IRS Completes the “Dirty Dozen” Tax Scams for 2015

irs-says-phone-scams-continue-to-beThe Internal Revenue Service recently presented its list of the 2015 “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams with a warning to taxpayers about aggressive telephone scams continuing coast-to-coast. Scam artists use flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts and word of mouth via community groups and churches to seek victims. Scams are especially common during tax filing season, but can occur any time of the year.

“We are doing everything we can to help taxpayers avoid scams as the tax season continues,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Whether it’s a phone scam or scheme to steal a taxpayer’s identity, there are simple steps to take to help stop these con artists. We urge taxpayers to visit IRS.gov for more information and to be wary of these dozen tax scams.”

The list below represents the list of this year’s “Dirty Dozen” tax-related scams:

Phone Scams

Aggressive and threatening phone calls by scam artists posing as IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. There has been a surge of these scams — threatening arrest, deportation, license revocation and other adverse consequences. The IRS reminds taxpayers that the IRS will never solicit personal information by email or by phone calls not initiated by taxpayers.

Phishing

The IRS never sends taxpayers unsolicited emails or refunds. If you receive such a message; it is almost certainly a scam. Taxpayers should be wary of clicking links contained in strange emails and websites. They may be attempts to steal your personal information.

UntitledIdentity Theft

Attempts at identity theft are especially common during tax filing season. A common tactic is filing fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. The IRS aggressively pursues identity theft attempts, but taxpayers must also practice due diligence in protecting their information.

Return Preparer Fraud

Return preparers are a vital part of the U.S. tax system. About 60% of taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare their returns. Although the vast majority of tax professionals provide honest high-quality service, dishonest preparers set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams. Taxpayers must be wary of such bad actors.

Offshore Tax Avoidance

Offshore_Tax_Evasion_1_.54d100778feac

As the recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows, it’s a losing bet to attempt to shelter income and assets offshore. Taxpayers are best served by taking advantage of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) to get their federal income tax affairs in order.

Inflated Refund Claims

Taxpayers should be wary of preparers promising inflated refunds — especially before looking at their financial records, and refuse to sign blank returns. Taxpayers should also be wary of preparers who charge fees based on a percentage of the refund. For more information on selecting paid tax preparers, see the Choosing a Tax Professional page on IRS.gov.

Fake Charities173572251_Charity scam

Especially during the holiday season, taxpayers should be on guard against fake charitable organizations. Check out the group to ensure that hard-earned cash isn’t filtered into a sham operation BEFORE making a contribution. IRS.gov has tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. Be especially wary of charities with names that are similar to familiar or nationally known organizations.

Hiding Income with Fake Documents

The mere suggestion by paid preparers that taxpayers should falsify to reduce tax bills or inflate tax refunds is a huge red flag. The IRS reminds taxpayers who might be tempted to allow paid preparers to cut corners that they are legally responsible their returns regardless of who prepares them.

Abusive Tax Shelters

While the vast majority of taxpayers voluntarily pay their fair share, the IRS is committed to stopping abusive tax shelters and prosecuting the people who create and sell them. Taxpayers should be wary for tax breaks that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, seek an independent opinion regarding questionable offers before making a commitment.

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits

Unscrupulous tax preparers sometimes persuade otherwise honest taxpayers to artificially inflate their income to erroneously claim tax credits. While taxpayers are entitled to take advantage of all legal tax breaks, avoiding questionable credits and deductions is the best policy in the long run. If the IRS discovers a discrepancy, the taxpayer is legally responsible, even if someone else preparedthe return.

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Excessive Claims for Fuel Tax Credits

Unlike the mileage tax credit, the fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. Nonetheless, the IRS routinely encounters unscrupulous preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim fuel tax credits to inflate their refunds.

Frivolous Tax Arguments

Taxpayers are entitled to present legitimate disputes about tax liabilities. However, despite routinely being thrown out of court, there are unscrupulous taxpayers who insist on making outlandish claims to avoid paying taxes they rightfully owe. The IRS reminds taxpayers who are tempted to file frivolous returns that the penalty for doing so is $5,000. Additional information about tax scams is available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube and Tumblr, where people can search “scam” to find scam-related posts.

