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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 23, 2014 17:21 GMT
The price of crude oil rose $1.27 to $81.80 a barrel in New York.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Earnings gains from General Motors, 3M and other big companies are driving stocks sharply higher in early trading.
GM rose 2 percent after reporting that its third-quarter profit doubled thanks to big earnings from SUV and truck sales.
Caterpillar, 3M and Southwest Airlines also gained after reporting earnings that pleased investors. AT&T lost 2 percent after its results fell short of analysts' forecasts.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 19 points, or 1 percent, to 1,946 as of 9:35 a.m. Eastern time Thursday.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 200 points, or 1.2 percent, to 16,659. The Nasdaq composite rose 41 points, or 1 percent, to 4,424.
Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.26 percent.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits rose last week after falling to a 14-year low the previous week. Despite the increase, weekly applications remain at historically low levels that suggest hiring is gaining steam.
The Labor Department says applications rose 17,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 283,000. That is the sixth straight week below 300,000. Applications have fallen 19 percent in the past year.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 3,000 to 281,000, the lowest in 14 years. As a percentage of the working population, applications are near their lowest levels since the early 1970s.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Their unusually low level suggests that employers are confident enough to hold onto workers and may step up hiring.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A gauge designed to predict the economy's future health posted a solid increase in September after no gain in the previous month.
The Conference Board says its index of leading indicators rose 0.8 percent last month following a flat reading in August which originally had been reported as a small 0.2 percent gain.
Economists expect that continuing strong gains in employment should boost incomes and help support solid economic growth in the United States in coming quarters despite a weaker outlook overseas.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. mortgage rates continued to slide this week, raising prospects of a wave of consumers refinancing their loans. The 30-year mortgage fell further below 4 percent.
Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year loan declined to 3.92 percent from 3.97 percent last week. The average rate is at its lowest level since June 2013. It was 4.53 percent in January. The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, fell to 3.08 percent from 3.18 percent.
It was the fifth straight week of declines for mortgage rates.
Across the country last week, homeowners and would-be homeowners eager for a bargain rate fired off inquiries to lenders.
PEORIA, Ill. (AP) -- Caterpillar's belt tightening paid off in the third quarter as the manufacturer easily beat Wall Street expectations and raised its outlook for the year.
The company has wrestled with a slowing global economy and took a restructuring charge of 9 cents per share during the quarter tied to cost cuts. However, CEO and Chairman Doug Oberhelman said that he is hopeful that economic growth will pick up next year.
Caterpillar, based in Peoria, Illinois, reported third-quarter net income of $1.02 billion, or $1.63 per share, in the three months ending Sept. 30, compared with $951 million, or $1.45 per share, in the same quarter a year ago.
Adjusted to remove restructuring costs, earnings came to $1.72 per share, blowing past Wall Street expectations of $1.33 per share.
Revenue rose slightly to $13.55 billion, also topping the $13.37 billion analysts expected, according to Zacks Investment Research.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Diversified manufacturer 3M's third-quarter net income rose 6 percent on higher revenue across all divisions.
The maker of Post-it notes, industrial coatings and ceramics also narrowed its guidance range.
Net income for the three months ending Sept. 30 after paying preferred dividends totaled $1.3 billion, or $2.02 per share, up from $1.23 billion, or $1.81 per share, last year. Analysts expected $1.96 per share, according to FactSet.
Revenue rose 3 percent to $8.14 billion from $7.92 billion. Analysts expected $8.23 billion. The stronger dollar hurt revenue by about 1 percentage point, the company said.
The St. Paul, Minnesota-based company narrowed its guidance to net income of $7.40 to $7.50 for the year, compared with prior expectations of $7.30 to $7.55. Analysts expected $7.46 per share.
At its industrial unit, which makes auto and aircraft parts, revenue rose 3 percent to $2.8 billion. Revenue from its electronics and energy unit rose nearly 4 percent to $1.5 billion. Safety and graphics revenue rose 1 percent to $1.4 billion and revenue from health care products rose about 5 percent to $1.4 billion. Revenue from consumer products like Scotch tape and Post-its rose 2 percent to $1.2 billion.
DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors says its third-quarter profit nearly doubled as strong earnings in North America and China outweighed struggles in Europe and South America.
The automaker posted a net profit of $1.38 billion, or 81 cents per share, from July through September. A year ago, GM made $698 million, or 45 cents per share.
It was the first quarter this year without significant charges for recalls. GM has issued 75 recalls in 2014 covering more than 30 million vehicles, costing the company more than $2.8 billion.
Without $331 million in one-time items, GM would have made 97 cents per share, exceeding Wall Street's expectations. Analysts polled by FactSet expected 95 cents.
