On Aug. 2, 2016 the IRS published in the Federal Register proposed regulations which among other things attempt to clarify the confusion regarding Taxpayer Identification Number solicitations. This is the government’s third attempt to clarify the TIN issue since the creation of IRC section 6055. The first attempt was made in the preamble to the final regulations for section 6055. In an attempt to bring greater clarity and to gather further comments on the issue, the government issued Notice 2015-68. Notice 2015-68 states an employer will not be subject to the penalties for the failure to report a TIN if the entity follows the regulations set forth at section 301.6724-1(e) with the additional modifications:
- The initial solicitation is made at an individual’s first enrollment or, if already enrolled on September 17, 2015, the next open enrollment;
- The second solicitation is made at a reasonable time thereafter, and
- The third solicitation is made by December 31 of the year following the initial solicitation.
The Notice is not a model for clarity and this issue has only been exasperated by the number of AIRTN500 error messages employers received when submitting the Form 1095-C. With that as a backdrop, the government is once again trying to clarify an employer’s solicitation obligation through proposed regulations. The proposed regulations only apply to the Form 1095-B and to Part III of the Form 1095-C (the Part that is used for employers that sponsor a self-insured plan). The proposed regulations do not affect Parts I or II of the Form 1095-C. This article focuses on the proposed regulations as they relate to Part III of the Form 1095-C. However, most of the concerns discussed in this article could be applied to the Form 1095-B.
As a refresher to what we have written about in previous publications, an employer submitting a Form 1095-C is subject to the penalty provisions of section 6721 and section 6722 for failure to timely file a correct information return or failure to timely furnish a correct statement to the individual. The penalties under both section 6721 and section 6722 may be waived if the failure to timely file (or furnish) a correct information return (or statement) was due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect. An employer may meet this standard by showing it acted in a responsible manner and that the failure was the result of events beyond the employer’s control or there were mitigating factors. An employer in danger of violating section 6721 and section 6722 as the result of a missing TIN or an incorrect TIN can follow the procedures laid out in specific sections of the regulations to fulfill the standard discussed in the preceding sentences.
The proposed regulations did a good job distinguishing between missing TINs (discussed at section 301.6724-1(e)) and incorrect TINs (discussed at section 301.6724-1(f)). Treasury and the IRS agreed with commenters that some modifications needed to be made to the solicitation process for missing TINs. However, the proposed regulations leave unchanged the regulations set out for incorrect TINs.
One of the problems commenters complained about with regard to missing TINs is it did not adequately define the term “opened” which was relevant to determine when the initial solicitation needed to be made to satisfy the regulations. An initial solicitation for a missing TIN must be made at the time an account is “opened.” Prior to the existence of the Form 1095-C, missing TIN solicitations were typically performed for financial accounts. These accounts are generally considered “opened” on the first day the account is available for use by the owner. However, this understanding of the term “opened” does not translate well to health coverage.
To rectify this problem, the proposed regulations provide that for the purposes of the Form 1095-C an account is considered “opened” on the date the filer receives a substantially complete application for new coverage or to add an individual to existing coverage. The proposed regulations indicate the initial solicitation for a missing TIN can be satisfied by requesting the enrolling individual’s TIN as part of the application process.
If the initial solicitation for a missing TIN does not produce a TIN, the first annual solicitation under the proposed regulations must be made no later than 75 days after the date on which the account was “opened” or, if the coverage is retroactive, no later than 75 days after the determination of retroactive coverage is made. The second annual solicitation for a missing TIN remains unchanged from the current regulations and must be made by December 31 of the year following the year the account is opened. It is important to note an employer may continue to rely on the rules discussed in Notice 2015-68 or may follow the proposed regulations until the final regulations are published.
Additional relief is provided by the proposed regulations for a missing TIN. For any individual enrolled in coverage on any day before July 29, 2016, the account will considered to be opened on July 29, 2016. An employer will have satisfied its initial solicitation obligation with respect to an individual who is already enrolled so long as the employer requested the enrolled individual’s TIN as part of the application process for coverage or in any other appropriate fashion before July 29, 2016.
Consistent with Notice 2015-68, the first annual solicitation would need to be made within a reasonable time after July 29, 2016 if the initial solicitation did not produce a TIN. An employer who performs the first annual solicitation within 75 days (before Oct. 11, 2016) will be treated as having made the first annual solicitation within a reasonable time. In this situation, if the first two solicitations (the initial solicitation and the first annual solicitation) do not produce a TIN, the second annual solicitation would need to be made by December 31, 2017.
The proposed regulations do not change the solicitation process for incorrect TINs. Therefore, for an incorrect TIN, the first annual solicitation must be made on or before December 31 of the year in which the employer was notified of the incorrect TIN unless the employer was notified of the incorrect TIN in December in which case the employer’s solicitation must be made by January 31 of the following year (see section 301.6724-1(f)(1)(ii)). Similarly, the rules for the second annual solicitation for an incorrect TIN remain unchanged. Therefore, if the employer is notified in any following year after the first annual solicitation that an employee’s (or other dependents’) TIN is incorrect, a second annual solicitation must be made on or before December 31 of the year in which the employer was notified of the incorrect TIN unless the employer was notified of the incorrect TIN in December in which case the employer’s solicitation must be made by January 31 of the following year (see section 301.6724-1(f)(1)(iii)).
