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Preparing for an IRS Audit
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you might make a mistake on your tax returns and the IRS will audit your business. Most audits are prompted by large losses in your business over a number of years, which would lead the IRS to wonder how you’re producing an income.
Typically, IRS audits are face-to-face, but about one-third of them are letters from the IRS asking for an explanation regarding a specific item on your tax return. Audits can be regarding your entire return or just a portion that the IRS has questions about.
If you receive a letter requesting an explanation, first consult whoever prepared your return. If it was prepared by someone who is not a professional accountant, you should consult one to find out the best way to handle it. Respond in writing, on your company’s letterhead, and provide copies of all related documentation. Always send any correspondence with the IRS by certified mail, so that you can confirm the package was received.
If you have to face the IRS in a personal meeting, make sure that you obtain representation by either a lawyer or CPA (Certified Public Accountant). Don’t try and take care of the situation by yourself, as there are probably many laws and regulations you aren’t fully aware of. You can also have the meeting video taped, but you must give the IRS ten days written notice if you choose to do so.
Logically organize all of your records regarding the issue(s) in question, categorically and chronologically. Neatness and organization will build your credibility with the auditor. Also, be sure that you only bring documentation related to the items that the IRS wants information about. Extra documentation is burdensome and unnecessary, and you don’t want to volunteer information about your taxes if they don’t ask about it.
At minimum, you will need to provide the following documentation:
• bank statements and cancelled checks
• print-outs and disk copies of electronic records and logs
• appointment books, calendars and/or journals
• worksheets showing your calculations for each item
• an extra copy of all documentation
It’s important that you keep your cool and don’t get overly defensive, as that might make you seem guilty to the IRS auditor. You may even want to prepare some notes for yourself to remember events and explanations. When you’re in the meeting and under that kind of pressure, you can often simply go blank or stumble over words. Having notes on what you want to convey to the auditor will help you to keep things straight in your head.
After the meeting is over, the auditor will provide a written report regarding his conclusions and what additional taxes, if any, you owe. Keep in mind that, if the meeting and result are unsatisfactory, there is an appeals process available. This is where having a video tape of the meeting will come in handy, especially if the auditor was not willing to hear you out. There is also an appeals process available for any liens, levies or property seizures resulting from an audit, including appeals for hardship reasons.
Overall, if you are prepared and organized and can show that the issue at hand was a legitimate and unintentional mistake, then you will probably only face paying additional taxes. If nothing else, you will have definitely learned from the experience.
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