Are You Guilty of This Common Tax Misconception?

Tax time brings with it numerous ups and downs.

For many, doing their taxes is time consuming, can bring about numerous hours of headaches and receipt hunting, and is a constant reminder, frankly, of how taxing taxes can be in the first place. Yet for many of those who will gripe about their taxes this year, a majority of them will wind up getting money back. As we've looked at previously, more than 80% of those who file their taxes are owed a refund when all is said and done.

While I've certainly pointed out how giving a free loan to the U.S. government is one of the most common tax mistakes, there's perhaps an even greater tax misconception that's lurking out there that I come across on a nearly daily basis through various online financial news sources and from simply talking with financial-savvy friends. This misconception is a myth in every sense of the word, but I see it pop up, without fail, around this time of year.

Source: MoneyBlogNews, Flickr.

The greatest tax misconception of them all
The greatest tax misconception of all is the notion that you can audit-proof your tax return.

It doesn't matter whether you're a blue-collar or white-collar worker, or if you own an island or rent a studio apartment -- you have at least some chance of being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. This doesn't mean there aren't income brackets that have a higher propensity to attract audits than others, but there is no such thing as audit-proofing your tax return. Period!

In 2012, according to data released by the IRS (link opens a lengthy PDF file) last year, the tax agency processed a whopping 237.3 million tax returns, including individual income tax returns that made up the bulk of filings, as well as individual estimated income taxes, S and C corporations, estate and trust income taxes, employment taxes, gift taxes, and many more. These returns generated $2.54 trillion in tax revenue, but based on IRS audits it should have generated $38.7 billion more in additional tax revenue -- and this was with an audit rate of just 1.03%!

There is truth in the idea that higher income levels do yield a higher rate of audits, and this thought process does make sense from an IRS standpoint in that it's more worthwhile to go after upper-income earners, since their errors could result in considerably more tax revenue collected.

However, another myth you can dispel is that lower-income tax filers aren't at risk of an audit. According to IRS data, 2.67% of individual tax filers claiming no adjusted-gross income in 2012 were audited, while 1.05% of people claiming earnings of less than $25,000 were audited -- both higher than the national average. In other words, this is more conclusive evidence that there is no such thing as an audit-proof tax return.

Relax! You can reduce your risk of an audit
But there is good news! While you can't audit-proof your return, you can certainly take a few key steps to reduce the likelihood of being audited.

Nothing is more crucial to reducing your chance of an audit than being honest on your tax return. Being honest is likely to result in tax figures that don't raise the eyebrows of auditors (such as an overwhelming amount of deductions relative to your claimed income, or understating your investment or business income), and it will also make your life easier were you to be audited.

Source: Alan Cleaver, Flickr.

One particular deduction that the IRS tends to keep its eyes on it's the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is a refund doled out to lower-income working citizens. In an average year, the IRS will divvy out $55 billion in EITC refunds, but somewhere in the neighborhood of $11 billion of those loans are considered to be fraudulent, at least according to research conducted by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in his annual Wastebook report. While this number is extraordinarily high, and Sen. Coburn would insinuate that the IRS is doing little to reduce EITC fraud, taxpayers would be wise to double-check whether they qualify for this refund.

Home office deductions are another big sticking point for those of you who are considered to be self-employed. Small-business owners have far more flexibility when it comes to fudging their deductions and failing to report business income than individual tax filers because their pay stubs aren't reported to the government on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Therefore, those who are self-employed should be smart about what sort of deductions they're claiming and should ensure they have the documentation to back up those deductions.

Finally, an easy way to reduce your chance of an audit is to e-file and use tax-prepping software. The error rate of filing your taxes on paper versus e-filing is approximately 40 times higher. In addition, tax preparation software has been designed by tax professionals to cover all your bases and will automatically check your returns for accuracy, as well as audit risk. Plus, there's virtually no chance of an incomplete or illegible form if you e-file as opposed to filling out your tax return by hand.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 3:24 PM, JePonce wrote:

    I have the conception that government wastes my tax dollar on vote buying and loss to fraud. And that is no misconception.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 3:30 PM, Disgustedman wrote:

    I simply file my taxes, take the "Allowed" deductions and never worry. Next year, I'll raise my deductions so I owe to the govt, that way, they can't collect the "Tax" (Read penalty) for not buying the BS Oblabbacare.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 5:42 PM, hanover67 wrote:

    I don't know how the IRS estimates the amount tax cheaters do not pay, but it seems to me to be a made-up number. We pay our taxes on the honor system, and if that did not work in the majority of cases, we would have mandatory withholding of a lot more from our income. On the other hand, if you think you're entitled to a deduction, take it. All the IRS can say is "No." The Tax Code is so complicated that you couldn't be in 100% compliance if you wanted to.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 9:57 PM, dave923 wrote:

    If you don't lie, you have nothing to worry about...period.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 10:11 PM, 1kenodave1 wrote:

    I think the majority of 'lost taxes' are from the wealthy hiding their assets.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 11:20 AM, PhoenixJack wrote:

    A flat tax will end all of this. The tax system that we have now only hurts the workers.

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 12:17 PM, Missm wrote:

    People are in for a very big surprise with their 2014 taxes!! The gov't asks too many questions and they have raised the amount of credit that you can take due to your filing status. However, the percent of your filing status that you actually get to deduct is actually a lot lower than 2013 tax year! It is just smoke and mirrors!! Be warned people !!!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 03, 2014, at 9:03 PM, dtl081349 wrote:

    Glad we don't have to pay taxes anymore since we are retired in early 60's in Florida and have a mortgage and pensions and break even every year.Was even able to withdraw IRA without tax by using IRS own rules.

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