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Unprecedented IRS Backlogs

In response to pressure from Congress, 1,200 IRS employees have been dispatched to sort and process millions of outstanding 2020 amended paper tax returns. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig says a separate team will tackle 2021 paper returns as they come in. The backlog has been caused, in part, because the IRS suspended approximately 35 million returns due to errors. But will the IRS’s action plan satisfy legislators? The National Taxpayer Advocate, Erin M. Collins, testified before the Senate Finance Committee that the agency also needs to provide temporary penalty relief to taxpayers, suspend collections and improve communications. In addition, she said the IRS needs sufficient funding to upgrade IT systems.

She told members of the Senate Finance Committee on 2/16/22 during a hearing on IRS customer service challenges, “In releasing my Annual Report to Congress, I said that paper is the IRS’s kryptonite and that the IRS is still buried in it.” She said that taxpayers have been experiencing significant delays in receiving their tax refunds because of unprecedented IRS backlogs in the processing of original and amended tax returns. Paper processing remains the agency’s biggest challenge, and that will continue throughout 2022. As of late December 2021, the IRS still had backlogs of 6 million unprocessed original individual returns (Form 1040 series) and 2.3 million unprocessed amended individual returns (Form 1040-X. E-filed original returns have mostly worked through the backlog. A written copy of her remarks can be found at this website.

Have questions about your 2021 taxes? Schedule an appointment with one of our tax professionals today.

Financial Institutions and Banking

FinCEN’s National AML/CFT Priorities Set the Tone

In June 2021, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued its first set of government-wide priorities (the Priorities) for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). As required by the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AML Act), the Priorities identify and describe the most significant AML/CFT threats currently facing the United States.

FinCEN will soon issue regulations that instruct banks and other financial institutions on how to incorporate the Priorities into their risk-based AML/CFT programs. In addition, though not required by the AML Act, federal banking agencies plan to revise their Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) regulations to explain how the Priorities will be incorporated into banks’ BSA requirements.

What are the Priorities?

FinCEN developed the Priorities after consulting with various Treasury Department offices, federal and state regulators, law enforcement, and national security agencies. Pursuant to the AML Act, FinCEN will update the Priorities at least once every four years in consultation with the same government agencies. These updates will reflect new and emerging threats.

The Priorities are:

Corruption. According to FinCEN, corrupt actors often exploit vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial system to launder assets and obscure crime proceeds. Past advisories on human rights abuses enabled by corrupt foreign political figures describe typologies and red flags that can help banks identify these actors and activities.

Cybercrime. Treasury is particularly concerned about cyber-enabled financial crime, ransomware attacks and misuse of virtual assets to launder illicit proceeds. Referencing past FinCEN and Treasury advisories regarding ransomware and COVID-19-related cybercrime, the Priorities note that banks are uniquely positioned to observe suspicious activity related to cyber-enabled financial crime and other cybercrime.

Terrorist financing. International and domestic terrorists require financing to support members, fund logistics and conduct operations. So, preventing such financing is essential to U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The Priorities remind banks of existing obligations to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) on potential terrorist financing transactions, follow requirements for reporting violations that require immediate attention and comply with required sanctions programs.

Fraud. The Priorities emphasize that fraud — including bank, consumer, health care, securities and tax scams — is believed to generate the largest share of illicit proceeds in the United States. These proceeds may be laundered through a variety of methods, including transfers through accounts of offshore legal entities, accounts controlled by cyberactors and money mules. Of particular concern are business email compromise and, most recently, COVID-19-related schemes.

Transnational criminal organization activity. These organizations — which may be involved in cybercrime; drug, wildlife, human, and weapons smuggling or trafficking; intellectual property theft; and corruption — are priority threats due to the “crime-terror nexus” of their illicit activities. According to the Priorities, these organizations are increasingly relying on professional money laundering networks.

Drug trafficking organization activity. Drug trafficking organizations tend to rely on Asian professional money laundering networks that facilitate exchanges of Chinese and U.S. currency or serve as money brokers in trade-based money laundering schemes. The Priorities note a substantial increase in complex schemes involving Mexican drug trafficking organizations that launder narcotics sale proceeds through Chinese citizens residing in the United States, including the use of front companies or couriers that deposit these proceeds in the banking system.

Human trafficking and smuggling. Human trafficking and smuggling networks use various mechanisms to move illicit proceeds, including cash smuggling by individual victims and sophisticated operations involving professional money laundering networks and criminal organizations. They may establish shell companies to hide the true nature of their business. They also may receive payments through such methods as funnel accounts and trade-based money laundering schemes.

Weapons proliferation financing. The principal threat here comes from proliferation support networks. These networks include individuals and entities, such as trade brokers and front companies, that exploit the U.S. financial system to move funds used to acquire nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or to further state-sponsored weapons programs. The principal driver of proliferation financing risk in the United States is global correspondent banking, due to its central role in processing U.S. dollar transactions.

