AVOIDING IRS TAX PENALTIES: TAXPAYERS BEWARE Part 1

Most tax penalties are substantial, punitive and can dramatically increase the overall tax bill. Penalties are assessed for a many reasons. Some tax penalties are due to a taxpayer’s carelessness or inattention to tax details. Other penalties are incurred due to the overstatement of deductions, the failure to report income, missing documentation, negligence, fraud or procrastination.
Recently, Congress added additional penalties for making excessive claims or filing frivolous tax returns. The following is an overview of the IRS penalties that can be imposed on a taxpayer.

The IRS assessed taxpayers over $29,000,000,000.00 (that’s 29 Billion Dollars) in penalties during 2009.

• Filing and Paying Late – These penalties will apply when a taxpayer fails to timely file and does not pay the taxes he or she owes. The combined penalty is 5% of the unpaid tax for each month or part of a month the return is late, but not for more than five months. The late filing penalty is reduced by the late payment penalty. Thus, the 5% includes a 4½% penalty for filing late and a ½% penalty for paying late.

The 25% combined maximum penalty includes 22½% for filing late and 2½% for paying late. The ½% penalty for paying late is not limited to five months. This penalty will continue to increase to a maximum of 25% until the taxpayer pays the tax in full. The maximum 25% penalty for paying late is in addition to the maximum 22½% late filing penalty for a total penalty of 47½%.

If a taxpayer does not file a return within 60 days of the due date, the minimum penalty is $135 ($100 for returns required to be filed before January 1, 2009) or 100% of the balance of the tax due on the return, whichever is smaller.

• Underpayment of Estimated Tax – Our tax system is a “pay-as-you-go” system. To facilitate that concept, the IRS has provided several means of assisting taxpayers in meeting the “pay-as-you-go” requirement. These include:

• Payroll withholding for employees;
• Pension withholding for retirees; and
• Estimated tax payments for self-employed individuals and those with other sources of income not covered by withholding.

When a taxpayer fails to prepay the required tax, he or she can be subject to the underpayment penalty. This penalty is 2% higher than the prime rate and the penalty is computed on a quarter-by-quarter basis.

Federal tax law does provide ways to avoid the underpayment penalty. If the underpayment is less than $1,000, no penalty is assessed. In addition, the law provides “safe harbor” (minimum) prepayments. There are two safe harbors, which are discussed below:

1. The first safe harbor is based on the tax owed in the current year. If a taxpayer’s payments equal or exceed 90% of what is owed in the current year, he or she can escape a penalty.

2. The second safe harbor is based on the tax owed in the immediately preceding tax year. This safe harbor is generally 100% of the prior year’s tax liability. However, for higher-income taxpayers whose AGI exceeds $150,000 ($75,000 for married taxpayers filing separately), the prior year’s safe harbor is 110%.

The IRS would consider abating their tax penalties for taxpayers with reasonable cause. If you have a substantial tax penalty and would like to abate it, call us at 1-877-788-2937.

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