California Tax Rates, Incentives & Exemptions

As the most populous state in the union, California attracts new residents from all over the country and around the world. From the glow of Tinseltown to the technological buzz of Silicon Valley, dreamers and entrepreneurs alike are drawn to the state. But California is also one of the most expensive states to call home – 3rd highest to be exact. California tax rates are some of the highest in the nation.

Businesses in California are not spared from the tax hammer. California imposes corporate income taxes on “C” corporations and limited liability companies that operate like corporations. As a result, many entrepreneurs who operate small businesses in California are subject to quadruple taxation – double taxation from Uncle Sam and double from California.

But as of 2014, California has enacted a series of tax breaks which will award millions of dollars in tax credits to qualifying businesses. These tax incentives were designed to lure businesses to re-locate or keep their base of operations within the state.

Tax Credits and Incentives for Aerospace

One business field seeing some high-profile tax breaks in California is the aerospace industry. California was at one point in time the center of the aerospace industry, before the US government was forced to make drastic cut-backs in the 1990’s, essentially reducing the workforce by more than 50% of its workers. California Governor, Jerry Brown, has been trying to put together an incentive package of sorts to entice some of the larger employers to come back to the state, which would improve employment rates, bring a huge influx of new business and cash flows, as well as help off-set the current financial problems that California is facing.

The Aerospace Tax Clarification Act, which was passed in April, cleared up some ambiguity regarding the classification of rocket propulsion systems. This new act clarifies that these rockets qualify for an existing business tax exemption, rather than being classified as a taxable business supply as the prior law read.

“The space commercialization industry is not only developing some of the most advanced space vehicles in the world,” stated Assembly member Al Muratsuchi, “but is also creating thousands of local, high-paying manufacturing jobs.” This law was a direct nod to the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, a Los Angeles based enterprise founded by Tesla billionaire, Elon Musk. The bill was also supported by Northrop Grunman, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc., a division of GenCorp Inc. and Lockheed Martin.

Governor Brown is also pushing for the aerospace bill to be expanded to cover the automotive industry. California is one of several states currently bidding for Tesla to build its proposed $6 billion factory to manufacture a new auto battery, known as the “gigafactory”, here in the state. This addition to California would mean the creation of at least 6500 new jobs as well.

Additionally, Governor Brown signed a law in July 2014 which grants a 17.5 percent tax credit on wages for workers hired to build aircraft. The bill serves as an incentive to score lucrative contracts for high-paid aerospace jobs within the state. There was also a 10-year tax exemption granted for the manufacturing of equipment used for the space travel industry.

Is there a California Tax Credit for a Small Business?

Under the California Competes program, a full 25 percent of the $29 million in tax credits will be reserved to small businesses with gross receipts of less than $2 million annually. Huge corporations are not the only beneficiaries of the new tax incentives in California. The state recently instituted the California Competes tax credit program, designed to provide financial incentives for businesses to relocate to California or for businesses within the state to remain and add jobs.

The California Competes tax credit program replaces the former Enterprise Zone program, which was eliminated in 2013 due to it being wasteful and inefficient. Credits allocated by the program are tentatively set at $30 million for fiscal year 2013/14, $150 for fiscal year 2014/15 and $200 million for each fiscal year after that through 2018. The state’s website lists the following criteria by which California Competes tax credits will be awarded:

  • The number of jobs created or retained
  • Total compensation, including wages and fringe benefits
  • Investment in the state
  • Unemployment or poverty rates where businesses are located
  • Other state and local incentives available to the business
  • Incentives from other states
  • Duration of commitment of the business or project
  • Overall economic impact
  • Strategic importance of the business to the state, region, or locality
  • Future growth or expansion opportunities
  • Expected benefit to the state in excess of benefit to the business from the tax credit

The California Competes Tax Credit is a non-refundable tax credit, meaning that businesses cannot receive cash back even if the credit is greater than what they would otherwise owe in corporate income taxes. But excess funds from the credit can be carried forward for as long as five years, or until the excess funds are exhausted, whichever is sooner.

Other California Business Tax Incentive Programs

Other tax incentives for businesses that locate or expand within the state of California include the Manufacturing Equipment Sales Tax Exemption and the New Employment Credit program. Each program is for businesses located within designated Enterprise Zones, or areas that are struggling economically.

The sales tax exemption allows eligible businesses to exclude the State’s portion of the sales and use tax (currently 4.19%), from the first $200 million in equipment purchases made between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2022. This program will generate significant savings for eligible businesses, allowing them to pay a reduced sales and use tax rate of 3.3125% on qualifying equipment purchases.

TThe New Employment Credit program allows eligible businesses to receive a credit that may be taken against corporate income tax. This credit may be taken for all qualified employees hired on or after January 1, 2014. The amount of the tax credit equals 35% of the qualified wages paid for each new full-time employee hired, making a potential tax break of up to $56,000 or more per new employee over a five-year period.

In order for a newly hired employee to qualify the business for the New Employment Credit, they must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Unemployed for 6 months or more (excluding students and self-employed workers) either without a degree or having completed a degree more than 12 months before being hired
  • Veterans separated from active duty for less than 12 months
  • Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) recipients during the previous year
  • Ex-offenders convicted of felonies
  • Current CalWORKS or county general assistance recipients

Trying to keep up with the competition

Many Californians approve of Governor Brown’s latest attempts to keep California in the running when it comes to attracting new businesses and keeping the existing ones from moving to another state that offers better business incentives. California is beginning to offer many appealing incentives to businesses, including State Tax credits, new employee credits, green tax incentives, as well as energy and transportation credits. When combined with available Federal tax credits and discounts, California can be a very profitable place for business owners to call home.

Below is a list of some additional tax incentives and credits currently offered in the state of California.