Tax Scams: Just Don’t Do Ittax-fraud

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest for taxpayers, as well as possible criminal prosecution. Taxpayers should also remember that they are legally responsible for the content of their tax returns even if they are prepared by someone else. The IRS Criminal Investigation division works closely with the Department of Justice to prosecute criminals who perpetrate tax scams.

IRS Criminal Investigation Releases Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report

The Internal Revenue Service announced the release of its IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) annual report for fiscal year 2014.   IRS CI initiated 4,297 cases in FY 2014, focusing on international tax fraud, return preparer and questionable refund fraud, identity theft, public corruption, bank secrecy act violations, significant money laundering investigations and terrorist financing cases.

BN-IG445_IRSCYB_J_20150505144950“There is no doubt that we have had to be creative to overcome some of the budget challenges this year,” said Richard Weber, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation Division. “But in so doing, we maintained a steady focus on what is important. Our highest priority is to enforce our country’s tax laws and support tax administration to ensure compliance with the law and combat fraud.”

 

Historical Snapshot and Agency Priorities

The annual report highlights the agency’s successes while providing a historical snapshot of the makeup and priorities of the organization. Lincoln Irey, the first chief of IRS CI, released an annual report every year during his tenure, which extended from 1919 to 1946.

As the only federal law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over federal tax crimes, CI boasted the highest federal law enforcement conviction rate in FY 2014 — an impressive 93.4%. Prosecutors nationwide routinely call on IRS CI to lead financial investigations for financial crimes ranging from identity theft to international tax evasion and transnational organized crime.

“We are incredibly proud of our conviction rate,” said Weber. “As a federal law enforcement agency, that conviction rate reflects the pride of our agents and the quality of our case work. We are the best financial investigators in the world and I am extremely proud of our special agents and professional staff.”

Big Wins for IRS CI

CI investigates potential criminal violations of the Internal Revenue Code and related financial crimes in an effort to generate confidence in the tax system and encourage compliance with the law. The 40-page report includes case summaries on a range of tax crimes, including money laundering, public corruption, terrorist financing and narcotics trafficking financial crimes. The report also reflects the diversity and complexity of CI investigations, which touch almost every part of the world.

511aa8b798600.preview-620For example, two of the biggest tax fraud stories of the year — Credit Suisse and Bank Leumi — are included in the report. In the largest tax fraud case ever filed, Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to conspiracy to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers in filing false income tax returns and agreed to pay a total of 2.6 billion dollars. CI also led the investigation against Bank Leumi Group, a major Israeli international bank that admitted conspiring to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers to prepare and present false tax returns and agreed to pay 270 million dollars. Bank Leumi also pledged to cease providing banking and investment services for accounts held or beneficially owned by American taxpayers. The Bank Leumi Group case marks the first time an Israeli bank has admitted to such criminal conduct.

“The budget challenges facing our agency are nothing new. In the past five years, CI’s staff has been reduced approximately 11 percent bringing staffing to 1970’s levels. This trend cannot continue,” Weber added. “We will continue to remain focused on finding and investigating great cases that make a real difference in compliance of our nation’s tax laws.”

2016 Tax Season Forecast: Doom and Gloom if You Want Help from the IRS

During the 2015 income tax filing season, increased compliance requirements combined with budget cuts to produce one of the worst tax seasons in history, at least for taxpayers who sought assistance from the IRS. More than 137 million tax returns were filed, with more than 83 million taxpayers contacting the IRS toll-free customer service line at least once seeking assistance.

Hold, Please

Out of the 80 million-plus calls initiated, a miserable 37.6 percent were actually answered by an IRS agent, with remaining callers receiving what the IRS has named “courtesy” hang-ups after extended hold times. This figure is in sharp contrast to the more than 70 percent of taxpayer calls to the taxpayer toll-free IRS call center that were handled by an agent in 2014. Wait times for all callers averaged more than 23 minutes. Taxpayers who sought in-person assistance at Taxpayer Assistance Centers also experienced lengthy waits; funding for TACs was cut by 4 percent in 2015.

