The following is the sequence of the church audit process.
- If the reasonable belief requirement is met, the IRS must begin an inquiry by providing a church with written notice containing an explanation of its concerns.
- The church is allowed a reasonable period in which to respond by furnishing a written explanation to alleviate IRS concerns.
- If the church fails to respond within the required time, or if its response is not sufficient to alleviate IRS concerns, the IRS may, generally within 90 days, issue a second notice, informing the church of the need to examine its books and records.
- After issuance of a second notice, but before commencement of an examination of its books and records, the church may request a conference with an IRS official to discuss IRS concerns. The second notice will contain a copy of all documents collected or prepared by the IRS for use in the examination and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, as supplemented by IRC section 6103 relating to disclosure and confidentiality of tax return information.
- Generally, examination of a church’s books and records must be completed within two years from the date of the second notice from the IRS.
If at any time during the inquiry process the church supplies information sufficient to alleviate the concerns of the IRS, the matter will be closed without examination of the church’s books and records. There are additional safeguards for the protection of churches under Internal Revenue Code section 7611. For example, the IRS cannot begin a subsequent examination of a church for a five-year period unless the previous examination resulted in a revocation, notice of deficiency of assessment, or a request for a significant change in church operations, including a significant change in accounting practices.