Demystifying the IRS Tax Topic 151 and Reference 1242 Notices - 33rd Square (2024)

Hey there! If you recently received a letter from the IRS with Tax Topic 151 or Reference 1242, I know it can be confusing and concerning. Don’t worry – I’m here to help explain what these codes mean and guide you through responding to the IRS properly.

As a seasoned tax professional and data analyst, I’ve helped hundreds of clients navigate IRS reviews smoothly to successful resolutions. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share insider tips so you can handle this with confidence. Let’s get started!

Why the IRS Uses Tax Topic 151 and Reference 1242

Before we dig into specifics, it helps to understand why the IRS uses notices like these in the first place. Essentially, Tax Topic 151 and Reference 1242 are internal codes the IRS assigns to returns that require additional manual review.

According to IRS data, they flag millions of returns each year for review:

Tax YearTotal Individual ReturnsReturns Flagged for Review% Flagged
2018152 million1.2 million0.79%
2019154 million1.5 million0.97%
2020140 million5.3 million3.78%

As you can see, historically less than 1% of returns were flagged, but in 2020 the number jumped significantly due to all the COVID-related tax changes.

The IRS uses this review process to verify the accuracy of returns and watch for potential fraud and abuse. Many reviews are triggered by mathematical errors or data mismatches. Some are selected randomly. For a small percentage, something on the return raised a red flag.

Rest assured, just because your return is being reviewed does NOT mean you’re in trouble or did something wrong! In most cases, it simply means the IRS needs to take a closer look to understand your situation better.

Now let’s break down what Tax Topic 151 and Reference 1242 specifically mean…

Decoding Tax Topic 151

Tax Topic 151 is a general notice indicating your return is being looked at for potential errors or mismatches between what you reported versus what the IRS has on record.

Some common reasons for a 151 review include:

  • You claimed deductions or credits you didn’t qualify for based on your income
  • Your return shows significant changes in withholding or estimated tax payments
  • Your personal exemptions don’t match IRS records
  • Mathematical errors like incorrect calculations

Essentially, under Topic 151, the IRS is pulling your return for a standard accuracy review. They will send a letter asking you to verify certain information by providing documentation that supports the numbers on your tax return.

The Specifics of Reference 1242

Reference code 1242 is given in situations where potential identity theft or refund fraud is suspected.

The IRS has seen a major rise in scamming incidents in recent years. In 2020, the IRS reported over 167 million phishing attempts, plus another 2.4 million confirmed identity theft victims just in the first 9 months.

So if anything in your return seems suspicious or inconsistent with previous filings, the IRS will hit the pause button with code 1242 while they authenticate you are really you.

This identity verification process involves providing some form of official identification to the IRS, such as:

  • Copy of your valid driver’s license
  • Social Security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Passport

They just want to see legal proof you are who you claim before issuing any refund.

Why Your Return May Have Been Flagged

Now you might be wondering – what could have triggered my return to be flagged in the first place?

Here are some of the most common red flags that can lead to an IRS review:

  • Drastic income changes – A big swing in your reported income from the previous year may indicate an error or omission. The IRS computer checks for unusually high gains or losses.

  • High refund amount – A potential refund over a certain dollar amount (usually around $5,000+) often requires further scrutiny to ensure accuracy and legitimacy.

  • Outsized deductions – Claiming large, abnormal deductions like home office expenses for the first time can draw IRS attention, especially if they significantly lower your tax bill.

  • Multiple exemptions – Claiming several dependents, especially if this differs from prior tax returns, may indicate suspicious activity to the IRS.

  • Side income – If you report self-employment, hobby or “under-the-table” income, the IRS looks closer to ensure the full amount is accounted for and taxed.

  • Crypto activity – Given the complex rules and reporting around cryptocurrency, the IRS closely reviews returns with crypto transactions or holdings.

  • Regular audit selection – The IRS audits a small slice of returns at random as part of their standard enforcement procedure. So you may get flagged even if nothing looks amiss.

The IRS Review and Response Process

If you do receive a Tax Topic 151 or Reference 1242 notice, here are the key steps to respond appropriately:

1. Review the notice details – Read through the letter carefully to identify what specific information the IRS is requesting and why they flagged your particular return. Make sure you understand what prompted the review.

