NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

IRS Gives Faulty Advice To One In Five Taxpayer Callers

September 5, 2002

Beware if you call the Internal Revenue Service for advice on how to fill out your tax returns. There is a considerable chance you'll get a wrong answer -- and if you do and act on it, there is little you can do about it.

  • The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that the agency gets its advice right only 78 percent of the time -- an improvement on the 74 percent figure for last year.
  • Adding insult to injury, the IRS isn't bound by its own phone advice.
  • But it may waive penalties if a taxpayer underpays and has the foresight to jot down the IRS employee's name and badge number, which the caller should always request.
  • Experts recommend that taxpayers with important questions seek the advice of a reliable tax professional, rather than contacting the IRS and relying on its advice.

IRS officials have been aware of the accuracy problem, and have vowed to improve the quality of the help, for decades. The agency claims it is making progress. The IRS compiles its own tally of correct answers, which claims an 84 percent accuracy rate this year.

Still, according to the IRS's own National Taxpayer Advocate in a report issued last year, accuracy of information rated fourth out of 23 problems encountered by taxpayers.

The big surprise may be the relatively high rate of correct answers, given the nightmarish complexity of the nation's tax code, observers say.

Source: Tom Herman, "Tax Report: IRS Phone Centers Are Wrong With One in Five Tax Answers," Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2002.


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