- Days left

If You Want to Be Audited, Live in One of These Five Areas


WASHINGTON (AP) - Worried the Internal Revenue Service might target you for an audit? You probably should be if you own a small business in one of the wealthy suburbs of Los Angeles.

You might also be wary if you're a small-business owner in one of dozens of communities near San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta or the District of Columbia.

A new study by the National Taxpayer Advocate used confidential IRS data to show large clusters of potential tax cheats in these five metropolitan areas. The IRS uses the information to target taxpayers for audits.

The taxpayer advocate, Nina Olsen, runs an independent office within the IRS. She got access to the data as part of an effort to learn more about why some taxpayers are more likely to cheat than others.

The study also looked at tax compliance in different industries, and found that people who own construction companies or real estate rental firms may be more likely to fudge their taxes than business owners in other fields.

Many of the communities identified by the study are very wealthy, including Beverly Hills and Newport Beach in California. Others are more middle class, such as New Carrollton, Md., a Washington suburb, and College Park, Ga., home to a section of Atlanta's massive airport.

Steve Rosansky, president and CEO of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, said business owners in his city are probably targeted because many have high incomes. The likelihood of an audit does increase with income, according to IRS data.

"I imagine it's just a matter of them going where they think the money's at," Rosansky said in an interview. "I guess if I was running the IRS I'd probably do the same thing."

The study focused on small-business owners - sole proprietorships, to be specific - because they have more opportunity than the typical individual to cheat on their taxes. Many small businesses deal in cash while most individuals get paid in wages that are reported to the IRS.

The IRS only audits about 1 percent of tax returns each year, so the agency tries to pick returns that are most likely to yield additional tax money.

The IRS will not say much about how agents choose their targets. But as millions of procrastinators scramble to meet Monday's deadline to file their taxes, the agency is running every tax return through a confidential computer program to determine the chances of collecting more money from an audit.

Each tax return is assigned a score. The higher your score, the more likely you are to get audited because, according to the IRS, the more likely you are cheating on your taxes.

The score is called the Discriminant Inventory Function, or DIF. A high DIF score does not guarantee you are a tax cheat but the IRS claims it's reliable.

"If your return is selected because of a high score under the DIF system, the potential is high that an examination of your return will result in a change to your income tax liability," says an IRS publication that explains the auditing process.

How do you get high score? The IRS won't say, but veteran tax preparers and former IRS workers believe they have a pretty good idea.

"If you're reporting $8,000 of charitable contributions when you're only making $50,000, that's a red flag," said Bob Meighan, vice president of TurboTax, an online tax preparation service. "Likewise if you're reportingbusiness or employee expenses that are out of the ordinary for your income range, that would attract the interest of the IRS as well."

The bottom line, according to the experts: People who take unusually large deductions for their income get a high score. Also, business owners who claim unusually large expenses for the size and type of their businessget a high score.

"I had a case here where the person made about $40,000 and they claimed $25,000 of employment-related expenses," said Elizabeth Maresca, a former IRS lawyer who now teaches law at Fordham University. "Most people don't spend $25,000 to earn $40,000. That's an unusual number."

DIF scores can vary across industry, according to the study by the taxpayer advocate. For example, people who owned construction and real estate rental companies were more likely to have high scores. Lawyers, accountants and architects and people who provided other professional services were more likely to have low scores.

Olsen said construction and real estate rental companies probably deduct more expenses that are not independently reported to the IRS. The IRS does not like those kinds of expenses because they are harder to verify without an audit.

"Construction for sole proprietors has been historically a cash business," Olsen said.

The study, which was included in Olsen's annual report to Congress in January, used data from 2009 tax returns to plot the DIF scores for sole proprietorships across the country. The city where you live is not a component of the score, according to the study. Nevertheless, researchers were able to identify clusters of likely tax cheats.

Sole proprietorships make up about two-thirds of all U.S. businesses. Sole proprietors report business income on their individual tax returns and, the IRS says, they account for the biggest share of the tax gap, which is the difference between what taxpayers owe each year under the law and what they actually pay.

The tax gap was $345 billion in 2006, according the latest IRS estimate.

