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Defaulted Loans May Haunt Seniors by Ellen E. Schultz Monday, March 8, 2010
A little–noticed law could soon result in smaller Social Security checks for hundreds of thousands of the elderly and disabled who owe the U.S. money from defaulted loans and other debts more than a decade old.
Social Security benefits are off–limits to creditors, such as credit–card companies and banks. But the U.S. can collect debts to federal agencies by "offsetting," or withholding Social Security and disability payments.
The Treasury currently withholds benefits of 3.1 million Social Security recipients to recover defaulted student–, farm– and small–business loans, unpaid income taxes, amounts veterans owe for health care, and other debts to the government.
Previously, the U.S. hasn't been able to withhold Social Security payments to recover most debts delinquent for more than ten years.
But a provision in the 2008 Farm Bill lifted the ten–year statute of limitations on the government's ability to withhold Social Security benefits in collecting debts other than student loans—for which the statute of limitations was lifted in 1997—and income taxes, where the limit remains 10 years.
This means that a person who defaulted on a small–business loan in 1995, for example, and who is receiving Social Security could be notified that his benefits may be reduced each month until the debt, with interest, fees, and penalties, is paid. The Treasury can withhold 15% of the benefit, though it can't be reduced to below $750. Tax debts have no floor.
The change will add more than $6 billion to the $75 billion in delinquent debt individuals owe the government, according to the Financial Management Service, the Treasury's debt collection unit.
A Treasury spokesman says the new legislation "allows Treasury's Financial Management Service to collect older debts and levels the playing field so that all eligible debts, regardless of age, are subject to debt collection. Treasury expects this legislation will result in increased collections of $10 million per year in delinquent federal non–tax debt."
Though no one argues that people shouldn't repay their debts, the change is coming at a challenging time for older Americans already pinched by mortgage woes, pension cuts and spiraling medical costs.
The shift applies to debtors of all ages, but Social Security recipients will bear much of the brunt. A Wall Street Journal analysis of Treasury Department data shows that Social Security recipients comprise a large and growing percentage of people from whom the Treasury recovers debts.
For years, most debt the Treasury collected through its "Offset Program," came from withholding income–tax refunds. But with an aging population and growing unemployment, roughly 10% of the $4.3 billion in debts collected by the Treasury came from Social Security benefits in 2008, the latest figures available. That's up from 1.6% in 2001, according to Journal computations that the Treasury confirms.
Though the law has expanded the age of debts that can be recovered, it hasn't addressed the sometimes–Kafkaesque process debtors can face when challenging the validity of a claim.
Consider the predicament of Dr. Robert Steinberg, the founder of Scharffen Berger chocolates, who spent more than six years and thousands of dollars in legal fees appealing the Social Security Administration's claim that he owed it more than $28,000.
Dr. Steinberg received disability benefits in the early 1990s while undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, a condition that ultimately claimed his life. Dr. Steinberg returned to work sporadically at a free clinic before co–founding the chocolate company.
Year later, the Social Security Administration notified Dr. Steinberg he was overpaid in the 1990s. In May 2002, with the matter still unresolved, the agency turned the debt over to the Treasury for collection.
In Oct. 2002, administrative law judge Gary Lee found that the Social Security Administration had never established the amount of the overpayment; had dismissed an earlier appeal "for spurious reasons"; had misinformed Dr. Steinberg and mishandled his later appeals; and had lost his file. He noted that Dr. Steinberg was "without fault," and told the agency to stop its collections efforts.
Dr. Steinberg died in 2008, at 61. His lawyer, Peter Young, a former staff attorney for the Social Security Administration, has handled more than 100 overpayment cases, "very few of which were accurate," he says. "Most people can't find or afford help, and give up very quickly and end up with painful offsets on a fixed budget."
An agency spokeswoman says mistakes can happen, but "over all, the process works."
A Treasury spokesman says the new regulations require agencies seeking to recover debts more than a decade old to give debtors the right to review and copy their files, make payment arrangements, and apply for disability and hardship waivers.
But a recent dispute about a student loan shows that even with these rights, a person challenging an old debt can face hurdles similar to homeowners in foreclosure trying to modify a loan that has been resold.
In 2003, the U.S. began withholding $173 a month in Social Security benefits from Annie Brown, a paralyzed 75–year–old widow living in a nursing home to repay a defaulted $8,823 student loan the Education Department says she took out in 1989. The offset reduced Mrs. Brown's benefit to about $980 a month.
