The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) routinely performs tax audits of individual and corporate taxpayers. Though conducted yearlong, audits tend to spike during the months following tax season, when problematic tax returns come under the Service’s microscope. Regardless of when an audit or “examination” commences, an IRS auditor will be assigned to the case. Throughout the audit process, this designated auditor will handle correspondence with the taxpayer (or, if the taxpayer has appointed a personal representative, his or her tax audit attorney). While auditors are trained in efficiency, they are also trained to be thorough – and depending on the complexity and structure of the company or individual’s specific tax situation, the audit process often takes more time to complete than the average taxpayer might estimate. This can be very disconcerting to taxpayer’s that are facing an egg shell audit scenario where the goal is to get the audit closed as soon as possible to mitigate any criminal tax exposure that underlies an audit.
Before our IRS tax attorneys begin, it’s important to draw a distinction between the timeline for an audit and the statute of limitations for an audit. The latter can impact the former, but they are separate issues. The timeline for an audit is how long the auditing process itself will take. By comparison, the statute of limitations determines how far back into the taxpayer’s records the auditor may probe. Depending on the situation, the statute of limitations may allow the auditor to review tax returns and related records from up to three years ago, from up to six years ago, or from any point in the taxpayer’s history – even a tax return that is 15 or 20 years old. For more information about this subject, our IRS tax audit lawyers would encourage readers to explore the following articles:
While the statute of limitations on a tax audit generally ranges from three to six years (in cases where a limit exists), that does not mean a tax audit will require three to six years for the auditor to complete. As we will discuss momentarily, most audits conclude far sooner. However, as noted above, the statute of limitations can impact the timeline of an audit by creating boundaries for the examination of aging records.
Assuming the three-year statute of limitations applies – which, to reiterate, would not be the case if the audit involved egregious issues, such as a substantial understatement of the taxpayer’s income or evidence of tax fraud– the IRS has 36 months from the date of filing to examine the relevant tax return. However, eight of those months must be allotted for the processing of any appeals, meaning protests that are filed by the taxpayer. (Not everyone who is audited chooses to protest an IRS audit decision, or litigate if the matter is not solved in appeals, but taxpayers generally have the right to these options should questionable audit return findings arise because of differences in opinion on the facts or law underlying the audit.) With these eight months accounted for, the IRS has 28 remaining months – two years and four months – in which to perform the audit. Again, these limits would be extended if the IRS suspected serious violations or criminal activity, or if the taxpayer voluntarily allowed the IRS to extend the statute of limitations which should not be agreed to without the advice of qualified counsel.
The aforementioned does not mean the audit itself will take 28 months to complete – but it does create a framework the auditor must stay within. Most audits conclude within several months to about one year, but the precise duration of an audit depends heavily on three interrelated factors: (1) what type of audit is being conducted, and (2) the number and severity of the issues detected and the changes proposed (3) the efficiency and competence of the auditor and their manager. Needless to say, an audit which reveals a complex web of tax evasion will require more time for completion (and will invariably be accompanied by taxpayer fear and anxiety of subsequent or simultaneous IRS criminal investigation) than an audit which reveals a basic accounting errors, or which turns on missing receipts & documents.
While correspondence audits typically involve less serious taxpayer errors and thus ordinarily present the lowest potential for serious civil and criminal tax penalties, they can take months to complete while the taxpayer and IRS exchange documents and requests to produce documents, depending upon how rapidly the taxpayer responds. Unfortunately, the correspondence audit process can be needlessly dragged out by the IRS’ use of automation and call centers, which can create confusion if multiple representatives end up assisting the same taxpayer. Unfortunately, the IRS eventually will close an unagreed correspondence audit via a 90-day letter which will force the taxpayer into either taking on the expense of litigation or allowing the assessment to take place uncontested. A good tax litigation attorney can help you weigh the pros and cons of this decision.
By comparison, an office audit is considered to be a more intensive taxpayer examination – yet may wrap up in as little as a single day, unless the auditor asks the taxpayer to produce additional documentation, in which case more time will be allotted. Field audits, which are only conducted in cases where substantial errors or willful noncompliance have been detected, typically take longer than correspondence or office audits: approximately one year, give or take several months and often involves an interview of the taxpayer and a tour of the business under audit. The duration of any audit, regardless of type, can be extended by the following issues:
It is not in your best interests to undergo an audit without the benefit of robust and aggressive audit representation. Without an experienced tax attorney or better yet, a dually licensed Attorney-CPA at your side, you are at heightened risk of receiving costly assessments of additional tax, penalties and interest, accidentally criminally incriminating yourself, missing steps and deadlines that are necessary for a successful appeal, and making other preventable errors that at a minimum could bring you financial or legal harm, and in worst case scenarios lead to criminal tax prosecution, conviction and loss of professional licensure.
If you, your spouse, or your small business has been selected for IRS audit, get trustworthy help from an award-winning dually licensed Attorney and CPA with 26 years’ of tax audit, appeal and litigation experience and a Master’s Degree in Taxation. For a reduced-rate consultation concerning an IRS audit, including an FBAR audit or foreign account audit, an audit of a cash-based business, a dentist tax audit, or a veterinary tax audit, contact the Tax Law Office of David W. Klasing online, or call us at (800) 681-1295 today.
Also, we’ve expanded our offices! In addition to our offices in Irvine and Los Angeles, the Tax Law Offices of David W. Klasing we now have offices in San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Panorama City, Oxnard, San Diego, Bakersfield, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento. You can find information on all of our offices here.
Helpful Audit, Appeals and Litigation Q and A Libraries:
How do you survive an audit where you cheated? https://youtu.be/FZce4jqQJpI
How should tax audits be handled by Criminal Tax Counsel? https://youtu.be/0kt7eEp3g1c
When should you ditch the original preparer? https://youtu.be/0kt7eEp3g1c
Why should I hire the Tax Law Offices of David W. Klasing to handle my appeal? https://youtu.be/qqDQgXRmYu0
How do I know when I should file an appeal? https://klasing-associates.com/question/know-sure-im-ready-request-appeals-conference/
What are the basics of Federal tax litigation? https://youtu.be/FgxeoucqM7g