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Can I Be Audited by IRS as Former Owner of Business?

The IRS requires business owners to report all taxable earnings on the appropriate tax form that applies to the legal structure of the entity operated. However, if you’re the former owner of a business, the IRS may still audit one of your old business tax returns. There are time limitations that dictate whether the IRS can still audit you, but none of these rules take into account whether you currently own the business.

Business Taxes Audit

For tax returns you filed as the former business owner, the IRS can only audit your return within three years of its filing date. When you file a business tax return on or before the deadline, the IRS uses the original due date when it starts counting the three-year period. However, if you filed one of your business tax returns late, the IRS will then use the actual date of filing instead. To illustrate, suppose you file the last Schedule C for 2010, the last year you owned the business. In this case the IRS can audit that tax return until April 15, 2014 to conduct an audit, regardless of who currently owns the business or if it’s been dissolved.

Business Tax Records

If your tax return is selected for audit, the IRS expects you to have all supporting documents and on hand. As a result, you should always retain copies of your tax return records for a minimum of three years after filing the return. If you’re unable to provide sufficient proof for every business transaction reported on the tax return, your chances of avoiding an IRS assessment decreases significantly. The audit process puts the burden on business taxpayers to substantiate every line of the return.

IRS Audit by Mail

The IRS won’t approach all business audits in the same way. Most tax audits are fairly quick and informal, though others can be highly intrusive and complex. For simpler audits, the IRS just sends correspondence to the former business owner. In this situation, the IRS will make its request for tax documentation within the notice and allow you to respond in writing as well. However, if the tax issue that the IRS is investigating covers substantial lines of your return or a complex transaction, the agency may require you to come into a local IRS office instead.

IRS Audit Appeal

Depending on the how satisfied the IRS agent is with the documents you’ve provided, the audit will result in either an increase in the tax you or no change whatsoever. Fortunately, former business owners have the right to appeal the audit, and can request a conference with the IRS Appeals Office, which is independent and separate from the office conducting the audit. Appeals can be quite informal; however, you have the right to hire a lawyer or CPA to represent you – which may be a good idea if you’re facing a substantial tax audit adjustment. If you still don’t agree with the decision made by the Appeals Office, you can always file a lawsuit in tax court.

Reference: IRS Publication 556-Examination of Returns, Appeal Rights, and Claims for Refund