California Tax Programs, Credits, and Incentives Benefits to Businesses
California Competes $29 million in various tax credits to businesses who create or retain jobs within the state of California
Aerospace Tax Clarification Act Qualifies rocket propulsion systems for an existing business inventory tax exemption
California Motion Picture and Television Production Credit (AB-1839) 20% of expenditures for a qualified motion picture and 25% of production expenditures for an independent film or a TV series that relocates to California
Manufacturing Equipment Sales Tax Exemption Allows businesses to exclude the state share of sales tax (4.19%) from the first $200 million equipment purchases.
SB 1309 Tesla bill to include tax credits, workforce training grants and streamlined permitting and environmental reviews
New Employment Credit 35 percent of wages between 1.5 and 3.5 times the minimum wage for a period of five years.
California Research and Development  Tax Credit Credit for costs attributable to research activities conducted in California
California Capital Access Program Collateral Support (Cal-CAPS CS) Pledges cash (up to 40% of loan) to cover collateral shortfall of loans of $100,000 or more in Severely Affected areas
Small Business Loan Guarantee Program Enables small businesses to obtain a loan it could not otherwise obtain
Industrial Development Bond Provides manufacturing and processing companies low-cost, low-interest financing for capital expenditures
Employment Training Panel Helps assist with post-hire training reimbursement
Community Development Financial Institutions Investment Credit 20% of qualified investments made into a community development financial institution
Disabled Access for Eligible Small Businesses  (FTB-3548) $125 per eligible small business, and based on 50% of qualified expenditures that do not exceed $250
Enhanced Oil Recovery  (FTB 3546) 1/3 of the similar federal credit but limited to qualified enhanced oil recovery projects located within California
Environmental Tax (FTB 3511) $0.05/each gallon of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel produced during the year by a small refiner at a California facility
Low-Income Housing (FTB 3521) Similar to the federal credit but limited to low-income housing in California
Manufacturing Enhancement Area Hiring Hiring credit for Manufacturing Enhancement Area
Prison Inmate Labor (FTB 3507) 10% of wages paid to prison inmates
Targeted Tax Area Hiring (FTB 3809) Business incentives for trade or business activities conducted within a targeted tax area

 This article was written by staff writers Audrey Henderson and Jennifer Leonhardi. Consult with Optima’s Tax Relief  professionals to learn more.

How To File Taxes For The Unemployed : 10 tax Tips

If you lose your job unexpectedly, your first reaction may be to panic. Your second reaction may be to despair about whether you will ever work again. Unemployment brings many challenges and money considerations. What you may not consider are the implications for federal and state income taxes. But you will have to deal with your taxes sooner or later. Fortunately, the IRS provides tax breaks that may ease the blow of losing your job and make the task of seeking a new job easier. Here is everything you need to know about filing taxes unemployed.

How Do You File Taxes if You Don’t Work?

1. Don’t Forget to File Your Return

This may seem painfully obvious, but in your efforts to deal with reduced (or no) income, resumes and job interviews, tasks like filing your income tax return can be shoved to the side. You still need to be filing taxes unemployed. Depending on how long you’ve been unemployed, you may qualify for a sizeable tax refund, which would provide much needed cash. If you lose your job right before the filing deadline, and you really just can’t handle filing a return, file a request for an automatic extension to give yourself an extra six months. But don’t forget to pay at least an estimated amount of taxes that you owe to avoid underpayment penalties. If you’ve got some time to plan before you file then be sure to research the benefits and tax credits that may be available to you.

2. Utilize Free Income Tax Filing Services

If you never took advantage of free tax filing services before, now is the time to check out this benefit. The IRS allows taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes under a certain amount ($58,000 for 2013 tax returns) to file their federal returns for no charge through the Free File program. Many states also allow taxpayers to file their income taxes for free. Depending on your circumstances, you may also qualify for face-to-face assistance in filing your income tax returns from nonprofit agencies in your area.

3. Keep Track of Job Search Expenses

If you always just take the standard deduction on your return, you may wish to reconsider that position when filing taxes unemployed. That’s because job search expenses for a position in your present line of work are tax-deductible, but only if you itemize your deductions. Job search expenses must exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income to be deductible, but if you are receiving unemployment or no income at all, this hurdle is relatively easy to overcome. Expenses such as printing and mailing resumes, travel expenses for job interviews, employment agency fees and career counseling add up quickly.

4. Medical Expenses May be Tax Deductible

Clearing the hurdle of 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income necessary to deduct medical expenses is ordinarily a tall order, barring major surgery or catastrophic illness. But if your income is reduced due to job loss, clearing that hurdle may be easier. Save receipts for doctor visits, prescriptions, and over-the-counter medications just in case.

5. Take the Health Insurance Tax Credit if You Qualify

If you lost your job as a result of a foreign trade agreement, you may be able to claim the Health Insurance Tax Credit. You must be receiving Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits to qualify. The HITC covers 80 percent of your health insurance premiums, which can free up a significant amount of cash for other areas of your budget.

6. Consider Your Retirement Plan

If you have an employer-sponsored 401(K), you will need to roll those funds into a traditional IRA or other qualified retirement funds to avoid paying taxes on the money. If you already have a traditional IRA, it may make sense to convert the account to a Roth IRA while your income is lower. You will have to pay income taxes on the funds that you convert, but you may still come out ahead financially in the long term. Consult with Optima Tax Relief to determine the best strategy for you.

7. Take Advantage of Tax Breaks for Low and Moderate Income Earners

Since you lost your job, your income has likely decreased dramatically, while many of your expenses have remained the same. Tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the Child Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit and Savers Credit allow low and moderate income taxpayers to reduce the amount of income that they must declare on their federal income tax returns and in some cases, such as with the EITC, receive a tax refund, even if they don’t actually owe federal income taxes.

8. Don’t Get Blindsided by Taxes on Severance Pay or Unemployment Insurance

It is a cruel irony that unemployment insurance and severance pay are considered taxable income. As painful as it may be, plan to set aside funds from each unemployment check or your severance check to cover your estimated federal income tax liability if at all possible. The IRS receives copies of Form 1099 which reports unemployment income and Form W-2 which reports income – including severance pay – from your former job. Underreporting this income or failing to pay the taxes you owe could land you in serious trouble. The risks simply aren’t worth it. Bear this in mind when filing taxes unemployed.

9. Get to Know Schedule C

While your ultimate goal may be to find another full-time or part-time job, you may take temporary jobs or self-employment to fill gaps in your income during your search. Income and expenses from self-employment are calculated on Schedule C, which is filed along with your federal income tax return. Deductions and credits differ significantly for income from self-employed workers and small business owners than for wage earners.

Depending on how long you remain unemployed, you may be able to claim tax breaks through Schedule C that would be difficult or impossible to claim as a wage earner itemizing your deductions on Schedule A. In particular, self-employed workers can claim tax breaks on health insurance premium payments without itemizing deductions. Who knows, you may decide to ditch the job search in favor of full-time self-employment.

10. Withdraw from Your Retirement Fund Only as a Last Resort

When the balance in your bank account shrivels and your bills begin to pile up, funds that you have set aside for your kids’ education or for your retirement begin to look like a lifeline. If you are really hard up for money and you must choose between Junior’s education fund and your traditional IRA as a source of much-needed cash, deplete Junior’s college fund first. This is not to punish Junior, but because resources such as grants, scholarships, loans, and part-time work are available to help college students with financial need. If all else fails, Junior can attend a community college for a year or two before transferring to a four-year institution.

On the other hand, draining your retirement fund deprives you of funds that you may or may not be able to replenish. Even if you can replace the funds you withdraw, it is unlikely that you will ever be able to make up for the earnings that those funds would have generated had they remained in your account. Worse, you may have to pay a stiff tax penalty for early withdrawal from your traditional IRA. That said, the IRS allows unemployed taxpayers or their heirs to make hardship withdrawals from traditional IRAs before age 59 ½ without paying a tax penalty under strictly defined circumstances.

Do You Get a Tax Break For Being Unemployed?

Yes, you can get tax breaks if you’re unemployed. Taking advantage of tax breaks designed to assist job seekers and other taxpayers with moderate or reduced incomes may help you provide your family’s basic financial necessities until you are back on the job. Losing your job and going through the grind of seeking work can wear on even the most determined job seeker. While it’s tempting to give up, you should do whatever you can to continue your search. If you’re one of many American’s who lost their jobs or were furloughed in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic you may be eligible for additional relief. See our dedicated content for additional information on Coronavirus Tax Relief and benefits.

If you need tax help, contact one of our dedicated tax experts for a free consultation.

Deducting Your Gambling Income & Losses

 

We all know the thrill of winning from gambling whether you’re an avid gambler or the occasional one. But did you know that all winnings are fully taxable? No matter how small your winnings, they must be reported on your tax return. Gambling income includes but not limited to winnings from lotteries, keno, slot machines, table games (i.e. poker, craps, roulette, blackjack, etc.), racing or sports betting, and bingo.

Can you deduct gambling losses?

Yes, and here’s where the deductions on your gambling losses come in – you may be entitled to a deduction if you had any gambling losses come tax filing season, but only up to the extent of your winnings for the year. For example, if you won $3,000 from gambling for 2016, the most you can deduct on your 2016 tax return is $3,000, no matter how much you lost. Losses must be reported on Schedule A as an Itemized Deduction, which are separate from winnings. Continue reading for important facts about claiming your gambling losses on your tax return.

Five important facts about deducting gambling income and losses:

  1. You must report the full amount or your winnings as income and claim your losses (up to the amount of your winnings) as an itemized deduction.
  2. You cannot reduce your gambling winnings by your gambling losses and then report the difference.
  3. Claim your gambling losses on Schedule A, Itemized Deductions, under ‘Other Miscellaneous Deductions’.
  4. The IRS recommends that you keep a written documentation, like a notebook or a diary, for proof in case of an audit and to keep winnings and losses separate and organized. According to the IRS Publication 529 Miscellaneous Deductions, your notebook should contain at least the following:
    • The date and type of your specific wager or wagering activity.
    • The name and address or location of the gambling establishment.
    • The names of other persons present with you at the gambling establishment.
    • The amount(s) you won or lost.
  5. According to the IRS, you should also have other documentation for additional proof through the following:

Form W-2G (if given), certain winnings; Form 5754, statement by person(s) receiving gambling winnings; wagering tickets; canceled checks; substitute checks; credit records; bank withdrawals; and statements of actual winnings or payment slips provided to you by the gambling establishment. Learn more about how gambling impacts your taxes with Optima Tax Relief. To keep up to date with gambling tax laws and your responsibilities as a taxpayer, please refer to the IRS Help & Resource page or consult your local CPA or tax attorney.

What are the Common IRS Audit Triggers?

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.Two words that strike anxiety into even the most honest taxpayer? Tax audit. In reality, the odds of being audited by the IRS are slim. While the IRS is diligent about collecting the revenues which it is owed, the old days of the IRS driving honest taxpayers and their families to financial ruin are largely a thing of the past.

Related article: 5 Steps to Surviving an IRS Audit

Nonetheless, many taxpayers wish to eliminate even the remote chance that they will face an IRS audit. While there is no absolute guarantee that you will avoid an audit, steering clear of these dozen common IRS audit triggers will place the odds firmly in your favor.

Common IRS Triggers

Too Much Income

Just like old-time bank robbers, the IRS is more likely to target high-income taxpayers because they are more likely to have financial resources that can be collected. But this doesn’t mean that you should make less money to avoid an IRS audit. It does mean that if you are a high net worth individual, you should be extra diligent about record-keeping to avoid triggering an audit

Too Little Income

Low-wage workers are not necessarily targets for tax audits by the IRS. But taxpayers who report incomes far below what others in their profession earn might raise flags and audit triggers. For instance, physicians who report less than high five-figure incomes may raise suspicion, unless they work in areas of extreme poverty.

