NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

IRS to Taxpayers: You're too Sloppy

May 13, 1999

Officials at the Internal Revenue Service have been emboldened to complain that taxpayers are making too many errors. They claim that many of the errors are not due to the complexity of tax forms -- but are the result of simple math mistakes.

  • An IRS spokesman says that by April 17, about four million taxpayer-made errors were found in three million returns.
  • Yet that would be an average rate of 1.3 errors per return -- a performance many taxpayers would call not too shabby, given the nature of the challenge.
  • The IRS found what it calls simple errors in 1 million forms filled out by professional tax preparers.
  • The error rate for the IRS itself has run at 20 percent for paper returns in recent years -- but the agency takes only half the blame, saying the agency's computers are too outdated to be able to scan complex returns.

Personnel and overhead costs for the department that handles the errors came to about $4.5 million last year -- not including the cost of sending notices to taxpayers. In 1994, the last year for which data are available, error notices cost the IRS $7.2 million, the agency says.

The most frequent errors concern calculations of the earned-income tax credit and the child tax credit. These were followed by incorrect Social Security numbers entered for children, then by erroneous Social Security numbers for adults.

Source: Karen Hube, "IRS Has a Gripe Too: Sloppy Taxpayers," Wall Street Journal, May 13, 1999.


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