Red Flags That Could Trigger an IRS Small Business Audit

Thankfully, the odds that your tax return will be singled out for an audit are pretty low. The IRS audited only 0.4% of all individual tax returns in 2019 (down from 0.59% in 2018). Plus, the vast majority of these exams were conducted by mail, which means that most taxpayers never met with an IRS agent in person. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that your chances of being audited or otherwise hearing from the IRS increase (sometimes significantly) if there are certain “red flags” in your return. For instance, the IRS is more likely to eyeball your return if you claim certain tax breaks, your deduction or credit amounts are unusually high, you’re engaged in certain businesses, or you own foreign assets. Math errors could also draw an extra look from the IRS, but they usually don’t lead to a full-blown exam.

Failing to Report All Taxable Income

The IRS gets copies of all the 1099s and W-2s you receive, so be sure you report all required income on your return. IRS computers are pretty good at matching the numbers on the forms with the income shown on your return. A mismatch sends up a red flag and causes the IRS computers to spit out a bill. If you receive a 1099 showing income that isn’t yours or listing incorrect income, get the issuer to file a correct form with the IRS.

Report all income sources on your 1040 return, whether or not you receive a form such as a 1099. For example, if you get paid for walking dogs, tutoring, driving for Uber or Lyft, giving piano lessons, or selling crafts through Etsy, the money you receive is taxable.

Taking Higher-than-Average Deductions or Credits

If the deductions or credits on your return are disproportionately large compared with your income, the IRS may pull want to take a second look at your return. But if you have the proper documentation for your deduction or credit, don’t be afraid to claim it. Don’t ever feel like you have to pay the IRS more tax than you actually owe.

Engaging in Cash-Only Transactions

The IRS gets many reports of cash transactions in excess of $10,000 involving banks, casinos, car dealers and other businesses, plus suspicious-activity reports from banks and disclosures of foreign accounts. So if you make large cash purchases or deposits, be prepared for IRS scrutiny. Also, be aware that banks and other institutions file reports on suspicious activities that appear to avoid the currency transaction rules (such as a person depositing $9,500 in cash one day and an additional $9,500 in cash two days later).

In the end, though, there’s no sure way to predict an IRS audit, but these red flags could increase your chances of drawing unwanted attention from the IRS. The best way to prepare yourself for an audit when owning a small business is working with a trusted professional.

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