Made a Mistake on Your Tax Return - What Happens Now?

Article Highlights:

  • Tax Return Mistakes are Common

  • Fixing Tax Return Mistakes

  • Amended Return

  • Superseding Return

  • Don’t Procrastinate in Responding to IRS

  • Common Family Tax Mistakes

Generally speaking, tax return mistakes are a lot more common than you probably realize. Taxes have grown complicated and the paperwork required to file proper tax returns is often convoluted. This is especially true if you're filing your taxes yourself.

Congress has passed numerous tax laws in recent years making taxes ever more complicated. Even seasoned tax professionals have a hard time digesting all of the changes that they and their clients have to deal with, requiring hours of continuing education. All of this is to say that if you've just discovered that you've made a significant mistake on your tax return, the first thing you should do is stop and take a deep breath, and then call this office. It happens. It's understandable. There are steps that you can take to correct the situation quickly — you just have to keep a few key things in mind, including that the mistake could be in your favor.

Fixing Tax Return Mistakes - Here's what you need to know:

  • You generally have three years from the date that you originally filed your tax return (or two years from the date you paid the tax bill in question) to make any corrections necessary to fix your mistakes or oversights.

  • There's a good chance that the IRS will catch an income omission, math errors, or an incorrect deduction or tax credit, in which case the IRS will probably send you a letter letting you know what happened and what you need to do to correct it.

  • If fixing the mistake ultimately results in you owing more taxes, you should pay that difference as quickly as possible. Penalties and interest will keep accruing on that unpaid portion of your bill for as long as it takes for you to pay it, so it's in your best interest to take care of this as soon as you can.

Many errors include not claiming tax benefits you are entitled to and cause you to pay more tax than required. You may have overstated or understated your income or received a late tax document, such as one if many varieties of 1099s or K-1s. To correct issues on an already filed return you generally need to file an amended return.

An amended return is used to make corrections to previously filed returns. The possible corrections include, but are not limited to:

  • Overstating or understating income

  • Changing an incorrect filing status

  • Adding or deleting dependents

  • Taking care of discrepancies in terms of deductions or tax credits

If any of the above apply to the error you've just discovered, you can — and absolutely should — file an amended return.

If you catch the error prior to the filing due date of the return, instead of filing an amended return, you can file what’s called a “superseding return” to replace the original return. The difference is that when you file a superseding return you submit a complete new return to take the place of the one originally filed, while with an amended return, you fill out a special form (1040-X) and attach only back-up forms or schedules that pertain to the change.

A sudden increase in your tax liability notwithstanding, it's again important to understand that errors on your income taxes aren't really worth stressing out about. The IRS understands that sometimes mistakes happen, and they have a variety of processes in place designed to help make things right.

If you have received a notice from the IRS about an error on your tax return, don’t procrastinate in handling it – address the issue(s) raised by the IRS right away. The same applies if you have discovered an error. Either way, you can contact this office for assistance with responding to the IRS, preparing a superseding or an amended return, and requesting penalty abatement.

Common Family Tax Mistakes – There are also common mistakes that occur when dealing with family members that you should avoid or correct if you have made them. The following are some commonly encountered situations and the tax ramifications associated with each.

Renting to a Relative – When you rent a home to a relative for long-term use as a principal residence, the rental’s tax treatment depends upon whether the property is rented at fair rental value (the rental rate of comparable properties in the area) or at less than the fair rental value.

  • Rented at Fair Rental Value– If you rented a home to a relative at a fair rental value, it is treated as an ordinary rental reported on your Form 1040 on Schedule E, and losses are allowed, subject to the normal passive loss limitations.

  • Rented at Less Than Fair Rental Value– If you rented the home at less than the fair rental value, which often happens when the tenant is a relative of the homeowner, it is treated as being used personally by you; the expenses associated with the home are not deductible, and no depreciation is allowed. The result is that all the rental income is fully taxable and reported as “other income” on your 1040. If you are able to itemize your deductions, the property taxes on the home would be deductible, subject to the current $10,000 cap on state and local taxes. You might also be able to deduct the interest on the rental home by treating the home as your second home, up to the debt limits on a first and second home.

  • Possible Gift Tax Issue – There also could be a gift tax issue, depending on if the difference between the fair rental value and the rent you actually charged the tenant-relative exceeds the annual gift tax exemption, which is $17,000 for 2023. If the home has more than one occupant, the amount of the difference would be prorated to each occupant, so unless there was a large difference ($17,000 per occupant, in 2023) between the fair rental value and actual rent, or other gifting was also involved, a gift tax return probably wouldn’t be needed in most cases.

Below-Market Loans – It is not uncommon to encounter situations where there are loans between family members, with no interest being charged or the interest rate being below market rates.

