Fact check: Does Biden want the IRS to 'monitor every single' bank transaction?

Posted October 13, 2021 4:55 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2021 6:19 p.m. EDT

From splitting restaurant checks to paying rent to roommates, the words "I’ll Venmo you" have become increasingly commonplace.

So, it makes sense that a new Treasury Department proposal that would modify financial reporting requirements for banks and cash apps has thrown some people into a tizzy.

But some of the plan’s details have become muddled on the internet. One variation of the rumor warns that a Biden proposal will allow the government to monitor every bank account transaction or cash app withdrawal and deposit.

Conservative commentator Candace Owens repeated this in a tweet, writing that "the Biden administration is attempting to empower the IRS to monitor every single withdrawal, deposit, and transaction you make from your personal banking accounts, PayPal, Venmo, etc.."

But this isn’t right.

First, The American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed by Congress in March, has a provision that will go into effect on Jan. 1 that requires cash apps like Venmo, PayPal and Zelle to send information reports to merchants and the IRS regarding business transactions totaling more than $600. Previously, cash apps were required to report only business transactions over $20,000 from accounts with at least 200 separate payments in a calendar year.

A second, pending Treasury proposal by the Biden administration, meanwhile, would also require financial institutions such as banks to report to the IRS annually the total overall amount of deposits and withdrawals from most bank, loan and investment accounts that also exceed $600, with no minimum number of transactions required of the accounts. This includes both business and personal accounts.

Neither proposal changes the taxes you are expected to pay. The Rescue Plan measure only applies to commercial transactions that are already considered taxable income — not Venmo transactions between friends for, say, happy hour drinks. And not commercial transactions that may not be considered taxable after expenses are deducted.

The Treasury proposal calls for financial institutions, including cash apps, to track total deposits and withdrawals to find major tax reporting discrepancies.

The Biden administration’s proposal

The Treasury proposal, which came out in May 2021 and is subject to congressional approval, is aimed at getting better information to find tax cheats.

Banks would report only the aggregate inflows and outflows that exceed $600, not details on individual transactions.

"Banks already report directly to the IRS the interest that they pay on accounts when it exceeds $10," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a Sept. 28 Senate hearing. "And this is not a proposal to provide detailed transaction-level data by banks to the IRS."

The Treasury Department clarified further in an emailed statement to PolitiFact:

"The Administration’s bank reporting proposal does not track transactions in your bank account, or payments you make on Venmo, Paypal, or with any other payment service provider. The proposal adds two additional boxes to existing information reports that banks send to the IRS already. Specifically, total deposits and total withdrawals in a year."

The government says that having summary information about annual aggregate deposits and withdrawals (the Treasury Department describes them as inflows and outflows) will help flag when high-income people under-report their income and under-pay their tax obligations.

The new rules aren’t a new tax, as some people have suggested, but they do make it easier for the IRS to identify people who might not be paying their proper share of federal taxes.

"When you have a taxpayer who reports $10K of income but has $10M of deposits, that is a taxpayer the IRS can prioritize looking into," the department wrote in its email.

The proposal has received pushback from the banking industry, which has been critical of additional compliance costs and burdens in the past.

Current tax law already requires everyone to pay taxes on income of more than $600, regardless of where it comes from. So, this change is an effort to reduce the country’s estimated $600 billion tax gap (the difference between taxes that are due and taxes that are paid). The Treasury Department estimates, if implemented, the proposed changes would raise approximately $460 billion over 10 years.

Reporting change for cash apps under the American Rescue Plan

Much of the discussion about cash apps like PayPal and Venmo come from a different, already passed proposal.

The American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress on March 11, includes a new rule that applies to business transactions over $600, which are often paid through cash apps like Venmo, PayPal and Zelle. This applies to third-party apps and credit card issuers, but not traditional bank accounts, experts said.

"These information reports by PayPal, Venmo and other third-party networks have been on the books for several years, but the threshold for reporting was very high — $20,000 transactions with a 200-transaction minimum," said Steven Rosenthal, senior fellow at Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. "It’s just the tracking information on tax rules that have changed."

Those who use cash apps to avoid traditional forms of income reporting will be most affected by the change, not people who use these platforms for personal, day-to-day transactions.

Identifying income through apps like Venmo has become a difficult and opaque process for the government. Businesses and independent sellers who use cash apps have largely been able to fly under the radar with regard to how much income they really bring in each year.

While cash app users who have received more than $600 via the platform might receive a 1099-K form, this doesn’t mean it needs to be filled out or reported — unless it’s business income.

For instance, if you sell a piece of furniture for $800 and the buyer pays you on Venmo, it’s not considered taxable income as long as you can prove with a receipt that you originally paid more than $800 for it.

"I don’t expect to receive a 1099-K on grocery transactions," Rosenthal said, "and I think we are still waiting on Venmo and the like to determine the standards of how they will sort through what will need to be reported. But either way, I’m not afraid because it’s not taxable income."

Asked about her claim, Owens said she stands by her tweet and was unswayed by the Treasury Department’s statement that it is not seeking detailed information about individual transactions.

"(They) are looking to expand reporting procedures beyond the current scope," Owens wrote in an email to PolitiFact. She said they want "the institutions to report to them totals — inclusive of those which fall outside of their current purview (Venmo, PayPal, etc). This is a major expansion as typically, the income reported includes what the IRS already has access to — beyond that falls onto the individual taxpayers to self-report."

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: Mostly False

Owens tweeted that the Biden administration "is attempting to empower the IRS to monitor every single withdrawal, deposit, and transaction you make from your personal banking accounts, PayPal, Venmo, etc.."

This is misleading. The American Rescue Plan Act has a provision that will require cash apps like Venmo, PayPal and Zelle to file information reports with both the merchants who use their platforms and the IRS specifically for business transactions that exceed $600. This applies to third-party apps and credit card issuers, not traditional bank accounts.

The Biden administration proposal loops traditional bank accounts in, both business and personal. If implemented as is, the change would require financial institutions and cash apps to report to the IRS aggregate inflow and outflow from most bank, loan and investment accounts that exceed $600. But it would not monitor or share details on individual transactions, as Owens’ statement suggests.

We rate this Mostly False.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.