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5 Reasons to Stop Worrying About a Tax Audit

If there’s one thing many of us don’t want to see in our mailbox, it’s a letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Even worse, we don’t want to get a letter from the IRS informing us that we are being subject to a tax audit.

While you can never guarantee the IRS won’t audit you, understanding a few facts about tax audits may help ease your fears.

1. Your chances of an audit are very, very low.

For the average American, the chances of being audited by the IRS are about one in 143. If you are in the middle- or lower-income range, and your taxes are relatively straightforward, your likelihood of an audited are even lower. Recent personnel cuts at the IRS offices have also reduced the chances.

You could go your entire life without ever being audited. Now, that’s some good news!

2. A tax audit doesn’t automatically mean you’re in trouble.

While it’s true the IRS can audit people when they suspect they have done something wrong, that’s often not the case. The IRS audits a portion of the taxpaying public every year. You can be selected purely as a matter of chance.

In other cases, something in a person’s return can put them at a higher risk of an audit. Or, the information on their tax return doesn’t match up with the data the IRS received from another source, such as a Form 1099-MISC.

Additionally, taxpayers who are above average earners are more likely to be audited. Higher income taxpayers not only tend to have more complex returns, but the IRS typically collects more money from them.

3. Generally, IRS audits only go back two or three years.

By the time you file multiple income tax returns, you may start to wonder what would happen if the IRS audited an old return. Could you find your information? Could you remember any details?

Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about that happening. According to the IRS, most tax audits are regarding returns filed within the last three years. If they find a substantial error, they may add more years. But even then, they seldom go back more than six years.

4. You can reduce your chances of an audit.

Certain items on your tax return may attract the attention of the IRS and make you a more likely target for a tax audit. For example:

  • Business losses that are actually hobbies: If you raise horses or dogs, for example, and take a loss every year, the IRS may disallow it because your “business” only classifies as a hobby.
  • Deductions and credits for unusual amounts: If you claim you give a large portion of your income to charity in the form of noncash contributions, the IRS may want a closer look.
  • Business deductions: The IRS may take particular interest in unusually large travel or entertainment business expenses.
  • Large casualty losses: You can only deduct losses not reimbursed by your insurance company. If you write-off a large casualty loss, the IRS may want to look closer at the situation.

Despite those situations, don’t be dissuaded from taking deductions you qualify for just because you’re afraid of a tax audit. Just be aware that the IRS may look into certain items. Keep your records in good shape in case they do.

The IRS is less likely to audit returns that are free from mistakes. By following the interview questions in TaxAct, you should have no trouble preparing a complete and accurate return. And to give you even more peace of mind, TaxAct offers Audit Defense to provide audit protection services for your 2017 tax return. During the filing process, you can elect to take advantage of the offering. If the IRS audits you down the road, an experienced audit professional will respond to inquiries from the IRS and state taxing authorities on your behalf.

5. If the IRS audits you, don’t panic.

Some IRS tax audits are not what you might expect at all. The IRS may just want additional documentation or a response about a particular item. Reply as quickly as possible and move on.

If the IRS requests an office or field audit, you can gather your information and represent yourself if you are comfortable doing so. You also have the right to choose someone to help. If you file your 2017 tax return using TaxAct, you can take advantage of audit protection services through Protection Plus.

You have certain rights as a taxpayer when you are subject to an audit. Besides the right to representation, you also have the right to know why the IRS is requesting information, to make an audio recording of an interview with notice, and not be examined over the same information repeatedly.

About Sally Herigstad

Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and personal finance columnist and author of Help! I Can't Pay My Bills, Surviving a Financial Crisis (St. Martin's Griffin). She writes regularly at CreditCards.com, Bankrate.com, Interest.com, RedPlum, and MSN Money. She is an experienced speaker and a member of Toastmasters International. Follow Sally on Twitter.

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