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How long the IRS has to look into past tax activities

The government pursues tax revenues with the relentlessness of a pack of bloodhounds. Even an honest tax mistake can come back to haunt you years later in an audit, and the IRS can follow up on a willful omission or failure for even longer.

But for just how long do you have to worry about the government looking into past tax activities? Like most things involving the bloated bureaucracy of the IRS, the answer is complicated.

The basic rule on timing is that the IRS may audit you for three years after you file. However, that limit is doubled to six years if more than 25 percent of your income was omitted.

Additionally, sometimes the IRS claims to need more time to conduct an audit and requests that you sign a form to extend the time limits. Perhaps counterintuitively, many tax advisers will say it is a good idea to comply with this request.

Another layer of complexity is added if the IRS alleges criminal tax evasion. In the event of an alleged willful attempt to defeat or evade any tax, you may be indicted up to six years after any attempt to avoid a tax or payment of a tax. This limit may be extended for various reasons; for instance, the six year limit stops running if you are outside of the United States or if you become a fugitive.

Paying taxes is unpleasant. But dealing with the consequences of an audit or a charge of tax evasion can be even worse. If you are being investigated by the IRS or if you wish to get into compliance before you risk an audit, a tax attorney can help.

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