The Five Ways That IRS Selects Tax Returns For Examination

I have yet to meet anyone who looks forward to having their tax return be selected for an audit by IRS so you should know the five main ways that the IRS selects returns for examination.

  1. Potential participants in abusive tax avoidance transactions — Some returns are selected based on information obtained by the IRS through efforts to identify promoters and participants of abusive tax avoidance  Examples include information received from “John Doe” summonses issued to foreign and domestic banks, credit card companies, businesses and participant lists from promoters ordered by the courts to be turned over to the IRS.
  2. Computer Scoring— Some returns are selected for examination on the basis of computer scoring.  Computer programs give each return numeric “scores”. The Discriminant Function System (“DIF”) score rates the potential for change, based on past IRS experience with similar returns. The Unreported Income DIF (“UIDIF”) score rates the return for the potential of unreported income. IRS personnel screen the highest-scoring returns, selecting some for audit and identifying the items on these returns that are most likely to need review.
  3. Related Examinations— Returns may be selected for audit when they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers, such as business partners or investors, whose returns were selected for examination. In examinations that include undisclosed foreign bank accounts, the IRS will look for family relatives who may have the same involvement in foreign accounts and also failed to make the proper disclosures.
  4. Information Matching— Some returns are examined because payer reports, such as Forms W-2 from employers or Form 1099 interest statements from banks or Form 1099-K statements from credit card companies, do not match the income reported on the tax return. Even foreign banks who have U.S. account holders are reporting information to the IRS which the IRS is matching to tax returns.
  5. Targeted Industries – When the IRS believes that a specific industry has a high expectation of non-compliance with the tax laws, returns for businesses in that industry may be selected for audit. The cannabis industry seems to be in the center of this as this industry is subject to very unfavorable tax law that denies the deduction of many expenses and is widely known to deal in cash which could lead to unreported income.

Information Matching Most Common Reason Why A Return Is Selected For Audit

When a tax return’s information does not match data reported to the Internal Revenue Service by employers, banks and other third parties, the IRS will send a letter to the taxpayer. The letter is called an IRS Notice CP2000, and it gives detailed information about issues the IRS identified and provides steps taxpayers should take to resolve those issues.

This is not a formal audit notification, but a notice to see if the taxpayer agrees or disagrees with the proposed tax changes. Because this verification process and notice generation is done by IRS computers without the need for an agent to actually work the case, these IRS notices are quite common.

Taxpayers should respond to the CP2000, usually within 30 days from the date printed on the notice.

Consequences Of Failing To Respond To IRS Or If Your Response Is Inadequate

If a timely response to the CP2000 is not made or if the IRS cannot accept the additional information provided, a second IRS notice is generated. That follow-up notice is called an IRS Notice CP3219A or “Statutory Notice of Deficiency”. This notice gives detailed information about why the IRS proposes a tax change and how the agency determined the change. The notice tells taxpayers about their right to challenge the decision in Tax Court by filing a Petition with the Tax Court no later than 90 days from the date of the Statutory Notice of Deficiency.

If a taxpayer timely files a Petition, the additional liability remains “proposed” and cannot be sent to collection enforcement by IRS. Instead the taxpayer will have the opportunity to show that the proposed changes are wrong and if agreement is not reached, it will be the Tax Court judge that will have the ultimate say in this matter.

If a taxpayer does not file a Petition, then the proposed changes become final, a tax bill will be generated by the IRS and the IRS can proceed with collection enforcement.

How Does One Find Out If The IRS Does Select Your Tax Return For Examination?

This is where one must be careful because there are scammers out there who are calling people saying they are the IRS and threatening them with arrest and deportation unless they pay right away. If you are selected for an audit by the IRS, the initial contact will always be in the form of a letter sent by the assigned agent under official IRS letterhead.

An official letter from the IRS will give you the contact information of the agent and what IRS office the agent reports to. The letter will also tell you how the examination is to be conducted – this can be by mail, or through an in-person interview and review of the taxpayer’s records at the agent’s office or outside the agent’s office such as the taxpayer’s business. Finally, the letter will tell you which years are being audited and what records will be needed. Taxpayers may act on their own behalf or have a tax professional represent or accompany them.

What Should You Do?

Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the Los Angeles Area (including Long Beach and Ontario) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income. If you are involved in cannabis, check out what a cannabis tax attorney can do for you.  Also, if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.