IRS Audit Process Timeline 2022: How Long Procedures Take (2024)

The IRS audit experience can be straight forward if you’re prepared, but you’ll probably find yourself on the defensive if you’re not.

So you’ve received anaudit letterfrom the dreaded IRS. Whether you were expecting it or not, the first question that pops into your upset/annoyed/fearful (insert appropriate adjective here) mind is “How long is theIRSauditprocesstimeline?“

That’s difficult to answer because there is no one answer to tax audit procedure and there are different types of tax audit so it largely depends upon the taxpayer’s circ*mstances. If it’s your business that is being audited, it can hinge on size and number of revenue streams.

The government takesIRS auditsseriously. It helps them to catch tax cheats and is a major source of revenue.But this shouldn’t scare you. In fact, should you receive a notice to audit from theInternal Revenue Service, responding in a manner less than professional will only make it harder for all concerned.

How long does anIRSaudittaketo complete?

Now for the answer to the all too familiar question every tax attorney gets: “How long does ataxaudittake?” TheIRS auditperiod itself should generally take no more than five to six months. Sometimes with proper preparation, they can be resolved faster.

However, there are four common factors that can hold up an audit, including:

  1. The IRS finds a lot of things to change (adjustments) on your return.
  2. You own asmall business.
  3. The IRS pursues penalties.
  4. You disagree with the auditor’s adjustments.

According to the Internal Revenue Manual which agents are supposed to follow, theIRS audittimeline is 26 months after thedue dateof thetax returnor the date it was filed, whichever is later.

Keep in mind, however, thatIRS auditperiods that take longer than a few months are a red flag. It means the auditor is on a fishing expedition of sorts. The problem is that mosttaxpayersthat get audited have an adjustment the IRS is seeking to make, so it is important to understand where the pain point is, address it and move on.

How does anIRS auditwork? Basic IRS auditing procedures

How doIRS auditswork? Since there is more than one type oftax audit, it follows that there is more than onetax auditprocedure. To begin with, there is a filtering process that alltax returnsgo through in order to determine which ones get flagged for possible audits.

Here is the framework for howIRStax auditprocedures work:

  • Alltax returnsare processed into a computer, where they are assigned two scores:a DIF score(assessing the potential changes on atax return[i.e. increased revenue]) anda UDIF score(assessing the potential that there is unreported income on atax return).
  • Returns with high scores are sent to an IRS reviewer, who manually examines a return to determine its potential for audit.
  • Those that are selected by the reviewer are sent to local field offices where a revenue agent will conduct anIRS audit.
  • Those not selected by the reviewer are tossed back into the pile (so to speak), and are safe from audit.There are a limited number ofIRS auditsthat are conducted every year. Because of this, the IRS selects thetax returnsthat are most likely to yield revenue or that contain the greatest potential for error for additional review.

Think of it from the government’s perspective: why would they devote manpower, time, and limited resources toward auditing a return that is likely not going to yield them additional revenue?

Answer – they probably won’t. Not surprisingly, the government uses statistics to analyzetax returnsand to determine whichtaxpayersit selects forIRS audits.Unlike a straight W2 employee,small businesstax returnsare much more complicated and leave a lot of room for error.

This error often translates into tax loss for the IRS and, therefore, makessmall businessownertax returnsa frequent target ofIRS audits. Statistically, they are just more likely to get popped.

No one can be 100 percent certain of what their audit risk is or can fully audit proof theirtax return, but prudence is the best way to safeguard yourself. Keep honest, accurate and orderly records. This way, if IRS does come knocking, you can rest easy knowing that you should have nothing to worry about.

What happens if you get audited and don't have receipts? IRS agents alsoaccept canceled checks, written records, bank account statements, debit and credit card statements, or other documentation as proofs for verification. It's also a good idea to look for IRS audit representation. They can help you decide what to claim as a business expense without receipts.

Example of an IRS audit process timeline 2023

By now, you should have an understanding that anIRS audittimeline can vary. To further define why, I’ll boil it down to explaining the threetypes of audits, which in most cases, will also determine the length of the audit.

During eachtax year, audits are conducted by correspondence, telephone, or through field interviews. Business returns are typically examined in an office or field interview rather than by correspondence because of the complexity of the issues involved in a business audit.

Tax returnsselected by the IRS for an audit have some burning questions that the manual reviewer has flagged. Once the notice of anIRS auditis sent out, the procedure itself should take place within one year from the date in which the return was filed, but it can take as long as three years when thestatute of limitationsexpires.

The threetypes of auditsalso vary in degree of severity. The type ofIRS audittends to reveal much about its purpose and the overall strategy of theInternal Revenue Service.