A below-market loan is generally a gift or demand loan where the interest rate is less than the applicable federal rate (AFR).The tax code defines the term “gift loan” as any below-market loan where the forgoing of interest is in the nature of a gift, while a “demand loan” is any loan that is payable in full at any time, at the lender’s demand. The AFR is established by the Treasury Department and posted monthly. As an example, the AFR rates for September 2023 were:

Term

AFR (Annual September 2023

3 years or less

5.12%

Over 3 years but not over 9 years

4.19%

Over 9 years

4.19%

Generally, for income tax purposes:

  • Borrower – Is treated as paying interest at the AFR rate in effect when the loan was made. The interest is deductible for tax purposes if it otherwise qualifies. However, if the loan amount is $100,000 or less, the amount of the forgone interest deduction cannot exceed the borrower’s net investment income for the year.

  • Lender – Is treated as gifting to the borrower the amount of the interest between the interest actually paid, if any, and the AFR rate. Both the interest actually paid and the forgone interest are treated as investment interest income.

  • ExceptionThe below-market loan rules do not apply to gift loans directly between individuals if the loan amount is $10,000 or less. This exception does not apply to any gift loan directly attributable to the purchase or carrying of income-producing property.

Parent Transferring a Home’s Title to a Child – When an individual passes away, the fair market value (FMV) of all their assets is tallied up. If the value exceeds the lifetime estate tax exemption ($12,920,000 in 2023), then an estate tax return must be filed, which is rarely the case, given the generous amount of the exclusion. Because the FMV is used in determining the estate’s value, that same FMV, rather than the decedent’s basis, is the basis assigned to the decedent’s property that is inherited by the beneficiaries. The basis is the value from which gain or loss is measured, and if the date-of-death value is higher than the decedent’s basis was, this is often referred to as a step-up in basis.

If an individual gifts an asset to another person, the recipient generally receives it at the donor’s basis (no step-up in basis).

So, it is generally better for tax purposes to inherit an asset than to receive it as a gift.

Example: A parent owns a home worth (FMV) $350,000 that was originally purchased for $75,000. If the parent gifts the home to the child and the child sells the home for $350,000, the child will have a taxable gain of $275,000 ($350,000 − $75,000). However, if the child inherits the home, the child’s basis is the FMV at the date of the parent’s death. So in this case, if the date-of-death FMV is $350,000 and if the home is sold for $350,000, there will be no taxable gain.

This brings us to the issue at hand. A frequently encountered problem is when an elderly parent signs the title of his or her home over to a child or other beneficiary and continues to reside in the home. Tax law specifies that an individual who transfers a title and retains the right to live in a home for their lifetime has established a de facto life estate. As such, when the individual dies, the home’s value is included in the decedent’s estate, and no gift tax return is applicable. As a result, the beneficiary’s basis would be the FMV at the date of the decedent’s death.

On the other hand, if the elderly parent does not continue to reside in the home after transferring the title, no life estate has been established, and as discussed earlier, the transfer becomes a gift, and the child’s (gift recipient’s) basis would be the parent’s basis in the home at the date of the gift. In addition, if the child were to sell the home, the home gain exclusion would not apply unless the child moves into the home and meets the two-out-of-five-years use and ownership tests.

Another frequently encountered situation is when the parent simply adds the child’s name to the title, while retaining a partial interest. If the home is subsequently sold, the parent, provided they met the two-out-of-five-years use and ownership rules, would be able to exclude $250,000 ($500,000 if the parent is married and filing a joint return) of his, her or their portion of the gain. A gift tax return would be required for the year the child’s name was included on the title, and the child’s basis would be the portion of the parent’s adjusted basis transferred to the child. As mentioned previously, the child would not be able to use the home gain exclusion unless the child occupied and owned the home for two of the five years preceding the sale.

Incorrect Withholding – Often spouses who are both working will not coordinate with each other when they complete their Form W-4s they provide to their employers for the purpose of determining the amount of income tax to be withheld from their wages. Sometimes this lack of communication results in a substantial under-withholding and an unpleasant surprise at tax time.

Child Files Own Tax Return Incorrectly – Frequently a child who is eligible to be claimed as a dependent by their parent(s) files their own return without checking the “someone can claim you” box on page 1 of Form 1040 – and if the parent does claim the child there’ll be correspondence from the IRS. The child may have claimed more standard deduction than allowed and possibly could deprive the parents of deductions and credits that they are otherwise entitled to. The remedy in this situation requires the child’s return to be amended.

These are not the only examples of the tax complications that can occur in family transactions. Please contact this office before completing any family financial transaction. It is better to structure a transaction within the parameters of tax law in the first place than suffer unexpected consequences afterwards.

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