Understanding Tax Audits: What to Expect


Receiving a notice from the IRS about a tax audit can be anxiety-inducing, but it's crucial to stay calm and approach the process with preparation and understanding. Contrary to popular belief, an audit does not necessarily indicate suspicion of criminal activity. It's often a routine examination to ensure the accuracy of financial data on tax returns. 

Here's a rundown on how to prepare for and navigate through a tax audit, from understanding the types of audits, your rights during the process, to the conclusion of the audit.

Why Am I Being Audited?

Taxpayers might wonder why they're being audited in the first place. The IRS uses a variety of methods to select individuals for audits, including random selection, computer screening, and comparison against "norms" for similar returns. If your return deviates from these norms or includes transactions with other audited taxpayers, you may find yourself under scrutiny. Here are some common reasons for audits:

  • Conflicting third-party reports (e.g., 1099s or W-2s)
  • Home office deductions
  • Rental losses
  • Business use of a vehicle
  • Hobby-related deductions
  • Foreign currency transactions or bank accounts

Types of Audits

There are three main types of IRS audits:

  • Correspondence (Mail) Audit: These are often for routine errors like incorrect math or missing paperwork. They're typically resolved through mail correspondence. 
  • Office Examination Audit: This type involves an in-person examination at a local IRS branch. The goal is to ensure you've reported all income and legitimate deductions.
  • Field Audit: The most extensive audit where an IRS agent visits your home, business, or accountant's office to review records and confirm the accuracy of your tax return information.

Preparing for an Audit

If you receive an audit notice, you'll have 30 days to respond. It's crucial not to ignore this notice, as delaying can result in accumulating interest on any owed amounts. 

Here's what you should do to prepare. Gather all requested forms and documents, ensuring you have copies (not originals). Organize your paperwork, making sure all documents align with the year under audit. Last, if any records are missing, request duplicates promptly.

Documents you might need include:

  • Home mortgage statements
  • Previous tax returns
  • Receipts
  • Brokerage statements
  • Retirement account records
  • Pay stubs

Your Rights During the Audit

As a taxpayer, you have specific rights during the audit process. These rights, as outlined by the IRS, include:

  • Professional and courteous treatment by IRS employees.
  • Privacy and confidentiality regarding tax matters.
  • Understanding why the IRS is requesting information and how it will be used.
  • Representation by yourself or an authorized representative.
  • The right to appeal disagreements within the IRS and before the courts.

During the Audit

When attending the audit, whether in person at an IRS office or your location, it's essential to be polite and cooperative.
Following the audit interview, you'll receive a computer-generated audit report detailing any additional tax assessments, changes to your return, appeal options, and whether you consent or disagree. It's crucial to review this report carefully before signing. If you disagree, you have the right to further review, appeal, or seek assistance from the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

After the Audit: Handling Tax Deficiencies

If the audit results in a tax deficiency, you may owe additional amounts along with interest. The interest accrues at a rate of 5% per year from the original return's date until paid, compounded daily. Depending on the errors found, you could also face penalties of up to 25% of the deficiency, and in severe cases, possible imprisonment.

What If I Can't Afford to Pay?

If you find yourself unable to pay the tax bill resulting from the audit, there are options available:

  • Extension: You can request a short-term extension if you can pay in full within 120 days.
  • Monthly Payment Plan: Apply for a monthly payment agreement on the IRS website. Payments can be set up to come automatically from a debit account.
  • Offer in Compromise: This is an agreement to settle the tax debt for less than the amount owed. Eligibility requires demonstrating financial hardship.

Common Misconceptions

There are several misconceptions about tax audits, such as the belief that audits only target the wealthy or that certain deductions trigger audits. While higher incomes do correlate with higher audit rates, audits can happen to individuals across income levels. It's also a misconception that professional tax preparers are immune to audits; everyone is subject to the possibility.

Staying Organized: Tips for Future Returns

To minimize the chances of future audits and ensure smooth tax filings, consider these organizational tips:

  • Keep tax returns and records for at least three years.
  • Save checkbook registers.
  • Organize receipts by date, especially for major purchases.
  • File bills in folders for easy access.
  • Journal and keep evidence of deductible information.
  • Store tax documents in one designated location.

Navigating a tax audit may seem daunting, but with preparation and a clear understanding, you can mitigate stress and ensure a smoother process. Remember, audits serve the purpose of maintaining tax compliance and accuracy, and by following the necessary steps and cooperating with the IRS, you can navigate through the audit process with confidence. Stay organized, stay informed, and remember that facing an audit is simply a part of fulfilling your tax obligations as a responsible taxpayer.


DJL Accounting & Consulting Group, Inc.
1570 South Canfield-Niles Road #C102
Youngstown, Ohio 44515 

Phone:  330 779 0781



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