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Easy Money From Refundable Tax Credits?

As long as there’s a tax code there will be fraudsters looking for loopholes. And what could be easier than opening the spigot to free cash already rubber-stamped by Congress? Enter the refundable tax credit.

Last week’s Tax Guy column explains how refundable tax credits, which allow you to get a check from the government even if you owe no tax, encourage fraud. Claiming some of these credits requires minimal time and paperwork, and can promise hefty sums of cash—in the thousands of dollars.  All a recipe for fraudulently prepared returns, says Tax Guy Bill Bischoff.

Bischoff predicts the $13,170 refundable credit for adoption expenses—and the relative lack of proof needed to claim it—will result in thousands of sham returns this tax year.  But the adoption credit is neither the first nor will be the last tool of tax swindlers.  Here are a few eyebrow-raising examples of credits filers have used to dupe Uncle Sam.

First-Time Homebuyer Credit.  It conjures up the tender image of a young couple buying their first nest, all with the help of the U.S. government. But the now-expired $8,000 credit became an easy target for tax fraud because initially, you didn’t even need to file paperwork proving your home purchase. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that first-time homebuyers would be paid more than $4.3 billion in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) audit last June revealed a number of disturbing statistics that could further plump this figure. Among them, 18,832 taxpayers filed claims for just 7,695 addresses, totaling more than $134 million. And at least 1,295 prisoners received fraudulent credits from their 2008 returns at a $9.1 million price tag.

The Earned Income Tax Credit. Congress created the EITC in 1975 to help offset Social Security taxes for low-income workers. The amount of EITC claimed has risen steeply in the past quarter century, according to another TIGTA report. The IRS estimates that $11 billion to $14 billion of bogus EITC claims are filed each year (a figure that prompted TIGTA to scrutinize the role tax preparers play in submitting improper claims). For those of you keeping score, 23.7 million tax returns claimed the EITC in tax year 2008, which tallies up to $49.2 billion in claims—the IRS’s fraud estimate makes up a decent chunk of that.

Additional Child Tax Credit.  The credit applies to those parents who get less than the full amount of the child tax credit. A TIGTA report shows that in tax year 2007 about two-thirds of filers using individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITINs) received the Additional Child Tax Credit, totaling almost $1.8 billion in fraudulent claims. ITINs are assigned to people ineligible for Social Security numbers but still required to file taxes—namely foreign workers.  Though they’re not valid for employment purposes, almost 300,000 employers filed Forms W-2 with ITINs, reporting wages totaling more than $9.5 billion. What’s more, individuals can be assigned multiple ITINs, which can lead to the improper issuance of refunds.

Readers, do you think refundable tax credits should be eliminated given their fraud-inspiring track record?

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    • You have an amazing website here! Good to be a part of it.

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    • I suppose my take on this is . how old is your home? Does it NEED some updntiag so you can live in it comfortably? Have you saved the money? We did our renovations last year. We had the money, our home was 35 years old and the doors were totally destroyed (not real wood to start with so couldn’t just sand them down and paint them, my hubby had had to make new boxes’ for the drawers over the years as the crappy builder grade ones fell apart one at a time over the years. Not to mention the whole idea of only 5 feet of counter space to try cooking in. (no dishwasher to hide the dirty dishes) My hubby spent a lot of hours on the Ikea program and worked out our kitchen. It is gorgeous. Because we bought Ikea and put together ourselves we had enough left over for a lovely quartz countertop that we absolutely love. If we lived in some other neighbourhood we couldn’t have done this. But our neighbourhood is not the fanciest so anything more than what we did would not make sense. Anyways, we then waited for the Kitchen Event and got 10% in gift cards as well so all the internal fittings for the cupboards got paid for for free. Quite happy all round here.

    • You have a really good website. Very interesting read. I will be back to look for more posts, keep it going.
      ___________________________
      roofing

    • You have a really good blog. Very interesting read. I will be back to look for more posts, keep it going.
      ___________________________
      roofing

    • The scam does not go like that, most people with Itins work for cash, there is no way to track how much they make, they do not even need an Itin to get welfare. They report low earnings to the welfare office(s).
      When they file thier taxes the illegals report whatever amount of wages benifits them to maximize thier refund. For example if a tax filer has 3 children, he will report about 11,000 in earnings which is usually self-employment. This amount is credited to his/her itin, taxes are paid off of the child tax credit of 3,000 for his/her 3 children(1,000 per child – they can be illegal as long they have an ITIN). Whatever amount is left after the taxes are paid is refunded as Additional Child Tax Credit – usually about $1200, See you don’t even have to have a valid social to get money back. Not only do illegals get free food, housing, medical care, education- they even get refunds without even paying taxes out of their pockets. No wonder we owe over $14 trillion.

About The Tax Blog

  • The Tax Blog brings together a team of award-winning tax journalists from the Dow Jones network and around the web to examine the tax issues, changes and legislation that affect families, investors and small business owners. Our contributors include Tax Report columnist Laura Saunders (WSJ), Tax Guy columnist Bill Bischoff and senior reporter Jilian Mincer (SmartMoney.com), retirement-focused reporter Anne Tergesen (WSJ), wealth management writer Arden Dale (Dow Jones Newswires), TaxWatch columnist Eva Rosenberg and personal finance reporter Andrea Coombes (MarketWatch), and reporter Alyssa Abkowitz (SmartMoney). They’ll provide the latest news and insight, mine the tax code for tips and loopholes, and answer your questions about tricky tax situations. Contact the The Tax Blog with ideas, suggestions or tax questions at thetaxblog@dowjones.com.

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