Red flags that tempt the tax auditor
It is the most dreaded letter a taxpayer can receive.
Some of the information that you provided to us does not agree with the information we received from other sources.
-- The Internal Revenue Service
You've just joined an elite club, one whose initiation ritual is an IRS audit. Unfortunately, you can't refuse membership -- and the dues could be astronomical.
When the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act was enacted in 1998, lawmakers ordered the agency to focus more on taxpayer rights instead of collection activities. Not surprisingly, the number of audits -- or examinations, as the agency prefers to call them -- dropped dramatically.
The first year of the kinder, gentler IRS, about 1 in 79 tax returns were audited. By 2003, it was even easier for tax scofflaws; that year, according to IRS data, only 1 in 150 individual taxpayers were audited.
Focus on richer taxpayers
The number of audits nowadays remains low. In fiscal year 2013, the IRS audited 1.4 million people. That's less than 1 percent of returns filed last year and the fewest audits in five years.
Even better news is that most of us aren't the target of IRS examiners. The tax collector has been focusing on the rich.
If you made less than $200,000 last year, your chance of being audited was just 0.88 percent. That's down from the 0.94 percent audit rate in fiscal year 2012.
Your audit odds increased if your income was between $200,000 and $1 million. Last year, 3.26 percent of returns filed by individuals in that income range were audited.
And if you made more than $1 million, almost 11 percent of returns got closer looks from IRS auditors.
Still, all those 2013 audit rates were down from the prior fiscal year.
The lower level of return examinations, however, is not just out of the goodness of Uncle Sam's heart.
Furloughs during last summer's sequestration and general budget cuts forced the IRS to pull back on some of its audit operations.