Welcome to the Tax Blog

News, information, and opinions about:

  • Federal, State, and Virginia Beach Taxes
  • The Tax Preparation Business
  • Tax Planning

If you have a question or comment, please drop me a line. Paul @ PIM Tax.

07 October 2015

No More IRS ProblemsThe IRS assigns a strange relationship between tax preparers and their clients. When preparing your taxes I am allowed to believe what you tell me about nearly anything related to your return. I am not required to make you prove what you tell me about your taxes is the truth. You can tell me you purchased a giraffe as a qualified higher education expense for college, and I don't need you to prove to me that it was a legitimate expense. I can put the giraffe on your tax return and file it. My only requirement is to inform you that if the IRS reviews your return and disallows the expense for the giraffe you will have to pay taxes plus penalties and interest.

Unfortunately, this IRS-allowed relationship between us could be a horrible disservice to you as a taxpayer and me as a tax professional. If I put a giraffe down as an education expense knowing the IRS is going to penalize you for it you would not be getting your money's worth out of me. You deserve the best advice possible, and to give the best advice I need to ask questions. If you tried to expense a giraffe, I would ask questions. I would ask a lot of questions.

Here's why - because even though you don't have to prove anything to me, if you are audited you have to prove everything to the IRS. The burden of proof is on you. If you can't substantiate your claim for a tax write-off it will be disallowed, your tax bill will be changed, and you will owe taxes, interest, and (probably) penalties on the amount they determine you have underpaid.

IRS: You deducted $2,000 for painting your rental home; where is the invoice?

IRS: You claimed 5,000 miles as a business expense; show me your vehicle logs.

IRS: You claimed a home office deduction; show me your office.

IRS: You deducted those clothes as a work expense; show me where your employer has required you to have those clothes (and that you can't use them for anything else).

If you can't prove your expenses to the satisfaction of the IRS the deductions will come off your tax return, and you will pay. I don't want you to be in that position. Not on my watch.

If you are my client and I am asking you questions it isn't because I don't believe you. It's because I know what the IRS expects and I want to make sure you are able to substantiate your deductions. I am not challenging you. I am not the IRS. I don't work for the IRS. I work for you. As your advisor I want to be certain the position we are taking on your tax return is defensible if it gets challenged by the IRS. I find that out by asking you questions about your tax claims. As long as there is a reasonable basis for your claims I am happy to put them on your tax return.

My Reputation as a Tax Preparer Matters

There's one more part to this story. I can represent my clients to the IRS in the event of an audit. You can authorize me to deal with the IRS on your behalf, and you never have to talk to them at all. Many clients prefer to let a knowledgeable, experienced professional represent them during an audit. It makes perfect sense.

The local IRS office is relatively small. Professional tax preparers in this region deal with the same IRS agents over and over. We get to know each other. Now let's suppose you are being audited and you want me to represent you. How would you want the IRS agent sitting across the table to perceive me? Would you prefer they knew me as a tax professional that dotted his i's and crossed his t's, or would you prefer my reputation among the auditors was that I'm a guy who lets his clients claim outlandish things on their tax returns without ever asking any questions? Clearly you'd want me to have a sterling reputation with the IRS while I was representing you.

To have that sterling reputation it is important for me to be thorough on every single tax return I prepare.  The IRS agents know if they are dealing with a true professional or some frivolous hack. If I am not thorough they know it, and I do a disservice to you and to all of my other clients who want the best representation they can get when the IRS comes knocking. IRS auditors are looking for tax cheaters and frauds. They don't want to waste their time looking at tax returns that are probably correct. If they know I am a guy who usually gets it right they don't look at too many of my returns. Conversely, if they know I am a guy who likes to "take chances" on the returns I prepare they are going to look at many more of the returns I file. I don't want that. You don't want that.

The IRS allows me to provide poor service to my clients by preparing tax returns with unsubstantiated claims. I won't do it, though. My reputation with the IRS is too valuable for me to put at risk. I will work hard to get you every single tax break we can get, but when I am representing clients to the IRS I want to be in a position to win. It matters.

