You go to check your mail like you do any other day. But this time, you feel your heart skip a beat as you reach into the box. Sweat laces your brow. There on the envelope in your hand are the letters “IRS.”
Except in cases where you are the one who reached out to the IRS about something, a letter from the IRS is probably about the last thing you want to see in your inbox. Still, there are a lot of reasons why the IRS may send you a letter, and that envelope in the mail does not necessarily signify an audit.
Following are answers to some common questions about correspondences with the IRS.
Q: Why would the IRS send me mail?
A: There are numerous reasons an IRS envelope could be waiting for you in your inbox, and an audit is only one of them. It could be a notice that you owe a payment, a notification of a change, a request for information, or so on.
On the letter, you should find instructions for what you are expected to do next. Correction notices can simply be filed if you are in agreement with the IRS’s findings and adjustments. If you owe a payment, you either need to send it or get in touch with the IRS to discuss your situation. Whatever is required of you, carry it out as swiftly as you can. Most letters can be dealt with without ever needing to call in or visit an office in person.
Q: Will the IRS ever call me on the phone?
A: As a point of initial contact, no. You will hear from the IRS through US mail first. After that point, if your case is assigned to a specific agent, you may be contacted via phone. Make sure you pick up or call back, because if you do not, the IRS may go so far as sending someone to your door.
Q: Will the IRS ever email me?
A: The IRS never initiates contact this way, so if you receive an email out of the blue which is “from” the IRS, it is from a scammer trying to steal your personal information.
Q: What do I do if I receive fake email communication from the IRS?
A: You should report it to the IRS; this happens thousands of times per year. There are also phone and US mail scams, so look out for those as well. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Q: How should you communicate with the IRS during an audit?
A: If you do discover you are being audited, the first thing you should do is keep your mouth shut. This can be a challenge, but experts usually recommend that you avoid real-time communication (i.e. the phone) to the best of your ability. You should of course be responsive, but you should ask for the contact info for the agent so you can reach out in writing. In fact, keep everything in writing that you can so that you have a record of all communications. Escalate as often as you need to, and never, ever ignore correspondence from the IRS of any sort.
Q: When is it time to ask for help?
A: That is up to you, but generally it is helpful in any audit to seek assistance, and there may be other situations where you find that a tax expert can do you some good. Even small matters are often resolved most speedily with help.
If you are facing a particularly extensive or expensive audit, you should definitely contract a tax professional. An audit can result in huge expenses or even time in prison, depending on the severity of the case. Taking unnecessary risk simply is not worth it. A professional may be able to help you navigate safely through the audit so you can get back on good terms with the IRS.
So now you know that most IRS letters can actually be dealt with quickly and easily. If you do find yourself in an audit situation, keep calm and seek help from a professional if you need it.