Should I Represent Myself in an IRS Audit?

Well it depends, but not usually. First of all, the mistake that a lot of taxpayers make is they think that they can handle the audit because they think either a they're smarter than the auditor or the errors on the return aren't really that severe. The problem with that is a taxpayer who goes into a situation with an auditor, unless that taxpayer is a tax attorney or a CPA, is probably not going to have the same level of knowledge about how audits work as the auditor. So even if the taxpayer is familiar with the law, the taxpayer is generally not familiar with the way that audits work and the procedure with that and so the risk is that even if the tax loss is minimal, the taxpayer could potentially put themselves into a damaging situation. So for example, if you're not really used to changing tires and you get a flat tire on the road, yes you could change the tire yourself. There is the possibility that you'll do a reasonably good job and change the tire and then everything will be okay, but there's also the possibility that you might make a mistake. If you believe that there is a mistake on your return and if that mistake is significant, meaning it's over five thousand dollars in tax back to the government, then you may want to consider hiring a representative to help you because once you get into a situation where there's an audit and their adjustments are being made, then the penalty conversation comes into play and so the more adjustments that are made on the return, the more it increases

the likelihood that the auditor is going to penalize the taxpayer. So a lot of the respondents that we represent, because of the circumstances, we're not able to make much of an adjustment in terms of the tax but where our firm makes the substantial difference is on the penalty portion. Even in situations where we have taxpayers who underreport millions of dollars in income, we're able to oftentimes explain that away or to negate criminal penalties or things like that. That's a fairly extreme example but generally speaking, in an audit you're at a strategic advantage by hiring a representative who knows what they're doing. You're at a strategic advantage because we know what to look for, we can help you through the audit process, we can help you minimize the pain that you're going to go through because we know what the auditor will and will not accept. So there's monetary savings to that. There's also time savings. We make the audit process much more efficient. We move it along quickly because we we know the the auditors. We know how they think, we know how their interactions are with the manager and we just need to know the process like the back of our hand because we do this all the time. The way that we do things around here, because I'm very business focused, is we look at this from a cost-benefit perspective. I won't have a taxpayer take our law firm as a representative unless we think that there's value to be provided. There's no sense in giving us a retainer and us not being able to do anything for you, so there needs to be clear value in what we're providing and usually a good representative in an audit situation, particularly a field audit, if they're coming to your house or coming to your business, you definitely want to represent but a good representative is worth his salt. So I would discourage taxpayers generally from representing themselves at audits unless the issue is very simple and you think it can be resolved by a quick explanation.


Sam Brotman, JD, LLM, MBA

Owner and Director of Legal
Brotman Law