Here’s what you need to know about different types of IRS audits and how to deal with them as a self-employed entrepreneur.
What is an IRS Audit?
An IRS audit is a thorough examination of your tax account and financial information to ensure that figures are reported correctly and that you’re adhering to tax laws. As tax returns are filed they are compared to the average figures for other accounts in this category.
If your figures seem to be elevated, or show anomalies, your return is put into a pool of other returns and randomly picked for more in-depth review by an experienced auditor. After a review, your return may be accepted and filed away, or the return is forwarded to an examining group for further analysis.
There are a few types of IRS audits:
- Correspondence Audit
A correspondence audit is the most common and simplest of the IRS auditing processes. The IRS will send you a letter in the mail requesting answers to specific questions or needed clarifications related to your tax return.
You will likely have to perform a correction of your tax return that may either result in paying in more money or receiving a refund for an accounting error. Either way, the correspondence letter will state the reason for the inquiry and often offer a simple resolution via an exchange of papers.
If you have data or receipts to back up specific claims, this is the time to send them in to help make your case. This type of audit is usually solved within a short time period once all the information has been collected. Be sure to keep copies of all correspondence in case anything comes into question again in the future.
- Office Audit
If the IRS has further questions about your return that extend beyond the normal correspondence letter, you’ll receive an invitation for an in-person audit meeting at one of their local offices.
This type of audit is a bit more serious than a correspondence audit and requires more of your time. However, an office audit is usually completed within one day since most information will be supplied on demand, and you’ll have time to supply any additional information that’s requested.
- Field Audit
A field audit is the most serious situation as the solutions to the issues could not be resolved with a simple letter or office visit. The IRS will visit your place of business and may look around to verify the legitimacy of your workplace, employees, and other business expenses.
It’s strongly encouraged, in the case of a field audit, that you hire a professional Enrolled Agent, tax professional, or CPA to be an advocate for you and your business. They will be able to answer questions on your behalf and ensure you’re getting fair processing.
- Random Reviews
In addition to traditional audits, you may be subject to a random review of your tax situation. The IRS isn’t looking for anything in particular when they perform these random reviews and will simply look at your return for inaccuracies.
These reviews are generally performed via a correspondence letter with notice that your account is being looked over. Usually, you won’t receive a follow-up letter if the review of the return doesn’t result in any red flags. In this case, you shouldn’t be too alarmed as the IRS agent isn’t looking for anything in particular.
How Far Back Can the IRS Audit?
The IRS tries to audit tax returns soon after they are filed, but can sometimes be as far back as the last three years. If there are additional errors or substantial mistakes, the IRS usually won’t go back more than the last six years.
To back up any business deductions, credits, and other income information, it’s recommended that you keep all tax receipts and information for at least seven years. Or in the case of an asset, save the records for as long as you own the asset, plus three additional years.
If you are notified you’re being audited, remain calm and have a talk with your tax professional. Usually, these situations resolve themselves quickly and easily so you likely don’t have anything to worry about.