Tax News

An Update on Fed Rate Hikes

an update on fed rate hikes

American households have been feeling the full effects of inflation all year with rates at their highest since early 2008. To support a healthy U.S. economy, the Federal Reserve, also known as the Fed, has raised its federal funds rate. Put simply, the federal funds rate is a suggested interest rate for banks to use when lending money. The Fed raises and lowers the rate accordingly to control the money supply and help keep inflation under control.  

Fed Rate Hikes in 2022 

In 2022, the fed funds rate has increased seemingly every other month. So far, the Fed has made the following adjustments: 

  • March 2022: The Fed raised its rate from 0.25% to 0.50% 
  • May 2022: The Fed raised its target rate range between 0.75% and 1% and announced it was reducing its holdings of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities. 
  • June 2022: The Fed raised its target rate range between 1.5% and 1.75%, the largest rate hike in nearly 20 years. 
  • July 2022: The Fed raised its rate to a target range between 2.25% and 2.5% 
  • September 2022: The Fed raised its target rate range between 3% and 3.25% and announced the anticipated rate by the end of 2022 to be 4.4%. 
  • November 2022: The Fed raised its target rate range between 3.75% and 4%, the highest level since 2008. 

What’s Next For the Fed? 

In October 2022, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used to measure inflation, showed some signs of cooling prices in some areas. While this may sound encouraging, the Fed has announced that it does not view the small change as a victory. The option of raising their rate range in the December policy meeting is very much a possibility that Americans should prepare for. In fact, several financial institutions have predicted a rate of over 5% by March 2023.  

What The Fed Rate Hikes Mean for Americans 

The Fed rate hikes impact anyone who uses or is seeking financing because of rising interest rates. Home buyers have experienced higher interest rates on mortgages, meaning less buying power. On the flipside, home sellers might see a decrease in demand because it’s more expensive to purchase a home right now. Credit card debt also becomes more expensive since consumer debt interest rates rise after rate hikes. One of the few positives of rate hikes is that rates on savings accounts have increased slowly. Putting money into a high-yield savings account or a CD during inflation can result in greater interest yields. 

Tax Relief for Those Affected by Fed Rate Hikes 

Just about everyone in the U.S. has been affected by fed rate hikes, either directly or indirectly. On the tax side of things, the IRS has increased their interest rates for overpayments and underpayments to 6% per year, compounded daily. This rate is up from July’s rate of 5%. Higher rates make it a worse time to fall behind on tax payments, so staying compliant is even more crucial during this time. Optima Tax Relief can help with your tax debt needs. Give us a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation today. 

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Taxes on Social Security Benefits

taxes on social security benefits

Many taxpayers are often shocked to learn that their Social Security benefits can be taxed by the federal government. Taxes on Social Security benefits are typically determined by income levels. In addition, there are currently 12 U.S. states that tax Social Security benefits to some extent. Here’s a brief overview of how Social Security income is taxed, both at the federal and state level. 

Will My Social Security Income Be Taxed? 

According to the IRS, the easiest way to determine if your Social Security benefits are taxable is to add half of your annual Social Security income and add it to all other income, plus all tax-exempt interest, to find your total combined income. If your combined income is above the IRS base amount, you’ll be required to pay some tax. The 2022 combined income limit for single filers, heads of household, or qualifying widows with dependent children is $25,000. The limit for joint filers is $32,000. Married couples who file separately will likely need to pay taxes on Social Security income. 

How Much Will I Be Taxed? 

In 2022, 50% of a taxpayer’s benefits can be taxed if they meet any of the following criteria: 

  • Filing single, head of household, or qualifying widow with income between $25,000 and $34,000 
  • Married filing separately and lived separately from their spouse for the entire 2021 year, and earned between $25,000 and $34,000 
  • Married filing jointly with income between $32,000 and $44,000 

If the taxpayer fits any one of these criteria, then 50% of their benefits will be subject to tax. However, the actual amount will be the lesser of either: 

  • Half of their annual Social Security benefits, or 
  • Half the difference between their combined income and the IRS base amount 

For example, let’s say a single filer had an annual Social Security income of $20,000 and a combined income of $27,000. Half of their annual Social Security income would be $10,000. Half the difference between their combined income and the IRS base amount of $25,000 would be $1,000. 