Mrs. Brown said a granddaughter had forged her signature on a loan application. Her daughter and a lawyer spent more than four years disputing the debt with the owner of the loan, United Student Aid Funds, a student–loan guarantor that also was acting as one of the Education Department's 21 debt collectors. USA Funds itself farms out various debt–collection activities to others, which it did in Mrs. Brown's case.
Between 2003 and 2008, Mrs. Brown's daughter and Lynn Drysdale, a legal–aid lawyer in Jacksonville, Fla., corresponded numerous times with USA Funds and two other debt–collection companies it hired. One letter from USA Funds warned that unless documents were received "within 30 days from the date this letter was generated...your case will be closed." The letter was undated. Another letter required Mrs. Brown to refer to an attached document. There was no attachment. "I don't know how a lay person could maneuver through this process," says Ms. Drysdale. "Nobody seemed to know what was needed."
In 2007, USA Funds denied Mrs. Brown's claim, citing a recently passed federal rule requiring people claiming identity theft on student loans to obtain a criminal court verdict of the crime. That was impossible for Mrs. Brown; a statute of limitations for bringing a case had passed years earlier. In any case, she wasn't alleging identity theft, but forgery.
Robert Murray, a spokesman for USA Funds, agrees that Mrs. Brown's signature was forged. "It's absolutely a forgery," he says, "It \[the loan\] should never have been made."
But he says that USA Funds couldn't discharge the loan as a forgery because Mrs. Brown didn't return a required form in 2005, and that USA Funds must rigorously defend claims. "There are borrowers who want to get out of a legitimate debt," he says. "By the same token, we want to work with individuals who have a legitimate issue."
Ms. Drysdale, the legal–aid lawyer, finally sought to obtain a disability waiver for her client. That process took more than a year, and was achieved only after Ms. Drysdale asked for help from the Social Security Administration's ombudsman, who declined to comment.
In August 2009, the Education Department agreed that Mrs. Brown is permanently disabled, and discharged her obligation to repay the loan she never took out. The Treasury returned her withheld benefits in December.
The threat of "skimming" has made typing your PIN at the pump a bad idea. Protect yourself in three steps
Three steps to take to protect your account data from getting into the wrong hands
Whether by choice or necessity, American consumers are increasingly relying on debit rather than credit cards. Debit card spending has risen steadily, growing from 47.7 percent of purchases made with plastic in 2003 to 58.9 percent in 2008 and it is expected to surpass 67 percent by 2013, according to the Nilson Report, a newsletter that tracks the consumer payment industry.
When you use a debit card, the money is immediately taken from your checking account. While using debit guarantees that you pay as you go, these cards have downsides, including a growing appeal to thieves. "As economic conditions have worsened, there's been a noticeable increase in all types of card fraud," says Avivah Litan, an analyst specializing in fraud detection and prevention at Gartner Research in Stamford, Conn. "But ATM and debit-card fraud is the top area of concern we're hearing about from banks all over the world."
Unlike credit-card thieves, who usually charge merchandise and then resell it to come up with money, people who create counterfeit ATM or debit cards by stealing your PIN and other account data can simply pull cold cash from your bank account. Using a technique known as skimming, they set up equipment that captures magnetic stripe and keypad information when you input your PIN at ATM machines, gas pumps, restaurants, or retailers.
Here's how you can protect yourself:
Don't Type in Your Pin at the Pump
Be especially vigilant at gas stations, Litan says. "Gas pumps are notorious for skimming because they're produced by only a couple of different manufacturers, and if someone gets the key to one from a disgruntled employee, they can insert a skimming device inside the pump where it can't be seen," she says. She recommends using a credit card rather than a debit card when you fill your tank.
If you must use a debit card at the gas pump, choose the screen prompt that identifies it as a credit card so that you do not have to type in your PIN. The purchase amount will still be deducted from your bank account, but it will be processed through a credit-card network, which will give you greater protection from liability if fraud does occur. This is because card issuers typically have "zero liability" policies for both debit and credit cards, but sometimes exclude PIN-based transactions from that protection.
