Credit and debit card fraud was already a big problem when COVID-19 hit. Although how much payment card fraud increased in 2020 depends on the source, most experts agree that, like most types of fraud, it flourished during the pandemic. COVID-19-related prevention and treatment scams and increased online shopping likely contributed to this rise.

If you become a victim, it’s probably good to hear that the law protects consumers from serious losses. But to reduce financial liability, you need to follow the reporting rules carefully.

Unauthorized credit card charges

If your credit card is lost or stolen and you report the loss to the card issuer before your card is used in a fraudulent transaction, you can’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges. If you report it after unauthorized charges have been made, you may be responsible for up to $50 in charges.

Some card issuers have decided not to hold their customers liable for any fraudulent charges regardless of when they notify the card company. And if your account number is stolen but not the actual card, your liability is $0. But either you or the card issuer must identify the fraudulent transactions for them to be removed.

Compromised debit cards 

If you report a missing debit card before any unauthorized transactions are made, you aren’t responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If you report a card loss within two business days after you learn of the loss, your maximum liability for unauthorized transactions is $50.

If you report the card loss after two business days but within 60 calendar days of the date your statement showing an unauthorized transaction was mailed, your liability can jump to $500. Finally, if you report the card loss more than 60 calendar days after your statement showing unauthorized transactions was sent, you could be liable for all charges. This includes money taken from accounts linked to your debit account.

What if you notice an unauthorized debit card transaction on your statement, but your card is still in your possession? You have 60 calendar days after the statement showing the unauthorized transaction is sent to report it and avoid liability.

Action steps

When reporting a card loss or fraudulent transaction, contact the issuer via phone. Then follow up with a letter or email. This should include your account number, the date you noticed the card was missing (if applicable), and the date you initially reported the card loss or fraudulent transaction.

Because liability levels depend in some circumstances on your card issuer, it pays to find out your issuer’s policies — before you’re subject to them. Also take steps to protect your payment card and personal information. The Federal Trade Commission provides a good list of fraud protection practices at consumer.ftc.gov (search for “credit card fraud”). Contact us for more information.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

If you file a joint tax return with your spouse, you should be aware of your individual liability. And if you’re getting divorced, you should know that there may be relief available if the IRS comes after you for certain past-due taxes.

What’s “joint and several” liability?

When a married couple files a joint tax return, each spouse is “jointly and severally” liable for the full tax amount on the couple’s combined income. That means the IRS can come after either spouse to collect the entire tax — not just the part that’s attributed to one spouse or the other. Liability includes any tax deficiency that the IRS assesses after an audit, as well as penalties and interest. (However, the civil fraud penalty can be imposed only on spouses who’ve actually committed fraud.)

When are spouses “innocent?”

In some cases, spouses are eligible for “innocent spouse relief.” This generally involves individuals who didn’t know about a tax understatement that was attributable to the other spouse.

To be eligible, you must show that you were unaware of the understatement and there was nothing that should have made you suspicious. In addition, the circumstances must make it inequitable to hold you liable for the tax. This relief may be available even if you’re still married and living with your spouse.

In addition, spouses may be able to limit liability for a tax deficiency on a joint return if they’re widowed, divorced, legally separated or have lived apart for at least one year.

How can liability be limited?

In some cases, a spouse can elect to limit liability for a deficiency on a joint return to just his or her allocable portion of the deficiency. If you make this election, the tax items that gave rise to the deficiency will be allocated between you and your spouse as if you’d filed separate returns.

The election won’t provide relief from your spouse’s tax items if the IRS proves that you knew about the items when you signed the tax return — unless you can show that you signed it under duress. Also, liability will be increased by the value of any assets that your spouse transferred to you in order to avoid the tax.

What is an “injured” spouse?

In addition to innocent spouse relief, there’s also relief for “injured” spouses. What’s the difference? An injured spouse claim asks the IRS to allocate part of a joint tax refund to one spouse. In these cases, one spouse has all or part of a refund from a joint return applied against certain past-due taxes, child or spousal support, or federal nontax debts (such as student loans) owed by the other spouse. If you’re an injured spouse, you may be entitled to recoup your refund share.

Whether, and to what extent, you can take advantage of the above relief depends on your situation. If you’re interested in trying to obtain relief, there’s paperwork that must be filed and deadlines that must be met. We can assist you with the details.

Also, keep “joint and several liability” in mind when filing future tax returns. Even if a joint return results in less tax, you may want to file a separate return if you want to be responsible only for your own tax.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

When a married couple files a joint tax return, each spouse is “jointly and severally” liable for the full amount of tax on the couple’s combined income. Therefore, the IRS can come after either spouse to collect the entire tax — not just the part that’s attributed to one spouse or the other. This includes any tax deficiency that the IRS assesses after an audit, as well as any penalties and interest. (However, the civil fraud penalty can be imposed only on spouses who’ve actually committed fraud.)

Innocent spouses

In some cases, spouses are eligible for “innocent spouse relief.” This generally involves individuals who were unaware of a tax understatement that was attributable to the other spouse.

To qualify, you must show not only that you didn’t know about the understatement, but that there was nothing that should have made you suspicious. In addition, the circumstances must make it inequitable to hold you liable for the tax. This relief is available even if you’re still married and living with your spouse.

In addition, spouses may be able to limit liability for any tax deficiency on a joint return if they’re widowed, divorced, legally separated or have lived apart for at least one year.

Election to limit liability

If you make this election, the tax items that gave rise to the deficiency will be allocated between you and your spouse as if you’d filed separate returns. For example, you’d generally be liable for the tax on any unreported wage income only to the extent that you earned the wages.

The election won’t provide relief from your spouse’s tax items if the IRS proves that you knew about the items when you signed the return — unless you can show that you signed the return under duress. Also, the limitation on your liability is increased by the value of any assets that your spouse transferred to you in order to avoid the tax.

An “injured” spouse

In addition to innocent spouse relief, there’s also relief for “injured” spouses. What’s the difference? An injured spouse claim asks the IRS to allocate part of a joint refund to one spouse. In these cases, an injured spouse has all or part of a refund from a joint return applied against past-due federal tax, state tax, child or spousal support, or a federal nontax debt (such as a student loan) owed by the other spouse. If you’re an injured spouse, you may be entitled to recoup your share of the refund.

Whether, and to what extent, you can take advantage of the above relief depends on the facts of your situation. If you’re interested in trying to obtain relief, there’s paperwork that must be filed and deadlines that must be met. We can assist you with the details.

Also, keep “joint and several liability” in mind when filing future tax returns. Even if a joint return results in less tax, you may choose to file a separate return if you want to be certain of being responsible only for your own tax. Contact us with any questions or concerns.

© 2019 Covenant CPA