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IRS audits are the proverbial monster under the bed for some adults. Based on the 2018 Comprehensive Taxpayer Attitude Survey from the IRS, the fear of an audit was one of the top three factors that influenced taxpayers when it comes to reporting and paying taxes honestly.
The dread is understandable considering how television shows, movies and the media sometimes depict audits like criminal investigations. Not to mention, it seems that whenever a well-known public figure gets tangled up with the IRS, it rarely ends well.
But what is an IRS audit and is it something that should keep you up at night?
“Selection for an audit does not always suggest there’s a problem,” the IRS says on its website.
In other words, the IRS isn’t necessarily accusing you of having done something wrong. Nor does it mean the IRS is out to get you.
If you’ve been selected for an audit, it simply means that the IRS wants to take a closer look at your tax return(s) and financial information to make sure you’ve reported everything completely and correctly as required by law.
Think of it as a more formal review or examination of your return, where the IRS is double-checking your work. Did you report all sources of income? Are you actually eligible to claim the deductions or credits on your return? Did you pay the correct amount of taxes? You get the idea.
So if you filed your return truthfully, paid your taxes correctly and kept good records, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
The IRS audited approximately 1 million tax returns filed in 2017, according to the agency’s data. That might sound like a lot. But let’s put that figure into context. The IRS received approximately 196 million returns in 2017. So that means only about 0.5% of the total returns were audited. That’s pretty low!
What’s more, not every audit resulted in cutting a check to the IRS. After it was all said and done, the IRS ended up refunding more than $6 million to taxpayers.
See, that’s not too scary, right?
If you still think the IRS is out to get you, it might help to understand how the IRS flags returns for audits:
If you’re selected for an audit, the IRS will first notify you by mail. This is important: The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or telephone, requesting personal or financial information. And they definitely won’t be sliding into your DMs.
IRS audits are conducted in one of two ways:
Of the 1 million returns that were audited in 2017, 74.8% were done by mail and 25.2% were done in person.
The initial notification letter from the IRS will let you know if the audit will be done by mail or an in-person interview. The letter will also provide relevant contact information as well as a list of documents the IRS wants to review.
Keep in mind that the IRS can ask to examine returns filed in the past three years. According to the IRS, audits typically cover returns filed within the last two years. That said, there are circumstances when they can reach back even further – especially, if there are substantial errors in your return(s).
Some of the documents that the IRS might ask to review, for example, are receipts, loan agreements, employment documents (e.g., W-2s, 1099s, etc.) and bank statements. This is when good tax recordkeeping can save you from a lot of headaches.
If you do have trouble finding the documents you need, however, you may request an extension. Generally, the IRS can give you an extra 30 days, but this is not a guarantee. Check the IRS website for more information on extension requests.
Whether or not you need to clear your calendar for an audit depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the audit, how long it takes you to provide the requested documents, and whether you plan to challenge the IRS findings.
An audit can have three outcomes:
Hey, it’s America! If you disagree with the audit findings and proposed actions by the IRS, you may request a meeting with an IRS manager. The IRS could offer mediation (known as Alternative Dispute Resolution) to help resolve disagreements. You may also be able to file an appeal.
If you do decide to challenge the IRS findings, know that as a taxpayer, you are entitled to certain rights. These include a right to . . .
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Individuals should consult their own tax advisor for matters specific to their own taxes and nothing communicated to you herein should be considered tax advice. This article was prepared by and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs, but does not reflect the institutional opinions of Goldman Sachs Bank USA, Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or division. Goldman Sachs Bank USA does not provide any financial, economic, legal, accounting, tax or other recommendation in this article. Information and opinions expressed in this article are as of the date of this material only and subject to change without notice. Information contained in this article does not constitute the provision of investment advice by Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any its affiliates. Neither Goldman Sachs Bank USA nor any of its affiliates makes any representations or warranties, express or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of the statements or any information contained in this document and any liability therefore is expressly disclaimed.