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Don't trust the federal government? You still have to pay taxes

If you watch the news, you've probably heard that Americans have lost a great deal of trust in the federal government recently. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that level of trust was nearing an all-time low. Fully 30 percent of the public reported being angry at the federal government, and an additional 55 percent said they were frustrated. Only about 12 percent reported being essentially content.

If you're among the around 85 percent of the American public reported to be either frustrated with or actively angry at the feds, you might feel somewhat justified in punishing the government for its bad behavior by holding back your tax payments. You wouldn't be the first American to do so.

Actor Wesley Snipes was accused of defending his to pay the IRS as a tax protest, using a debunked argument that he had a constitutional right not to pay. He was charged with conspiracy, willful failure to file tax returns and fraud, but was later acquitted of all but three misdemeanor charges.

There are a variety of "tax protester" theories on how to legally avoid paying federal taxes, and you should know that the IRS isn't buying any of them.

"The IRS and the courts hear many arguments to avoid filing returns or paying taxes," according to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. While the IRS concedes that every taxpayer has the right to contest how much tax they're liable to pay, no one has the right to completely disregard their tax responsibilities. In fact, the agency wants you to know that making frivolous tax-avoidance arguments is a tax crime, and it's on the 2015 "Dirty Dozen" tax scams identified by the IRS.

What are the possible penalties for making a frivolous tax-avoidance argument?

The penalties can be numerous and costly, depending on the situation, including:

  • $5,000 base penalty for filing a frivolous tax return
  • Accuracy-related penalties
  • Penalties for erroneous refund claims
  • Failure to file penalties
  • Civil fraud penalty
  • Tax Court penalty for using frivolous arguments in court
  • Criminal charge for attempting to evade or defeat taxation
  • Criminal charge for willfully making and signing a perjured tax return or statement

Don't get caught up in a criminal tax scheme. Remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

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