($27,000 – $25,000) / 2 = $1,000

The taxable benefits would be the lesser of the two amounts, which is $1,000. 

If the taxpayer earns more than the IRS base amount, the tax rate is higher. In 2022, 85% of a taxpayer’s benefits can be taxable if they are: 

  • Filing single, head of household, or qualifying widow and earn more than $34,000 
  • Married filing jointly and earn more than $44,000  
  • Married filing separately, and lived separately from their spouse for the entire 2021 year, and earned more than $34,000 
  • Married filing separately and lived with their spouse at any time during 2021 

Does My State Tax My Social Security Benefits? 

In addition to federal taxes, residents of the following 12 states may also have to pay state taxes: 

  • Minnesota and Utah: Tax according to federal rules 
  • Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia: Tax according to federal rules but offer deductions or exemptions based on age or income 

Tax Relief for Social Security Recipients 

Being taxed on Social Security benefits can be unexpected. Generally, the benefits won’t be taxed if it’s a taxpayer’s only source of income, but with limited income during retirement age, it’s important to be prepared. Taxes on these benefits can be paid through quarterly estimated tax payments. Federal tax can even be withheld from these benefits. In any case, all Social Security recipients should ensure that they remain compliant and report their Social Security earnings during tax time. If you need tax help, give us a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation with one of our tax professionals. 

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Top 5 Tips to Avoid an IRS Audit

Top 5 tips to avoid an irs auditThe Senate recently approved nearly $80 billion in IRS funding, with $45.6 billion specifically for enforcement. This new funding is expected to result in more tax audits. There is no sure way to avoid an IRS audit. However, there are some things that the IRS has generally viewed as “red flags,” which could increase the chances of an audit for taxpayers. Here are our top five tips to avoid an IRS audit.  

File Your Tax Return 

Currently, you must file a tax return if your gross income meets certain thresholds based on your age and filing status. If you meet the minimum income requirement and you do not file a federal income tax return, or file late, you can be penalized 4.5% of your unpaid tax liability for each month your return is late, up to 22.5%. Additionally, you will incur a 0.5% per month for failure to pay penalty, up to 25%. While both penalties have a cap, interest will continue to accrue until the balance is paid off, which is compounded daily at the federal short-term rate, plus an additional 3%.  In addition, the IRS may prepare a substitute for return (SFR) on your behalf, using your W2 and 1099 forms for that tax year and even your bank account records. The SFR will likely result in a larger tax bill, since tax credits and deductions will not be claimed. In short, choosing to not file a return each year will not excuse you from paying taxes.  

Report All Income 

Underreporting income is one of the most common reasons taxpayers get audited. Remember, the IRS receives copies of all your W-2 and 1099 forms for the year. If incomes do not match up, they will investigate your tax situation. Failing to report all income can cost you an additional 20% in penalties, so it’s always best to report all earnings the first time around. 

Use Common Sense with Business Expenses 

The IRS reminds taxpayers that business expenses should be “ordinary and necessary” to produce income for your specific trade or business. In other words, items like office equipment and advertising costs are fine, but you should not try to deduct your daily lunch expenses. You should always avoid comingling personal and business expenses. 

Keep Good Records 

Keeping good records that support your reported income is critical. This can include invoices, canceled checks, mileage logs, and other documents. The IRS recommends keeping records for three years after filing. Bookkeeping can be a tedious process, so it may be best to hire a professional if you are not up to the task. 

Know How to Report Losses 

The IRS will likely audit individuals and businesses that report multiple or consecutive losses. If your business claims a loss for several years, the IRS may classify it as a hobby instead of a for-profit business. Once this happens, you will not be allowed to claim a loss related to the business and you will have to prove that your “business” has an acceptable motive to earn a profit. 

Tax Relief for Taxpayers 

Odds of an audit increase when the IRS notices any red flags. The audit process can be tedious and taxing. Failing an audit can result in a huge, unforeseen tax bill. It’s best to seek assistance from experts who can help you avoid an IRS audit.