Unreported Income

This is a no-brainer. The IRS receives notification of income for wage earners from Form W-2. Non-wage income is reported on form 1099. It really isn’t very smart to underreport your income. Of course, if you have legitimate deductions and tax credits that reduce your adjusted gross income, that’s fine. Just be prepared to verify the tax breaks that you claim in case the IRS inquires.

Rounded Numbers

Did you really make exactly $50,000 last year? If so, be ready to prove it to the IRS. Otherwise, don’t round or average numbers, because doing so sends a signal to the IRS that the rest of your return might be less than accurate. Discrepancies between State and Federal Returns Get this one wrong and you may wind up with double trouble: inquiries from Uncle Sam and from your state. Plain and simple, the income that you report to the IRS must match the income that you report to the state. Of course, deductions can and often do differ between the federal government and the state, so differences there are fine.

Unexplained Variations in Income

Your income jumps after you graduate from college and get a great job. Or you lose your job and spend a year searching for a new job. Those kinds of variations don’t generally raise red flags with the IRS. Likewise, self-employed workers need not lie awake nights worrying that their fluctuating income might trigger an audit. But regular wage workers who stay on the job with a single employer tend to have fairly steady wages. Reporting otherwise without supporting documentation may well trigger an audit. Related article: 10 Tax Preparation Tips For The Self Employed

Unusually Large Losses

If your house burned down last year, claim the full amount of your losses. Likewise, if your retirement fund was severely affected by a dip in the stock market or by other factors, go ahead and report the decline. But have documentation ready to back up your claim. Don’t claim you have unusually large losses if you don’t have paperwork to prove it.

Larger-than-Average Deductions

Charitable deductions that are out of proportion with your income are a red flag for the IRS. Likewise, self-employed workers who earn much more from their clients or customers than they report in income on Schedule C should brace themselves. If you really are giving away a large proportion of your net worth, keep meticulous records of your gifts and their net worth. Entrepreneurs who record large capital investments in a single year should maintain invoices and other documentation to explain where so much of their income went.

Home Office Deductions

If you’ve been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, then you may qualify for a home office deduction. In the 2013 tax year, the IRS instituted a much simpler means of claiming the home office deduction. In order to qualify for this deduction, a taxpayer must have a dedicated area in their home that is exclusively used for conducting business on a regular basis. The office in a home must serve as the taxpayer’s principal place of business and must not overlap with any other outside activities. (IRS.gov)

Sloppy or Incomplete Returns

The IRS makes it really easy to e-file your income tax returns, and for the majority of taxpayers, e-filing is free. You should take advantage of this convenience. E-filing features double-checking capabilities that minimize common mistakes. Placing entries on the wrong line or skipping important entries altogether is rare when e-filed. You also receive a timely alert when the IRS accepts your return and you receive any refunds that you are due in days or weeks, rather than months.

Adoption Tax Credit

The IRS provides a generous credit for adoption. For 2019, the credit is up to $14,080 per child, for up to 3 children. Qualified adoption expenses can be placed on a tax return if they are a reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs and attorney fees, traveling expenses and other expenses that are directly related to and for the principal purpose of the legal adoption of an eligible child.

Straight Up Tax Scams

You should not refrain from claiming any of the tax credits or deductions listed above out of fear of being audited. There is no reason not to claim every tax break to which you are legitimately entitled. But frivolous claims such as paying income tax is voluntary or that federal income taxes are unconstitutional are a fast track to an IRS audit. Likewise, unscrupulous tax preparers that jack up your refund with questionable tax credits and deductions should raise major red flags for you, not to mention the IRS.

Need some tax relief assistance? Optima Tax Relief offers a comprehensive range of services. Schedule a consultation with one of our tax professionals today to receive expert advice.

What Does Voluntary Compliance Mean in Regard to Taxes?

The United States federal income tax system is operated under a system of voluntary compliance. This innocuous sounding term actually packs quite a potent punch –  there is little that is voluntary about the federal tax system, at least where paying taxes is concerned. Many celebrities and ordinary citizens alike have learned this lesson the hard way, almost always at great financial cost.

Voluntary Compliance and Audits

The “voluntary” nature of taxation relates to the method of submitting and paying income tax obligations. The Treasury department places the burden of figuring, reporting and paying income taxes in the hands of its citizens, rather than automatically collecting the revenue. In contrast, sales taxes and other use taxes are involuntary. Whenever you buy an item or service that carries sales tax, you not only pay the price of the merchandise or service, but the tax as well.

Although the IRS collects taxes under a voluntary compliance system, the assumption is that most of the population will fail to pay its full tax burden, either by mistake or by deliberate attempts at tax evasion. To remedy the resulting shortfall, the IRS has instituted a system of tax audits. A majority of audits are triggered by suspicious items included or omitted from tax returns. Other tax audits are generated because taxpayers who should file tax returns fail to do so or file so-called frivolous returns. An unfortunate minority of taxpayers are flagged for audits by random selection – just plain bad luck.

Celebrity Tax Evasion & Frivolous Tax Returns

Throughout history, famous and infamous figures have been caught in the net of failure to comply with the “voluntary” system. Notorious gangster Al Capone died in prison as a result of a conviction of income tax evasion. More recently, celebrities like Martha Stewart, Wesley Snipes and Marc Anthony have been snared by convictions for federal income tax evasion. One persistent but thoroughly discredited strain of tax protest arguments claim that federal income taxes are unconstitutional, or that taxpayers can eliminate their federal income obligations by filing “zero” tax returns. Snipes was one of the more famous figures taken in by this line of reasoning, and as a result was convicted of misdemeanor tax evasion in 2008 and sentenced to 3 years in prison. As of 2014, the movie star was back on the silver screen, headlining in the action feature Expendables 3. Presumably, Snipes will pay a rightful proportion of his earnings from the film, marketed as a summer blockbuster, to the IRS. The IRS exercises little patience with taxpayers filing what it concludes to be frivolous returns. It imposes an array of civil penalties, listed below:

  • Accuracy-related penalty under section 6662 (20 percent of the underpayment attributable to negligence or disregard of rules or regulations)
  • Civil fraud penalty under section 6663 (seventy-five percent of the underpayment attributable to fraud)
  • Erroneous claim for refund penalty under section 6676 (twenty percent of the excessive amount)
  • Fraudulent failure to timely file income tax return (triple the amount of the standard failure to file addition to tax under section 6651(a)(1))
  • Frivolous submissions other than tax returns under the Tax Relief Health Care Law of 2006 ($5,000 penalty)

Is Tax Evasion a Felony?

