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IRS Audit Triggers
Part of being a self-employed business owner is the requirement for a lot of record keeping. Incomes and expenses probably make up the majority of those records, simply because it is necessary in order to keep up with the IRS and their grueling and complex rules governing taxes on the income your business generates. If you don’t meet their expectations, your business could be red-flagged and even audited, and that’s something I’m pretty sure we all want to avoid.
So, how do you avoid it? First and foremost, you must keep accurate records. Estimates and assumptions about the income and expenses associated with your business will only draw attention to you. Your best bet is to write everything down, each and every day, even if it seems insignificant.
There are a number of things that trigger the IRS into examining your business practices more thoroughly. They are:
1) Not Filing
This is probably the most obvious trigger, and you would expect it would often be avoided. But many business owners, especially those who are just starting out, fear they won’t have the funds to pay the taxes they will owe. So they simply don’t file returns. Bad idea. It’s better to file and owe back taxes than to go to jail for not filing at all.
2) Overpaying Family Members
If a family member works for you, be sure that you pay them according to their actual responsibilities and experience and at a rate comparable to the rest of the job market. Don’t pay them more than they’re worth just because they’re family.
3) Income Boost
If your income for the current year is excessively higher than previous years, the IRS will want to know why. The reason may be legitimate, like the fact that the demand for your business skyrocketed. But keep in mind that the IRS will then expect your return to show additional expenses in order to meet that increase in demand.
Make sure your federal tax return is consistent with your state tax return; that the income and expenses match down to the last penny. If there are differences, even subtle ones, you’ve caught their eye.
5) Bad Accountant
The IRS has a checks and balances system with which they keep tabs on accountants and other tax preparers. If a preparer is doing something wrong, not only will they get audited, but so will all of their clients. This means you. So check your accountant’s references thoroughly before hiring him.
6) Extreme Expenses
If you have an itemized expense on your tax return that just doesn’t match up with your income, the IRS will notice. For example, if you’re claiming an income of $30,000 and itemizing a $5,000 desk for your home office… well, it’s pretty obvious that something’s not right and the IRS will want to follow-up.
As every business owner knows, incorrect write-offs are one of the largest triggers for an audit. If what you’re writing off doesn’t match what is expected of your business practices, the IRS will probably want an explanation. There are so many rules regarding write-offs that it’s a whole other topic in itself, which I will address tomorrow.
Bottom line: pay attention and be thorough when it comes to your income and expenses throughout the entire year. Don’t wait until January to put everything together for the previous year, but keep record as you go. This will help you to avoid mistakes that trigger audits.
Also, be smart. Don’t try to find loopholes and “work the system.” That’s what gets business owners in trouble. The IRS is cracking down on small business these days, so it’s best to just stick to the rules, even if it hurts a little.
Related Small Business Buzz Posts:
Last Minute Tax Tips
What IRS Auditors Look For
The Right Way to Write-Off Business Expenses (Part 1)
The Right Way to Write-Off Business Expenses (Part 2)
Preparing for an IRS Audit