Your 2017 taxes are due by April 17, and if you haven't filed yet, you may still be trying to figure out the best way to fill out all those forms. Getting creative on your returns is a time-honored tradition, but if you want to avoid an audit, you'll want to play it straight with the Internal Revenue Service. Some of the most common red flags are easy to avoid, as long as you're honest.
One way to attract attention is to suddenly claim a ton of deductions. Maybe your fortunes have changed dramatically for the better, but as MarketWatch reports, stay above-board when it comes to charity, real estate interest, or student loan interest. The IRS understands the normal range of these deductions for each income bracket, and deviations are a signal for them to investigate.
The same goes for business expenses — there's a pattern to what those look like, and trying to pass off every night on the town, even if you have the receipts, looks suspicious. Furthermore, try not to mix business with pleasure by claiming expenses related to a hobby are business-related too. There's the side hustle, and then there's all the fun stuff you were never making money on.
Lastly, if you've set up retirement funds, do not touch them until you're supposed to withdraw. (If you're convinced this isn't a problem for you, good news: It can be.) If you're confused about the process of filing and don't want to trip into an audit-worthy mistake, consider asking a tax pro for help this year. You may even qualify for free assistance. It's definitely confusing, and if not for lobbying by tax prep corporations, you'd probably have it a lot easier. In short, remember that the best defense at tax season comes from keeping your nose clean. You'll have a lot less to worry about during the rest of the year.