New Vehicle Dealership Audit Technique Guide 2004 - Chapter 1 - General Focus, Procedures and Getting Started (12-2004)
NOTE: This guide is current through the publication date. Since changes may have occurred after the publication date that would affect the accuracy of this document, no guarantees are made concerning the technical accuracy after the publication date.
Each chapter in this Audit Techniques Guide (ATG) can be printed individually. Please follow the links at the beginning or end of this chapter to either return to the Table of Contents or proceed to the next chapter.
Chapter 1 - Table of Contents
In preplanning an examination of an automobile dealership, a review of the return, as is customary, could pose interesting questions to begin the audit. An agent knows there are a variety of internal research tools with which to start. By securing information from the Integrated Data Retrieval System (IDRS), an agent may be able to perform a preliminary comparative analysis of the income and deduction items as well as the
balance sheet which would provide initial information useful to the agent.
Many dealerships have begun conducting business transactions utilizing e-commerce, or the Internet. Using a search engine to look at a dealership’s website may provide some background information on a specific dealership.
The return may be a consolidation of two or more entities created for the benefit of the automobile dealer. The separate entities provide the dealership the ability to clarify operations and distinguish activities. If the return is a large consolidated operation, flowthrough schedules or other accompanying statements are disclosed on the return identifying these activities.
New automobile dealerships maintain good internal controls and prepare complete books and records. Dealerships as franchisees, properly book sales activities to conform to the financial statement requirements imposed in the form of the manufacturers statements by the franchiser, the factory. Once the income is booked, some dealerships may incorrectly treat or classify them for tax purposes. This may occur through shifting of business activities to related entities.
An entity chart is helpful in visualizing the organizational structure. It is important that all related returns are gathered. One entity may own the land where the dealership operations are and rent is paid to the shareholder. Another entity may be an insurance company formed to facilitate the paper flow of extended service contract sales or a management company is formed to receive management fees. All three are related entities and related party transactions should be examined. An understanding of each entity’s activities, business purpose and tax implications would be required.
The key to a quick and competent closure of any new vehicle dealership examination hinges on narrowing the scope of the examination to items that may prove productive. This section addresses tools necessary to frame the scope of the examination and to transition from planning to the start of the examination of the books and records.
In order to determine the examination’s focus, request copies of the following before the initial interview. These documents form the cornerstone of any auto dealership examination:
Pre-Interview Documents to request:
- Unadjusted Trial Balance and Adjusting Journal Entries
- Tax Classification Work Papers
- Manufacturer's Statement
- An agent obtaining this information before the initial appointment will be able to accomplish two objectives.
- First, the agent will be able to reconcile the trial balance to the tax return.
- Second, the agent will be able to ask more pointed questions during the initial interview.
Regarding the reconciliation, it is recommended the agent do a full reconciliation of the trial balance and the adjusting journal entries to the tax return. By doing a little work up front the agent should have a specific understanding of the underlying transactions that make up the return. This is elaborated further in the next section.
Often in a dealership examination, the liability accounts have special significance. If the dealership is thinly capitalized, there may be an issue.. The recommended reconciliation will enable the agent to analyze liability accounts to determine if any issues exist regarding loans or inter-company transfers. When the initial interview is held, the agents' questioning may be more specific regarding liabilities or any transaction analysis made possible through the reconciliation.
Tax Classification Work papers (Tax Accountant’s/Preparer’s Grouping Sheets)
The agent has requested the tax classification work papers. It is difficult to envision a return at the level of a new vehicle dealership to be prepared without the assistance of such work papers. When received, most of the reconciliation is completed and the agent has saved the up front time previously scheduled.
In order to open and maintain a franchise, the auto dealership is required to furnish financial statements with the manufacturer on a regular basis, usually monthly. These manufacturer's statements are usually reliable, as shareholders in automobile dealerships do not want to risk losing their franchise rights and the manufacturer audits the dealerships frequently. For this reason, manufacturer's statements can be utilized to establish confidence in the taxpayer's books early and quickly in the examination process. The tax return filed by the dealership should be similar to the manufacturer's statements. For example, gross receipts should tie in to the tax return and any differences scrutinized. Any differences between the manufacturer's statements and the tax return that are large or unusual should be questioned. The use of different documents to verify return items, given this reliable resource, is inefficient and should be avoided where circumstances warrant. Manufacturer statements are generally more reliable than in other industries since the dealer is required to file the statement with the manufacturer monthly. However, when looking at a monthly manufacturer statement, it may not include al adjustments that the 13th month statement includes.
Regarding the initial interview, the objective is to acquire up-front information about the dealership's normal operations and dealings with all other entities, shareholders and customers. Traditionally, the best way to do this was to require that the majority shareholder be present at the interview. However, the shareholder may not be available during the time frame designated by the agent to begin the examination.
Regardless of the availability of the principal shareholder, the agent should not delay the start of the examination due to the unavailability of any party. The agent can begin the examination and interview the designated representative. If the agent feels the questioning is not productive, an interview should be scheduled with the principal shareholder as soon as possible, but continue with the examination. The designated representative can give the agent sufficient information and documents to begin, and in many cases get deep into, the examination. If possible, schedule the initial interview after the 7th or 10th day of the month, following the month-end closing if you want to have the accounting manager attend.
Information Document Requests:
Requests for information work best when a separate Information Document Request (IDR) is issued for each item (for a particular issue) requested. This is especially true if many items have been requested. When a specific request is not timely filed, reissue the original request. For example, all information for the package audit such as related entities will be on a separate form, the payroll returns, Forms 941 and 940 and state returns (as applicable) would be listed on the same form.
An important source of information the agent could garner at the onset of the examination concerns related entities. The agents' IDR should ask the dealership to list all related entities including the employer identification number, EIN. The IDR should go one step further and ask the dealership to prepare a flow chart laying out all related entities and their purpose and relationship to the principal shareholder. Often the reconciliation will reveal related entities to the agent through inter-company loans or transfers.
Relative to related entities, an agent should consider reviewing our IRS internal documentation in the context of related return analysis. Initially, prior and subsequent return information should be secured to determine if the taxpayer is:
- Reporting losses every year,
- Conforming to the market place (high profit in a recognized good year).
Review the taxpayer's Forms 941 to see at what level dealership activity responded to the general peaks and surges of the industry.
In addition, check filing documents on the dealer, a process crucial to the beginning of future pertinent questions. A search of IRS files for other businesses using a similar name or address of the taxpayer may also reveal related entities.
Concurrent with the request for information regarding related entities, the agent should request copies of all related returns for all years of relevance. The key is to obtain verifiable information regarding the shareholder's equity interests in these related entities.
Changes in Accounting Methods:
See the general retail guide for general change of accounting information.
Revenue Procedure 2001-23
Revenue Procedure 2001-23 is provided for used car dealerships that sell used automobiles or used light-duty trucks and provide an alternate accounting methodology by electing to use the Used Vehicle Alternative LIFO method. This is addressed in the Used Car Dealership Audit Technique Guide.
Revenue Procedure 2002-28
Smaller dealerships can now elect to use Rev. Proc. 2002-28, with regard to use of the cash method. The procedure relieves broad categories of taxpayers with gross receipts of up to $10 million from the general requirement to accrue income from the sale of goods. In general:
- Eligible taxpayers are permitted to elect to report income from routine receivables from the sale of goods on the cash basis: that is, as payment is received, or constructively received.
- Other transactions would be covered by the rules applicable to non inventory sales.
- The cost of the goods themselves must be capitalized but taxpayers may elect to exclude them from formal inventory accounting and treat them as "materials and supplies."
- Prior to this procedure was a December 2001 release of Notice 2001-76.
- While the procedure was included with the notice and in proposed form, taxpayers had been permitted to rely upon it for taxable years beginning with calendar year 2001, pending further guidance.
- The final procedure likewise is effective for taxable years ending December 31, 2001, or later.
- Moreover the procedure will not disturb accounting methods used in earlier years to the extent that their use would have been permitted under the procedure.
- Rev. Proc. 2002-28 does not simplify the law; it adds another step to the existing analysis.
- It does not supersede Rev. Proc. 2001-10; an earlier relief provision confined to taxpayers with revenues under $1 million.
- Current law continues to apply to taxpayers not electing to apply the procedure.
- Moreover, some taxpayers — notably contractors — will be able to argue, based on recent case law, that they are not selling merchandise in the first place, and therefore need not abide by the restrictions the procedure imposes on use of the cash method. Nevertheless, many small businesses will appreciate the increased flexibility that the new procedure offers. 1
- The flow chart of the application of Rev. Proc. 2002-28 explains the requirements of an eligible small business at the end of this chapter.
The agent's familiarity with Package Audit requirements and audit standards relative to these requirements would make a detailed discussion redundant. We, therefore, would like to stress certain points pertinent to automobile dealerships.
When sending out the initial IDR, the agent should request information sufficient to complete the Package Audit phase of the examination during the first few days at the audit site. This will ensure the agent's time at the dealership is productive and will put him or her in a position to work on more material items as the examination progresses. Eliminating down time will ensure timely closure of the case.
Audit Techniques- Initial Review of Assigned Tax Return
- Upon initial review of the assigned tax return, look for missing statements or schedules, changes in accounting methods, and any special notes, elections, or disclosures.
- Review the case file for Service Center/District Information, prior audit information, Department of Motor Vehicle transcripts, and tax transcripts.
- Order and analyze this information as necessary. Remember the necessary Taxpayers' Bill of Rights II (TBOR II) requirements on Third Party Contacts as required by code section §7602(c).
- Utilize the Integrated Data Retrieval System (IDRS) as necessary. In addition to internal documents, the agent should consider pulling other reconciliatory information such as payroll, payer and payee master file information, documents relative to ownership entities.
- A search can be made for related entities by name and/or TIN. Find out if there are any open tax audits and what the status of the case, i.e.: location of cases.
- Start a list of possible third party resources, which may be tapped into, should necessity dictate. Consider the manufacturer, the Department of Motor Vehicles, used car wholesalers, etc.
- Real estate information showing real property in the names of the audit principles can be pulled from a service such as "Data Quick," "Choicepoint Public Sector” or “Experian Information Solutions” where the Service subscribes to it.
- Consideration needs to be made whether dealership Gross Income can be accepted with minimal testing where the amounts showing on the manufacturer's statement match per return amounts.
- A complete reconciliation of payroll returns is usually a verification item. The agent may consider an assumption of correctness after "confidence in books" has been established in other areas. The agent should ask the practitioner to perform the reconciliation and to provide copies of the work papers in the initial Package Audit Information Document Requests.
- It is recommended that officer compensation be verified as being included on the payroll returns and that any large, unusual, and questionable items are further analyzed.
- Compare prior and subsequent years operations of this and related entities. This one-year, one entity look is the beginning point of the examination and merely provides a window for the agent to see into the taxpayer's operations. The overall picture of how the taxpayer is handling the whole concern for all relevant periods is at issue with the examination.
If this initial analysis does not result in indications of unreported income, the scope of the examination may be limited to technical issues. This determination made in conjunction with applicable IRM cites, Revenue procedure changes in accounting method compliance and Package Audit requirement compliance could lead to strict classification of the scope auditing standard, whether there is a large, unusual, questionable or related party transaction that requires analysis.
- James E. Salles, Esq., Caplin & Drysdale; 2002 TNT 109-74; 21 May 2002; Washington