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How Does the IRS Pick Tax Returns to Audit?

Doing your taxes is never fun. Even if you ignore how you must spend a couple hours filling out boring forms, finding documents, researching deductions, blah blah, there’s always the fear that you’ll be audited. I remember having the most vanilla tax returns back when I was a teenager, the 1040-EZ [3], and even then I was irrationally concerned about an audit.

The reality is that very few people get audited, just a percent or so each year (in 2010 [4], 1.1% of returns were examined), and some of them deserve it. As much as we may like to think of the IRS as some cruel, emotionless monster trying to make the lives of hardworking Americans as miserable as possible, it’s not. They’re trying to collect tax revenue so the government can continue to provide the services hardworking Americans need.

How do they decide who to audit? It’s actually very straightforward.

In 2006, they published a page [5] on the IRS.gov website that details exactly how they determined which tax returns to audit. It comes down to these four main ways (for individuals):

Most of the red flags you read about fall into one of the first two categories. For example, if you under report your income, you could trigger both the UIDIF score and the information matching reasons. If you participate in an abusive tax avoidance transaction and the guy who plans it gets caught [7]… you’ll probably get audited. 🙂

(Photo: afagen [8])