Tuesday, February 21, 2017

IRS Summarizes "Dirty Dozen" List of Tax Scams for 2017

Phishing: Taxpayers need to be on guard against fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or refund. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS. Be wary of emails and websites that may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information. (IR-2017-15)

Phone Scams: Phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as con artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things. (IR-2017-19)

Identity Theft: Taxpayers need to watch out for identity theft especially around tax time. The IRS continues to aggressively pursue the criminals that file fraudulent returns using someone else’s Social Security number. Though the agency is making progress on this front, taxpayers still need to be extremely cautious and do everything they can to avoid being victimized. (IR-2017-22)

Return Preparer Fraud: Be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest high-quality service. There are some dishonest preparers who set up shop each filing season to perpetrate refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers. (IR-2017-23)

Fake Charities: Be on guard against groups masquerading as charitable organizations to attract donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally known organizations. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate and currently eligible charities. IRS.gov has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations. (IR-2017-25)

Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers should be on the lookout for anyone promising inflated refunds. Be wary of anyone who asks taxpayers to sign a blank return, promises a big refund before looking at their records or charges fees based on a percentage of the refund. Fraudsters use flyers, advertisements, phony storefronts and word of mouth via community groups where trust is high to find victims. (IR-2017-26)

Excessive Claims for Business Credits: Avoid improperly claiming the fuel tax credit, a tax benefit generally not available to most taxpayers. The credit is usually limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. Taxpayers should also avoid misuse of the research credit. Improper claims often involve failures to participate in or substantiate qualified research activities and/or satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses. (IR-2017-27)

Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Taxpayers should avoid the temptation to falsely inflate deductions or expenses on their returns to pay less than what they owe or potentially receive larger refunds. Think twice before overstating deductions such as charitable contributions and business expenses or improperly claiming credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit. (IR-2017-28)

Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Don’t invent income to erroneously qualify for tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. Taxpayers are sometimes talked into doing this by con artists. Taxpayers should file the most accurate return possible because they are legally responsible for what is on their return. This scam can lead to taxpayers facing large bills to pay back taxes, interest and penalties. In some cases, they may even face criminal prosecution. (IR-2017-29)

Abusive Tax Shelters: Don’t use abusive tax structures to avoid paying taxes. The IRS is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them. The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share, and everyone should be on the lookout for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true. When in doubt, taxpayers should seek an independent opinion regarding complex products they are offered. (IR-2017-31)

Frivolous Tax Arguments: Don’t use frivolous tax arguments to avoid paying tax. Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims even though they have been repeatedly thrown out of court. While taxpayers have the right to contest their tax liabilities in court, no one has the right to disobey the law or disregard their responsibility to pay taxes. The penalty for filing a frivolous tax return is $5,000. (IR-2017-33)

Offshore Tax Avoidance: The recent string of successful enforcement actions against offshore tax cheats and the financial organizations that help them shows that it’s a bad bet to hide money and income offshore. Taxpayers are best served by coming in voluntarily and getting caught up on their tax-filing responsibilities. The IRS offers the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program  to enable people to catch up on their filing and tax obligations. (IR-2017-35)

Courtesy of IRS
For more information contact Neikirk, Mahoney and Smith at 502-896-2999


Monday, February 20, 2017

Video Relay Scam Targeting Deaf and Hard of Hearing


Every day scammers come up with new ways to steal taxpayers’ identities and personal information. Some scammers pretend to be from the IRS with one goal in mind: to steal money.

Be aware that con artists will use video relay services (VRS) to try to scam deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Don’t become a victim. Deaf and hard of hearing taxpayers should avoid giving out personal and financial information to anyone they do not know. Always confirm that the person requesting personal information is who they say they are.

Do not automatically trust calls just because they are made through VRS. VRS interpreters do not screen calls for validity.

