Tax & Assurance Guidance

What is an IRS Audit?

Posted on February 2, 2018 by

Sue Tuson

Sue Tuson

Share This

When a taxpayer is notified by the IRS for a tax return audit, the first reaction may be panic or fear. Understanding the audit process can help alleviate some of these concerns.

How Does an IRS Audit Work?

The IRS defines an audit as a review or examination of an organization’s or individual’s accounts and financial information to ensure information is reported correctly according to the tax laws and to verify the reported amount of tax is correct. The fact that a taxpayer’s return was selected for an audit doesn’t suggest that there is a problem. There are various methods the IRS uses for audit selection, which include:

  1. Random selection
  2. Related examination—business partners/investors returns are audited and the entity return is audited as well
  3. Discriminant Inventory Function (DIF) Score—a formula identifying items which may be a cause for concern, such as unusually high deductions outside the average for a similarly situated taxpayer


The audit process is started once a taxpayer receives an official notice from the IRS. The notice will provide instructions related to how to contact the examining agent and the time period in which a response is required. It is recommended that, upon receipt of an audit notice, the taxpayer contact their CPA to discuss the audit process and make a determination if they would like representation during the audit. If the CPA will be representing the taxpayer, a Form 2848 Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative is completed which allows the CPA to communicate with the auditor.

Typically, the initial contact with the auditor is by phone to discuss the main point of contact, initial information needed by the auditor, and the timing. The auditor requests information from the taxpayer by issuing a Document Request (IDR, Form 4564), a document listing all information requests and due dates. As the audit progresses, additional IDRs will be issued. In some cases the IRS brings in specialists to handle certain areas of the audit. For example, an IRS engineer may be assigned to the audit to review research credits, or an IRS transfer pricing specialist will be assigned to review transfer pricing documentation. If the auditor identifies an issue that may cause an adjustment to the taxpayer’s return, the taxpayer has an opportunity to provide evidence/support for their position.

After the agent finishes review the documents received, the audit can be concluded in one of three ways:

  1. No change: you have provided all support requested and there are no changes
  2. Agreed: the IRS has proposed changes and you understand and agree with the changes
  3. Disagreed: the IRS has proposed changes that you do not agree with

A taxpayer usually has 30 days to decide whether they agree or disagree with the IRS changes. If they agree with the findings and result of the audit, they are required to sign the examination report and mail the signed copy to the IRS with additional tax payment (if applicable) within 30 days of the notice date. If they disagree with the changes, they can do the following:

  1. Request conference with an IRS manager
  2. Go through mediation—an informal, confidential, and flexible dispute resolution process
  3. File an appeal

The time involved going through the audit process varies depending on various factors including: type of audit, complexity of the issues, the availability of information requested, the availability of both parties for scheduling meetings, and the taxpayer’s agreement or disagreement with the findings. Generally there is a three year statute of limitations after a return is filed for the IRS to propose adjustments. In special circumstances the time period is extended to seven years. If the audit will not be completed within the statute of limitations, the auditor will request that the taxpayer agree to extend the statute limitations in order to provide enough time to complete the audit.

Professional Representation

As mentioned above, taxpayers can ask for tax or legal representation during an audit. A professional helps minimize distractions from a taxpayer’s day-to-day business while allowing time to review and respond to IRS questions. In addition, the professional will organize and present information in a manner that the IRS wants to see, and can help in the negotiation of IDR scope and appeal process.

Taxpayer Rights

As a taxpayer, rights include:

  1. Professional and courteous treatment by IRS agents
  2. Learn about the basics of an IRS audit including the different types of audits and the taxpayers rights when selected for an audit – Detroit CPA Firm.Privacy and confidentiality
  3. The right to know why the information is asked, how they will use it, and what will happen if the requested information is not provided
  4. The right to representation, by oneself or an authorized representative
  5. The right to appeal disagreements, both within the IRS and before the courts

Typical Audit Areas

  1. Meals & entertainment
  2. Personal use of company vehicles, condos, and employee reimbursements
  3. Transfer pricing—the IRS is usually concerned about the pricing if the related parties are cross border.
  4. Section 263(A)—provides comprehensive capitalization rules to all direct costs and a portion of indirect costs incurred in the production of real or tangible personal property which are allocable to that property.
  5. Repair and maintenance—any items being expensed that should be capitalized
  6. Earnings stripping—interest expense deductions of multinational corporations being limited in accordance with the thin capitalization rules

Any taxpayer could be selected for an IRS audit at any time. Actions that taxpayer’s can take to facilitate a smooth audit include: keeping good records, understanding the tax positions being taking on returns when they are filed, and having professional representation.

If you need assistance with an IRS audit, contact Clayton & McKervey.

Share This

Sue Tuson

Shareholder, International Tax

As an international tax advisor, Sue helps businesses structure their operations globally to mitigate tax costs and maximize profits.

Related Insights

Is Your Business Eligible for Unclaimed CARES Act Money?

Not all supply chain issues automatically fit IRS eligibility criteria, and companies who want you to sign up for their services may leave out key details. If you would like more context and clarity regarding ERC eligibility, here are some key points to consider.

by Sarah Russell

Reduced Michigan Income Tax Rate for the 2023 Tax Year

Michigan’s state income tax rate will be reduced from 4.25% to 4.05% for the 2023 tax year. This temporary tax rate reduction will apply to all individuals and fiduciaries. The announcement was made by Michigan Treasurer Rachael Eubanks on March 29, 2023 following the release of the state’s fiscal year 2022 Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. 

by Margaret Amsden

Will Digital Advertising Services be Taxed by US States?

As e-commerce business continues to grow and evolve, the US tax landscape attempts to follow. However, taxation on digital activity is not always a clear or easy path. For example, in Maryland the constitutionality of its 1st in the nation tax on digital advertising gross revenue has been challenged. 

by Teresa Gordon

The Sound of Automation Podcast

Industrial automation businesses are the driving force behind Industry 4.0, and Clayton & McKervey is here to help.

Skip to content