In all, researchers identified clusters of potential tax cheats in more than 350 communities in 24 states, mostly cities and towns but some neighborhoods, too. About one-third of them were in California, with most near Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Most of the others were in communities near Houston and Atlanta, and in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. There were relatively few in the Midwest or the Northeast.

The researchers also looked for areas with high concentrations of small business owners who were very unlikely to cheat on their taxes.

They came up with four: the Aleutian Islands in Alaska; West Somerville, Mass., a neighborhood in Somerville, a suburb of Boston; Portersville, Ind., an unincorporated town in the southern part of the state; and Mott Haven, a neighborhood in the Bronx, one of New York City's boroughs.

Stephen Mackey, president and CEO of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, said he's glad the businessowners in his community excel at civic virtue. But he was at a loss to explain why they stood out from so many others across the country.

"I'd like to think we're not alone in terms of the civic engagement of business people," said Mackey. "But I would say two things. One is they are very close to the community inside and outside their businesses. At the same time, it's not small town America. It's minutes from downtown Boston."

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

How to Buy a Car

How to get the best deal and buy a car with confidence.

View Course »

TurboTax Articles

Cities with the Lowest Tax Rates

The total amount of tax you pay reaches far beyond what you owe the federal government. Depending on where you live, most likely you're required to pay additional taxes, including property and sales tax. The disparity between the amount of tax you pay in a low-tax city and that in a high-tax city can be dramatic. Living in any of these 10 cities could save you a bundle, although the exact amount may fluctuate based on your income and lifestyle choices.

Cities with the Highest Tax Rates

Much ado is made in the press about federal tax brackets, but cities can carry a tax bite of their own. Even if you live in a state that has no income tax, your city may levy a variety of taxes that could eat away the entire benefit of living in an income tax-free state, including property taxes, sales taxes and auto taxes. Consider all the costs before you move to one of these cities, and understand that rates may change based on your family's income level.

Great Ways to Get Charitable Tax Deductions

Generally, when you give money to a charity, you can use the amount of that donation as a deduction on your tax return. However, not all charities qualify as tax-deductible organizations. While there are many types of charities, they must all meet certain criteria to be classified by the IRS as tax-deductible organizations. There are legitimate tax-deductible organizations in many popular categories, such as those listed below.

A Freelancer's Guide to Taxes

Freelancing certainly has its benefits, but it can result in a few complications come tax time. The Internal Revenue Service considers freelancers to be self-employed, so if you earn income as a freelancer you must file your taxes as a business owner. While you can take additional deductions if you are self-employed, you'll also face additional taxes in the form of the self-employment tax. Here are things to consider as a freelancer when filing your taxes.

Tax Deductions for Voluntary Interest Payments on Student Loans

Most taxpayers who pay interest on student loans can take a tax deduction for the expense ? and you can do this regardless of whether you itemize tax deductions on your return. The rules for claiming the deduction are the same whether the interest payments were required or voluntary.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

NO! the most tax cheats are in the Obama Administration.... They don't really cheat, they just don't pay taxes...

April 19 2013 at 3:13 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

FALSE! They live in a the ghettos, pay no taxes, and collect tons of WELFARE.

April 19 2013 at 12:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Most tax cheats live in washington D.C. To be more specific, Congress, The Senate and the U.S. treasurer, Timothy Geithner.

April 18 2013 at 7:12 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

You mean they have tax cheats in DC?

April 18 2013 at 6:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ralph Anton

Sounds like profiling to me. Should they not be held to the same standards as TSA, let's audit everyone so that no one will feel left out, isn't this the PC/liberal way?

April 16 2013 at 2:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I Hate L.A. & Crapifornia Too...

April 16 2013 at 12:45 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

An IRS audit is what brought Al Capone down. They don't care how much money you steal as long as you pay your taxes on the income.

April 16 2013 at 12:05 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

When my parents passed away, we had difficulty with some of the paperwork and the IRS reps were very nice. I have also had a phone audit and had no problems. Sometimes people make their own problems by being nasty to the agents. An audit is just a review of what is there on the paper. Pay to have your tax preparer go to the IRS meetings for you.

April 16 2013 at 9:51 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Hey how much money goes to Habod?

April 16 2013 at 8:47 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The IRS needs to be investigated.

April 16 2013 at 8:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to lovelaurie's comment

You need to be audited.

April 16 2013 at 11:03 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply