Millions of Americans filed their 2020 taxes and a handful of some will be picked out to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service.
In 2019, 0.45% of the individual tax returns were audited, according to agency data. The rate of audits per year has significantly dropped in the last decade due to staff and budget cuts. But certain red flags may make you more likely to fall into that unfortunate group, experts said.
If the IRS sends you an adjustment letter when you made a miscalculation or underreported small amounts of your income, this is not an audit. A correspondence audit — the lowest form of an audit and not a full examination — is performed via mail and may require you to provide additional information. But a correspondence audit can turn into an in-person audit if the issues become more complex.
Here are five ways to avoid tax scenarios that catch the IRS’s attention in the first place.
- Underreporting income – Underreporting income would be the first red flag. Unintentionally leaving out a small portion of your income may not get you audited. But if there’s a bigger discrepancy between the income you actually earned and what you reported on your return — and if it’s intentional — chances are higher that you may get audited.
- Overstating your tax deductions – Whether you’re claiming business tax deductions like meal and entertainment expenses or personal ones like charitable donations, you may hear from the IRS if the claimed amount seems off based on your income. The IRS system that roots out suspicious tax returns may flag a return that has deductions that are too high for the reported income level. Additionally, mixing business and personal expenses can be a red flag for the IRS. Some small business tax deductions that could pose a problem if disproportionate to your income are expenses for vehicles, home office, meals, and entertainment, among others.
- High-income earner – if you are in a higher income bracket, your chances of being audited increase. While the overall audit rate for 2018 was 0.6%, the chances of being audited was much higher for high-income earners. Taxpayers reporting income from $500,000 to $1,000,000 were almost twice as likely to be audited at 1.1%. That rate went up to 2.2% for taxpayers making from $1,000,000 to $5,000,000. Those earning $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 saw an audit rate of 4.2%, while those making above that threshold saw the highest rate of 6.7%.
- Claiming a dependent – Only one parent is allowed to claim a child on their taxes, even if the parents are filing their taxes separately. The IRS may send an audit letter to determine which taxpayer is entitled to claim the child as a dependent. A child can be claimed as a dependent if the child is under the age of 19 or is a full-time student under the age of 24 and lives with you for more than six months of the calendar year.
- Foreign accounts and income – Failing to report a foreign financial asset like a bank account, brokerage, or mutual fund may also bring the IRS knocking. If you hold foreign assets worth over $50,000 for a single filer and $100,000 for joint filers, you must fill out Form 8938, identifying the institution where the assets are held and the highest value of those assets in the last year. Additionally, if you take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion break, the IRS may carefully review your return for any discrepancies. U.S. citizens who are bona fide residents of a foreign country can exclude up to $107,600 of their 2020 income if they were in that country for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months.
The Small Business Administration launched with great fanfare a long awaited portal for that would allow arts venues closed down by pandemic to apply for grant money to cover rent, utilities, insurance and other accumulated expenses. Unfortunately, the site was shut down due to technical difficulties on its first day of launching.
In a statement, the SBA explained that the agency “temporarily suspended the portal and will re-open it as soon as possible to ensure all applicants have fair and equal access.” The SBA said it would share advance notice of the time and date before the reopening so that all applicants can be prepared and have equitable access to the program, which will award grants on a first-come, first-serve basis within different areas of priority.
After opening the application window Thursday, the agency made it clear in a news release issued late Wednesday night that the grants won’t start going out until later this month.“The SBA is accepting SVOG applications on a first-in, first-out basis and allocating applicants to respective priority periods as it receives applications,” the release said. “The first 14 days of SVOG awards, which are expected to begin in late April, will be dedicated to entities that suffered a 90% or greater revenue loss between April and December 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The second 14 days (days 15–28) will include entities that suffered a 70% or greater revenue loss between April and December 2020. Following those periods, SVOG awards will include entities that suffered a 25% or greater revenue loss between one quarter of 2019 and the corresponding quarter of 2020.”
The technology issues weren’t the only concern. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the SBA expressed “serious concerns” with the control environment and tracking of performance results with the SVOG program, which is designed to provide eligible applicants with grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, up to a maximum of $10 million. The report criticizes the audit plan established by the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA).
