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The IRS’s annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ list includes common tax scams that often peak during the tax filing season. The IRS recommends that taxpayers be aware so they can protect themselves against claims that sound too good to be true. Taxpayers who buy into illegal tax scams can end up facing significant penalties and interest and even criminal prosecution.
The tax scams that made the Dirty Dozen list this filing season are:
Identity Theft. Tax fraud through the use of identity theft tops this year’s Dirty Dozen list. Combating identity theft and refund fraud is a top priority for the IRS. The IRS’s ID theft strategy focuses on prevention, detection and victim assistance. During 2012, the IRS protected $20 billion of fraudulent refunds, including those related to identity theft. This compares to $14 billion in 2011. Taxpayers who believe they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should immediately contact the IRS so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. If you have received a notice from the IRS, call the phone number on the notice. You may also call the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. Find more information on the identity protection page on IRS.gov.
Phishing. Phishing typically involves an unsolicited email or a fake website that seems legitimate but lures victims into providing personal and financial information. Once scammers obtain that information, they can commit identity theft or financial theft. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. If you receive an unsolicited email that appears to be from the IRS, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Return Preparer Fraud. Although most return preparers are reputable and provide good service, you should choose carefully when hiring someone to prepare your tax return. Only use a preparer who signs the return they prepare for you and enters their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). For tips about choosing a preparer, visit www.irs.gov/chooseataxpro.
Hiding Income Offshore. One form of tax evasion is hiding income in offshore accounts. This includes using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access those funds. While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements taxpayers need to fulfill. Failing to comply can lead to penalties or criminal prosecution. Visit IRS.gov for more information on the Voluntary Disclosure Program.
“Free Money” from the IRS & Tax Scams Involving Social Security. Beware of scammers who prey on people with low income, the elderly and church members around the country. Scammers use flyers and ads with bogus promises of refunds that don’t exist. The schemes target people who have little or no income and normally don’t have to file a tax return. In some cases, a victim may be due a legitimate tax credit or refund but scammers fraudulently inflate income or use other false information to file a return to obtain a larger refund. By the time people find out the IRS has rejected their claim, the promoters are long gone.
Impersonation of Charitable Organizations. Following major disasters, it’s common for scam artists to impersonate charities to get money or personal information from well-intentioned people. They may even directly contact disaster victims and claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help the victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds. Taxpayers need to be sure they donate to recognized charities.
False/Inflated Income and Expenses. Falsely claiming income you did not earn or expenses you did not pay in order to get larger refundable tax credits is tax fraud. This includes false claims for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In many cases the taxpayer ends up repaying the refund, including penalties and interest. In some cases the taxpayer faces criminal prosecution. In one particular scam, taxpayers file excessive claims for the fuel tax credit. Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is a frivolous claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000.
False Form 1099 Refund Claims. In this scam, the perpetrator files a fake information return, such as a Form 1099-OID, to justify a false refund claim.
Frivolous Arguments. Promoters of frivolous schemes advise taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims to avoid paying the taxes they owe. These are false arguments that the courts have consistently thrown out. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law.
Falsely Claiming Zero Wages. Filing a phony information return is an illegal way to lower the amount of taxes an individual owes. Typically, scammers use a Form 4852 (Substitute Form W-2) or a “corrected” Form 1099 to improperly reduce taxable income to zero. Filing this type of return can result in a $5,000 penalty.
Disguised Corporate Ownership. Scammers improperly use third parties form corporations that hide the true ownership of the business. They help dishonest individuals underreport income, claim fake deductions and avoid filing tax returns. They also facilitate money laundering and other financial crimes.
Misuse of Trusts. There are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning. But some questionable transactions promise to reduce the amount of income that is subject to tax, offer deductions for personal expenses and reduced estate or gift taxes. Such trusts rarely deliver the promised tax benefits. They primarily help avoid taxes and hide assets from creditors, including the IRS.
For more on the Dirty Dozen, see IRS news release IR-2013-33.
Additional IRS Resources:
IRS YouTube Videos:
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today reminded parents and students that now is a good time to see if they qualify for either of two college education tax credits or any of several other education-related tax benefits.
In general, the American opportunity tax credit, lifetime learning credit and tuition and fees deduction are available to taxpayers who pay qualifying expenses for an eligible student. Eligible students include the primary taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse or a dependent of the taxpayer.
Though a taxpayer often qualifies for more than one of these benefits, he or she can only claim one of them for a particular student in a particular year. The benefits are available to all taxpayers – both those who itemize their deductions on Schedule A and those who claim a standard deduction. The credits are claimed on Form 8863 and the tuition and fees deduction is claimed on Form 8917.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act, enacted Jan. 2, 2013, extended the American opportunity tax credit for another five years until the end of 2017. The new law also retroactively extended the tuition and fees deduction, which had expired at the end of 2011, through 2013. The lifetime learning credit did not need to be extended because it was already a permanent part of the tax code.
For those eligible, including most undergraduate students, the American opportunity tax credit will yield the greatest tax savings. Alternatively, the lifetime learning credit should be considered by part-time students and those attending graduate school. For others, especially those who don’t qualify for either credit, the tuition and fees deduction may be the right choice.
All three benefits are available for students enrolled in an eligible college, university or vocational school, including both nonprofit and for-profit institutions. None of them can be claimed by a nonresident alien or married person filing a separate return. In most cases, dependents cannot claim these education benefits.
Normally, a student will receive a Form 1098-T from their institution by the end of January of the following year. This form will show information about tuition paid or billed along with other information. However, amounts shown on this form may differ from amounts taxpayers are eligible to claim for these tax benefits. Taxpayers should see the instructions to Forms 8863 and 8917 and Publication 970 for details on properly figuring allowable tax benefits.
Many of those eligible for the American opportunity tax credit qualify for the maximum annual credit of $2,500 per student. Here are some key features of the credit:
- The credit targets the first four years of post-secondary education, and a student must be enrolled at least half time. This means that expenses paid for a student who, as of the beginning of the tax year, has already completed the first four years of college do not qualify. Any student with a felony drug conviction also does not qualify.
- Tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other required course materials generally qualify. Other expenses, such as room and board, do not.
- The credit equals 100 percent of the first $2,000 spent and 25 percent of the next $2,000. That means the full $2,500 credit may be available to a taxpayer who pays $4,000 or more in qualified expenses for an eligible student.
- The full credit can only be claimed by taxpayers whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $80,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $160,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $180,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $90,000 or more.
- Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit is refundable. This means that even people who owe no tax can get an annual payment of up to $1,000 for each eligible student. Other education-related credits and deductions do not provide a benefit to people who owe no tax.
The lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 per tax return is available for both graduate and undergraduate students. Unlike the American opportunity tax credit, the limit on the lifetime learning credit applies to each tax return, rather than to each student. Though the half-time student requirement does not apply, the course of study must be either part of a post-secondary degree program or taken by the student to maintain or improve job skills. Other features of the credit include:
- Tuition and fees required for enrollment or attendance qualify as do other fees required for the course. Additional expenses do not.
- The credit equals 20 percent of the amount spent on eligible expenses across all students on the return. That means the full $2,000 credit is only available to a taxpayer who pays $10,000 or more in qualifying tuition and fees and has sufficient tax liability.
- Income limits are lower than under the American opportunity tax credit. For 2012, the full credit can be claimed by taxpayers whose MAGI is $52,000 or less. For married couples filing a joint return, the limit is $104,000. The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above these levels. No credit can be claimed by joint filers whose MAGI is $124,000 or more and singles, heads of household and some widows and widowers whose MAGI is $62,000 or more.
Like the lifetime learning credit, the tuition and fees deduction is available for all levels of post-secondary education, and the cost of one or more courses can qualify. The annual deduction limit is $4,000 for joint filers whose MAGI is $130,000 or less and other taxpayers whose MAGI is $65,000 or less. The deduction limit drops to $2,000 for couples whose MAGI exceeds $130,000 but is no more than $160,000, and other taxpayers whose MAGI exceeds $65,000 but is no more than $80,000.
Eligible parents and students can get the benefit of these provisions during the year by having less tax taken out of their paychecks. They can do this by filling out a new Form W-4, claiming additional withholding allowances, and giving it to their employer.
There are a variety of other education-related tax benefits that can help many taxpayers. They include:
- Scholarship and fellowship grants—generally tax-free if used to pay for tuition, required enrollment fees, books and other course materials, but taxable if used for room, board, research, travel or other expenses.
- Student loan interest deduction of up to $2,500 per year.
- Savings bonds used to pay for college—though income limits apply, interest is usually tax-free if bonds were purchased after 1989 by a taxpayer who, at time of purchase, was at least 24 years old.
- Qualified tuition programs, also called 529 plans, used by many families to prepay or save for a child’s college education.
Taxpayers with qualifying children who are students up to age 24 may be able to claim a dependent exemption and the earned income tax credit.
