Can Your Old Tax Returns Be Audited?

Posted on: 2 May 2019


You file your taxes, the return is accepted, and you even receive your refund in the mail — tax season was a success, right? The answer to this question is not always yes. The reality is that the IRS does have a legal right to audit your tax returns, even after a return is completed. While the general audit guideline is three-years, in certain situations, the IRS can request an audit beyond this timeframe. 

Clock Start Time

The IRS is very clear when it comes to their three-year timeline; however, not all people are clear when it comes to knowing when this three-year clock begins. The IRS bases this clock on two separate dates; the date the return was due, such as April 15th, and the date the return was filed. 

The IRS will choose the latter of these two dates and count three-years from this time. So, if you request an extension and don't file your return until June 15th, your audit clock will begin in June, instead of April. 

Underestimation Significance

The standard audit timeline gets tossed out the window when there is an indication of deception on a return, such as a filer inputting an income amount that is significantly lower than the amount of money he or she has earned in the previous calendar year. 

Unfortunately, there is no set standard by which the IRS determines that the income underestimation is significant enough to trigger an older audit; the matter is addressed on a case-by-case basis. However, if the difference is more than a simple mistake or considerably impacts your tax liability, an audit outside the three-year window is possible.  

Fraudulent Returns

The law inhibits any person from filing a return on behalf of someone else unless they have the legal authority to do so. In the case of a fraudulent tax return, the time frame for an audit is nonexistent. 

If a filer intentionally decides to defraud the government by filing a tax return for another taxpayer for which they do not have the authority to do so, upon the discovery, the IRS can go back and audit the return at any point. However, an audit would be the least concern in this scenario, as fines and jail time could also follow. 

If you have received an audit notice in the mail, it's wise to reach out to a tax attorney right away. Not only is an audit a serious matter that can lead to significant repercussions, but the IRS doesn't always get it right. As a taxpayer, you might be targeted for an audit inaccurately based on their timeframe guidelines. An attorney will assess the matter and help you move forward as necessary.