Most Common Taxpayer Misconceptions

February 3, 2014

For more information:

Gigi Thompson Jarvis, CAE

202.822.6232 x119

gjarvis@naea.org

 

For Immediate Release

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Most Common Taxpayer Misconceptions

WASHINGTON, DC (February 3, 2014). An informal poll of enrolled agents (federally-licensed tax practitioners) revealed many common misconceptions among taxpayers. Perhaps those listed below may help clarify some issues.

“My uncle has a foreign bank account and I’m also a signer on it – but he owns the account. I don’t have to disclose this information on my tax return since I don’t own the account.”  Full disclosure of foreign accounts is an area that is under heavy scrutiny right now. There are several factors in determining disclosure of these accounts/assets. The penalties for failure to disclose are severe.

“My broker sold some stock this year and reinvested the money in another stock – I never got any money, so it’s not taxable, right?”  Stock sales (outside of retirement accounts) are required to be reported. Gain or loss on each individual stock transaction stands on its own. Sales of mutual funds also apply here.

 “I don’t have to pay taxes on my Social Security benefits.” Unfortunately, Social Security benefits may be required to be included in income. The amount, if any, is based on the amount of all other income as required to be reported on the tax return. The maximum amount of Social Security benefits that may be included in income is 85 percent.

“I own an S Corporation and was told I can take dividends in lieu of wages and save myself payroll taxes”. In regard to monies paid to shareholders/employees of an S Corporation, reasonable compensation must be paid before any dividends or loan repayments are permitted. Failure to properly report wages could result in a reclassification of the dividends/loan repayments as wages and subject you to penalties.

“I am a student who only works part-time, so I don’t have to file a tax return.” In addition to age, tax filing requirements are reliant on filing status, dependency status, amount of income and whether it is earned or unearned. Student status is not a factor.

“My relative lives in one of my rentals but pays little if any rent. I can still treat it as a rental since I have so many expenses.” Renting to relatives at amounts below fair market rental value is subject to limitations in that expenses cannot exceed income. There may be other limitations as well. The Tax Court has suggested that for a family member, a fair rent may be up to 20 percent less than market rent.

My wife and I separated last year and lived apart for most of the year. I should be able to file Single now, correct?”  Couples who are not legally divorced or separated as of the end of the year are precluded from filing Single.

Unfortunately, taxpayers who prepare their own returns or deal with unlicensed preparers may fail to include important information simply because they overlook it, a document was never received, or more commonly, just from lack of knowledge of the tax laws.

Another taxpayer misconception is that tax preparers simply fill out forms and push a button. The real value of licensed professionals is that they keep up with countless tax laws and regulations and have the expertise to know how to apply these rules for the benefit of the taxpayer. A good preparer will provide you with a checklist that will help reveal missing documents or information so that a complete and accurate tax return is prepared.  It is important to note that no matter who prepares your taxes, you are the one who is legally responsible for what’s on your return—making it even more important to hire a licensed tax professional.

This brings us to one more misconception: that all return preparers are federally licensed. In fact, the only federally-licensed tax professionals are enrolled agents (EAs), who must pass a rigorous, three-part competency test and a background check. And in order to maintain the enrolled agent license, EAs must complete annual continuing education requirements in tax law and ethics. To find an EA in your area, go to the “Find an EA” directory at www.naea.org.

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About the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA): NAEA is a non-profit membership organization composed of tax specialists licensed by the US Department of the Treasury.

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