Stick With ATMs Located at Banks
To reduce your risk at ATMs, use machines at banks rather than in convenience stores, airports, or any isolated locations, advises Darrin Blackford, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service, which investigates financial crimes involving interstate commerce. "A thief has to be able to attach and retrieve a skimming device to use the data it's gathered," he says. "And that's more likely to happen in nonbank settings where there's less traffic and no surveillance cameras."
That doesn't mean that bank ATMs are immune, however. In August 2008, Wachovia Bank reported that several debit-card "identities" were stolen when a skimming device was placed on an ATM at a branch in Cape Coral, Fla.
"It's often hard to spot skimmers," Blackford says. "But if you notice a change at an ATM you use routinely, such as a color difference in the card reader or a gap where something appears to be glued onto the slot where you insert your card, that's a warning sign you'd want to report to the bank that owns the machine."
Closely Monitor Your Bank Accounts
Check them regularly—preferably online rather than waiting for monthly statements to arrive in the mail. Federal law limits your liability for fraudulent debit-card charges to $50, but only if you report the theft or loss of your card or PIN within two business days of discovering the problem. If you fail to report unauthorized charges within 60 days of the date the statement listing those charges was mailed, you could be liable for any unauthorized withdrawals afterward, including the full value of credit lines or savings accounts linked to your account for overdraft protection.
Visa and MasterCard have zero liability policies that go beyond federal law by exempting debit cardholders from liability in most circumstances when a bank investigation confirms that a transaction is fraudulent. But dealing with debit-card fraud can have a greater impact on your finances than credit-card fraud.
When you're a victim of unauthorized charges on a credit card, you won't be out any money while the disputed charges are being investigated. But when a thief steals money from your bank account using a counterfeit debit or ATM card, that cash won't be restored to your account until the bank conducts its investigation and classifies it as a case of fraud. Some victims of debit-card skimming scams who have contacted the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, about their experiences report that while banks in most cases replenished the stolen funds, some of them had no access to the money for several weeks while bank investigations were conducted.
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How to avoid taxes when you retire
5 Reasons You Should Consider a Roth IRA
by Ben Baden Wednesday, February 10, 2010
When it comes to opening an individual retirement account, should you go with a traditional IRA or a Roth? Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs have their own unique benefits, but new rules in 2010 allow some investors who had been locked out of Roth IRAs the option to take advantage of Roth's tax-free withdrawals. Whether you're just starting to save for retirement or considering rolling over a traditional IRA, here are a few things to know about Roth IRAs:
Tax-free withdrawals. Roth IRAs, like traditional IRAs, provide tax-free growth over the life of your investment. But when you invest in a Roth IRA, the only time you pay taxes is when you make your initial investment (with traditional IRAs, you pay taxes when you withdraw the funds). "It's like a municipal bond on steroids because you can invest it in high-yielding, high return-potential assets like stocks, and turn them into tax-free assets," says Mark Joseph, a financial adviser at Sentinel Wealth Management in Reston, Va. For younger investors, that means a small initial investment can snowball over the years into a hefty sum by retirement age.
Tax rate hikes. Many experts in Washington are worried that rising deficits are going to force Congress to raise taxes. If you invest in a Roth IRA before any potential rate hikes, you can take advantage of current tax rates. "Right now, we have this huge debt and we have this huge amount of money that's going to pay for social security benefits," says Ray LeVitre, a financial adviser with Net Worth Advisory Group in Midvale, Utah. "It makes sense to say, 'they're going to have to raise taxes.'" If taxes go up in the future, your investment won't be affected because only your initial investment in a Roth is taxed.
Tax diversification. You already know that it's important to have a diversified portfolio of investments. The same applies to taxes. "You're not going to be 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong about where tax rates go so you should put some in both," LeVitre says. He suggests splitting your retirement money between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA. When you invest in a Roth IRA, you're betting that by the time you take your money out, you will be in a higher tax bracket. The logic is reversed with traditional IRAs. "For someone in a low tax bracket, it's a no-brainer," LeVitre says. He considers a "low" tax bracket one that falls within the first three levels of brackets (those taxed at a rate of 10 percent, 15 percent, or 25 percent).
New conversion rules. In the past, anyone making more than $100,000 a year couldn't convert their traditional IRA into a Roth. Starting in 2010, individuals making more than $100,000 can transfer their money into a Roth IRA. Check with a financial adviser to see if rolling over your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA makes sense for you. For one year only, investors can convert to a Roth and pay one-half of the taxable amount in 2010 and the other half of the taxable amount in 2011 instead of being taxed for the full conversion in one year alone.
