It begins. The official start of filing season is today. That means the IRS will begin processing electronic return filings today. That doesn’t mean all that much.
Well, it means something to the people most eager to file 2015 1040s: the identity thieves. They don’t have to wait on real W-2s and other information returns, most of which don’t have to be provided to recipients before February 1. The thieves like to file right away, before the real taxpayers e-file and block them.
It means something to earned income tax credit fraudsters. Claiming a little qualifying income on a phony schedule C is standard operating practice for EITC scams, and you can file in a hurry when you just are making it up.
For most other taxpayers, the opening of filing season is a non-event. They are still waiting on the W-2s, their 1098s for their home mortgage interest, and their 1099s for interest and dividends. Especially dividends, as the big brokerage houses routinely get extensions for issuing their 1099s, and then issue amended ones anyway. And K-1s for partnerships and S corporations often aren’t even ready by the filing deadline.
The information return wait will be longer for many of us this year. This is the first year many businesses are required to issue 1095-Bs and 1095-Cs to report health care coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act. These forms are supposed to enable employees to determine their coverage credits and penalties. When it became clear that many employers would be unable to meet the deadline for completing these complex forms, the IRS rolled back their deadlines. The IRS says employees can file their 1040s using “other information” to compute their ACA taxes and credits, but we don’t know yet if people will try.
Don’t be hasty. It is unwise to try to file returns before you have all of your information returns. Especially don’t try to file using your last pay stub instead of your W-2. You’ll probably get it wrong. Worse, if your employer is participating in a new IRS program where W-2s get a unique anti-theft ID number, you’ll delay your refund.
It’s better to extend than amend. Whatever benefit you get from filing your return a little sooner, it is lost if you have to file an amended return for a corrected 1099, or for one you didn’t expect that showed up late.
You can file a FAFSA using estimated amounts. One of the biggest causes for taxpayer impatience is the need for tax return information to complete their “Free Application for Federal Student Aid,” which asks for numbers off the 1040. But the FAFSA allows you to use estimates if you haven’t filed your 1040. If you are awaiting a K-1, you’re better off filing your FAFSA based on an estimate than hounding the tax preparer to file a 1040 with incomplete information.
The system should change. Allowing e-filing before any of the information return deadlines almost seems to be a special IRS fraud-filing feature. Given the identity theft epidemic, it’s irresponsible for IRS to be sending billions to grifters before they can cross check returns against third-party information. The third-party filings should have unique identifiers for taxpayers to use to show that they aren’t ID thieves.
The culture should change. Everybody gets excited about a big refund. That just means you gave the government a big interest free loan. Withholding tables should be modified to not generate big refunds, to reduce the pressure for rapid refunds. Penalty thresholds for underpayment should be lowered so that taxpayers accidentally underwithheld aren’t clobbered. People shouldn’t think it’s good to let the Leviathan have their extra cash.
Accounting Today, IRS Launches Free File for New Season.
Russ Fox, Same as Last Year Doesn’t Work. “Robert Flach has a post today where he notes the information that’s needed to prepare a tax return. I don’t have much to add to his excellent list (though I do need to see your W-2Gs, too).”
A Georgia man linked to a University of Northern Iowa data breach in 2014 has been charged with tax fraud in federal court.
Bernard Ogie Oretekor, 45, also known as Emmanuel Libs, was charged last week with theft of government property and aggravated identity theft.
How did a Georgia man from Nigeria get past the IRS? It apparently isn’t too hard:
The California indictment shows Oretekor and his co-defendant sent victim’s “phishing” emails to capture their usernames and account passwords. When victims clicked on the link in the phishing emails it sent them to a fraudulent website and when they logged in their usernames and passwords were captured, which allowed the defendants to access the victims’ accounts.
Be smart. I’ve never seen a real email that requires you to “update your information” for your bank, credit card, etc. Don’t click on links from emails you aren’t expecting, and don’t provide information to them. If you really need to check your information, close the email and go to the actual bank or vendor website directly.
Robert D. Flach has a wintry Tuesday Buzz! Bartering, bad taxpayer service, and much more.
Congratulations to a longtime Iowa Business Blogger. 2016 Brings 10th Anniversary of Rush on Business
TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 985
Cara Griffith, Why the Minnesota Tax Court Is Making Me Paranoid:
Here’s my concern: In doing regular research, staff at Tax Analysts realized that the Minnesota Tax Court hadn’t published any new opinions to its website in several months. That is odd, so an inquiry was sent to the court to ask if the location of published opinions had changed or if the court had stopped publishing opinions.
The court responded that its website was under construction and that recent tax court decisions could be found on Westlaw. Eventually it added that a paralegal would attend to the request – next week.
That’s sad and lame. And, as Ms. Griffith points out, Westlaw is expensive. Here in Iowa, the Department of Revenue hasn’t put new rulings online since November 5, and now their new ruling website appears to have blown up. Here’s how it looks this morning:
Renu Zaretsky, All’s fair in debates and taxes…. Today’s TaxVox headline roundup covers how taxpayers will feel the Bern, the attempt to subvert Colorado’s taxpayer protections, and much more.
News from the Profession. In 2016, The War Rages On for All the Management Accountants (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern).