6 IRS audit red flags to avoid

About 1 to 2 percent of all tax returns are audited each year, here are some red flags the IRS looks for that you can avoid.

by LegalZoom Staff
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

Tax audits can be terrifying. So how do you avoid becoming one of the statistics? Although there is no surefire bet, here is a short list of red flags to avoid.

Itemized deductions

Yes, yes, you are probably thinking: "but...I entertain business clients all the time!" Even as a sole proprietor, you should be aware that itemized deductions on a Schedule C are more likely to garner scrutiny from the IRS.

The IRS is particularly wary of small business owners and the self-employed. The biggest concern is "creative bookkeeping."

The best practice is to make certain you are able to justify each and every deduction you make.

Above average deductions

The IRS has guidelines for the basic amount of expenditures for each salary tax bracket.

If your particular itemized deductions appear too high in relation to that figure, i.e., your salary, the tax auditor just may come knockin'.

Now, don't be alarmed. If you have deductions that you are entitled to, take them. Remember, if those deductions greatly exceed the average amount, you could be flagged.

Home office deductions

Many small businesses start in the home. However, the home office deduction can only be taken if you use the room exclusively for business purposes.

In other words, if your dining room table has been doubling as a desk, the room is not being used solely for your business.

On the flip side, if you keep your personal belongings outside of that room, it is eligible as an office. Yet even if you are eligible for the home office deduction, only a certain percentage of your total home expenses can be claimed as a business expense.

Charitable contributions

Charitable contributions are a great way to give back to the community. Many people devote most or all of their charitable giving to one particular non-profit that they support.

However, extremely large or excessive contributions often elicit an IRS flag. The government's concern is that taxpayers exaggerate their contributions for the tax benefit.

To make sure your gift doesn't come back to bite you, simply keep a record of your donation.

Six-figure salaries

You thought you hit the jackpot when you started making six figures. Well, you did ... but your rockin' new big-digit salary just came under the radar of the IRS.

It only makes sense that as you begin to collect more and more, so does the IRS. So, it makes even more sense that they would watch high-level returns more vigilantly.

The bottom line is that there is more at stake for those IRS auditors—a mistake on a big income return could translate into many more dollars for the IRS than an error on a small income return.

Unintentional errors

Proofread. Whether you forgot to sign your name or you made a miscalculation, you always want to make sure that your information is absolutely accurate when you send in those forms. Although it isn't always a red flag, errors may appear as an attempt to obscure information.

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.