With no significant increases in funding assigned to the IRS in 2015, all indicators point to the availability of assistance by telephone being just as dreadful for the 2016 tax season. A number of factors are involved, many of which are repeats from earlier years. Several examples are outlined below.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, went into full effect for individual taxpayers in 2014. One of the most misunderstood provisions of the ACA is the individual mandate which requires a majority of individuals to purchase health insurance that fulfills federal guidelines – or face a penalty. Many individuals had the mistaken impression that the penalty was 96 dollars across the board, and only learned differently when they prepared their 2014 tax returns.

For 2016, the penalty has increased dramatically, which will come as a surprise to still more taxpayers. Increased incentives related to the ACA almost undoubtedly mean that the number of returns filed will likely hold steady or even increase. More tax returns generates the knock-on effect of more taxpayer calls to the IRS – many of them going unanswered, just as they did in 2015. In addition, businesses with at the equivalent of 50 full-time employees will be required to provide health insurance to their workers. However, that requirement does not extend to part-time workers or to the families of full-time workers, which points to the likelihood of even more confusion for taxpayers preparing their 2015 federal tax returns.

Last Minute Tax Provisions

For the past several years, there has been suspense about whether particular tax provisions will be extended by Congress. The final determination often occurs right before the end of the year, which does not allow the IRS sufficient time to prepare its forms and instructions and have them ready by the customary January 1 opening date for tax season, resulting in delays in processing tax refunds. For instance, in 2014, Congress enacted last minute tax provisions on December 16, just two weeks before the end of the calendar year. As a result, the IRS delayed the acceptance of the first tax return until January 20, 2015.

Given the present divisiveness in Congress, it should come as no surprise that 2015 has proven to be no different than 2014. Although the Senate Finance Committee passed a set of 56 temporary tax breaks in July 2015, as of early December 2015 the full House and Senate had not taken action on the package. Expectations are that Congress will act on the provisions before they leave for the year, and as of this writing, there was no announcement of a delay for filing tax returns in 2016. However, depending on what Congress finally does or does not due, the possibility remains that a delay will occur for the beginning of the 2016 federal tax filing season, with subsequent delays in processing tax returns and issuing tax refunds.

Tax Fraud

tax_fraudThe IRS takes tax fraud very seriously. Nonetheless, in May 2015, the IRS reported that they had identified more than 163,000 fraudulent or potentially fraudulent tax returns, claiming more than 900 million dollars in refunds, with 787 million dollars in fraudulent refunds actually paid. In a related incident, the IRS reported in May 2015 that approximately 100,000 taxpayer accounts had been compromised through its online “Get Transcript” service. In response, the IRS suspended the ability to order transcripts online. Taxpayers can still order transcripts by mail, which the IRS states requires five to 10 calendar days for processing.

To reduce future incidents of tax fraud and data breaches, the IRS has boosted filters and screening – which will likely translate to delays in processing income tax returns as well as issuing tax refund checks during the 2016 tax season.

Earned Income Tax Credit

EITC_grnThe Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides workers with modest incomes with a refundable tax credit. It is also a popular target for attempted tax fraud. The IRS has created a due diligence checklist for the Earned Income Tax Credit that it stresses paid tax preparers to use. However, there will be additional efforts by the IRS to require individual taxpayers to use the checklist as well. This development is almost guaranteed to increase confusion among taxpayers, with the domino effect of delayed tax refunds.

Easing the Pain of Tax Filing Season

The IRS.gov website contains extensive information for individuals and business owners filing their own tax returns – or preparing documentation for paid tax preparers. News, informational articles and downloadable forms are readily available. Taxpayer related information is also available through the U.S. Treasury, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and USA.gov websites.

However, taxpayers with complex income tax returns – or anyone who has questions about completing their tax returns – can’t count on receiving assistance from the IRS for the upcoming tax filing season. One alternative is to turn to the professionals at Optima Tax Relief. In addition to answering tax inquiries, they can assist you with any issue or dispute you may have with your federal or state tax returns – without a 20 minute wait to speak with an agent.

Historical Highlights of the IRS

Every taxpayer knows about the existence of the IRS, but many people do not realize that the United States only began collecting income taxes from individuals in 1862. The following timeline documents the history and intriguing development of the collection arm of the Treasury department.

