Got an IRS Audit Notice? Here's What to Do

Though tax audits aren't all that common, they do happen from time to time. In fact, the whole reason President Trump has yet to release his tax returns is because he claims they're stuck in an audit

A taxpayer like Donald Trump has people on his payroll to deal with audit matters so he doesn't have to. But what if you receive an audit notice from the IRS? Getting a letter to that effect can be scary, but here's what to do.

1. Don't panic

It's natural to worry when the IRS reaches out asking to further examine your tax return. But before you let that be a source of instant anxiety, remember that often, tax audits are easily resolved.

It could be that you simply forgot to provide information when you filed your taxes, or the IRS needs clarifying or supporting documents to process your return. Don't assume the worst.

Letter saying you are getting audited being lifted out of envelope

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Read the notice carefully

Chances are, the IRS will request specific information in conjunction with its audit. Read your notice thoroughly so you understand what the agency is looking for. Don't err on the side of sending additional information outside of what's being requested -- that may only complicate matters.

3. Don't ignore that correspondence

According to a recent survey by Jackson Hewitt Tax Debt Resolution Services, among tax filers who have previously ignored an IRS notice, 32% did so because they didn't know how to respond, 32% did so because they were too overwhelmed or scared to respond, and 30% did so because they didn't have the money to pay additional taxes. Ignoring an audit notice, however, is a huge mistake, reports Mark Steber, Chief Tax Information Officer at Jackson Hewitt. Doing so could result in a scenario where the IRS comes after you for the money it thinks you owe. Or to put it another way, if you neglect to respond to an audit letter, you'll effectively forfeit the right to dispute what the IRS is asking for.

That won't happen right away. If you don't respond to an audit notice, the IRS will implement the changes it wants to make to your tax return and serve you with a 90-day notice to dispute those changes. Do nothing, and your tax debt becomes automatic. As Steber puts it:

Audits can turn into a tax debt if the taxpayer ignores the IRS requests or doesn't produce their tax records. For the average American, we see this happen when the taxpayer is overwhelmed and doesn't feel confident handling their own tax records. In these cases, its best to have a professional help out.

If you're not sure how to respond to an audit notice, call your tax preparer or find a tax professional who can jump in and assist. Also, don't assume that it's best to ignore an audit notice if you can't pay. By doing so, you'll only incur interest and penalties on the sum the IRS thinks you owe it.

"Taxpayers should know that even if they aren't able to pay immediately, there are options to resolve a tax debt," says Steber. "The worst thing to do is ignore a notice."

Tax audits can happen to anyone. You don't need to be a power player like Donald Trump to land on that dreaded list. But the way you handle an audit notice could spell the difference between getting slapped with a tax bill and penalties versus escaping relatively unscathed. Remember, too, that not all tax audits work out in the IRS's favor, so don't assume you're doomed from the start just because an audit is taking place.

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