How to Prevent an IRS Audit of Your Business
Is it smart for small-business owners to do their business taxes themselves?
Aldrich: Most small businesses don't have enough take-home income to hire a separate bookkeeper. Most small business owners are sole proprietors and working on their own day in and day out. It might be more than these small businesses think they need. You even have the case where you have a professional who is helping you as an adviser on the side. The small business owners still have to provide the data and the raw input [for returns]. When push comes to shove many don't prioritize making sure their data is complete and fully accurate.
If you get notified that your business will be audited, what is the first thing you should do?
Aldrich: As a precursor to that, as the year is going along and you have expenses, make sure you're keeping those as back-up data. If you claim a home office as a deduction, take pictures of your home office, so that later on [if there is an audit, you can say] here are the pictures showing that.The second piece is meet your tax deadlines. One of the things that is a critical factor for raising audit risk is not filing on time. These are things you can do before. If you do get a letter ... Be calm. Collect the information [the IRS is seeking]. Get prepared by reminding yourself where the numbers came from, so that you can send back a thoughtful reply. Sometimes it's just an "oops" moment. You may have just put a number in the wrong place. What's the worst case scenario in an audit? Aldrich: If you have underreported income, the IRS is going to ask you [to pay] tax on that income. Depending on how much, you'll potentially have to pay penalties and maybe interest. The thing to do there is be transparent about what you can pay if you don't have the money. They want folks to stay in business so they can [collect] taxes owed. Is the IRS willing to work with people on payment plans?
Aldrich: They absolutely do that. That is something you should definitely ask about. What else should business owners know about the audit process? Aldrich: The people I've talked to who are small business owners and who are the most concerned are usually the ones that are not in a position to be audited. They use tax software. They do try to keep their business and personal expenses separate. So when you do that and you get a notice, while it is a fear and something to be concerned about, most folks have done a good job staying in compliance. There are things you can do to stay very much ready in case you get that letter or phone call. -- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York. To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com. To follow Laurie Kulikowski on Twitter, go to: http://twitter.com/#!/LKulikowski >To submit a news tip, email: email@example.com.
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