Get a free consultation with one of Optima’s knowledgeable tax professionals to evaluate your audit risk and see if you qualify for tax relief. 

** Optima Tax Relief is a tax resolution firm independent of the IRS** 

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How to Maximize Tax Benefits of Gifts

how to maximize tax benefits of gifts

Giving Tuesday falls on Tuesday, November 29th this year and taxpayers are gearing up for their annual donations to nonprofit organizations. Before the holiday, taxpayers should review how to maximize their tax-deductible donations.  

What is a tax-deductible donation? 

The IRS considers a tax-deductible donation to be any contribution of money or goods to a qualified tax-exempt organization. As of April 2022, in order to deduct these contributions during tax season, you must itemize your deductions by filing Schedule A. 

How much can I deduct? 

Typically, you can deduct up to 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) if you are donating to a charitable organization. If you are donating to another type of organization like a private foundation or fraternal society, the limit is much smaller. These can range from 20% to 50%. If you exceed the limit for the year, you can carry over the excess contributions over the next five tax years.  

What are qualified organizations? 

A qualified organization is one that you make a charitable donation to that can be deducted during tax time. Some of these organizations include religious organizations, governments, nonprofit schools and hospitals, war veterans’ organizations, and others. Some that do not qualify for tax-deductible donations are social or sports clubs, most foreign organizations, lobbyist groups, homeowners’ associations, individuals, political groups and more. It’s also important to note that more common forms of donations like blood, time and services, and raffle tickets may not be deducted. However, you may deduct out-of-pocket expenses that related to volunteering if they were not reimbursed. These can include mileage, gas, and supplies.  

Tax Relief for Gift Givers 

Whenever you donate, it’s important to keep records, no matter how big or small the contribution amount. Bank statements or charity receipts will suffice for monetary donations. If you make donations automatically through paycheck deductions, the contribution amounts will show on your W-2 or pay stubs. If you donate goods, you are allowed to deduct the fair market value of the items. In other words, you may deduct the price a willing buyer would pay for them. The rules surrounding tax-deductible donations can be tricky so when in doubt, give us a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable tax professionals. 

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How to Expense Business Repairs

how to expense business repairs

Certain business owners, including sole proprietors, businesses and rental property owners, can deduct expenses related to maintenance and repairs. The deductions must apply to their property and equipment or vehicles. However, once the repair becomes classified as a betterment, restoration, or adaptation to the property or asset, other rules will apply.  

Routine Repairs & Maintenance 

According to the IRS, routine maintenance to a property or business helps increase the value and prolongs its usefulness. Because routine maintenance keeps the property or asset in normal working order, these expenses can be deducted in full during tax time. For example, repairing a leak in the roof of your rental property would be considered a fully deductible repair, while renovating the kitchen would be considered a capital improvement, which has other tax implications. 


Capitalization, on the other hand, is considered to be a betterment, restoration, or adaptation to the property. In this case, you must capitalize and depreciate the expense over several years. Betterments are repairs that improve a property or business asset. This can include expanding a property or fixing a defect that existed before you purchased the property. Restorations are repairs that restore an asset to its normal condition, like replacing a roof. Adaptations are repairs that change how the property or asset is used. For example, converting a garage into additional office space would be considered an adaptation and would need to be capitalized. Generally, when depreciating these expenses, it is done over a 27.5-year period. 

Home Offices 

For smaller business owners or remote workers, there are home office deductions you can take advantage of during tax time. The IRS divides home office expenses into a couple categories: direct and indirect expenses. Direct expenses benefit your home office only while indirect expenses benefit both your office and your home as a whole. The rules of repairs and improvements also apply to home office expenses. Repairs are entirely deductible while improvements must be depreciated. You can determine if the expense needs to be depreciated if it fits the standards of being a betterment, restoration, or adaptation.  

Tax Relief for Business Owners 

The rules for expensing business repairs and improvements can become tricky. The most basic rule to remember is to deduct the expense when it is a repair that doesn’t qualify as an improvement to your property or business asset. You must capitalize and depreciate expenses that are considered a betterment, restoration or adaptation to your property or business asset. There are some exceptions to these guidelines, referred to as “safe harbors.” You should always check with a knowledgeable tax professional to ensure you remain compliant when capitalizing and depreciating expenses. Give Optima a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable tax professionals. 

