When you do your taxes, you might make a mistake. Odds are, you’re not a tax expert. You’re still allowed to do your own taxes, of course, but they are not guaranteed to be error-free.
Many people feel a lot of anxiety over this. They worry that making an error means the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will show up at their door or that federal agents will arrest them. They check the forms repeatedly, thinking that the consequences are crazy since they have no training and yet are expected to do their taxes perfectly.
What makes it a crime?
First off, please know that an honest mistake is not illegal. You’re not going to get arrested if you just made an error or added something up incorrectly.
What makes tax errors a federal crime is when someone “willfully attempts” to break the law to avoid paying what they owe. This intent is what changes things. If you knew you were doing it and you still did it on purpose, hoping to defraud the government of some of the money that you owe, then you could face serious charges.
If, on the other hand, you simply forgot something or were unsure how to fill out the forms, though you may be fined and may need to fix your taxes, it’s not a crime. You didn’t have any intent to break the law and didn’t even know you made a mistake at the time.
That said, you could be accused of intentional fraud when you know it was just a mistake. If this happens, be sure you know what legal options you have.