Why the IRS won't take checks for $100 million or more

Apparently, people sending huge checks to the federal government is a growing problem.

Andrew Harnik/AP
This photo, taken Aug. 19, 2015, shows the The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Building in Washington, D.C.

Owe the tax man $100 million or more? Your check is no good at the IRS.

Starting next year, the IRS says it will reject all checks for more than $99,999,999. That's because check-processing equipment at the nation's Federal Reserve banks can't handle checks that big.

Checks of $100 million or more have to be processed by hand, increasing the risk of theft, fraud and errors, according to a pair of memos from the IRS and the Treasury Department.

As a result, the richest among us will have to wire their tax payments electronically. Or write multiple checks for less than $100 million apiece.

Conservatives have been complaining for years that President Barack Obama is trying to stick it to the rich, regularly proposing to raise their taxes. Now, they say, the Obama administration is making it harder for the super-rich to pay those taxes.

"If Obama really gets mean, he's going to make them bring in pennies or nickels," said anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union, said: "When our indebted federal government turns down large checks for fear of fraud or mishandling, it's time to revise processing procedures and security rather than inconveniencing or deterring taxpayers."

Apparently, people sending huge checks to the federal government is a growing problem.

The Treasury Department says it has noticed an increase in federal agencies trying to deposit checks of $100 million or more. This year, the IRS accepted 14 checks for more than $99,999,999.

The Federal Reserve says most commercial banks can't process checks with amounts that stretch for more than 10 digits, including cents. The Fed says federal agencies have been prohibited from depositing checks of $100 million or more for years.

Apparently, the IRS didn't get the memo.

The IRS declined to comment even though the tax agency's memo urged officials to spread the word about the check limit "in as many media forms as possible between now and Dec. 31, 2015."

The IRS didn't reveal who actually writes a check for $100 million, whether they were individuals or businesses. Confidentiality laws prevent those kinds of disclosures. Very few individuals pay that much in federal income taxes.

Each year, the IRS tracks the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes. These high rollers had an average income of nearly $336 million in 2012, the latest year for data. Their average tax bill was $56 million.

A corporation would have to make nearly $300 million in taxable profits to have a tax bill of $100 million. Investors who get the bulk of their income from capital gains would have to make about $500 million in taxable income to have a tax bill that big.

On Capitol Hill, there was little sympathy for people who will no longer be able to write enormous checks to the government.

"I have a lot of envy," said Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. "I don't know if I have sympathy for someone who's required to pay that kind of taxes."

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said he wishes he made enough money to pay $100 million in taxes.

"It sounds to me like these people could afford to pay electronically," Van Hollen said.

Nearly 90 percent of individuals already file their federal taxes electronically, according to the IRS.

Norquist saw irony in a government facing a deficit rejecting large sums of money.

"You're trying to write a $100 million check to the government and they're treating you like dirt?" he said. "These are your customers. If this was Las Vegas, they'd give you the suite and a bottle of champagne for free."

 

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