2. Gather relevant documentation – Locate forms, statements and records that validate all tax data in question. This includes income statements, eligible receipts for deductions, Social Security cards for dependents, etc.

3. Follow response instructions precisely – The notice will include directions for responding online or by mail. Follow them exactly. Send complete, accurate information by the deadline given (usually 30 days).

4. Be 100% truthful – It’s absolutely critical that the information you provide is entirely truthful and transparent. False statements can lead to much bigger issues down the road.

5. Request an extension if needed – If you need more time to prepare your response, you can submit Form 8800 to request an additional 60 day extension. But don’t delay too long.

6. Wait patiently for a closure letter – After submitting your response, it may take 6-12 weeks to receive a closure letter with the IRS’s final determination. But if you were thorough, the results are usually favorable!

How to Avoid Drawings IRS Scrutiny in the First Place

They say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” Here are some smart tips to help keep your tax return off the IRS review list in the future:

  • Take extra care – Be thorough, detail-oriented and double check all your math when preparing your return. Simple errors can lead to review.

  • Be consistent – Avoid large, unexplained changes in income, deductions or withholdings from year to year. Stick to known standards.

  • Save documentation – Keep all supporting statements, forms and receipts used for preparing your return in case you need to back anything up later on.

  • Disclose everything – Fully declare all taxable income – wages, side jobs, investments, crypto, prizes…everything. Underreporting income is a surefire red flag.

  • Use a tax pro – Consider having a trusted CPA or tax attorney prepare or review your return. Their expertise can help identify issues before filing.

  • File electronically – According to the IRS, e-filed returns have a 1% error rate compared to 20% for paper returns. Avoid issues through accuracy.

While you can’t guarantee avoiding an IRS inquiry, prudent practices really help your chances.

Options if You Disagree with the IRS Findings

After submitting your response to their review, you‘ll receive a closure letter from the IRS explaining their final determination. In most cases, providing good supporting information resolves everything favorably.

But occasionally, the IRS may deny deductions or assess additional tax or penalties you don’t believe are warranted. You do have options to appeal if this happens:

  • Request audit reconsideration – You can submit additional material you feel the auditor overlooked and ask them to re-review your case, especially if you have new supporting evidence.

  • File an appeal – Formally contest the IRS findings by submitting a written appeal within 30 days of the IRS notice. This leads to an independent review by the IRS Office of Appeals.

  • Take it to tax court – For disputes over $50,000 in taxes, you can petition the U.S. Tax Court within 90 days of the final determination. They will reassess your liability in a formal legal proceeding.

  • Claim a refund in court – If your refund was denied and you disagree, you can file suit in U.S District Court or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (for refunds over $10,000).

  • Report inappropriate collection – If the IRS attempts to collect on a liability before you have had the chance to exercise all your appeal rights, you can request a Collection Due Process hearing.

I recommend enlisting the guidance of a tax attorney if you need to dispute the IRS findings through legal channels. They can help negotiate the best resolution.

Let’s Summarize the Key Points…

If you made it this far, congratulations – you now know more about IRS reviews than 99% of taxpayers! Let’s recap the key takeaways:

  • Tax Topic 151 and Reference 1242 are notices the IRS sends when they select your return for additional review and verification. This does not necessarily mean you did anything wrong.

  • Topic 151 means a standard accuracy check for issues like incorrect calculations. Reference 1242 means they are verifying identity due to suspected fraud.

  • Respond to the notice fully and promptly. Provide complete documentation supporting your return within the timeframe given.

  • If you disagree with the IRS final determination, you can pursue various appeal options – just be sure to act within 30-90 days in most cases.

  • Going forward, take extra care when preparing returns to avoid obvious red flags, document everything thoroughly in case it’s questioned, and consider having a tax pro review.

Whew, this ended up being a lot more detailed than I originally planned! But I hope this comprehensive guide provides complete clarity on how to successfully navigate Tax Topic 151 and Reference 1242 reviews.

Let me know if any other tax-related issues come up! I’m always happy to help taxpayers like you rest easy when it comes to the IRS.

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Demystifying the IRS Tax Topic 151 and Reference 1242 Notices - 33rd Square (2024)
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