The First Income Taxtax

1862 – President Lincoln issued a revenue-raising measure into law to help pay for Civil War expenses. The measure also created a Commissioner of Internal Revenue along with the nation’s first income tax. An additional 3 percent tax was levied on incomes between 600 and 10,000 dollars and a 5 percent tax on incomes of more than 10,000 dollars

1867 – Facing stiff public opposition, Congress cuts the income tax rate. As a result, from 1868 until 1913, 90 percent of all national revenue came from taxes on liquor, beer, wine and tobacco.

1872 – Income tax repealed.

Creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue

1894 – The Wilson Tariff Act revived the income tax and created an income tax division within the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

1895 – The new tax was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was a direct tax, not apportioned among the states on the basis of population. As a result, the income tax division was disbanded.

Ratification of the 16th Amendment and World War I

16th ammendment1909 – President Taft requested Congress to propose a constitutional amendment giving the government power to tax incomes directly. Congress also levied a 1 percent tax on net corporate incomes of more than 5,000 dollars.

1913 – Under the looming threat of World War I, Wyoming became the crucial 36th state to ratify the 16th Amendment. The amendment stated, “Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Later, Congress adopted a 1 percent tax on net personal income of more than 3,000 dollars with a surtax of 6 percent on incomes of more than 500,000 dollars. Congress also repealed the 1909 corporate income tax. The first Form 1040 was introduced the same year.

1918 – The Revenue Act of 1918 raised more money to finance the World War I effort. The Act also codified all existing tax laws and imposed a progressive income tax structure, with rates up to 77 percent.

Prohibition and Taxationprohibition

1919 – The 18th Amendment was ratified, barring the manufacture, sale or transport of intoxicating beverages. Congress also passed the Volstead Act, granting the Commissioner of Internal Revenue primary responsibility for enforcement of Prohibition. The Department of Justice assumed primary prohibition enforcement duties eleven years later.

1931 – An undercover agent employed by the IRS Intelligence Unit gathered evidence against gangster Al Capone. The evidence was used to convict Capone of tax evasion. He died in prison before serving out his 11 year sentence.

1933 – Prohibition repealed. IRS resumed responsibility for alcohol taxation the following year, along with administration of the National Firearms Act. Enforcement of the tobacco tax was added later.

Individual Deductions and Employer Tax Withholding

1942 – The Revenue Act of 1942 which FDR hailed as “the greatest tax bill in American history,” passed Congress. The Act increased taxes along with the number of Americans required to pay income tax. The Act also created deductions for medical and investment expenses.

1943 – Current Tax Payment Act, which required employers to withhold taxes from employees’ wages and remit them quarterly was passed by Congress

1944 – Congress passed the Individual Income Tax Act, creating standard deductions on Form 1040.

The Creation of the IRS

IRS1952 – Reorganization Plan No. 1 proposed by President Truman. The Plan, designed to restore public confidence in the agency, replaced the patronage system at the IRS with a career civil service system and decentralized service to taxpayers.

1953 – Truman’s reorganization plan endorsed by President Eisenhower, who changed the name of the agency from the Bureau of Internal Revenue to the Internal Revenue Service.

Mid Century Modifications

1954 – Filing deadline for individual tax returns changed from March 15 to April 15.

1961 – The dedication of the National Computer Center at Martinsburg, W.Va. heralded the beginning of the computer age for the IRS

1965 – First toll-free telephone number instituted for the IRS.

1972 – The division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms separated from the IRS to become the independent Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

1974 – Congress passed the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act, assigning the IRS regulatory responsibilities for employee benefit plans.

Electronic Filingefile

1986 – First year for limited electronic filing. President Reagan signed the Tax Reform Act, containing 300 provisions and requiring three years to implement. As the most significant piece of tax legislation in 30 years, the Act codified federal tax laws for the third time since the Revenue Act of 1918.

1992 – Taxpayers owing money to the IRS were allowed to file returns electronically.

21st Century Reform

1998 – Congress passed the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act, expanding taxpayer rights reorganizing the agency into four operating divisions aligned to address taxpayer needs.

2000 – IRS ended its geographic-based structure and instituted four major operating divisions: Wage and Investment, Small Business/Self-Employed, Large and Mid-Size Business and Tax Exempt and Government Entities. This change represented the most sweeping adjustment to the IRS since 1953.

