Recently-released statistics from the IRS show a drop in audits among all income groups for fiscal year (FY) 2013 with the overall individual audit coverage rate at its lowest level since FY 2006. At the same time, the number of IRS employees working audits has decreased. However, enforcement revenue increased.
For statistical purposes, the IRS groups taxpayers into particular categories. The IRS generally defines higher income taxpayers as taxpayers with incomes over $200,000. The IRS also identifies taxpayers with incomes above $1 million for statistical purposes. Similarly, the IRS groups businesses into various categories; for example, corporations with assets under $10 million and corporations with assets above $10 million, $50 million, or $100 million. The IRS also identifies S corporations and partnerships for statistical purposes.
As it does with taxpayers, the IRS groups different types of audits into various categories. Field audits are generally full audits. Correspondence audits are, as the name suggests, generally audits conducted by correspondence with the taxpayer. Keep in mind that these categories are very broad and a particular taxpayer’s audit experience may be different.
In FY 2013 (October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2013), the overall individual audit rate; that is audits of all individuals in all income groups, was less than one percent: 0.96 percent. That compares to an overall individual audit rate of 1.03 percent for 2012 and 1.11 percent for 2011. The last time the overall individual audit rate was below one percent was in 2006.
To put the overall percentage in perspective, the IRS received 145,819,388 individual returns in 2013. The agency selected 1,404,931 individual returns for examination. The vast majority of these audits - 1,060,779 - were correspondence audits. The number of field audits was 344,152.
Higher income individuals
As incomes climb, so does the audit coverage rate. The IRS selected 3.26 percent of returns for examination from taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 in 2013 compared to 0.88 percent for taxpayers with incomes under $200,000. Both percentages reflected a drop from 2012, when the IRS selected 3.70 percent of returns for examination from taxpayers with incomes above $200,000 and 0.94 percent of returns for examination from taxpayers with incomes under $200,000.
The audit rate for taxpayers with incomes over $1 million also fell in 2013. The IRS selected 10.85 percent of returns for examination from taxpayers with incomes above $1 million compared to 12.14 percent in 2012 and 12.48 percent in 2011. In each of these years, the number of returns reporting incomes above $1 million increased but the audit rate declined.
Within the higher income groups, the number of field examinations actually increased in 2013 compared to 2012. However, the number of correspondence examinations decreased. Some of the increase in field examinations could be attributed to the IRS’s emphasis on curbing tax evasion by hiding assets in unreported foreign accounts. The IRS has encouraged taxpayers with unreported foreign accounts to come forward in its offshore voluntary compliance program.
Audits of all types of businesses also declined in 2013. The IRS reported that it selected 0.61 percent of all business returns for examination compared to 0.71 percent in 2012. For the first time in three years, the audit rate of both small and large corporations declined. The IRS selected 0.95 percent of returns for examination from corporations with assets under $10 million and 15.84 percent of returns from corporations with assets over $10 million.
S corporations and partnerships are among the most popular business entities for small and mid-size businesses. The IRS received 4,476,307 S corporation returns in 2013 and 3,550,071 partnership returns in 2013. The audit percentage rate for S corporations and partnerships was the same in 2013 at 0.42 percent compared to 0.48 percent for S corporations in 2012 and 0.47 percent for partnerships in 2012.
Overall, the IRS’ enforcement activities generated $53.35 billion in FY 2013, compared to $50.20 billion in FY 2012. In the previous year (2011), enforcement brought in $55.20 billion. The IRS reported that collections, appeals and document matching all showed increases in revenue. However, the amount collected through examination decreased to $9.83 billion for 2013 compared to $10.20 billion in 2012.
The IRS reported that 19,531 employees - revenue agents, revenue officers and special agents - worked enforcement activities in FY 2013. That compares to 22,710 employees in FY 2010 - a decrease of 3,179 employees. Some of this decrease reflects normal separations from service, such as voluntary terminations of employment and retirements. Others reflect employee buyouts, which the IRS has offered several times in recent years in response to budgetary challenges.
If you have any questions about the IRS audit coverage rate, examinations or enforcement, please contact our office.