IRS Audit: What, Why, When in 2021 & 2022


The words ” IRS audit ” brings anxiety and a cloud of hassles in the mind of every taxpayer, even if he/she knows there are no faults in their return. So, his question ” What does being audited by the IRS mean?” requires a detailed answer. Theoretically, an IRS tax audit of your tax return is nothing but close scrutiny of your income declaration, your claim of exemptions and other various tax deductions. Basically , the IRS checks whether your claim is correct and as per the US Code 26. The process of IRS audit is frightening for amny and stories are full of anxious moments in the life of taxpayers.

What are the Chances of Being Audited by IRS?

Let us first examine the chances of being audited by the IRS in 2021 or 2022. Frankly, it is extremely low, if we go by the past history of selection for audit numbers. Read below the US Treasury Report Number 2021-30-011 that says less than 1 % of the total return filed in FY 2018 were selected for IRS audit in FY 2019

Taxpayers filed more than 199 million returns during Calendar Year 2018, of which 771,095 returns (less than 1 percent) were examined in FY 2019. The number of returns examined has declined 44 percent since FY 2015, when 1.4 million were examined. The decline in examinations is the result of decreases in staffing. The number of IRS examination staff decreased 18 percent from 11,267 in FY 2015 to 9,198 in FY 2019.

Income wise selection of cases for its audit in 2020

The income-wise selection of tax returns filed for 2016 was selected for IRS audit through 2020 shows that chances of selection of scrutiny of your tax return by IRS is quite slim unless you have some grame errors and triggers for tax audit.

Adjusted Gross Income Audit Rate 
$1- $25,0000.70%
over $10,000,0008.60%

(Source: IRS Data Book, 2020.)

How does IRS select a return for an audit?

There are basically two methods of selection of cases ( tax returns) for audit. The first is based on certain norms and parameters that are decided every year internally by IRS. In order to select some cases on the basis of those parameters, the IRS just feed these norms and get the computer to select it on a random basis.Tax practioners have identified twenty types of triggers for an IRS tax auit.

The second is based on some related issues or transactions with other taxpayers, whose returns were scrutinized under IRS audit earlier and they find the same issue on the tax return of taxpayers. Please read IRS Tax Audit : 20 Triggers

How does the IRS notify you of an audit ?

The IRS will notify you about the selection of your tax return for audit by mail. There is no other way of notifying the irs audit selection. The IRS will provide all contact information and instructions in the letter informing you about the audit of your case .

How does the IRS conduct audit?

The IRS will adopt either or both of following methods to complete the audit

  1. They may send you mail seeking answers to a set of  questionnaire  or they may ask you to furnish documents pertaining to income or deductions/exemptions claimed in the tax return
  2. They may also conduct an in-person interview to review your tax records. The interview may take place either  at an IRS office (office audit) or at your home, place of business, or accountant’s office (field audit).

You can also seek  for a face-to-face audit in case you think that on certain issues you need to explain personally or documents are voluminous and hard to send by mail. It should be noted that US Code 26   requires you to keep all records you used to prepare your tax return – for at least three years from the date the tax return was filed. During IRS Audit proceedings some of those records may be sought by the IRS auditor.

Types of IRS Audits

Basically there are three different types of examination maybe conducted when your case is selected  by the IRS for audit.

  1. Audit By Correspondence: Most common type of audit is done by mail. You may get a mail request from IRS for specific documentation to support particular items on the tax return.
  2. Audit at your place: The IRS may choose to visit your home, place of business, or your tax professionals office to perform the audit. This is the least common form of audit and is only used if the individual or business being audited earned well over $100K.
  3. Office Audit: Under this IRS would like you to visit their office to meet with an IRS auditor. The IRS will determine the time and the particular documents that it would like you to bring for support

How long does an IRS audit take?

Once the IRS selects your case for audit , statute give them 36 months to complete . But since 8 months are required by IRS for processing appeal , IRS has to complete the audit within 28 months from the date the audited taxpayer filed the tax return, or by the date it was due, April 15, whichever is later.Section 6501 of US Code 26 states so as under :

26 U.S. Code § 6501 – Limitations on assessment and collection

(a)General rule

Except as otherwise provided in this section, the amount of any tax imposed by this title shall be assessed within 3 years after the return was filed (whether or not such return was filed on or after the date prescribed) or, if the tax is payable by stamp, at any time after such tax became due and before the expiration of 3 years after the date on which any part of such tax was paid, and no proceeding in court without assessment for the collection of such tax shall be begun after the expiration of such period. For purposes of this chapter, the term “return” means the return required to be filed by the taxpayer (and does not include a return of any person from whom the taxpayer has received an item of income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit

It happens , that because of various reasons , IRS may not be able to complete the audit within 3 years . In such case , IRS may extend the audit time. Although you are within your rights not to agree to extension of audit period, it is generally advised to accept or at least negotiate about time of extension keeping several factors like

  •  more time to provide further documentation to support your position;
  • more time to request an appeal if you do not agree with the audit results; or
  • to claim a tax refund or credit.

How far back can IRS audit ?

IRC 6501 provides the time limit for IRS audit upto  3 years after due date of filing the tax return or date of filing original return , whichever is later. However there are three exceptions to this statute

  1. If  income was under-reported by more than 25 percent,IRS has six years in which to conduct an audit and assess additional taxes if they are warranted.
  2. No time limit in case of delinquent non-filed tax return or fraudulent tax return
  3. If you filed form 872 which is consent form for extension of audit

What happens if you fail an IRS audit ?

The IRS audit penalties are sever and harsh as IRS can apply an additional percentage to the amount of taxes you owe them which maybe as under :

  • 20% or 40% penalty depending upon the kind of mistake on your tax return.
  • 75% penalty: generally for more serious cases, like tax fraud.

If an IRS audit proposes an adjustment to your income that you find incorrect, you can request a conference with an IRS manager. The IRS also offers mediation which is an informal and confidential dispute resolution process.

Lastly you can file a protest to the order passed by the Audit officer to Office of the  appeal .

IRS Audit Infographic

irs audit
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