According to the IRS’ most recent Data Book, the IRS audited nearly 1.4M tax returns in 2014, approximately 0.8 percent of all individual tax returns filed in calendar year 2014 and 1.3% of corporation income tax returns filed in that same year.
IRS examinations (otherwise known as audits!) are done to determine if income, expenses, and credits are being reported accurately. Of the exams that take place, the most common method is a correspondence audit (examination by mail), but the IRS also does field exams (face-to-face audits).
ONE QUESTION WE HEAR ASKED QUITE OFTEN IS WHAT CAUSES THE IRS TO AUDIT A RETURN?
While there is no simple answer to that question, the IRS uses several different methods to select their audits: random selection and computer screening, and related exams.
RANDOM SELECTION AND COMPUTER SCREENING
Sometimes returns are selected based solely on a statistical formula. They will compare your tax return against “norms” for similar returns. The IRS develops these “norms” from audits of a random sample of returns.
The IRS may also select your return when it involves issues or transactions with other taxpayers, such as business partners or investors, whose returns were selected for audit.
“CAN YOU MAKE THAT A LITTLE MORE SIMPLE FOR ME???”
We would break down the audit triggers into two categories: Individual 1040 Triggers and Business Triggers.
ON THE INDIVIDUAL SIDE:
- Not reporting all income
- Making more than $200,000 a year
- Claiming “Hobby” activities as a business activity
- Filing a schedule C or E with your tax return
- Excessive business deductions on your schedule C
- Large schedule C losses
ON THE CORPORATE SIDE:
- Unusually low salary of an S-Corp Officer
- Large meal and entertainment expenses
- Claiming 100% business use of a vehicle
We are also asked about the risk of filing an amended return. According to the IRS website: “Filing an amended return does not affect the selection process of the original return. However, amended returns also go through a screen process and the amended return may be selected for audit.”
ADDITIONAL AUDIT NOTES
- Should your account be selected for audit, the IRS will notify you by mail, they never initiate an audit by telephone. They will provide you with a written request for the specific documents they want to see.
- The law requires you to keep all records you used to prepare your tax return for at least three years; so be sure to keep all records for three years from the date the tax return was filed.
- Generally, the IRS will not go back more than three years. The IRS tries to audit tax returns as soon as possible after they are filed. Accordingly most audits will be of returns filed within the last two years.
- An audit can be concluded in three ways:
- NO CHANGE: an audit in which you have substantiated all of the items being reviewed and results in no changes.
- AGREED: an audit where the IRS proposed changes and you understand and agree with the changes.
- DISAGREED: an audit where the IRS has proposed changes and you understand but disagree with the changes.
If you agree with the audit findings, you will be asked to sign the examination report or a similar form depending upon the type of audit conducted. If you owe money, there are several payment options available. If you disagree with the audit findings you can request a conference with an IRS manager. The IRS also offers mediation or you can file an appeal if there is enough time remaining on the statute of limitations.