You’ve just received the dreaded letter from the IRS, which says that either your personal income taxes or your business taxes are about to be audited. The IRS will perform one of three types of audits: a correspondence audit, an IRS office audit or a field audit.
- A correspondence audit is conducted through the mail. The IRS is probably asking for specific documentation of a certain item on your tax return.
- An IRS office audit usually checks up on people who are either self-employed or own a small business. You may be asked to bring a list of items to a local IRS office, or you may be asked to stop by the IRS and explain your entire return.
- A field audit is the most comprehensive type of audit. In these cases, an IRS agent will come to your home or place of business to physically examine items deducted on your tax return.
In many cases, you should seek the assistance of someone who has completed either a traditional or online graduate tax program. Also, while you go through the process, keep these four keys to surviving an audit in mind.
The National Small Business Association suggests you prepare for your audit by reading IRS Publication 1, entitled “Your Rights as a Taxpayer.” Additionally, obtain a copy of Publication 556, “Examination of Returns, Appeal Rights and Claims for Refund.” Read any additional IRS publications that explain the specific tax issue that the agent wants to discuss.
You may know that the IRS wants to audit you because you’ve failed to pay the taxes that you owe. Navigate to the IRS website and click on the “Payments” tab at the top of the page. You’ll see information about how to pay and what to do if you if you can’t pay. Use the information to come up with a payment proposal, and bring your payment proposal to your audit.
Bring Only Necessary Documents
Avoid providing information that the agent hasn’t specifically requested. For example, don’t bring documents related to prior years’ returns. If documents or receipts related to your audit are missing, then you have the right to reconstruct that information by talking to others. For example, if you made a donation to charity but lost the receipt, you can ask the charity for a copy.
When you correspond with the IRS, keep every document that you receive from the agency. Take notes during all of your meetings, and use those notes to formulate a letter to the IRS. Explain what was said during the meeting and any agreements that were made in the letter, and mail it to the IRS so that the letter is in your file.
Milk the Schedule
As a taxpayer, you have the right to schedule your audit at the time and place of your convenience. If you need additional time to prepare documents, request a delay. You can request a recess at any time during the meeting if you need to consult a tax professional.
Although you can stretch certain aspects of the schedule, do not fail to meet IRS deadlines. If the IRS requests a response from you within 30 days, then you need to respond. The smartest thing you can do is either to respond immediately or give the correspondence to your tax professional. Avoid setting the correspondence in a drawer and forgetting about it.
Say Only What Is Required
Giving away too much information during an audit is not in your self-interest, but withholding information from the IRS will make matters worse. If you’ve made a mistake on your tax return for a certain year, then admit the mistake, but don’t volunteer information if you’ve made the same mistake during other years.
You have the right to limit the discussion and the scope of your audit to the issue brought forth by the IRS. However, remember to treat the agent with respect. Avoid speaking disrespectfully, and control your emotions. If the auditor mentions fraud at any time, then talk to a tax professional.
An IRS audit can seem both scary and highly inconvenient. Since noncompliance is unwise, you should cooperate with the agency. Remember your rights, and be honest without volunteering non-essential information. If you have any questions at all, consult a tax professional.
About the Author: Steven Harris is a tax professional who has published a number of articles and blogs related to income tax. He’s also an audit survivor.