Criminal penalties for tax evasion based on frivolous tax returns can be severe. Both fines and jail time may be imposed upon conviction. Specific penalties are listed below.

  • Felony for attempting to evade or defeat tax under Section 7201 provides as a penalty a fine of up to $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation) and imprisonment for up to 5 years with optional additional fine up to $250,000
  • Felony for willfully making and signing under penalties of perjury any return, statement, or other document that the person does not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter under section 7206 is a fine of up to $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation) and imprisonment for up to 3 years with optional additional fine up to $250,000
  • Felony for promoting frivolous arguments and assisting taxpayers in claiming tax benefits based on frivolous arguments under section 7206(2) may be fined up to $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation) and imprisonment for up to 3 years with optional additional fine up to $250,000

How Do Corporations Avoid Paying Taxes?

Individual taxpayers are far from alone in their attempts to minimize their tax burdens. Complex accounting maneuvers with names like the Double Irish or Dutch Sandwich allow major corporations like Apple and Google to evade the 35 percent US corporate tax. But unlike tax evasion or frivolous tax returns, corporate tax dodges are largely perfectly legal – for now. Governments around the world have begun to put measures in place designed to curb offshore tax havens and other corporate tax evasion strategies.

Fair Tax System

The voluntary compliance system is far from the only viable system of income taxation. The so-called fair tax system is based on imposing use taxes – the more goods and services a person uses, the more taxes he or she pays. But fair use systems often impose a heavier burden on low-income taxpayers because they pay a higher proportion of their income use taxes. For this reason, fair use taxes are often labeled as regressive — and aggressively unfair.

Simple Tax System

Supporters of a so-called simple tax system include tax expert Austan Goolsbee and policy wonk Ezra Klein. Under a simple tax system the IRS would calculate taxes, credits and deductions and provide taxpayers with a copy of the completed return. Taxpayers who agree with the IRS’s calculations could simply accept the return, while taxpayers who disagree could file their own returns.

The simple tax system has obvious advantages. The IRS has a good idea of what many taxpayers earn and owe anyway, thanks to Form W-2 and various versions of Form 1099. The simple tax system would also ensure nearly 100 percent compliance, since the IRS would be supplying tax returns rather than individual citizens.

As one might expect, the tax preparation industry (including TurboTax) largely disfavors the simple tax return system. Approximately 60 percent of all Americans contract with outside tax preparers to file their federal and state income tax returns. Implementing something like the simple tax system would cut deeply into that percentage.

While the simple tax return system is indeed simple, there are potential pitfalls. First, many taxpayers may accept the IRS’s version of their returns whether it is accurate or not from inertia, laziness or fear of reprisal. Second, even if the IRS and its agents were totally diligent in calculating the maximum credits and deductions, human error must still be considered.

Death and Taxes

Given the present financial and political climate, it is unlikely that the voluntary compliance tax system will change in the foreseeable future. It’s also a safe bet that attempts to evade taxes will continue, including extreme cases such as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Savarin, who renounced his American citizenship in 2012 shortly before the social media giant launched its IPO. In the face of such tax evasion attempts, the IRS will also undoubtedly continue its enforcement strategies, including the dreaded audit.

Considering a tax consultation? Optima Tax Relief offers a range of services discussed in our free consultation. Our award winning staff of tax professionals provide comprehensive tax relief services to help you resolve any tax issue. Speak to us today.

Do You Need a Tax Relief Lawyer?

The IRS is always prepared, shouldn’t you be as well? Do you need a tax relief lawyer?

Yes, absolutely.

This is a blog for a tax relief company with a small army of tax lawyers, so that’s what we’re paid to say, right? Well, yes, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Benefits of Using a Tax Relief Lawyer: True Stories

A tax relief lawyer is a wise decision. In January, 2014, Forbes reported that Beanie Beans founder Ty Werner was convicted of evading $5.5 million dollars in taxes owed on the $27 million in interest accrued from millions of dollars stashed away in a Swiss bank account. The sentence? Two years on probation and some hefty fines, which were small change for a billionaire like Werner.

Unrelated, and a couple of months earlier, Daniel Thody, a defense contractor was found guilty to five counts of tax evasion for failing to report $15,000 and $50,000 in taxes from $1.8 million earned as a contractor for the Department of Defense. He faces up to 25 years in prison, 5 years for each count.

Which one do you think hired a tax relief lawyer and which one thought representing himself would be the smarter option? The old adage that he who represents himself has a fool for a client may be a cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true either.

We’ve already shared the 10 benefits of working with a tax relief firm, but here are a few good reasons you should lawyer up when dealing with the IRS.

What Can a Tax Attorney Do For You?

A tax attorney will ensure that you are treated better. It’s unfair, even illegal, but it’s also human nature. IRS agents are flesh and blood and if they can get away with bullying someone into their interpretation of the law, they probably will. A tax lawyer can ensure the IRS is playing by the rules and treating you fairly. IRS investigators are much more careful about asking inappropriate questions or wasting your time with unnecessary requirements if they know they are dealing with a tax attorney.

That was the finding of an investigation into nine groups in Ohio and Kentucky that sought nonprofit status. Organizations that didn’t have legal representation were more likely to have their applications stalled and receive inappropriate or unnecessary questions from the IRS.

