Information reporting continues to expand as Congress seeks to close the tax gap: the estimated $350 billion difference between what taxpayers owe and what they pay. Despite the recent rollback of expanded information reporting for business payments and rental property expense payments, the trend is for more – not less – information reporting of various transactions to the IRS.

Transactions
A large number of transactions are required to be reported to the IRS on an information return. The most common transaction is the payment of wages to employees. Every year, tens of millions of Forms W-2 are issued to employees. A copy of every Form W-2 is also provided to the IRS. Besides wages, information reporting touches many other transactions.

For example, certain agricultural payments are reported on Form 1099-G, certain dividends are reported on Form 1099-DIV, certain IRA distributions are reported on Form 1099-R, certain gambling winnings are reported on Form W-2G, and so on. The IRS receives more than two billion information returns every year.

Valuable to IRS
Information reporting is valuable to the IRS because the agency can match the information reported by the employer, seller or other taxpayer with the information reported by the employee, purchaser or other taxpayer. When information does not match, this raises a red flag at the IRS. Let’s look at an example:

Silvio borrowed funds to pay for college. Silvio’s lender agreed to forgive a percentage of the debt if Silvio agreed to direct debit of his monthly repayments. This forgiveness of debt was reported by the lender to Silvio and the IRS. However, when Silvio filed his federal income tax return, he forgot, in good faith, to report the forgiveness of debt. The IRS was aware of the transaction because the lender filed an information return with the IRS.

Expansion
In recent years, Congress has enacted new information reporting requirements. Among the new requirements are ones for reporting the cost of employer-provided health insurance to employees, broker reporting of certain stock transactions and payment card reporting (all discussed below).

Employer-provided health insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to advise employees of the cost of employer-provided health insurance. This information will be provided to employees on Form W-2.

This reporting requirement is optional for all employers in 2011, the IRS has explained. There is additional relief for small employers. Employers filing fewer than 250 W-2 forms with the IRS are not required to report this information for 2011and 2012. The IRS may extend this relief beyond 2012. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

Reporting of employer-provided health insurance is for informational purposes only, the IRS has explained. It is intended to show employees the value of their health care benefits so they can be more informed consumers.

Broker reporting. Reporting is required for most stock purchased in 2011 and all stock purchased in 2012 and later years, the IRS has explained. The IRS has expanded Form 1099-B to include the cost or other basis of stock and mutual fund shares sold or exchanged during the year.

Stock brokers and mutual fund companies will use this form to make these expanded year-end reports. The expanded form will also be used to report whether gain or loss realized on these transactions is long-term (held more than one year) or short-term (held one year or less), a key factor affecting the tax treatment of gain or loss.

Payment card reporting. Various payment card transactions after 2010 must be reported to the IRS. This reporting does not affect individuals using a credit or debit card to make a purchase, the IRS has explained. Reporting will be made by the payment settlement entities, such as banks. Payment settlement entities are required to report payments made to merchants for goods and services in settlement of payment card and third-party payment network transactions.

Roll back
In 2010, Congress expanded information reporting but this time there was a backlash. The PPACA required businesses and certain other taxpayers to file an information return when they make annual purchases aggregating $600 or more to a single vendor (other than a tax-exempt vendor) for payments made after December 31, 2011.

The PPACA also repealed the long-standing reporting exception for payments made to corporations. The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 required information reporting by landlords of certain rental property expense payments of $600 or more to a service provider made after December 31, 2011.

Many businesses, especially small businesses, warned that compliance would be costly. After several failed attempts, Congress passed legislation in April 2011 (H.R. 4, the Comprehensive 1099 Taxpayer Protection Act) to repeal both expanded business information reporting and rental property expense reporting.

The future
In April 2011, IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman described his vision for tax collection in the future in a speech in Washington, D.C. Information reporting is at the center of Shulman’s vision.

Shulman explained that the IRS would get all information returns from third parties before taxpayers filed their returns. Taxpayers or their professional return preparers would then access that information, online, and download it into their returns. Taxpayers would then add any self-reported and supplemental information to their returns, and file their returns with the IRS. The IRS would embed this core third-party information into its pre-screening filters, and would immediately reject any return that did not match up with its records.

Shulman acknowledged that this system would take time and resources to develop. But the trend is in favor of more, not less, information reporting.