As a CPA I am frequently asked, “How far back can the IRS look to audit my tax return?” That’s a great question. Can the IRS go back and audit your tax return from five years ago? 10 years ago? 25 years ago? Before you start to panic, rest assured that the IRS has a statute of limitations in place that generally puts a limit on the time allowed to audit you and assess additional tax.
Typically, the statute of limitations is three years for the IRS to include a tax return in an audit. This means the statute of limitations likely ran out on the majority of 2010 returns. The 2010 returns would have been due on April 15, 2011 … three years from that date was April 15, 2014. So most taxpayers are out of the woods for 2010 tax returns and all prior years. This same statute of limitations applies to the taxpayer when they would request a tax refund – you can only go back three years’ worth of returns to request a tax refund.
IRS Statute of Limitations Can Be Extended
But wait, before you start high-fiving everyone around you … that statute of limitations can be stretched out to six years if a substantial error is identified. A substantial error is defined as an omission of 25 percent or more of gross income. This may also apply to basis overstatements whenever property is sold. Basis generally means the amount of capital investment in a property for tax purposes.
The U.S. Tax Court has given mixed results on whether or not basis overstatements constitute understatements of gross income. The Federal, Washington D.C., 7th and 10th circuits have ruled in favor of the IRS, supporting the concept that basis overstatements open up the six-year statute. However, the 4th, 5th, and 9th circuits have ruled in favor of the taxpayer, holding that basis overstatements do not constitute substantial understatements of gross income.
When The IRS Statute of Limitations Doesn’t Expire
There are situations when the statute of limitations never expires. The most common is when a return never is filed. The other situation is when the IRS sues for civil tax fraud. Civil tax fraud cases are extremely rare because the burden of proof is so high for the IRS. The older the fraud, the colder the trail gets.
The IRS has stated that it tries to audit tax returns as soon as possible after they are filed. But in my professional experience, most audits are typically of returns filed within the last two years.
If an audit is not finished, the taxpayer may be asked to extend the statute of limitations for assessment of his or her tax return. Extending the statute will allow additional time to provide additional documentation to support a position, request an appeal if there is a disagreement with the audit results, or to claim a tax refund or credit. The extension will also allow the IRS time to complete the audit and provide additional time to process the audit results. It’s not mandatory to agree to extend the statute of limitations date. However, if the taxpayer does not agree, the auditor will be forced to make a determination based upon the information on hand at the time, which may not be favorable.
Tax Audit Help
If you’re concerned you’re at risk of an IRS audit or are looking for some clarity on the IRS statute of limitation for tax auditing, contact Rea & Associates. Our team of Ohio tax professionals can help you determine if you could be facing an audit, and can walk you through the process.
Author: Matt Pottmeyer, CPA (Marietta office)
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