The general comparison table in Publication 970 can be a useful guide to taxpayers in determining eligibility for these benefits. Details can also be found in the Tax Benefits for Education Information Center on IRS.gov.
The Franchise Tax Board has announced that taxpayers affected by the retroactive personal income tax increase (Proposition 30), may pay the amount due with their 2012 tax return. Taxpayers subject to underpayment of estimated tax penalties may request relief by completing Form 5808 Underpayment of Estimated Taxes by Individual and Fiduciaries and completing Part 1, question 1 with the explanation that the underpayment is due to Proposition 30.
Stacie Kitts, CPA Tax Partner Katherman Kitts & Co. LLP
May is almost over and June represents another big filing deadline for persons who have foreign bank accounts and investments. So here is your reminder. Your FBAR Form TD F 90-22.1 Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts is due at the IRS office – not mailed by – but received in their office by June 30. Don’t forget, the penalty for not filing this form is scary.
Also, if you are doing it yourself or hired a person who is not familiar with foreign reporting requirements, you might want to familiarize yourself with the chart below – prepared by our friendly IRS for your viewing pleasure.
The new Form 8938 Statement of Specified Foreign Assets is due with your tax return but not later than the extended due date should you decide for some crazy reason that you don’t want to file your tax return by the due date. Don’t blow this off either, as the penalty for not filing is just as scary as the FBAR.
Comparison of Form 8938 and FBAR Requirements
**Unmarried taxpayer living in the United States. If you are not married and not living abroad, you satisfy the reporting threshold only if the total value of your specified foreign financial assets is more than $50,000 on the last day of the tax year or more than $75,000 at any time during the tax year.
- More On IRS Form 8938 vs. FBAR (forbes.com)
- Is Closing Foreign Bank Accounts An Alternative To Disclosure? (forbes.com)
- Last week at my other blog: Foreign account reporting; E-file fears grow (dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com)
- Relinquishing U.S. Citizenship (forbes.com)
By Stacie Kitts, CPA
Once upon a time, a long time ago, I knew a taxpayer who was afraid to open correspondence from the IRS and accumulated a pile of letters hoping it would all go away. It didn’t and bad things happened.
If you receive correspondence, open it right away while there is still time to do something about it.
Most of the time correspondence from the IRS is no big deal – you forgot to report some investment income, or you made an estimated tax payment a little later than your were supposed to so you owe some interest.
Honestly, I can’t think of many things you should be worried about when the IRS comes a-callin unless…..
- You’re a crook and you know it
- You don’t have advisers or you don’t listen to them
- Someone was feeding you a line that was to good to be true. Wesley Snipes is a good example of what not to believe. Mr Snipes failed to file several years of tax returns based on the advice of shyster tax preparer and is now serving time in jail.
Getting a letter from the IRS informing you of an audit of your tax return can be distressing. And let’s face it, even if you did everything hunky dory, it can be costly to have someone represent you.
There are things you can do ahead of time to help mitigate the cost of an audit should you win that lottery.
- Choose the right tax preparer. Do your research and make sure they are qualified to help you
- Have your accountant look over your accounting records before the end of each tax year.
- If you have a business, make sure you give details of your accounting transactions to your preparer. (full general ledger detail)
- Do some tax planning with your tax professional
- Keep records of your income and deductions organized and easy to find
- During the audit process – provide your representative the requested information timely and as organized as possible. Messy records are not going to help you and will likely drive up the cost of the audit.
The IRS published the following points they think you should know if you receive a notice.
- Don’t panic. Many of these letters can be dealt with simply and painlessly.
- There are number of reasons the IRS sends notices to taxpayers. The notice may request payment of taxes, notify you of a change to your account or request additional information. The notice you receive normally covers a very specific issue about your account or tax return.
- Each letter and notice offers specific instructions on what you need to do to satisfy the inquiry.
- If you receive a correction notice, you should review the correspondence and compare it with the information on your return.
- If you agree with the correction to your account, usually no reply is necessary unless a payment is due.
- If you do not agree with the correction the IRS made, it is important that you respond as requested. Write to explain why you disagree. Include any documents and information you wish the IRS to consider, along with the bottom tear-off portion of the notice. Mail the information to the IRS address shown in the lower left part of the notice. Allow at least 30 days for a response.
- Most correspondence can be handled without calling or visiting an IRS office. However, if you have questions, call the telephone number in the upper right corner of the notice. Have a copy of your tax return and the correspondence available when you call.
- It’s important that you keep copies of any correspondence with your records.