TheCorrespondence Audit

Simply put, thistype of auditoccurs when the IRS finds a small error on your return and asks you to explain it through the mail. Known internally by the IRS as a Campus Examination, thecorrespondence auditis considered the most basictype of audit. They involve less technicaltax issuesand can be completed, like their name implies, through the mail.

As the IRS notes, the purpose of acorrespondence auditis to resolve tax problems quickly and easily through correspondence and/or by telephone.

Examiners at the correspondence and office levels aremuch less invasive. The examining agent is required to process many cases without much familiarity with the return itself.

In fact, it is often the case that the examiner has not reviewed thetaxpayer’s file or the return until after thetaxpayerhas replied to the agent’s correspondence. The agent generally reviews thetaxpayer’s file on the day of the interview.

TheOffice Audit

Office audits, or Area Office (AO) Examinations, areface-to-faceauditsthat are conducted at the office of an IRS revenue agent. They are typically appropriate for somewhat complicated issues, which may includesmall businessreturns and complex non-business returns.

Office auditsmay also be conducted by either correspondence and/or office interview.

In general, examination of ataxpayer’sincometaxreturnfalls initially under the responsibility of an area office where thetaxpayerresides, conducts business, or maintains a principal office. Theresponsibility for the examination is assignedto “an examiner at the post-of-duty nearest to thetaxpayer’s residence orplace of business.”

If it becomes necessary to transfer a return to an office within another area after the examination process has begun, the convenience of thetaxpayerwill be taken into consideration as long as thetransfer process aligns with “sound and efficient tax administration.”

However, what typically controls the decision-making with regard to the transfer of a case between area offices is the location of thetaxpayer’s records, the purpose of principal investigative work, and where thetaxpayer’s issues can be resolved most efficiently. These factors will overrule thetaxpayer’s request for a case transferal.

With this in mind, ataxpayer’s case may be transferred (back) to the Area Office or between area offices. When the case is transferred, it receives audit reconsideration.

According to theIRS, “The examiner in the CRU (Central Reconsideration Unit) will send a case to the area examination function to be worked if thetaxpayerrequests aface-to-faceexamination, and/or [if] the completion of the case requires an examination of books and records, and/or [if] the CRU has not received the training to work the reconsideration issue(s).”

Regardingface-to-faceexaminations, the Central Reconsideration Unit (CRU) receives thosetax returnsthat were previously examined by the Area Office or Campus Examination function.

In this respect, the purpose of the audit reconsideration process is to examine thosetax issuespreviously overlooked. For example, according to the IRS, if “thetaxpayerpresents new information that was not previously considered, [IRS employees] evaluate that information and determine if a change to the assessment is warranted.” The Area Office function will then make that change.

After the AO examiner receives and evaluates thetaxpayer’s information, the examiner will issue a decision based upon the type of case.

For example, the AO examiner may “issue the audit reconsideration full allowance (full abatement of assessment)” by completing and submitting Letter 2738 DO, which is a service letter the IRS uses when thetaxpayer’s case is eligible for full abatement.

The examiner may issue an audit reconsideration full disallowance letter, which means thetaxpayerwould not receive an abatement of tax.

Lastly, the examiner may issue another letter, an audit reconsideration partial disallowance letter (Letter 2737 DO, Examination Report). With this letter, the examiner must send to thetaxpayerstwo publications: Publication 3598, What You Should Know About the Audit Reconsideration Process and Publication 5, Your Appeal Rights and How to Prepare a Protest If You Don’t Agree.Taxpayersmay request an appeal for full disallowance and partial disallowance determinations.

Area Office examiners have little discretion and are typically required to verify income and deductions. “Ataxpayer’s inability to produce adequate recordsmay lead not only to disallowance of the disputed items for the year at issue, but also to audits of other years’ returns.” It is important fortaxpayersto maintain good records.

TheField Audit

That is the scenario that most people associate with an audit — when somebody from the IRS shows up at the door of your home or office.

Field examinations, orfield audits, are used for the most complex issues. The method of the audit is governed by the difficulty of the issues.Field auditsare defined as in-person audits conducted at the organization’s location, the organization’s representative office, and/or at the localIRS office.

There are two types offield audits:

  1. General Program – a type of field exam conducted by a revenue agent at the organization’s location.
  2. Team Examination Program – defined as a type of exam involving a team of examiners; it is more specific to large, complex organizations.

The examining agent will function as a revenue agent — within this context not all revenue agents are considered accountants —who may be an accountant who works for theInternal Revenue Service. Unlike other types of examinations, revenue agents spend considerable time reviewing thetaxpayer’s return.

