Wednesday, March 25, 2009

10 Things the IRS Won't Tell You

COPY and POST by Mei Ling Lin

1. "Like it or not, you may need help with your taxes."
When Cindy Hockenberry and her husband sent in a tax-penalty payment in 2007, they knew there was a chance their math might not jibe with the IRS's. When that turned out to be true and the amount was much higher than expected, they decided to dispute it. Fortunately for them, Hockenberry's a pro. As tax research coordinator at the National Association of Tax Professionals, she spotted a glitch in the IRS's calculation; after visiting the local IRS office, the agency admitted its mistake and lowered the penalty. "There's no way the average taxpayer would have noticed," she says.

2. "You don't have to be rich to get audited."
The IRS's job is to enforce the tax laws enacted by Congress and to collect what's due. Its primary weapon? The audit, whose use has more than doubled since 2000, to surpass 1 percent of all returns, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a Syracuse University data-research organization. The increase can be attributed to the rising number of so-called correspondence audits -- those done through the mail asking for specific information rather than, say, investigating your whole return, says Susan Long, codirector of the organization. "It's more efficient."

3. "Fear is often our best weapon."
The threat of an audit is enough to send many folks scurrying to their tax preparer, and no wonder. "With audits, you're assumed guilty until proven otherwise," says Long. It's this fear, coupled with the complexity of the system, that causes some to overpay their taxes by not taking deductions they're entitled to, according to experts. A study by the Government Accountability Office found that 2.2 million people a year overpay, by an average of $438. "Americans are leaving a lot of money on the table," says Roni Deutch, a Sacramento-based tax attorney.


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