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Vehicles for Business Use

vehicles for business use

You can deduct vehicle expenses if you use your car for business purposes. You can even deduct the vehicle’s entire cost of ownership and operation, with some limitations, if it’s only used for business purposes. Tax implications can vary on this topic, so it’s important to understand the deduction rules when it comes to vehicles for business use. 

Which vehicles qualify? 

Cars, SUVs and trucks used for business activities qualify for tax deductions. However, if the vehicle is used as equipment, it is not eligible. This can include dump trucks and cranes. Additionally, the vehicle is also ineligible if it used for hire, like taxis or airport transport vans. 

Standard Mileage Rate vs. Actual Expenses 

There are two methods for calculating your deductible car expenses: using the standard mileage rate or calculating the actual expenses incurred. The standard mileage rate allows employees and self-employed individuals to deduct 58.5 cents per mile in the first half of 2022, and 62.5 cents per mile for the second half of 2022. These miles should only be counted if it was driven for business use only. In addition to the total number of business miles driven, the IRS will also request the number of total miles driven in the year. Using this method, you may also deduct auto loan interest, registration and property taxes, and parking and toll fees. 

The actual expenses method allows taxpayers to deduct all vehicle costs incurred including gas, oil, maintenance, repairs, tires, registration fees, licenses, auto loan interest, insurance, rental or lease payments, depreciation, garage rent and parking and toll fees. You would then calculate your business-use percentage of the vehicle to find the amount you can deduct. 

For example, let’s say your total mileage for the year was 15,000 miles and 12,000 of those miles were for business use, 6,000 in the first half of the year and 6,000 in the second half. Your eligible vehicle expenses for the year totaled $6,000. If you used the standard mileage rate for 2022, your deduction would be $7,260.  

6,000 miles x 58.5 cents (first half of 2022) = $3,510, plus 

6,000 miles x 62.5 cents (second half of 2022) = $3,750 for a total of $7,260 

If you calculated actual vehicle expenses, you could deduct $4,800. 

12,000 miles / 15,000 miles = 80% business use 

80% x $6,000 = $4,800  

In this case, it would be more beneficial to use the standard mileage rate rather than deducting all vehicle expenses. A good rule of thumb is to use the actual expenses method when you have vehicles with high operating costs and the standard mileage rate when you use vehicles with lower operating costs.  

Tax Relief for Businesses 

The rules for taking the standard mileage rate or calculating actual vehicle expenses are mostly straightforward. Another deduction for vehicles for business use is depreciation. You can deduct depreciation to account for general wear and tear of your vehicle. The rules surrounding depreciation can be very complex and it is always best to check with a knowledgeable tax preparer about what is allowed. Give Optima a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable tax professionals. 

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How Home Equity Loans Affect Taxes

how home equity loans affect taxes

Sometimes the idea of taking out a second mortgage can be a viable solution to eliminating debt, funding home renovations, or paying off unexpected medical bills. Before taking out a home equity loan, you should know the tax implications that come with it.  

What is a home equity loan? 

Also known as a second mortgage, a home equity loan is a type of consumer debt that allows homeowners to borrow against the equity in their residence. The equity that you have accumulated through mortgage payments is used as collateral. The loan is paid out to you in a lump sum and is repaid with interest at a fixed rate each month for a set number of years.  

How much can I borrow with a home equity loan? 

Typically, the max you may borrow is around 80% to 85% of your home’s appraised value less the remaining balance on your mortgage. For example, let’s say your home is valued at $500,000, your mortgage balance is $200,000, and your lender will allow you to borrow up to 80% of your home’s value. 

$500,000 x 80% = $400,000  

$400,000 – $200,000 = $200,000 maximum loan amount 

In this scenario, you may borrow up to $200,000. The principal would be repaid at a fixed rate each month for a set number of years in addition to your regular mortgage payment, hence the term “second mortgage.” 