16 September 2015

Those of us who work in the tax field tend to throw words and terms around that most people don't use on a regular basis. One such term is 'Top Marginal Rate'. I thought I'd take a little time to explain what this term means, and why it is important.

Our federal tax code is progressive, meaning as income increases it gets taxed at a progressively higher rate. These different rates are known as the marginal rates (or tax brackets), and they change every few years as the Congress and the President come to an agreement on who should be paying what, and how much.There are different marginal rate schedules for each filing status. The current marginal rate schedules for Single, MFJ, and HoH are shown in the table below.

tax preparation virginia beach marginal rates3

As you can see, we currently have 7 different marginal rates ranging from 10% to 39.6%, and the different filing statuses pass through them at different levels of taxable income. Note this is TAXABLE income, not your gross income or your AGI. This is the income you are taxed on after all adjustments, deductions, and exemptions are taken into consideration. (Taxable income is found on Line 43 of form 1040)

The table is good, but I think a chart does a better job of demonstrating the comparison between marginal tax rates.

tax preparation virginia beach marginal rates

At the lower income levels (where the vast majority of us live) the comparison is fairly dramatic. A single person zips through the lower marginal rates and has income exposed to the 25% and 28% rates much earlier than the MFJ and HoH filers. A single filer with $100,000 of taxable income will pay significantly more income tax than an MFJ filer with $100,000 of taxable income.

Your top marginal rate is the highest marginal rate at which your income is taxed. It is an important number to know because any tax savings you can generate are saved at your top marginal rate. Once again, I think a graphic will be useful. Let's take a look at a single filer and give her a fairly high taxable income of $300,000 to make it interesting.

military discount tax prep virginia beach

This taxpayer's taxable income level exposes her income to 5 different tax rates, the highest being the 33% rate. The amounts of income exposed to each different rate are shown, as well as the tax generated at each rate and the total tax (of $82,607*). If this taxpayer's gross income (before deductions and exemptions) is $340,000 then her effective tax rate is $82,607/$340,000 = 24.3%.

Effective tax rates, while useful, can be misleading. Say, for example, this taxpayer was thinking about increasing her contribution to her 401K plan by $10,000. If she was analyzing her situation using her effective rate she would conclude this increased contribution would save her $2,430 (24.3% of $10,000) in taxes per year. However, this analysis is incorrect. Her top marginal rate is 33%. Any reduction in income exposed to taxes comes at that rate. Looking at the graph it comes off the top of the stack. Instead of saving $2,430 in taxes she would be saving $3,300 (33% of $10,000). Nearly $900 more in tax benefits than she originally believed.

Some quick math shows that her $10,000 contribution to her 401K results in an immediate tax savings of $3,300 - an instantaneous return on investment of 33%. If an investment advisor was promising you that kind of return I'd tell you it was a scam - too good to be true, but in this case the numbers are very, very real. You can create your own stellar ROI just by saving taxes at your top marginal rate.

The most important thing to remember from this post is that any tax savings you come up with are at your top marginal rate. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me.


*For this example I have discounted that this taxpayer would also likely be exposed to Alternative Minimum Tax, the Medicare Surtax, and possibly the Net Investment Income Tax.

23 September 2015

Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015

Virginia beach tax preparation new Tax LawThat's a mouthful, eh? That's the name of a law President Obama signed on 31 July 2015. Even if you heard about it, I am willing to bet you didn't know there are some changes to the tax law in there, did you? There were quite a few changes, actually, but since they don't impact every American it didn't get a lot of attention from the media. Strangely, tax law changes are not mentioned anywhere in the title of the new law!

Here's the short version of the changes:

Change of Due Date for Partnership Returns (Form 1065). Beginning in tax year 2016 Partnership Returns will need to be filed by the 15th day of the third month after the tax year. For nearly everyone that means March 15, 2017. If your partnership's tax year is different from the calendar year it's going to be different. Form1065 (Partnership Return) will still be due on April 15, 2016 for tax year 2015.

C Corp Returns Due Date. Just the opposite of the partnership return. The due date was previously March 15, but has been moved to April 15. For corporations that do not use the calendar year as their tax year the due date is the 15th day of the 4th month after the tax year concludes. This change also takes effect for the tax FILING season in 2017.

