The IRS tries to keep its processes for selecting returns for audit a secret. However, we do know some of the general steps. The majority are selected by computer-generated scores that are based on how different an individual return is from an average return. The higher the score, the more likely the return will be sent to an audit group for audit consideration. Stacks of these returns are assigned to individual auditors. These auditors will look over the returns and decide which they find to be audit worthy.
Here are some common mistakes that will make it more likely to pique that auditor’s interest:
- Lots of rounded numbers. This is saying to the auditor that my bookkeeping is lacking and there are probably tax dollars to be found here.
- Non-cash charitable contributions. The IRS knows that most people fail to get receipts, overvalue the junk they donate, and will not spend the money on a professional valuation when required.
- Large amounts of business travel or auto expenses. This is almost an automatic adjustment in an audit. Most business owners will not keep the logs required to document the business purpose, dates, and amounts. Every new IRS auditor learns this within the first 10 audits they perform.
- Hobby losses. How earners with losses from a farm, horse ranch, race car, etc. are likely to get an IRS call to schedule the audit date. Auditors know that the burden of proof to prove there is a real business purpose for these losses has shifted from the IRS to the taxpayer.
- Unreported 1099s or W-2s. Not having enough compensation or gross receipts at least equal to the totals that 3rd parties have sent to the IRS is an almost guarantee that you will be spending some time with the audit division.
Most of these mistakes can be avoided. Simply don’t use rounded numbers or report a lot of non-cash charitable contributions without getting proper documentation. Keep the auto logs or be prepared to see at least 50% thrown out in an audit. If you are not sure what 1099s have been reported to the IRS, file an extension and check your IRS transcripts when the wage and income transcripts are usually updated in July of each year.