Passing wealth on. Another benefit of Roth IRAs is the option to hold on to the Roth indefinitely. Traditional IRAs require investors to begin withdrawing a minimum amount after age 70 1/2. There are no minimum withdrawals required for a Roth IRA, so you can take advantage of tax-free growth for as long as you like. You can preserve your estate and pass your investments in your Roth IRA to your beneficiaries tax-free.
Chubby Checker Helps Promote New “Twist” in Medicare Law
Chubby Checker, the Grammy Award winning rock and roll legend most known for his hit, “The Twist,” has teamed up with Social Security to spread awareness of a new “twist” in the law, that makes it easier for people with Medicare to qualify for Extra Help with their prescription drug costs.
“The changes in the Medicare law will allow hundreds of thousands of Americans who are struggling to pay their prescription drug costs to get Extra Help during these tough economic times,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.
“Listen up, America! For 50 years, people of all ages and backgrounds have danced the Twist,” Chubby Checker said. “Now it’s important everyone learn about this new twist in the law. Check it out at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/.”
If you are involved in helping others apply for Social Security disability benefits, here is some news you can use. As of January 23, 2010, all new disability applications will be made through an enhanced version of the Internet Adult Disability Report. This will replace the Adult Disability Report–PRO for new applications only.
The transition to the enhanced application should not be difficult for those who have previously used the PRO. Please note that you can continue to use the existing Adult Disability Report-PRO version for any disability report you have already started but not yet completed. Anyone attempting to access the Adult Disability Report-PRO to begin a new application after January 23 will be automatically redirected to the enhanced version. The web address for the new report will be https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/radr/radr-fi.
Here are a few tax tips we suggest you share with your clients who receive benefits.
Make sure all dependents listed on a taxpayer’s annual tax forms have Social Security numbers. Check the names and numbers to make sure they match up. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) checks all the names and Social Security numbers on tax returns against Social Security's records. If the names and numbers do not match Social Security's records, it could mean a long delay in receiving any tax refund due.
If your client needs to pay taxes on benefits, he will need his SSA-1099 for Tax Year 2009. The 1099 shows the total amount of benefits received in the previous year. The forms were automatically mailed to all beneficiaries by January 31, 2010. Anyone who has not yet received a Form SSA-1099 for 2009 can request a replacement online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices/.
If you have clients covered under Medicare Part A who originally opted not to apply for Medicare Part B, but who now wish to do so, now’s the time to enroll in Part B. The general enrollment period runs from January 1 through March 31.
Each year, the Medicare general enrollment period runs January 1 through March 31. Coverage begins the following July. But keep in mind that, for most people, the monthly premium increases 10 percent for each 12-month period a person was eligible for, but did not enroll in, Medicare Part B.
Here’s news for the small percentage of high income people who already have Medicare Part B and are currently paying a higher than normal premium because of their income: if someone has experienced a significant reduction in overall income, Social Security might be able to reduce the amount of the Medicare Part B premium. The significant reduction in income can be due to any of a number of changes: marriage, divorce or annulment, death of a spouse, work reduction, work stoppage, reduction of income due to a loss of income-producing property, and loss or reduction of certain forms of pension income. Find out more about adjusting Medicare Part B premiums due to a significant reduction in income at www.socialsecurity.gov/mediinfo.htm.
In support of President Obama’s Transparency and Open Government initiative, Social Security data is now available at http://www.data.gov/.
“I applaud President Obama’s commitment to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government and the new datasets we are posting far exceed what was asked of us,” said Commissioner Astrue. “Social Security has always valued transparency and sought to give the public user-friendly information about our programs."
10 Tips for Picking the Right Retirement Spot by Emily Brandon
Most people retire in the same town where they spent their final working years. But some seek out a new locale with ski slopes or perhaps ocean views. Of course, budget is a big concern. "Many people move close by and move to a smaller home or condo where they have less upkeep," says William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer. "But they still want to stay close to their children and stay involved in the business world by consulting and remaining close to their clients." Here are some tips for finding a place that fits your budget and interests.
Cost of living.
