA; (ii) microloans that are serviced by SBA; and (iii) all 504 loans.
On November 18, the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) clarified the tax treatment of expenses where a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan has not been forgiven by the end of the year the loan was received. According to the IRS revenue ruling, businesses are not taxed on the proceeds of a forgiven PPP loan, thus the business expenses paid from those proceeds are not deductible. The revenue ruling illustrates multiple taxpayer scenarios, which conclude that if the PPP loan has not yet been forgiven by the end of 2020, but the business reasonably believes the loan will be forgiven in the future, the expenses are not deductible. This applies whether the business has filed for forgiveness yet or not. However, if a PPP loan was expected to be forgiven, and was not, the expenses are deductible.
On September 22, the IRS released Announcement 2020-12 notifying lenders that they should not report the amount of qualifying loan forgiveness for covered loans to qualifying small businesses made under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).The IRS code generally requires lenders to file a Form 1099-C for any discharge of indebtedness of at least $600. However, the IRS’ announcement specifies that when a portion or all of the principal is forgiven under the requirements of Section 1106 of the CARES Act, lenders, for federal income tax purposes only, should not “file a Form 1099-C information return with the IRS or provide a payee statement to the eligible recipient under section 6050P of the Code as a result of the qualifying forgiveness.”
On March 31, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service launched the Employee Retention Credit, a resource designed to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll during the Covid-19 outbreak. The resource is a refundable tax credit of 50 percent of up to $10,000 in wages paid by an eligible employer whose business has been financially impacted by Covid-19. Employers of all sizes, including tax-exempt organizations may qualify to receive the employee retention credit if either: (i) the employer’s business is fully or partially suspended by government order due to Covid-19 during the calendar quarter; or (ii) the employer’s gross receipts are below 50 percent of the comparable quarter in 2019. Once the employer’s gross receipts go above 80 percent of a comparable quarter in 2019 they no longer qualify after the end of that quarter. State and local governments and their instrumentalities, and small businesses who take Small Business Loans are not eligible for the employee retention credit. The credit applies to wages paid after March 12, 2020 and before January 1, 2021, and cover both cash payments and a portion of the cost of employer provided health care.
On January 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted final approval of a class action settlement between homeowners and a mortgage company to resolve allegations that the company violated the Internal Revenue Code by failing to report deferred mortgage interest from certain consumers with adjustable rate mortgages (ARM), which allegedly prevented consumers from fully benefiting from the mortgage tax credit. According to the approval order, the plaintiffs contended that “even though the accrued interest is added back to principal, the negative amortization is still interest that should have been reported” to the IRS. However, the order notes that the court previously rejected this theory in part, finding that 26 U.S.C. § 6050H “is ambiguous as to ‘how, whether and when’ such interest must be reported.” Furthermore, the order notes that in 2016 the company began investigating and reporting the negative amortization on loans received via transfer from other companies that allegedly failed to include the negative amortization in their data. These transferred loans, the company asserted, were the only instances where it failed to report negative amortization. Under the terms of the settlement, the company is required to provide amended mortgage interest statements to homeowners whose capitalized interest was incorrectly reported to the IRS for the 2016 through 2018 tax years.