Tax Refund for Christmas 2013

November 1, 2013 by Jan Roberg · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Refunds, Taxes 
82/365 - my christmas eve buddy.

Photo by B Rosen at Flickr.com

 

If you normally use your income tax refund to pay for your Christmas presents, listen up.  You’ve got a problem.

 

First, nobody is doing Christmas loans.  Remember when H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt used to provide loans against your refund?  Then the IRS changed the “debt indicator” which made it almost impossible for anyone to offer those loans.  A few companies provided Refund Anticipation Loans, (the loans where you got your refund in 1 or 2 days instead of two weeks) but they were few and far between.  Most people had to wait for two to three weeks to get their refund.

 

Now the IRS has announced that tax filing will be delayed—meaning that instead of accepting tax returns on January 21st like they had previously announced—they won’t accept returns until January 28th, and maybe not until February 4th.

 

What does this have to do with Christmas?  Well, if you’re putting holiday gifts on your credit card in the hopes of paying it off with your tax refund—you’re not getting your refund until mid to late February at the earliest.  If you can’t afford to pay your credit cards without your tax refund—you’ve got a problem.

 

So what other options do you have?   For some people, if you know that you’re going to have a refund on your taxes, you can change your withholding now so that you get more money in your paycheck.  If you’re reading this in October or early November, you’ve got a chance to put away some extra cash for presents.  If it’s already December by the time you see this—it’s probably too late.

 

Here’s something else you need to know.  If you have your taxes done by one of those corner shop tax companies, they will gladly take your money and tell you that they’re filing your return.  You might think that you’re filing on January 3 or 4th, but you’re not.  What they’re doing is “stockpiling” your return.  They hit a button, it gets sent to a big corporate server, but it just sits there until the IRS says they’re accepting returns.

 

Why is that important to know?  Because people think that they need to file early to get their refunds.  But those early returns are often wrong.  They’re missing information, or the software’s not fully functional yet.  The IRS needs time to work out the glitches and if the IRS is having glitches, so are all the other tax companies.  If you have the big green tax company send your tax return to their server and then you discover a problem with it, you can’t take your tax return back.   It’s too late.  And if your tax return is sent in with a mistake it could delay your refund for weeks, or even months.

 

There aren’t a lot of options out there for using your upcoming tax refund to pay for this year’s holiday gifts.  But you know what?  Christmas comes every year.  Every year!  Once you do receive your refund, it might be the only time in the whole year that you’ve got extra cash.  Take some of your refund money and stick it in the bank so you’ve got cash to pay for your 2014 Christmas.    Seriously, you never want to be dependent upon the IRS for you to have a Merry Christmas.

Can I Write Off My Child Support Payments on my Taxes?

July 27, 2012 by Jan Roberg · 4 Comments
Filed under: Divorce 
Divorce and Children

Drawing/Photo by o5com on Flickr.com

Quick answer:  No.

 

For a longer answer, you may want to know why.  Here’s the reasoning:  if you are married and living with your family and raising your children—there’s no deduction for paying for their school clothes or feeding them.  That’s pretty much what your child support payments are—feeding the kids and paying for clothes.  So whether you live with your kids, or live apart, the money that’s used for those day to day necessities is not a tax deductible expense.    You don’t get a deduction for paying it and your ex doesn’t claim it as taxable income.

 

What about alimony?  Alimony is different—you get to deduct alimony on your tax return if you pay it, and your ex has to claim the alimony as income.  Alimony counts as income so your ex will have to pay taxes on it. Alimony does not count as earned income for the earned income tax credit, but as one of my clients explained to me, “Oh, honey—trust me I EARNED it!”

 

You might be thinking that paying alimony is better than paying child support—but there’s a catch to that thinking.  If the “alimony” ends when the kids turn 18— the IRS will call it child support anyway so you lose all the tax advantages.  Alimony basically goes for the life of your ex or until a re-marriage occurs.   So while alimony has some tax advantages—child support at least has an end date.  (There are some cases where alimony is only paid for a limited time, but it has to be very separate and distinct from any type of child support to be valid for tax purposes.)