Additional Information on Mortgage Interest Statements. Also beginning in 2017, mortgage lenders will be required to include the address of the property securing the loan, the loan origination date, and the principal balance at the beginning of the calendar year on Form 1098 Mortgage Interest Statement. I am happy about this change. There has been some confusion in the past.

Consistent Basis Reporting Between Estates and Beneficiaries. Beneficiaries receive a stepped-up basis in inherited property (such as a house). This means if the house is valued at $300,000 on the date of death, the beneficiary's basis in the property (for sale purposes) will be $300,000. For a while there has been a conflict between the estate administrator trying to keep property valuations low in order to keep estate taxes low, and the beneficiary trying to keep the valuation high so that his basis is high. The new law requires the estate administrator to include the valuation of each individual property with the estate tax return - with copies to the beneficiaries.

Note: Due to the (currently) large estate tax exclusion ($5.43 million) estate returns are only required to be filed on the relatively small number of estates exceeding that value. There are, however, some reasons to file an estate return even if it isn't required. Consistent reporting of basis between estate and beneficiary is now another reason to consider filing an estate return even if the estate value is below the requirement threshold.

Foreign Bank Account Reporting (FBAR) Dates. If you have more than $10,000 total in overseas banks you have to report it on FinCen Form114. The due date was formerly June 30, but has been moved back to April 15. While that seems like it raises the burden on the taxpayer to get the Form 114 filed, the new law adds (for the first time) the possibility of getting a 6-month extension to file. Like the other laws, it takes effect in 2016 for the 2017 tax filing.

There were a few other tax items in this new law, but those are the main points. What any of the new tax provisions have to do with surface transportation or veteran's health care is beyond me. I strongly suspect I would not enjoy a front row seat to see how the legislative sausage gets made in Washington. I prefer things simpler - like putting new tax laws in a bill called The New Tax Laws for 2015 Act. Direct and to the point!

16 August 2015

The Child and Dependent Care Credit (CDCC) provides a tax credit to taxpayers who purchase daycare for a young child or a family member/dependent with a disability. You can claim up to $3,000 of expenses for the daycare for one qualifying person who needs care, and up to $6,000 of the expenses if you are paying for the daycare of more than one qualifying person.  Unfortunately, the actual tax credit is not the same as the expenses you can claim. The credit is somewhere between 20% and 35% of your qualifying expenses, depending on your EARNED income.

There are quite a few rules and stipulations regarding the CDCC.

  • The person you are providing daycare for must be:
    • A Qualifying Child on your tax return under the age of 13. (You can still get the credit for the part of the year your child was under 13 if they turned 13 during the tax year.)
    • OR your disabled spouse
    • OR any disabled person you can claim as a dependent, EVEN IF they made over $4,000 or filed a joint tax return (You cannot normally claim someone who is not your child as a dependent if they earned more than the personal exemption amount ($4,000 in 2015). There is an exception to that rule for the purpose of claiming CDCC.)
  • The taxpayer must:
    • File single, jointly, head of household, or qualifying widower. If you are married filing separately you generally cannot take the credit unless you also meet the conditions of being considered unmarried.
    • AND work, look for work, or attend classes full time. If you file jointly, both spouses must meet this requirement. (You cannot take the CDCC to do volunteer work or to have a 'play day'. You must have a job or be a student.)
    • AND have earned income.
    • AND not claim the credit if the person paid to provide daycare was your spouse or dependent, or the parent of your child.
    • AND provide the required information about the daycare provider.
  • Qualifying Expenses are the lesser of:
    • Actual Expenses
    • $3,000 for one dependent, $6,000 for two or more
    • The amount of earned income of the tax payer (lowest paid spouse if filing jointly).
  • Fees for overnight camps, private schools, or tutoring programs are NOT qualified expenses.

Tax Tip: You can take up to the $6,000 in qualifying expenses for one child in daycare, as long as you have two (or more) qualifying dependents.

