Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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Going For a Walk

Avoid The Tax Man

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.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

January brought over 2000 unique visitors to this site and over 230 of you have returned again. Thank you.