 

Some people pay both alimony and child support.  In a case like that you can deduct the alimony portion of your payment on your tax return.  Now it’s important to know—if you fall behind on your payments—the IRS assumes that you pay the child support first.  For example:  Let say you pay $300 a month in child support and $200 a month in alimony.  For the year you pay $6000 all together:  $3,600 in child support and $2,400 in alimony.  You’ll take a $2,400 deduction for the alimony on your tax return.

 

Now, what happens if you lost your job and didn’t make any payments in November and December of the tax year?  You would have paid $5,000 total, right?  ($500 times 10 months)  And $2,000 of that was for alimony.  But according to the IRS—you pay the child support first.  So of the $5,000 that you did pay, $3,600 went towards the child support and you only get to deduct $1,400 (the amount that’s left) for the alimony.  So make sure that you’re all paid up before the end of the year if you want to deduct all of the alimony on your tax return.

 

If your hungry for more, try http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/135170 to put icing on the cake.

EIC and Your Family Tree: What Counts as a Qualifying Child?

May 22, 2012 by Jan Roberg · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Earned Income Credit 
Babbitt Family Tree

Photo by Jeff Babbitt, 2009.

Some people honestly don’t know who does and who does not count as a qualifying child for EIC and they mess it up.  But one of the most common types of EIC fraud is someone claiming a child that does not belong on his income tax return.  If you make an honest mistake, the IRS agent is probably  going to assume you’re committing fraud anyway.  So I’m here to keep you out of trouble.

I come from one of those families where we use phrases like, “first cousin once removed.”  When I was a child I remember going to a wedding reception and playing all evening with my “cousin”, only to be told later that she wasn’t a cousin, she was my “father’s half-brother’s step daughter.”  (Yeah, do the calculation, in any normal family your uncle’s kid is a cousin, right?)

I married into a family that is “we’re all one big happy”.  We don’t have steps, or in-laws, or halfs, we’re all brother, sister, mom, cousin, etc.  I think most people are somewhere in between.  But what we’re dealing with today is the IRS version of family and the IRS version of family  goes like this:

Let’s start with you.  You are the center of the universe and all family members revolve around you.  What we’re trying to figure out here is what counts as a Qualifying Child for you—this eliminates all parents and grandparents and members of their generation.

You may count your brothers and sisters.  You must be older than your brother or sister to claim them (unless they are physically or mentally disabled.)   You can also include step brothers and
sisters, and half brothers and sisters, and adopted brothers and sisters.

A step sibling means that your parent married somebody else who had kids.  There is no blood relation, but there is a marriage license.  If your parent did not marry the other person, even though you all live together and think of yourself as one family unit, there is no IRS relationship.

A half sibling means that one of your parents had a child with someone other than your birth mother or father.  Let’s say your mom had you and then left your dad for someone else and had a child—that child is your half sibling—you two share half of a gene pool.  The counts with the IRS.

Adopted siblings are just that—they’re adopted.  There will be court records showing that they were adopted and part of your family.  Adopted children are always treated like natural born children for IRS purposes.

These people are all on your even level of the family tree.  Imagine you’re standing there with your arms straight out with your brothers and sisters side by side—this is your generation.

Down below your generation is your son, daughter, step child, foster child or a descendent of any of them, for example grandchildren or great grandchildren.  Additionally, any descendents of your  generation—those are your nieces and nephews (or great nieces and nephews.)    So let’s say your half brother adopts a child and he dies and you’re raising that child—that counts as your qualifying child for EIC purposes because he is your nephew.

A foster child is a child who has been placed by an authorized placement agency in your home or by a judgment or decree or court order.  No matter what, a foster child has some legal paperwork involved.  If your neighbor runs off and leaves her kid behind and you wind up raising her, she doesn’t count as a foster child until the courts come in and say she’s a foster child.  This is one of the most common mistakes people make—claiming children they’re taking care of as foster children without the court documents to back it up.  Without that legal piece of paper, the child is not a foster child.