Mid-Year Refunds Initiated

tax-refund2001 – Mid-year tax refund program to provide advance payments of a tax rate reduction administered by the IRS

2003 – A second mid-year refund program, this time providing an advance payment of an increase in the Child Tax Credit was administered by the IRS. During this same year, electronic filing reached 52.9 million tax returns, representing more than 40 percent of all individual tax returns — a new high.

Data Breach: Tax-Related Information for Taxpayers

A data breach is the intentional or unintentional release or theft of secure information. It can be the improper disposal of personally identifiable information in the trash or a sophisticated cyber-attack on corporate computers by criminals. It can affect companies large or small.  The one common link is the victim, the person whose identity, financial or personal information has been compromised.

data-breachWhat You Should Know About Data Breaches

Tax-related identity theft is when someone uses your Social Security number to file a false tax return claiming a fraudulent refund. Your tax account is most at risk if the data breach involves both your SSN and financial data, such as wages.

The Internal Revenue Service is committed to working with taxpayers to ensure that all tax accounts remain secure.  The IRS stops the vast majority of fraudulent tax returns.  If fraud is suspected, the IRS will contact you via mail with instructions.  However, some unfortunate taxpayers may discover they have been victimized by a data breach when they attempt to file electronically and have their returns rejected by the IRS as duplicates.

It’s important to note that not every data breach results in identity theft, and not every identity theft is tax-related identity theft.  Data breaches involving just credit card numbers, health records without SSNs or even driver’s  license numbers, while certainly serious, will not affect your federal or state tax return.

What to Do If You Are the Victim of a Data Breach

Determine what type of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) has been lost or stolen. It is important to know what kind of information has been stolen so you can take the appropriate steps. For example, a stolen credit card number will not affect your IRS tax account.  Regardless of the nature of the breach, you should stay in touch with the company that lost your data. Companies sometimes offer special services, such as credit monitoring services, to assist victims. In addition, you should take the following steps recommended by the Federal Trade Commission.

  • File a police report
  • File a complaint with the FTC
  • Notify at least one of the three major credit bureaus in writing — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion —  (preferably all three) to place a fraud alert on your credit file
  • Close any accounts opened without your permission

If you received IRS correspondence or your e-file tax return was rejected as a duplicate, take these additional steps with the IRS:

  • Submit an IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit
  • File your tax return (most likely by paper) and attach Form 14039
  • Watch for any follow-up correspondence from the IRS and respond quickly.

Who Should File Form 14039?

Form 14039 — Identity Theft Affidavit should be used if your Social Security number has been compromised and IRS has informed you that you may be a victim of identity theft tax fraud or your e-file return was rejected as a duplicate. The fillable form is available at IRS.gov. Follow the instructions exactly. You can fax or mail it or submit it with your paper tax return if you have been prevented from filing because someone else has already filed a return using your SSN. You only need to file the form once. After the form is processed, you will receive a special number to use in place of your Social Security number to file your federal income tax returns.  This number can be used with electronic filing — but should only be used with your federal tax returns, not with your state tax returns.

IRS Tax News: Your Home Office Deduction Just Got Simpler

One Forbes.com article claims that half of all working Americans either work for or own a small business. Of that group, 52% are home-based and use part of their homes exclusively for business purposes. This article highlights the new IRS home office deduction guidelines.

Fear of Setting Off an Audit

auditCall it consensus, rumor or just plain urban legend, but according to conventional wisdom, claiming the home office deductions is a sure-fire IRS audit trigger. In actuality, there is no concrete evidence that claiming tax breaks for working at home was any more a trigger for an audit than any other tax deduction or credit. Certainly, claiming the home office deduction would seem to be less of a red flag than, say, claiming $25,000 worth of deductions on an adjusted gross income of $30,000.

For most taxpayers, it’s more likely that a combination of factors is what actually sets off audit red flags. Perhaps it’s not so much running a business at home, but claiming deductions for a business that consistently loses money that triggers an audit. A taxpayer attempting to claim a 10-foot by 12-foot dedicated home office who lives in a two bedroom home with his wife and two children would also likely raise an auditor’s suspicions.

