What to do if you're audited
Businessman Analyzing Document
Businessman Analyzing Document
Businessman Analyzing Document

Unless you’ve intentionally done something wrong on your tax return, chances are you’re not going to get audited. The Internal Revenue Service’s 2014 Data Book shows the overall audit rate for individual taxpayers was under 1% of all returns filed.

IRS audits fall into two categories: Correspondence audits, which typically just look to correct a filing error and can be handled by mail with an IRS agent; and field audits, which take place in person at your home or office and can be lengthy and feel invasive. Just 29% of all audits in 2014 were field audits, IRS data show. But, if you do wind up in the tiny percentage of Americans who will be audited this year, there are some steps you can take to smooth along the process and ensure you don’t make an already stressful situation really bad for yourself.

We talked to Susan Lee, a Certified Financial Planner and tax preparer in New York City who helps clients prepare for audits, about the top things you should do if you receive an audit notice.

1. Breathe

“The reality of an audit is that it scares people half to death,” said Lee, but it’s not a death sentence, so relax, don’t panic and proceed to step two.

2. Address the Request ASAP

Some people may feel inclined to ignore the audit notice, at least initially, because the stress of the situation is just too much. But you should read the notice right away since you are generally required to respond to the audit request and set up an appointment.

“If the time for responding passes, it becomes much more difficult,” Lee said.

Responding to an IRS notice in a timely fashion could help minimize additional interest and penalty charges and preserve your appeal rights if you don’t agree, the agency said on its website.

Failing to pay your taxes can also result in a tax lien and do major damage to your credit score. (You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing your two free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

3. Read the Notice Line by Line

You’re going to have to address every issue the IRS is presenting, so you’ll want to go through the notice line by line.

“Most people don’t really read it. They panic,” Lee said. “They have to see what’s going on and if they have a tax professional, get the thing over to the professional immediately.”

4. Consider Hiring a Tax a Pro

If you prepared your own return, it’s likely worth having a second pair of eyes to look over the audit notice.

“If they absolutely don’t understand the notice, call a professional to have them review what has to be done and to coach them through it,” Lee said. “It is very possible that you think you know what’s needed, but you don’t and you send the IRS the wrong thing or something inadequate.”

5. Determine If There Really Is an Error

A tax professional can also help you spot whether an actual error was made. “There are two levels, always: Is it correct, and can you back it up,” Lee said.

In other words, if you made an error or can’t prove you didn’t, there’s no reason to fight the IRS.

6. Keep Your Attitude in Check

Whether you receive a correspondence audit or an office audit, be respectful and thorough, no matter what, Lee advised.

“Do not, under any circumstances, start venting,” Lee said. “Do not discuss your negative feelings about the IRS. I’ve heard stories from agents about what people have said to them … no attitude, whether it’s an office audit or a correspondence audit, they’re human beings. They have their troubles, they have their bad hair days just like you, except they went to work for the IRS.”

This article originally appeared on Credit.com and was written by Constance Brinkley-Badgett.