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IRS Publication 556: Insights, Real-Life Scenarios, and Strategies

Last updated 03/28/2024 by

Silas Bamigbola

Edited by

Fact checked by

IRS Publication 556 is a comprehensive guide released by the Internal Revenue Service, offering invaluable insights into the audit process, a taxpayer’s right to appeal, and procedures for claiming tax refunds. It outlines the rules and procedures followed by the IRS during examinations, shedding light on what happens throughout the process. This publication is a crucial resource for individuals and businesses, providing clarity on navigating potential audits and disputes with the IRS.

Understanding IRS Publication 556: Examination of returns, appeal rights and claims for refund

IRS Publication 556 serves as a vital resource for taxpayers, providing insights into the general rules and procedures followed by the IRS during examinations. It sheds light on what occurs during an examination, the appeal process, and the steps to file a claim for a tax refund on an already paid tax. The IRS employs advanced software to assign scores to both individual and corporate tax returns, with higher scores triggering further scrutiny.
A tax return may come under review if the information provided doesn’t align with other data sources, such as Form 1099 or W-2. Form 1099, applicable mostly to business owners or freelancers, reports income from various sources. On the other hand, a W-2 form details an employee’s annual wages and tax withholdings from their paycheck.
The IRS conducts reviews for various reasons, and while not all reviews result in adjustments to reported tax figures, some may lead to additional taxes owed. In such cases, taxpayers have the option to enlist the services of an Enrolled Agent, attorney, or other authorized representatives to navigate IRS proceedings on their behalf.

Examinations and appeals

Publication 556 outlines the process in case of an audit, starting with the IRS notifying a taxpayer about their selected return for further examination. The document specifies the records required for the examination and any proposed changes by the IRS. Typically, taxpayers tend to agree to proposed changes, leading to the closure of the examination.
If a taxpayer disagrees with the proposed changes, they have the right to file an appeal. In instances where the examination occurs at an IRS office, the taxpayer can request a meeting with the examiner’s supervisor. Resolving the case may result in closure, but if an agreement is elusive, the examiner documents both the taxpayer’s position and the IRS’s stance.
The IRS offers fast-track mediation services to facilitate the resolution of issues arising from examinations, audits, offers in compromise, and other collection actions.

Real-life examples of IRS examination cases

Examining real-life scenarios can provide a practical understanding of how IRS examinations unfold and the significance of Publication 556. Here are two examples:

Example 1: Business expense discrepancy

Imagine a small business owner who inadvertently reports inaccurate business expenses on their tax return. The IRS, using its scoring system, detects the anomaly and selects the return for examination. With the guidance of Publication 556, the business owner learns about their right to appeal and seeks professional representation to navigate the examination process. This example highlights the importance of accurate reporting and the role of IRS resources in resolving discrepancies.

Example 2: Individual income mismatch

An individual taxpayer receives income from various sources but fails to reconcile the figures on their tax return accurately. The IRS algorithm flags the return, leading to an examination. By referring to Publication 556, the taxpayer understands the audit process, exercises their right to appeal proposed changes, and works towards a fair resolution. This example underscores the significance of aligning reported income with external data sources to avoid audits and potential tax adjustments.

Pros and cons of IRS publication 556

Weigh the risks and benefits
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.


  • Clear understanding of IRS examination procedures
  • Taxpayers’ right to appeal ensures a fair process
  • Guidance on claiming tax refunds for overpaid taxes


  • Potential for additional taxes owed after examination
  • Appeals process may extend the resolution timeline
  • Complexities in navigating IRS proceedings

Navigating IRS proceedings: Tips for taxpayers

Effectively navigating IRS examinations and appeals requires strategic approaches. Here are valuable tips for taxpayers:

1. Keep meticulous records

Publication 556 emphasizes the importance of maintaining accurate records. Taxpayers can proactively reduce the risk of examinations by keeping meticulous records of income, expenses, and supporting documents. This not only streamlines the examination process but also strengthens the taxpayer’s position in case of an appeal.

2. Seek professional representation early

Engaging the services of an Enrolled Agent, attorney, or tax professional can significantly ease the complexities of IRS proceedings. Early involvement of a qualified representative ensures that taxpayers have expert guidance throughout the examination and appeals process, increasing the likelihood of a favorable resolution.

3. Stay informed about tax laws

Understanding current tax laws and regulations is crucial for taxpayers. Staying informed empowers individuals and businesses to proactively address potential issues, accurately report income, and navigate the audit process with confidence. IRS publications, including Publication 556, serve as valuable resources for staying updated on tax laws.


IRS Publication 556 is a valuable resource for taxpayers, providing transparency into the IRS examination process, appeal rights, and procedures for claiming refunds. Understanding this publication is crucial for individuals and businesses alike, ensuring they are well-prepared to navigate potential audits and disputes with the IRS.
While the examination process may seem daunting, the availability of professional representation, such as Enrolled Agents or attorneys, can significantly ease the complexities associated with IRS proceedings. Taxpayers are encouraged to stay informed, be aware of their rights, and leverage the resources provided in IRS Publication 556 to ensure compliance with tax regulations and a smooth resolution of any issues that may arise.

Frequently asked questions

What triggers an IRS examination?

An IRS examination may be triggered by discrepancies in a tax return, scoring algorithms, or inconsistencies with external data sources like Form 1099 and W-2.

How does the IRS scoring system work during examinations?

The IRS employs advanced software to assign scores to both individual and corporate tax returns, with higher scores more likely to result in further review.

Can a taxpayer dispute proposed changes during an examination?

Yes, taxpayers have the right to dispute proposed changes during an examination by filing an appeal. This process involves meetings with examiners or their supervisors to reach a resolution.

What is the role of Enrolled Agents and attorneys in IRS proceedings?

Enrolled Agents, attorneys, and other authorized representatives can represent taxpayers in IRS proceedings. Their role includes navigating examinations, appeals, and providing expert guidance throughout the process.

How does fast-track mediation work in resolving IRS disputes?

Fast-track mediation is a service offered by the IRS to expedite the resolution of disputes arising from examinations, audits, and collection actions. It provides a facilitated process to help taxpayers and the IRS reach a resolution more quickly.

Are there common pitfalls that taxpayers should avoid during an IRS examination?

Common pitfalls during an IRS examination include inaccurate reporting, failure to reconcile income figures, and inadequate record-keeping. Staying informed about tax laws and seeking professional representation early can help taxpayers avoid these pitfalls.

What resources are available for further information on IRS examinations?

For further information on IRS examinations and related topics, taxpayers can explore resources such as IRS publications, official IRS websites, and services like the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

Key takeaways

  • Early engagement with a tax professional can significantly streamline the examination process and enhance the chances of a favorable resolution.
  • Utilizing IRS fast-track mediation services can expedite dispute resolution and minimize the impact of prolonged examinations on taxpayers.
  • Real-life examples illustrate the practical application of IRS examinations and the importance of Publication 556.
  • Navigating IRS proceedings effectively requires proactive measures, including keeping meticulous records and seeking professional representation.
  • Staying informed about tax laws is essential for taxpayers to address potential issues and confidently navigate audits.

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