Saturday, May 25, 2013



(A question asked recently of this blog)

The short answer: No one can tell you one way or another. There are people inside the IRS who can tell you an accurate answer, but they will not tell anyone.

Let me tell you a story – it is an old story and therefore not necessarily relevant to today, but it does say something about how the agency sometimes reacts to situations.

A client was being audited by the IRS. It was a field audit, meaning the auditor came to my office and went over the client’s records in great detail. The audit took several days. As a result of the extended time that the auditor was in my office, I had the opportunity to engage him in conversation of a nature that did not always relate to the specifics of the case he was examining. It was several years after the Northridge Earthquake of January 17, 1994.

During one of our conversations the IRS auditor told me that he had recently had a short time period where he was basically unassigned to a case. During this time he was sent downtown to the main local office where he was given the task of reviewing tax returns for audit. The computer had made selections based on a proprietary scoring of the returns. His job was to use his human experience and knowledge that had still not been computerized and determine if the returns should be audited or sent back without further scrutiny. So there would be two piles, “audit” or “don’t audit.” But wait, it turns out there was a third pile. Apparently the computer would score a tax return with a casualty loss deduction for further analysis by a human such as this experienced IRS auditor. He told me that if any of the returns had deductions related to the Northridge Earthquake he was to put those in a third pile. Now he did not know what would be done with those Northridge Earthquake casualty loss returns, but he assumed they would be sent back to the file room, never to be seen again.

Then there was another time that was in the local IRS office on an office audit. In this office the examiners have cubicles which are only semi-private. I could not tell who was in the next cubicle, but I could hear generalities of the conversation. The examination was of a Northridge Earthquake loss. So apparently some returns were being audited.

Finally, in my ongoing review of tax cases that taxpayers take to the courts when they disagree with the IRS audit results, there are many that involve disasters and the proper reporting of losses and insurance proceeds.

My personal experience is that providing proper disclosure in a tax return always reduces the chances of examination. The computer makes overall evaluations, but when that human looks over the return and is able to see that all looks fairly reasonable on its face, I believe that reduces the possibility of the auditor placing the return in the “audit” pile.

I want to believe that the IRS has gotten more sophisticated and may now look at returns in a different way. For instance, do they look at all the returns from a specific Zip code and look for the deductions that are likely to be out of the ordinary. The extraordinary casualty loss does not necessarily mean that it is incorrect, but it might garner additional attention. When preparing the return for filing, there is no way of knowing what the neighbors reported on their returns.

One thing that I am certain of is that a taxpayer who has a loss that is properly supported and documented should not be intimidated by the possibility of an IRS audit. If the loss is not claimed on the correct tax return where it should be claimed can be a problem. Using the appraisal method and not including the appraisals is a problem. If the appraisals do not meet the standards required by the IRs, that will be a problem.

This is certainly one of the situations where you go cheap on the preparation, it is likely that you are risking an expensive audit. Your specific situation should be discussed with a knowledgeable tax professional before taking on the responsibility of filing a return for a disaster loss.

This blog, “” has been addressing taxpayer income tax issues related to catastrophic losses for more than five years.
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This material was contributed by John Trapani. A Certified Public Accountant who has assisted taxpayers since 1976, in analyzing and reporting transactions of the type covered in this material.  
Internal Revenue Service Circular 230 Disclosure
This is a general discussion of tax law. The application of the law to specific facts may involve aspects that are not identical to the situations presented in this material. Relying on this material does not qualify as tax advice for purpose of mounting a defense of a tax position with the taxing authorities
The analysis of the tax consequences of any event is based on tax laws in effect at the time of the event.
This material was completed on the date of the posting
© 2013, John Trapani, CPA,

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