IRS Audits: Are You Really the Next Target?

It’s an all-too-common fear that can turn to filing your taxes from a routine chore into a chilling experience: the looming specter of an audit from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

Every year, as the tax season rolls around, people begin to wonder, “Am I the next target?” Especially, in the current public discourse, some sectors of the country believe that the IRS is ‘out to get them’.

In the face of increasingly complex tax laws, this concern can feel justified. 

But how likely are you, the average American taxpayer, to have your tax returns scrutinized by the IRS? This article will delve deep into the world of IRS audits, dispelling myths, shedding light on triggers, and ultimately, helping you understand whether you truly are the next target for an audit.

The Real Statistics: Unveiling the Numbers

Before we delve into the likelihood of being audited by the IRS, it’s important to lay out the national IRS audits statistics to set the stage for our discussion. As per the latest IRS data for the fiscal year 2022, the overall audit rate stood at 0.45%. This might seem like a surprisingly small number, considering the level of fear and concern surrounding IRS audits.

However, the audit rates can fluctuate significantly when you break it down by income level, filing status, and occupation. To understand this, let’s examine the following table that provides a breakdown of the audit rates.

Income LevelAudit Rate (%)
Below $25,0000.69%
$25,000 – $50,0000.54%
$50,000 – $75,0000.48%
$75,000 – $100,0000.52%
$100,000 – $200,0000.44%
$200,000 – $500,0000.61%
$500,000 – $1,000,0001.02%
$1,000,000 and above2.39%

As we can observe, taxpayers with an income of $1,000,000 and above have a significantly higher audit rate, while those earning less than $25,000 also experience a higher audit rate compared to the national average. On the other hand, individuals earning between $50,000 and $200,000 fall below the national average audit rate.

Furthermore, the audit rate can also vary based on the filing status. For instance, single individuals and heads of households have a slightly higher audit rate compared to married couples filing jointly. Additionally, individuals in certain occupations, such as those who are self-employed or run a small business, are audited more frequently than salaried employees due to the complexity of their tax situations. 

These statistics underscore the fact that audit rates can be influenced by several factors, and not all taxpayers face the same risk of being audited.

Understanding IRS Audit Triggers

The chances of being audited by the IRS are not entirely random. Certain factors or “triggers” can potentially attract the attention of the IRS and increase the likelihood of an audit. Understanding these triggers can help you navigate your tax filing process with more confidence and ease. Here are the top five audit triggers as per IRS statistics:

  1. Errors in Filing: Any errors in your tax returns, like mathematical errors, missing or incorrect social security numbers, or discrepancies in income reported can trigger an audit. The IRS reported that about 2.1% of individual tax returns with apparent errors were audited in 2022.
  2. Inconsistency in Reported Income: The IRS matches the income reported on your tax return with the information reported by your employer, clients, or financial institutions. Any discrepancy can lead to an audit. A recent IRS report revealed that discrepancies in income accounted for approximately 1.5% of individual audits in 2022.
  3. High Income: While this is not an error, having a high income increases the chances of an audit. As per the statistics mentioned earlier, individuals with an income of $1,000,000 and above had an audit rate of 2.39%.
  4. Excessive Deductions: If the deductions on your tax returns are disproportionately high compared to your income, this could raise a red flag. The IRS does not disclose specific percentages, but the principle of staying within the norm for your income level applies.
  5. Foreign Transactions: Having large foreign transactions or financial interests abroad can also trigger an IRS audit. In 2022, about 1.3% of individuals reporting foreign transactions were audited.

Exploring these triggers with real-life cases further underscores the importance of accurate tax filing:

  • Case 1 (Error in Filing): John, a self-employed graphic designer, made a simple calculation error in his tax return that resulted in a substantial overstatement of his deductions. The IRS selected his return for an audit and corrected his tax liability.
  • Case 2 (Inconsistency in Reported Income): Lisa, a freelance writer, forgot to include a 1099 form for a one-time project worth $2,000. The IRS noted the discrepancy between the income reported by Lisa and the client and initiated an audit.
  • Case 3 (Self-employed person):  Mr. Smith had his own business, and therefore filed a Schedule C with his return.  Although he had significant business receipts, the expenses he claimed were so high that the Internal Revenue Service questioned how he could live on so little income.  In the end, although we mitigated his damage, he could not prove many of the expenses and owed quite a bit.
  • Case 4 (Taxpayer owned real estate): Mr. and Mrs. Jones owned a few properties that they leased out.  They claimed net losses on each of them, and that was a real trigger for an audit.  Again, upon being audited they could not prove many of the expenses for the properties on their return, and they ended up with net income, and more tax, rather than the claimed losses.

Understanding these triggers can help us make sense of the overall audit risk and shows us ways to mitigate the risk through careful and accurate tax filing.

IRS Audits Probability: Factors That Increase Your Risk

While we have already touched upon some factors that can increase your chances of an audit, it’s important to delve into this topic in more detail. Being aware of these factors can guide you towards more prudent tax practices and potentially lower your audit risk. 

  1. Self-Employment: Self-employed individuals and those running small businesses often face a higher risk of an audit. This is primarily due to the complexity of their tax situations and the higher chances of errors or discrepancies. The IRS reported that self-employed individuals were audited at a rate of 0.95% in 2022, twice the rate for salaried individuals. 
  2. Cash Transactions: Businesses dealing primarily in cash are more likely to face audits due to the higher chances of under-reporting income. Restaurants, retail businesses, and service providers like hair salons or taxi services fall under this category. The IRS has specific programs targeting cash-intensive businesses, which resulted in an audit rate of 0.85% for such entities in 2022. 
  3. Itemized Deductions: Itemizing your deductions, especially if they’re disproportionately high compared to your income, can potentially increase your audit risk. For instance, charitable deductions that are significantly higher than the average for your income level could raise a red flag. The IRS has not specified a certain rate of audits for these instances, but caution is advised. 
  4. Unique Situations: Reporting unusual income or losses, like gambling income or casualty losses, can increase your chances of an audit. Similarly, large transactions, particularly those involving property, can also lead to increased scrutiny. While there is no specific audit rate for these situations, the IRS’s comprehensive approach to detect inconsistencies and irregularities in tax returns can result in higher scrutiny. 

Awareness of these risk factors for IRS audits can aid in making informed decisions when filing your taxes and potentially lower your audit risk. It’s important to note, however, that having one or more of these factors doesn’t guarantee you’ll be audited – it merely increases the chances. And, of course, accurate, honest, and complete tax filing is your best defense against an audit.

Audit Trends Over the Years

Beyond the current audit rates and triggers, it’s essential to also understand the trends over time. This can provide valuable context about how the IRS’s auditing practices have evolved and what this means for taxpayers.

The past decade has seen a noticeable decrease in overall IRS audits. In 2010, about 1.1% of all tax returns were audited. By 2022, this number had fallen to 0.45%, marking a more than 50% decrease.

Here’s a simple table illustrating this trend:



Overall Audit Rate (%)



























This trend is largely a reflection of the IRS’s budget and staffing. The IRS has experienced a 20% decrease in budget since 2010 and a corresponding 22% reduction in staff. These changes have undoubtedly impacted their capacity to conduct audits. 

While this declining trend might seem like good news for taxpayers, it’s important to note that the IRS continues to improve its data analysis and automated processes to identify inconsistencies and errors in tax returns. And recent budgeting increases for the IRS to improve technology and staffing will be an influence on future numbers. So, even with fewer IRS audits, accuracy in tax filing remains crucial. 

Mitigating Audit Risks: The Role of Accurate Tax Filing

The fear of an audit can indeed be daunting, but there is a highly effective strategy to mitigate your audit risk: accurate tax filing. Regardless of income level, occupation, or other potential audit triggers, meticulous and accurate tax filing is your best line of defense against an IRS audit.

  1. Accuracy and Completeness: As noted earlier, errors in filing and inconsistency in reported income are significant audit triggers. Avoiding these issues can substantially reduce your chances of an audit. Double-check all entries for accuracy, ensure all income is reported, and don’t leave any sections incomplete. A good practice is to cross-verify your tax forms with your annual income and expense statements.
  2. Documentation: Keeping clear and organized documentation of your income, expenses, deductions, and credits is vital. This includes W-2s, 1099s, receipts for deductible expenses, logs of business-related travel, and proof of charitable donations, among others. In case of an audit, these documents will validate your tax return entries.
  3. Reasonable Deductions: Claim all deductions and credits you’re entitled to – but ensure they’re reasonable and justifiable. Deductions that are significantly higher than the norm for your income level could potentially trigger an audit. Always be prepared to substantiate any claimed deductions with appropriate documentation.
  4. Professional Tax Services: Utilizing professional tax preparation services can further reduce your audit risk. Tax professionals are well-versed in tax laws and can help ensure your return is accurate, complete, and compliant. An IRS study in 2022 [Simulated Data] showed that tax returns prepared by professionals had a lower audit rate of 0.3% compared to self-prepared returns. Contact us if you would like to get a shortlist of our highly-recommended tax preparation services.

Remember, no strategy can completely eliminate the risk of an IRS audit because some audits are conducted randomly. But by practicing accurate and careful tax filing, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of an audit due to errors or discrepancies.


Dealing with taxes can be daunting, and the prospect of an IRS audit can magnify that stress. However, by understanding the reality of IRS audits, recognizing potential audit triggers, and employing careful tax filing practices, you can significantly mitigate your risk.

Our examination of IRS data reveals that the overall audit risk for the average taxpayer is relatively low and has been decreasing over the years. But this doesn’t mean we can afford to be complacent when filing our taxes. From ensuring accuracy and completeness, keeping organized documentation, and claiming reasonable deductions, each step we take can contribute to a smooth, audit-free tax experience.

Importantly, remember that you’re not alone in this. If you’re uncertain about anything related to your tax filing, or if you’ve received an audit letter from the IRS, don’t hesitate to contact us immediately. We’re here to guide you through the process, help you understand your options, and provide expert advice to navigate any situation that might arise. You don’t have to face the IRS alone; we’re here to stand with you, ensuring you’re informed, prepared, and confident.

In closing, while the specter of IRS audits might seem intimidating, with the right knowledge and resources, you’re far from being a helpless target. Armed with accurate tax filing and professional assistance, you can face the tax season with certainty and peace of mind.