You don’t have to worry about an IRS agent getting upset with you for hiring a tax relief lawyer either. The good ones prefer dealing with tax professionals because they don’t have to waste their time and patience explaining to you the ABCs of a tax audit or the basic IRS guidelines for a criminal investigation. In fact, hiring an experienced tax relief lawyer is generally seen as a sign of good faith to resolve your tax issues.

A few bad eggs may resent you hiring a lawyer and try to dissuade from doing so, but that’s when you really need a lawyer in your corner. The IRS’s own Declaration of Taxpayer Rights clearly states that “If you are in an interview and ask to consult such a person [a lawyer, agent or accountant], then we must stop and reschedule the interview in most cases.” Be suspicious if an IRS agent prefers not to deal with a tax professional.

Can the IRS See My Foreign Bank Account?

The IRS is a behemoth of an agency, one of the most powerful organizations on the planet. From 2008 through to 2014, over 50 bankers from Switzerland, India, Israel and other countries have been indicted for helping rich Americans squirrel billions of dollars into offshore accounts.

In 2013, the IRS also cracked the code of silence of Swiss financial institutions and got UBS, the largest Swiss Bank, to divulge confidential information on American tax evaders, and pay a $780 million penalty.

Even the IRS Thinks You Need a Tax Lawyer

The Taxpayer Advocate Service is an independent organization within the IRS which has the job of ensuring that you are treated fairly and helping you resolve problems with the IRS. Although it’s unlikely a Taxpayer Advocate Service lawyer will protect your interests quite as aggressively as a regular tax attorney, they are better than nothing, if you can’t afford to pay one.

If money is an issue, there is another option: Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. Although these clinics are partially funded by the IRS, they are completely independent and are operated by nonprofit organizations and academic institutions.

Only a Tax Attorney Can Represent You in a Criminal Investigation

Certified Public Accountants are great. When it comes to tax planning, business budgeting and asset management, a CPA is – all things being equal – more useful than a tax attorney is. But when you have a dispute with the IRS, especially if you’re accused of tax fraud or tax evasion, a tax relief lawyer is the only intelligent choice. Tax attorneys are the only ones who can represent you in a court of law and provide you the legal advice and analysis you need.

If that is not reason enough, I have two and a half words for you: attorney-client privilege. Unlike CPAs and accountants, attorneys cannot be subpoenaed to testify against a client in a criminal procedure.

Is it Worth it to Hire a Tax Attorney?

Does this mean you need a tax lawyer every time you get a letter from the IRS? No, of course not. You can probably deal with small mistakes and omissions by yourself or by giving your tax preparer a quick call. However, if there is any chance your case could go sour, you need to call a qualified and experienced tax attorney, and pronto. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re asking yourself whether it’s serious enough to merit calling a lawyer, it probably is.

A quick consultation call with a tax lawyer can save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees you could have avoided by not procrastinating. Tax lawyers know how IRS attorney think, many tax attorneys worked as IRS attorneys before hanging their own shingle. So, they know what to say, what not to say, and what buttons to push when negotiating your case.

Hiring a lawyer sends the IRS a clear and powerful message. You’re taking the investigation seriously; you’re not going to let IRS agents push you around; and you want to work with the IRS to avoid criminal charges.

The bottom line is that the IRS is scary enough when you have a first-rate lawyer at your side. So hire one already. Need to hire a tax relief lawyer? Our tax professionals at Optima Tax Relief are here to help.

How to Find a Good Tax Lawyer

When looking for tax relief, how to find a good tax lawyer is critical.

Tax law is complicated and highly technical. In the legal world, the field of tax law is considered one of the more demanding specialties. Tax lawyers deal with a wide range of situations and the rules and laws are continually changing. Not only does a tax lawyer need to have superlative legal skills to succeed, they also need certain personality traits. Find a good tax attorney to help you with tax relief and avoid dealing with the IRS directly.

What qualities make a good attorney?

Consider these academic and professional guidelines for tax attorneys when looking for tax relief.

  • A good tax attorney has specific experience in the field of taxation. For example, are your tax issues related to a real estate transaction? Or are you running a business and need assistance with a sales tax challenge? Or with filing your income tax? A good tax lawyer will concentrate within certain fields and will be familiar with the laws and the protocols needed to address those particular areas of tax relief.
  • Being associated with an office that is exclusively focused on tax related matters is another important quality for a tax attorney.
  • Having an LLM (Masters Legal Degree in Law) in taxation is a sign that your attorney is serious about his profession and is academically qualified to work within the field of tax law.
  • A good tax lawyer has firsthand experience working with the IRS.
  • Successful tax attorneys are continually refreshing their knowledge and keeping up with the continually changing nature of tax law.
  • Tax lawyers should be in good standing with the Better Business Bureau and their local state bar.
  • Good tax attorneys keep their clients informed and up-to-date during the tax relief process.

Skills of a Good Tax Lawyer

Tax attorneys also need to have certain personal skills and abilities to succeed in the area of tax relief. Consider these skills when finding a tax lawyer.

  • A good tax lawyer has high level oral communication skills. They are the intermediary between you and the tax authorities. They need to be able to explain complicated issues and represent your case in a clear manner.
  • Above average written communication skills are another important qualification of a good tax attorney. Tax lawyers write complaints, documents and lawsuit responses.
  • Critical thinking skills are necessary when your attorney is working on a tax relief case. A good tax lawyer can take a look at a case, pick up on any weaknesses, and choose which course of action to take based on the specifics of the case.
  • Having an analytical and organized personality is highly important for a tax attorney. Tax relief cases are usually very complicated and involve numbers and specific, detailed information. A good tax attorney will be able to stay on top of all the elements of the case.
  • Good interpersonal skills are critical for a tax attorney to work effectively with a client in a tax relief case. They need to be able to communicate effectively with both the client and with the tax authorities.
  • Having a committed and persevering personality are necessary qualities for the person who will be representing your tax relief case.

Taxes are complicated and the laws are constantly changing. Your financial future is often at stake in a legal situation involving taxes. Getting appropriate representation for tax relief is very important and knowing what makes a good tax lawyer is a very important first step in getting a resolution.

