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How likely are you to be selected for an audit? In 2017, the IRS audited just 0.60% of individual tax returns. Most of these returns were filed by mail as opposed to electronically, thus lowering the risk for a typical return to be reviewed for an audit. With that said, there are specific factors that increase the likelihood that your tax return falls into the small percent that receives additional attention from the IRS. One factor that the IRS looks at when deciding who to audit is income. As your income increases so does the chance that the IRS will select your return for further examination.  You are also at greater risk of an audit if you operate a small business and report your income on Schedule C. In 2017 taxpayers who filed a Schedule C were twice as likely to be audited than those who did not.

We have identified 10 factors that can lead to unwanted attention from the IRS on your 2018 tax return. Some of these red flags can be avoided by filing a complete and accurate return, while others simply require proper record keeping to quickly shutdown any IRS inquiries.

1. Failing to report all taxable income. 

The IRS receives a copy of all of your W2's and 1099's each year. One of the quickest ways to get their attention is to fail to report some of this income.

2. Deducting "hobby" losses. 

The IRS is wary of taxpayers who take up a hobby and then report it as a business to deduct their expenses. If your business shows losses multiple years in a row the IRS will begin to question if you are actually operating a business or merely deducting your hobby expenses.

3. Large charitable donations. 

The IRS knows how much the average taxpayer with your income gives to charity. If you make large charitable donations every year it is important to keep records of those donations.

4. Claiming rental property losses. 

It is not uncommon for a rental property to show a loss on your tax return. In order to deduct these losses on your return you need to "actively participate" in the rental activity. This is not a difficult threshold to meet, it simply requires that you are involved in making management decisions for the property. But if you show large losses, or if you have significant income from other sources the IRS may question if you are actively involved in the rental property. Keeping records of any meetings for, or trips to, the property can help demonstrate your participation.

5. Taking an Alimony Deduction. 

Alimony payments can be a significant financial burden, so you want to make sure you are able to offset that cost by deducting your payments from your taxable income. Large deductions for alimony payments can catch the IRS' attention, particularly when the payer claims a deduction but the recipient does not report the income. Before taking a deduction for alimony, be sure that your divorce agreement clearly identifies the payments as alimony or spousal maintenance. Child support payments are not deductible.

6. Failing to report your Health Premium Credit. 

If your health insurance is provided through the marketplace, you may be receiving subsidies from the government to lower your monthly premium payments. If this is the case you are required to reconcile those subsidies at the end of the year on your tax return by reporting the amounts listed on your form 1095-A. If you do not report the credits received the IRS will reject your return and request that you correct the omission.

7. Taking an early withdrawal from an IRA or 401(k). 

When you take a withdrawal from an IRA or 401(k) before age 59 1/2 you typically pay a 10% penalty for taking those funds early. There are a number of exceptions that allow you to avoid paying that penalty, such as when using the funds for medical or education expenses. A large number of taxpayers incorrectly claim one of these exceptions when they do not actually qualify. As a result of this taxpayers who claim one of these exceptions on their returns face extra scrutiny from the IRS. If you claim one of these exceptions be sure to keep documentation showing that the funds were used for a qualified purpose.

8. Claiming large gambling losses. 

If you win the lottery or have a good day at the casino you are required to report your winnings on your tax return. The IRS allows you to offset some of the tax liability of that income by deducting your gambling losses, up to the amount of your winnings. If those losses are too high the IRS may challenge the amount you claim on your return. To prevent the loss of your deduction be sure to get a statement from the casino showing your total losses or keep track of your lottery ticket purchases.

9. Deducting business meals or travel. 

If you operate a small business and file a Schedule C then the IRS will pay special attention to your deductions for business meals or travel. If these expenses seem large relative to your industry or revenue, the IRS could mark your return for an audit. The key to protecting your deductions is to properly document the business purpose of each meeting or trip, and keep receipts for any expenses over $75. 

10. Claiming 100% business use of a vehicle.  

If you deduct the full purchase price of your vehicle as a business expense and you do not have a second vehicle available for personal use you are putting yourself at extra risk for an audit. To secure your deduction you should keep accurate mileage logs to demonstrate the business use of your vehicle.


The chances of an IRS audit are small, but various factors can increase the likelihood that your return is selected for review. While you can eliminate some of these factors by filing a complete and accurate return, you can never be sure that your return will not be audited. Understanding the necessary record keeping requirements can make a large difference in the outcome of an audit should you face one.

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10 Red Flags that Could Signal an Audit

Failing to order your affairs to minimize your tax burden could cost you significant money - so don't wait to take action. If you have additional questions or need some planning help, please reach out to us.

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