Why You Should Not Let Your Guard Down In An IRS Audit Under The National Research Program

Certain tax returns that are selected for audit by the IRS each year are selected as part of the National Research Program (“NRP”).  The goal of this program is to design and implement a successful strategy to collect data that will be used to measure payment, filing and reporting compliance and to deliver the data to the IRS Business Operation Divisions to meet a wide range of needs including support for the development of strategic plans and improvements in workload identification. The IRS will also use the NRP to analyze taxpayer compliance and to assess the effectiveness of compliance programs and treatments in use by the IRS.  Data for analysis will include amounts reported by taxpayers on their tax returns and the corrected amounts that were determined by examiners.

While the information gathered from these audits gets fed into IRS’ Big Data Analytics, taxpayers should keep in mind that these are still real audits that will likely result in changes the taxpayer’s account that once assessed by IRS will result in additional liability by the taxpayer for which the IRS will pursue collection.  Since these audits will follow the same audit guidelines for any individual income tax return, it is important to note the general procedures that will apply.

Types of IRS Examinations

  1. Campus Examinations are the simplest form of an examination. They are correspondence exams addressing simple problems like substantiation that can be resolved easily by correspondence and/or telephone. An examination under NRP would not be conducted in this fashion as not enough information would be collected in this type of audit.
  2. Area Office Examinations may be conducted for slightly more complicated issues such as small business returns and more complex non-business returns. Area Office Examinations may be conducted by correspondence, office interview or even by a field examination, depending on type and complexity of the return. In all cases, the taxpayer is asked to provide supporting documentation of questionable items. Business returns will always examined an office or field interview rather than a correspondence examination. It is in this type of an environment that an audit under the NRP would occur.
  3. Field Examinations are the most complex civil examination. The examining agent will be a revenue agent, as opposed to an officer auditor. He or she will be better trained and will have more experience. A Field Examination consists of examination of a taxpayer’s books and records at the taxpayer’s place of business or where the books, records or source documents are maintained. The agent will review the taxpayer’s entire return and all documentation related to that return. The agent may be assisted by a technical specialist such as a “technical advisor” if the return presents a special issue such as valuation. Unlike, office auditors, revenue agents spend considerable time preparing for the examination. Prior to the examination, the revenue agent will review any prior examination reports from the same taxpayer. This may lead to scrutiny of recurring issues or inclusion of other years’ returns in the examination. Of course, the revenue agent will also look at the return for unusual or questionable items.  . It is in this type of an environment that an audit under the NRP would occur.

What Should You Do?

An audit under the NRP is no different than any other type of IRS audit.  A poorly conducted audit can result in large additional tax adjustments and penalties and interest up to as much as 100% of the adjustment. Most local tax preparers are not equipped to represent you in an audit before the IRS. Using a tax attorney to help with an audit can significantly increase your chances of getting a better outcome. Many times individuals don’t realize that audits can go both ways, you may actually end up being owed money after an audit. A tax attorney can analyze your situation and find the best approach to take in order to get the best outcome. The IRS actually prefers working with professional tax representatives because it makes their job easier and helps the process move along more efficiently, which can actually result in a more favorable decision. Also, because your representative would deal directly with the agent, usually the audit can be completed without the need for the taxpayer to appear before the agent.