Sleuthing your way through a tax audit by yourself is not the same as fixing a leaky faucet or changing your oil. Here are reasons you should seek professional help as soon as you receive a letter from the IRS:
IRS auditors do this for a living — you don’t. Seasoned IRS agents have seen your situation many times and know the rules better than you. Even worse, they are under no obligation to teach you the rules. Just like a defendant needs the help of a lawyer in court, you need someone in your corner that knows your rights and understands the correct tax code to apply in correspondence with the IRS.
Insufficient records will cost you. When selected for an audit, the IRS will typically make a written request for specific documents they want to see. The list may include receipts, bills, legal documents, loan agreements and other records. If you are missing something from the list, things get dicey. It may be possible to reconstruct some of your records, but you might have to rely on a good explanation to avoid additional taxes plus a possible 20 percent negligence penalty.
Too much information can add audit risk. While most audits are limited in scope, the IRS agent has the authority to increase that scope based on what they find in their original analysis. That means that if they find a document or hear something you say that sounds suspicious, they can extend the audit to additional areas. Being prepared with the proper support and concise, smart answers to their questions is the best approach to limiting further audit risk.
Missing an audit deadline can lead to trouble. When you receive the original audit request, it will include a response deadline (typically 30 days). If you miss the deadline, the IRS will change your tax return using their interpretation of findings, not yours. This typically means assessing new taxes, interest and penalties. If you wish your point of view to be heard — get help right away to prepare a plan and manage the IRS deadlines.
Relying on an expert gives you peace of mind. Tax audits are never fun, but they don’t have to be pull-your-hair-out stressful. Together, we can map out a plan and take it step-by-step to ensure the best possible outcome. You’ll rest easy knowing your audit situation is being handled by someone with the proper expertise that also has your best interests in mind.
During tax season, there are a number of areas that generate questions. Here are five of the most common and their answers. But like most things, there can be exceptions, so if in doubt always ask for help.
Are my miles earned on my credit card taxable? Taxation of any extras you earn with a credit card – including miles, discounts, even cash back – are not taxable if you had to pay to get them. Other rewards that you receive, for example a reward for signing up for a card or for referring a new cardholder, are considered taxable income per the IRS.
Does my employer contribution count towards the 401(k) limit? Your employer’s matching contributions do not count toward your maximum contribution limit, which for this year is $22,500. If you’re 50 or older, you can sock away an additional $7,500 (for a total of $30,000) this year.
What happens to loans from my retirement account if I change jobs? When you switch jobs, you must pay back any loans borrowed from your employer-sponsored retirement account within a short amount of time. If the loan isn’t paid back, the outstanding balance is considered a distribution that is subject to income taxes and an early withdrawal penalty.
Do I really need to report gifts given to people? Yes, but only if you give more than $17,000 ($34,000 if married) in 2023 to any one person. It must be reported to the IRS on a gift tax return. That’s because the IRS keeps track of gifts you’re allowed to make over the course of your lifetime, which in 2023 is $12,920,000 ($25,840,000 if married). Only after reaching this lifetime dollar amount will you need to actually make a gift tax payment.
Do I have to report a loss? You may think the IRS isn’t interested in losses you incur, such as when you sell a stock at a loss or if your business loses money. The reality is that you should always report losses on your tax return because you can use them to offset income under certain conditions. In addition, most losses can be carried forward to future years to offset income.
Have your own question? Reach out. The answer could surprise you.
Higher property tax bills have accompanied the rising market values of homes over the past several years. If your property taxes have reached the stratosphere, here are some tips to knock them back down to earth.
What is happening
Property taxes typically lag the market. In bad times, the value of your home goes down, but the property tax is slow to show this reduction. In good times, property taxes go up when you buy your new home, but these higher prices quickly impact those that do not plan to move.
To make matters worse, you can only deduct up to $10,000 in taxes on your federal tax return. That figure includes all taxes – state income, property and sales taxes combined! Here are some suggestions to help reduce your property tax burden.
What you can do
Your best bet is usually to approach your local tax assessor and ask for a property revaluation. Here are some ideas to cut your property tax bill by reducing your home’s appraised value.
Do some homework to understand the approval process to get your property revalued. It is typically outlined on your property tax statement.
Understand the deadlines and adhere to them. Most property tax authorities have strict deadlines. Miss one deadline by a day and you are out of luck.
Do some research BEFORE you call your assessor. Talk to neighbors and honestly assess the amount of disrepair your property may be in versus other comparable properties in your neighborhood. Call a few real estate professionals. Tell them you would like a market review of your property. Try to choose a professional that will not overstate the value of your home hoping to get a listing, but who will show you comparable sales for your area. Then find comparable sales in your area that defend a lower valuation.
Look at your property classification in the detailed description of your home. Often times errors in this code can overstate the value of your home. For example, if you live in a condo that was converted from an apartment, the property’s appraised value could still be based on a non-owner occupied rental basis. Armed with this information, approach the assessor seeking first to understand the basis of the appraisal.
Ask for a review of your property. Position your request for a review based on your research. Do not fall into the assessor trap of defending your review request without first having all the information on your property. Meet the assessor with a specific value in mind. Assessors are so used to irrational arguments, that a reasonable approach is often readily accepted.
While going through this process, remember to be aware of the pressure these taxing authorities are under. This understanding can help temper your position and hopefully put you in a better position to have your case heard.
