Should I Attend an IRS Interview Without Representation?
Without question, the most dangerous tool in the IRS auditor’s toolbox is the interview. We highly recommend that you hire someone to represent you before the interview. You do not want to allow yourself to fall into the disadvantaged position of blindly navigating through an IRS interview. Nonetheless, if you insist upon representing yourself, here are some helpful hints:
1. Prepare in advance for the issues being audited - You need to either obtain a clear understanding of the purpose for each interview question or seek the assistance from a knowledgeable tax practitioner to prepare you for the IRS interview. For example, issues such as filing status, dependency exemptions, transportation expenses and many other deductions are often resolved exclusively using oral testimony. If you have not prepared beforehand on the key facts for sustaining your deductions, you will not likely be able to undo the damage once the auditor has gathered the oral testimony he/she needs to disallow your claimed deductions.
2. When in doubt, ask why – The middle of an IRS interview is not the time to be shy or passive. If you thought you prepared properly but are asked a question that you cannot see the impact the answer you give will have on the final outcome of your audit, come right out and ask the auditor directly: “Why do you need to know this information? How does this relate to any of the issues that you told me you would be looking at as part of my audit?”
3. If you are unsure of a date, time or amount – particularly information that might lead to the disallowance of your claimed expenses, DO NOT GUESS – At the beginning of the interview, the auditor will advise you that it is okay to estimate dates, times or amounts, yet he/she will be the first to reject your subsequent request to change your response without a host of supporting information as to why you felt your original response was incorrect. Further, the auditor will NOT likely challenge the “guestimates” you give, particularly if they result in a punitive outcome. They are not trained to ask you to reconsider the negative impact of a response before you commit to it. This is not the “You can be a Millionaire Show” where Regis is going to ask: “Are you sure?” or “Is this your final, final answer?” The auditor’s general expectation is that you should know better than to give an estimate that will result in a detrimental tax effect.
4. Watch out for the follow-up questions - The secret to a good interviewer’s technique is the use of follow-up questions. As an untrained taxpayer, you are at a considerable disadvantage since you may often have no idea where the auditor is headed.