IRS Statute of Limitations: Taxpayer Audit

The tax statute of limitations limits the time during which an action can be brought by the IRS for an audit. The general rule is that IRS has three years from the filing date to audit a tax return. 26 U.S.C. §6501(a) and Treas. Reg. §301.6501(a)-1(a). Similarly, under Treas. Reg. 301.6501(a)-1(b) no proceeding in court by the IRS without assessment for the collection of any tax can begin after the expiration of three years.

However, if the taxpayer fails to report on his tax return an amount in excess of 25% of the gross income (as stated on the filed tax return), then the statute of limitations is increased to six years. 26 U.S.C. §6501(e).

If the tax return was prepared by the IRS under the authority of section 26 U.S.C. §6020(b) the statute of limitations simply does not apply. See 26 U.S.C. §6501(b)(3). Likewise, the statute of limitations does not apply in the case of a false tax return or fraudulent tax return filed with the IRS with intent to evade any tax. See 26 U.S.C. §6501(c)(1).

This essay states only the general rules. The statute spells out numerous exceptions to these general rules. Therefore, even though most of the situations are resolved by the general rule, it is best to consult your tax attorney to see if your situation fits into one of the exceptions.

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Business Tax Returns: The Advantages of a Tax Attorney Review

A lot of businesses simply look at the tax returns as “adding numbers.” Yet, tax returns are so much more than that. A tax return is a result of a long series of decisions made by the business, such as elections, classifications, investment strategies, structuring of business transactions, and numerous other actions and inactions. Dealing with this interior constitution of a business tax return from a legal perspective (rather than from a more rudimentary accounting view) is the superior advantage of a business tax attorney.

The advantages of the legal approach to tax returns can be grouped in three classifications. First, an attorney will review a business tax return from a structural perspective, taking into account the temporal element of a business transactions (i.e. comparing the effect of a business strategy throughout different time periods – prior years and future projections) and non-tax business and legal goals. This structural overview is especially effective in advantageous positioning of a tax strategy into the overall legal structure of a business.

This first approach necessarily leads to the second advantage – a business tax attorney will explore an alternative treatment of a given business and/or tax issue and will strive to find a legal solution to a taxation matter. Armed with a deeper understanding of other legal and non-legal goals of a business client, a tax attorney may engage in re-classification of certain business transactions to take better advantage of the contemporary provision of the Internal Revenue Code. In certain situations, an attorney review may even result in filing amended tax returns for prior tax years in an attempt to recapture tax benefits (i.e. receive tax refunds), which were unavailable or overlooked in the past.

Finally, an overview of a business tax return by a business tax lawyer is likely to lead to comprehensive tax planning for the future. In some situations, an overview of a business tax return by a business tax lawyer will result in a recommendation of a complete re-structuring of business transactions in a more tax-advantageous matter while seeking to achieve the same business goals. In others, a business tax lawyer may implement tax deferment and tax reduction strategies centered around purely legal and tax concepts.

Whether your business is small or large, growing or maturing, local or international, retaining the services of a business tax lawyer to overview your business tax return should become your annual practice. The benefits of such overview are usually substantial. In addition to the direct advantages of a better current tax strategy and future tax planning, an overview of a business tax return by an attorney may lead to completely unexpected and important discoveries about the legal and tax situation of your business – the legal issues that were overlooked in the past, but could have grown into severe problems in the future had it not been for their timely discovery.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you review your business tax returns and create responsible and tax effective strategies for the current and future tax years. Call NOW to discuss your business tax return(s) with an international business tax lawyer!

IRS Statute of Limitations: Claiming a Tax Refund

Generally, a taxpayer may file a claim for a tax refund of an overpayment of any tax within three years from the time the tax return was filed with the IRS or two years from the time the tax was paid to the IRS, whichever period is later. If no tax return was filed with the IRS, the claim may also be made within two years from the date that the tax was paid to the IRS. See 26 U.S.C. §6511(a).

The statute spells out numerous exceptions to this general rule. For example, pursuant to 26 U.S.C. §6511(d)(1), a taxpayer may file a claim within 7 years if the tax refund pertains to a bad debt under section 166 or 832(c) or in connection with a loss from a worthless security under section 165(g).

