Even if you try to hide, third-party banking and credit info can get the eye of the IRS focused on you.
When you do not file and pay taxes when you are required to, at some point, the IRS is going to notice. But how does the IRS find out about unreported income and what does it mean for you?
In most cases, your information gets red flagged by a system called the Information Returns Processing system (IRP). This is a huge database that reviews the earnings you report (or don’t report). It compares your stated income to the information third parties provide. Your employer, banks, and other financial institutions all report to the IRS each year, just like taxpayers. When there is a discrepancy in that data, an alert goes out and the IRS investigates.
How the IRS Collects Information about Income
The IRP receives data from employers and other third parties, like financial institutions or credit card companies. Federal law requires companies to report their employees’ or payees’ income such as wages, pensions, or interest and dividends. When the IRS needs more information or does not have any information about your income, they get it from the IRP.
If a taxpayer underreports income, i.e. the income figure they reported on their tax return is less than their actual income, the IRP sends an alert to the IRS. Then an IRS agent compares the income on your tax return with the information in the IRP. The IRP allows agents to match income reported on third-party information returns against the income reported by you.
Fact: The IRS estimates the U.S. lost $500 billion in tax revenue in 2012 alone, due to unreported income.
If they find that you underreported your income, the IRS begins the collections process. First, they send you a letter to inform you they found a discrepancy and that you may have unpaid taxes. At this point, you can either dispute the discrepancy or make arrangements to pay the amount due.
Typically, the IRS only requests information from the IRP when they suspect underreporting or non-payment of taxes. They may also request information to correct their calculations, file a substitute tax return, etc.
How the IRS calculates a taxpayer’s liability
Along with information from past tax returns, the IRS uses data from the IRP to estimate the amount of taxes you owe. Their calculation is just an estimate and can be different from the actual taxes owed.
The IRS must calculate an estimate of your tax liability because they must include the amount due in the notice they send. They are required to give you certain information by law. When assessing the approximate amount you owe, the IRS either adjusts your return or files a return on your behalf, called a Substitute for Tax Return. It is only after they assess a tax debt that the IRS can begin collection actions.
What to do if you receive a notice from the IRS
When you receive an IRS notice about tax debt, the first thing you need to do is figure out what you owe. The calculations the IRS makes on an SFR are usually high because it does not include any credits or deductions. If you find that the amount they calculated on the SFR is inaccurate, contact them to get it corrected.
Make sure that you have the financial documents that you used to calculate your taxes because you need that evidence to back up your claims. If you delay contacting the IRS, the IRS will consider their estimation final and proceed with aggressive collection actions like a bank levy or wage garnishment.
It is always a good idea to consult with a tax professional before contacting the IRS. Keep in mind that the IRS is not looking out for your best interests; they are debt collectors looking to get as much as they can from you. A tax professional like a tax attorney or an Enrolled Agent will help you navigate the tax resolution process and find a reasonable solution.
Article last modified on January 10, 2019. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How Does the IRS Find about Unreported Income? - AMP.