Moving to a place with lower housing, food, and entertainment costs is an obvious way to stretch your nest egg. "A lower cost of living is the major factor behind retirement mobility," says David Savageau, author of Retirement Places Rated. "I don't know anyone moving from Kansas to Hawaii." Some 22 percent of Americans age 51 and older who moved between 1992 and 2004 did so to save money, according to a recent Center for Retirement Research at Boston College analysis. Estimate how your expenses will change if you move.
Your healthcare needs are bound to increase as you age. Make sure your prospective retirement spot has adequate health and elder-care facilities and a doctor who can treat any condition you may have. "You can call and see how difficult it is to get an appointment," says Michael Perskin, a geriatrics physician at the New York University Langone Medical Center. "If you're on hold for more than 10 minutes or you leave a message on voice mail and you don't get a call back, then you know."
Proximity to family.
Many retirees would like to become more involved in their grandchildren's lives. Living near family sometimes has another bonus: help with lawn care or transportation for grocery shopping-services you would otherwise have to hire. More than a quarter (28 percent) of older Americans who have relocated after age 51 did so primarily to be near children or relatives, Boston College found. "People often migrate toward someone because they have become more disabled or have lost their spouse and they need some support that they are not getting in their current location," says Mark Fagan, a sociology professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama who studies retirement migration. "They will move toward their children or some friends to help them with their daily life."
Many people who haven't saved enough or have seen their investments drop significantly in value will need to work during the traditional retirement years. More than a third (38 percent) of Americans between the ages of 62 and 74 worked in 2008, up 39 percent since 1993, according to the Census Bureau. Although the national unemployment rate has been climbing, cities such as Kennewick, Wash.; McAllen, Texas; and Danville, Va., have added thousands of jobs over the past year. Look for a place that has plenty of part-time job opportunities or consulting work in a field that interests you.
Recreation and culture.
When you're no longer tied to a job, you have the freedom to live in wine country or within walking distance of a beach. Perhaps your ideal retirement spot has plenty of art galleries, golf courses, and hiking trails. College towns often fit the bill and host world-class speakers and entertainers, and they often have an affordable cost of living.
Retirees often reach a point when they can't or no longer want to drive. Consider the cost and quality of a town's public transportation system and how to get around without a car. AppalCART, a regional bus service in Boone, N.C., for example, provides free local transportation. And retirees who join Walnut Creek, Calif.'s Senior Club ($7 annual dues) are eligible for a minibus service that offers transport within the city limits for $1 each way.
Downsizing into a smaller house or condo goes a long way in stretching your retirement budget. "There's a lot of money tied up in your home, and sometimes there is someplace else you could buy a home and free up some of those assets," says Michael Goodman, a certified financial planner and president of Wealthstream Advisors in New York. Retirement communities and assisted living facilities aim to cater to baby boomers' changing needs and whims. "As you age, you are going to be less able to maintain a large home and [keep up the grounds], and you may be looking for a smaller place with less maintenance," says Fagan. "Rent in a place for a while to see how well you really like it."
To some, it's important to not have to shovel snow or defrost a car. But warm climates also come with the downside of larger air-conditioning bills. Think about whether you want four distinct seasons. Some retirees can get the best of both worlds by maintaining or renting a residence in the north and then heading south for the winter.
Of course, you'll want to cover the basics, including the crime rate and quality of healthcare facilities. But don't forget about things like libraries, Internet and cellphone access, shopping, religious institutions, and senior centers. If you plan to travel on a regular basis, look for a place that's near an airport or train station. Some cities, including Boston, Princeton, N.J., and Washington, have developed nonprofit associations of seniors who pool their resources to stay safely in their homes longer. These aging-in-place communities typically provide a range of services, including affordable door-to-door transportation, home maintenance and meal services, and even a daily check-in phone call for an affordable annual fee.
If history is any indicator, less than 1% of Americans will be audited by the Internal Revenue Service in the coming year. And while some of these audits are totally random, and there's nothing that the individual taxpayer can do about them, many audits are actually instigated by the taxpayers themselves.
To that end, below is a list of "red flags" that can cause your return to be cherry picked by the IRS for review. Pay particular attention, as knowing what the flags are can keep you out of trouble.
1. Overestimating Donated Amounts
The IRS encourages individuals to donate things like clothes, food and even old automobiles to charities. It does this by offering a deduction in return for a donation. However, the problem with this system is that it is up to the taxpayer to determine the value of goods that are donated.
