Audits in Person


Most of the time, the IRS accepts tax returns as filed. However, it selects some for audit to determine if income, expenses, and/or credits are being reported accurately.

If your return was selected for audit, it doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong. Once the IRS completes the examination, it may accept your return as filed or propose changes. These changes may affect the amount of tax you owe (a proposed deficiency) or the size of your refund.

There are two common ways to be audited – by mail, or in person. This article deals with an in-person audit.

The IRS will notify you that your return has been selected through a mailed notice, or a phone call followed by a notice. The notice will tell you: 

  • What part of your return is being examined,
  • The information you need to provide, and
  • Other details about the audit. 

The examination may take place in your home, your place of business, an IRS office, or the office of your attorney, accountant, or enrolled agent (a person enrolled to practice before the IRS). If the time or place on the notice isn’t convenient for you, the examiner will try to accommodate you.

Read the letter and follow the instructions.

The letter and attachments will list the information you need to gather. If you have any questions or are unsure what you need to provide, contact the examiner.

Make sure the proposed date and time for the meeting are convenient. If not, contact the examiner before the proposed appointment to discuss rescheduling.

In the exam

You, the examiner, and your representative (if you have an attorney, accountant, or other eligible person with you) will meet for an initial interview. The interview will cover information about your financial history, business operations, and books and records that isn’t available from other sources. The examiner’s questions will help him or her understand the records you provide.  

  • The interview can be suspended at any point if you’d like to obtain professional assistance or speak to your representative.
  • If your business is being audited, the examiner may ask to tour your business to better understand the operation.
  • The examiner will review your documentation.
    • Organize your records as well as possible — it will help speed up the review.
    • If the examiner needs more information, he or she will request the additional documents in writing.

If you have questions about how the examination is being conducted, you can ask the examiner or ask to speak to his or her manager. 

If you want professional assistance, you can seek out help from an attorney, certified public accountant, or enrolled agent. You also can see if you qualify for assistance from a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Once the IRS’s initial review is complete, it will accept your original return as filed, ask for more information, or propose changes to your tax return.

If the IRS ends up accepting your tax return as originally filed, you’re done. If it proposes changes, a few things can happen.

If the IRS does not accept your documentation, you’ll get a letter explaining any proposed changes to your tax return.

Contact the IRS at the number shown on the letter if you don’t understand the changes. If you do understand them, decide if you agree or disagree with some or all of the changes.

If you agree with all of the proposed changes:

  • Sign the agreement page of the letter. 
    • If you owe any additional tax, penalties, and interest, you should pay it then, so the IRS won’t charge you any more interest. (If you can’t afford to pay the complete amount, contact the IRS to discuss payment options, or see more information on Payment Plans.
    • If the proposed changes result in a refund, you can generally expect to receive it in 6 to 8 weeks (provided there are no other unpaid tax obligations or other debts the IRS collects).

If you don’t agree with some or all of the proposed changes:

  • Do not sign the agreement.
    • Respond to the IRS by the due date on the letter. This could include sending additional documentation or an explanation to support your position.  
    • If you need more time to submit your response, call the number on letter before the due date to ask for additional time. 

 If the examiner still proposes a change to your return, you can: 

  • Request an informal conference with the examiner’s manager prior to the response date in the letter.
  • Request a conference with the Office of Appeals prior to the date in the letter. Make this request in writing. Include your reasons for disagreeing with the IRS.

If you don’t respond by the due dates on the letters, the IRS may disallow what you claimed on your return and issue a Statutory Notice of Deficiency. This is a legal notice that the IRS is proposing an additional deficiency (balance due). It gives you 90 days (150 days if addressed to you outside the United States) to petition the United States Tax Court for review of your case. Once you petition the Tax Court, if you have not already had a conference with the IRS Office of Appeals, the IRS Office of Chief Counsel may forward your case to Appeals for a conference. Both the Office of Appeals and the Tax Court are generally “prepayment forums” which means you can dispute the proposed adjustment before the IRS assesses or requires you to pay any additional tax.

The 90-day (or 150-day) deadline to file a petition in Tax Court cannot be extended. If you miss the deadline, you will not be able to have a judge review your case without first paying the amount due. The 90 or 150 days does not include as the last day a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday in the District of Columbia.

IRS Publication 3498, The Examination Process

IRS Publication 4134, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic List

IRS Publication 5, Your Appeal Rights and How to Prepare a Protest if You Don’t Agree

US Tax Court   

Have a different tax issue? Browse common issues and situations at Get Help.

Is your tax problem more complex? If your issue is causing you financial hardship, you have tried repeatedly and are not receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights are being violated, consider contacting TAS.

Do you feel that you need help from a tax professional but can’t afford one? You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, CPA, or enrolled agent associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.

Last modified July 5, 2016