The IRS has procedures in place for taxpayers who are experiencing tax issues. If you receive a call through VRS from someone claiming to be from the IRS, keep this in mind:

The IRS Will Never:

Demand immediate payment and require the payment be made a specific way, such as by prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. In most cases, the IRS will not call taxpayers about taxes owed without first having mailed a letter to the taxpayer.
Threaten that local police or other law-enforcement groups will immediately arrest taxpayers for not paying a tax bill.
Demand that taxpayers pay taxes without giving them the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

Courtesy of IRS

For more information contact Neikirk, Mahoney and Smith at 502-896-2999.

Friday, February 17, 2017

IRS Committed to Stopping Offshore Tax Cheating


Over the years, numerous individuals have been identified as evading U.S. taxes by attempting to hide income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts or nominee entities. Then access the funds using debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers. Others have employed foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities or insurance plans for the same purpose.

The IRS uses information gained from its investigations to pursue taxpayers with undeclared accounts, as well as bankers and others suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas.

While there are legitimate reasons for maintaining financial accounts abroad, there are reporting requirements that need to be fulfilled. U.S. taxpayers who maintain such accounts and who do not comply with reporting requirements are breaking the law and risk significant  fines, as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Since 2009, tens of thousands of individuals have come forward to voluntarily disclose their foreign financial accounts, taking advantage of special opportunities to comply with the U.S. tax system and resolve their tax obligations. And, with new foreign account reporting requirements being phased in over the next few years, hiding income offshore is increasingly more difficult.

At the beginning of 2012, the IRS reopened the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program  following continued strong interest from taxpayers and tax practitioners after the closure of the 2011 and 2009 programs. This program will be open for an indefinite period until otherwise announced.

Courtesy of IRS

For more information contact Neikirk, Mahoney and Smith at 501-896-2999

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tax Benefits for Parents


Taxpayers with children may qualify for certain tax benefits. Parents should consider child-related tax benefits when filing their federal tax return:

Dependent. Most of the time, taxpayers can claim their child as a dependent.

Child Tax Credit.  Generally, taxpayers can claim the Child Tax Credit for each qualifying child under the age of 17.

Child and Dependent Care Credit. Taxpayers may be able to claim this credit if they paid for the care of one or more qualifying persons. Dependent children under age 13 are among those who qualify.

Earned Income Tax Credit. Taxpayers who worked but earned less than $53,505 last year should look into the EITC. They can get up to $6,269 in EITC. Taxpayers may qualify with or without children.

Adoption Credit. It is possible to claim a tax credit for certain costs paid to adopt a child.

Education Tax Credits. An education credit can help with the cost of higher education.

Student Loan Interest. Taxpayers may be able to deduct interest paid on a qualified student loan. They can claim this benefit even if they do not itemize deductions.

Self-employed Health Insurance Deduction. Taxpayers who were self-employed and paid for health insurance may be able to deduct premiums paid during the year.

Courtesy of IRS

For more information contact Neikirk, Mahoney and Smith at 502-896-2999.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Be Prepared to Validate Identity if Calling the IRS


The Internal Revenue Service said mid-February marks the agency’s busiest time of the year for telephone calls. The IRS is reminding taxpayers who have questions about their tax accounts to be prepared to validate their identity when speaking with an IRS assistor. This will help avoid the need for a repeat call.

The IRS recognizes the importance of protecting taxpayers’ identities. That’s why IRS call center assistors take great care to make certain that they only discuss personal information with the taxpayer or someone authorized to speak on the taxpayer’s behalf.

Customer service representatives can answer refund questions beginning 21 days after the return was filed. Taxpayers should use “Where’s My Refund?” to track the status of their refund. Taxpayers who are e-filing their return and need their prior year adjusted gross income should use the Get Transcript tool on IRS.gov. IRS telephone assistors cannot provide prior-year adjusted gross income over the phone for filing purposes.

