The worst thing that can happen for most taxpayers is being told by the IRS that they are being audited. However, what most people don’t realize is that there is a timeframe for how long the IRS can audit an individual. This timeframe is known as the audit statute of limitations. Taxpayers have a right to dispute an IRS audit if they have proper substantiation. In this article, we’ll explain how long the IRS has to audit taxes and what factors may affect this timeline.
Audit Statute of Limitations: The Three-Year Rule
Section 6501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code sets out the rule for the IRS audit statute of limitations. The IRS generally has three years from the date a tax return is filed to assess any additional taxes owed. It starts ticking on the date the return is filed.
Exceptions to the Three-Year Rule
The three-year rule serves as a broad guideline. However, there are exceptions and circumstances that can extend or suspend the audit statute of limitations. Some key exceptions include:
Substantial Omission of Income:If a taxpayer omits more than 25% of their gross income on their tax return, the IRS has six years from the filing date to assess additional taxes.
No Return Filed: If a taxpayer fails to file a tax return, the statute of limitations doesn’t apply, and the IRS can initiate an audit at any time.
Agreements and Extensions: If a taxpayer agrees to extend the statute of limitations or signs an agreement with the IRS, the audit period may be extended.
Omission of Foreign Income: If a taxpayer omits more than $5,000 of their foreign income on their tax return, the IRS has six years from the filing date to assess additional taxes.
Omission of Gifts or Inheritances: If a taxpayer receives a gift or inheritance of over $100,000 from a non-U.S. person and does not file Form 3520, the IRS can initiate an audit at any time.
Fraudulent Returns: In cases of fraud or the willful intent to evade taxes, there is no statute of limitations. The IRS can initiate an audit at any time.
Flagged tax returns typically end up going into an IRS audit. At this point, these taxpayers may receive an IRS notice called a CP2000. The IRS agent will be required to open and close an audit within 26 months after a tax return has been filed. The IRS strictly adheres to its guidelines to ensure that the audit is complete within the three-year timeframe.
For audits that start a few months after a return is filed, the IRS will typically freeze any refunds. However, the IRS will have to pay interest on refunds that are sent late. This is why the IRS will attempt to resolve its audit quickly. Once a taxpayer answers the questions regarding their tax return with accuracy, their refund will be released and sent out. Audits that happen immediately after filing a tax return typically contain tax credits. Usually, these will include earned income tax credits, and the child tax credit. The IRS usually wants to verify the filing status, dependents, and other return items before sending your refund.
While the IRS has a specified period to initiate an audit, taxpayers should keep their tax records for at least three years after filing. However, keeping records for an extended period, such as seven years, can provide an added layer of protection. This is especially true if there are concerns about substantial omissions or potential audits related to certain transactions.
Seek Help if You’re Being Audited
Understanding the IRS audit statute of limitations is crucial for taxpayers to navigate the complexities of tax compliance confidently. While the general rule is a three-year window for the IRS to initiate an audit, exceptions can affect this timeframe. As tax laws and regulations are subject to change, it is advisable to consult with a tax professional to stay informed about any updates that may impact the audit process. By maintaining accurate records, individuals and businesses can mitigate the risks associated with IRS audits. Optima Tax Relief provides assistance to individuals struggling with unmanageable IRS tax burdens.
Today, Optima Tax Relief’s Lead Tax Attorney, Phil Hwang, discusses his 5 top tips for how to avoid an IRS audit.
File Your Taxes: Some taxpayers don’t file because they think they don’t have to. The minimum requirement to file a tax return depends on your filing status and income, but generally most U.S. citizens and permanent residents need to file. Remember, if you don’t file when you’re required to, you will be hit with IRS penalties and interest. The IRS could also file a tax return on your behalf. While this might sound like a burden lifted off your own shoulders, this could be much worse than filing yourself because it can result in owing more taxes. You can use the IRS’s online Interactive Tax Assistant to find out if you need to file a tax return.
Report All Your Income: Failing to report all your income is the quickest way to being audited by the IRS. Keep in mind that the IRS receives copies of every W-2, 1099, and other tax forms that you receive. They know exactly how much you earned in the previous year and if your reported income does not match what they have on file, you’re much more likely to be audited.