How Do Home Equity Loans Affect My Taxes? 

Like many other loans, the interest on a home equity loan can be tax deductible, but there are some limitations. If you used funds from the loan to “buy, build, or substantially improve” the home that was used to secure the loan, the interest is tax deductible. Since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, you may no longer deduct the interest of the loan if it was used for any other purpose. The amount of interest that may be deducted will also depend on your filing status.  

Tax Relief for Homeowners 

Deducting home equity loan interest only makes sense if your itemized deductible expenses are more than the amount of the standard deduction. If you choose to itemize your deductions and would like to deduct home equity loan interest paid, you will need to supply your tax preparer with IRS Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement. Tax planning can be incredibly stressful and intimidating, especially when taking new actions such as deducting loan interest. It is always best to check with a trusted tax professional to ensure you remain compliant with the most updated tax laws. If you need tax help, give us a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable tax professionals.

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How to Manage Finances as a Single Individual 

how to manage finances as a single individual


As the cost of living continues to rise, it is becoming increasingly difficult for single individuals to live comfortably. Without the safety net of a second income, the need to manage finances as a single individual is more important than ever. The process comes with unique benefits and challenges, both throughout the year and during tax time.  

Budget Tips for Single Individuals 

There are countless budget strategies you can use as a single individual. Some of the most popular ones are the 50/30/20 budget and the zero-based budget. 

50/30/20 Budget 

One of the most popular methods is the 50/30/20 budget, in which you spend about half of your after-tax income on necessities. This includes bills, groceries, housing, and all the other items that are necessary to live. Thirty percent of your income should then go to your “wants”, like dinners, entertainment, and travel. The final 20% should be designated for savings and debt repayment. These percentages can be altered to fit your own specific needs. 

Zero-Based Budget 

In the zero-based budget strategy, every dollar you earn is allocated to a specific expense. A certain dollar amount goes to housing, another goes to utilities, another goes to debt, and so on until every dollar in your paycheck is assigned to one expense. At the end of the pay period, whatever is left over is sent to your savings. This strategy is especially helpful in preventing impulse spending. 

Retirement Tips for Single Individuals 

The key to retirement savings is understanding that the earlier you start, the better. Let’s say two people begin saving $100 per month. One begins at age 25 and the other begins at age 35. The one who begins saving earlier will have nearly twice as much savings by age 65. Prioritizing any portion of your income for retirement can really maximize your savings, especially if you take advantage of employer contributions.  

Automate and Maximize Your Saving 

Having an emergency fund that can cover three to six months of expenses is crucial if you don’t have a second income to rely on if you lose your job or cannot work. Automating your savings can help you reach your goals faster. You can create automatic bank account transfers or even use mobile apps that schedule money transfers from your checking account to your savings account or online account. While you’re at it, you can maximize your savings by opening a high-yield savings account that will accrue interest at a higher rate than a typical savings account. 

Tax Relief for Single Individuals 

During tax season, it’s important to know which tax bracket you’ll fall into as a single filer. The federal income tax bracket for 2022 is as follows: 

  • 10%: $0 – $10,275 
  • 12%: $10,276 – $41,775 
  • 22%: 41,776 – $89,075 
  • 24%: 89,076 – $170,050 
  • 32%: $170,051 – $215,950 
  • 35%: $215,951 – $539,900 
  • 37%: $539,901+ 

Single filers do not qualify for deductions that many families take advantage of, so it’s also important to learn which ones you are eligible for in order to reduce your taxable income, and even your tax bracket. Remember, the tax bracket ranges above are based on taxable income, and not the actual amount of earned income you receive. In other words, the tax bracket is based on your income after deductions and credits are taken. Doing taxes on your own can be intimidating and stressful. Give us a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable tax professionals.

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I Received an IRS Notice: Now What?

i received an irs notice now what

Receiving an IRS notice in the mail can be scary, but the situation can be less daunting if you know what to do. First, it’s important to note that not all IRS notices are negative as some are only informational. In any case, taxpayers should know what steps to take upon receiving an IRS notice. 

