If there's one thing American taxpayers fear more than owing money to the IRS, it's being audited. But before you picture a mean, scary IRS agent busting into your home and questioning you till you break, you should know that in reality, most audits aren't actually a big deal.
An IRS audit is a review/examination of an organization's or individual's accounts and financial information to ensure information is reported correctly according to the tax laws and to verify the reported amount of tax is correct.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the worst), being audited by the IRS could be a 10. Audits can be bad and can result in a significant tax bill. But remember – you shouldn't panic. ... If you know what to expect and follow a few best practices, your audit may turn out to be “not so bad.”
Who's getting audited? Most audits happen to high earners. People reporting adjusted gross income (or AGI) of $10 million or more accounted for 6.66% of audits in fiscal year 2018. Taxpayers reporting an AGI of between $5 million and $10 million accounted for 4.21% of audits that same year.
If the IRS has found you "guilty" during a tax audit, this means that you owe additional funds on top of what has already been paid as part of your previous tax return. At this point, you have the option to appeal the conclusion if you so choose.
Since 2010, the number of IRS audits has dropped by nearly half, as the audit rate slipped from 0.93% to 0.39% in 2019. The IRS audit rate dipped to 0.2% in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, 2020 audit rates are not normal for the IRS.
If there is an anomaly, that creates a “red flag.” The IRS is more likely to eyeball your return if you claim certain tax breaks, deductions, or credit amounts that are unusually high compared to national standards; you are engaged in certain businesses; or you own foreign assets.
A client of mine last week asked me, “Can you go to jail from an IRS audit?”. The quick answer is no. ... The IRS is not a court so it can't send you to jail. To go to jail, you must be convicted of tax evasion and the proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt.
The IRS doesn't assign your mail audit to one person.
In fact, if you don't respond, respond late, or respond incompletely, the IRS will likely just disallow the items it's questioning on your return and send you a tax bill – plus penalties and interest.
The IRS will charge you with a failure-to-pay penalty, which is usually 0.5% of your unpaid tax. The failure-to-pay penalty will be applied monthly until your taxes are paid in full.
Your tax returns can be audited even after you've been issued a refund. ... The IRS can audit returns for up to three prior tax years and, in some cases, go back even further. If an audit results in increased tax liability, you may also be subject to penalties and interest.
The IRS will only require that you provide evidence that you claimed valid business expense deductions during the audit process. Therefore, if you have lost your receipts, you only be required to recreate a history of your business expenses at that time.
In most cases, a Notice of Audit and Examination Scheduled will be issued. This notice is to inform you that you are being audited by the IRS, and will contain details about the particular items on your return that need review. It will also mention the records you are required to produce for review.
Why the IRS audits people
Sometimes an IRS audit is random, but the IRS often selects taxpayers based on suspicious activity.
While the overall individual audit rates are extremely low, the odds increase significantly as your income goes up (especially if you have business income). Plus, the IRS has been lambasted for putting too much scrutiny on lower-income individuals who take refundable tax credits and ignoring wealthy taxpayers.
The IRS usually starts these audits within a year after you file the return, and wraps them up within three to six months. But expect a delay if you don't provide complete information or if the auditor finds issues and wants to expand the audit into other areas or years.
If the audit reveals that you owe money, and you have no way to pay, then the IRS will start looking into your assets. If you own your vehicle, they can seize it, sell it, and apply the funds to your tax debt.
The experts agree: If an audit is going to happen, it will occur in the latter half of the three-year time frame. “Audits generally always happen two years after you file,” Zinman said.
You cannot go to jail for making a mistake or filing your tax return incorrectly. However, if your taxes are wrong by design and you intentionally leave off items that should be included, the IRS can look at that action as fraudulent, and a criminal suit can be instituted against you.
The IRS will not put you in jail for not being able to pay your taxes if you file your return. ... Tax Evasion: Any action taken to evade the assessment of a tax, such as filing a fraudulent return, can land you in prison for 5 years.
Penalty for Tax Evasion in California
Tax evasion in California is punishable by up to one year in county jail or state prison, as well as fines of up to $20,000. The state can also require you to pay your back taxes, and it will place a lien on your property as a security until you pay.
Your return is deemed "accepted" as soon as the IRS receives and processes it. ... An acceptance from the IRS or an approval of a refund does not mean that your return will not be selected for audit. It is not uncommon for the IRS to audit tax returns going back three years or longer.