Cousins are never qualifying children for EIC purposes.

EIC Help Page

January 27, 2012 by Jan Roberg · 4 Comments
Filed under: Earned Income Credit 
Life's a little bit easier with EITC

It’s that time of year and we’re getting bombarded with questions about the Earned Income Tax Credit. Here’s some of the most popular questions and where to get the answers you need.

My ex has custody of my kids, but the divorce decree says that I get to claim the exemption. My ex says that she gets to because she has custody. I don’t get it, what should we do?

You’re in a situation where you “split” the exemption. Here’s information about how to do that legally: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/11/split-exemption-claiming-one-child-on-two-tax-returns-%E2%80%94-the-legal-way/

According to my divorce decree, I’m supposed to claim the exemption for my child but my ex claimed her anyway. Should I send a copy of the decree to the IRS or the judge?

I’m not an attorney so I can’t give legal advice, but this post has information on IRS rules and court ordered exemptions: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2012/01/court-ordered-exemptions-and-the-irs/

My child’s daddy is out of the picture. My boyfriend has been living with us for three years now and he’s the primary support for my child. Can my boyfriend claim may child on his tax return because it will give us a bigger refund?

No. And here’s all the reasons why: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2012/01/can-my-boyfriend-claim-my-child-by-a-different-father-on-his-tax-return-for-the-earned-income-credit/

I went to file my taxes and they got rejected. The IRS says that somebody else used my children’s social security numbers on their tax return. What do I do now?

Basically, you’re going to paper file your tax return. Here’s more information: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/01/my-ex-claimed-my-kid-now-what-do-i-do/

What do I need to do to qualify for the Earned Income Credit?

There are some basic rules that anybody claiming EIC will have to meet, like having a valid Social Security number for one thing. Here’s a list of the rules: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/12/eight-basic-rules-to-qualify-for-the-earned-income-tax-credit/

What if I need more information?

The IRS has the EITC home page. (EIC and EITC are the same thing; earned income credit = earned income tax credit.) They have lots of worksheets to help you determine if you qualify for EIC if your children qualify, and where to get help preparing your return. Here’s the link: http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=96406,00.html

Now if you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, you can always call the IRS – their phone number is 1 (800) 829-1040. Their phones have been slammed lately so you may be on hold for awhile. A few tips: call early in the morning – like 7 am, or later in the day – like after 6pm. And it’s better to call later in the week; Monday’s the worst day to call the IRS. Please be patient and kind to the IRS agent that is answering your question – they have special rules and procedures they are required to follow.

Can My Boyfriend Claim My Child by a Different Father on His Tax Return for the Earned Income Credit?

January 6, 2012 by Jan Roberg · 54 Comments
Filed under: Earned Income Credit 
Dad with his Kids on Father's Day

The IRS doesn't care how good a "Daddy" is. It's all about the strict tax law.

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Noooooooooooooo! Sorry about the bad joke. But really, no he can’t and here’s why:

First, and most importantly, it’s against the law. Seriously – claiming a child that you don’t have a right to claim on your tax return is income tax fraud and that’s a federal crime.

But how would he get caught? Good question. The most likely way he’d get caught is if someone else tried to claim your child on their tax return, like the child’s real father or a grandparent. Someone might have a problem with you or him and turn you in to the IRS. It’s one of the most common questions I see on the internet: “How do I turn someone in?” I’ve worked on a couple of cases where an older child has accidentally turned someone in by filing paperwork for school which somehow got into IRS records. You don’t want to take the risk.

But the most dangerous person as far as your boyfriend is concerned is you. Let’s say you decide to let your boyfriend claim your child and claim the EIC tax credit because it works out to be more money if he does it. You’re breaking the law too, but when push comes to shove you can break into tears and say he forced you etc., etc. It’s not against the law to not claim your child on your tax return, and proving that you “conspired” with him to commit tax fraud would be hard to do. So let’s say that the boyfriend dumps you and goes out and buys a nice engagement ring for his new girlfriend with that tax refund. I’m guessing that would make you hopping mad, right? Furious! You want to get even, don’t you? What better way to get even with that scumbag than to report him to the IRS. You see why he should be afraid? Very afraid!

