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To keep auditors away, earn under $200K

IRS: Returns under that sum get audited 1 percent of time. Chance to be reviewed rises with income.

WASHINGTON — Want to keep IRS auditors away? Keep your earnings under $200,000 and they won’t bother you 99 percent of the time.

IRS enforcement numbers, released Tuesday, show that returns under that amount have a 1 percent chance of getting audited.

Returns showing income of $200,000 and above have a nearly 3 percent audit chance. The percentage jumps to more than 6 percent for returns showing earnings of $1 million or more.

The percentages apply to both individual and joint returns.

The number of audits jumped 11 percent from 2008 to 2009 for returns with earnings of $200,000 or more, but rose 30 percent for returns showing earnings of $1 million or more. For those under $200,000 the number of audits remained steady.

The IRS conducted 1.4 million audits of individual returns in the financial year ended Sept. 30, with more than 1 million conducted through correspondence with the taxpayer. The others were conducted through face-to-face meetings with IRS auditors.

The IRS does not do random audits, but does conduct “research audits” that will test compliance in business tax categories. In 2010, the target will be payroll taxes, according to Steve Miller, deputy commissioner for enforcement.

What happens if you’re audited while unemployed? The IRS might give you a break.

“While our assessments were up, the ability to pay went down drastically” due to the economy, Miller said. “We have a series of tools. We can have them pay partially, over time. If the money is not collectible, it’s treated as non-collectible. It’s going to depend on each case.

The total revenue collected from IRS enforcement actions, $48.9 billion in 2009, is a drop from $56.4 billion in 2008 and $59.2 billion in 2007.

Miller said the higher numbers in 2007 and 2008 reflect collections from settlements of several major tax shelter cases and other enforcement actions.

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