Nothing brings on the cold sweats like an official letter from the Government; particularly the IRS. Like being pulled over by the police while driving, thoughts of everything you have ever done (or may have done) wrong begin to flood your mind. There are two different classes of IRS Audits: Correspondence Audits & Desk Audits.
A Correspondence Audit is by far the most common type of audit the IRS issues to Taxpayers. These are generally the lowest level of an audit and usually involve small amounts of money. Verification of income & expenses are done almost completely by Mail or Fax and you may never even speak to your auditor. Conversely, A Desk Audit–or Office Audit–is when the IRS directs a taxpayer to an IRS office for an in-person interview. These generally involve larger amounts of money.
Regardless of what type of Audit a taxpayer receives, thoughts of asset seizures and/or jail time are common worries. However, being locked up or having your bank account seized are very rare. Usually, the punishment is simply the difference in tax calculated in the IRS’ favor, accompanied by a late payment penalty and interest. If a taxpayer can’t pay the penalties and taxes immediately, the IRS will usually accept a payment plan; as long as payments are made there is no need to worry that bank accounts will be raided or assets liquidated. Nevertheless, the stress and burden of the taxpayer to produce the documentation if very real. If fact, the Taxpayer Advocate wrote that Correspondence audits are not necessarily less work for the taxpayer. While there is no sure fire way to eliminate your chances to being audited (the IRS & States issue many random audits a year), there are many Red Flags a taxpayer can avoid to reduce their chances of being audited:
1. Not Reporting All Of Your Income: The IRS cross checks your income sources with 1099s and W-2s. If your income has dropped, that may be a red flag. Do not under report your income, no matter how tempting. If you have some self-employed income, report it and then use every deduction or write off you can find.
2. Claiming Large Charitable Deductions: The IRS calculated what the average donation is for a person in your income bracket. So if indeed you made a large donation last year be sure to have proper documentation. A cancelled check will do if the amount is under $250. Over that amount, you will need a letter from the charity.
3. Earning A Bunch Of Money: Over $100,000. You are 5 times more likely to be audited if you make the big bucks so be sure to document all of your deductions and income.
4. Taking Higher Than The Average Deductions: If the deductions on your return are disproportionately large compared to your income, the IRS audit formulas will go “tilt”. So if you have large medical deductions be sure you can prove them if need be.
5. Home Office Deduction: The IRS is always interested in this deduction, because history has shown that many people who claim a home office should not. If you work out of your bedroom or dining room, the deduction may be invalid.
6. Business Meals, Travel And Entertainment: Schedule C is filled with tax deductions for the self-employed individual. And the IRS has figured out that often some self-employed individuals tend to claim excessive deductions. They then make the assumption that all such individuals may cheat so Schedule C will get a review.
7. Claiming 100% Use Of Your Car For Business: If you are self-employed and use your car for business be honest with how much you actually use the car for business. Keep very good records of the miles you drive. I know it’s a nuisance, but necessary.
8. Cash Businesses: If you have a cash-intensive business like an antique shop, junk shop, car wash, a bar, a hair salon, or a restaurant you are probably on the IRS’ short list! Whenever a lot of cash is involved, the assumption is someone is slipping some under the table!
9. Large Cash Transactions: The IRS requires reports to be filed for cash transactions in excess of $10,000 involving banks, casinos, car dealers and other businesses.
10. Math Errors: If you do your tax return in long hand, check your math and be sure to sign the return and put in the correct social security numbers. A sloppy return can trigger an audit.
Doing a tax return yourself is almost never a good idea. Having a professional with many years of experience preparing tax returns can help reduce your chances of being audited even more by avoiding common errors do-it-yourselfers make. If you’d like more information about how R&G Brenner can help you, please contact us here.