Made a mistake on your taxes? That’s only to be expected, right? After all, federal taxes are complex and hard to understand. It’s easy to make mistakes.
If you didn’t intend to cheat the IRS, you might thing you’re free and clear. You just correct any mistakes they found and go on your way — right?
Not necessarily. When the IRS discovers an error on your taxes, it’s up to you to prove that you took reasonable steps to fill out your tax forms correctly. If the IRS isn’t convinced, you could end up paying a penalty.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to make sure any mistakes you make are reasonable, and that’s to rely on a professional tax advisor to do your taxes. That’s usually enough evidence of reasonableness.
Unfortunately, ignorance of tax law is no excuse. The IRS attributes knowledge to taxpayers, claiming that they can find out the tax regulations with little to no effort. If you could have complied and chose not to, the IRS can decide that you willfully violated your legal duty. If you are found willful, you could face higher penalties (up to 75%) or even criminal prosecution.
In other words, it’s not good enough to say you didn’t intend to cheat. The IRS can determine that you did if it decides you failed to learn filing requirements that were easily available to you. Coupled with any effort to conceal the facts, this can be enough to show willfulness.
Here are some conduct the IRS might decide shows an intentional effort to conceal:
- Keeping two sets of books
- Lots of cash deposits and withdrawals
- Setting up a trust or corporation that hides your ownership
- Choosing to file some tax forms but not others
- Asking your bank not to send statements
- Using code words
Repeated failures to follow the law are harder to explain. Moreover, they can create a context for your failures that points to willfulness or even reckless and deliberate disregard for your duty. Willful ignorance — intentionally refusing to find out the law — can be enough.
What’s the explanation for your tax mistake? As you can see, willfulness can be a matter of opinion. If you don’t think you could offer your explanation with a straight face, you could have a problem.
At that point, it’s crucial to get a tax attorney involved. Your tax lawyer can help you make the case that any mistakes you have made were innocent and don’t deserve a high penalty.