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The Cohan Rule

Individuals or business who have been audited by the Internal Revenue Service may be familiar with the Cohan rule.  The Cohan rule is based upon a court case that may allow a taxpayer an allowance for certain business deductions even if the taxpayer is unable to verify or substantiate certain expenses.  This article has been prepared by a tax attorney at the The McGuire Law Firm to provide additional information related to the Cohan Rule and IRS tax audits.  It is recommended you use this article for informational purposes only and discuss your facts and circumstances specifically with your tax attorney and other advisors.

The Internal Revenue Code requires that a taxpayer maintain certain records for the IRS to allow an expense or deductions.  When a taxpayer is being audited by the IRS, generally the taxpayer must show a receipt, invoice, cancelled check or like item for the IRS to allow the expense that is under audit.  If the taxpayer is unable to provide the necessary documentation, the IRS may disallow the expense or item.  Under the Cohn rule, the IRS or a court may allow a taxpayer reasonable amount of the deductions.  The key issue is, what is reasonable?

The Cohan rule was established through a Court of Appeals case in the Second Circuit in 1930.  Although, the court stated the taxpayer did not have adequate substantiation to verify expenses, the court held the board (IRS) should make an approximation.  In short, the court felt that it was reasonable for the taxpayer to have some reasonable business expenses, and should not be disallowed all deductions due to lack of records.  Thus, under the Cohan rule, a taxpayer can make an argument for an expense deduction to be allowed without proper documentation.

It is important to remember that the Cohan rule does not apply to all expenses.  For example, the Cohan rule does not apply to items whereby Internal Revenue Code Section 274(d) applies.  IRC 274(d) applies to travel expenses, entertainment expenses, gifts and other listed property, and taxpayer must comply with very strict verification rules for the IRS to allow a deduction.

One question that is often asked is, who has the burden of proof in a tax audit?  Generally, the taxpayer will have the burden of proof that they are entitled to the deduction and the additional tax proposed by the IRS is incorrect.  However, under Internal Revenue Code Section 7491(a), the burden of proof can switch to the IRS when the taxpayer produces credible evidence relating to factual issues, complies with requirements and verifies deductions, cooperates with reasonable requests by the IRS relating information, documents, interviews, meetings and maintains records under the Internal Revenue Code.

If you are being audited by the IRS, you may consider representation by a tax attorney.  You can speak with a tax attorney by contacting The McGuire Law Firm.