Tips to Avoid an Income Tax Audit

While there are no hard and fast rules about exactly what triggers a tax audit, mistakes and misinformation are likely to lead the IRS to your door.

Here are a few tips that will help you report your income and deductions as accurately as possible and decrease your chances of being audited by the IRS.

1. Be Honest on Your Tax Return

Make sure you enter all of the information the IRS has received about you from any employer, including data from your W-2s. The IRS compares the information from these types of forms to the information you supply on your return. “If these don’t agree for whatever reason, you may hear from the IRS,” says Greg Lemons, CPA and Owner of Padgett Business Services of Franklin, Tennessee.

It’s also important to report any cash income, such as tips. If you fail to report a portion of your income, you may be subject to hefty fines.

“You are required to report all of your income,” Lemons says. “Your return should always reflect your tax situation as accurately as possible.”

2. Seek Professional Help When Filing Your Taxes

If you fill out and file your return yourself, using tax software can help you avoid the types of errors that can trigger an IRS audit. “In addition to doing the math for you, these programs let you know about tax deductions you may have missed,” says , Andrew Poulos, Principal of Tucker, Georgia-based Poulos Accounting & Consulting Inc.

Poulos and Lemons agree that if you have anything beyond a simple return (i.e., you have more than two W-2s), you should consider hiring a qualified, licensed tax professional.

“People with one or two W-2s are generally a low audit risk,” Poulos says. “But if you are a homeowner with multiple properties, property taxes, children, and retirement contributions, you should use an accountant or licensed tax preparer. The benefit of using one can outweigh the fees they charge.”

3. Keep Accurate and Detailed Records Related to Your Taxes

Prepare for an audit when you’re preparing your return. “I safeguard my clients by making sure they have all of their records in hand before they file,” Poulos says. “We don’t know what may or may not be deductible until we get the numbers down on paper and see what we have.”

If you’re audited, you’ll need to prove that you qualified for the deductions you took. Always triple check that you meet all of the specific requirements for taking a deduction before you take it and keep supporting documentation for at least three years, the IRS suggests. For those who have had past issues with the IRS, such as missing or fraudulent tax returns, the IRS recommends keeping records indefinitely.

If you make a monetary contribution of any amount to a charity, you must obtain and keep a bank record or a written communication from the charity as a record of your contribution, and the written communication must meet certain IRS requirements.

If you claim a deduction of $250 or more, you must obtain and keep a “contemporaneous written acknowledgment” for the charitable contribution. This means you must obtain a letter or receipt that is dated on or before the date you file to be able to take the deduction. The acknowledgment must meet other IRS requirements as well, including but not limited to the fact that it must state whether the charity provided goods or services to you in exchange for your contribution and other information that substantiates the amount of your contribution.

If you claim a deduction for a contribution of more than $5,000, a qualified appraiser may need to prepare a qualified appraisal in order to take the deduction.

4. Be Specific With Your Tax Deductions

Itemizing high-dollar, non-cash charitable donations, such as furniture or clothing, may call attention to your return. So Lemons suggests asking questions and obtaining documentation when you donate material goods.

“Agencies like Goodwill and Salvation Army can supply guides to help you determine what the proper deduction should be,” he says. When filling out tax forms, use as much detail as possible when describing the items you donated.

Lemons also suggests that when you list any cash donations on your return, go beyond just giving a grand total. “You should actually list out each charity and show the dollar amount for each one,” he says.

5. Check Your Work on Your Tax Return

Be sure that all relevant Social Security numbers are correct and that the return properly reflects your individual income and deductions. “I would recommend doing this even if a professional does your return,” Lemons says. “At the end of the day, it’s your return, so make sure it is accurate in all areas before signing on the dotted line.”

For additional tax information, visit the Regions Tax Center.


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This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.