There is no question the tax code is massive. No matter how knowledgeable or experienced you are, mistakes will happen. The consequences of such mistakes can be minor or they can cost serious amounts of additional tax, interest and penalties.
Filing an amended return is your only option after the due date, including extensions. An amended return solves most problems. Interest and penalties may apply. In some cases even an amended return can’t fix an error; you could lose entire deductions forever.
The number of elections available is large. Some are irrevocable. Making, or failing to make, an election is set in stone in some cases with the original return. Failure to check one little box can cost you a large deduction permanently.
A superseding return may be the only option if you file it on time.
Amended or Superseding Return
A superseding tax return incorporates the new information into the original tax return if filed by the due date, including extensions.
A superseding return is filed after a subsequent return and before the due date, plus extensions. (That was worth repeating.) The second return is a superseding return. A superseding return it generally treated as the original return, incorporating the new information and modifying (superseding) the earlier return.
Here is a small example where a superseding return is valuable tool.
A common error involves the Section 1.263(a)-1(f) de minimis safe harbor election. Most tax professionals (and readers of this blog) know they can deduct assets up to $2,500 rather than depreciate these expenses over a number of years if they make the appropriate election. The election is required every year. (The IRS says the election must be made “timely”. I take this to mean the election must be made on an original return filed by the due date, plus extensions. A late filed return may not allow the election.) The election is irrevocable.
In my office we automatically make this election for all returns with rental properties or a small business. (All corporate and partnerships returns also automatically get the election.)
Making the safe harbor election covers items a client may have neglected to inform the tax preparer of. If the election is made and not necessary, no harm done. If the election is necessary and forgotten, serious potential harm exists.
The IRS is less than clear when it comes to superseding returns. Corporations (S-corps, too) have a nifty box to check when e-filing a superseding return. Only corporations can electronically file a superseding return. Be sure to check the appropriate box or the IRS will probably reject the return as duplicate.
There are IRS instructions on when a superseding return must be filed on an individual income tax return. Unfortunately there are no instructions how to do it!
Superseding personal returns MUST be paper filed. Some tax professionals prefer filing a superseding personal return in the format of an original return and writing “SUPERSEDING RETURN” across the top of the first page. Because this will probably be flagged as a duplicate return another method is advised.
A superseding personal return should be prepared as an amended return on Form 1040X. (There is no superseding box to check.) All amended personal returns filed before the due date, including extensions, are automatically treated as superseding, incorporating the new data and modifying the original return. This means a forgotten irrevocable election CAN be made and is treated as if made on the originally filed return.
If a superseding return is filed before the due date (without consideration for extensions) interest and penalties are also avoided.
Amended returns filed after the due date, including extensions, are not incorporated into the original return. A required “timely” election is not allowed at this point.
In English, What Does This Mean?
The concept is short and simple, but often forgotten. A business owner may discover forgotten deductions for her business return when filing her personal return. The superseding return is a simple and fast solution for a previously filed corporate return. Add the new data, check the box marking the return as superseding and electronically file.
Individuals file an amended return for the same result, which must be mailed.
It sounds like a minor issue. When I review returns from outside my firm I need a powerful tool to make changes, especially when elections are involved. The tax code doesn’t automatically grant you preferred treatment. Special treatment must be requested in writing. Many elections are irrevocable. Many elections are required on an originally return filed by the due date, including extensions.
In English, filing an amended return before the due date (including extensions) on a personal return supersedes the originally filed return and solves most election issues. You can add a forgotten election if you catch it in time. Waiting for the IRS letter is too late. Consider the superseding return an amended return with a really tight due date, allowing you full sway in how the original return looks. It also eliminates or reduces interest and penalties.