Therefore, even though the majority of situations are resolved by the general rule, it is prudent to consult your tax attorney to see if your situation fits into one of the exceptions.

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Effect of Legal Separation and Divorce on Your Ability to Claim “Single” Tax Status

According to the IRS, in order to be able to claim “single” tax status, you must be “unmarried or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree” on the last day of your tax year, and you do “not qualify for another filing status.” (See IRS Publication 501).

Determining your marital status can be a complex legal matter with numerous exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions. Only a tax professional who reviews the facts of your case may be in position to advise you on your marital status. Here, I will only attempt to sketch the broadest concepts to give you some awareness of the issues.

IRS may consider your marital status as “unmarried” if, on the last day of the relevant tax year, “you were unmarried or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree.” Id. Usually, the state law will determine whether you were legally separated from your spouse on the last day of the relevant tax year. If you were divorced under a final decree by the last day of the year, the IRS will consider you unmarried for the entire year. However, if the divorce was motivated by the desire to file your tax return as unmarried persons, and you and your spouse remarry the next year, the IRS will disregard the divorce for tax purposes and demand that you and your spouse file your tax return(s) as married persons.

If your marriage is annulled (by a court decree which holds that no valid marriage ever existed), the IRS will consider you as “unmarried,” and you must amend your tax returns for all years (within the Statute of Limitations – usually the past three tax years) affected by the annulment.

Keep in mind that, if you are able to claim “single” status, you may also be eligible for a more advantageous tax filing status, such as “head of household” or “qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child.”

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Difference between Self-Employment Tax and FICA tax

The best way to understand the difference between the Self-Employment tax (“SE tax”) and the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax is by contrasting self-employment versus regular salary employment. In essence, the SE tax is a Social Security and Medicare tax imposed on individuals who for themselves, while FICA tax is paid in equal portions by employees and employers.

Usually, if you receive a salary by working for someone else, you do not pay the SE tax, but only your half of the FICA tax, which consists of the Social Security and Medicare taxes imposed on employers and employees by the U.S. government to fund Social Security and Medicare programs. Employee’s share of FICA tax consists of 6.2% Social Security tax (in 2010, imposed on up to $106,800 of an employee’s salary) and 1.45% of Medicare tax (no wage limit). The employee’s share of the FICA tax is calculated based on employee’s gross earnings. The other half of FICA tax is also calculated based on the employee’s gross earnings, but it is paid by the employer. Thus, the total FICA tax imposed by the federal government is 15.3% and it is paid in equal shares by employees and employers.

SE tax is a rough equivalent of FICA tax. When you are self-employed, however, you are your own employer. Therefore, the U.S. government imposes a similar 15.3% SE tax on the self-employed individuals, but you are the only one fully responsible for the tax (since there is no employer who would pay one-half of the tax).

In an effort to apparent eliminate tax discrimination between employees (who pay full SE tax) and self-employed individuals (who pay one-half of FICA tax), the federal government created significant differences between the SE tax and the FICA tax. Two of them stand out and deserve special mention in this essay. First, unlike the FICA tax, the SE tax is imposed only on net earnings. Therefore, if you are self-employed, you are able to deduct your business expenses from your self-employment gross income and calculate your SE tax on your net self-employment income. Second, in calculating his adjusted gross income, a self-employed individual is able to deduct a half of his SE tax from his total gross income, further reducing his income tax burden.

Nevertheless, despite these and other differences between these taxes, significant disparity persists. This disparity, however, does not always favor the employees; on the contrary, in many cases, self-employed individuals (especially start-up businesses) are able to make full use of the business expense deductions available to them and significantly reduce their tax burden. Generally, however, once the business matures, the SE tax is felt more heavily by self-employed individuals than employees. In these cases, it is prudent to consult your tax attorney to see what tax planning strategies are available under the Internal Revenue Code to reduce your tax burden.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you correctly assess your current tax situation and help you develop responsible tax planning strategies for you and your business. Call NOW to discuss your tax situation!