Recent changes in the tax laws eliminating or curtailing some long-time deductions and credits could turn ordinary taxpayers into inadvertent tax cheats if they are not careful.
"Tax law is so complex nowadays, you often don't know what you don't know," New Jersey tax attorney Brad Paladini said in an interview with CNBC's "American Greed."
The term "tax cheat" brings to mind infamous felons like Al Capone, whose decade-long reign of murder and mayhem ended in 1931 only after the feds managed to prove he evaded $250,000 in taxes. Or New York hotelier Leona Helmsley, who once famously declared that "only the little people pay taxes," only to wind up in prison for failing to pay hers. Or even MTV "Jersey Shore" star Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, accused of failing to report millions of dollars in income for things like product endorsements and personal appearances. For Sorrentino, flouting the tax law was no accident.
"In 2011, I can tell you that he did not file a tax return at all," IRS special agent Cheryl Matejicka told "American Greed."
Sorrentino recently completed an eight-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2018 to a single count of tax evasion. He paid a $10,000 fine and $123,000 in restitution.
Of course, the same laws and penalties that ensnared Sorrentino and others also apply to everyone else, which is why Paladini believes most taxpayers should not try to do their taxes on their own.
"My best piece of advice is to find a good CPA to help you prepare the tax return. Don't try to prepare it yourself," he said.
And make sure it is someone who is not a pushover when it comes to deductions and tax-avoidance strategies.
"You've got to find somebody who's willing to tell you, 'no'," he said.