Need some tax relief? Solutions start here. Learn about tax reduction strategies with Optima Tax Relief. Contact us for a tax consultation today.

What does it mean to get audited?

Back in the day, the word “audit” conjured up widespread fear and loathing. With an astonishing 5.6 percent of all Americans receiving that dreaded audit notice from the Internal Revenue Service in 1963, nearly everyone knew someone who had been subjected to a tax audit. The number of IRS audits has declined sharply since then, with a 23 percent decline in the past twenty years. Nonetheless, the IRS has not completely pulled the plug on audits, although budget cuts has precipitated a shift from all-encompassing in-person audits in favor of less cumbersome, less costly audits that focus on specific tax issues.

Five Reasons for an IRS Audit

So, why would a person or business get audited? Here are some of the reasons you may be audited by the IRS.

  1. Failing to report income
  2. Claiming too much in charitable donations
  3. Claiming too many business expenses
  4. Claiming a loss for a “hobby” activity
  5. Making errors on your return

Tax Return Errors

The vast majority of audits are related to items on tax returns that trigger red flags, such as math errors, inconsistencies between W-2 and 1099 forms.

Unusual Increases or Decreases in Income

Another common red flag is a return that shows a reported income or income far out of line with earnings from previous years.

Associated Transactions

You may also be audited if your tax return reflects transactions with another taxpayer who is being audited.

Above Average Withholding

Automatic red flags such as above average withholding for your income level may also trigger an audit.

Random Audits

A certain number of audits are the result of plain bad luck – returns chosen at random.

How Do You Know If the IRS Is Auditing You? The letter informing you that you are being audited should include a notice number in the right-hand corner. This notice number will indicate the reason for the audit. You should use this notice as a guide to determine which records you should gather. Scams are unfortunately common, so it’s important to understand the process. Learn more about the audit notification process in our blog: How to Know If The IRS Is Auditing You.

The Types of Audits

The audit notification letter you receive should also indicate what type of IRS audit you have been selected for. Depending on the type of audit you are facing, your tax matters could be settled in a matter of days or linger for months. For more involved audits, obtaining the services of a tax professional is highly advisable. Consider the following types of audits to better understand what it means to get audited.

Correspondence Audit

A correspondence audit is conducted by mail. Correspondence audits usually involve tax matters that are relatively easy to resolve. In most instances the IRS is seeking copies of checks, receipts and other documentation to support deductions or credits that you have claimed, or to clarify other items on your tax return.

Office Audit

An office audit is conducted in person at your local IRS office. You should be prepared to report to the office with copies of the requested documentation. You may also have a legal representative or your tax preparer present during the audit.

Field Audit

Like an office audit, a field audit is also conducted in person. Unlike an office audit, a field audit is conducted in your place of business. You should be prepared to present copies of your documentation at the audit, and your legal representative or tax professional should also be present. You are not obliged to allow IRS personnel into your home unless the agency has obtained a court order. If you claim the home office deduction, agents may request to enter your home; if you refuse the request, your deduction will almost certainly be disallowed.

Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program Audit

The IRS uses Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program (TCMP) audits to update the data it uses to write it computer scoring program. This is the most extensive type of audit, which examines every aspect of your tax return. If you receive notice of a TCMP audit, you should be prepared to present exhaustive documentation, including birth and marriage certificates.

Can You Go to Jail for an IRS Audit?

While an audit may require significant effort on your part to gather the documentation required, it should not inspire panic. The unofficial threshold set by the IRS for tax fraud is at least $70,000 in unlawfully uncollected taxes and at least three years of fraudulent conduct. Therefore, while the odds are stacked against you in terms of escaping without additional tax obligations, it is extremely unlikely that as an honest taxpayer, you will face criminal charges or jail time as a result of an audit.

Learn more about tax fraud and how it happens with Optima Tax Relief. If you need tax help, contact us for a free consultation.

Would You Cheat on Your Taxes?

Would you cheat on your taxes? If you said “no,” count yourself in the majority of people who wouldn’t commit tax fraud.

According to the Taxpayer Attitude Survey, about 87% of American Taxpayers say that it is not acceptible to cheat on taxes, while more than 95% agree that it is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes. In addition, 91% of those surveyed agreed that everyone who cheats on their taxes should be held accountable.

Think that if you look honest, you can get away with fudging your taxes? Think again.

However, actual revenues collected by the Internal Revenue Service tell a somewhat different story. The so-called “tax gap” is defined as the difference between the total income tax liability and the amount of income tax payments that are made voluntarily and on a timely basis. This tax gap totaled $450 billion in 2008 but shrank to $385 billion after late payments were posted.

Taxpayers across the country under-reported their income by an estimated $376 billion the same year, while underpayments amounted to $46 billion, and $28 billion was owed by non-filers – people who did not complete tax returns at all. All told, the compliance rate in 2008 on the estimated $2.66 trillion tax obligation was about 83 percent.

Under-reporting Income to the IRS

Most taxpayers are diligent about paying taxes on income reported on W-2 forms. After all, the IRS receives the same information, so skipping out on paying what is owed is fairly difficult. Self-employed workers who receive 1099 forms have somewhat more latitude about how much total income they report due to legitimate business-related expenses. Nonetheless, earnings listed on 1099 forms are also reported to the IRS; therefore, most self-employed workers at least acknowledge those earnings.

On the other hand, a significant amount of cash income is never reported to the IRS. If you were paid $100 to fix someone’s computer, you will probably get by with not reporting that income. However, if you collect a cool $5,000 on the side through your online storefront, you shouldn’t expect to fly under the IRS radar if you don’t acknowledge the sum on the following year’s tax return.

Questionable Tax Deductions

There is nothing wrong with claiming every penny to which you are entitled through legitimate tax credits and deductions. This is not regarded as cheating on your taxes. If you are self-employed and you have established an authentic home office, you should absolutely claim the home office deduction. If you are a wage earner whose boss expects you to call on out-of-town clients on your own dime, go ahead and claim the deduction for work-related travel. As long as you can document your claim, you won’t be accused of tax fraud – even if you are audited by the IRS.