Even without the fear of an audit, many taxpayers were tempted to skip claiming legitimate deductions, with good reason. Calculating home office deductions prior to 2013 could be a time consuming chore. The first step was to divide the entire square footage of the home to generate a percentage of the home that was dedicated to the home office. The next step was to add all the expenses for the home, including mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities and money spent at Home Depot for home improvement. The next step involved multiplying that total by the percentage of the home devoted. Now add all that up and multiply it by the percentage of the home used for the home office. You get the picture.

New Calculations

measureThis all changed when the IRS announced new rules which provided a simpler method of calculating home office expenses beginning in the 2013 tax year. All that’s needed now is to calculate the square footage of the space devoted to the home, then multiply that figure by five and put a dollar sign in front of the result. That’s it. The simplified formula can be used for home offices measuring up to 300 square feet, which translates to a maximum $1,500 deduction.

Taxpayers still have the option of sticking with the original method, which might be advantageous under the following conditions:

  • If a home office space is greater than 300 square feet.
  • If actual home expenses are higher than the maximum deductible amount through the new method.
  • For businesses that were not profitable during the previous tax year.
  • For taxpayers who changed residences during the previous year.

On the other hand, it’s a good idea to opt for the new method ($5 per square foot) if home expense records are incomplete, or if calculating actual expenses is too cumbersome. Taxpayers who have sizable real estate and mortgage interest deductions, which they prefer to itemize fully and separately from the home office deduction should also consider utilizing the new calculation method.

Taxpayers must choose one method or the other during any particular tax year, but may change methods from one year to the next. Regardless of which method is used, the following conditions apply:

  • The home office must be used exclusively and regularly as the main place of business.
  • “Exclusive” means that the home office is used only for trade and for no other family recreational or living space.

Don’t Miss Out

If you have a home office and have not been taking advantage of allowable deductions, you have been passing up tax benefits that can lower your overall tax liability. And with the new simpler method, you no longer have to perform tedious record keeping and computations. Read more about the home office deduction on the IRS website.

free money

Can Student Loans Lower Your Credit Score?

Student loans are much like other loans. Your credit rating gets a boost when you make your payments on time. Likewise, when you fail to make payments on time, your loan could fall into a delinquent status, which also causes your credit rating to suffer.

94817320While the government allows you a certain period of time (for most, it’s six months) to begin paying off student loans once you leave college, not all students are able to begin making payments. However, instead of communicating with their lenders, they often simply ignore the debt, which has a horrible effect on credit scores. To avoid negative credit impacts, lenders offer many options to students who are struggling to make their payments, including deferment or forbearance. These options keep loans in good standing, while allowing you to buy a bit more time to get into a better financial situation.

Student loans are viewed as “good credit” and when they’re in good standing, can help you qualify for other forms of credit later on. However, your credit score can take a dive if you pay off your loans too soon. This is because you benefit from having more than one type of credit. Your student loan is an installment loan, and once it’s paid off, while you’ll save money by not paying all of that extra interest to your lender, you will be potentially removing one type of credit from your credit report.

Many student loan borrowers worry that they’ve ruined their credit because they have defaulted on their loans. The good news is that it’s never too late to make things right. Options are always available to help you repay those loans and repair your FICO score. It might take some time, but if you’re dedicated to resolving the issues, you’ll get there, perhaps even sooner than you think.

70 Foreign Countries Agree To Share Tax Information With IRS

The Internal Revenue Service recently received a significant boost in its quest to collect the dues which it is rightfully owed. In an important bit of IRS Tax News, 77,000 foreign financial institutions in nearly 70 countries agreed to share tax information with the IRS. This historic announcement marks a milestone in the agency’s quest to combat international tax evasion.

As part of the agreement, banks and investment funds agreed to share information with the IRS about American citizens who own accounts at their institutions. The participating institutions include banks from Switzerland, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, each of which has a reputation for being tax havens. As of March 2015, these institutions began sharing names, account numbers and balances for U.S. account holders with the IRS.

