If the IRS audits your tax return, the IRS is taking a close look at your return to see whether you included all your income, and took only the deductions and credits you were allowed by law. IRS audits usually aren't random. The IRS selects returns that are the most likely have errors, based on complex criteria.
Failing to report all of your income on your tax return is a top audit trigger. That's because income that goes unreported on your tax return also goes untaxed. The IRS receives copies of your W-2 and 1099 forms and will automatically check to see that your reported income matches up.
However, there's always the possibility that you could face an audit, and, if you're found to have misrepresented your income, tax audit penalties can be serious. Consequences range from stiff fines to criminal charges, and you could be buried under a mountain of paperwork.
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.
Most audits end with adjustments to reported income. That generally means you'll owe more tax, but occasionally you'll even get a refund.
Poor taxpayers, or those earning less than $25,000 annually, have an audit rate of 0.69% — more than 50% higher than the overall audit rate. It also means low-income taxpayers are more likely to get audited than any other group, except Americans with incomes of more than $500,000.
The Audit Rate Is Typically Even Lower for Most Taxpayers
Indeed, for most taxpayers, the chance of being audited is even less than 0.6%. For taxpayers who earn $25,000 to $200,000, the audit rate was 0.4%—that's only one in 250.
The most common reason for the IRS to review a tax return is something called the Discriminant Function System (or DIF) score. The IRS uses a computerized scoring model that evaluates your return and gives it a score based on the likelihood that it will need to be changed.
If you deliberately fail to file a tax return, pay your taxes or keep proper tax records – and have criminal charges filed against you – you can receive up to one year of jail time. Additionally, you can receive $25,000 in IRS audit fines annually for every year that you don't file.
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.
And for good reason—failing to pay your taxes can lead to hefty fines and increased financial problems. But, failing to pay your taxes won't actually put you in jail. In fact, the IRS cannot send you to jail, or file criminal charges against you, for failing to pay your taxes.
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.
What happens if you get audited and owe money? If you get audited by the IRS and owe money, you'll be notified of the additional tax that you're required to pay as well as any penalties and interest due. The correspondence that you receive from the IRS will mention a deadline by which you must pay.
What is the chance of being audited by the IRS? The overall audit rate is extremely low, less than 1% of all tax returns get examined within a year.
Fortunately, you don't need to worry about that happening. According to the IRS, most tax audits are regarding returns filed within the last three years. If they find a substantial error, they may add more years. But even then, they seldom go back more than six years.
Audits can be bad and can result in a significant tax bill. But remember – you shouldn't panic. There are different kinds of audits, some minor and some extensive, and they all follow a set of defined rules. If you know what to expect and follow a few best practices, your audit may turn out to be “not so bad.”
While the chances of an audit are slim, there are several reasons why your return may get flagged, triggering an IRS notice, tax experts say. Red flags may include excessive write-offs compared with income, unreported earnings, refundable tax credits and more.
In general, no, you cannot go to jail for owing the IRS. Back taxes are a surprisingly common occurrence. In fact, according to 2018 data, 14 million Americans were behind on their taxes, with a combined value of $131 billion!
However, during an investigation, the IRS is putting together a criminal case which means you will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office. If convicted, you could be subject to severe consequences, including fines and possible jail time.
Often a tax fraud investigation takes twelve to twenty-four months to complete, with 1,000 to 2,000 staff hours being devoted to the case.
The Short Answer: Yes. The IRS probably already knows about many of your financial accounts, and the IRS can get information on how much is there. But, in reality, the IRS rarely digs deeper into your bank and financial accounts unless you're being audited or the IRS is collecting back taxes from you.
Report Suspected Tax Law Violations
Submit Form 3949-A, Information Referral online if you suspect an individual or a business is not complying with the tax laws. We don't take tax law violation referrals over the phone. We will keep your identity confidential when you file a tax fraud report.