Use Common Sense with Business Expenses: This tip is for the self-employed filers. The IRS requires all business expenses to be ordinary and necessary to be deductible during tax time. This means it should be common for your industry and necessary for the production of income. Excessive meals and entertainment, trips taken for non-business purposes, and commuting costs are examples of nondeductible business expenses.
Keep Good Records of Income and Expenses: Keeping good records of income and expenses can not only help you monitor the progress and financial well-being of your business, but also keep track of your deductible expenses, prepare your tax returns, and substantiate claims made on your tax returns. The IRS recommends keeping returns, records, and other tax documents for at least three years.
Be Wary of Multi-Year Losses: If your business consistently reports losses during tax time, the IRS will likely audit you. In addition, the IRS only allows you to write off losses for three of the five previous tax years. If you can’t prove your business is beginning to turn a profit, even a small one, the IRS can categorize your business as a hobby, at which point you will be unable to deduct any of your expenses.
Tune in next Friday for another episode of “Ask Phil” where Phil will review common IRS tax forms.
If You Think You’re at Risk of Being Audited by the IRS, Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation
They say that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life. However, taxes are only collectible for so long. Did you know there is a statute of limitations for IRS collections? Here’s an overview of how the IRS statute of limitations works.
How Long is the IRS Collection Statute of Limitations?
The IRS has a 10-year statute of limitations for tax collections, beginning when the IRS first assesses your tax liabilities. In other words, the IRS cannot collect tax debt that is older than 10 years. You should keep in mind that the first IRS notice you receive is not necessarily when your liabilities are assessed. Specifically, there is a Collection Statute Expiration Date (CSED), which marks the last day the IRS can collect tax debt. After the CSED, the IRS cannot legally collect your tax debt, which means that your tax debt essentially disappears.
If you want to find your CSED, you can count 10 years from the date on your Notice of Federal Tax Lien. You can also request a transcript of your IRS account to find the date your liability was assessed and filed. Keep in mind that there are several actions that can delay the statute of limitations, thus pushing out your CSED.
Which Actions Extend a CSED?
There are several qualifying events that can extend a CSED, including:
Filing for bankruptcy: The IRS will pause the statute of limitations while your bankruptcy filing is pending, beginning from the filing date until the court makes a decision. The CSED will remain suspended for an additional six months.
Living abroad: The IRS will pause the statute of limitations while you live abroad for six consecutive months or longer. The CSED will remain suspended for six months after you return to the United States.
IRS installment agreement: The IRS will pause the statute of limitations while it reviews your installment agreement application. If the agreement is rejected, the CSED will remain suspended for 30 more days. This is also the case if your installment agreement defaults. If you appeal your rejection, the CSED will remain suspended until a decision is final.
Offer in compromise: The IRS will pause the statute of limitations while it reviews your OIC application. Once a decision is made, the suspension ends. If your offer is rejected, your CSED will remain suspended for 30 more days.
Innocent spouse relief: The IRS will extend the CSED until the 90-day petition expires. If you appeal the tax court decision, the statute of limitations will be suspended until a final decision is made, plus an additional 60 days.
Taxpayer assistance order: The IRS will pause the statute of limitations while it reviews your submitted Form 911, Request for Taxpayer Advocate Service Assistance and Application for Taxpayer Assistance Order.
Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing: The IRS will pause the statute of limitations while it reviews your request to stop a levy or remove a lien until a determination is made or until you withdraw your request.
Military deferment: The IRS will pause the statute of limitations during military service and for an additional 270 days afterward. If you serve in a combat zone the CSED will be suspended for up to 180 days after military service.
Being sued by the IRS: While this event rarely happens, the IRS will pause the statute of limitations during the court proceedings.
Can I Ignore My Tax Debt Until the IRS Collection Statute Expires?
You might be enticed to just wait out the IRS collection statute of limitations. However, this strategy is generally not recommended since it would mean ignoring your growing tax bill and IRS notices. Under these circumstances, simple actions like getting a job, purchasing a home, registering a vehicle, and operating a business would be very difficult. Working with the IRS will typically be your best option, but doing so alone can be tedious, intimidating, and stressful. Working with a credible and experienced tax relief company can help save time, money, and stress. Optima Tax Relief has over a decade of experience helping taxpayers get back on track with their tax debt. If you need tax help, contact us for a free, no-obligation tax consultation today.