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Tax Schemes Every Physician Should Avoid


The next 60 days marks the final push to sell physicians across the United States tax plans of both good and questionable value.

The next 60 days marks the final push to sell physicians across the United States tax plans of both good and questionable value. Promoters of various plans are well aware of the pressures affecting your income and will make a variety of frivolous arguments that appeal to your desire to save. As always a great CPA is your first line of defense against both tax exposure itself and the risk of committing tax fraud through an overreaching plan, but there are a number of common markers that are easy to spot. 

The IRS creates an annual list of the “Dirty Dozen” tax schemes; here’s a breakdown of the top ones that affect or target doctors.

Remember that the higher your income, the more likely you are to face an audit and substantial civil and criminal penalties that I guarantee will exceed any short-term savings gleaned from any bad planning. This simply means that you and your team must be committed to strictly adhering to the tax code, full and accurate reporting, and being realistic about how you pay yourself and the amount of income you declare. In most cases, it is not “commercially reasonable” to pay yourself less than six figures when the average salary for specialists like you in your state is much higher but we see doctors and CPAs abuse this discretion on a regular basis.

Hiding income offshore
I use offshore tools for a variety of my clients business and asset protection purposes regularly; tax planning is not one of them.

Taxpayers have tried to avoid or evade U.S. income tax by hiding income in offshore banks, brokerage accounts, or through the use of nominee entities. Taxpayers also evade taxes by using offshore debit cards, credit cards, wire transfers, foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities, or insurance plans. (via the IRS)

You have a well-defined legal right to have an offshore account and in our global economy even manage certain business and investment activities offshore but that income is taxable and even the mere existence of an account has a reporting requirement. Simple rule, full disclosure, and compliance mean never having to say, “I’m sorry.”

Frivolous arguments
These schemes are increasingly sophisticated in their arguments and packaging and often even include either false or off-point private letter rulings on the legality of a specific plan or letters of opinion from a “top tax law firm.” The IRS has a very specific guide to understanding those arguments.

Abusive retirement plans
The IRS continues to find abuses in retirement plan arrangements, including Roth Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs). The IRS is looking for transactions that taxpayers use to avoid the limits on contributions to IRAs, as well as transactions that are not properly reported as early distributions. Taxpayers should be wary of advisers who encourage them to shift appreciated assets at less than fair market value into IRAs or companies owned by their IRAs to circumvent annual contribution limits. Other variations have included the use of limited liability companies to engage in activity that is considered prohibited, a common exposure in self-directed IRAs without professional guidance.

Disguised corporate ownership
Corporations and other legal entities are formed and operated in certain states for the purpose of disguising the ownership of the business or financial activity by means such as improperly using a third party to request an employer identification number. Such entities can also be used to facilitate underreporting of income, fictitious deductions, non-filing of tax returns, participating in listed transactions, money laundering, financial crimes, and even terrorist financing. The IRS is working with state authorities to identify these entities and to bring the owners of these entities into compliance with the law.

While the actual list is much longer, some of the issues like identity theft exposure are applicable to the public at large. Others, including filing false or incomplete W-2s, claiming excessive fuel tax credits, and over-reporting withholding to reduce income are simply intentional tax fraud that we will assume you are not ever going to consider. Make sure you understand the nature of the methods used on your return, you are responsible for what’s on it regardless of who prepared it, and keep tight records on deductions for travel and dining.

Finally, carefully discuss the value of claiming excessive business usage for vehicles and a home office deduction with your CPA; they are common over-reaching red flags and typically of limited value.

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