What IRS Auditors Look for When Examining a Business

Recently, a client asked me about the IRS and what they might look for in an audit.

* He keeps great records and is very careful not to "co-mingle" funds.
* All cash received is deposited to the company business checking account.
* And, in an effort to better control cash purchases, he has opened a separate bank account that he funds periodically from the business operating account.
* He then carries the ATM debit card for that account and makes "cash" purchases with that card.
* Additionally, all workers are either employees or licensed contractors.


I found a great article from Wells Fargo that I think provides a great check list for some of the most common issues the IRS may consider when reviewing a business file in an audit. Here is an excerpt from that article:

In the case of audit, be aware that the IRS training manual tells its auditors that they are examining you, not just your tax return.

The auditor wants to see how you match up with the income reported on your return, or what the IRS terms “economic reality.”

According to Frederick W. Daily, tax attorney and author of Stand Up To the IRS and Tax Savvy for Small Business, if your business is audited, the IRS is likely to investigate the following issues:

Does your lifestyle square with your reported income? “

An auditor sizes you up for dress, jewelry, car and furnishings in your home or office, if given a chance to make these observations. Someone who looks like a Vegas high roller, with the tax return of a missionary, will cause any auditor to dig deeper,” Daily says.

Does your business handle a lot of cash?


If your business handles a lot of cash, expect the auditor to suspect skimming, or diverting income into your own pocket, without declaring it.

Did you write off auto expenses for your only car?

Personal use of your business-deducted set of wheels is so common that auditors expect to find it.

That doesn’t mean they’ll accept it, however. Auditors don’t believe you use your one-and-only auto 100% for business and never to run to the grocery store or the dentist.

If you operate your car for both business and pleasure and claim a high percentage of business usage, keep good records (preferably a mileage log).

Did you claim personal entertainment, meals or vacation costs as business expenses?

Travel and entertainment business expenses are another area where the IRS knows it can strike gold. Document all travel and entertainment deductions. Taking buddies to the ball game and calling it business won’t fly if you can’t explain the business relationship in a credible fashion.

Did you “forget” to report all of your business sales or receipts?

If you failed to report significant business income—$10,000 or more—strongly consider hiring a tax pro to handle the audit. Remove yourself from the process altogether.

If the auditor finds evidence of large amounts of unreported income, and it looks intentional, he may call in the IRS criminal investigation team.


If you have employees, are you filing payroll tax returns and making tax payments?

Employment taxes are a routine part of every audit of a small enterprise.

And last but not least, if you hire people you call “independent contractors,” are they really employees?

The IRS routinely conducts audits of businesses that hire independent contractors, because of the tax savings associated with hiring contractors instead of employees.


These are great questions for all of us to ask about our business practices. Check with your tax professional for more guidelines to proper record keeping and IRS tax compliance.

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