Not Just for Bernie Madoff or King Tut, Business Owners Build Devastating Pyramids of Withholding Tax Debt Deducted From Paychecks But Not Sent to IRS
What do they call it when a business owner withholds payroll taxes from his or her employees’ paychecks, spends that money on other expenses, doesn’t send the withholding tax payment to the IRS, then, does the same thing again, and then again, and then again?
The “again and again” part is called “pyramiding”: the employer is pyramiding its failure to pay one payment period after another, growing the company’s debt to the government astronomically.
Another way to describe it is digging the hole deeper, and deeper. (Recall Bill Clinton’s sensible advice: If you’re in a hole, first thing: stop digging.)
The act of failing to pay to the IRS (actually the U.S. Treasury) is a way to live especially dangerously for business owners, managers, and decision makers at the company. James Bond thinks he’s living dangerously? Feh!
The reason it is so dangerous is: The IRS has the power to hold the owners, managers, and decision-makers at the company personally responsible for the unpaid withholding tax with little more than the stroke of a pen. (This is called the “Trust Fund Recovery Penalty.”)
With this extraordinary power, the IRS can “pierce the corporate veil” with an ease unknown to ordinary creditors. Once it does, this liability is NOT deductible and it is NOT dischargable in bankruptcy. So there is a triple-whammy which can be devastating, and “pyramiding” the debt multiplies the problem.
This triple-whammy is then magnified further by the state tax dept, if the business is in a state which has an income tax; States have similarly huge, extraordinary powers and often the state is even tougher than the IRS.