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Debunking Common Income Tax Myths

This guide clarifies misconceptions about foreign accounts, stock sales, social security, and more.
Last Updated: February 22, 2024

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In the realm of taxation, misconceptions can lead to costly mistakes. This article aims to dispel some of the most prevalent income tax myths, providing clarity and guidance to U.S. taxpayers. By understanding the facts, taxpayers can navigate their tax obligations more confidently and avoid potential pitfalls.

Unraveling Tax Myths

Foreign Bank Accounts and Signature Authority

Myth: If you’re not the owner of a foreign bank account but have signature authority, you don’t need to disclose it.

Fact: Signature authority over a foreign account necessitates disclosure, regardless of ownership, due to stringent scrutiny and severe penalties for non-disclosure by the IRS.

Stock Sales and Reinvestment

Myth: Reinvested stock sale proceeds are not taxable since the money wasn’t directly received.

Fact: All stock transactions, including sales and reinvestments outside retirement accounts, must be reported for potential gains or losses.

Social Security Benefits Taxation

Myth: Social Security benefits are not taxable.

Fact: Up to 85% of Social Security benefits may be taxable, depending on other income reported on your tax return.

S Corporation Dividends vs. Wages

Myth: S Corporation shareholders can take dividends instead of wages to save on payroll taxes.

Fact: Shareholders must receive reasonable compensation before dividends or loan repayments; otherwise, such distributions may be reclassified as wages, incurring penalties.

Students and Part-Time Workers Filing Requirements

Myth: Students and part-time workers are exempt from filing a tax return.

Fact: Tax filing obligations depend on income level, filing status, and dependency status, not student or employment status.

Renting to Relatives

Myth: Renting property to a relative at below-market rates still qualifies as a rental activity for tax purposes.

Fact: Renting below fair market value imposes limitations on expense deductions and may not be treated as a typical rental activity.

Filing Status After Separation

Myth: Separated couples living apart can file as Single.

Fact: Unless legally divorced or separated by year-end, filing as Single is not permissible.

The Value of Professional Tax Preparation

While many taxpayers opt for self-preparation or unlicensed preparers, this can lead to omissions or errors due to unfamiliarity with complex tax laws. Licensed tax professionals, such as Enrolled Agents (EAs), Certified Public Accountants (CPAs), and attorneys, possess the expertise to navigate these laws, ensuring accurate and compliant tax returns. They not only fill out forms but provide valuable advice tailored to each taxpayer’s unique situation.

Choosing the Right Tax Professional

It’s crucial to select a federally licensed tax professional, with EAs being the only tax professionals licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. They undergo rigorous testing and continuing education to maintain their credentials. When selecting a tax advisor, especially for U.S. taxpayers abroad, ensure they have the requisite experience in expat tax preparation.


Misunderstandings about tax obligations can lead to missed opportunities for savings or, worse, legal issues. By debunking these common myths, taxpayers can approach their tax responsibilities with a more informed perspective. Remember, when in doubt, consulting with a credentialed tax professional can provide clarity and peace of mind.

For expert tax preparation and planning services, reach out to us directly at (702) 510-5241.

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