What’s next?

Banks aren’t required to take any action with respect to the Priorities until final regulations are issued. When that happens, banks will need to review and incorporate, if appropriate, these Priorities based on their broader risk-based AML/CFT programs. Although it’s not certain when regulations will be finalized, it’s a good idea for banks to begin evaluating the potential risks associated with the products and services they offer, the customers they serve and the geographic areas in which they operate.

To begin evaluating potential risks and plan for final regulations, contact Jack Matthis at

Financial Institutions and Banking

Get Ready for General Qualified Mortgage Final Rule

In April 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) delayed the deadline for compliance with its revised general qualified mortgage (QM) rule to October 1, 2022. But it’s a good idea for banks to start reviewing the requirements now and determine how they’ll need to update their procedures to incorporate the new rule. QMs — which avoid certain risky features and meet other requirements designed to make them safer and easier for borrowers to understand — are presumed to comply with ability-to-repay rules.

Currently, for a loan to be a QM, the borrower must have a total monthly debt-to-income ratio (including mortgage payments) of 43% or less. The revised rule greatly simplifies the definition of a QM by discarding the debt-to-income limit in favor of a price-based model. For loan applications received on or after March 1, 2021, but before October 1, 2022, lenders have the option of complying with either the current or the revised general QM loan definition. (Note: Separate rules apply to “seasoned” QMs.)

New lease accounting rules back on banks’ radar

After several delays — including a one-year postponement due to COVID-19 — the new lease accounting standard is scheduled to take effect for private companies for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2021, and interim periods within fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2022. If your compliance efforts have been on hold, it’s time to ramp them up again. The upcoming transition to the new rules may influence current negotiations between banks and their loan customers, and banks that lease their facilities, equipment or other fixed assets should prepare for the rules’ potential impact on their balance sheets and regulatory capital. Plus, the standard’s transition approach may require banks to implement certain changes before the rules take effect.

Guide to conducting due diligence on FinTech companies

Community banks are under increasing pressure to provide their customers with digital products and services, and many banks are partnering with financial technology (FinTech) companies as a strategy for developing innovative, customized, cost-effective solutions. These partnerships can be complex ventures that involve a variety of risks, so thorough due diligence is critical. To assist banks with these efforts, federal banking agencies have published “Conducting Due Diligence on Financial Technology Companies: A Guide for Community Banks.”

The due diligence practices described in the guide are voluntary and don’t establish any new risk-management requirements. But they provide valuable guidance on what community banks should be looking for when they evaluate potential FinTech providers in six areas: 1) business experience and qualifications, 2) financial condition, 3) legal and regulatory compliance, 4) risk management and controls, 5) information security, and 6) operational resilience.

For more guidance regarding your bank’s compliance, contact Jack Matthis at

© 2022

Helpful Articles Tax

IRS Suspends Automatic Collection Notices

Per IRS News Release IR-2022-31, February 9th, 2022

It’s widely known that the IRS is experiencing difficulties processing tax returns from last year. In fact, it was recently reported that several million taxpayers are still waiting for the IRS to process their 2020 tax returns, with some refunds held up for 10 months or more. Because of this, the IRS will suspend the mailing of more than a dozen letters, including the mailing of automated collection notices normally issued when a taxpayer owes additional tax and the IRS has no record of the taxpayer filing a tax return.

Be aware that some people may still receive these notices during the next few weeks. The IRS has advised that there’s no need to respond to them. Click this link to read more on the suspension of these letters from the IRS.  Contact us with any questions regarding this backlog.




IRS Announces Transition Away from Use of Third-Party Verification Involving Facial Recognition

The IRS announced it will transition away from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts. The transition will occur over the coming weeks in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during filing season.

During the transition, the IRS will quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition. The IRS will also continue to work with its cross-government partners to develop authentication methods that protect taxpayer data and ensure broad access to online tools.

“The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured, and we are quickly pursuing short-term options that do not involve facial recognition.”

The transition announced today does not interfere with the taxpayer’s ability to file their return or pay taxes owed. During this period, the IRS will continue to accept tax filings, and it has no other impact on the current tax season. People should continue to file their taxes as they normally would.

*from IRS Newswire

Financial Institutions and Banking Milan, TN

What’s Your Bank’s Plan to Counter Ransomware Attacks?

Cybersecurity continues to be a key risk that businesses face today, and banking is among the industries most affected by cyberattacks. Some experts estimate that around a quarter of all malware attacks target financial institutions. Of particular concern are ransomware attacks, which have increased dramatically in the past couple of years.

