One morning you reach into your mailbox or bin to find the dreaded letter from the IRS announcing that you owe unpaid taxes. As if that wasn’t enough to induce panic, you may discover there are add-on charges for interest and penalties. Penalties for what, you may ask?
If you violate the Tax Code, the IRS may impose civil and/or criminal penalties, depending on the type of infraction committed. Civil penalties are commonly imposed for a failure to pay taxes when due, failure to report the correct amount of tax owed, a failure to deposit federal tax deposits, filing late, or even failing to pay because of a bounced check. There are more than 100 kinds of civil penalties in the Tax Code, ranging in severity. For example, a penalty for failure to file (separate and apart from a failure to pay) carries a minimum $100 fine, while a penalty for valuation overstatement can result in a 30 percent penalty on the amount of tax owed as a result. Criminal penalties can be even more severe, and may include terms of imprisonment as well as fines.
Taxpayers, return preparers, and third parties with some connection to the tax return in question may all become subject to penalties. Common civil penalties include failure to file tax returns, failure to pay taxes due, underpaying tax due to negligence, and valuation misstatements that result in inaccurate reporting of income (and therefore an incorrect amount of tax owed).
Criminal penalties are imposed for violations of federal Tax Code and Criminal Code, which include the willful (or intentional) attempt to evade or defeat any federal tax, the failure to collect or truthfully account for and pay any federal tax as required, or the failure to keep required records, supply required information or make required returns. Generally the IRS Criminal Investigations Division will conduct investigations into allegations of criminal tax violations, and if it recommends that the government prosecuted, the case could be referred to the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or some combination of the three.
Hopefully you will never receive a letter from the IRS about either civil or criminal penalties. But if you do, please call our offices with any questions at (908) 725-4414.