The current regulations state that an employer may be notified of an incorrect TIN by the IRS or by a penalty notice issued by the IRS under section 6721 (see section 301.6724-1(f)(1)(ii)). Employers are being notified of an incorrect TIN on Part III of the Form 1095-C with an AIRTN500 error message. We were under the assumption that this would trigger the TIN solicitation obligation. However, footnote 2 of the proposed regulations appears to call this into question. Footnote 2 states:
A filer of the information return required under section 1.6055-1 may receive an error message from the IRS indicating that a TIN and name provided on the return do not match IRS records. An error message is neither a Notice 972CG, Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty, nor a requirement that the filer must solicit a TIN in response to the error message.
This footnote could be interpreted several ways. One possible reading would result in an employer having no solicitation obligation despite the fact an employee’s Form 1095-C triggered an AIRTN500 error message. Alternatively, this footnote could be read to mean an employer who received an AIRTN500 error message would not in all cases be required to make a solicitation. This would be the case if the employer had already fulfilled an initial solicitation as well as two additional annual solicitations at a prior time
However, we think the instructions to the Form 1095-C require an employer receiving an AIRTN500 error message to make some sort of effort to identify a correct TIN for a covered individual. Among other items, an employer is responsible for filing a corrected Form 1095-C if there was an error in the TIN in Part I or Part III related to covered individuals. The source of the error identification may be an IRS error message when submitting the Form 1095-C. The AIRTN500 error message is telling an employer there is an error in a TIN in either Part I or Part III of the Form 1095-C.
However, and to murky the water even further, the instructions for the Form 1094-C/1095-C state “Regulations section 301.6724-1 (relating to information return penalties) does not require you to file corrected returns for missing or incorrect TINs if you meet the reasonable cause criteria.” The confusion with this statement begins with the statement appearing to be at odds with the Form 1094-C/1095-C instructions requirement that a corrected return be filed for an incorrect TIN in Part I or Part III. However, this could conceivably be reconciled with the current regulations. The current regulations require an employer to include the updated TIN with any information return that has an original due date which is after the date that the employer receives the updated TIN (see section 301.6724-1(f)(1)(iv)). Therefore, these statements could be reconciled by viewing the current regulations standard of only updating forms after the correct TIN has been received (as stated in section 301.6724-1(f)(1)(iv)) as trumping the Form 1094-C/1095-C instructions need to correct a return for an incorrect TIN in Part I or Part III.
What is more difficult to reconcile is footnote 2 and the statement in the Form 1094-C/1095-C instructions. As discussed above, footnote 2 could be read to mean no solicitation effort is needed in the event of an AINTN500 error message. Seemingly to the contrary, the Form 1094-C/1095-C instructions state an employer does not need to file a corrected return for a missing or incorrect TIN if the employer meets the reasonable cause criteria of section 301.6724-1. This is inconsistent because, to meet the reasonable cause criteria of section 301.6724-1, an employer must follow the solicitation procedures for missing and incorrect TINs discussed in section 301.6724-1(e) and section 301.6724-1(f) respectively.
One possible reading of all of these statements would give employers two potential paths. If the footnote 2 path is followed, no formal solicitation would need to be made. However, if the footnote 2 path is followed and an informal solicitation produces a correct TIN, the employer would need to file a corrected Form 1095-C and typically would need to furnish the employee a corrected statement. This path is unsatisfying to a conservative legal mind. Alternatively, the second path would not require a corrected return but the formal solicitation procedures discussed in section 301.6724-1 would need to be followed. The uncomfortable aspect of this option is no corrected return would be filed after the employer is made aware that either a TIN in Part I or Part III of the Form 1095-C is incorrect. Again, this path is unsatisfying to a conservative legal mind.
Given the uncertainty created by footnote 2 and the statement in the Form 1094-C/1095-C instructions, we still view the formal solicitation as the best practice if an informal inquiry does not solve the TIN issue. Additionally, we view filing a corrected return as the safest practice. It is important to note that correcting errors is a requirement to use the good faith efforts standard to file accurate and complete information returns in 2015. Therefore, an employer must at least make some sort of effort to figure out what is causing the AIRTN500 error message.
Ideally, the IRS would release a simple overriding statement. The statement would begin “In the event one of your Form 1095-Cs triggers an AIRTN500 error message…” This would be followed by a simple statement or two as to what type of solicitation needs to be performed and whether a corrected Form 1095-C needs to be completed. We urge the IRS to take such action as the AIRTN500 error message was received for millions, if not tens of millions, of Form 1095-Cs.
We understand that the AIRTN500 error message has been the source of immense frustration for many employers. The proposed regulations appear to be another small step in the right direction towards an amicable solution. However, footnote 2 and the Form 1094-C/1095-C instructions cast uncertainty as to when the formal solicitation procedures need to be followed. Employers need to continue to monitor the government’s guidance on this important issue. And, until we get official word from the IRS, we view the formal solicitation procedures along with a corrected return when the solicitation is successful as the safest way to ensure compliance.
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