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Everyday Tax Return Items That Can Trigger an Audit

Nov 29, 2022

While the IRS audit rate may be historically low, due to a provision within the Inflation Reduction Act, it's expected to increase. As a result, it's more important than ever for taxpayers to follow the rules to minimize their chances of being audited. Some of the most common tax return items to trigger scrutiny from the IRS include:

  1. Unreported income. Income that falls through the cracks, such as interest and dividends, or nonemployee compensation from Form 1099-NEC, could make you subject to IRS scrutiny should they uncover a discrepancy with the forms they receive. It's important that you provide your tax professional with all tax forms and documents you receive for them to compose your return correctly.
  2. Rental income and deductions. Showing a loss for the year despite a high rental rate could trigger an inquiry by the IRS. Generally, you may use up to $25,000 of loss to offset income from nonpassive activities, but to do so, you must meet specific participation requirements. Your tax advisor should be able to see if this is a potential risk for you.
  3. Business vehicle expenses. It's not uncommon for the IRS to flag returns with large deductions for business vehicles. This is especially true if double-digit depreciation allowances are reflected on your return. When claiming a business vehicle expense, you must keep an adequate log of your driving activities and proper substantiation.
  4. Home office deductions. As more employees are working from home than ever, it's important to remember that only self-employed individuals can currently claim a home office deduction. For self-employed workers, using a portion of your home regularly and exclusively for your business may allow you to deduct the expenses and depreciation associated with the space. But be warned, the greater the business percentage claimed for home use, the greater the risk of an audit.
  5. Large charitable donations. The IRS typically references data providing average charitable deductions based on various income levels. Being above average within your category could bring unwanted attention to your return, especially if you've deducted charitable gifts of appreciated property. Your donations must be adequately substantiated, including by independent appraisals if required.
  6. Day trading activities. Most taxpayers offset capital gains and losses from securities sales on Schedule D of their personal tax returns. However, claiming to be a "day trader" may help you benefit from favorable tax provisions, including deductions for specific expenses. If you do this, it's important to consult your tax advisor to ensure you're ready to respond to any IRS inquiries.
  7. Gambling losses. While you can deduct losses up to the amount of your winnings on your personal tax return, you must be able to provide proof to support your claims. Should your gambling activities rise to the level of a professional gambler, you may be able to deduct a loss from other income, but the IRS often contests this tax treatment.

Additional items the IRS may have on its radar are casualty losses, foreign bank accounts, cryptocurrency transactions, and many other potential audit triggers, depending on a taxpayer's particular situation. However, it's important to remember that some audits are done entirely at random, meaning you could still be subject to an audit—even if you have no common tax return triggers.

Keeping your tax advisor in the loop about any potential triggers will help them collect all the proof needed to withstand an IRS challenge, substantiate necessary transaction information, and ensure you're adequately covered should you be selected for an audit. Contact your CRI advisor for the professional tax reporting and help you'll need to reduce the likelihood of triggering an audit and, should the need warrant, help you withstand one with little or no adverse consequences.

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