Surprisingly, 515 Russian institutions are part of the agreement. This inclusion is despite the fact that these institutions were required to apply directly to the IRS to be part of the agreement because of halted communications stemming from the Ukraine conflict. The number of cooperating institutions is expected to rise in the coming weeks.

irs-logoWhat It Means for You

Honest taxpayers are unlikely to be directly impacted by this agreement. After all, tax evasion is illegal. Nonetheless, the agreement could have significant indirect consequences for all U.S. taxpayers. Specifically, this agreement should free up IRS employees investigating tax evasion internationally, providing more resources to seek out domestic instances of tax fraud. The knock-on effect result in more closely examined tax returns and more frequent audits. That said, honest taxpayers have little to fear, especially those with incomes under $200,000.

On the other hand, this news seems to signal the beginning of a commitment by the IRS to work more closely with foreign institutions regarding international tax issues. In an increasingly globalized world, more of today’s workforce completes assignments for international employers and clients. Anyone who has ever worked with or for a foreign company understands the hoops taxpayers must jump through come tax time. But with continued international cooperation, these hoops could diminish. That’s good news.

However the situation plays out, it bears monitoring. For now, all we know is that despite recent foreign political challenges, the U.S. government and its agencies – including the IRS – are willing to work with their international counterparts on lowering financial crimes. That’s even more good news.

Settle Tax Debt

It is indisputable that the Internal Revenue Service is one of the most powerful collection agencies in existence. The IRS has the authority to access every U.S. financial entity in its mission to collect back taxes. The IRS can even penetrate the cloak of corporate anonymity to affix personal liability to its officers, with the ultimate authority to decide just who is responsible.

settle tax debt

The IRS “Hammers”

Although there are some constraints, the IRS has vast powers, defined in its approximately 80,000-page Tax Code. Specifically, the IRS has the authority to:

  • attach a lien on a taxpayer’s property to protect the government’s ability to collect delinquent taxes,
  • apply an outright levy, which freezes cash, securities and investment accounts, and seizes whatever property the taxpayer holds for sale to pay the tax debt, including a significant portion of a taxpayer’s paycheck.

The IRS files a lien notice at the taxpayer’s local courthouse. An IRS lien is like an 800-pound gorilla: it acts as official notification that the IRS has first dibs on the taxpayer’s property. Third parties who are entangled within an IRS lien or levy — bank officers, employers, insurance brokers for permanent life insurance policies sold to the taxpayer — have absolutely no choice but to comply with IRS legal sanctions on the delinquent taxpayer.

Facing Tax Debt Realistically

Obviously, paying income taxes on time — or later with penalties — will forestall IRS liens and levies. The IRS auditor works under the premise that if the taxpayer has assets and owes taxes, and that tax debt takes precedence over any natural desire to preserve wealth.

Time Is Not On Your Side

On the other hand, for taxpayers who are in dire financial straits, there are options in getting out of tax debt. However, those options never include trying to stonewall the IRS, because time is definitely not on the taxpayer’s side.

The IRS Paper Trail

A formal notification process begins once the IRS determines that a taxpayer owes back taxes. It takes about six weeks from the first formal notification until the final notice is issued. At that point, the taxpayer has 30 days to appeal.

Once a lien or levy has been issued, the IRS has provisions to lift or remove them. Each provision has the goal of freeing up the taxpayer’s assets to make it easier to pay off the debt.

Time Payments And Offers In Compromise

An experienced attorney can apply for a time payment plan to settle delinquent tax debts in manageable monthly installment payments. The IRS favors direct bank debits, but taxpayers may also mail in paper checks or money orders.

Another option is an IRS Offer in Compromise, which, allows taxpayers to settle their delinquent tax bills by paying only a portion of what they owe. As you might imagine, there are strict eligibility requirements to qualify. The bottom line is that taxpayers must be able to demonstrate substantial financial hardship for the IRS to accept an Offer in Compromise.

Getting Professional Tax Assistance

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when attempting to navigate complex IRS regulations, voluminous and confusing instruction booklets and forms on your own. Owing money to the IRS can be a confusing and intimidating thing. It is hard to know what you’re supposed to do to settle that tax debt.

Especially if you are faced with the immediate threat of a levy, or wish to negotiate an offer of compromise, it’s wise to seek professional help. That’s where Optima Tax Relief comes in. At Optima Tax Relief, it’s our job to be in your corner, helping you to eliminate IRS tax debt.