Do Review Your IRS Notice 

The IRS will send notices for a variety of reasons, from notifying you of a balance due, to informing you of a delay in processing your return, whether your return is missing a schedule or form required for processing, to informing you of a potential audit. Carefully review your notice for important information, and if you’re unsure of what the notice means, you can look up the CP or LTR number, located on the top or bottom right-hand corner of the notice. It also shows the date and time the IRS expects you to provide the information it is seeking. In the best case scenario, the IRS is pursuing a correspondence audit covering one or two elements of a single year’s tax return, with a deadline by which the IRS expects to receive your reply. Correspondence audits are conducted entirely by mail and makeup 75 to 80 percent of all audits. An in-person interview audit takes place at your local IRS office. A field audit is scheduled for a particular date and time but takes place in your home or office. It is considered the most comprehensive type of audit. 

Don’t Panic

If the information on the notice looks inaccurate, you should respond with a written dispute. Doing so in a timely manner can help minimize interest and penalty fees. Be sure to include any information and supplemental documentation to support your case. Typically, the IRS should respond to disputes within 30 days. Understand what auditors are seeking. While each audit is different, all audits focus on three basic questions:

  1. Is your business truly a business – or just a hobby?
  2. Are your deductions legitimate?
  3. Did you report all your income?
If you can answer these three questions to the satisfaction of the auditor, you stand a good chance of emerging from an audit relatively unscathed.

Gather Your Documentation

Once you have determined what information the IRS is seeking, it’s time to begin gathering your paperwork. If the IRS is challenging a particular deduction or tax credit that you claimed, gather whatever documentation you have to support your claim, including bank statements, receipts, and invoices. Provide as much information as possible concerning the inquiries the IRS has made, but do not volunteer information the IRS has not requested. Also, make photocopies of everything that you intend to provide to the IRS. Never give up your original documents. If you must report in person for an office audit or prepare your home or office for a field audit, ensure that your paperwork – and your representative – will be available and ready. Prepare your responses to the points that have been raised for the years that have been included in the audit notification letter.

Do Respond in a Timely Manner 

If the information on the notice looks inaccurate, you should respond with a written dispute. Doing so in a timely manner can help minimize interest and penalty fees. Be sure to include any information and supplemental documentation to support your case. However, do not volunteer information the IRS has not specifically requested.  Typically, the IRS should respond to disputes within 30 days.  

Do Check for Scams 

Remember that the IRS will never contact you via text message or social media. In fact, initial contact from the IRS is usually via mail. If the notice does not appear credible, you can always check your online tax account on the IRS website to confirm balances due, communication preferences, and more. The IRS will notify a taxpayer if they believe that there may be fraudulent activity occurring on their tax return. The IRS will send a letter to you inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you may have not filed. The IRS will request that you do not e-file your return because of the duplicate social security number that was used. Act quickly should you receive this letter from the IRS to avoid further fraudulent activity with your personal information. 

Do Not Ignore the Notice 

Some IRS notices are purely informational and require no additional action. However, do not assume this is always the case and ignore the notice. Simple mistakes made on your return or underreporting income can result in the IRS requesting action from you. A notice can also be a notification that you owe taxes and will give instructions on how to pay the balance by the due date. 

Do Not Reply Unless Instructed To Do So 

Typically, a response is not needed. Once you confirm a response is not required, you can proceed with other actions. Even if the notice informs you of a balance due, there is no need to contact the IRS unless you do not agree with the information on the notice.  

Tax Relief Professionals for Those Who Owe 

Even if you prepare your own returns, having a professional from Optima Tax Relief check out your response before you return it to the IRS may save you from making a costly error. If you have been contacted for an in-person interview audit or a field audit, the IRS allows you to be accompanied by a representative. Take advantage of this opportunity. You’ll likely be nervous during the procedure and may share information that might prompt the IRS agent to probe beyond the original scope of inquiry. Not only that, most IRS agents prefer dealing with a professional.

The best thing to do to avoid receiving warnings from the IRS is to always ensure that you remain compliant with tax law. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you owe the IRS, tax relief is always an option. If you need tax help, give Optima a call at 800-536-0734 for a free consultation with one of our tax professionals. 

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