Tax Attorney Tips - How To Beat an IRS Audit Without a Tax Lawyer
Those who decide to fight the IRS by themselves may be motivated by misinformation. Tax resolution complaints are on the rise, as are outright tax resolution scams (official looking IRS snail mail or email that not only steal your identity but also tricks some victims into writing big checks to the "tax resolution firm"). Tin foil hat conspiracy theorists claim that the whole tax resolution industry is nothing but a giant tax relief scam. They say the IRS works for you, the people, and the IRS has your best interests at heart. You can beat an IRS audit, they say, with the free tax help the IRS provides. If you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.
So with all those caveats aside, if you are bound and determined to fight the law without a safety net, here are a few tips.
Remember that free tax help that the IRS provides? You get what you pay for here. There's the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service. They won't help you in an audit except to tell you who your auditor is and how it is progressing. If you think you've been treated unfairly by the IRS, these are the folks you complain to. Remember that these bureaucrats say they are on your side, but ultimately the government writes their paychecks. They have no real economic incentive to make sure you win. A tax lawyer does.
The IRS web site is a mess when it comes to finding tips on how to survive an audit. The best publication to get you started is IRS Publication 556. If you feel confused by this IRS document, you're not alone. Making sense of "IRS help documents" is what keeps tax attorneys in business. Tax lawyers can drastically change the tax resolution you get from your IRS audit.
You can find a lot of advice on how to survive an IRS audit online. Nolo.com has a very good (if slightly flawed) taxes and audit section Here you'll get solid tax advice like:
Don't answer unless asked. Give the auditor no more information than she is entitled to, and don't talk any more during the audit than is absolutely necessary. Don't give copies of other years' tax returns to the auditor. In fact, don't bring to an audit any documents that do not pertain to the year under audit, or were not specifically requested by the audit notice.
Know your rights. Browse IRS Publication 1, explaining the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, prior to your audit. If the audit is not going well, demand a recess to consult a tax pro. Ask to speak to the auditor's manager if you think the auditor is treating you unfairly. If the subject of tax fraud comes up during an audit, don't try to handle it yourself.
Appeal the results. When you get the examination report, call the auditor if you don't understand or agree with it. Meet with her or her manager to see if you can reach a compromise. If you can't live with an audit result, you may appeal within the IRS or go on to tax court.
Roy Lewis at Motley Fool likens going into an IRS audit without a tax lawyer to "removing your own appendix," but he offers a few nuggets of IRS advice including:
Organize your records. Making the auditor's job easier will win you some points. The auditor will at least believe that you're an organized person and that all of your items are documented and justified. Don't be afraid to group the items in question, or attach an adding-machine tape that matches the tax return. That will allow the auditor to quickly review the important issues. Don't believe those who tell you that you can just throw your records in a bag, drop it on the auditor's desk, and shout, "You figure it out!" That just doesn't work. Remember, it's your legal responsibility to prove your deductions.
Replace missing records. If you're going through your records and find that some of them are missing, call for duplicates immediately. Don't just go to the audit and claim that the records are missing or lost. That does you no good at all. At best, the auditor will request that you obtain the records. At worst, the deduction in question will be denied, since there are no supporting documents.
Provide only copies. Don't bring original documents to the audit. If you do bring originals, do not give them to the agent. Request that the agent make copies and give the originals back to you. Once you hand over your original documents, there's a very good chance that they will be misplaced or lost. Then you're the one left holding the bag, since the IRS isn't responsible for documents lost in its possession.
The most detailed IRS audit advice comes from CFPs and CPAs. For example, in this article, Greta P. Hicks, CPA offers a detailed approach on how to prepare for the four types of audits the IRS performs.
Bottom line, when you battle the IRS who do you want in your corner? Someone (you) who is facing the IRS for the first time, or someone who has been winning against them for decades?
If a layman attempts to go through this process without proper expert representation, their Offer in Compromise will not only get rejected but they will end up owing the IRS more money (in additional accruing penalties and interest) than when they started the process. Remember that the IRS is the most brutal collection agency on the planet.
The cash you "save" by not hiring a reputable tax attorney may be the most expensive money in your life. And you may have a long time to consider the cost of going it alone as you write big checks to the government for the rest of your life or worse yet, repenting at leisure while you're pumping your biceps in the prison yard. It's your call.