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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 October 24, 2014 17:58 GMT
NEW HOME SALES
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. sales of new homes were essentially flat in September, after the government sharply revised downward what was initially an August surge in buying.
The Commerce Department says new-home sales edged up 0.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 467,000. The report also revised down the August sales rate to 466,000 from 504,000.
The pace of sales for newly built homes has improved a mere 1.7 percent so far this year compared to 2013. Only the South has experienced gains in buying year-to-date.
Housing has struggled to fully rebound since the recession ended more than five years ago. Many potential buyers lack the savings and strong credit history needed to afford a home, causing them to rent or remain in their existing houses instead of upgrading.
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford's net income dropped 34 percent to $835 million in the third quarter, dragged down by the cost of launching its new F-150 pickup.
The company closed its Dearborn truck plant for five weeks during the quarter and cut back on truck sales in order to preserve inventories while it readies the new aluminum-sided truck. That hurt pretax profits in North America, which fell 39 percent to $1.4 billion.
Ford earned 21 cents per share, down from 31 cents in the July-September period a year ago. Without one-time items, including separation costs in Europe, Ford earned 24 cents. That beat Wall Street's expectation of 19 cents, according to analysts polled by FactSet.
Revenue fell 2.5 percent to $34.9 billion, better than the forecast of $33.7 billion.
ATLANTA (AP) -- UPS is expecting an 11 percent jump in December shipments as the holiday shopping season heats up.
UPS recently announced that it would hire up to 95,000 people to handle the tremendous volume. That's up from last year when the Atlanta company initially planned to hire 55,000 seasonal workers. Major U.S. shipping companies were overwhelmed by a shift in American shopping habits, namely the success of Amazon.com. with its free shipping, and UPS was forced to hire an additional 30,000 people.
United Parcel Service Inc. also maintained its guidance Friday for 2014 adjusted earnings between $4.90 and $5 per share. Analysts polled by FactSet predict $4.95 per share.
PROCTER & GAMBLE-DURACELL
Procter & Gamble removes the batteries
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Procter & Gamble is removing the batteries and making Duracell a stand-alone company.
P&G, which acquired Duracell in 2005, announced earlier this year that it would shed more than half its brands around the globe over the next year or two.
If a split off occurs, P&G said that its shareholders would have the option of exchanging some, none or all of their P&G shares for shares of the newly formed Duracell company.
The Procter & Gamble Co., based in Cincinnati, said Friday that it is also considering a spinoff, sale or other options for Duracell.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Chiquita shareholders have rejected plans to merge with Irish fruit importer Fyffes that would have made the world's largest banana supplier.
Chiquita Brands International Inc. said Friday that the shareholders didn't approve a revised transaction agreement between the two companies during a special shareholders meeting.
Chiquita said it now expects to enter talks with investment firm Safra Group and juice company Cutrale Group on their competing offer of $14.50 per share. Chiquita previously rejected buyout bids from the two Brazilian companies.
CHILD SEAT RECALL
DETROIT (AP) -- Evenflo is recalling more than 202,000 rear-facing infant seats because the buckles can become difficult to unlatch.
The recall affects Embrace 35/9999 models with an AmSafe QT1 buckle. Documents posted by U.S. safety regulators say that if the buckles don't release easily, it may be difficult to get a child out of the seat in an emergency.
The affected seats were made at various times from December 2011 through May of 2013.
Not all Embrace 35 models are covered by the recall. For others, the company will provide replacement buckles if requested by customers.
The recall comes after an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Owners with questions can call Evenflo at (800) 490-7591.
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- The founder of a popular brand of food for observant Muslims has been indicted on charges that he shipped beef to Malaysia and Indonesia that didn't meet those countries' import requirements.
A federal grand jury returned the indictment Thursday against Bill Aossey Jr., who founded the Midamar Corp. in 1974. The Cedar Rapids company grew into the leading U.S. halal brand, selling more than 200 products in the U.S. and abroad.
A 19-count indictment charges Aossey with directing employees to change labels and fabricate documents to make beef products appear that they originated from a slaughterhouse that met Malaysia and Indonesia's strict requirements. Halal meat is supposed to be killed in ritual slaughter.
Aossey's attorney called the indictment unfair Friday, saying the allegations were "a minor regulatory violation" at most.
NEW YORK (AP) -- NBCUniversal will pay $6.4 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by unpaid interns who worked on "Saturday Night Live" and other shows who claim they are owed wages, according to court documents.
The interns claim NBCUniversal wrongly classified them as non-employees in an effort to avoid labor laws. NBCUniversal said in court documents that even though it is settling the suit, it denies the allegations and doesn't admit any wrongdoing.
The average amount that class-action members of the suit will receive is $505, although the main plaintiffs will receive more. The number of class members is capped at 8,975.
The interns had been seeking recovery of unpaid wages, attorneys' fees, interest and liquidated damages. The settlement still has to be approved by a judge. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York.
NBCUniversal is owned by Philadelphia-based cable provider Comcast Corp.
S&P upgrades Cyprus on commitment to bailout deal
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- Rating agency Standard & Poor's has given Cyprus a one-notch upgrade to its credit grade, raising it to B+.
The agency cited the country's commitment to the terms of its bailout program and better-than-expected economic growth. It also said the outlook for Cyprus is stable, with good economic progress offset by lingering challenges to its banking system, which is still burdened with a huge amount of bad loans.
LONDON (AP) -- Official figures show Britain's economic recovery is continuing, despite a gloomy global environment.
The Office for National Statistics said gross domestic product grew 0.7 percent in the three months through September compared with the previous three months. That is down slightly from a 0.9 percent quarterly rate in the April-June period but remains among the strongest growth rates among developed economies.
Compared with a year earlier, the economy was 3.0 percent larger.
Treasury Chief George Osborne says the figures show Britain "continues to lead the pack in an increasingly uncertain global economy."
Samuel Tombs, the senior U.K. economist for Capital Economics, says growth in Europe's third largest economy has become broader-based, though recent falls in stock markets, manufacturing surveys and eurozone growth have intensified concerns over the recovery.
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