IRS Webinar Answers ACA Information Reporting Questions

Last week, the IRS released a webinar on identifying and correcting errors on information returns related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The ACA requires health insurers and some employers to file information returns with the IRS and furnish a copy to the recipient.  The 2015 returns are due by May 31, 2016, if filing on paper, or June 30, 2016, if filing electronically through the ACA Information Reporting (AIR) System.  The IRS webinar addressed frequently asked questions on four topics: correcting specific forms; TIN solicitation and correcting TIN errors; correcting AIR filing; and penalties, exceptions, and penalty relief.

Form-Specific Corrections

To correct errors on Forms 1095-B, 1094-C, and 1095-C, an entity must complete the proper form with the corrected information and mark it as a corrected return.  An entity should not file a return that includes only the corrected information.  Employers used to filing Forms W-2c to correct Forms W-2 will find this approach different from the process with which they are familiar.

To correct a Form 1095-B previously filed with the IRS, an entity should file a complete and corrected Form 1095-B that is marked as corrected, with a Form 1094-B Transmittal (which cannot and should not be marked as corrected).  To correct a Form 1095-C previously filed with the IRS, an entity must file a complete and corrected Form 1095-C that is marked as corrected, with a Form 1094-C Transmittal that is not marked as corrected.  Next, the entity must furnish the employee with a copy of the corrected Form 1095-C.  Employers using the qualifying offer method or the qualifying offer method transition relief for 2015, however, are not required to furnish the copy to the employee in certain cases.

To correct a Form 1094-C that is the authoritative transmittal previously filed with the IRS, an entity should file a standalone Form 1094-C.  An entity need not correct a Form 1094-C that is not the authoritative transmittal.

Some filers have expressed confusion as to why they must file corrected returns given that the IRS has indicated that a recipient of a Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C need not correct their tax return to reflect information reflected on a corrected form.  The webinar makes clear that regardless of that approach, filers must correct returns timely.  In terms of timing, an entity should file a correction as soon as the error is discovered if the filing deadline has already passed.  If an entity has already furnished Forms 1095-B or 1095-C to recipients but finds an error before filing with the IRS, the entity needs to file with the IRS a regular return, i.e., not marked as corrected, containing the accurate information. A new original, i.e., not marked as corrected, form should be provided to the responsible individual or employee as soon as possible.

TIN Solicitation and Error Corrections

In an effort to assuage a key concern of many filing entities, the IRS stated that an error message for missing and/or incorrect information is not a proposed penalty notice.  However, when an entity receives an error message regarding a name/TIN mismatch, the entity should file a correction if it has correct information.  If the entity lacks the TIN, it may use the date of birth and avoid penalties for failure to report a TIN, provided that the entity followed the three-step TIN solicitation process under Notice 2015-68: “(1) the initial solicitation is made at an individual’s first enrollment or, if already enrolled on September 17, 2015, the next open season, (2) the second solicitation is made at a reasonable time thereafter, and (3) the third solicitation is made by December 31 of the year following the initial solicitation.” The webinar is unclear whether the receipt of an error message triggers an obligation for filers to engage in a new round of TIN solicitation.

If an entity has not solicited a TIN, e.g., the individual was already enrolled on September 17, 2015, and the next open season is not until July 2016, the entity may be unable to correct the error before the return filing deadline.  In this case, the entity should still file a correction when it obtains the TIN or the date of birth if the TIN is not provided.  If a Penalty Notice 972CG is issued, the entity will have the opportunity to show whether good-faith relief or a reasonable-cause waiver applies.

AIR Filing Corrections

The IRS also clarified AIR’s transmission responses, which are defined under IRS Publication 5165.  An AIR filing will generate one of five responses: accepted, accepted with errors, partially accepted, rejected, or not found by AIR.  “Accepted with errors” means that AIR found at least one of the submissions had errors, but did not find fatal errors – i.e., the submission had unusable data – which would prompt a “rejected” response.  “Partially accepted” means AIR accepted some of the submissions and rejected others.  If AIR rejected any attempted filings, the entity must cure the problem and transmit the return again rather than use the correction process.

If AIR identifies errors, an entity will receive an acknowledgement in XML with an attached Error Data File.  Again, this error message is not a proposed penalty notice.  Rather, to assist the entity, the Error Date File includes unique IDs to identify the erroneous returns, and error codes and descriptions to identify the specific errors.  After locating and identifying the error, the entity must prepare corrected returns, which must reference the unique IDs of the returns being corrected.  AIR will assign unique IDs to the corrected returns, which the entity can then transmit through AIR.

Penalties and Penalty Relief

ACA-related information reporting is subject to the general penalties under Sections 6721 and 6722 of the Code for failure to (1) furnish correct copies to employees and insured individuals or (2) file complete and accurate information returns with the IRS.  The penalty for each incorrect information return is $260 and up to $3,178,500 for each type of failure, for entities with over $5 million in average annual gross receipts over the last three taxable years.  Only one penalty applies per record, even if the record has multiple errors, such as incorrect TIN and incorrect months of coverage.  For late returns, penalty amounts per return start at $50 and increase to $520, depending when the correction is filed and whether the failure was due to intentional disregard.  Further, a penalty may apply if an entity is required to file electronically because it has 250 or more returns but the entity files on paper and fails to apply for a waiver using Form 8508.

The IRS has provided good-faith relief to entities that file or furnish incorrect or incomplete – but not late – information, including TINs or dates of birth, if the entity can show that it made a good-faith effort to comply with the requirements.  Good-faith relief does not apply to egregious mistakes, e.g., where an entity transmits returns with just names and addresses and no health coverage information.  Further, good-faith relief does not excuse an entity from the continuing obligations to identify and correct errors in returns previously filed with the IRS.  An entity must correct errors within a reasonable period of time after discovering them (corrections must be filed within 30 days).  Importantly, if subsequent events, such as a retroactive enrollment or change in coverage make the information reported on a Form 1095-B or Form 1095-C incorrect, the entity has an affirmative obligation to correct the return even though it was correct when initially filed.

In addition to the good-faith relief, inconsequential errors and omissions are not subject to these penalties.  An error or omission is inconsequential if it does not stop the IRS from correlating the required information with the affected person’s tax return, or otherwise using the return. Errors and omissions are not inconsequential, however, if they pertain to the TIN and/or surnames of the recipient or other covered individuals, or if the return furnished to a recipient is not the appropriate form or substitute form.  Many errors relating to addresses or to an individual’s first name may be inconsequential, and are not required to be corrected.

Another exception is available for a de minimis number of failures to provide correct information if the filing entity corrects that information by August 1 of the calendar year to which the information relates, or November 1 for 2016.  For a calendar year, penalties do not apply to the greater of 10 returns or half a percent of the total number of returns the entity is required to file or furnish.

Finally, a filer may qualify for a reasonable cause waiver under Section 6724 of the Code for a failure that is due to a reasonable cause and not willful neglect.  To establish “reasonable cause,” an entity must show that it acted responsibly before and after the failure occurred and that the entity had significant mitigating factors or the failure was due to events beyond its control.  Significant mitigating factors include, for instance, that an entity was not previously required to file or furnish the particular type of form, and that an entity has an established history of filing complete and accurate information returns.  Events beyond an entity’s control include fire or other casualty that make relevant business records unavailable and prevent the entity from timely filing.