IRS Audits & Exams FAQ

1. What triggers an IRS audit?

An IRS audit can be triggered by various factors, such as inconsistencies or errors in your tax return, unusually high deductions or credits, random selection, or information received from third parties that doesn’t match your reported income.

2. How will I be notified if I am selected for an audit?

The IRS will typically notify you of an audit through mail. They will send an official letter, known as an audit notification letter, which will provide details about the audit, including the tax years under examination and the specific issues being reviewed.

3. Do I need to hire a tax professional to represent me during an audit?

While it is not mandatory to hire a tax professional, it is highly recommended. A tax professional, such as a tax attorney or a certified public accountant (CPA), can provide valuable guidance, represent you before the IRS, and help ensure that your rights are protected during the audit process.

4. What documents should I gather and organize before the audit?

Before the audit, you should gather and organize all relevant documents, such as income statements (W-2s, 1099s), expense receipts, bank statements, and any other supporting documentation related to your tax return. It is important to have a complete and accurate record of your financial transactions.

5. Can I request an extension if I need more time to prepare for the audit?

Yes, you can request an extension if you need more time to prepare for the audit. You should contact the IRS as soon as possible and explain your situation. They may grant you an extension, but it is important to communicate and comply with their requirements.

6. What happens during an IRS audit?

During an IRS audit, the auditor will review your tax return and supporting documents to verify the accuracy of your reported income, deductions, and credits. They may request additional information or clarification on certain items. The audit can be conducted through mail, at an IRS office, or at your place of business.

6. Can I refuse to provide certain documents or information during the audit?

It is generally not advisable to refuse to provide requested documents or information during an audit. The IRS has the authority to request and review relevant records to determine the accuracy of your tax return. However, you have the right to consult with a tax professional and understand the scope of the audit before providing any information.

7. What are my rights as a taxpayer during an audit?

As a taxpayer, you have certain rights during an audit. These include the right to professional and courteous treatment, the right to representation, the right to appeal an IRS decision, and the right to privacy and confidentiality. The IRS provides a comprehensive list of taxpayer rights that you should be aware of. 

8. What are the potential outcomes of an IRS audit?

The potential outcomes of an IRS audit can vary. If the auditor determines that your tax return is accurate, no changes will be made. However, if discrepancies or errors are found, adjustments may be made to your tax liability, resulting in additional taxes, penalties, or interest. In some cases, the audit may lead to a criminal investigation if there is evidence of tax fraud.

9. Can I appeal the results of an audit if I disagree with them?

Yes, you have the right to appeal the results of an audit if you disagree with them. You can request an appeal within a specific timeframe and provide supporting documentation to support your position. The appeals process allows for an independent review of your case by an IRS appeals officer.

10. How long does an IRS audit typically take?

The duration of an IRS audit can vary depending on the complexity of the issues involved and the availability of both the taxpayer and the auditor. In general, an audit can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Complex audits or those involving multiple tax years may take longer.

11. What are the common red flags that may increase the likelihood of an audit?

Certain red flags may increase the likelihood of an audit. These include claiming excessive deductions or credits, inconsistent reporting of income, running a cash-intensive business, or having international financial transactions. However, it is important to note that not all taxpayers with red flags will be audited.

12. Can the IRS audit my previous tax returns if I am currently under audit?

The IRS generally focuses on the tax years specified in the audit notification letter. However, if significant issues are discovered during the audit that may impact prior tax years, the IRS may expand the scope of the audit to include those years.

13. What are the penalties for non-compliance during an audit?

Penalties for non-compliance during an audit can include accuracy-related penalties, failure-to-file penalties, failure-to-pay penalties, and interest on unpaid taxes. The specific penalties will depend on the nature and severity of the non-compliance.

14. What are my options if I can't afford to pay the taxes owed after an audit?

If you can’t afford to pay the taxes owed after an audit, you have several options. You can request an installment agreement to pay the amount over time, propose an offer in compromise if you believe you can’t pay the full amount, or consider other options such as temporarily delaying collection until your financial situation improves. Consulting with a tax professional can help you determine the best course of action.

15. Can I request an instalment agreement if I owe additional taxes after an audit?

Yes, if you owe additional taxes after an audit and are unable to pay the full amount immediately, you can request an installment agreement with the IRS. An installment agreement allows you to make monthly payments over time to satisfy your tax debt.

16. What is the difference between an office audit, field audit, and correspondence audit?

An office audit is conducted at an IRS office, a field audit takes place at your home or place of business, and a correspondence audit is conducted through mail. The type of audit you undergo will depend on the complexity of your tax return and the issues being examined.

17. Can the IRS audit my business records if I am being audited personally?

Yes, if you are being audited personally, the IRS may also review your business records if you are a business owner. The audit may include a review of your personal and business financial transactions to ensure compliance with tax laws.

18. How far back can the IRS go in auditing my tax returns?

The general rule is that the IRS can audit tax returns filed within the last three years. However, if substantial errors or fraud are suspected, the IRS may go back further, and audit returns filed within the last six years.

19. Can the IRS audit me if I didn't file a tax return for a specific year?

Yes, the IRS can initiate an audit if you didn’t file a tax return for a specific year. Failing to file a tax return is a serious offense, and the IRS may take enforcement actions to ensure compliance.

20. How can I avoid being audited by the IRS?

While there is no foolproof way to avoid an IRS audit, there are steps you can take to minimize the likelihood. This includes maintaining accurate and complete records, double-checking your tax return for errors, avoiding excessive deductions or credits, and seeking professional advice when needed.

21. How should I respond to requests for information from the IRS?

When the IRS requests information from you, it is important to respond promptly and provide the requested documents or data. You can generally respond by mail or electronically, depending on the instructions provided in the notice. Ensure that you carefully follow the instructions and provide accurate and complete information.

22. How does the IRS select tax returns for audit?

The IRS uses various methods to select tax returns for audit. Some returns are chosen randomly as part of their compliance efforts, while others may be selected based on specific criteria. This could include a higher likelihood of errors or discrepancies compared to similar returns, involvement in certain transactions or industries, or connections to other taxpayers who are under audit.

23. What should I do if I can't locate the necessary documents requested by the IRS?

If you can’t locate the necessary documents requested by the IRS, make sure to inform the examiner as soon as possible. They may provide guidance on alternative methods to obtain the information or suggest acceptable substitutes. It’s important to be proactive and work with the examiner to find a solution.

24. Can I request a change of examiner if I have concerns about their conduct or impartiality?

If you have concerns about the conduct or impartiality of the examiner assigned to your audit, you can request a change. Contact the examiner’s supervisor or the local IRS office handling your case to express your concerns and request a different examiner. It’s important to provide specific reasons for your request.