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Chances of Getting Audited by IRS Lowest in Years
By Stephen Ohlemacher, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As millions of Americans race to meet Tuesday's tax deadline, their chances of getting audited are lower than they have been in years.
Budget cuts and new responsibilities are straining the Internal Revenue Service's ability to police tax returns. This year, the IRS will have fewer agents auditing returns than at any time since at least the 1980s.
Taxpayer services are suffering, too, with millions of phone calls to the IRS going unanswered.
"We keep going after the people who look like the worst of the bad guys," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in an interview. "But there are going to be some people that we should catch, either in terms of collecting the revenue from them or prosecuting them, that we're not going to catch."
Better technology is helping to offset some budget cuts.
If you report making $40,000 in wages and your employer tells the IRS you made $50,000, the agency's computers probably will catch that. The same is true for investment income and many common deductions that are reported to the IRS by financial institutions.
But if you operate a business that deals in cash, with income or expenses that are not independently reported to the IRS, your chances of getting caught are lower than they have been in years.
Last year, the IRS audited less than 1 percent of all returns from individuals, the lowest rate since 2005. This year, Koskinen said, "The numbers will go down."
Koskinen was confirmed as IRS commissioner in December. He took over an agency under siege on several fronts.
Last year, the IRS acknowledged agents improperly singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012. The revelation has led to five ongoing investigations, including three by congressional committees, and outraged lawmakers who control the agency's budget.
The IRS also is implementing large parts of President Barack Obama's health law, including enforcing the mandate that most people get health insurance. Republicans in Congress abhor the law, putting another bull's-eye on the agency's back.
The animosity is reflected in the IRS budget, which has declined from $12.1 billion in 2010 to $11.3 billion in the current budget year.
Obama has proposed a 10 percent increase for next year; Republicans are balking.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the IRS budget, called the request "both meaningless and pointless" because it exceeds spending caps already set by Congress.
Koskinen said he suspects some people think that if they cut funds to the IRS, the agency won't be able to implement the health law. They're wrong, he said.
The IRS is legally obligated to enforce the health law, Koskinen said. That means budget savings will have to be found elsewhere.
Koskinen said he can cut spending in three areas: enforcement, taxpayer services and technology. Technology upgrades can only be put off for so long, he said, so enforcement and taxpayer services are suffering.
Last year, only 61 percent of taxpayers calling the IRS for help got it. This year, Koskinen said he expects the numbers to be similar. To help free up operators, callers with complicated tax questions are directed to the agency's website.
"The problem with complicated questions is they take longer," Koskinen said.
Your chances of getting audited vary greatly, based on your income. The more you make, the more likely you are to get a letter from the IRS.
Only 0.9 percent of people making less than $200,000 were audited last year. That's the lowest rate since the IRS began publishing the statistic in 2006.
By contrast, 10.9 percent of people making $1 million or more were audited. That's the lowest rate since 2010.
Only 0.6 percent of business returns were audited, but the rate varied greatly depending on the size of the business. About 16 percent of corporations with more than $10 million in assets were audited.
Most people don't have much of an opportunity to cheat on their taxes, said Elizabeth Maresca, a former IRS lawyer who now teaches law at Fordham University.
Your employer probably reports your wages to the IRS, your bank reports interest income, your broker reports investment income and your lender reports the amount of interest you paid on your mortgage.
"Anybody who's an employee, who gets paid by an employer, has a limited ability to take risks on their tax returns," Maresca said. "I think people who own their own business or are self-employed have a much greater opportunity (to cheat), and I think the IRS knows that, too."
One flag for the IRS is when your deductions or expenses don't match your income, said Joseph Perry, the partner in charge of tax and business services at Marcum LLP, an accounting firm. For example, if you deduct $70,000 in real estate taxes and mortgage interest, but only report $100,000 in income.
"That would at least beg the question, how are you living?" Perry said.
Koskinen said the IRS could scrutinize more returns - and collect billions more in revenue - with more resources. The president's budget proposal says the IRS would collect an additional $6 for every $1 increase in the agency's enforcement budget.
Koskinen said he makes that argument all the time, but for some reason, it's not playing well in Congress.
"I say that and everybody shrugs and goes on about their business," Koskinen said. "I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not."
Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap
More Business News
Last Update on September 02, 2014 17:28 GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. manufacturing grew in August at the strongest pace in more than three years as factories cranked out more goods and new orders rose.
The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, says its manufacturing index rose to 59 from 57.1 in July. Anything above 50 signals that manufacturing is growing.
A gauge of production rose to the highest level in four years, and a measure of new orders jumped to its highest in 10 years. That suggests that the sector should continue to grow in the coming months.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. construction spending staged a strong rebound in July, rising by the largest amount in more than two years. All major categories of construction showed gains in an encouraging sign that spending on building projects will help boost the economy in the second half of this year.
The Commerce Department says construction spending rose 1.8 percent in July, the biggest one-month gain since May 2012. It followed a 0.9 percent decline in June, the largest setback in a year. That decline had been blamed in part on soggy weather which depressed construction activity in many parts of the country.
