12 Tax Scams and Schemes To Watch Out For This Tax Season (And Throughout The Year)

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Year after year, certain taxpayers resort to schemes in an effort to put one over on the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.). These cons occur year-round, not just during tax season. In response to their frequency, the I.R.S. has listed the 12 biggest offenses – scams that you should recognize, schemes that warrant penalties and/or punishment.

1. Phishing

If you get an unsolicited email claiming to be from the I.R.S., it is a scam. The I.R.S. never reaches out via email, regardless of the situation. If such an email lands in your inbox, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. You should also be careful with sending personal information, including payroll or other financial information, via an email or website. (1,2)

2. Phone scams

Each year, criminals call taxpayers and allege that said taxpayers owe money to the I.R.S. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration says that over the last five years, 12,000 victims have been identified, resulting in a cumulative loss of more than $63 million. Visual tricks can lend authenticity to the ruse: the caller ID may show a toll-free number. The caller may mention a phony I.R.S. employee badge number. New spins are constantly emerging, including threats of arrest, and even deportation. (1,2)

3. Identity theft

The I.R.S. warns that identity theft is a constant concern, but not just online. Thieves can steal your mail or rifle through your trash. While the I.R.S. has made headway in terms of identifying such scams when related to tax returns, and plays an active role in identifying lawbreakers, the best defense that remains is caution when your identity and information are concerned. (1,2)

4. Return preparer fraud

Almost 60% of American taxpayers use a professional tax preparer. Unfortunately, among the many honest professionals, there are also some con artists out there who aim to rip off personal information and grab phantom refunds, so be careful when making a selection. (1,2)

5. Fake charities

Some taxpayers claim that they are gathering funds for hurricane victims, an overseas relief effort, an outreach ministry, and so on. Be on the lookout for organizations that are using phony names to appear as legitimate charities. A specious charity may ask you for cash donations and/or your Social Security Number and banking information before offering a receipt. (1,2)

6. Inflated refund claims

In this scenario, the scammers do prepare and file 1040s, but they charge big fees up front or claim an exorbitant portion of your refund. The I.R.S. specifically warns against signing a blank return as well as preparers who charge based on the amount of your tax refund. (1,2)

7. Excessive claims for business credits

In their findings, the I.R.S. specifically notes abuses of the fuel tax credit and research credit. If you or your tax preparer claim these credits without meeting the correct requirements, you could be in for a nasty penalty. (1,2)

8. Falsely padding deductions on returns

Some taxpayers exaggerate or falsify deductions and expenses in pursuit of the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and other federal tax perks. Resist the temptation to pad the numbers and avoid working with scammers who pressure you to do the same. (1,2)

9. Falsifying income to claim credits

Some credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, are reported by scammers claiming false income. You are responsible for what appears on your return, so a boosted income can lead to big penalties, interest, and back taxes. (1,2)

10. Frivolous tax arguments

There are seminar speakers and books claiming that federal taxes are illegal and unconstitutional and that Americans only have an implied obligation to pay them. These and other arguments crop up occasionally when people owe back taxes, and at present, they carry little weight in the courts and before the I.R.S. There’s also a $5,000 penalty for filing a frivolous tax return, so these fantasies are best ignored. (1,2)

11. Abusive tax shelters

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, and that’s especially true of complicated tax avoidance schemes, which attempt to hide assets through a web of pass-through companies. The I.R.S. suggests that a second opinion from another financial professional might help you avoid making a big mistake. (1,2)

12. Offshore tax avoidance

Not all taxpayers adequately report offshore income, and if you don’t, you are a lawbreaker, according to the I.R.S. You could be prosecuted or contend with fines and penalties. (1,2)

Watch out for these ploys – ultimately, you are the first defense against a scam that could cause you to run afoul of tax law.

Sources

  1. irs.gov/newsroom/irs-wraps-up-dirty-dozen-list-of-tax-scams-for-2018-encourages-taxpayers-to-remain-vigilant
  2. forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2018/03/22/irs-warns-on-dirty-dozen-tax-scams/

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

4 Important Questions You’ll Need to Answer Before Claiming Social Security

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Whether you want to leave work at 62, 67, or 70, claiming the retirement benefits you are entitled to by federal law is no casual decision. You will want to consider a few key factors first.

