Historically, you could be put in prison for owing money to a person or agency. Today in America, there are many other legal options for someone who is facing insurmountable debt, which is no longer considered a criminal affair. That is, unless the agency you owe is the Internal Revenue Service.

Not all unpaid taxes could turn into criminal charges, though. Tax evasion or tax fraud requires a bit more than unpaid taxes. Even an error on your tax return doesn’t net a criminal charge if it was an honest mistake,

For a conviction on tax evasion charges to stick, the IRS and prosecutors must prove that you purposely attempted to underpay the taxes that you owed. This means that they can prove that you purposely changed information on the return to create a smaller tax liability or that you took other action to reduce the amount of your bill. Some actions that could be seen as tax evasion include underreporting income, inflating expenses for deductions and attempting to misuse loopholes in the tax law.

If you simply don’t file a tax return, this can also be seen as an attempt to evade taxes. White collar crimes such as tax evasion might not sound as serious as some other crimes, but they can still land you in jail, with consequences to your career and family.

Tax returns are generally not optional, and the IRS does understand that people make mistakes. However, the IRS makes mistakes too, which means that they can wrongly accuse someone of tax evasion. If you’re accused of tax evasion because you made a mistake on your taxes, then seeking immediate help with criminal defense is important to protecting your freedom and future.

Source: FindLaw, “Tax Evasion,” accessed Sep. 11, 2015