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Top 5 Tax Mistakes You Should Avoid
As tax season approaches, you’ll want to make sure your finances are in order to properly report your income and expenses to the IRS. Unfortunately, a lot of households make the same mistakes–and they’re entirely avoidable!
Simple mistakes can lead to a tax audit. That means the IRS will double check that your individual account and tax information is correct. To avoid the headache of a tax audit, be sure to report your income and expenses properly the first time.
This starts by avoiding these common tax mistakes:
Choosing the wrong filing status
The IRS uses five different filing statuses to determine things like your correct tax rate, eligibility on certain credits, and your standard deduction. These filing statuses include:
- Married Filing Jointly
- Married Filing Separately
- Head of Household
- Qualifying Widow(er)
It’s not always easy to determine which filing status you should choose. For example, if you recently separated from your spouse but are still legally married, should you choose Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately? It’s also common for people to claim Head of Household when they do not meet the requirements.
The IRS can help with that. Take a quick five-minute survey, What is My Filing Status?, on the IRS website to ensure you’re filing correctly. Be sure to have the following items on hand:
- Marital status
- Spouse’s year of death (if applicable)
- Percentage of costs your household members paid toward keeping up a home
Failing to file taxes for household workers
One of the biggest mistakes individuals make is failing to file taxes for household workers. It’s not because people are trying to cheat the system, just that they are misinformed.
If you pay household workers, such as nannies, home health aides, housekeepers, house managers, etc., over a certain amount each year, you are considered a domestic employer. The threshold changes each year as the national average wage index changes.
According to the IRS, the threshold for 2015 is set at $1,900, but will increase to $2,000 in 2016. That means that if you paid your household workers more than $1,900 in 2015, you will have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. These rates are currently at 6.2 percent for Social Security and 1.45 percent for Medicare.
Homeowners often misclassify domestic workers as independent contractors. Making this mistake may lead to fines and imprisonment. Independent contractors set their own hours, supply their own tools/machinery, and offer services to the general public. If this does not sound like your workers, do not send them a 1099! This point is incredibly important: don’t let someone tell you that you can just pay your domestic workers with cash–this is illegal! The IRS has clear guidelines for what a domestic worker is and if you fail to pay their taxes properly, you could face fines and penalties.
Talk to your accountant or a domestic taxes expert if you suspect workers, like your nanny, fall into this “household worker” category. Be sure to provide your financial records and payment information to ensure your taxes are filed accurately.
Failing to report additional income
Too often individuals report only what they see on their W-2s and 1099s. However, you may have income from other sources that aren’t on these forms. By law, you still have to report it.
This can include income like tips, self-employment income, income from rental properties, etc.
Not only is this mistake avoidable if you’re proactive and keep track of your income, but omitting any additional income from your tax forms can result in fees and other penalties from the IRS.
Claiming ineligible dependents
Claiming dependents on your taxes gives you certain exemptions that will lower how much you have to pay. It is common for individuals to misinterpret what is meant by “dependent.” For example, you can claim children and relatives as dependents, but you can’t claim your spouse.
A dependent is someone you support financially, usually a child or relative that lives with you.
Unfortunately, the rules for claiming someone is often misunderstood. For instance, if someone can claim you or your spouse (if filing jointly) as dependents on their tax return, you cannot claim someone else as a dependent. This is true whether or not the person actually claims you.
For example, if you live with your parents and also have your own child, your parents may be able to claim you as a dependent. In that case, you can’t claim your child on your tax return.
You can claim dependents if:
- They are a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, resident alien, or resident of Canada or Mexico. The only exception is for adopted children.
- The dependent is not married or filing jointly.
- The dependent is a Qualifying Child or Qualifying Relative according to the IRS.
If you’re unsure, visit the IRS website and take a short survey, Who Can I Claim as a Dependent?
Be sure to have the following items on-hand:
- Marital status, relationship to dependent, and amount of support you provided them.
- Income information, including your adjusted gross income.
- Terms of a multiple support agreement you may have for the dependent.
Making mistakes on paper tax forms
While taxes were once filed exclusively through paper forms, the Internet has made filing taxes easier than ever. The benefit to filing electronically is that the system can check for miscalculations or mistakes, like forgetting to sign your name. Unfortunately, the IRS won’t even accept returns that aren’t signed, and making a single math mistake can cost you, either in a reduced refund or in various fees.
It’s tough to catch mistakes like this with the human eye, but they can be easily mitigated when you eFile through the IRS.
Tax season can be stressful for both individuals and accountants. However, you can relieve some of that stress by paying attention to these common mistakes. That way, you know you’re not headed down a path toward incurring fees, penalties, and even jail time. If at any point you’re unsure of what’s expected of you or whether you qualify for certain categories or not, talk to a professional to get expert advice on your personal situation.
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