The IRS unveiled a new online publication called “A Closer Look” to provide a more detailed look at some of the major issues facing IRS and tax administration.
- This post focuses on compliance and audits.
- The post includes data about audit rates that provides insight and
- perspective into which income groups are more likely to be audited.
- Audit Rates Increase as Income Rises
Few Things Can Generate As Much Taxpayer Concern, Confusion and Controversy as an IRS Audit.
Tax audits are a critical compliance tool to help ensure fairness in the tax system, and the IRS works hard to ensure the agency's audit selection process is fair and impartial. Decisions to conduct audits are based on the financial information that's on – or not on – the tax return. There's an extensive set of checks and balances to ensure fairness with individual audits, and there are important protections and appeals for taxpayers during the administrative process as well.
But before an audit of a taxpayer takes place, the IRS career leadership team must make higher-level decisions on where to focus our limited audit resources across the agency. Given the breadth of our economy and the types of income people have, the IRS takes steps to ensure audits are spread across income categories – to ensure fairness and support voluntary compliance with the nation's tax laws.
Like many things involving taxes, there are complexities behind audit rates. On the surface, these can be easy to misinterpret. A Closer Look at audit rates provides insight into which income groups are more likely to be audited.
Higher-Income Taxpayers Face Greater Chance of Audit
Despite common misperceptions about IRS examination rates, the reality is that the likelihood of an audit significantly increases as income grows.
Taxpayers with incomes of $10 million and above had substantially higher audit rates than taxpayers in every other income category for each calendar year from 2010 through 2015. Those with incomes above $1 million also had higher exam rates than all other groups earning less.
Tax Year 2015 provides a good historical overview of where IRS compliance priorities are focused. The exam coverage rate of taxpayers with incomes of $10 million or more is 8.16%. The rate for those between $1 million and $10 million is 2.53%. And other income categories are far below that – generally less than 1%.
Tax Year 2015 is the last year for which we know the actual audit rates, because the IRS can still open audits for more recent years, so the data for more recent years is not yet complete.
The chart below shows that higher-income taxpayers were audited at much higher rates in 2013-2015. Data is not yet complete for the more recent years, particularly for high-income taxpayers for the 2016 through 2018 tax years, where many examinations are in the process or have yet to even begin.
IRS Audit Rates By Income Category: 2013-2015 Shows More Exams For Higher Income Over Time
|Total positive income||Total returns filed in TY2013||Returns examined*||Percent covered|
|No total positive income**||619,694||78,573||12.68|
|$1 under $25,000||56,181,555||464,856||0.83|
|$25,000 under $50,000||34,753,396||121,841||0.35|
|$50,000 under $75,000||19,532,032||63,700||0.33|
|$75,000 under $100,000||12,787,903||52,852||0.41|
|$100,000 under $200,000||17,451,788||90,236||0.52|
|$200,000 under $500,000||4,844,782||40,290||0.83|
|$500,000 under $1,000,000||800,121||11,802||1.48|
|$1,000,000 under $5,000,000||342,605||10,782||3.15|
|$5,000,000 under $10,000,000||23,413||1,499||6.40|
|$10,000,000 and above||14,009||1,689||12.06|
|Total positive income||Total returns filed in TY2014||Returns examined*||Percent covered|
|No total positive income**||662,876||49,829||7.52|
|$1 under $25,000||54,956,300||390,799||0.71|
|$25,000 under $50,000||35,090,262||147,805||0.42|
|$50,000 under $75,000||19,676,659||82,822||0.42|
|$75,000 under $100,000||13,130,657||49,717||0.38|
|$100,000 under $200,000||18,405,264||73,729||0.40|
|$200,000 under $500,000||5,324,980||29,884||0.56|
|$500,000 under $1,000,000||910,977||10,362||1.14|
|$1,000,000 under $5,000,000||401,634||10,651||2.65|
|$5,000,000 under $10,000,000||28,847||1,512||5.24|
|$10,000,000 and above||18,122||1,572||8.67|
|Total positive income||Total returns filed in TY2015||Returns examined*||Percent covered|
|No total positive income**||701,594||31,329||4.47|
|$1 under $25,000||54,135,898||357,410||0.66|
|$25,000 under $50,000||35,589,401||141,727||0.40|
|$50,000 under $75,000||20,312,858||108,219||0.53|
|$75,000 under $100,000||13,063,770||64,324||0.49|
|$100,000 under $200,000||19,459,846||92,124||0.47|
|$200,000 under $500,000||5,788,644||31,804||0.55|
|$500,000 under $1,000,000||962,481||10,898||1.13|
|$1,000,000 under $5,000,000||428,082||10,244||2.39|
|$5,000,000 under $10,000,000||31,159||1,367||4.39|
|$10,000,000 and above||19,531||1,593||8.16|
Source: Table 17a, Internal Revenue Data Book, 2019
*Returns examined is total of columns “Closed” and “in process”.
** Returns that show no total positive income report zero or negative income. The negative income could be negative business income and/or capital losses. Returns with no TPI are filed by taxpayers in any of the income categories, and there is no prevalence of one over the other. These returns account for less than 0.5% of the individual filing population.
The Typical Audits For Higher-Income Taxpayers
Involve at Least Three Different Tax Years,
Often Include Related Entities, and
Routinely Take Years To Resolve.
The highest income taxpayers face the most significant chance of an examination, and they face the most highly trained and experienced IRS agents and teams utilizing our most sophisticated tools and techniques.
At the end of the day, the IRS strives to properly serve compliant taxpayers and uphold the nation’s tax laws, ranging from civil side audits and notices to criminal investigations in the most egregious cases. We face tough choices each year as far as where to deploy resources given the breadth of our responsibilities, but our choices are guided by fair and impartial audit plans throughout the process.
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Read more at: Tax Times blog