As a general rule, the IRS likes to see individuals value the items they donate at anywhere between 1% and 30% of the original purchase price (unless special circumstances exist). Unfortunately many, if not most, taxpayers either aren't aware of this, or simply choose to ignore this fact.
There are several other tips that the taxpayer can use to ensure that he or she is valuing donated goods at a "fair" price. Aside from the 30% and under rule mentioned above, consider having an appraiser write a letter. (In fact, for individual items valued at $5,000 or more, an appraisal is required.). Another benchmark the IRS uses that could come in handy is the willing-buyer-willing-seller test.
This means that taxpayers should value their goods at a point or price where a willing seller (who is under no duress) would be able to sell his property to a willing buyer (who also is under no duress to purchase the item). Using such a benchmark will keep you out of trouble and prevent you from placing an excessive value on your dad's old Frank Sinatra albums.
2. Math Errors
While this may sound simple, many returns are selected for audit due to basic math errors. So when filling out your tax return (or checking it after your accountant has completed the form) make sure that the columns add up. Also make sure that the total dollar value of capital gains and/or losses are properly calculated. Even a small error can raise eyebrows.
3. Failure to Sign the Return
A large percentage of folks simply forget to sign their tax returns. Don't be a part of that number! Failure to sign the return will almost guarantee that it will receive additional scrutiny. The IRS will wonder what else you might have forgotten to include in the return.
4. Under-Reporting Income
Tempting as it might be to exclude income from your tax return, it is vital that you report all money that you received throughout the year from work and/or from the sale of an asset (such as a home) to the IRS. If you fail to report income and you are caught, you will be forced to pay back-taxes plus penalties and interest.
How can the IRS tell if you've reported everything? In some situations it can't. After all, the system isn't perfect. However, a common way some individuals get caught is that they accept cash for a service they've performed. If the customer or individual who paid that individual the cash gets audited, the IRS will see a large cash disbursement from his or her bank account. The IRS agent will then follow that lead and ask the individual what that cash layout was for. Inevitably, the trail leads right back to the individual who failed to report that money as income.
In short, it's better to be safe than sorry. Make sure you report all of your income.
5. Home Office Deductions
Be careful with home office deductions. Excessive or unwarranted deductions can raise red flags. In addition, large deductions in proportion to your income can raise the ire of the IRS as well.
For example, if you earned $50,000 as an accountant (operating from home), home-office related deductions totaling $30,000 will raise more than a few eyebrows. Trying to write off the value of a new bedroom set as office equipment could also draw unwanted attention.
Deduct only items that were used in the course of your business.
6. Income Thresholds
There is nothing the individual taxpayer can do about this one, but if you earn more than $100,000 each year, your odds of being audited increase exponentially. In fact, some accountants put the odds of being audited at one in 72, compared to the one in 154 odds for people with lower incomes.
Other Sensitive Tax Areas
Partnership/Trust/Tax Shelter Risk
If you own shares in a limited partnership, control a trust or partake in any other tax shelter investments, you are more apt to be audited. While there may be no way to avoid such an audit, individuals that have a stake in such an entity should be aware that they have a target on their backs. They should also take even greater care to document deductions, donations and income.
Small Business Ownership
Small business owners are an easy target - particularly those with cash businesses. Bars, restaurants, car washes and hair salons are exceptionally big targets, not only because they deal in so much cash, but also because there is so much temptation to under-report income and tips earned.
Incidentally, other actions that go part and parcel with business ownership may draw unwanted IRS interest too, including putting family members on the payroll and over-estimating expenses.
In short, business owners must know that they can't "push the envelope". If they want to stay in business and avoid the scrutiny of an audit, it's best to remain on the straight and narrow.
So why does the IRS seem to be cracking down more and more on individuals and small business owners these days? It's simple. According to the IRS there is roughly an annual $300 billion gap between what Americans pay in taxes versus what they owe. That equates to about $2,680 per household. The Congress knows this too, and given the deficits the United States government has run up over the past 20 years, there is enormous pressure on legislators and the IRS to collect all tax funds.
What should you do if you are audited? Be honest with the auditor and respond to all inquiries as quickly as possible. Don't be afraid to show all of your documentation. If possible, have a qualified accountant and/or tax attorney represent you.
Audits have and will remain a part of the tax collection process for a long time to come, but that doesn't mean that you have to be among the "lucky" few to be chosen. The key to avoiding an audit is to be honest, document your deductions, donations and income.
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