What the IRS won't tell you about are the red flags that, no matter what else you do, will get you audited for sure. Now while I don't work for the IRS, I can still promise you that any one of the following is almost sure to get you flagged for an audit:
Love IRS Audits? Try These!
- Use creative media for your "paper" returns. While the IRS has strict guidelines for the weight, dirtiness, finish, porosity, gloss, and size of paper used for individuals printing their own tax forms, it does not go as far as to define "paper." The American Heritage Dictionary defines paper as "a material made of cellulose pulp, derived mainly from wood, rags, and certain grasses." Thus, according to the rules of the IRS, it would be perfectly acceptable to send in a tax return printed on a dirty old rag or even ground up marijuana. I also couldn't find any regulations on the color of forms filed with the IRS, so maybe give neon pink a try... or perhaps black ink printed on black paper!
- Deny your existence. The IRS can't tax someone who isn't there! So when you're counting exemptions, be sure to omit yourself, and don't state that someone else can claim you. In fact, just send in a blank return with your address but no name.
- Pay your tax bill in non-standard currency. Generally the IRS prefers United States dollars when you send them payment for taxes you owe at the end of the year. But at the same time, you prefer keeping your United States dollars in your Made in China pocket book. Keep in mind the purposes for which your tax dollars are used: feeding the poor, funding our military, protecting endangered species, etc. So instead of sending the IRS a check or paying by credit card, pay your taxes with coupons for free food (remember, one Jr. Frosty equals $1), spare ammunition you have sitting around the house, or any endangered red-speckled tree toads you may have stashed away in your closet. You'll save the government the hassle of converting that currency into services, so I'm sure they'll give you a break on your tax bill.
- Amend like there's no tomorrow. Some of you may be familiar with IRS Form 1040X--the form you send after you file a 1040 if you'd like to make a correction. You might file this if you forget some deductions or your filing status changes. Typically you'll wait for the 1040 to reach the IRS and be processed before sending in a 1040X. But that's no fun! Instead, start the year off with an amendment to a return you haven't yet filed. Then file the actual return. Then file another amended return. And then, just for kicks, become your own non-profit organization, file another amended return, and then file three more amended returns claiming each of the three children you forgot you gave birth to a few years ago.
- Your adjusted gross income: infinity. The IRS tax tables have one minor flaw: they only work on finite numbers. Indeed, how can you take 25% or 33% of a number you can't even see 100% of? Simply fill in your AGI as infinity, ask the IRS to compute your tax for you, and watch as their tax calculator enters an endless loop while determining your tax.
- Encode your tax return. Pretend that your 1040 is a top secret government document that could fall into enemy hands. When the form asks for dollar amounts, fill in something like "TRH,OAP." Then, in a separate correspondance, include the decipher key that reveals T=1, R=4, H=7, ... Alternately, use a number-to-number encoding so that a 5 really means 0 and an AGI of $507,291 translates as $4,671. And for you computer geeks out there, since your tax return is going into a computer anyway, save the IRS a step and compute your taxes due in binary. Then gripe when the IRS doesn't cut you a check for $10010110101110101.
- File your return ... UPSIDE DOWN!!! When you go to put your tax forms into their envelope, place the pages in upside down. The IRS computers will read everything backwards, so it'll see your AGI as your federal withholdings and vice versa. You'll instantly go from a tax bill of $2,000 to a refund of $20,000!
- One way to invite an audit: do it literally. Instead of filing a 1040 this year, break out some of that stationery you have left over from your wedding and compose the following note: "You are invited to attend the audit of Mr. and Mrs. INSERT NAME HERE at our home on April 15th. Refreshments will be provided. Bring your own receipts."
- Return the favor of fine print. The IRS wouldn't hesitate for a second to give you an extra 50 pages of instructions to read when filling out your tax return if it meant more revenue for them. You shouldn't hesitate to send some right back to them. Include the following text in the margins of your 1040 in tiny print: "By auditing this return, you agree to pay us the sum of one hundred million dollars, and there's no way in hell we're going to pay a single dime of taxes on that amount."
- Tell them where all your money's really coming from. On the line that asks for your occupation, simply write "MacGyver." Then attach your W-2s with duct tape.
And as an added bonus, should you attempt all of these activities in a single tax return, not only will you get an IRS audit, but you'll probably also receive a visit from some nice men in white jackets and a trip to a lovely room with padded walls. Just be sure to scream "I'm counting this as a medical deduction!" as they haul you away.