Example: Tina works and has two children ages 4 and 12. The 4-year-old goes to Sunshine Valley Daycare Center during the day while Tina works. The cost of Sunshine Valley Daycare Center is $9,000 per year. The 12-year-old goes to school during the day. After school the 12-year-old rides with a friend and the friend's mother to a scouts meeting, which is not a qualifying daycare provider. Tina picks the 12-year-old up from the scouts meeting on her way home from work. Although she is only paying daycare for one child, for the purposes of the CDCC Tina has two qualifying children. Therefore she can use the $6,000 limit on qualifying expenses when she figures her CDCC.

Most people with child or dependent care expenses roll their eyes when they find out the qualifying expenses are limited to $3,000 for a single child. The actual expenses for most daycare are considerably higher. I'd like to see the limit on allowable expenses raised, but that will take an act of Congress. Until we get one we will take what we can get and work to get the largest child and dependent care credit  the law allows.

30 August 2015

virginia beach tax preparerJust spent 2 days at the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) annual Forum & Expo at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. This was my first time attending this event, but I do not think it will be my last. I had a great time hanging out with my fellow tax nerds, and received my required continuing education credits for both CFP and Tax Pro - delivered by experts in a great environment.  And...well...did I mention it was in Las Vegas? 

My biggest regret is that there were classes I couldn't take because there was not enough time. There were 24 offerings, and only 8 class sessions, so I had to try to be selective. I think I did well, getting some great insights on Schedule C and Schedule E, and a fantastic briefing on how to be the most effective when representing clients before the IRS. I feel very good that I got my money's worth.

I did OK at the poker tables, too. Of course, I left the poker winnings at the craps tables, but that's another story. I might be able to write all of that off my taxes, though, because I met a woman from Virginia who had recently started her own cleaning business and was looking for some tax advice. If I had a substantive discussion with her about her tax situation while betting on dice, wouldn't that conversation mean that the gambling was covered as a necessary business entertainment expense? 

Perhaps I should leave the tax weenie humor for others...

Anyway, my hat is off to the great people at NATP for a fantastic Forum & Expo. I joined NATP so I would have access to high quality research at tax time. I didn't know they were also going to make my continuing education fun and affordable, too.  Really, really happy I attended that event. Now if I could just take a decent selfie...


02 September 2015

The Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) has been in effect since 2013. It provides for an additional surtax on investment income for taxpayers with MAGI over a threshold specific to their tax filing status. I have found that most people do not understand the NIIT. Probably because it is new and because the IRS description is written like this:

For the Net Investment Income Tax, modified adjusted gross income is adjusted gross income (Form 1040, Line 37) increased by the difference between amounts excluded from gross income under section 911(a)(1) and the amount of any deductions (taken into account in computing adjusted gross income) or exclusions disallowed under section 911(d)(6) for amounts described in section 911(a)(1). In the case of taxpayers with income from controlled foreign corporations (CFCs) and passive foreign investment companies (PFICs), they may have additional adjustments to their AGI. See section 1.1411-10(e) of the final regulations.

Clear as mud.

Let me try to break this down to make it understandable. There are 4 elements to the NIIT:

  • Statutory MAGI Thresholds
  • Calculating your MAGI
  • Definition of Net Investment Income
  • Determining the lesser amount to be taxed

First let's look at the statutory MAGI thresholds:

Federal Filing Status  MAGI Threshold Amount
 MFJ and QW  $250,000
 Single and HoH  $200,000
 MFS  $125,000

If your MAGI is above the applicable threshold amount for your filing status, you will owe the Net Investment Income Tax on Net Investment Income. Note: these threshold amounts are not indexed for inflation, so each year more and more taxpayers will find themselves paying NIIT.

Calculating MAGI. MAGI for the NIIT is your AGI plus any amounts excluded as foreign earned income, income from controlled foreign corporations, or income from passive foreign investment companies. Most taxpayers do not have income from foreign sources, so in most cases the NIIT MAGI will just be the same as AGI.

Definition of Net Investment Income. Net Investment Income includes interest, dividends, capital gains, rental income, non-qualified annuities, trust income, and passive business income (i.e. limited partnerships). There are a few others listed on form 8960, but the sources of income listed above will cover 98% of taxpayers. If you have other forms of investment income you are probably sophisticated enough to know what they are and their impact on your NIIT.

