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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."

---

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Chances of Getting Audited by IRS Lowest in Years

Monday, April 14 2014, 02:48 PM EDT

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Last Update on April 24, 2015 18:03 GMT

AMAZON-CLOUD COMPUTING BUSINESS

NEW YORK (AP) -- Amazon's profitable cloud-computing services business is growing by leaps and bounds.

That growth helped the e-commerce company Thursday post a 15 percent first-quarter revenue jump and a smaller-than-expected loss. The results sent Amazon's shares up 6 percent in aftermarket trading.

Investors have been growing restless with Amazon's long-term strategy of plowing most of the money it makes into new areas like cloud computing, streaming video and hardware -- leading to razor-thin profits or, in this quarter's case, a loss.

Because Amazon had never broken out details on Amazon Web Services before, it wasn't clear if it was operating at a profit or loss. But details released on Thursday show that surging revenue isn't coming at expense of a profit in that business, reassuring investors.

Amazon has rolled out a series of new offerings in recent months.

DEATH OF COMCAST-TIME WARNER CABLE

NEW YORK (AP) -- Comcast is dropping its $45 billion bid for Time Warner Cable after heavy regulatory pushback.

The combined company would have put nearly 30 percent of TV and about 55 percent of broadband subscribers under one roof, which would give the resulting behemoth unprecedented power over what Americans watch and download.

Competitors, consumer groups, and politicians have criticized the deal, saying it would lead to higher prices and less choice.

Even with the Comcast saying Friday that the deal was off, cable companies are likely to keep combining as costs rise for the shows, sports and movies they pipe to subscribers and video customers decrease.

Many analysts expect that Charter Communications Inc., which lost out on its bid for Time Warner Cable Inc. to Comcast Corp., to resurrect its effort.

DURABLE GOODS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods increased by the largest amount in eight months. But a key category that tracks business investment plans dropped for a seventh month, suggesting that manufacturing is still struggling through a soft patch.

The Commerce Department says orders for durable goods rebounded 4 percent in March after having fallen 1.4 percent in February. The strength was led by a big jump in demand for commercial aircraft. But outside of the transportation category, orders were down for a sixth straight month.

There was also a 0.5 percent drop in demand in the category that serves as a proxy for business investment plans. The decline followed a 2.2 percent drop in February. This key investment category has been down seven consecutive months.

EARNS-AMERICAN AIRLINES

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) on Friday reported first-quarter earnings of $932 million.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company said it had net income of $1.30 per share. Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs and pretax expenses, came to $1.73 per share.

The results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 11 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.70 per share.

The world's largest airline posted revenue of $9.83 billion in the period, also topping Street forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $9.82 billion.

American Airlines shares have dropped 4 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has increased 39 percent in the last 12 months.

GREECE-BAILOUT

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- European creditors have been turning up the heat on Greece today. They're pressing Greek officials to deliver an economic reform program that the country will need in order to avoid a possible default -- and even an exit from the euro currency group.

At a meeting today in Latvia, Greece's finance minister heard a series of rebukes from his counterparts in the eurozone for failing to come up with a comprehensive list of economic reforms.

The eurozone's top official calls it a "very critical discussion."

Others spoke of being "tired" and "annoyed" with the way the talks were going. Austria's finance minister says they made those points "very vigorously."

Two months ago, Greece won an agreement from the eurozone under which it would get the remaining money in its bailout fund -- about $7.7 billion -- but only if it came up with a set of reforms that everyone could agree on.

There are just days to go before that deadline, and Athens has yet to present a full list.

EUROPE GM CROPS

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union has authorized the use of more genetically modified food and feed amid a row over whether EU member states should be able to independently ban certain GM products.

The EU's executive commission said Friday that it has approved 10 GM foods, including strands of maize, soybean and cotton, after they "have been proved to be safe." Two kinds of GM cut flowers were also authorized.

The European bio-industries association expressed satisfaction that the EU has "finally decided to authorize imports of safe products."

The EU and its member nations have been locked in a dispute over whether countries should be allowed to individually ban GM produce that EU institutions consider safe.

