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“TurboTax Made Me Do It” is not a valid excuse

On May 11, 2017, the Tax Court issued a Memorandum Decision (TC Memo 2017-79) that addressed, among other things, the Taxpayer arguing that the software “lured” him into claiming too many deductions on his tax return.

There were a number of issues on this return that caught the eye of the IRS: alimony paid deduction, interest deduction, and deduction for other expenses. When examined by the IRS, the Taxpayer did not have much in the way of paperwork to support his positon for the deductions reported.

In addition to disallowing the majority of the deductions taken, the Taxpayer was assessed an accuracy related penalty for substantial understatement of income tax. For this penalty, the burden shifts to the Taxpayer to show that his mistakes were reasonable and in good faith. “He admitted during trial that he deducted items he shouldn’t have, and that he overstated certain losses. He tried to blame TurboTax for his mistakes, but tax preparation software is only as good as the information one inputs into it,” the Court concluded.

Tax preparation software must be used correctly to be useful for purposes of showing reasonable cause and good faith as a defense to accuracy related penalties. The majority of court cases have rejected this defense.

It is the taxpayer’s responsibility to review the output as well as the input when using tax software. Remember the old adage: Garbage In Garbage Out.

When preparing your return, ensure you are reviewing the return before filing it. I just received a phone call this week from someone that was asking if his tax software was properly calculating the tax on rental property he had sold. A first for him. I commend him for wanting to understand what he was filing.

Remember: You can’t blame the software!

 

Right before this year’s tax deadline, the IRS put out a release reminding people that some of us may not have to ask for an extension. While this advice is coming a bit late from me for the current tax year, it is definitely something to keep in mind. As the IRS notes “Taxpayers in Presidentially-declared disaster areas, members of the military serving in a combat zone and Americans living and working abroad get extra time to both file their returns and pay any taxes due.”

If you are a taxpayer in a disaster area you will often have extended time to file and pay. These extensions of time also apply to other tax-related items like contributing to an IRA. The IRS states that generally any area given a disaster declaration by FEMA is provided this relief, which is extended to relief workers, businesses and anyone who has their tax records located in the disaster area.

If you are a member of the military or eligible support personnel serving in a combat zone you will have at least 180 days after you leave the combat zone to file your tax returns and pay your taxes. As with the disaster relief, this extension also pertains to other tax-related items like contributing to your IRA. The IRS suggest checking Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide, for further details.

For U.S. citizens and resident aliens who are living and working outside the United States and Puerto Rico, you have until June 15, 2017 (for the current tax year) to file your return and pay any taxes due. This also applies for military members on duty outside the U.S. who do not qualify for the combat zone extension. The IRS does note two items with this category of extended filing: 1) Attach a statement with your return explaining which situation applies for you; and 2) interest still applies to payments received after the standard filing deadline (generally April 15). See Publication 54 for more information.

For everyone else, just remember to ask for more time by filing Form 4868.

 





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