Last, but not least, you have to determine which is the lesser amount - your Net Investment Income, or the amount by which you exceed your MAGI threshold. Let's look at a few scenarios.

Don is single and his only source of income is the rents he collects on the dozen houses he owns. He collected $93,000 in rental income in 2014. He had no adjustments to income. His MAGI for NIIT purposes is $93,000. This is below Don's statutory MAGI threshold. He does not owe NIIT.

Janice is single and earned $190,000 in salary in 2014. She also had interest income, capital gains, and dividends totaling $36,000. She had no adjustments to income. Her MAGI for NIIT purposes is $226,000. The threshold for her filing status is $200,000, which she exceeds by $26,000. We need to compare that amount ($26,000) to her Net Investment Income, which is $36,000. Janice will have to pay NIIT on the lesser of those two amounts - $26,000.

Thomas and Traci are married and file jointly. Thomas earned $140,000 in salary in 2014. Traci earned $155,000 in salary. They also has $1,600 in CD interest. They took a $2,500 adjustment for student loan interest paid. Their MAGI for NIIT purposes is $294,100 [$140,000 + $155,000 + $1,600 - $2,500]. They exceed the NIIT threshold for their filing status by $44,100. Their Net Investment Income was $1,600. They will owe NIIT on the lesser amount of $1,600.

Jeff is single. When his father passed he left Jeff a trust that generated $310,000 of income to Jeff in 2014. Jeff had no other sources of income and no adjustments to income. His MAGI exceeds the threshold for his filing status by $110,000. He has $310,000 of Net Investment Income. He will pay NIIT on the lesser amount of $110,000.

The Net Investment Income Tax is another reason to get as much of your investment portfolio as possible into tax-qualified accounts where it does not count as income. If you would like some advice on how to do that, come see me.


22 August 2015

Taxpayers can deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest from their federal taxes each year by taking an above the line adjustment. Essentially, that means you can take the student loan interest deduction even if you use the standard deduction when you file. Lenders are required to report student loan interest to taxpayers on form 1098-E. If you have mulitple student loans you will receive multiple forms 1098-E. If your total interest payments for the year exceed $2,500 you are out of luck. $2,500 is the cap, and there is no carryover to subsequent tax years.

1098E virginia beach tax prep

While form 1098-E is quite handy, it may also be misleading. It may not include everything you can deduct as student loan interest. The law allows some expenses to be deducted as student loan interest by the taxpayer, but does not require the lender to report them on the 1098-E.

Deductible Student Loan Interest NOT Reported On Form 1098-E:

Loan Origination Fees were not required to be reported as interest on 1098-E for loans taken out prior to Sept 1, 2004.  Loan origination fees are typically withheld from the loan when it is secured by the borrower. For example, Tammy takes a $10,000 student loan with a 3% origination fee. The lender only delivers $9,700 to Tammy, and keeps the $300 (3%) loan origination fee. That fee is interest, and can be deducted from your taxes using (according to the IRS) any reasonable method that allocates the loan origination fee over the term of the loan. If the term on Tammy's loan is 10 years, she can deduct $30/year from her taxes as student loan interest due to the loan origination fees. If you are still paying on student loans originating in 2003 or earlier find out if there were origination fees you could be deducting.

Capitalized Interest is unpaid interest that is added to the principal of the loan by the lender. This typically happens when loans are consolidated or refinanced - any accrued, but unpaid interest is added to the principal of the new loan. In the bank's eyes that money is now principal, but in the eyes of the IRS it still qualifies as interest and can be deducted in the year it is paid. Figuring the part of your payments that are due to capitalized interest can be tricky. It's a complex math problem I'm not going to try to explain here. Come see me if you have questions about it.

Credit Card Interest can count as student loan interest. (Wait!, What!?!) You read that right, credit card interest can count as student loan interest. To qualify the credit card must be used for qualifying higher education expenses (QHEE), and QHEEs must be the only thing on the credit card. If you're using your credit card to fill gaps in your education funding, it's probably worth it to have a specific credit card set aside to use exclusively for education spending.

Interest on Home Equity Loans/Lines of Credit can also be written off as student loan interest under the same rules as credit card interest. The expenses must be QHEE, and the only expenses on the loan must be QHEE. If you take out the home equity loan for education, you're good. If you take out the loan for education and a boat, you can't deduct the interest.

