What to Do if You Get a Letter from the IRS

You receive a letter from the IRS. Don’t panic and take quick action. The following excerpt from “Loopholes of the Rich” by Diane Kennedy, CPA, explains the three different types of IRS audits along with the very common possibility of an IRS mistake.

First of all, you are not going to jail! But don’t ignore the letter, either. Action is needed. It just needs to be reasoned and logical action. I always instruct my clients to immediately fax to me any correspondence they receive from the IRS. That serves two purposes: (1) gets it out of their hands, so they can stop worrying, and (2) serves notice to someone who knows how to deal with it.

You Get a Letter

There are three general types of IRS audits:

  1. Mail audit.
  2. Office audit.
  3. Field audit.

The mail audit typically occurs when there is a discrepancy within the return (such as a calculation error) or with third-party information (such as 1099s). Usually, these audits merely require submitting backup information, documents, and an explanation.

An office audit normally is for W-2 wage earners and some small business owners. The taxpayer is required to bring substantiating documentation for the return to the local IRS office for analysis. The office audit typically lasts one day or less. Immediately upon receipt of an office audit notice, the taxpayer should consult their tax preparer.

Field audits, where one or more IRS revenue agents come to a taxpayer’s office, are usually reserved for corporations, partnerships, and limited liability companies, although complex sole proprietorships are also subject to field audits. The auditor has to go to the office of the taxpayer because the documentation and legal issues are voluminous and complex. The taxpayer should expect to obtain proper representation, as well as further accounting assistance to prepare for the audit.

Maybe They Made a Mistake

Don’t assume that the IRS is right if you get a notice. There are some common areas where the IRS’s technologies have not kept up and they consistently make errors. Some common errors by the IRS:

  • An IRS worker may mismatch information on W-2 forms with information on Form 1040.
  • Employers can currently file W-2 returns on their employees either using a standardized W-2 form or via magnetic media (tapes). In some cases, with large employers, they must file using the magnetic media. When they do, they can use a nonstandardized W-2 form, which will not always be readily apparent to the temporary IRS worker who is working on the crunch of mail that arrives during tax time. There are simply too many forms to look at, and they might miss one, which kicks the return out for a letter. Nothing was done incorrectly; it is simply a case of human error and a system that doesn’t support the IRS worker.
  • The total that the IRS enters from Form 1099 may be more than the gross income actually reported.
  • Calculation of interest and penalty due may be incorrect. If you receive a statement showing interest or penalty, as well as tax due, first verify that the total tax due is accurate. Then, recalculate the interest and penalty due.

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