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Chances of getting audited by IRS lowest in years

Published: Monday, April 14, 2014 11:15 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — As millions of Americans race to meet Tuesday’s tax deadline, their chances of getting audited are lower than they have been in years.

Budget cuts and new responsibilities are straining the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to police tax returns. This year, the IRS will have fewer agents auditing returns than at any time since at least the 1980s.

Taxpayer services are suffering, too, with millions of phone calls to the IRS going unanswered.

“We keep going after the people who look like the worst of the bad guys,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in an interview. “But there are going to be some people that we should catch, either in terms of collecting the revenue from them or prosecuting them, that we’re not going to catch.”

If you report making $40,000 in wages and your employer tells the IRS you made $50,000, the agency’s computers probably will catch that. The same is true for investment income and many common deductions that are reported to the IRS by financial institutions.

But if you operate a business that deals in cash, with income or expenses that are not independently reported to the IRS, your chances of getting caught are lower than they have been in years.

Last year, the IRS audited less than 1 percent of all returns from individuals, the lowest rate since 2005. This year, Koskinen said, “The numbers will go down.”

Last year, the IRS acknowledged agents improperly singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012. The revelation has led to five ongoing investigations, including three by congressional committees, and outraged lawmakers who control the agency’s budget.

Koskinen said he can cut spending in three areas: enforcement, taxpayer services and technology. Technology upgrades can only be put off for so long, he said, so enforcement and taxpayer services are suffering.

Last year, only 61 percent of taxpayers calling the IRS for help got it. This year, Koskinen said he expects the numbers to be similar. To help free up operators, callers with complicated tax questions are directed to the agency’s website.

Your chances of getting audited vary greatly, based on your income. The more you make, the more likely you are to get a letter from the IRS.

Only 0.9 percent of people making less than $200,000 were audited last year. That’s the lowest rate since the IRS began publishing the statistic in 2006.

By contrast, 10.9 percent of people making $1 million or more were audited. That’s the lowest rate since 2010.

Only 0.6 percent of business returns were audited, but the rate varied greatly depending on the size of thebusiness. About 16 percent of corporations with more than $10 million in assets were audited.

One flag for the IRS is when your deductions or expenses don’t match your income, said Joseph Perry, the partner in charge of tax and business services at Marcum LLP, an accounting firm. For example, if you deduct $70,000 in real estate taxes and mortgage interest, but only report $100,000 in income.

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