QHEE for the student loan interest deduction include tuition, fees, room and board, books, equipment, supplies, transportation, and other necessary expenses to attend higher education classes.

There are some limitations on who can deduct student loan interest. If your filing status is single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er), then the deduction begins to phase out at MAGI of $65,000; completely gone at $80,000. If your filing status is married filing jointly the deduction begins to phase out at MAGI of $130,000; completely gone at $160,000. If your filing status is married filing separately you do not qualify for the student loan interest deduction.

If you qualify for the student loan interest deduction be sure you are deducting ALL of the allowable interest - not just what is on your form 1098-E. If you are still planning your college financing, it is worth it to consider all available tax benefits.

08 July 2015

For Virginia residents, Virginia 529 plans are a great way to save for college. Your contributions get you a break on your Virginia state income taxes. Earnings and growth within the account escape both state and federal income taxes, as do qualified distributions from the account when it is time to pay for college. That's a whole lot of good things stacked up in one account - what could go wrong?  In a word: plenty.

The federal government offers some very valuable tax credits to help make college more affordable. The American Opportunity Credit (AOC) pays you back dollar-for-dollar on the first $2,000 you spend on tuition and required fees, plus 25% on the next $2,000. Spend $2,000 on tuition, get $2,000 back in tax credits. Spend $4,000 on tuition, get $2,500 back in tax credits. AOC can only be used for undergrad education, and can only be used 4 times per student.

If you run out of AOC eligibility the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) kicks in. You can get 20% back on the first $10,000 you spend on tuition and required fees. Spend $10,000 on tuition, get $2,000 back in tax credits. The LLC can be used for any accredited post-secondary education, and as many times as you want. You just can't use AOC and LLC for the same expenses.

The AOC and LLC are very valuable - more valuable than having a 529 plan. Fortunately, you can have your federal tax credits and a 529 plan, too. You just have to be careful. If executed poorly the 529 plan could cancel your eligibility for the federal tax credits, potentially costing you thousands of dollars annually. Tax break fratricide - one tax break killing another.

The way the 529 can interfere with eligibility for the federal tax credits is a little complex, which is probably why the mistake is easy to make. Essentially, you cannot claim the tax benefits of the 529 and a federal tax credit for the same education expenses. It makes sense, but the sequence of events can trip you up on this. Tuition is due in the year before you file for the federal tax credits. You would naturally think to use your available 529 money when the tuition comes due. This would be a mistake. Since the federal tax credits can only be used for tuition, if you pay the tuition with 529 money you cannot claim either of the (more valuable) federal tax credits when you file your tax return the following year.

In my opinion this makes the prePAID 529 plan especially risky. The prePAID plan is designed specifically to pay for tuition at some point in the future. This virtually guarantees you can't get the federal tax credits because you are using 529 money to pay the tuition. (You can take the money out of a Virginia 529 prePAID plan in cash and use it for other 529 qualifying expenses such as room and board, but you only get the original contributions back plus money market interest - not a great investment.)

Higher income families won't qualify for the federal tax credits. In 2014 AOC was completely phased out at $180K modified AGI for joint filers, half that for everyone else. LLC was completely phased out at $128K modified AGI for joint filers, half that for everyone else. Additionally, if you're married filing separately you are not eligible for the AOC or LLC. If you're not going to be eligible for the federal tax credits, then use the heck out of the 529 plans, even the prePAID plan. They can't interfere with the federal credits if you don't qualify for them. Just don't forget that your child will be filing separately from you at some point. Don't wreck his/her eligibility for AOC or LLC with a 529 plan.

The Virginia 529 Plans are fantastic. No one should think I am telling you to avoid them. (I have several Virginia 529 accounts!) It's the only way to get a tax break for room and board - which can be a significant portion of the college expenses. The 529 Plans just need to be part of an overall integrated college financing strategy so that you don't end up with one tax break cancelling another. You can get both if you prepare properly.

If you have any questions, please contact me: Paul @ PIM.


