If your accountant pleads guilty to tax fraud, they’ve done more than make an honest mistake. Tax fraud involves the willful attempt to reduce the filer’s tax obligation through false statements, documents, or claims. These include underreporting income, inflating deductions, and similar acts. Tax fraud is a crime and is treated seriously. However, the impact your tax preparer’s actions have on you can vary. If your accountant pleads guilty to tax fraud. Here’s what you need to do.
Understand Your Responsibility
First and foremost, it’s critical to understand your level of responsibility when it comes to your taxes. Regardless of who prepares your documents. You are ultimately responsible for your tax return. If you benefited from your accountant’s actions, and those actions were deemed fraudulent. There will be ramifications. This is true even if you weren’t aware of your tax preparer’s illegal acts.
Know What Can Occur
The exact ramifications you’ll face for fraudulent tax returns prepared by your accountant will vary depending on your situation. If you can prove that you had no knowledge of the fraud and played no role in it being committed. The impact is usually purely financial. The IRS will require you to pay any taxes that should have been paid had the returns been correct. Additionally, you may owe interest on the back amount, as well.
If you did play an active role in the fraud. The outcome could be different. Along with having to pay the amount owed. You could face criminal charges. The exact nature of the charges would depend on your fraudulent actions. If found guilty, you could owe additional fines and penalties or even end up with jail time.
Gather and Review Your Tax Returns
Once you know that your accountant has pled guilty. You should gather up every past tax return they handled. While the IRS can only audit your returns for three years. A guilty plea on the part of your accountant can extend the review window. Thus, giving the IRS the ability to look at more past filings.
The IRS will review these returns to look for fraudulent activity and other discrepancies. So it’s wise to start that process yourself. As a result, it’s best to review every one you possibly can. Which allows you to identify fraudulent activity and estimate the impact.
Usually, you want to conduct reviews yourself. However, you may also want to enlist help from a tax professional. This is especially true if you aren’t fully aware of tax law or don’t understand some of the information contained in your return. Who you turn to for assistance is up to you. Although you may want to consult with a tax attorney or a reputable tax accountant as a starting point.
Consider Amending Past Returns
If during your review you find fraudulent information on your returns. You may want to amend them. Using Form 1040-X, you can submit updated tax calculations, allowing you to correct the issues proactively.
However, you should only file the amendments proactively if you have not received a notification that an issue has already been identified by the IRS. If you’ve received a notice that a given tax year’s return has already been reviewed and a decision regarding whether additional money is owed is being (or has already been) made. Filing an amended return may either not be necessary or could complicate the situation further.
If you’re uncertain about whether to amend a past return after your accountant pleads guilty to tax fraud. Consult with an expert. A tax attorney could provide you with guidance. Thus, helping you determine which approach is best based on your current situation.
Don’t Avoid the IRS
While you may want to take time to review any tax returns that may be impacted by fraud, don’t actively avoid the IRS. Generally speaking, it’s better to engage sooner rather than later.
Precisely how you may want to engage could vary depending on any communications you’ve received from the IRS. If you’ve been notified about specific dollar amounts of back taxes being owed or other penalties related to your returns, the process may be fairly simple. If you don’t disagree with their assessment and they aren’t pursuing criminal charges against you, you may choose to simply pay the amount (or make payment arrangements if the amount is too large to cover) to end the matter.
However, if you disagree with the assessment or are concerned about criminal liability, you might want to contact a tax attorney first. While this can cost a tidy sum of money, it ensures you have access to a professional who understands the nuances of what you’re going through and can speak to the IRS on your behalf.
Additionally, if you’re simply uncomfortable speaking with the IRS, you can enlist support from a tax lawyer. They can help you navigate the situation and find a reasonable resolution.
Exploring Additional Legal Avenues
If your tax accountant’s actions left you with a significant financial liability, you might want to consider suing the preparer for damages. While this can be costly in its own right, as you usually need assistance from an attorney, it is an option on the table.
Whether it’s the right move for you will depend on the nuances of your case. Additionally, you may want to take the accountant’s financial situation into consideration. If the accountant has no way to pay any amount awarded – either through cash, assets, or other sources – even if you win, you may not see any financial reward for the favorable judgment. This could leave you in a tougher situation, as you could still be responsible for your attorney’s fees, at a minimum.
Have you ever worked with an accountant who was later convicted of tax fraud? Has your accountant ever put you in a sticky financial situation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Tamila McDonald has worked as a Financial Advisor for the military for past 13 years. She has taught Personal Financial classes on every subject from credit, to life insurance, as well as all other aspects of financial management. Mrs. McDonald is a former AFCPE Accredited Financial Counselor and has helped her clients to meet their short-term and long-term financial goals.
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