Copyright 2018 - Pfeiffers Accounting & Consulting LLC

Audit rates decline for 6th year in a row

IRS audit rates declined last year for the sixth year in a row and are at their lowest level since 2002, the agency reported. That’s good news for people who don’t like to be audited (which is everybody)!

  • Low statistics for audit examinations obscure the reality that you may still have to deal with issues caught by the IRS’s automated computer systems. These could be math errors, typos or missing forms. While not as daunting as a full audit, you need to keep your records handy to address any problems.
  • Average rates are declining, but audit chances are still high on both ends of the income range: no-income and high-income taxpayers.
  • No-income taxpayers are targets for audits because the IRS is cracking down on fraud in refundable credits designed to help those with low income, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC can refund back more than a low-income taxpayer paid in, so scammers attempt to collect these refund credits through fraudulent returns.
  • High-income taxpayers have increasingly been a target for IRS audits. Not only do wealthy taxpayers tend to have more complicated tax returns, but the vast majority of federal income tax revenue comes from wealthy taxpayers. Based on the statistics, the very highest income taxpayers can assume they will be audited about every six years.
  • Complicated returns are more likely to be audited. Returns with large charitable deductions, withdrawals from retirement accounts or education savings plans, and small business expenses and deductions are reportedly more likely to be the subject of an audit.

        Answers to commonly asked tax questions

 

        With all of the headlines about the changes to tax law, you probably have lots of questions. Here are answers to some of the most common  questions taxpayers have this year. 

  • Q. I’m hearing about a lot of changes to 2018 taxes. What should I do?
    A. You’re right, there are a lot of changes in 2018 due to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), including to the income tax brackets. The simple answer to the question, “What should I do?” is to not make any major changes until you finish filing your 2017 taxes. Once you understand your 2017 tax obligation, you are in a better position to plan for 2018.

    However, there are a few things you can start thinking about now. Depending on where you fall in the new income tax brackets, you may want to consider ways to lower your taxable income. This could include increasing your contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts or health savings accounts (HSAs). You’ll also want to make sure your employer has adjusted your federal tax withholding so that you don’t have to wait to receive a large refund (or tax bill) next year. You can review the IRS withholding calculator using your latest pay stub data to make sure the changes are accurate.

    Q. What is the penalty amount if I didn’t have health insurance in 2017?
    A. The penalty per adult is calculated as the greater of either $695 or 2.5 percent of your yearly household income, up to a maximum of $3,264 for individuals or $16,320 for a family of five or more. Note that the penalty is still in place for tax years 2017 and 2018. The TCJA eliminates the penalty for 2019 through 2025.

    Q. Is Social Security taxed?
    A. It depends. You won’t pay tax on more than 85 percent of your Social Security income, but how much gets taxed depends on your income bracket. If your combined income is less than $25,000 for the year, you won’t pay tax on Social Security income.

    Q. When is the last day to do my taxes?
    A. Technically, Tuesday, April 17. But don’t wait until the last minute. Ask for help to get started now, or to file an extension so you have time to complete your tax return later. The sooner you file, the sooner you can get your refund. It usually takes about three weeks to arrive from the date you file. Also, remember you need to keep most tax related documents for at least three years, so don’t toss your paperwork after you file.

    Q. The IRS contacted me, what should I do?
    A. Ask for help. There are numerous scammers who impersonate the IRS during tax season. The real IRS will never contact you via social media, email or text message. In addition, an IRS agent will not contact you over the phone unless you first receive official correspondence in the mail. If you have received a notice in the mail, immediately ask for help to determine how to proceed. 

     

Alert: Expired home and education tax breaks revived

Congress passed a federal budget bill in early February that revived dozens of expired tax breaks for the 2017 tax year. They include a deduction for education expenses as well as several tax breaks for homeowners.

If you have not yet filed your 2017 tax return, please be aware these late changes are retroactive to the beginning of 2017. Check out this list of the most useful tax breaks to see if they apply to your situation:

Tuition and fees deduction. If you paid qualified tuition and related higher education expenses, you may be able to deduct as much as $4,000 of those costs. This can be done on a regular return (without itemizing). The deduction is capped at $4,000 for single filers with adjusted gross income (AGI) of $65,000 or less ($130,000 joint) and at $2,000 for single filers with AGI of $80,000 or less ($160,000 joint).

Mortgage insurance deduction. If you paid mortgage insurance premiums, you can now once again deduct those amounts as an itemized deduction. This deduction begins to phase out for taxpayers with AGI of $100,000 or more.

Mortgage debt forgiveness exclusion. If qualifying mortgage debt on your primary residence was discharged or forgiven, you can exclude that amount from your income.

Energy-efficient home improvement credit. Energy-efficient home improvements (such as upgrades to windows, or heating and cooling systems), may be eligible for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the amount paid, up to $500. If you think any of these apply to you, bring all the related documentation to your tax filing appointment. If you have already filed, you may need to file an amended tax return to capture these very late law changes.