Normally, my wife and I owe the IRS money when we do the long form, but this year we are getting over $6,000 back. Our total income for 2005 was $101,083. My consultant has entered $9,224 for charities, $12,253 for Job Expenses and Certain Misc. deductions and $3,825 for meals and entertainment. I can tell you, those figures are exaggerated. But is it legal? I know most successful companies out there are taking advantage of loopholes in the tax law. Can I? In addition, he has amended my last three tax returns, which my wife and I owed money for, and he has found another $6,000 to be refunded to us.
---T.W. by email
A. Excuse me if I sound like a close relative of Goody Two Shoes, but do you really want to be a lying freeloader just because others are? Also, there is a difference between a loophole, which is a tax break legislators create so they can raise campaign funds, and lying, which is something legislators do when they run for election.
If you want to be a lying freeloader, you won't want for company. The IRS has estimated unpaid taxes exceed $290 billion a year. The Treasury inspector general for tax administration thinks the IRS is low-balling the number.
I've never seen any report, from any tax authority, indicating that anyone can make 10 percent of their income disappear from their tax return and not show supporting records. While the IRS audits returns by exception--- returns that are far outside of typical returns--- every taxpayer is required to keep records to substantiate deductions. You can learn exactly what is expected by downloading IRS publication 583 (Starting a Business and Keeping Records) and publication 463 (Travel, Entertainment, Gift and Car Expenses) from www.irs.gov.
If you follow this "tax consultant" blindly, you're likely to end up in an audit, and he's likely to have disappeared. He only needs to do one return that provokes suspicion and the IRS will start to check all the others he has done.
My suggestion: Learn what you can, and cannot, deduct. Take the time to keep good records. Then marvel at how low your taxes will be even though you've been scrupulously honest. We do a lot of finger pointing and complaining about taxes in this country, but if you figure out what you paid in taxes as a percent of your total earnings, you'll thank god you're an American.
Q. My wife tends to shop for clothes and shoes practically every day. She has more than she needs and does not know what she has in her closets. She tends to get somewhat bored if she is not shopping. What advice do you have for communicating fiscal responsibility to her? Is there a certain type of counselor for someone who appears to shop on impulse?
--T.J., by email from Houston, TX
A. It's a safe bet that she won't respond to polite discussions of fiscal responsibility. You are dealing with a compulsion. It won't end until she faces consequences and, if the compulsion is strong enough, it may not end then. Be prepared for some difficult times.
You should start by telling her about the consequences of her purchases. Tell her that the two of you may have to choose between the shoes piling up in her closet and taking vacations or putting money away for retirement. Then again, it may be a choice between unworn shoes and electricity.
Let her know that even if she puts no value on vacations, retirement, and electricity, that you do. Let her know that you'd like to enlist her help, as your partner, to meet other goals that aren't being met. This can be done without anger.
If that doesn't get her attention--- and it probably won't --- the next level is to do an intervention. If some of her friends or relatives have noticed, enlist their help in confronting her with the problem. Ask her to get counseling.
Thankfully, she can get it. This is America. Everyone is recovering from something. Skeptics should visit websites like www.shopaholicsanonymous.org and www.stoppingovershopping.com. Both deal with compulsive shopping.
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