What is a Business Audit?

A small business audit doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. Small business owners can conduct internal audits on an annual basis. Either way, the audit process involves looking at accounting records and tax return numbers. The idea is to make sure your financial data is correct, and that it’s in line with tax laws.

What is a small business audit?

business audit

This is an examination of small business tax filings and financial records. The idea is to make sure everything is accurate. Accounting books and financial statements get looked at by either external auditors or internal auditors.

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Keep in mind you need to report things like a foreign bank account to the IRS.

Why do businesses get audited?

The IRS conducts small business audits for a number of different reasons. Here are a few of the common ways a business owner can find themselves in front of an IRS agent.

  • Claiming 100% of business use on a personal vehicle.
  • Claiming too many years of business losses in a row.
  • Rounding off financial information numbers.
  • Other bad financial practices like out of whack deductions.
  • A small business income that is higher than the average can trigger an audit notice. However, the odds aren’t high that you’ll wind up in an IRS office over this one.

business audit

Benefits of a Business Audit

Business audits serve a number of useful purposes. Some companies need to look through financial statements to abide by regulations. Others need to have an accounting firm go through financial records to maintain efficiency. Here are some good reasons why most audits are beneficial.

  • Uncover Fraud: An auditor checks for different types of fraud. Rooting this out is important for sole proprietorship and/or public companies. It’s also a good way to uncover employee theft. Risk factors include having several employees involved in the scheme.
  • Boost Efficiency: Regular audits can highlight redundant procedures and practices. The audit process can come up with recommendations on how to streamline and improve processes.
  • Audits Provide Compliance: There are statutory obligations in every industry. Small businesses facing noncompliance issues can lose customers and incur heavy fines. Audit reports are important to match up compliance with statutory obligations. A statistical formula to calculate a sample size is a good place to start.
  • Audits Provide Better Budgets: An external audit can go over business tax returns, personal tax returns, and bank statements. Even an internal audit can help business owners with a better budget. Liabilities, assets, expenditures, and different types of income are all included. The audit process can help highlight where a business’s finances can be improved. A better budget naturally follows.
  • Audits Can Help A Small Business Get Funded. Business owners are usually thinking about growth. External audits can help your business get investors or banks to supply funding. A line of credit can help take your business operations to the next level.
  • Audits Highlight Bad Practices. These can help your business find internal controls and auditing practices that need to be changed. Tweaking any problems makes tax time less complicated.

What are the types of business audit?

A small business audit can take several different forms. You’ll need to get your financial statements and receipts together plus loan agreements for each of the following:

Internal Audits

Like the name suggests an internal audit takes place inside your business. These internal audits are done by individuals or a team. They look at financial statements, policy compliance, and operational concerns to name a few areas.

Tax Audits

business audit

This is an IRS audit. A tax professional will look at a tax return to make sure it is accurate. An IRS auditor will look at companies’ financial records. These types of small business audits don’t always indicate wrongdoing. An IRS audit like this is selected based on several markers.

Payroll Audits

Payroll audits delve into a company’s payroll processes to ensure accuracy, consistency, and compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

These audits are important for verifying that employees are correctly classified, paid the appropriate wage for their role and hours worked, and that all required taxes and benefits are accurately deducted and remitted.

Conducted by human resources professionals or external consultants, payroll audits can also uncover inefficiencies or vulnerabilities in the payroll process.

Forensic Audits

Forensic audits are specialized examinations that scrutinize financial information for evidence that can be used in court, particularly in cases of suspected fraud, embezzlement, or other financial irregularities.

Unlike standard audits that evaluate financial statement accuracy, forensic audits dig deeper. They involve investigative techniques to uncover hidden assets, illicit transactions, and fraudulent financial reporting.

Forensic auditors often collaborate with legal teams and can be pivotal in civil or criminal proceedings.

Financial Audits

These focus on the financial records of a small business. Specific documents highlighting assets, investments, revenue, and expenses are used. It won’t hurt to know the 1099 rules to make sure you file any additional income.

Correspondence Audit

These are IRS audits that are conducted by phone or mail. They are looking for additional tax information about a specific issue or item. It’s one of the least severe types of tax audits. Correspondence audits are quite often pointed at nonprofits and charities.

