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IRS Audit: How to Survive the Stress of a Tax Audit

It often comes unexpectedly: you start a normal workday answering emails and talking with a few business contacts. Then, the mail delivery comes, and you find the dreaded notification letter from the IRS. They want to audit your company to make sure that the tax filings match your business records. This news can be terrifying for many business owners, and you might feel overwhelmed by thinking about the things that you will need to do to prepare for the audit.

There is no reason to stress if you have an experienced accounting team to help with your business finances. These ongoing services are essential so that you can stay current with the financial information for your company. At the same time, tax planning is important to reduce the likelihood that you will be audited.

Are You Running a High Risk of an IRS Audit?

How do you know if the IRS will be auditing your company? There is no certain way to determine if you will be the lucky person chosen for the auditing process. But, there are a few things that can be done to minimize your risk. An accountant can help you follow the important tax laws, helping you stay under the radar each year.

As a small business owner, you run a higher risk of an IRS audit compared to someone who files an individual tax return without business activity. This increased risk doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be pursuing your business efforts. Instead, you need to make sure that you are maintaining the right reporting and documentation to back up the financial claims if an audit happens.

Here are a few other red flags that might increase the risk of an audit:

  • If your profits were between $200,000 and $1 million in a fiscal year
  • Being a property owner and reporting rental losses
  • Showing a history of unaccounted income changes each year
  • Hiding foreign bank accounts or transactions
  • Large donations to charitable organizations

Even if these factors apply to your business, it doesn’t mean that you will be audited. In fact, it is estimated that less than 1% of small businesses are audited each year.

What is the Purpose of an IRS Audit?

If you have been selected for an audit, then you are probably asking a common question: why does the IRS want to review my business financials? The goal of the audit is to ensure the accuracy of the reporting, helping to claim unpaid tax funds if the paperwork was filed incorrectly. It has been estimated that there might be as much as a $125 billion gap in unreported income by business owners.

Just because you have been chosen for an audit, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a problem with your tax filing. Instead, the IRS is doing routine checks to ensure the validity of the paperwork that has been filed. The selection process is based on a few red flags that might come up in a computer screening. There is also a random selection element based on a statistical formula.

The algorithms compare your business tax return against the “norms” for other similar companies. If anything looks out of place, then you might be selected for the audit. You might also run a higher risk of an IRS audit if you have any relationships with transactions related to partners or investors who were also selected for an audit.

What to Expect with an Audit

After you have been selected for an audit, an experienced auditor is assigned to review your paperwork. Keep in mind that audit notification is always done by mail. You will never receive a phone call notifying you of the audit. There are common phone scams right now that claim that you are being audited, but these calls are hoaxes and should be reported.

The audit can be handled by mail, or they might schedule a time for an in-person interview. This interview can be scheduled in a variety of locations, such as the IRS office, your place of business, your accountant’s office, or at your home. When the letter arrives, it will have specific instructions that need to be followed, as well as the contact information to schedule the meeting if necessary.

For audits that are handled by mail, your notification letter will contain a request for additional information. The letter will specify the details that need to be provided, such as documentation for itemized deductions, expenses, or income.

Regardless of the way the audit is performed, you will need to provide the requested information. The records may vary depending on your individual circumstances. Sometimes electronic records can be provided, such as the reports that come from your tax software. Other times, hand-copy receipts might be needed. By law, you are required to maintain all of the records relating to your business. This information needs to be stored for at least three years after the filing of the tax return.

Tax Audit Myths

Don’t be fooled by some of the myths about tax audits. Here are some of the common misconceptions that small business owners hear about the auditing process:

  1. Myth: Your risk of an audit increases if you file an extension. The truth is that filing an extension is as easy as clicking a button on the IRS website. People who are in the military or living abroad automatically qualify for an extension. In the situation where you request an extension, it shows that you are thorough and careful with your tax schedule. So, it doesn’t impact your risk of being audited.
  2. Myth: More deductions will increase the chances that you are audited. As long as you are deducting transactions that make sense, they shouldn’t impact your risk of an audit. Something out of the ordinary might put up a red flag though. For example, if you spend $30,000 on new computers for an office with a hundred employees, then it will likely be viewed as a normal cost of doing business. But, $30,000 for a month of travel expenses and business meals for one sole proprietor might raise some questions.
  3. Myth: Amend your tax filing, and you will be audited. The IRS wants the tax filings to be correct, so they won’t punish you for an innocent mistake. If you are correcting your mistakes on a return that is e-filed, then it is viewed as a good step. Then, the filing will be treated as if it was a new submission and scans are completed to see if there is anything that looks unusual. In the situation where you need to change a filing, make sure that you provide thorough explanations for the adjustments.

What to Do if You Receive an Audit Notification

So, what should you do if you receive the letter in the mail saying that you are going to be audited by the company? The first thing is to take a few deep breaths and know that everything will be all right. If you are working with a good accounting team, then it shouldn’t be a hassle to provide the requested information. So, make sure that you are always staying current with your financial tracking to ensure that you are prepared in case you are audited.

An audit means that your files are going to be reviewed to make sure that everything matches your tax records. When you have good documentation, there is nothing to worry about!

Now that you know that there is nothing to stress about, it is essential that you contact your accountant right away. Together, you can verify that the request is an official document from the IRS, and not some type of phishing scam. Your accountant can help you see if the letter came from a documented IRS address.

You don’t need to carry the burden of navigating an IRS audit without the support from a financial professional. In fact, the outcome will be better if you lean on the expertise of your accountant during this process. Your accountant will understand the procedures and practices for IRS audits, and they can guide you through the steps to provide the information that is requested by the IRS.

An accountant will help you understand the audit and help you see any potential roadblocks that need to be addressed. Getting insight into the process will ensure that you are thoroughly prepared when it is time to sit down with the auditor.

It is important that you gather the requested documents. If you need to send the documents in the mail, then it is best to keep the originals and mail photocopies of the receipts and paperwork. You should always maintain the original documents in your files. Providing a detailed paper trail will ensure that the audit goes as smoothly as possible.

Do you have questions about tax planning, filing or audits? Then you need the support of an experienced accounting team. At Easier Accounting, we offer these services for small businesses and start-ups. Contact us to learn more about the ways that we can support your business efforts. We are here to help: (888) 620-0770