The revenue agent examines and audits financial records of individuals, businesses, and corporations to ensuretax liabilitiesare met. The revenue agent reviews thetaxpayer’s books and records at theplace of businessor warehousing location. In addition, the revenue agent reviews thetaxpayer’s return and related supporting documentation.

The agent may be assisted by an engineer agent, who supports the mission of the IRS by providing “professional and accurate development of issues and efficient and effective resolutions to more significant and complex engineering and valuation issues.

"Engineers provide expertise to issues encountered in all types oftax returns”. The engineer agent plays a key role in supporting all IRS organizations that provide for the examination oftaxpayerreturns.

IRS Audit Process Timeline 2022: How Long Procedures Take (2024)


IRS Audit Process Timeline 2022: How Long Procedures Take? ›

Once the notice of an IRS audit is sent out, the procedure itself should take place within one year from the date in which the return was filed, but it can take as long as three years when the statute of limitations expires. The three types of audits also vary in degree of severity.

What is the timeline for the IRS audit process? ›

The reality is that the typical audit timeline is somewhere in between. Depending on the type of IRS tax audit you're selected for, the entire process will usually take anywhere from a few weeks to about a year or so. However, cases leading to a criminal prosecution can go on for years.

How long does it take to find out if you're being audited? ›

Mail audits are usually quick and straightforward

The IRS does these audits by mail, generally notifying taxpayers within seven months of filing. Mail audits usually wrap up within three to six months, depending on the issues involved and how quickly and completely you respond to the audit letter.

How long does IRS audit reconsideration take? ›

How long does audit reconsideration take? Once you've sent in your request, expect to hear back from the IRS within 30 days but it often happens that the department takes much longer to respond. It may take up to several months before you get a response.

How long does an audit review take? ›

Yes, some audits can take a year or more to complete, but most are finished within a few months, and a simple audit can even be completed in a matter of days. A former Internal Revenue Agent for the IRS, who was granted permission to be quoted anonymously, says that most of his cases lasted 4-6 weeks.

How long does the IRS have to respond to an audit? ›

Once the notice of an IRS audit is sent out, the procedure itself should take place within one year from the date in which the return was filed, but it can take as long as three years when the statute of limitations expires.

How long does the IRS review process take? ›

If the IRS is reviewing your return, the review process could take anywhere from 45 to 180 days, depending on the number and types of issues the IRS is reviewing.

How to check status of audit reconsideration? ›

There is no phone number to call the IRS to inquire about audit reconsideration requests. With that said, you could call the IRS's 800 number if you want to check on the status of the request. If you know the prior auditor's phone number, you can call the prior auditor.

How far back does IRS audit look? ›

Generally, the IRS can include returns filed within the last three years in an audit. If we identify a substantial error, we may add additional years. We usually don't go back more than the last six years. The IRS tries to audit tax returns as soon as possible after they are filed.

What happens if you get audited and don't have receipts? ›

The Internal Revenue Service may allow expense reconstruction, enabling taxpayers to verify taxes with other information. But the commission will not prosecute you for losing receipts. The IRS may disallow deductions for items or services without receipts or only allow a minimum, even after invoking the Cohan rule.

What is the audit review cycle? ›

An audit cycle is the accounting process an auditor uses to ensure a company's financial information is accurate. The audit cycle typically involves several distinct steps, such as the identification process, audit methodology stage, audit fieldwork stage, and management review meeting stages.

What is the final review stage of an audit? ›

Final review stage of the audit where the audit work is reviewed with all financial statements and non-financial information. The auditor may give observations and recommendations about the current position of the organization.

How long does it take to get audit results? ›

Audit results

The audit report is generally provided to the company within 10 business days after the audit has occurred. Following the provision of the audit report, companies are asked to provide us with an action plan that outlines the steps they will take to address the non-conformances identified.

How long does it take for the IRS to investigate someone? ›

The investigator will look for evidence of “intentional wrongdoing,” meaning the taxpayer knew they were violating tax laws. Negligence or honest mistakes generally won't lead to criminal charges. This investigative phase usually takes 6-12 months, but can drag on longer for complex cases.

How does the IRS audit process work? ›

The IRS performs audits by mail or in person. The notice you receive will have specific information about why your return is being examined, what documents if any they need from you, and how you should proceed. Once the IRS completes the examination, it may accept your return as filed or propose changes.

How long does the average audit take? ›

Audits are typically scheduled for three months from beginning to end, which includes four weeks of planning, four weeks of fieldwork and four weeks of compiling the audit report. The auditors are generally working on multiple projects in addition to your audit.

Does the IRS audit before or after refund? ›

Key Takeaways. Your tax returns can be audited even after you've been issued a refund. Only a small percentage of U.S. taxpayers' returns are audited each year. The IRS can audit returns for up to three prior tax years and, in some cases, go back even further.


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