So what could happen to my boyfriend if he did get caught? The maximum EIC for one child is $3050 ($5036 for two, and $5,666 for three.) First, he’d have to pay that back. Let’s say we’re just talking about one child, he’ll have to pay back $3050 right off the bat. Then he’d also have to refund the $1,000 child tax credit, so now we’re up to $4050. Now he’ll also have lost the head of household status which gave him a lower tax rate plus he’s lost the exemption so we’re looking at maybe $5,000 (or more if we’re talking about more children). Then the IRS will tack on fines, another 25% or $1250 for late payment fees, and most likely another 20% or $1,000 for under-reporter penalties so you’re looking at about $7250 in taxes owed. Ouch!

It’s also possible that he could be criminally prosecuted. Personally, I have never worked an EIC case that has gone on to the criminal division, but it does happen. What good is your boyfriend to you if he’s sitting in jail?

Don’t create problems for yourself by committing tax fraud. It seems like easy money and the temptation is great. You probably even know people who’ve done it and never had any problems. But if you want to feel safe and secure and get a good night’s sleep, file a correct and proper tax return.

You may also be interested in these posts:

My Ex Claimed My Kid: Now What Do I Do?
http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/01/my-ex-claimed-my-kid-now-what-do-i-do/

Eight Basic Rules to Qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit
http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/12/eight-basic-rules-to-qualify-for-the-earned-income-tax-credit/

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Note:  We try to answer all the questions that come to us but please be patient.  It’s our busy season right now.  We may not get to your post until the weekend.  When you make a post and use the capcha code, it won’t immediately show up.  You see, for every normal person like you that posts, there’s about three advertisements for things your mother wouldn’t approve of.  (We try to keep this a G rated website.)   We have to edit those out.  If you need an answer right away, here are some links that might help:

EIC questions of any kind:  http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Earned-Income-Tax-Credit-(EITC)-%E2%80%93–Use-the-EITC-Assistant-to-Find-Out-if-You-Should-Claim-it.

How to find free tax preparers:  http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

How to find your local IRS office:  http://www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-Your-Local-IRS-Office-1

If you want to hire us, please call (314) 275-9160 or email us.  We do prepare returns for people all over the country (and a few foreign countries as well.)  We are sorry but we cannot prepare an EIC return for someone outside of the St. Louis area because of the due diligence requirements.

Eight Basic Rules to Qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit

December 30, 2011 by Jan Roberg · 2 Comments
Filed under: Uncategorized 
Family Shoot 5

Photo by Stuart Richards on flickr.com

To qualify for Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC, you and your spouse (if you’re married and filing a joint return) must meet all of the following rules:

  1. You must have a valid Social Security Number. [If you are foreign born and have an ITIN number, you cannot get an earned income credit, but if you become a citizen and obtain a social security number, you may go back up to three years and amend your old returns using your social security number to qualify for EIC.]
  2. You must have earned income from employment, self-employment or another source. [Alimony counts as earned income, child support does not. Social security, pension payments, and veteran's benefits do not count as earned income.]
  3. You cannot use the married, filing separate status to file your return. [If you are separated and have been living apart for the last six months of the year, you may be able to use the head of household filing status and still qualify for EIC. Do not claim head of household status if you are still living with your spouse. That’s a form of EIC fraud and can get you into big trouble.]
  4. You must either be a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year or a nonresident alien married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien and choose to file a joint return and be treated as a resident alien. [If you are in the US military and stationed out of the country on active duty, you still count as being in the United States for EIC purposes.]
  5. You cannot be the qualifying child of another person. [Let’s say you are a young mother still in school and living with your parents. If your parents can claim you as a dependent on their tax return, then you cannot claim an earned income credit for your child. You will be able to allow your parents to claim your baby as a dependent on their tax return though.]
  6. You cannot file a Form 2555 or 2555-EZ (related to foreign earned income). [Basically, if you’re using this tax form, you’re living and working outside the country so you wouldn’t qualify to claim EIC anyway.]
  7. Your Adjusted Gross Income and earned income must meet the limits shown for 2011:
    Earned Income and adjusted gross income (AGI) must each be less than:

    • $43,998 ($49,078 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children
    • $40,964 ($46,044 married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
    • $36,052 ($41,132 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
    • $13,660 ($18,740 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children
  8. Your investment income must meet or be less than $3,150 for 2011. [Investment income is basically bank interest, capital gains or dividends from stocks. You might have a partnership interest or own a corporation and receive investment income there. These types of income can prevent you from claiming an Earned Income credit.]

Those are the basic rules that everyone must meet to qualify for an Earned Income Credit. If you have children or are self-employed, you have more hoops to jump through.

Other posts that might interest you are Tax Tips for Single Moms: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/01/tax-tips-for-single-moms/

And also My Ex Claimed My Kid: http://robergtaxsolutions.com/2011/01/my-ex-claimed-my-kid-now-what-do-i-do/

My Ex Claimed My Kid: Now What Do I Do?

January 31, 2011 by Jan Roberg · 977 Comments
Filed under: Divorce, Earned Income Credit, Family 

Ex claimed my kidPlease also read “Stolen Children“.

This happens to people all the time.  You go to electronically file your tax return and it gets rejected because someone else has already claimed your child.  What do you do?  I say fight back, and here’s how.

The first step to fighting back is to make sure that you’re in the right.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you the biological parent of the child?  Hint:  if your answer is “I’ve raised her like my own.”  You’re going to have trouble winning.  If you’re a grandparent, step parent, aunt or uncle; and the person who claimed the child is the actual parent, you don’t stand much of a chance.  (That said, some folks will have a credible case, but I’d suggest professional help here because it is tricky.)  To go this route you should be the real parent.
  2. Did the child live with you all year?  If not all year, for at least over half of the year?  If you had custody all year you have a much better shot of winning.  You absolutely must have had custody for over half of the year to even think of trying this.  If you’re on the border line, where your ex had the child for half the year and you had half, this might not be worth it.
  3. Is this good for your child?  Generally you’d think that having more money in the household would be good for your child, but if fighting with your ex could cause harm to your child, you might want to stop and think about it a bit.

Step two.  Once you’ve determined that you are in the right and that you are entitled to claim your child, then what you need to do is print out, sign and mail that rejected return to the IRS —keeping your child as your dependent on the tax return.  When you do this, the IRS has to take it in.  They have to look at it and it’s going to throw whoever claimed your child into an audit.  If an Earned Income Tax Credit is involved then those audit papers generally run 11 to 22 pages long.  (11 pages for a straight EIC audit, 22 for an EIC and head of household audit, they’re the same questions it’s just that 22 pages is more intimidating.)

Here’s the scary part, you’re going to get the same paperwork.  It is a little intimidating, but you’re expecting it.  Because you’re the custodial parent, that is your child lives with you, you can answer those questions with no problem.  People who shouldn’t be claiming your kids can’t answer the questions and that’s why you’ll win.  If your kids are in school, you’ll need a document from the school saying they attend and where they live.  If they’re too young for school, you can get a statement from the doctor’s office that you’re their parent and you pay their medical bills.  You’ll have the resources to prove that you’re the parent.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I can’t prove I have custody of my kids,” then maybe you shouldn’t be filing for them.  You will have to provide some proof:  school records, doctor’s files, church documents, day care receipts, health insurance records, something professional.   Your Mom or a friend can’t vouch for you.

Once you’ve received the audit papers, completed them and sent them back, then it’s a waiting game.  Your ex (or whoever claimed your child) will have to complete the same paperwork.  The IRS will examine the papers and determine who had the proper right to claim your child.  But since it’s you, you will win.