Here are several ways to make sure that your tax return is prepared and filed as quickly (and as accurately!) as possible.
Keep tax documents in one place. Missing tax documents are one of the biggest reasons that filing a tax return gets delayed! If you receive documents via both physical mail and e-mail, it’s even more important that you have one place to store all your documents once you receive them.
Organize your tax documents by type. To help make filing your tax return as easy as possible, sort your tax documents in tax return order. Glance through last year’s tax return and create a folder for each section including income, business and rental information, adjustments to income, itemized deductions, tax credit information, and a miscellaneous bucket.
Create list of special events from the previous year. You receive a Form W-2 from your employer every year. If you’re in business, you probably receive a Form 1099 from certain clients each year. But certain tax documents you won’t see each year. Selling a home doesn’t happen every year for most people. Likewise with getting married (or divorced) or sending a kid to college. So create a list of special events that have happened over the past year, as some of these occasions may affect your taxes.
Don’t forget your signature! You (and your spouse, if married) must sign and date your tax return if physically mailing it to the IRS. Forgetting your signature could delay the processing of your return (and potential tax refund!) by up to several months. If e-filing, don’t forget to sign Form 8879. This form authorizes the e-filing of your tax return.
E-file your return. The IRS has struggled over the past 3 years to process paper-filed tax returns. In 2021, this backlog reach more than 20 million tax returns. You can avoid getting your physical return potentially misplaced by the IRS by e-filing. Even better, you can typically receive any refunds within one to two weeks when e-filing.
These are some of the more common reasons why the preparation and filing of your tax return may get delayed. Be prepared and file your return this year without a hitch!
The SECURE Act 2.0, passed by Congress in late 2022, features numerous ways for you to save more money in your tax advantaged retirement accounts. Here are several of the bill’s provisions and what they mean for you.
Money can continue to grow tax deferred. If you turn 72 in 2023 or later, you can keep money in a tax-deferred IRA or 401(k) for another 12 months to help the account continue growing before starting to withdraw funds. This retirement benefit is now available thanks to the required minimum distribution age being raised from age 72 to age 73. The age will increase again from 73 to 75 in 2033.
Action: Review your retirement account distribution needs and use this extra time to help make your distributions more tax efficient. For example, if you must earn an additional $10,000 before you hit the next highest tax bracket, consider pulling more taxable income out of your retirement account to take advantage of this lower rate. Or use the extra time to consider converting funds tax-efficiently into a Roth IRA.
Be aware of auto enrollment. The government wants you to save for retirement, so the new law allows businesses to automatically transfer a greater portion of your paycheck into their retirement plan. The maximum contribution that can now be automatically deferred into your employer’s 401(k) plan increases from 10% to 15%.
Action: While saving more for retirement is a great idea, this automatic participation does not account for your particular financial needs. So be aware of the possibility that you will automatically be contributing to your retirement account and independently determine what you can afford to put towards retirement. Make any adjustments if necessary, as you are permitted to opt out of auto enrollment. Remember, you also need to build an emergency fund and pay your bills!
Take advantage of higher catch-up limits. Starting in 2024, the $1,000 catch-up contribution for IRAs will receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment in increments of $100, while the $7,500 catch-up contribution for 401(k)s will increase to at least $10,000. This higher 401(k) catch-up limit will also be indexed for inflation starting in 2025. The additional catch-up contribution is available if you’re age 50 or older.
Action: Review the annual savings limit for your retirement savings account, including the catch-up amount if you are 50 years or older. Then make adjustments to your retirement savings plan as soon as possible to take advantage of the higher savings limits.
The beginning of a new year brings the need to recap the previous one for Uncle Sam. Here are some tips and a checklist to help get you organized.
Look for your tax forms. Forms W-2, 1099, and 1098 will start hitting your inbox or mailbox in the next couple of weeks. If you have not already done so, review last year’s records and create a checklist of the forms to make sure you get them all.
Collect your tax documents using this checklist. Using a tax organizer or last year’s tax return, sort your tax records to match the items on your tax return. Here is a list of the more common tax records:
Informational tax forms (W-2s, 1099s, 1098s, 1095-A) that disclose wages, interest income, dividends and capital gain/loss activity
Other forms that disclose possible income (jury duty, unemployment, IRA distributions and similar items)
Business K-1 forms
Social Security statements
Mortgage interest statements
Tuition paid statements
Property tax statements
Mileage log(s) for business, moving, medical and charitable driving
Medical, dental and vision expenses
Records of any asset purchases and sales, including cryptocurrency
Health insurance records (including Medicare and Medicaid)
Charitable receipts and documentation
Bank and investment statements
Credit card statements
Records of any out of state purchases that may require use tax
Casualty and theft loss documentation (federally declared disasters only)
Moving expenses (military only)
If you aren’t sure whether something is important for tax purposes, retain the documentation. It is better to save unnecessary documentation than to later wish you had the document to support your deduction.
Clean up your auto log. You should have the necessary logs to support your qualified business miles, moving miles, medical miles and charitable miles driven by you. Gather the logs and make a quick review to ensure they are up to date and totaled.
Coordinate your deductions. If you and someone else share a dependent, confirm you are both on the same page as to who will claim the dependent. This is true for single taxpayers, divorced taxpayers, taxpayers with elderly parents/grandparents, and parents with older children.
With proper organization, your tax filing experience can be timely and uneventful.