31 July 2015

The IRS levies two requirements on taxpayers. The first is that we pay our taxes. The second is that we file an accurate income tax return by the specified due date. Failing to file your tax return on time and failing to pay your taxes when due can both result in penalties from the IRS. You might think failing to pay would result in the larger penalty than failing to file, but that generally isn't true. Failing to file your tax return can result in a penalty of 5% of the tax owed per month, up to 25% of the total tax owed. Failing to pay your taxes can result in a penalty of 0.5% of the tax owed per month, up to 25% of the total tax owed. The IRS will also charge interest on overdue taxes owed. Technically interest isn't a penalty, but don't try to tell that to someone who is paying it. It sure feels like a penalty.

Note, though, the penalties are assessed on taxes owed. Therefore if you don't actually owe any taxes, there is no penalty for failing to file your tax return on time. You're still supposed to - you might even be entitled to a refund - but the IRS can't penalize you for not filing unless you also owe tax.

Penalties are sometimes undeserved. It's not uncommon for a taxpayer to believe they are complying with the law, but an error on the tax return triggers penalties. For example, tax forms get mailed to an old address, or an employer does not send the required tax documents and the taxpayer does not realize s/he has a missing form at tax time. They think they have all the forms needed to complete their tax return, but they don't. Fortunately, taxpayers are not always stuck paying a penalty just because the IRS demands one.

Taxpayers can challenge the IRS's decision to impose a penalty for failing to file or failing to pay in a timely manner under a program known as First Time Abatement. The taxpayer must meet two criteria in order to qualify for First Time Abatement. They must not have any overdue tax returns or outstanding taxes owed. This is known as filing and payment compliance. The taxpayer must be up to date on all filings and tax payments. The second condition is the taxpayer must not have been assessed an IRS penalty in the three previous tax years. This is known as having a clean penalty history.

That's it - if you're currently compliant with your tax filings and payments and you have a clean penalty history for the last three years you can have failure to file and failure to pay penalties imposed by the IRS abated. There is no guarantee your penalties will be abated, but the onus is on the IRS to demonstrate a good reason to not abate your penalties if you qualify for this program. 

First Time Abatement can be requested via telephone, through the IRS website, or in writing. You can also authorize your tax preparer to apply on your behalf.

If you've never heard of this program there may be a good reason for it. The IRS does not advertise it. They suspect if taxpayers knew about penalty abatement that more taxpayers would attempt to cheat the system. Fear of penalties keeps many of us on the straight and narrow. They are probably right about that, but there's no reason taxpayers should pay penalties if they qualify for First Time Abatement. Just like deductions and credits, it is a form of tax relief that should be utilized whenever available.


Information in the Tax Blog is current as of the day it was posted. Tax laws change frequently, and it is likely that as time passes acts of Government will make some of the older blog content out of date.

The information provided is for education purposes only. It is general in nature and may not pertain to the Reader's situation. Every taxpayer's circumstances are unique. Reader's are urged to do some research or talk to a tax professional before acting on any of the information posted in this blog.

Paul D. Allen is a founding member of the Military Financial Advisors Association, as well as a member of the National Association of Enrolled Agents, the National Association of Tax Professionals, the Financial Planning Association of Hampton Roads, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), and the XY Planning Network. Paul is the Director of the CFP Board-Registered Program at The Regent University School of Law where he also teaches the Capstone Course in Financial Planning. You can read more about Paul's background here.


MFAA logo

NAEA proud member

Member Logo Color Small




xppn logo


 regent logo 2



Tax Blog RSS Feed

Common Acronyms

ACTC - Additional Child Tax Credit

AGI - Adjusted Gross Income

AMT - Alternative Minimum Tax

APTC - Advanced Premium Tax Credit

AOC - American Opportunity Credit

CTC- Child Tax Credit

EIC - Earned Income Credit

HoH - Head of Household

LLC - Lifetime Learning Credit

MFJ - Married Filing Jointly

MFS - Married Filing Separately

MAGI - Modified Adjusted Gross Income

PIM - Plan of Intended Movement

PTC - Premium Tax Credit

QC - Qualifying Child

QHEE - Qualifying Higher Education Expenses

QR - Qualifying Relative

QW - Qualifying Widow(er)


Go to top