No one in their right mind would welcome an IRS audit. However, sometime during your life, you may expect to have an IRS audit of some sort, even if only a correspondence audit. Other types of IRS audits include what they call a field audit which occurs at your place of business and an office audit which occurs at the IRS office. From time to time, clients will mention to me that they don’t fear an audit because they have done nothing wrong and have all of the necessary substantiation. Even, in the best of cases, audits are no fun – they are ALWAYS a huge time suck for you and for your professional and, thusly, can be quite expensive.
A further note about correspondence audits – at least half of the tax notices you receive from the IRS are incorrect. Yet, too many taxpayers upon receiving a notice with a balance due simply send the IRS a check. Yes, the IRS loves people like that! Upon receipt of any IRS correspondence, please immediately relay it to your CPA for an appropriate review and response.
It is rare, but not entirely unheard of, for an IRS agent to appear at your home or place of business. If that were to happen and regardless of how friendly they appear your best response is typically very simple. Be polite and inform the agent your CPA will be handling the questions on your behalf. Then, give the agent the name and contact information of your CPA. Ask the agent nicely to call your CPA with any questions that they may have. The same is also true for the receipt of an IRS letter notifying you that your income tax returns are under audit. Get that letter to your accounting firm so they can handle the audit on your behalf. It is not in your best interest to speak to the IRS agent before, during or after the audit. That is the job of your professional.
The below article written by Jane Hodges - HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT IRS AUDITS? was published in the WSJ on March 25, 2019. It provides further information on the IRS process.
- Mark Bradstreet
The Internal Revenue Service audits tax returns every year—striking fear in the hearts of many whose accidental or deliberate errors may have led them to underpay the U.S. Treasury.
While the prospect can be terrifying, very few returns are actually audited and many audits are resolved through correspondence. The volume of IRS audits has declined in recent years to 933,785 in 2017 from 1.56 million in 2011, according to IRS data. Some audits even result in a refund. Many, of course, result in tax liabilities.
Still, it never hurts to prepare taxes with care, save records and understand changing tax laws (or work with professionals who do) so your returns will be less likely to raise flags.
What follows is a quiz to help readers hone their smarts about IRS audits.
1. What does the IRS call an audit?
C) Tax year review
D) Tax interview
Answer: B. Audits are referred to as examinations, and a taxpayer being audited corresponds with or meets an “examiner” assigned to his or her case.
2. What percentage of returns were audited during 2017?
Answer: A. During fiscal 2017, the IRS audited 0.5% of the 196 million returns it received during the calendar year 2016. That was down from 0.7% the previous year.
3. How does the IRS choose which tax returns to audit?
A) It hires private investigators
B) It looks at tax returns associated with filers undergoing existing audits
C) Computer screening
D) It reviews those whose income has more than doubled in a 10-year period
Answer: B and C. The IRS looks at the company that audit subjects keep. “We may select your returns when they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers, such as business partners or investors, whose returns were selected for audit,” it says in an FAQ about audits on an IRS website. It also uses random computer screening in which algorithms track “norms” for deductions and expenses relative to the filer’s income and other factors.
4. How does the IRS notify a person or business of an audit?
A) By letter
B) By phone
C) Through email
D) Via process server
Answer: A. The IRS typically notifies taxpayers of audits in letters citing what years are under examination and which deductions or aspects of the returns need verification, substantiation or discussion. Once the audit is under way, a representative may call, but the IRS doesn’t initiate audits over the telephone. If you get a call from someone claiming to represent the IRS and notifying you of an audit, it is likely a scam.
5. Where are audits conducted?
A) In an IRS office
B) At the taxpayer’s home or place of business
C) Via correspondence
D) At the office of an authorized representative (tax attorney, CPA, enrolled agent)
Answer: Any of the above, depending on the degree of the inquiry or where the taxpayer stores records or conducts business and other factors. The IRS generally makes the final determination.
6. What percentage of tax audits are conducted by correspondence?
Answer: D. During fiscal 2017, when the IRS examined tax returns for the prior year and before, some 70.8% of audits were conducted by correspondence.
7. How long does the IRS expect taxpayers to keep tax records?
B) Five years following the date a return is filed
C) Three years following the date a return is filed or two years from the date a tax is paid
D) Six years, or seven years if the taxpayer is writing off bad debt or worthless securities
Answer: C, and sometimes D. Generally, the IRS suggests taxpayers keep tax records for three years after filing a return or two years from the date they paid tax. In some circumstances, say, if you failed to report income, didn’t file a return, or were flagged for filing a fraudulent return, it’s advisable to keep records longer.
8. Which household income level experiences a 12.5% incidence of audits?
A) $125,000 or more
B) $200,000 or more
C) $250,000 or more
D) $1 million or more
Answer: D. According to Intuit, 1% of taxpayers earning $200,000 or less are audited. Beyond that, the more a taxpayer earns, the more likely an audit is. Some 4% of those earning more than $200,000 are audited, and 12.5% of those earning $1 million or more are audited.
9. When filing taxes, what form of filing is most error-prone, according to the IRS?
A) Electronic filing
B) Returns filed by mail
C) Returns filed from abroad
D) Returns that are filed after an extension request
Answer: B. According to IRS information provided to TurboTax, those who file a return by mail show a 21% incidence of errors, while those who file electronically show only a 0.5% incidence of errors. TurboTax does not cite a reason why online filers have less errors, but presumably online filing software runs math or does automatic calculations which could reduce math-related errors.
10. How far back does the IRS go when choosing returns to audit?
A) 2 years
B) 3 years
C) 6 years
D) 10 years
Answer: B and C. The IRS generally goes back no more than three years in choosing returns to audit, but if it finds a “substantial error,” the agency says it may go back as far as six years.
Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.