1. How long do you think you will live?

If you have a feeling you will live into your nineties, for example, it may be better to claim later. If you start receiving Social Security benefits at or after Full Retirement Age (which varies from age 66-67 for those born in 1943 or later), your monthly benefit will be larger than if you had claimed at 62. If you file for benefits at FRA or later, chances are you probably a) worked into your mid-sixties, b) are in fairly good health, c) have sizable retirement savings. (1)

If you sense you might not live into your eighties or you really need retirement income, then claiming at or close to 62 might make more sense. If you have an average lifespan, you will, theoretically, receive the average amount of lifetime benefits regardless of when you claim them; the choice comes down to more lifetime payments that are smaller or fewer lifetime payments that are larger. For the record, Social Security’s actuaries project the average 65-year-old man living 84.3 years and the average 65-year-old woman living 86.7 years. (2)

2. Will you keep working?

You might not want to work too much, for earning too much income can result in your Social Security being withheld or taxed.

Prior to Full Retirement Age, your benefits may be lessened if your income tops certain limits. In 2018, if you are 62-65 and receive Social Security, $1 of your benefits will be withheld for every $2 that you earn above $17,040. If you receive Social Security and turn 66 later this year, then $1 of your benefits will be withheld for every $3 that you earn above $45,360. (3)

Social Security income may also be taxed above the program’s “combined income” threshold. (“Combined income” = adjusted gross income + non-taxable interest + 50% of Social Security benefits.) Single filers who have combined incomes from $25,000-34,000 may have to pay federal income tax on up to 50% of their Social Security benefits, and that also applies to joint filers with combined incomes of $32,000-44,000. Single filers with combined incomes above $34,000 and joint filers whose combined incomes surpass $44,000 may have to pay federal income tax on up to 85% of their Social Security benefits. (3)

3. When does your spouse want to file?

Timing does matter, especially for two-income couples. If the lower-earning spouse collects Social Security benefits first, and then the higher-earning spouse collects them later, that may result in greater lifetime benefits for the household. (4)

4. How much in benefits might be coming your way?

Visit ssa.gov to find out, and keep in mind that Social Security calculates your monthly benefit using a formula based on your 35 highest-earning years. If you have worked for less than 35 years, Social Security fills in the “blank years” with zeros. If you have, say, just 33 years of work experience, working another couple of years might translate to slightly higher Social Security income. (1)

Your claiming decision may be one of the major financial decisions of your life. Your choices should be evaluated years in advance, with insight from the financial professional who has helped you plan for retirement.

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▲ Maximizing Social Security benefits

The age at which one claims Social Security greatly affects the amount of benefit received. Key claiming ages are 62, full retirement age (FRA is currently 66 and 4 months for today’s 62-year-olds) and 70, as shown in the row of ages in the middle of the slide. The top three graphs show the three most common ages an individual is likely to claim and the monthly benefit he or she would receive at those ages. Claiming at the latest age (70) provides the highest monthly amount but delays receipt of the benefit for 8 years. Claiming at Full Retirement Age, 66 and 4 months, or 62 years old provides lesser amounts at earlier ages. The grey shading between the bar charts represents the ages at which waiting until a later claim age results in greater cumulative benefits than the earlier age. This is called the breakeven age. The breakeven age between taking benefits at age 62 and FRA is age 76 and between FRA and 70 is 80. Not shown is the breakeven between 62 and 70, which is 79 (78 and 6 months). Along the bottom of the page, the percentages show the probability that a man, woman or one member of a married couple currently age 62 will reach the specified ages. Comparing these percentages against the breakeven ages will help a beneficiary make an informed decision about when to claim Social Security if maximizing the cumulative benefit received is a primary goal. Note that while the benefits shown are for a high-income earner who maxes out their Social Security taxes each year (income of $128,700 in 2018), the breakeven ages would hold true for those at other income levels.

Sources

  1. fool.com/investing/2018/07/07/4-frequently-asked-social-security-questions.aspx
  2. ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html
  3. blackrock.com/investing/literature/investor-education/social-security-retirement-benefits-quick-reference-one-pager-va-us.pdf
  4. thebalance.com/social-security-for-married-couples-2389042
  5. https://am.jpmorgan.com/us/en/asset-management/gim/protected/adv/insights/guide-to-retirement

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.