The Difference Between Tax Evasion and Tax Avoidance

Jan 31, 2023 By Susan Kelly

To avoid paying taxes is to hide money or other financial details from the government. It is considered tax avoidance to use deceptive techniques to minimize one's tax liability. Where one stops and the other begins is sometimes unclear.

The HMRC looks down on tax avoidance and evasion, but evasion is prohibited. While it's important to note that tax evasion can be intentional, it is not technically illegal. The rules are frequently broken, and workarounds are commonly employed. Instead of following the letter of the law, tax avoidance schemes fail the spirit of the law.

Paying Taxes: What Are My Legal Obligations?

It is the responsibility of businesses and their owners to remit all taxes due to HM Revenue & Customs. If you don't pay your taxes, you could face fines or even more severe consequences depending on what you did to avoid paying them legally.

Owners, predictably, aim to maintain their companies as "tax efficient" as possible, which means doing all legally feasible to keep tax bills to a minimum while keeping profits high. It is possible to reduce your tax liability through careful tax preparation legally.

However, some companies and individuals go to great lengths to minimize their tax obligations, leading to accusations of tax avoidance or even outright tax cheating.

What Is Avoiding Taxes?

Tax avoidance is a legitimate way to lessen one's tax liability or taxable income, unlike tax evasion, which uses dishonest means. It's a lawful method for reducing one's tax liability to the Internal Revenue Service.

The most prevalent form of evading payment is taking advantage of all available tax credits and deductions. For instance, investing in a tax-deferred retirement account can reduce your taxable income.

Tax-advantaged accounts, like IRAs and 401(k)s, are a great way to save money on taxes in addition to itemized deductions and tax credits. Similarly, investing primarily in tax-preferred vehicles, such as purchasing tax-free municipal bonds, can help you reduce your taxable income.

What Is Tax Avoidance?

Lying to the Internal Revenue Service or another taxation authority about the amount you owe is tax evasion, a criminal offense. It can involve underreporting revenue, overstating expenses, failing to declare relevant business transactions or hiding funds in undisclosed accounts.

As a criminal offense, you are not paying your taxes is unacceptable. The IRS Tax Crimes Handbook states that any attempt to "evade or defeat" a tax is punishable by up to $250,000 in fines, five years in prison, or both. Moreover, you will be expected to pay all legal fees associated with your prosecution.

Tax Avoidance On Purpose vs. Tax Mistakes

However, tax officials know that errors might occur when filing a return. Tax mistakes resulting from carelessness rather than evasion are more commonly viewed as the former. In most cases, a tax audit can be settled by paying a reduced penalty plus interest on the original fine.

However, these fines can be rather severe in and of themselves. If you underpay your taxes and the IRS finds out about it, they will penalize you 20% of the amount you should have paid.

How To Correct An Error On Your Tax Return

A mistake on your tax return should be rectified as quickly as feasible. If you need to change your tax return, you can use Form 1040-X. Get in touch with a tax expert if you have any questions regarding filing an amended return. This way, they can assess your unique financial condition and provide personalized guidance.

Tax Evasion Penalties

The Internal Revenue Service is equipped to discover tax underpayment or nonpayment quickly. This is because data is sent from other sources, such as a person's employer sending their W-2 or a vendor sending their 1099. The intention behind filing false tax returns is a significant consideration in determining guilt. The following penalties apply if you deliberately avoid paying taxes:

Felony Convictions

Up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine ($500,000 for businesses)

The Legal Bill For Your Prosecution

Failure to file penalties, underpayment penalties, accuracy-related penalties, and interest on fines owed are all examples of civil penalties that can add up to treble the initial tax liability. The threat of an audit is increased. Your tax returns for the previous three years are usually auditable.

Do Employees Who Blow The Whistle On The IRS Get Paid?

The likelihood of getting discovered is high, so don't kid yourself. The IRS may offer incentives for information leading to the identification of tax cheats. The IRS prioritizes these accusations because it is usually those with higher incomes who cheat their taxes for larger quantities of money. The IRS requires everyone who has received a whistleblower award to disclose such income on their tax returns.

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