The ODA’s plan allows for a total of no more than 10 audits across all of the low-risk loans but this limitation is problematic because program officials estimate that the majority of SVOG grants will be characterized as low-risk, meaning that most grants will “be disbursed in sweeping lump sum payments with minimal requirements and expectations for post-award accountability,” the report said.
Noting that the ODA estimates the SBA will receive 15,000 applications and that the average SVOG size will be $1 million, the inspector general said that the low level of auditing and spending reviews for low-risk grants means that “the bulk of grant funds will not be subject to a reasonable degree of scrutiny.”
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program (SVOG) is a $16 billion grant program that was set up to help qualifying live music venues, independent theaters, museums and other live-event spaces hit hard by pandemic-prompted shutdowns. It was passed with a bipartisan effort as a part of the coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Trump in December. But it’s taken a long time to arrive: the agency has said that it’s a first-of-a-kind program for them, and they had to build it from the ground up.
- Send email to CovidEIDLIncreaseRequests@sba.gov
- Use subject line “EIDL Increase Request for [insert your 10-digit application number]”
- Be sure to include in the body of your email identifying information for your current loan including application number, loan number, business name, business address, business owner name(s), and phone number.
- Important: Do not include any financial documents or tax records with your initial request. You will receive a follow up email notification if we need additional documents.
The smallest businesses that have had the most trouble accessing forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program will soon get extra help.
The new Biden administration on Monday announced changes for the pandemic aid program focused on helping small and minority owned firms as well as sole proprietors.
Starting Wednesday, the Small Business Administration will only accept applications for PPP loans from firms with fewer than 20 employees.
The administration is also making several changes to the program, including increasing loan amounts for sole proprietors and individual contractors, eliminating restrictions around delinquent student loan debt and non-fraud felony convictions as well as allowing some non-citizen business owners to apply.
Goal is to expand access
The changes will help even the playing field for firms that make up most of the small business community – 98% of small businesses employ fewer than 20 people but have received only 45% of PPP funding thus far, according to the SBA. They also aim to address racial disparities that have been seen in loans as earlier iterations of the program left out many minority-owned businesses.
Supporting these firms is extremely important to the U.S. economic recovery, as small businesses employ nearly half of all working Americans, according to the SBA.
Here’s what small business owners need to know before the application window opens on Wednesday.
1. Businesses can apply for either a first or second draw of funds
If you are self-employed or own a business with fewer than 20 employees, lenders will prioritize your PPP loan applications starting Wednesday.
Eligible businesses can apply for either a first or second draw PPP loan, depending on their individual circumstances. To qualify for the second round of forgivable loans from the SBA, businesses must have spent or plan to spend all of their first loan and show they had a 25% or more drop in revenue in any quarter of 2020.
2. The self-employed can now get more forgivable funding
One of the biggest changes to PPP is how lenders will calculate loans for millions of self-employed workers, including sole proprietors and independent contractors.
For businesses with employees, PPP loans are generally 2.5 times payroll costs. But for one-person firms that don’t have a payroll, lenders used the net profit number from the IRS 1040 Schedule C, which includes deductions. Because of this, some workers saw very low loan amounts in previous rounds of the program.
To fix the issue, the SBA is revising the formula to match what it uses for farmers. This basically means that they will instead calculate loan amounts from gross income instead of net profit, said Chris Hurn, chief executive of Fountainhead Commercial Capital.
3. Apply as soon as possible
Experts aren’t sure if two weeks will be enough for all the smallest businesses that need help to apply for PPP loans, and since there is a limited amount of funding available, businesses should apply as soon as possible.
If you’d like to apply, this means that you should gather your tax documents including Schedule C – either from 2019 or 2020 – and have them ready to submit on Wednesday. It may also be a good idea to get in touch with a lender in your community or one that you have an existing relationship with to submit your paperwork.
In addition, if you’re able to apply for a first round PPP loan right away, there’s possibly time to allocate the money and apply for a second draw, according to Hurn.
What may be next
To be sure, these changes are late in the game for the program, which was first established by the CARES Act in response to the coronavirus pandemic and is currently set to expire at the end of March. That gives only a few weeks with the changes in place before the program ends.
And, it’s not year clear if some of the changes made will be retroactive. This would be especially important for the sole proprietors that got small first draw loans.