Archive for the ‘W-2’ Tag

What are Your Chances of Being Audited? Part II – Audit Selection

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

May 30, 2014

Two weeks ago I discussed some of the statistics regarding your chances of being audited by the IRS.  A few of the high points from that article were: 1) on the average, audit rates for individuals are generally less than one percent each year, although audit rates jump to over three percent on people making over $200,000 a year, 2) about 75 percent of audits are actually mail correspondence audits focused on a narrow request of information for specific items on your return rather than a full-blown in-person, field audit, 3) partnership, LLC, and s-corporations have a less than half of one percent chance of being audited, while small c-corporations with less than $10 million in assets have an audit rate just under one percent, 4) larger c-corporations have increasingly higher chances of being audited with a roughly one in three chance for corporations with over $250 million in assets.  If you would like to read the full article, you can read it on my website at  The rest of this article will be devoted to audit selection and in two weeks we will discuss “red flags.”

Regarding audit selection, let me start by saying that no matter what you read or hear, nobody knows the exact methodology the IRS uses to select returns for audit as it is not public information.  All we really know is the broad overview the IRS tells us about its methodology and the limited statistical information the IRS releases about audits; the rest is conjecture based on the type of returns that we as tax practitioners see being audited.  Of course that can be warped by our own experiences.  That said, when you have been in the field long enough and have read about or talked to others about their experiences, you do get a good idea of the common issues for the types of clients with which you work.  When a client comes in and says, “I heard that if you report over ‘x amount’ of this, it is a red flag,” or “I am not going to file until ‘this date’ because you are less likely to be audited,” I know they have latched onto some misguided information.

So what does the IRS say about their audit selection tools and methods?  First, they tell us there is a computer scoring system called “Discriminant Inventory Function System” (DIF).  This system looks at your return and compares your return to similar returns to come up with a score for your return; the higher your score, the more likely an audit will yield a tax change.

Secondly, they use computers to match information reported on your return with information reported by third parties such as on Forms W-2, 1099, 1098, and the like.  Automatic notices can be generated as a result of mismatched items.

Third, they admit to using a variety of other tactics and resources such as the internet, newspapers, and other public information, or even people who may file a complaint or “squeal” on you.  They say they will investigate these sources for reliability before using it for an examination.

They also have the right to contact third parties about you, such as neighbors, co-workers, bankers, etc. Generally they have to inform you if they contact someone else unless they feel it would jeopardize their ability to collect the tax or that you might retaliate against the individual.

Although I have not seen this written as a tactic employed, I am aware of a situation where the IRS was selecting returns because they were prepared by a particular tax professional in a particular industry (and no, it wasn’t me!).

In addition there have been various programs over the years such as the Taxpayer Compliance Measurement Program and the more current National Research Program which introduces a random statistical selection methodology.  One of the uses for the information gathered in this program is to fine-tune the DIF computer scoring system.  It also means that ANYONE can be audited.

In two weeks we will discuss “red flags.”

Prior articles are republished on my website at

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

Independent Contractor Vs. Employee: 1099s Due Jan. 31

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

January 25, 2013

By the end of this month, business owners will have sent 1099s to their independent contractors and W-2s to their employees.  Many business owners think it is their choice, or perhaps a choice they can make together with the person performing the services on how they are to be treated.  It is not.

Business owners certainly see the savings to treat workers as independent contractors – no payroll taxes, no overtime, no break periods, no meal periods, no workers’ compensation insurance, no benefits, or a myriad of other California laws to follow.  Even if the worker gets higher pay to cover the extra taxes incurred as an independent contractor, he does not have to carry unemployment insurance or disability insurance on himself and sometimes thinks that is a personal benefit.  Of course, not having insurance is problematic for the worker and for the system as a whole, which depends on people paying premiums.

At the end of the day, people who are employees wearing the cloak of an independent contractor, are usually getting the short-end of the stick, because they really are dependent on the employer, and no longer have the ordinary benefits afforded by labor laws.  California knows this, and they come down hard on the employers when it is discovered that employees are misclassified as independent contractors.  Unfortunately, even for business owners that treat a misclassified independent contractor well, it can come back to haunt them if the individual becomes disgruntled.

Misclassification can get extremely expensive, or even sink a small business.  Besides legal fees, you could be hit with the tax liability, penalties, and interest from the IRS and FTB for all the back payroll taxes for the employee during the period misclassified.  You may also have to pay back wages and benefits the employee would have been entitled to.  The California Labor Commission can also fine you $5,000 to $25,000 per violation.

So, how do you know if someone is an employee or an independent contractor?  According to law it comes down to the right to direct and control the details and means of the work.  The IRS published Revenue Ruling 87-41 listing twenty points to consider as a guide.  They have also published their own internal auditor’s training guide, which provides more insight.  You can even file a Form SS-8 Determination of Employee Work Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding to get an IRS determination in writing.  This form is most often used by disgruntled workers along with Form 8919 when they feel the employer misclassified them and they now owe tax or cannot get unemployment or disability benefits.  However, employers may also file the Form SS-8, or simply use it internally as a kind of double check to see if they feel they are classifying workers correctly.  All of these documents mentioned are available free online with a simple Google search.

Here is a simplified rundown of the twenty points from Revenue Ruling 87-41 which would help in the determination process.  You do not have to have all of them and no single one is decisive, but the first three are given a lot of weight. You may have an employee if: 1) you require the worker to follow specific instructions on when, where and how work is to do be done; 2) you provide formal or informal training for the worker; 3) the worker has predetermined earnings and always get paid for the work and does not have the ability to make a profit or incur a loss; 4) the services performed by the worker are highly integrated into your own and affect business success; 5) the worker is personally required to perform the services instead of having the option to have their own worker perform the services; 6) you hire, supervise, and pay for your worker’s assistants; 7) you have a continuous relationship with the worker – such as working with you every day; 8) you dictate the hours or days the worker performs services; 9) the worker works full-time for you; 10) you require the worker to perform services at your work site even though it could be done elsewhere;

11) you require the worker to perform services in a specific order or sequence; 12) you require written or oral reports regularly; 13) you pay hourly, weekly, or monthly versus by invoice or project completion; 14) you reimburse the worker’s travel and business expenses; 15) you provide the worker’s supplies, tools, computers, etc.; 16) you provide an office for the worker; 17)  the worker does not provide the same services to anyone else; 18) the worker does not advertise his own services to the general public, have business cards, etc.; 19) you can discharge the worker at any time instead of having to honor contract terms; 20) the worker can terminate his services without having to honor any contract terms.

Ultimately, the determination is a legal issue.  If you do not feel comfortable making the decision on your own, an attorney that focuses on employment practice matters should be consulted.

Prior articles are republished on my website at

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.