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IRS Audit Red Flags: The Dirty Dozen

Here are twelve hot spots on your return that can raise the chances of scrutiny by the IRS.

Ever wonder why some tax returns are audited by the IRS while most are ignored? Well, there’s a whole host of reasons to this age-old question. The IRS audits only about 1% of all individual tax returns annually. The agency doesn’t have enough personnel and resources to examine each and every tax return filed during a year. So the odds are pretty low that your return will be picked for an audit. And of course, the only reason filers should worry about an audit is if they are cheating on their taxes.

However, the chances of you being audited or otherwise hearing from the IRS can increase depending upon various factors, including whether you omitted income, the types of deductions or losses claimed, certain credits taken, foreign asset holdings and math errors, just to name a few. Although there’s no sure way to avoid an IRS audit, you should be aware of red flags that could increase your chance of drawing some unwanted attention from the IRS. Here are the 12 most important ones:

1. Failure to report all taxable income.
The IRS receives copies of all 1099s and W-2s that you receive during a year, so make sure that you report all required income on your tax return. the IRS computers are pretty good at matching these forms received with the income shown on your return. A mismatch sends up a red flag and causes IRS computers to spit out a bill. If you receive a 1099 for income that isn’t yours or the income listed is incorrect, get the issuer to file a corrected form with the IRS.

2. Returns claiming the home-buyer credit.
First-time homebuyers and longtime homeowners who claimed the homebuyer credit should be prepared for IRS scrutiny. Make sure you submit proper documentation when taking this credit. First-time homebuyers have to attach a copy of their settlement statement to the return, and longtime homeowners should also attach documents showing prior ownership of a home, including records of property tax and insurance coverage. All claims for this credit are being screened. As of May 2010, more than 260,000 returns had been selected for correspondence audits (examinations done by mail rather than face-to-face) because filers did not attach the necessary documents to their tax returns. And those numbers will continue to grow.

Also, the IRS has ways of policing the recapture of the homebuyer credit. Generally, the credit is required to be recaptured if the home is sold within three years for homes brought in 2009 or 2010 and within 15 years for homes bought before 2009. The IRS is checking public real estate databases for sales of homes for which the credit was taken.

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