Types of audits
Once a tax return is determined an eligible candidate for auditing, the IRS will send you a letter making the announcement of an audit. The type of audit you’ll be required to do typically falls into one of three types:
Correspondence audit: The most common of audits, this typically entails mailing specifically requested documentation to the IRS.
Field audit: For individuals or businesses who’ve earned more than $100,000 in income, the IRS is more likely to send an IRS agent to your home, place of business or tax professional’s office.
Office audit: Sometimes the IRS requires you to attend an IRS facility and meet with an auditor. The factors influencing this type of audit ...view middle of the document...
Learn more about how TurboTax helps you reduce your audit risk.
2. Honesty is the best policy
Perhaps it’s common sense, but being 100 percent truthful on your tax return is an absolute must to reduce the chances of an audit. Realistically reporting income, deductions, credits and other figures can help keep the tax man at bay, Jensen said.
Not reporting all your income is a surefire way to attract attention, said Tim Clegg, a Boston-based financial coach and retired tax advocate.
“Outright lying, especially if you earn a six-figure income or are hiding large sums of cash, is definitely a behavior that will get you audited,” Clegg said. You should be prepared to look an auditor in the eye and support any number you claimed on your return, Clegg says. Self-employed filers, for example, should have receipts for every business deduction they claim.
3. Go vanilla
The largest pool of filers – which consists of individuals or joint filers who earned less than $200,000 but more than the lowest earners – tends to avoid overt scrutiny, Jensen said. Taxpayers who make more than $1 million a year and those in very low income brackets are most likely to be audited.
“The wealthy take more deductions, contribute to more charities and other things so they have a higher risk of getting audited,” Jensen said. “Also, any filer who files a Schedule C is about four times more likely to receive questions.”
Those in what the IRS determines to be the low income bracket (a married couple with three children earning $50,270 or less in 2011) have access to the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Both categories historically are fertile grounds for fraud and – because of the greater complexity – mistakes in data entry. If you file Form 1040-EZ, pay rent, don’t have children and make a modest income, there is virtually no chance you will be audited “unless you make some sort of mistake with your numbers” or unless your “costs are out of the norm,” Jensen said.
“For example, giving away more than 30 percent of your income to charity is something most people don’t do,” he said. “That could draw attention.”
4. Realistic deductions
Unusual or unrealistic itemized deductions, either for individuals or small business owners, may raise a red flag for auditors.
For a sole proprietor who files Schedule C, which details profits and business expenses, reporting losses for three years or more could encourage an auditor to request proof that the filer is actually in business, Jensen said.
Filers itemizing deductions on Schedule A must know what constitutes a legitimate deduction, said Sandy Zinman, founder of Zinman Accounting and chairman of the tax committee for the National Conference of CPA Practitioners. Daily commuting to your regular job, for example, is not a legitimate deduction, he said, but a special trip to woo a client is.
"There are a lot of assumptions out there about what should be deductible or not," said Zinman. "An IRS examiner once said to me, 'Anything you have to spend...