Correspondence from the IRS has a tendency to escalate a taxpayer's pulse rate. However, most of the communication received is not the feared “come on down” letter that requests an appearance for a face-to-face audit, but instead may only require a written explanation.
Generally, all types of income (wages, interest, dividends, etc.) are reported by the payer to the IRS, who in turn, matches the reported income to the recipient's tax return based on Social Security number (SSN). Over the past few years, the IRS has become very proficient in using their computer matching programs to pick up unreported income and other discrepancies on tax returns. Discrepancies will generate an IRS inquiry, so take note of the following items which are frequently monitored by the computer matching programs:
- Dependent SSN – The IRS allows only one taxpayer to claim the exemption for a dependent. Frequently, a dependent will claim the exemption themselves, or in other cases, separated or divorced individuals will both attempt to claim the dependent. Expect correspondence when the exemption for any SSN has been claimed twice.
- Gross Proceeds of Sale – All brokerage firms are required to report security sales to the IRS as “gross proceeds of sale” on Form 1099-B. The 1099-B copy provided to the account owner is generally combined with interest and dividend reporting requirements and included in a consolidated 1099 statement. These statements can be confusing, and the “gross proceeds of sale” is frequently buried in the multi-page statements. If a taxpayer fails to report these security sales, the IRS will treat the gross proceeds as all profit, recompute the tax owed and send a bill.
- Pension and IRA Rollovers – Unless it is direct (trustee-to-trustee) rollover, the plan administrator is required to issue a Form 1099-R whenever a taxpayer withdraws funds from an IRA or other type of qualified plan. If the 1099-R income is not properly accounted for on the tax return, the IRS may treat it as unreported pension income and issue a revised tax bill. Even if it is directly rolled over, ALWAYS bring rollovers to our attention.
- Alimony – The person paying alimony must include the recipient's name, address and SSN with the deduction claimed for alimony payments. The IRS will match the payments to income reported by the recipient. If the two amounts are not the same, the IRS will initiate correspondence to both parties.
- Home Sales – Technically, escrow companies are not required to issue 1099-S forms to taxpayers who sell their primary residence for less than the home sale gain exclusion amount and certify that they meet the exclusion qualifications ($250,000 for a single taxpayer and $500,000 for married taxpayers). Despite this, many escrow companies choose to issue them, making it necessary to report the home sale and avoid IRS correspondence.
- Home Mortgage Interest – Since all lenders who are in the business of lending money are required to report home mortgage interest, the IRS can verify the amount claimed as deductible mortgage interest on the Schedule A of a tax return, and any significant discrepancy can lead to IRS correspondence. If a private party holds the loan (not the course of business), Form 1098 is not required to be filed, but the taxpayer claiming the mortgage interest as a deduction is required to include that party's name, contact information and SSN on Schedule A. The IRS can then match the claimed interest deduction to the amount reported by the private party as interest income.
- Education Benefits – Schools are now required to report the tuition payments qualifying for the Hope or Lifetime Learning tax credit or the tuition and fees deduction that were made during the year on Form 1098-T. Educational lenders report the amount of student loan interest paid on Form 1098-E. Both are used to match against claimed deductions and credits on the tax return.
Should you receive a notice, it is generally best to contact this office. Don't just pay the revised tax the IRS proposes. Frequently, the IRS notice is in error and attempting to respond to the notice without professional advice may create additional problems.