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Creative [ahem] tax filing

Still looking for some tax breaks to knock down your IRS bill a bit more? Each filing season, some folks do this by getting what they call "creative" with their returns.

Others call it cheating.

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Let's call the whole thing off (if only). Or you could join me in, as one reader suggested after I denounced tax cheats elsewhere, "getting bent." Ah, yes, taxes. They do bring out the best in folks, don't they?

That reader, who insisted that tax cheating is a valid form of nonviolent protest, is not alone. And don't pretend that you've never thought of it, even just fleetingly. Those goody-two-shoes are way too small.

But thinking is not doing. And most of us don't go to the extremes of taking some of these outlandish (and ill-advised) claims.

A good number of folks, however, have sworn to Goodwill or the Salvation Army that the old polyester pantsuit they stuck in that donation box was "only worn once." Exaggerated claims like that are what led to last year's law change now requiring that donated goods be truly, honestly in good or better shape or the deduction is disallowed.

Of course, when asked, most folks say cheating on your taxes is not right. The latest confirmation of filers taking the tax high road comes from the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board.

Irs_oversight_board_2 The nine-member panel is an independent body that, according to its Web site, is "charged to oversee the IRS in its administration, management, conduct, direction, and supervision of the execution and application of the internal revenue laws and to provide experience, independence, and stability to the IRS so that it may move forward in a cogent, focused direction." And these guys are supposed to help the IRS proceed in a "cogent, focused" manner? You gotta love the government's consistency, at least when it comes to overblown language.

Anyway, elaborate mission statement notwithstanding (see, it's catching!), the Board is trying. It conducts an annual "taxpayer attitude" survey -- like they really need to ask! -- and the 2007 version found that 86 percent of respondents said it's not at all acceptable to cheat on your taxes.

I like to think that most of my fellow taxpayers are indeed so upstanding.  But c'mon! Did anyone expect a majority to say, "Sure, go crazy with that 1040! Make up deductions! File false claims!" when the surveying group has the initials I-R-S in its name?

Here's your chance now to come clean. Take our poll on tax cheating. It's there in the right column, under the Tax Calendar and above the Software Center. There's no name or e-mail required to participate. It's totally anonymous, so be honest. You'll feel better getting it off your chest.

Lots of legal options: But really, you don't have to resort to cheating. There are plenty of legitimate ways to cut your tax bill. An easy one is to claim the federal telephone tax refund.

Don't forget about the three late-approved tax breaks (state sales taxes, educators' expenses and tuition and fees payments) that didn't make it onto the paper tax forms.

If you're eligible to deduct IRA contributions, you can put money into a retirement account as late as until April 17 and use it to cut your 2006 taxes. Even if you don't get a tax deduction, consider contributing anyway to help build your nest egg.

And remember, the surest -- and safest -- way to lower your tax bill is to be careful, not criminal.

Tax tattletales: If you know of someone who's pushing the tax breaks a bit too far and you've had it, you can turn them in. Details in this earlier post.


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