By law, the IRS is required to hold EITC and ACTC refunds until Feb. 15. However, taxpayers may not see those refunds until the week of Feb. 27. Due to differing timeframes with financial institutions, weekends and the Presidents Day holiday, these refunds likely will not start arriving in bank accounts or on debit cards until the week of Feb. 27 -- if there are no processing issues with the tax return and the taxpayer chose direct deposit.

The IRS phone assistors do not have additional information on refund dates beyond what taxpayers have access to on "Where's My Refund?”. Given high call volumes, taxpayers should not call unless directed to do so by the refund tool. In addition, a common myth is that people can get their refund date earlier by ordering a tax transcript. There is no such "secret" option to find a refund date by calling the IRS or ordering a transcript; just check "Where's My Refund?" once a day.

Courtesy of IRS

For more information contact Neikirk, Mahoney and Smith at 502-896-2999

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Excessive Claims for Business Credits Makes the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams


Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter any time but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or hire people to help with their taxes.

Fuel Tax Credit Scams

Fraud involving the fuel tax credit is considered a frivolous tax claim and can result in a penalty of $5,000. Furthermore, illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

The fuel tax credit is generally limited to off-highway business use or use in farming.  Consequently, the credit is not available to most taxpayers. Still, the IRS routinely finds unscrupulous preparers who have enticed sizable groups of taxpayers to erroneously claim the credit to inflate their refunds.

Research Credit Scams

The research credit is an important feature in the tax code to encourage research and experimentation by the private sector.

The IRS continues to see significant misuse of the research credit. Improper claims for this credit generally involve a failure to participate in or substantiate qualified research activities and/or a failure to satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses.

To qualify for the credit, a taxpayer’s research activities must, among other things, involve a process of experimentation using science that is intended to improve a product or process the taxpayer holds for sale or lease.  However, there are certain activities, including research after commercial production, adaptation of an existing business product or process, foreign research and research that is funded by the customer that are specifically excluded from the credit. Qualified activities also do not include activities where there is no uncertainty about the taxpayer’s method or capability to achieve a desired result.

To claim a research credit, taxpayers must evaluate and document their research activities over a period of time to establish the amount of qualified research expenses paid for each qualified research activity. While taxpayers may estimate some research expenses, taxpayers must have a factual basis for the assumptions used to create the estimates.

Unsupported claims for the research credit may subject taxpayers to penalties. Taxpayers should carefully review reports or studies prepared by third  parties to ensure they accurately reflect the taxpayer’s activities. Third parties who are involved in the preparation of improper claims or research credit studies also may be subject to penalties.

Courtesy of IRS
For more information contact Niekirk, Mahoney and Smith at 501-896-2999

Monday, February 13, 2017

Five Things to Know About the Child Tax Credit


The Child Tax Credit is a tax credit that may save taxpayers up to $1,000 for each eligible qualifying child. Taxpayers should make sure they qualify before they claim it.

1. Qualifications. For the Child Tax Credit, a qualifying child must pass several tests:
Age.
Relationship.
Support.
Dependent.
Joint return.
Citizenship.
Residence.

2. Limitations. The Child Tax Credit is subject to income limitations. The limits may reduce or eliminate a taxpayer’s credit depending on their filing status and income.

3. Additional Child Tax Credit.  If a taxpayer qualifies and gets less than the full Child Tax Credit, they could receive a refund, even if they owe no tax, with the Additional Child Tax Credit.

4. Schedule 8812. If a taxpayer qualifies to claim the Child Tax Credit, they need to check to see if they must complete and attach Schedule 8812, Child Tax Credit, with their tax return. Taxpayers can visit IRS.gov to view, download or print IRS tax forms anytime.

5. IRS E-file. The easiest way to claim the Child Tax Credit is with IRS E-file. This system is safe, accurate and easy to use. Taxpayers can also use IRS Free File to prepare and e-file their taxes for free. Go to IRS.gov/filing to learn more.

Courtesy of IRS

For more information contact Neikirk, Mahoney and Smith at 502-896-2999.