On the other hand, taking a vacation in Hawaii and claiming a deduction because you attended a seminar during the trip likely won’t pass muster with the IRS. Likewise, the cost of your daily commute from your home to your cubicle is also unlikely to be deductible. If you have doubts about whether a deduction or credit is legitimate, it’s best to check with a tax attorney or with a certified public accountant to avoid being accused of cheating on your taxes.

Discredited Tax Protests

A persistent movement exists among a small group of individuals who claim that federal income taxes are unconstitutional because the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution (which was ratified in 1913) was improperly ratified. These tax protesters insist that they are exempt from paying income taxes as a result. The IRS has repeatedly dismissed such claims, frequently charging delinquent taxpayers with filing frivolous returns.

One of the more prominent figures snagged for adhering to discredited tax protester claims is actor Wesley Snipes. Snipes was released from federal prison in 2013 after serving nearly three years for misdemeanor charges related to willfully failing to file tax returns. Snipes claimed that he was misled into believing that his actions were legal by his co-defendants, tax-protesters Eddie Kahn and Douglas Rosile. Federal prosecutors had also pursued felony charges against the three for tax fraud and conspiracy, alleging that Snipes had shipped more than $15 million overseas in an illegal bid to avoid paying taxes. Kahn and Rosile were convicted of those charges, but Snipes was acquitted.

Straight-Up Tax Scams

While the actions described above can be described as questionable claims and gray-area tax-related behavior by otherwise honest citizens, straight up tax evasion scams are also prevalent. Such tactics as strictly paying employees in cash and setting up questionable business and family trusts are among the more common tax evasion schemes attempted by both individuals and companies attempting to skirt paying income taxes.

While a case can sometimes be made for leniency concerning unwitting tax evasion, the IRS frequently takes a dim view of defendants that in its view have deliberately attempted to commit fraud. Outright scams, once uncovered by the IRS, are likely to result in criminal tax evasion charges and long prison sentences upon conviction. This contrasts with civil tax evasion, which can carry hefty fines but no jail time.

What is the Penalty for Cheating on Your Taxes?

Even if you get away with underpaying your taxes (or failing to file returns at all) for a short period, the odds are good that you will be caught eventually. The statute of limitations for federal tax audits is doubled from three to six years if you fail to report at least 25 percent of your income, or if you have income on undisclosed foreign assets that totals $5,000 or more. There is no statute of limitations on IRS audits for filing fraudulent returns or unlawfully failing to file tax returns, which means that you could be looking over your shoulder for years – or even the rest of your life.

Optima Tax Relief offers a range of tax relief services to help you prepare your taxes. Schedule a tax consultation with one of our licensed professionals today to discover how we can help you.

What is the Minimum Income to File Taxes?

More than 43% of Americans don’t have to file a federal tax return–are you one of them?

While the IRS expects to receive more than 150 million tax returns to be filed this year, it is estimated that nearly 43% of Americans don’t have to file a federal tax return according to the IRS.

So how are millions of Americans avoiding this annual tedious task of having to prepare and file a tax return? Is there minimum income to file taxes?

Who Doesn’t Pay Income Taxes?

The recent recession had a lot to do with the fact that nearly half the country is off the hook when it comes to filing a tax return. Many people faced a drastic reduction in their earned income, and now simply do not make enough money to meet the minimum requirements to file. Additionally, President Obama teamed up with Congress to boost existing credits and create new stimulus measures which have resulted in many people qualifying for tax benefits and credits which eliminate their tax obligation entirely.

Do I Need to File a US Tax Return?

There is a minimum income to file taxes. If you are age 64 or younger, are filing as single and earned more than $10,000.00 in 2013 ($11,500.00 if age 65 or older), then you are among those who have to file a tax return with the IRS this year. If you were married at the end of 2013 and you plan on filing separate returns, you must file if you earned more than $3,900.00 in 2013.

* Is there a minimum income to file taxes for children?

These days there are more and more children working each year, oftentimes earning enough throughout the year to require that they file a return as well. This can be a complicated matter when trying to decide if the child should file a return and how that could affect their parents claiming them as dependents on their own return. Basically, a child must file a tax return if their earned income was over $6,100, however parents are still able to claim these children as dependents on their tax return if the child lived with them.

Even if you’re not required to file…

One important thing to consider is even if you are not required to file a federal tax return for 2013, you may want to still file a return as it may result in a refund owed to you. If you had income tax withheld from your paycheck or if you qualify for the EITC, additional child tax credit, health coverage tax credit, or refundable American opportunity education credit, filing a return will most likely result in the IRS sending you a refund check.

A major tax credit that helps Americans reduce their tax liability is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC was originally approved by Congress in 1975 to help working Americans (with a low to moderate income level) keep more of what they earned. According to the TPC, about 1 in 5 tax returns (close to 28 million) that were filed in 2010 claimed the EITC, resulting in over 60 million dollars in credit to Americans. For the 2013 tax year, working families with children that have annual incomes below $37,870 to $51,567 (depending on number of children) will be eligible for the federal EITC, as well as those without children that have incomes below $14,340.

According to the IRS, about three out of four people who file a tax return this year will receive a refund. Last year taxpayers received an average refund of $2,744, and the IRS is typically able to process that refund within 3 weeks. To get your refund from the IRS the quickest, be sure to e-file your tax return and opt for direct depositing your refund into your bank account.

Filing your annual income tax return can be a complicated and tedious task, but there are many benefits and credits available now to help reduce or even eliminate your tax liability. Even if you are not required to file a return, these tax credits can result in an unexpected refund from Uncle Sam. However, you have to file the return to receive the cash, so be sure to explore all of the available credits and deductions when preparing your return this year.

Need some help filing taxes? Optima Tax Relief offers tax consultation.