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Tax audits: be wary, but also aware there is more than one type

The phrase "tax audit" generally carries the same type of connotation as "root canal." Almost by definition, it's not very pleasant - or at least that is the popular perception.

In practice, however, there is often a misconception about what a tax audit entails. Root canals are a pretty standard procedure. But there is more than one type of tax audit.

One type of audit involves face-to-face encounters between IRS agents and taxpayers that occur in office and field settings. These are understandably stressful experiences, dealing in person with an agent empowered to examine your documentation and ask pointed questions.

But in reality, there are many more audits conducted through correspondence than through face-to-face encounters.

In these correspondence audits, taxpayers may be asked to send the IRS information about this or that financial detail. Once it receives that information, the IRS can then verify the taxpayer's compliance.

But is it really true that correspondence audits are not as much of a burden for taxpayers as face-to-face audits? As the National Taxpayer Advocate noted in a discussion of correspondence audits, "corr-exams" may in some ways be equally or even more of a burden on taxpayers.

This is because correspondence exams lack the human perspective that a live IRS agent can provide. The corr-exam process churns away through a highly automated system that can lose sight of the forest in its obsessive, computer-driven focus on the trees.

Regardless of which type of audit you are subjected to - face-to-face or correspondence, keep in mind that you have the right to representation. A root-canal patient must sit alone in the dental chair. But someone facing a tax audit can get help from an experienced tax professional.

To learn more about our firm's practice, please visit our page on tax audits.

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