Revenue grew 2 percent to $39.25 billion. That also beat expectations of $38.79 billion.
DALLAS (AP) -- More passengers and lower fuel prices are pushing Southwest Airlines to record profits, and the airline expects an even bigger break at the gas pump this winter.
CEO Gary Kelly says the trend toward higher revenue has continued into October, and bookings for November and December look good.
Southwest Airlines Co. said Thursday that net income rose 27 percent to $329 million , or 48 cents per share, in the July-to-September quarter.
Excluding one-time items such as the falling value of some fuel-hedging contracts, the profit would have been 55 cents per share. On that basis, analysts expected 53 cents per share, according to FactSet.
Revenue rose 5.6 percent to $4.80 billion, a tick better than analysts' forecast of $4.79 billion.
The average one-way fare inched higher -- to $160.74, an increase of $1.35 from last summer. Passengers flew 5.6 percent more miles, and planes carried record loads -- the average flight was 84.4 percent full, an increase from 80.8 percent the year before.
Southwest spent $2.94 per gallon on fuel in the third quarter, down from $3.06 a year earlier. And the discount will grow -- the airline predicted that it will pay between $2.70 and $2.75 per gallon in the fourth quarter.
Fuel spending dropped 4.4 percent in the third quarter, but labor costs rose 7.2 percent.
Tablets, cars drive AT&T wireless gains--not phones
NEW YORK (AP) -- AT&T says it gained 2 million wireless subscribers in the latest quarter, but most were from non-phone services such as tablets and Internet-connected cars. The company is facing pricing pressure from smaller rivals T-Mobile and Sprint in a competitive environment in which most Americans already have a cellphone.
The net increases in the July-September quarter included nearly 1.3 million connected devices, such as home-security systems. Cars made up more than 500,000 of that total. On top of those figures, Dallas-based AT&T added 342,000 tablet customers.
Phones are still a lucrative business for wireless carriers, but the rise of tablets and other devices give wireless carriers additional revenue sources.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Comcast Corp.'s third-quarter net income jumped 50 percent in the third quarter, helped by a hefty tax settlement and more high-speed Internet customers.
The nation's largest cable provider says its net income rose to $2.59 billion, or 99 cents per share. That compares with net income of $1.73 billion, or 65 cents per share, last year. Excluding one-time tax settlement, net income totaled 73 cents per share, beating analyst expectations of 71 cents per share.
Revenue rose 4 percent to $16.79 billion from $16.15 billion last year. Analysts expected $16.8 billion.
Cable hookup revenue rose 5 percent to $11.04 billion, and NBCUniversal revenue rose 1 percent to $5.92 billion.
Comcast is in the midst of a $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable in a deal under regulatory review.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Coca-Cola is naming a new chief marketing officer as the world's biggest soda maker works to boost flat soda sales.
The Atlanta-based company says Marcos De Quinto, a company veteran, will replace Joe Tripodi starting Jan. 1.
The maker of Powerade, Fanta and Diet Coke this week outlined plans to significantly slash costs after reporting disappointing sales for its third quarter.
De Quinto currently heads Coca-Cola's Iberia division and is a vice president of the Europe group. He has also served in marketing roles in countries including Spain and Germany.
Tripodi, who has headed Coca-Cola's marketing for the past seven years, oversaw the launch of Coke's "Open Happiness" campaign.
AIR BAG RECALL
DETROIT (AP) -- Two U.S. senators are calling on U.S. auto safety regulators to immediately issue a nationwide recall for cars with faulty air bags made by Takata Corp.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts made the call in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who oversees the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The letter delivered Thursday also asks Foxx to encourage automakers to provide free loaner cars if parts aren't available.
Air bag inflators made by Takata can rupture, causing metal fragments to fly out in a crash. Safety advocates say the problem has caused four deaths. So far automakers have recalled about 12 million vehicles worldwide due to the problem.
But in the U.S. many automakers have limited the recall to high-humidity areas in southern states.
DALLAS (AP) -- The hospital where a man diagnosed with Ebola died and two nurses were infected with the virus says its revenue and patient roles have plummeted.
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas said in financial statements Wednesday that its revenue fell 25 percent in the first 20 days of October, shortly after Thomas Eric Duncan was admitted with Ebola.
The hospital says emergency room visits have fallen more than 50 percent, and its daily patient census fell 20 percent.
Presbyterian Hospital has been criticized for its initial care of Duncan, who was released after coming to the emergency room Sept. 25 with a fever and other Ebola symptoms. He returned three days later by ambulance and was diagnosed with the disease.
Its two infected nurses were transferred to other hospitals for treatment.
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