The big downside to this is that it will take months to settle.  Months.  On the upside, once your ex has lost an audit case for claiming your child, it will be very difficult to ever try it again.  You’re not just solving a problem for one year, you’re preventing future problems as well.

What if you need the money now?  That’s the most common question.  Sorry, but that’s impossible.  What you’ve lost, you can’t get back without a fight.  If you have more than one child, and only one was claimed incorrectly, you could file now and at least get part of your refund, then file an amended return later.  I don’t recommend doing that, but I also understand sometimes you need the cash now.

If you try doing this as an amended return there are two consequences:  first, it will slow everything down even more.  You can’t file an amended return until your first return is completely processed.  An amended return will take about 16 weeks to run through the system before the whole audit process begins so you’re basically adding 4 to 5 months to the timeline for solving this issue.  Second, filing a return and amending to add a child reduces your credibility with the IRS.  Your documentation had better be rock solid because you will have no wiggle room for doubt if you submit an amended return to claim your child.

One more thing to consider before you go through with this.  Call your ex and talk it out.  I’m not crazy, hear me out.  You’ve read this far, you know that fighting is a big hassle.  Before you go into warrior mode, maybe you can negotiate a peace treaty.  What do you stand to gain from this?  What does your ex stand to gain?  It’s important that you file your returns legally, but with divorced or never married couples, you can split an exemption:  the custodial parent claims head of household and EIC, the non-custodial parent claims the child tax credit and the exemption.  It could be a good thing for both of you and for your child.  (Remember, what’s best for the child?)  Instead of going to war, you have your ex amend his/her return and you file your return right after the amendment is accepted.  It still is slow, but much faster than going through an audit.  And it’s a peaceful solution.  (Please, don’t even think of trying this if your ex is dangerous.  Safety first.)

Finding out that someone else has claimed your child for taxes can be shocking and financially devastating.  The assumption is usually that it’s the ex, but that’s not always the case.   When you file to claim your child, you will never be told who the other person is.  (Of course, if it’s your ex you’ll probably get an unfriendly phone call so you’ll know.)  It’s scary how often it’s not the ex, though.  Be sure to protect your child’s social security number.  Don’t keep the card in your purse.  Don’t share the social security number with anyone.  Your child needs your protection.  It’s hard enough being a kid, being a kid with a stolen identity is worse.

_______________________________________________________________________

Note:  We try to answer all the questions that come to us but please be patient.  It’s our busy season right now.  We may not get to your post until the weekend.  When you make a post and use the capcha code, it won’t immediately show up.  You see, for every normal person like you that posts, there’s about three advertisements for things your mother wouldn’t approve of.  (We try to keep this a G rated website.)   We have to edit those out.  If you need an answer right away, here are some links that might help:

EIC questions of any kind:  http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Earned-Income-Tax-Credit-(EITC)-%E2%80%93–Use-the-EITC-Assistant-to-Find-Out-if-You-Should-Claim-it.

How to find free tax preparers:  http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers

How to find your local IRS office:  http://www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-Your-Local-IRS-Office-1

If you want to hire us, please call (314) 275-9160 or email us.  We do prepare returns for people all over the country (and a few foreign countries as well.)  We are sorry but we cannot prepare an EIC return for someone outside of the St. Louis area because of the due diligence requirements.

EITC Awareness Day: A Contrary View

January 28, 2011 by Jan Roberg · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 

Earned Income Credit Awareness DayJanuary 28, is EITC Awareness Day.  EITC is the Earned Income Tax Credit.  To find out if you might qualify for and Earned Income Tax Credit, you can go to the IRS website and check out the EITC Assistant.  It basically asks you questions and helps you figure out if you can get and Earned Income credit or not.  The site is:   http://apps.irs.gov/app/eitc2010/SetLanguage.do?lang=en

Last year, the IRS handed out $58 billion in Earned Income Tax Credits.  It’s estimated that only four out of every five people who qualify for an earned income credit actually claim it.  Some of the underserved categories of people who missed their EITC (also called EIC) are small business owners and farmers.  If you have self employment income, that still qualifies you for EIC. 

