Posted by Issam Abualnadi.
Tax is a sum of money levied on incomes, property, sales, etc., by a government for its support or for specific services. (The American Heritage Dictionary). According to the IRS website, the origin of the income tax on individuals is generally cited as the passage of the 16th Amendment, passed by Congress on July 2, 1909, and ratified February 3, 1913; however, history, it actually goes back even further. During the Civil, War Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1861, which included a tax on personal incomes to help pay war expenses. The tax was repealed ten years later. In 1894, however, Congress enacted a flat rate Federal income tax, which was ruled unconstitutional the following year by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court held it was a direct tax not apportioned according to the population of each state.
The 16th amendment, ratified in 1913, removed this objection by allowing the Federal government to tax the income of individuals without regard to the population of each State. (IRS Website). The sole purpose of income tax is based economics and social goals.( Income Tax Fundamentals 1-2). While the government tries to maximize its revenue, at the same time, Congress tries to make the tax law suitable and fair for each individual. Therefore, the tax law not only divides the taxpayers into categories upon their income, but also it allows them to minimize their taxes due by structuring their tax return in different methods. Unfortunately, not every citizen is law-abiding in this respect, and accordingly, some taxpayers break the tax law. In the foregoing, I will discuss the differences between tax avoidance, tax fraud, and tax evasion. Avoidance of tax is not a criminal offense. According to the IRS, taxpayers have the right to reduce, avoid, or minimize their taxes by legitimate means. One who avoids tax does not conceal or misrepresent, but shapes and preplans events to reduce or eliminate tax liability within the parameters of the law. Take for example, Warren Buffett. Buffett wrote in The New York Times in 2011 “ Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent” ( The New York Times). But how Buffett can do that?
Buffett and many other super rich people use different tax rules to avoid paying taxes, like the “cash-rich split-off.” This code mechanism is used when Company (A) puts cash or other “investment assets” plus a business into a subsidiary that it then swaps tax-free to Company (B) in return for B’s holding of A’s stock. In 2010 Graham Holdings and Berkshire (Warren Buffett’s corporation), saved a total of about $675 million in federal and state income taxes by going the “cash-rich split-off” route. Graham Holdings is trading cash, Berkshire stock that it owns, and a TV station for most of Berkshire’s 23 percent stake in Graham Holdings. Tax avoidance matches the well-known saying, “Work smarter not harder.” Also, it is worth mentioning that massive tax avoidance draws attention to the notion of the efficiency of the tax codes, and the need to produce new rules or restrictions prevent such legal tax evasion. (The New York Times).
Tax fraud is another way some taxpayers use to minimize their tax liability. According to the IRS website, tax fraud “is deception by misrepresentation of material facts, or silence when good faith requires expression, which results in material damage to one who relies on it and has the right to rely on it. Simply stated, it is obtaining something of value from someone else through deceit.” (IRS Section 18.104.22.168). According to IRS’s definition of tax fraud, not all the mistakes in preparing a tax return are considered a fraud, and in order to consider a case as a fraud, two elements should be presented:
An additional tax due and owing as the result of a deliberate intent to evade tax; or
The willful and material submission of false statements or false documents in connection with an application and/or return. (IRS Section 22.214.171.124). Generally the expression “Tax Fraud” used for civil and criminal cases.
The third area is tax evasion. Tax evasion, “Involves some affirmative act to evade or defeat a tax, or payment of tax. Examples of affirmative acts are deceit, subterfuge, camouflage, concealment, attempts to color or obscure events, or make things seem other than they are” (IRS Section 126.96.36.199.4). “It is typically used in the criminal context, and it is a subset of the tax fraud.”
Tax fraud and tax evasion are very close in their meaning; both are illegal way to reduce the tax liability. The IRS indicates tax fraud by two major indicators. The first indicator is when the taxpayer knowingly understates their tax liability often leaving evidence in the form of identifying earmarks. The second indicator is that serve as a sign or symptom, or signify that actions may have been done for the purpose of deceit, concealment or to make things seem other than what they are. Usually the IRS cannot prove that to court, because taxpayer can easily claim a good faith misunderstanding of the law or good faith belief that one is not violating the law negating willfulness. Therefore, the IRS chooses to prosecute the taxpayer civilly for underpaying taxes. In such cases, the IRS can impose a tax fraud penalty, which is 75% of the tax owed plus the interest on this penalty. On the other hand, tax evasion is a subset of tax fraud. In tax evasion cases, the very difficult burden for the IRS is to prove the willfulness, which means a voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty. (IRS, Section 188.8.131.52) To prove fraud, they must show the court that the taxpayer did the act deliberately for the purpose of deceit. Examples include omissions of specific items where similar items are included; concealment of bank accounts or other assets. (ISR Section 184.108.40.206). So if the IRS can prove that, then it is a tax evasion case. In tax evasion cases, the penalty range is up to five years in jail plus a big fine and plus the costs of prosecution for each separate tax crime.
In conclusion, the tax law was created to enable the government to support the economical and social activities in the American society. The lawmaker enacted some tax codes to help eligible taxpayers reduce their tax liability under exact conditions, but some still try to deceive the government by using illegal means.
Issam is an accounting major at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University, Class of 2017.
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Whittenburg, Gerald E., and Ray Whittington. “The Individual Income Tax Return.” Income Tax Fundamentals. 2014 ed. St. Paul: Cengage Learning, 2014. 1-2. Print.
“Internal Revenue Manual – 25.1.1 Overview/Definitions.” Internal Revenue Manual – 25.1.1 Overview/Definitions. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. .
BUFFETT, WARREN. “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.” The New York Times 14 Aug. 2011. Web.