Audit Triggers - How Does the IRS Decide Who To Audit?

how does the irs decide who to audit

Apr 4, 2008

With the tax clock ticking down lots of people are finishing up their tax returns. A common question that comes up during this joyous time of year is, "How can I avoid an audit?" Fortunately for most taxpayers the question is far more common than an actual audit. Only around 1% of all taxpayers actually end up facing an audit.

Comforting as that fact is, it is in no way instructive. Knowing what is more likely to trigger an audit can go a long way to avoiding one. Avoiding these triggers will not guarantee that an audit will not occur but it will reduce the chances of one. While all of the reasons that the IRS launches an audit aren't known, crunching the statistics of past audits does demonstrate some clear triggers.

High deductions - Any deduction that is proportionally high to the taxpayer's income usually constitutes a red flag. Determining what's high is the trick here. The IRS publishes an annual book, "Statistics of Income." Although the book gives ranges for typical incomes some logic needs to be applied. If a taxpayer is at the lower end of a particular income range but claims the upper limits of deductions associated with that range then that deduction may still trigger an audit review even though the deduction is technically within the accepted limit.

High Income - Although a higher income should be considered an advantage under any other circumstance, considered

from the perspective of prospective audits it is most certainly a disadvantage. And the chances of an audit jump up significantly with each income level. Past audits tell us that the chances of an audit for taxpayers making less than $100,000 is 0.93%. For incomes over $100,000 the chances jump to 1.77%, over $200,000 brings the odds up to 2.87% and over $1 million in income brings the chances of an audit to a whopping 9.37%!

Cash Income - Any profession that deals with a lot of cash, such as waiting tables, tends to spark the curiosity of IRS audit agents. One of the first things they compare in cases such as this is bank deposits vs. claimed income.

Self-Employment - Because self employed taxpayers are constantly keeping an eye on their bottom line they tend to be aggressive at writing off expenses. While there are many legitimate reasons for doing so the IRS likes to verify these deductions.

While these are some of circumstances that may trigger an audit they do not necessarily guarantee one nor will avoiding them remove all possibility of one. The best defense against an audit is to always expect one. Taxpayers should make sure that their deductions are legitimate and reasonable. They should also keep well ordered records and receipts.

However never having to face an audit is certainly the best circumstance. Keeping these triggers in mind can help taxpayers reduce the risks of that happening.


Category: Taxes

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