Dear Liz: I have a friend who is driving me crazy because she keeps telling me that I need to start a company.
She claims she writes off “everything” from her two companies and a nonprofit. She says her accountant encourages this and that she doesn’t pay taxes.
However, when my friend had to claim unemployment benefits during the pandemic, her weekly amount was very small. She kept complaining that she “paid into the system” but thought she should get a higher amount. Maybe she didn’t pay into the system, or isn’t paying enough?
Answer: People who write off “everything” are often committing tax fraud. Although businesses can write off a number of different expenses, those expenses must be both “ordinary” — common and accepted in the business’ specific industry — and “necessary,” or helpful and appropriate for that particular business or trade.
Nonprofits, by IRS definition, are supposed to be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational or charitable purposes — not the benefit of a single individual.
Your friend could face a substantial tax bill plus serious penalties if she’s audited. She may be counting on the IRS not noticing, but all it may take to trigger an audit is a tip from a disgruntled employee or someone who hears her bragging about not paying taxes. If her accountant is in the habit of filing dubious returns, the IRS might catch on to the pattern and start looking more closely at all that accountant’s customers.
Your friend’s strategy of minimizing her taxable income has already bitten her once when she applied for unemployment and may bite her again when she applies for Social Security. If she doesn’t pay Social Security taxes, or pays only a small amount, her retirement benefits will reflect that. By the time many people realize the enormity of that particular mistake, it’s too late to fix.
Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.
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