The July rebound pushed total construction to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $981.3 billion, the highest level since December 2008. Spending on housing, non-residential and government projects all increased.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose in July but at a slower rate compared with earlier this year.
Real estate data provider CoreLogic says prices rose 7.4 percent in July from July 2013. That was slightly below June's year-over-year increase of 7.5 percent.
Prices rose 1.2 percent in July from June.
The smaller price gains should make homes more affordable and support sales. The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 4.1 percent last week, the lowest in a year. And the number of available homes rose 3.5 percent in July to the most in nearly two years. A greater supply tends to limit the bidding wars that inflate prices.
BRUSSELS (AP) -- The International Monetary Fund says Ukraine will need billions of dollars in additional support if the fighting between the military and Russian-backed separatists in the country's east persists.
In its first in-depth assessment since granting the country a $17 billion bailout program in March, the IMF said Tuesday "risks loom large" for the country's economy.
It says the bailout program already faces a $3.5-billion funding shortfall through 2015, with the economy forecast to shrink by 6.5 percent this year. Analysts say Ukraine's gross domestic product might tumble even more.
It says if the fighting in the eastern region -- representing about 16 percent of Ukraine's GDP -- were to persist through next year, Kiev would likely need additional support worth $19 billion only to shore up its central bank reserves.
NEW NATURAL GAS PIPELINE
NEW YORK (AP) -- Dominion Resources, Duke Energy and other partners have proposed building a $5 billion natural gas pipeline to connect the Southeast with the prodigious supplies of natural gas being produced in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
Gas is being relied upon to generate more of the nation's electricity in recent years because the enormous new domestic supplies have drastically lowered its price and it burns cleaner than the nation's other most important fuel for electric power, coal.
The 550-mile project will begin in Harrison County, West Virginia and stretch to Robeson County, North Carolina, in the southern part of the state.
The partners, which included Piedmont Natural Gas and AGL Resources, expect to receive regulatory approval by mid-2016 and to start operating the pipeline in 2018.
HOUSTON (AP) -- Halliburton says it has agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle a substantial portion of plaintiff claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The settlement, which is subject to court approval, will be paid into a trust until appeals are resolved over the next two years.
Halliburton was BP PLC's cement contractor on the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf in April 2010, killing 11 workers and triggering the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The deal will settle claims assigned to Halliburton as a result of BP's settlement in 2012 and punitive damages from the loss of property or commercial fishing activity resulting from the oil spill.
DOLLAR GENERAL-FAMILY DOLLAR
GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Dollar General is boosting its bid for rival Family Dollar to approximately $9.1 billion and says it's now willing to more than double the number of stores it would shed to avoid trouble with regulators.
The newest bid from Dollar General is worth $80 per share, up from $78.50. Dollar General's previous bid, worth nearly $9 billion, was rejected by Family Dollar in favor of an offer of about $8.5 billion from Dollar Tree Inc.
Dollar General Corp. says it will now divest 1,500 stores to steer clear of antitrust issues. It previously said it would divest up to 700 stores. The Goodlettsville, Tennessee company has also agreed to pay a $500 million reverse break-up fee to Family Dollar Stores Inc. if the deal runs into antitrust roadblocks.
UNDATED (AP) -- Private equity firm Thoma Bravo is spending about $2.5 billion to buy Compuware and take the software developer private.
The companies say Compuware stock owners will receive about $10.92 for each share they own. That price includes mostly cash and some stock from Compuware spin-off Covisint.
It represents a premium of about 17 percent to the Detroit company's Friday closing price.
Compuware says its board unanimously approved the deal and recommends shareholders vote for it as well. Activist investor Elliott Management has already agreed to vote in favor of the deal. Elliott holds more than a 9 percent stake in Compuware Corp. and tried to acquire the company last year.
Thoma Bravo and Compuware expect the deal to close early next year.
Shares of Compuware are soaring in morning trading.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE-PRESTIGE-ACQUISITION
NEW YORK (AP) -- Norwegian Cruise Line is getting into the luxury cruise business by acquiring Prestige Cruises International in a deal worth about $3 billion.
Prestige operates high-end cruise lines Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., based in Miami, values the deal at $3.025 billion, when debt is included. Its shares are up more than 10 percent today.
Prestige is owned by the private equity firm Apollo Global management LLC, which also owns a large stake in Norwegian.
The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.
1-800-FLOWERS-HARRY & DAVID
1-800-FLOWERS buying Harry & David for $142.5M
CARLE PLACE, N.Y. (AP) -- 1-800-FLOWERS.COM Inc. is buying Harry & David for $142.5 million to help broaden the assortment of foods that its customers can choose as gifts.
The deal includes Harry & David Holdings Inc.'s brands, websites, 47 retail stores, some plants, orchards and its headquarters in Medford, Oregon.
Harry & David's fruit, food and other gifts are housed under brands including Wolferman's, Cushman's and its namesake. Products include Royal Riviera pears, Wolferman's specialty English muffins and Cushman's HoneyBells citrus gifts.
1-800-FLOWERS' brands already include Fannie May, Cheryl's and The Popcorn Factory.
The transaction is expected to close in October.
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