If the IRS selects your tax return for audit (also called examination), it doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong.
The IRS performs audits by mail or in person. The notice you receive will have specific information about why your return is being examined, what documents if any they need from you, and how you should proceed.
Once the IRS completes the examination, it may accept your return as filed or propose changes. These changes may affect the amount of tax you owe or the amount of your refund.
Got an IRS notice saying they are auditing your tax return?
If you are unable to understand the notice, you can use the IRS tool Did you get a notice from the IRS? which allows you to enter the notice or letter number to find out more about it, what action you may need to take, and wherein the IRS process it falls. Or you can go to the Taxpayer Advocate Service and view the Taxpayer Roadmap directly to see where your tax return is within the IRS process, how the return got there, and what’s next. Once in the Roadmap, you can still look up a specific notice if it isn’t already listed to find out what to do next.
Type of audit/examination and what to do for each type
The IRS notice should confirm whether the audit is being conducted by correspondence (by mail) or in person. The actions you need to take will depend on how the audit is being conducted.
- For correspondence audits, see our Audits by Mail Get Help page for a summary of how the process works and what actions you should take.
- For in-person audits, see our Audits in Person Get Help page for a summary of how the process works and what actions you should take.
You can also visit the IRS Audits page for more information about why your return may have been selected and more details on how far back IRS can go to examine a return, how long it may take, and more. You can also read Publication 3468, IRS Examination Process.
Be aware that IRS audits are still being affected by COVID-19. See the exam guidance memoranda in IRS Operations During COVID-19: Compliance for the most up-to-date information on IRS actions. You should also see the sections for Answered a Notice or letter and Sent a missing form or document for updated information related to the expected timing for an IRS reply.
Sometimes IRS offers alternative methods to reply or submit documentation
When you review the IRS notice, there may be special circumstances in which the IRS may offer digital alternatives for submitting documentation or working with the IRS examiner. See our NTA Blog: Lifecycle of a Tax Return: Correspondence Audits: Increased Communication Alternatives Are in Progress for more information on two available alternatives. The IRS article, Accelerating Digital Communications to Solve Pandemic Challenges and Improve the Taxpayer Experience, also discusses digital options.
However, taxpayers must be invited to participate in these digital options, Secure Messaging and the Document Upload Tool (DUT). So, again, review your notice carefully to see if one or both of these options are available in your case and for information on how to use them.
What if you find out the IRS already closed its initial audit?
If you receive a tax bill for an additional tax amount the IRS assessed (added to your account) or a change in a credit you claimed and you disagree with the subsequent amount the IRS says you owe, see our Audit Reconsideration Get Help page for next steps you can take.
You may request audit reconsideration if you:
- Did not respond to or appear for your original audit,
- Moved and did not receive correspondence from the IRS,
- Have additional information to present that you did not provide during your original audit, or
- Disagree with the assessment from the audit.
You can also see Publication 3598, What You Should Know About the Audit Reconsideration Process, for more details on what you need to do to resolve the issue.
What can I do if I need further help dealing with the IRS audit process?
If you need or want assistance in dealing with an IRS audit or reconsideration, you have the right to representation. This means you can hire an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), or enrolled agent to represent you before the IRS. Know that:
- Taxpayers have the right to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the IRS.
- Taxpayers who are heading to an interview with the IRS may select someone to represent them. Taxpayers who retain representation don’t have to attend with their representative unless the IRS formally summons them to appear.
- In most situations, the IRS must suspend an interview if a taxpayer requests to consult with a representative, such as an attorney, certified public accountant, or enrolled agent.
- Any attorney, CPA, enrolled agent, enrolled actuary, or other person permitted to represent a taxpayer before the IRS, who’s not disbarred or suspended from practice before the IRS, will need to submit a signed written Power of Attorney to represent a taxpayer before the IRS can discuss your case with them.
We recommend that you learn about the credentials and qualifications of tax representatives before choosing one.