Another category of people who missed their EIC claims are grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren.  It seems that a few years back, when the IRS tightened up the rules about grandparents claiming their grandchildren there was the mistaken thought that grandparents could never claim their grandchildren.  That’s not the case.  If your grandchildren live with you, be sure to check the EITC eligibility page to see if you might qualify.

Okay, the IRS asked me to plug EIC today and that was the plug.  Here’s my side of the story.  As a tax professional, all year long I have heard what I consider to be veiled threats from the IRS to tax pros around the country about EIC.  They can come to our office at any time, pull our files and inspect to see that we’ve completed the proper due diligence on all of our clients.  The PTIN registration, which quite frankly only covers us “good guys who follow the rules” will be used to monitor our returns.  If one of our clients files a fraudulent EIC claim, the IRS can then pull all tax returns that have our PTIN number to check for fraud as well. 

Now I shouldn’t complain.  I don’t file very many EIC returns anyway and the ones that I do file, I’ve done the due diligence.  I have my paperwork in order so it wouldn’t be a problem if the IRS did an EIC audit of my office.  But I guess I’m just a little shocked that the IRS wants me, or anyone for that matter, to promote EIC. 

Here’s why I’m shocked:  of the $58 billion dollars that was handed out last year, the IRS estimates that $13 to $16 billion of that was erroneous payments.  Now let’s be realistic honest mistakes do happen, but a pretty fair chunk of that change is due to downright fraud.  We’re talking roughly 25% of the EIC claims are wrong.  That’s one in four EIC claims.  ONE IN FOUR!

Back in the old days, I used to do EIC audit work for a large tax company.  Many of the audit clients didn’t have their taxes done by one of our preparers, we were just the best place to go to once they got the audit letter.  Some of the “fly by night” operators who prepare those “erroneous” EIC returns disappear after April 15th and some vanish even sooner than that.  I learned a lot from that experience about what not to claim on a tax return.  Maybe this can help someone else.

Do not submit a tax return claiming head of household status if you have been incarcerated for the entire year.  Generally head of household status means that your children are living with you and most prison wardens don’t let you keep your kids with you overnight.  It’s estimated that 4 to 5 thousand fraudulent EIC returns were submitted from prisons last year.  Currently, the IRS does not have access to prison records so they can’t immediately identify those returns.

Do not submit a tax return claiming head of household status if you are in a nursing home.  Kind of like prison, the nurses don’t let you keep the grandkids overnight either.

Do not claim your live-in underage girlfriend as your “qualified child”.   (And please, there are just some things I don’t want to know.)

Head of Household status is a confusing designation.   According to IRS rules, a head of household is someone who is not married that is providing over half of the support for another person, usually a child, but it can be a parent, grandparent, or even a friend that lives with you.  You can’t claim head of household if someone else is supporting you.  Here’s a hint, if you only made $3,000 last year, you didn’t make enough money to support anybody.  Don’t claim head of household.  Its fine to claim single, and claim your child as a dependent and you’ll still qualify for EIC.  But if you claim head of household, it gets your tax return looked at even if it doesn’t change your refund.

Do not claim your neighbor’s child on your tax return no matter how often she sleeps over and eats at your house.  The child is not yours and she doesn’t really live with you—it just feels like it.

Do not make up a fake business to claim income for the EIC.  If you have a real business, bring your receipt books and your expense ledger with you to your appointment.  The IRS is on to that.  Professional preparers are now required to look at your books and see some type of evidence that your business is legitimate.

And finally, do not claim a child on your tax return just to make life difficult for your ex.  If you have a legitimate claim, that’s one thing, but if you don’t and you’re just trying to punish someone, don’t go there.  It will land you in a heap of trouble that’s not easy to crawl out of.

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