Let Optima Tax Relief Fight For You

We actually work with the IRS and the state authorities every day on behalf of our clients, and we use our knowledge to benefit you. From day one, our experienced staff is prepared to offer representation to provide you with full legal protection while we negotiate on your behalf. Further, we are able to help you understand what you should — and shouldn’t — say to the IRS.

Your tax issues are not too big or too small for us. If you need help or have questions about preparing your tax paperwork, we can help you. If you’re facing liens, levies, wage garnishments, criminal action or other penalties, we can help you with that as well. And if you need someone to negotiate on your behalf or to represent you before auditors or revenue officers, we are prepared to do so fearlessly.

Now is the time to rely on the experience and dedication offered by Optima Tax Relief. Contact us today for more information on how you can settle your tax debt.

When Your Tax Exemption Grows Up And Gets A Job

BabyIt is inevitable that at some point children will be able to claim their own tax deductions and get big refunds. At this point, it’s time to bring out the dependency worksheet.

Parents should know that if a child makes enough money to challenge your income tax exemptions, it could add significantly to your tax obligations. In addition, some parents mistakenly believe that as long as their children are under age 24 and in college full time that they can still claim them on their tax returns. However, if a child is contributing to more than half of his/her own support, then parents can no longer claim that child as a dependent.

Let’s take a hypothetical example of 16 year old Betty. She works after school and on weekends at a sporting goods store, where she earns a minimum wage salary and a commission on sales. She is gifted in sales, so even though she is still in high school, she made $11,500 the previous year. Betty and her three sisters live with her parents and her grandmother, and qualifies as a dependent for Betty’s parents on their joint income tax return.

boyAccording to the worksheet for the dependency support test, (available in IRS Publication 501, page 16) household expenses, including groceries consumed in the home, utility bills, repairs, and the fair rental value of the house must be divided by the number of residents in the household. In this case, with a married couple, a grandparent, and four children, the household is comprised of seven people.

If the fair rental value of the home is $2500, then $357.00 person is the figure that will be applied to Betty’s support. The utility bills add up to an average of $500 per month. Divided by 7, Betty’s share is $71 every month. If groceries average $200 per week, then Betty’s share is $29 per week. Annual plumbing repairs of $840 translate to $120 per year for each person in the household. A recap of Betty’s annual household expenses is below:

  •                $4284 Fair rental value
  •                $852 Utilities
  •                $1508 Groceries
  •                $120 Plumbing repairs

This translates to $6764 for Betty’s total share of household expenses per year. Christmas presents, her share of an annual family vacation, clothing, recreation, electronics equipment, medical expenses not paid by insurance, and her insurance premiums add $12,000 to Betty’s share of total household expenses, bringing Betty’s total share of household expenses to $18,764.

teenLet’s recall Betty’s salary of $11,500. Unless her parents can prove that her earnings went to savings or investments, it will count as money spent toward her own support. As it turns out, Betty bought a car, and pays for her own insurance, which runs $300 or $400 per month. She spends an additional $10 or $11 a day on lunch or movies. Of course she wears the latest fashions, regularly downloads (legally) music from Adele, Katy Perry and Beyoncé, and has purchased the complete set of episodes for the first season of Game of Thrones. She also has an iPhone 6 Plus and a tablet. Life is large, and so is her tax refund. Meanwhile, her parents’ allowable credits and deductions have shrunk. Her parents have lost the child tax credit.

A second example considers Betty going away to college. Betty’s parents’ income has risen, but private tuition for Betty has also risen. Meanwhile, Betty pitches in by taking a part-time job while she’s enrolled in classes. Depending on how much she earns, her parents may lose the dependency exemption. If Betty qualifies as an independent student for financial aid purposes, her parents will lose the educational credit, too.

manIt’s important to remember that if you choose not to claim a child that qualifies as your dependent, the child still cannot claim the exemption for herself. To prevent tax surprises later, there should ideally be an understanding within the family before children start earning substantial salaries about establishing a savings account and other plans to minimize tax burdens for both parents and children. A good place to start is by enlisting the help of a tax professional. Contact us today to schedule a strategy session.