Are you more likely to be selected by the IRS for a tax audit if you file an extension for your income tax return?
Government investigations of white collar crimes almost always have one thing in common: They rely heavily on the analysis of financial information. Often, this includes combing through bank statements and credit card statements, as well as scrutinizing accounting records.
Some people think that analyzing this kind of data is simple. It seems like it is only a math exercise in which we’re checking dollar amounts and verifying the addition and subtraction. But there is much more involved, and it gets exponentially more complicated (pun intended) when there are large volumes of data.
Expertise in financial and accounting crimes is necessary to fully understand the issues and the potential criminal or civil charges that the government brings against a company or individual. To properly defend such a case, it is necessary to have a forensic accountant involved to help evaluate the data and the issues the government will raise.
I had to write about this IRS special agent because his fraud story is so wild. Bryan Cho (aka Yong Hee Cho) was a Special Agent in the IRS Criminal Investigation Division since 2008. And now he’s been charged with possession of a fake foreign passport, aggravated identity theft, making false statements during a background check, and wire fraud.
The story goes like this…. in 2018 there was an investigation into corrupt public officials in South Korea. It was discovered during that investigation that Cho was being bribed by public officials at South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) and National Tax Service (NTS). They give him money, and he gives them confidential information that he has access to by virtue of his employment with IRS-CI.
How to terrify just about anyone: Tell them their taxes are being audited.
Even worse: When their books and records are a mess. (Or maybe even non-existent.)
Every number could be scrutinized. That means documentation must be produced to support the amount of each expense and the business purpose of the item.
Some of us are meticulous in our documentation, but if you are like most taxpayers, you have pockets of misplaced or destroyed data. Even worse, you may be in a situation where documentation was completely destroyed by a fire or flood. If you don’t have documentation, does that mean your deductions are automatically disallowed? Not necessarily.
U.S. taxpayers will be receiving payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, with reductions for special circumstances. To receive a payment, you must have a social security number. Nonresident aliens, people without a social security number, and adult dependents (ex. your college student who is claimed as a dependent on your tax return) are not eligible.
To receive the full $1,200 you must have income less than $75,000 per year (single) or $150,000 (married). Those with income of $75,000 to $98,000 (single) or $150,000 to $198,000 (married) will receive a reduced amount. Those receiving social security retirement or disability payments WILL get a stimulus check, as well as veterans and those who are unemployed
The $500 per child is only available for a child under the age of 17 who is claimed as a dependent on your income tax return.
It is common for divorcing spouses to cash out retirement funds at divorce time. And it seems to make sense at the time. There are expensive lawyers and all sorts of expenses to establish a new residence. Support payments may be delayed or non-existent. A retirement fund seems like great solution. It’s a pile of money that you weren’t going to use for a long time, and you have financial needs now.
But it should be the absolute last resort, because it’s so costly in both the short term and long term.
Retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs create a tax deduction now (when money is contributed to it), and then taxes are paid when the funds are withdrawn at retirement time. The government wants us to keep the money in those accounts until we retire, so there are disincentives to withdraw the money early. If you take an early distribution from a retirement account, you’re going to pay income taxes on the money you withdraw, plus a 10% federal penalty for early withdrawal, plus any penalties your state may impose. I tell people to count on losing about 50% of the money they withdraw to taxes and penalties.
Accounting Today had an awesome article about IRS audits and the recent trends. The good news for taxpayers is that audit rates are down overall. In 2010 the audit rate was 0.9%, or 1.735 million tax returns. Last year it was only 0.5%, or 991,000 tax returns.
There is even better news with some of the specifics:
- Most audits are done by mail. The IRS asks for information and the taxpayer sends in the responsive documents. The number of field audits (an IRS auditor working directly with a taxpayer to address issues) keeps dropping, and last year the numbers were at an all-time low. Field audits are done for complex tax situations, and less than 250,000 were done last year.
- S-corporation or partnership tax returns have a very low audit rate at 0.22%. That’s less than half the overall audit rate of 0.5%
- If you make more than $1 million a year, your likelihood of audit is higher. 3% of taxpayers making more than $1 million were audited last year, but that’s down from the 12% who were audited in 2011.
- Criminal investigation cases are down 58% in the last five years. During the same period, the number of revenue agents (field auditors) and criminal investigators has dropped by about 25%. So it’s only natural that prosecutions have gone down too.
As Accounting Today notes, the IRS has always used the fear of audits to get people to voluntarily report all of their income and pay the taxes they owe. With audits down, that fear might not be so great anymore. However, the IRS uses other non-audit tools (such as letters that notify taxpayers of discrepancies and taxes due) which still create fear in taxpayers, and may therefore encourage compliance.
Income tax returns are an important piece of financial information in a divorce or child support case. There is so much information that can be obtained from the tax returns, and if we have several years of data, we can make comparisons from year-to-year. In the video below, Tracy talks about the financial data she analyzes on the income tax returns and what these items may tell us about the financial situation of the family.
When the Internal Revenue Services suspects that a taxpayer has unreported income, the agents can use one of several methods to uncover that income. These methods can also be used to help calculate hidden income in a divorce or child support case. One such method used to determine unreported income is the bank deposits method, in which the forensic accountant analyzes bank deposits. In the video below, Tracy explains how this is done.
Despite all the warnings about tax scams, consumers are still falling victim to these types of fraud. Tracy Coenen talks on CNBC about the top five tax scams that consumers should be aware of.