Field Audit

This is another type of IRS audit. These can be conducted at your accountant’s office, your business, or even your home. Field audits are in-depth and comprehensive.

Types of Business Audit Summary

Type of AuditDescription
Internal AuditsConducted internally to review financial statements, policies, and operations.
Tax AuditsThe IRS reviews tax returns and financial records for accuracy.
Payroll AuditsExamines payroll processes to ensure legal compliance and accuracy.
Forensic AuditsIn-depth investigations used in court, often related to fraud.
Financial AuditsFocuses on the business's financial records and transactions.
Correspondence AuditThe IRS seeks specific tax information via phone or mail.
Field AuditComprehensive IRS audit conducted at a business or taxpayer's location.

What is included in a business audit?

Whether you are looking at an IRS audit, an internal audit, or another type from a tax professional, you’ll need to know the records that will be required.

The following can help make the whole thing a smooth process. This is just a partial list of some of the financial documents you might need to present.

Documents Detailing Theft or Losses

If there is damage to an enterprise, an IRS audit might ask for photographs. You need copies of police reports if there is no insurance.


business audit

These types of business expenses include organizational and individual names of the people who got paid. An external audit will also want to see the dates you paid them. Plus the type of service.


IRS audits will want to see how these relate to your business. The audit process takes into account the money paid and received. Plus, mileage under some circumstances.

Loan Agreements

An audit will want to see a copy of the original loan with the location of the property. The amount borrowed and the terms should also be included. Make sure to include a breakdown of how the money was used for an external auditor.


Independent contractors can put these on an audit report. They need to be labeled with the business purpose for the trip. Organizing these records will help to speed up any kind of audit along.

How to Prepare for a Business Audit

There are a few other things that you will need to do to prepare for an audit. You can’t avoid one of these completely. However, there are a few things you can do to get ready.

1. Accurate Record KeepingEnsure all financial and business records are precise and up-to-date. Electronic files are often acceptable, but always keep backup copies.
2. Organized PaperworkEven if an expense is valid, lacking the necessary paperwork can result in its rejection. Always have all documents readily accessible.
3. Addressing Tax MattersA tax-related audit becomes significantly more severe if your records aren't maintained properly. Ensure all tax matters are documented and recorded accurately.
4. ConsultationIf there are uncertainties, errors in deductions, or missed income, it's advisable to consult with a tax attorney. They can provide guidance and assist in navigating the audit.

Remember, there are different types of audits. When you get a notice from an IRS manager because they want to look at your books, here’s what you need to do.

IRS Business Audit Process

business audit

These types of audits don’t need to be stressful. This type of audit will check your business information to be sure it is accurate. The IRS can choose your business randomly or through related examinations.

These happen when your business has been involved with someone who has been through an audit.

Other triggers include excessive expenses and misclassification of employees.

  1. The process starts with a letter describing the documents and records they need.
  2. These records get examined by IRS agents.
  3. There’s a closing conference and examination report on the phone.
  4. The IRS will tell you if you owe money, penalties, and interest.
  5. They close the case off if you agree with a closing letter.

What are generally accepted accounting principles?

These are standards for corporate and business accounting. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) uses GAAP as its base for practices and methods.

What financial statements are needed for an audit?

These audits need to have specific statements included. Those include an income statement, a balance sheet, and a cash flow statement.

Who can demand a business audit?

An external audit can be requested by a few different entities. Like the IRS, a tax agency or insurance company, and even a third party.

Why should you conduct an independent business audit?

It’s always a good idea to have another set of eyes look at your numbers. It’s a particularly positive move when looking for investors. The independent audit process boosts your credibility.

An independent business audit is a good idea when you’re looking for a loan. And when you’re looking to sell a business.

What are your rights during an IRS audit of your business?

Knowing what rights a small business has through an IRS audit helps. Here are just a few of the things businesses and taxpayers should be aware of.

  • You have the right to representation. That can include a tax attorney or certified public accountant.
  • You have the right to only pay the amount of tax debt due.
  • You can file a tax appeal within 30 days of receiving a judgment.

You also have the right to courteous and professional service from IRS employees.

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Rob Starr Rob Starr is a staff writer for Small Business Trends. Rob is a freelance journalist and content strategist/manager with three decades of experience in both print and online writing. He currently works in New York City as a copywriter and all across North America for a variety of editing and writing enterprises.

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