Catherine M. Censullo CPA
Total Control Money and Tax Tip


Did you know that I first prepared, signed, and filed my own income tax return when I was in 7th grade with no help from my parents or anyone else?  How unusual is that?

I know I am dating myself, but at that time you had to get paper copies of income tax forms at the US Post Office, and you couldn’t go online to get forms and instructions.  The internet didn’t even exist.  Do any of you remember those days?

I know this sounds strange, but I had an interest in tax law even in those early days and used to send for extra forms and publications listed in the instructions just to learn more about how the tax laws worked.  Did you ever have that kind of interest in tax law?  My guess is, you probably didn’t.

I realize that a lot of you really don’t want to know any more than necessary about taxes, and you just want to make sure that you have met the requirements and gotten all the deductions you are entitled to get. 

You also want to make sure that the IRS doesn’t send you any nasty tax notices saying that you owe them money.  The thought probably makes you quiver with fright at what you may have done incorrectly.  And, who wants to pay interest and penalties as well? 

So, you may be thinking, why don’t I just use Turbo Tax and file my own returns?  How complicated can it be?

When you think about the tax law, there are three aspects you need to know about in order to properly interpret the tax laws.  These are:

  • Statutes (Internal Revenue Code, Title 26 of the US Code),
  • Regulations (IRS regulations, Revenue Rulings, Clarifications), and
  • Case law (Court decisions, previous decisions, and interpretations)

which have grown more complex with each passing year. 

According to the well-known legal publisher, Commerce Clearing House, the number of pages needed to document the above categories has grown from tax year 1913 to tax year 2013 from a total of about 400 pages in 1913 to a total of well over 73,000 pages in 2013. 

How easy do you think it is to keep track of 73,000 pages of information?

The National Taxpayer Advocate did a study back in 2012, and did a Microsoft Word count of the number of words contained in the tax statutes and IRS regulations showing a total of about 4 million words.

This small portion of the categories of materials mentioned above is about 4 times the length of the entire Harry Potter series and over 5 times of the length of the King James Bible.  And that’s before you add the Revenue Rulings, clarifications, court decisions, and interpretations.

Did you also know that from 2001 to 2012, the tax code itself changed an average of once per day?  How can you possibly keep track of all that?  And it only seems to be getting worse.

Did you know that there are over 150 kinds of civil penalties in the US Internal Revenue Code?  You may want to consider just a couple of examples of the myriad of penalties that you could be subject to for making a mistake or failing to report information, such as:

  • Failure to provide foreign information, such as failure to file a required Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account:
    • $10,000 civil penalty for each non-willful violation if you have no reasonable cause
    • $100,000 or greater civil penalty for willful violation plus possible criminal penalties
  • Failure to take a Required Minimum Distribution at age 70 ½ or older
    • 50% of the amount required to be distributed

In addition, there are fraud penalties, excise taxes, penalties in connection with information returns, accuracy related penalties, and on and on and on.

How do I keep up to protect my clients from these landmines?  I invest in extensive continuing education, tax reference services, and information forums with other professionals in my field.  I also continually develop and expand my network of like-minded accounting and financial professionals who also invest in themselves and share best practices.  And I stay actively involved in pertinent sections of the national and statewide accounting professional organizations for CPAs who hold its members to a higher standard of professionalism. 

So, if you have a really simple tax return with just a couple of W-2s, maybe you don’t need a professional.  But you should think of the small investment you make to protect yourself by using a seasoned professional. 

If you need any help or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.  You can reach the office at 914-997-7724.


Catherine M. Censullo, CPA

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