DIET PEPSI-NEW SWEETENER

NEW YORK (AP) -- PepsiCo says it's dropping aspartame from Diet Pepsi in response to customer feedback and replacing it with sucralose, another artificial sweetener commonly known as Splenda.

The decision to swap sweeteners comes as Americans keep turning away from popular diet sodas. Coca-Cola said this week that sales volume for Diet Coke fell 5 percent in North America in the first three months of the year.

Executives at Coke and Pepsi blame the declines on perceptions that aspartame, first sold under the brand name Nutrasweet, isn't safe. That's even though the Food and Drug Administration says more than 100 studies support aspartame's safety.

Still, PepsiCo says it wanted to listen to its customers.

Andrea Foote, PepsiCo spokeswoman, says the reformulated Diet Pepsi drinks will start hitting shelves in August.

LISTERIA-ICE CREAM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Major recalls from two well-known ice cream companies due to the discovery of listeria bacteria raise questions about how the pathogen could have contaminated multiple ice cream manufacturing plants -- and whether the discoveries are related.

Blue Bell Creameries of Texas and Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams of Ohio both took products off shelves this week after listeria was discovered in their products. Blue Bell ice cream is linked to 10 illnesses in four states, including three deaths. There are no known illnesses linked to the Jeni's recall.

The recalls are unusual: Listeria is rarely found in ice cream because it can't grow at freezing temperatures. A spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration says it has no evidence, for now, that the two recalls are connected.

TANNING LAWSUIT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York's attorney general has filed suit against two tanning salon chains, accusing them of downplaying health risks while playing up the allure of bronze skin.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (SHNEYE'-dur-muhn) filed the lawsuits against Portofino Spas and Total Tan Thursday. He says both franchises falsely advertise the health benefits of indoor tanning by promoting it as a safe alternative to tanning outdoors.

Schneiderman says there's nothing safe about indoor tanning. He accuses the two companies of supporting the opposite message.

Attorneys for Total Tan denied the allegations. Representatives for Portofino didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Schneiderman says lawsuits are also coming against Planet Fitness and Beach Bum Tanning.

A spokesman for Planet Fitness says the company is working toward a resolution. Representatives for Beach Bum Tanning didn't comment.

GENERAL MOTORS-EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors CEO Mary Barra's compensation more than tripled in 2014 to $15.8 million in her tumultuous first year in the automaker's top job.

Barra and other top executives got only 74 percent of the cash incentives they could have received, because GM fell short of goals set by the board. But her stock awards more than doubled from 2013 when she was senior vice president of for product development and purchasing.

GM reported its 2014 compensation Friday in its proxy filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The company also announced that its annual stockholders meeting will be held on June 9 at GM's Detroit headquarters.

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    Waste Watch

    How are your tax dollars being spent? Waste Watch tracks whether local, state and federal governments or any groups are using your money wisely...or wasting it.
  • WTVC :: News - Your Voice. Your Future.

    Your Voice. Your Future.

    As the country faces challenges from federal budget issues to jobs and national debt, your voice is critical to the future.
  • WTVC :: News - Border Crisis

    Border Crisis

    Get the latest developments on the border control issue!
  • WTVC :: News - Political Pulse

    Political Pulse

    Armstrong Williams is called "one of the most recognizable conservative voices in America" by The Washington Post...
  • WTVC :: News - Behind The Headlines

    Behind The Headlines

    Behind The Headlines with Mark Hyman - Political Commentary and Opinions
  • WTVC :: News - Health Care Reform

    Health Care Reform

    The Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act sparked a new battle. Check here daily for the latest developments, locally and across the country.
  • WTVC :: News - Washington Times

    Washington Times

    Politics, Breaking News, US and World News.

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Tonight on WTVC NewsChannel 9

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6:30 ABC World News Tonight

7:00 Wheel of Fortune

7:30 Jeopardy 

8:00 Shark Tank

9:00 Bruce Jenner Interview

11:00 NewsChannel 9 

11:35 Jimmy Kimmel Live

Complete Schedule »


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