419, 412i, plans are being audited by the IRS. Lawsuits are the result. Small businesses facing audits and potentially huge tax penalties over certain types of retirement plans are filing lawsuits against those who marketed, designed and sold the plans.
The 412(i) and 419(e) plans were marketed in the past several years as a way for small business owners to set up retirement or welfare benefits plans while leveraging huge tax savings, but the IRS put them on a list of abusive tax shelters and has more recently focused audits on them. The penalties for such transactions are extremely high and can pile up quickly – $100,000 per individual and $200,000 per entity per tax year for each failure to disclose the transaction – often exceeding the disallowed taxes.
There are business owners who owe $6,000 in taxes but have been assessed $1.2 million in penalties. The existing cases involve many types of businesses, including doctors’ offices, dental practices, grocery store owners, mortgage companies and restaurant owners. Some are trying to negotiate with the IRS. Others are not waiting. A class action has been filed and cases in several states are ongoing. The business owners claim that they were targeted by insurance companies; and their agents to purchase the plans without any disclosure that the IRS viewed the plans as abusive tax shelters. Other defendants include financial advisers who recommended the plans, accountants who failed to fill out required tax forms and law firms that drafted opinion letters legitimizing the plans, which were used as marketing tools.
A 412(i) plan is a form of defined benefit pension plan. A 419(e) plan is a similar type of health and benefits plan. Typically, these were sold to small, privately held businesses with fewer than 20 employees and several million dollars in gross revenues. What distinguished a legitimate plan from the plans at issue were the life insurance policies used to fund them. The employer would make large cash contributions in the form of insurance premiums, deducting the entire amounts. The insurance policy was designed to have a “springing cash value,” meaning that for the first 5-7 years it would have a near-zero cash value, and then spring up in value.