The IRS recently announced it intends to hire thousands of new employees as part of a tax-enforcement push. This could mean an uptick in audits sometime soon, likely focused on wealthier individuals and business owners. (Some tax returns are chosen randomly as well.)
The best way to survive an IRS audit is to prepare for one in advance. On an ongoing basis, you should systematically maintain documentation (invoices, bills, canceled checks, receipts and other proof) for the items that you report on your tax return. Maintain and back up these records safely. With that said, it also helps to know what might catch the tax agency’s attention.
Audit hot spots
Certain types of tax-return entries are known to the IRS to involve inaccuracies, so they may lead to an audit. One example is significant inconsistencies between tax returns filed in the past and your most current tax return. If you miscalculate deductions or try to claim unusually high ones, your return could be flagged. And if you’re a business owner, gross profit margin or expenses markedly different from those of similar companies could subject you to an audit.
Certain types of deductions, such as auto and travel expense write-offs, may be questioned by the IRS because there are strict recordkeeping requirements involved. In addition, an owner-employee salary that’s inordinately higher or lower than those of similar and similarly located companies can catch the IRS’s eye, especially if the business is a corporation.
The IRS normally has three years within which to conduct an audit, and often an audit doesn’t begin until a year or more after you file a return. If you’re selected for an audit, you’ll be notified by letter. Generally, the IRS doesn’t make initial contact by phone. If there’s no response to the letter, the agency may follow up with a call. Ignore unsolicited email messages about an audit. The IRS doesn’t contact people in this manner; these are scams.
Many audits simply request that you mail in documentation to support certain deductions that you’ve claimed. Others may ask you to provide receipts and other documents to a local IRS office. Only the harshest version, the field audit, requires you to meet personally with one or more IRS auditors.
Keep in mind that the tax agency won’t demand an immediate response to a mailed notice. You’ll be informed of the discrepancies in question and given time to prepare. You’ll need to collect and organize all relevant income and expense records. If any records are missing, you’ll have to reconstruct the information as accurately as possible based on other documentation.
How we can help
If the IRS chooses you for an audit, our firm can help you understand what the IRS is disputing (it’s not always clear) and then gather the documents and information needed. We can also help you respond to the auditor’s inquiries in the most expedient and effective manner.
Above all, don’t panic! Many audits are routine. By taking a meticulous, proactive approach to how you track, document and file your tax-related information, whether for an individual or business return, you’ll make an audit easier and even decrease the chances that one will happen in the first place.
The Deductibility of Medical Expenses
Individual taxpayers may be able to claim medical expense deductions on their tax returns. However, the rules can be challenging, and it can be difficult to qualify. Here are six points to keep in mind:
1. You must itemize to claim this deduction. To benefit from itemizing, your total itemized deductions must exceed your standard deduction. Besides medical expenses, itemized deductions may include property taxes, state and local income tax, mortgage interest, charitable donations, etc., subject to various rules and limits.
With the increased standard deduction that’s been available in recent years, far fewer taxpayers are benefitting from itemizing. For 2021, the standard deduction is $25,100 for married couples filing jointly, $18,800 for heads of households and $12,550 for singles.
2. Your expenses must be fairly significant. The medical expense deduction can be claimed only to the extent your eligible costs exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Remember, expenses paid via tax-advantaged accounts (such as Flexible Spending Accounts or Health Savings Accounts) or reimbursable by insurance aren’t deductible.
If you’ll benefit from itemizing deductions this year and your year-to-date medical expenses are close to exceeding the 7.5% of AGI “floor,” moving or “bunching” nonurgent medical procedures and other controllable expenses into this year may allow you to exceed the 7.5% floor and benefit from the medical expense deduction. If your expenses already exceed the floor, bunching can increase your deduction.
3. Health insurance premiums may help. This can total thousands of dollars a year. Even if your employer provides health coverage, you can deduct the portion of the premiums that you pay, unless you paid them pre-tax. (Check with your employer if you’re not sure).
Long-term care insurance premiums are also included as medical expenses, subject to limits based on age.
4. Transportation counts. The cost of getting to and from medical treatments counts as a medical expense. This includes taxi fares, public transportation or using your own car.
Car costs can be calculated at 16 cents a mile for miles driven in 2021, plus tolls and parking. Alternatively, you can deduct certain actual costs (such as for gas and oil) that directly relate to your medical transportation.
5. Controllable costs are key. These include the costs of glasses, hearing aids, dental work, mental health counseling and other ongoing expenses in connection with medical needs. Purely cosmetic expenses generally don’t qualify.
Prescription drugs (including insulin) qualify, but over-the-counter medications and vitamins don’t. Neither do amounts paid for treatments that are illegal under federal law (such as medical marijuana), even if state law permits them. The services of therapists and nurses can qualify if they relate to medical conditions and aren’t for general health.
6. Don’t overlook smoking-cessation and weight-loss programs. Amounts paid for participating in smoking-cessation programs and for prescribed drugs designed to alleviate nicotine withdrawal are deductible. However, nonprescription nicotine gum and patches aren’t.
A weight-loss program is deductible if undertaken as treatment for a disease diagnosed by a physician. Deductible expenses include fees paid to join a program and attend periodic meetings. The cost of diet food isn’t deductible.