What is an IRS audit?*

An IRS audit is a review/examination of an organization’s or individual’s accounts and financial information to ensure information is being reported correctly, according to the tax laws, to verify the amount of tax reported is substantially correct.

Audit Selection

Selecting a return for audit does not always suggest that an error has been made. Returns are selected using a variety of methods, including:

  • Random selection and computer screening – sometimes returns are selected based solely on a statistical formula.
  • Document matching – when payor records, such as Forms W-2 or Form 1099, don’t match the information reported.
  • Related examinations – returns may be selected for audit when they involve issues or transactions with other taxpayers, such as business partners or investors, whose returns were selected for audit.

Audit Methods

An audit may be conducted by mail or through an in-person interview and review of the taxpayer’s records. The interview may be at an IRS office (office audit) or at the taxpayer’s home, place of business, or accountant’s office (field audit). The IRS will tell you what records are needed. Audits can result in no changes or changes. Any proposed changes to your return will be explained.

Audit Notification

Should your account be selected for audit, you will be notified:

  • By mail

In the case of a telephone contact, the IRS will still send a letter confirming the audit. E-mail notification is not used by the IRS.

Your Rights During an Audit

Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer, explains your rights as a taxpayer as well as the examination, appeal, collection, and refund processes. These rights include:

  • A right to professional and courteous treatment by IRS employees.
  • A right to pay no more than the correct amount of tax.
  • A right to privacy and confidentiality about tax matters.
  • A right to know why the IRS is asking for information, how the IRS will use it and what will happen if the requested information is not provided.
  • A right to representation, by oneself or an authorized representative.
  • A right to appeal disagreements, both within the IRS and before the courts.

Audit Length

The length of each audit varies depending on the type of audit, the complexity of items being reviewed, the availability of information being requested, the availability of both parties for scheduling of meetings and your agreement or disagreement with the findings.

Records Needed

You will be provided with a written request for specific documents needed.

The law requires you to retain records used to prepare your return. Those records generally should be kept for three years from the date the tax return was filed.

The IRS does accept some electronic records. If records are kept electronically, the IRS may request those in lieu of or in addition to other types of records. Contact your auditor to determine what can be accepted to ensure a software program is compatible with the IRS’s.

Audit Determinations

An audit can be concluded in three ways:

  • No change: an audit in which you have substantiated all of the items being reviewed and results in no changes.
  • Agreed: an audit where the IRS proposed changes and the taxpayer understands and agrees with the changes.
  • Disagreed: an audit where the IRS has proposed changes and the taxpayer understands, but disagrees with the changes.

*Information from