If you are a mutual fund investor, you may want to wait until the end of the month before filing your tax return.
This is the advice that many accountants and financial planners are giving their clients this year after anticipating and then seeing an upswing in the number of 1099 forms that contain errors. The 1099 is the form that tells a taxpayer how much income -- from freelance work, or dividends and interest -- a fund or brokerage house or individual company has reported to the government as having been received by the taxpayer.
Changes to the tax law last year slashed the levy on certain dividends to a maximum of 15 percent from 38.6 percent. But brokerage firms and mutual fund companies have had a terrible time figuring out which dividend income qualifies for the break, in part because of a technical error written into the law.
The Internal Revenue Service has attempted to address the mistake with a directive that assumes Congress will ultimately fix the law, easing some of the headache for tax preparers.
But it hasn't stopped the unusually high flow of 1099 forms that have had to be corrected.
"It is what people feared, and there is not much we can do about it," said Patricia McClanahan, director of tax policy at the Securities Industry Association, a trade group in Washington. "It looks like there will be a fair number of corrections."
In a typical year, 5 to 8 percent of 1099 forms get corrected, McClanahan said, adding that she expects the number this year could climb as high as 25 percent. About half of all individual tax returns contain some type of 1099 data, according to the IRS.
"I'll know a lot more in a month," said Peter McKenna, the partner in charge of tax services for Beers & Cutler in Washington, D.C. "People have gotten used to corrected 1099s. It hasn't been unusual in the last couple of years. This is just one more complexity."
Financial firms have until Jan. 31 to send out 1099s. If they subsequently find mistakes based on better assumptions and data, they send out a corrected version, the 1099R. There is no deadline for companies to send out corrected forms. Taxpayers who file a return based on an incorrect 1099 form are required to submit an amended return, which can cost $100 to $200, depending on how much their accountant charges.
That is why many accountants are advising taxpayers simply to wait.