Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tax audits - the midyear tax review you don't want

Uh, oh. H&R Block is beefing up its plans to help clients with income tax audits. The world's largest tax service calculates that our individual chances of being double-checked have roughly doubled, to one in return in 99 from one in 202 previously.

That's not a surprise. New IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman has been warning for months that service will be getting more adamant about collecting an estimated $345 billion in taxes we may have fudged on. Now, twin plans to increase compliance and step up enforcement are the twin top priorities for IRS' 2019-2013 strategic plan.

We don't know yet how much pain stepped-up enforcement may cause. Negligence messes up most tax returns, Alvin Brown, a former high ranking IRS attorney told Congress a few years ago. Those mistakes are usually easier to fix than intentional cheating attempts. But either way, Brown already lists a wide array of potential audit magnets on his Web site.

IRS has some pretty explicit procedures for both its agents and audited taxpayers to follow. You need to know them, both to get through the audit as successfully as possible and, increasingly, to avoid phishing and other scams that are expected to perk up as enforcement revs up.

National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson vows to step up her office's efforts to make IRS more accessible to taxpayers in order to help reduce unintended abuses. Reconciling the need to collect what taxpayers really owe with the increasing difficulty that many have with everyday bills will be one of the service's biggest challenges this year, Olson predicts.

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