The threat of ransomware is so serious that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) — developer of a widely used cybersecurity framework — recently published a draft Cybersecurity Framework Profile for Ransomware Risk Management (the Ransomware Profile).

Ransomware and risk management

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts an organization’s data. Once malware has infected a system, the attackers demand payment in exchange for the encryption key that unlocks the data. In some cases, they may also steal an organization’s information and demand additional payment to avoid disclosure of that information to authorities, competitors or the public.

The Ransomware Profile outlines several basic preventive steps organizations can take to protect themselves against the ransomware threat, including:

  • Use antivirus software at all times,
  • Keep computers updated with the latest security patches,
  • Segment internal networks to prevent malware from proliferating among potential target systems,
  • Continuously monitor for indicators of compromise or active attack,
  • Block access to potentially malicious web resources,
  • Allow only authorized apps, and avoid use of personal apps — such as email, chat and social media — on work computers,
  • Use standard user accounts, rather than accounts with administrative privileges, whenever possible,
  • Restrict personally owned devices on work networks,
  • Educate employees about social engineering (for example, to not open files or click on links from unknown sources without scanning for viruses or taking other precautions), and
  • Assign and manage credential authorization for all enterprise assets and software, and periodically verify that each account has only the appropriate access.

Organizations also should take steps that will help them recover from future ransomware events, including developing and implementing rigorous backup and incident recovery plans.

Backup strategies and incident response plans

Simply keeping backups of data isn’t enough. Any significant gaps in recoverable data or delays in restoring systems can be devastating for banks. So, they must back up data daily and test and periodically validate it. Also, banks should store backups offline to prevent a ransomware attack.

A well-designed backup strategy is worthless, however, without a solid incident response plan. This critical step helps banks restore systems quickly and minimize downtime in the event of a ransomware or other attack. A cyberattack is highly stressful. So, to avoid a paralyzing panic, your response plan should provide step-by-step instructions on who does what and when. The plan also should be kept offline to ensure that it’s accessible if your systems aren’t.

Be prepared

All banks should have a comprehensive cybersecurity plan to prevent ransomware and other cyberattacks and to minimize damages should an attack occur. If your bank doesn’t have a plan or you’re unsure whether your plan provides the protection you need, contact one of our industry leaders about conducting a cybersecurity risk assessment with ATA Secure.

© 2022

Helpful Articles Tax

Help Safeguard Your Personal Information by Filing Your 2021 Tax Return Early

The IRS announced it is opening the 2021 individual income tax return filing season on January 24. (Business returns are already being accepted.) Even if you typically don’t file until much closer to the April deadline (or you file for an extension until October), consider filing earlier this year. Why? You can potentially protect yourself from tax identity theft — and there may be other benefits, too.

How tax identity theft occurs: In a tax identity theft scheme, a thief uses another individual’s personal information to file a bogus tax return early in the filing season and claim a fraudulent refund. The actual taxpayer discovers the fraud when he or she files a return and is told by the IRS that it is being rejected because one with the same Social Security number has already been filed for the tax year. While the taxpayer should ultimately be able to prove that his or her return is the legitimate one, tax identity theft can be a hassle to straighten out and significantly delay a refund.

Filing early may be your best defense: If you file first, it will be the tax return filed by a potential thief that will be rejected — not yours. Note: You can still get your individual tax return prepared by us before January 24 if you have all the required documents. But processing of the return will begin after IRS systems open on that date.

Your W-2s and 1099s: To file your tax return, you need all of your W-2s and 1099s. January 31 is the deadline for employers to issue 2021 W-2 forms to employees and, generally, for businesses to issue Form 1099s to recipients for any 2021 interest, dividend or reportable miscellaneous income payments (including those made to independent contractors). If you haven’t received a W-2 or 1099 by February 1, first contact the entity that should have issued it. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the IRS for help.

Other benefits of filing early: In addition to protecting yourself from tax identity theft, another advantage of early filing is that, if you’re getting a refund, you’ll get it sooner. The IRS expects most refunds to be issued within 21 days. However, the IRS has been experiencing delays during the pandemic in processing some returns. Keep in mind that the time to receive a refund is typically shorter if you file electronically and receive a refund by direct deposit into a bank account. Direct deposit also avoids the possibility that a refund check could be lost, stolen, returned to the IRS as undeliverable or caught in mail delays.

If you were eligible for an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) or advance Child Tax Credit (CTC) payments, and you didn’t receive them or you didn’t receive the full amount due, filing early will help you to receive the money sooner. In 2021, the third round of EIPs were paid by the federal government to eligible individuals to help mitigate the financial effects of COVID-19. Advance CTC payments were made monthly in 2021 to eligible families from July through December. EIP and CTC payments due that weren’t made to eligible taxpayers can be claimed on your 2021 return.

Contact us if you have questions or need to make an appointment with your tax preparer.