Some taxpayers assert that they are not required to file federal tax returns because the filing of a tax return is voluntary. Proponents point to the fact that the IRS itself tells taxpayers in the Form 1040 instruction book that the tax system is voluntary. Additionally, the Supreme Court's opinion in Flora v. United States, 362 U.S. 145, 176 (1960), is often quoted for the proposition that “[o]ur system of taxation is based upon voluntary assessment and payment, not upon distraint.”
The Law: The word "voluntary," as used in Flora and in IRS publications, refers to our system of allowing taxpayers initially to determine the correct amount of tax and complete the appropriate returns, rather than have the government determine tax for them from the outset. The requirement to file an income tax return is not voluntary and is clearly set forth in the Internal Revenue Code.
Some argue that they are not required to pay federal taxes because the payment of federal taxes is voluntary. Proponents of this position argue that our system of taxation is based upon voluntary assessment and payment. They frequently claim that there is no provision in the Internal Revenue Code or any other federal statute that requires them to pay or makes them liable for income taxes, and they demand that the IRS show them the law that imposes tax on their income. The stance that is taken is that until the IRS can prove to these taxpayer' satisfaction, which is effectively impossible because they never will be satisfied, the existence and applicability of the income tax laws, they will not report or pay income taxes. These taxpayers reflexively dismiss any attempt by the IRS to identify the laws, thereby continuing the cycle. The IRS has issued Revenue Ruling 2007-20, 2007-14 I.R.B. 863, discussing this frivolous position at length and warning taxpayers of the consequences of asserting it.
The Law: The requirement to pay taxes is not voluntary and is clearly set forth in section 1 of the Internal Revenue Code, which imposes a tax on the taxable income of individuals, estates, and trusts as determined by the tables set forth in that section.
Some taxpayers are attempting to reduce their federal income tax liability by filing a tax return that reports no income and no tax liability (a "zero return") even though they have taxable income. Many of these taxpayers also request a refund of any taxes withheld by an employer. These individuals typically attach to the zero return a Form W-2, or another information return that reports income and income tax withholding, and rely on one or more of the frivolous arguments discussed throughout this outline to support their position.
The Law: There is no authority that permits a taxpayer that has taxable income to avoid income tax by filing a zero return. IRC Section 61 provides that gross income includes all income from whatever source derived, including compensation for services. Courts have repeatedly penalized taxpayers for making the frivolous argument that the filing of a zero return can allow a taxpayer to avoid income tax liability or permit a refund of tax withheld by an employer. Courts have also imposed the frivolous return and failure to file penalties because such forms do not evidence an honest and reasonable attempt to satisfy the tax laws or contain sufficient data to calculate the tax liability.
Proponents of this argument contend that section 6020(b) obligates the IRS to prepare and sign under penalties of perjury a federal tax return for a person who does not file a return. Thus, those who subscribe to this contention claim that they are not required to file a return for themselves.
The Law: Section 6020(b) merely provides the IRS with a mechanism for determining the tax liability of a taxpayer who has failed to file a return. Section 6020(b) does not require the IRS to prepare or sign under penalties of perjury tax returns for persons who do not file and it does not excuse the taxpayer from civil penalties or criminal liability for failure to file.
This argument asserts that wages, tips, and other compensation received for personal services are not income, because there is allegedly no taxable gain when a person "exchanges" labor for money. Under this theory, wages are not taxable income because people have basis in their labor equal to the fair market value of the wages they receive; thus, there is no gain to be taxed. A variation of this argument misconstrues IRC section 1341, which deals with computations of tax where a taxpayer restores a substantial amount held under claim of right, to somehow allow a deduction claim for personal services rendered.
The Law: For federal income tax purposes, "gross income" means all income from whatever source derived and includes compensation for services. Any income, from whatever source, is presumed to be income under IRC section 61, unless the taxpayer can establish that it is specifically exempted or excluded. The IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2007-19, 2007-14 I.R.B. 843, advising taxpayers that wages and other compensation received in exchange for personal services are taxable income and warning of the consequences of making frivolous arguments to the contrary.
¹ Excerpts taken from IRS website http://www.irs.gov/taxpros/article/0,,id=159853,00.html which discusses "The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments".