One of the most common types of IRS audits is the Schedule C IRS audit. In this article, I would like to introduce the readers to the Schedule C IRS audit. In particular, I would like to discuss the type of taxpayers who are affected by an IRS audit of Schedule C and the key legal issues associated with such an audit.
Schedule C IRS Audit: Who is Affected?
A Schedule C IRS audit primarily concerns two groups of taxpayers: owners of sole proprietorships and owners of single-member LLCs. These are the taxpayers who conduct business in either unincorporated form (i.e. sole proprietorship) or the incorporation is disregarded by the IRS (i.e. single-member LLC).
Schedule C IRS Audit: the Focus of the Audit
A typical Schedule C IRS audit focuses on two critical areas: full reporting of revenue and substantiation of expenses.
Generally, the reporting of business revenue should not be too difficult as long as there are sufficient records, but there are exceptions. One of such exceptions is the reporting of foreign income earned by the taxpayer because of the issues of income recognition and currency translation.
Unfortunately, a typical Schedule C IRS audit rarely involves a business with well-kept records. In a purely cash-based business, this is most problematic for obvious reasons – absent records of receipt of cash, it is extremely difficult to recreate an accurate picture of the revenue intake by the business. Similarly, a lot of work will be needed to reconstruct the revenue of a business with multiple revenue conduits, constant transfers between accounts, inexplicable cash withdrawals and deposits, disorganized prepayments and other similar complications.
Schedule C IRS Audit: Substantiation of Expenses
The problems associated with the second part of a Schedule C IRS audit (i.e expenses), however, dwarf the difficulties of revenue identification. The substantiation of expenses is by far the most difficult task in a Schedule C IRS audit. Let’s explore the reasons for this problem in more detail.
During a Schedule IRS C audit, the revenue agent in charge of the audit will only allow a business expenses if it satisfies all of the following three requirements:
1. Expense is Incurred by Business Identified on Schedule C
In this context, the primary problem that plagues taxpayers is the commingling of personal and business expenses. Oftentimes, the taxpayers will pay for business expenses using a personal bank account or a personal credit card. Actually, I have had clients who used credit cards of third parties to pay for business expenses. Proving that these expenses were actually incurred by the business, as opposed to the taxpayer or the third party, can be very challenging.
2. Expense is Supported by Records
The IRS will generally require that a business expense is supported by records. If a taxpayer uses only his own memory as the basis for an expense, an IRS agent is likely to disallow such an expense.
Ideally, the taxpayer should have actual receipts for all business expenses, but IRS agents generally accept bank and credit card statements that would allow them to identify the nature of an expense. The generosity of an IRS agent in this aspect often depends on the general “flow” of a Schedule C IRS audit – i.e. cooperation of the taxpayer, his credibility and the non-willfulness of his prior noncompliance.
3. Expense is Allowable Business Deduction from Income
Even if the audited taxpayer has good records in support of a business expense, the expense must still be an allowable business deduction. The critical issue here is whether the law actually allows the taxpayer to reduce his business income by the expense in question.
In order to qualify for being a deductible business expense, the expense must be both ordinary (i.e. common and accepted in the relevant area of trade or business) and necessary (i.e. helpful and appropriate for your trade or business). It is also should be kept in mind that some of the business expenses are either capitalized or added to cost of goods sold. There are also limitations on certain types of business deductions (such as business meals).
One of the most frequent problems that arise during a Schedule C IRS audit is the issue of personal expenses paid by the business. Personal expenses are never deductible as a business expense. I already described this problem above in the context of business expenses paid through personal accounts or by a third party; here, I am discussing the opposite situation – personal expenses paid using a business bank account or credit card.
It is important to understand that the fact that an expense is paid by a business, does not automatically mean that this is a deductible business expense. An expense still needs to comply with the “ordinary and necessary” requirement and be separated from personal expenses.
Sometimes, it is fairly easy to identify personal expenses, but this is not always the case; on the contrary, a vast number of expenses can be interpreted either as a business expense or a personal expense. For example, if a business owner buys tickets to a baseball game for himself, his family, potential clients and their families, how much of it is deductible? How about a personal membership at a gold club to which the business owner often invites his prospective clients and pays for their games?
The answers to these questions should not be left to the judgment of the IRS agent in charge of the question; instead, the attorney who represents the audited taxpayer should look at the precise facts, IRS revenue rulings and similar cases to promote the argument that will benefit his client.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with a Schedule C IRS Audit
If the IRS is auditing the Schedule C of your tax return, contact Sherayzen Law Office. Our professional audit team, headed by attorney Eugene Sherayzen, is highly experienced in the IRS audits of Schedule C, especially with respect to upper middle-class and high net-worth clients. We can Help You!