Much-Maligned IRS Aims To Be Nicer, More Helpful

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IRS losing in government popularity contest

A recent survey designed to gauge citizen satisfaction with various government agencies determined that the IRS is the least popular of all government agencies that were examined'Of 29 federal agencies examined, the IRS came in dead last in the popularity contest'This, of course, has to be startling news to the folks at the IRS who thought their campaign to become a kinder, gentler IRS was going to be successful in changing public opinion of the agency.

In response to the results of this American Customer Satisfaction Index survey, IRS Commissioner Rossotti has announced that the agency will continue its efforts to present a more courteous and knowledgeable image to the taxpaying public''It's not so much that we need to be kinder and gentler, we just need to be professional,'Rossotti stated in a recent interview with The Washington Post.

Rossotti went on to describe efforts of the IRS's agents to be more courteous and to provide quicker and more accurate responses to taxpayer questions'From this I suppose we can assume that previous attempts to be surly and to provide inaccurate responses to taxpayer questions have not produced the desired effect.

Since many of the letters I receive from readers begin with the statement, 'I phoned the IRS three different times with this question and received three different answers,'I find I am a bit distressed at the news that the IRS intends to start giving accurate answers on the telephone, and that those answers may even be dished up with a friendly tone'After all, I rely on readers to supply me with unanswered tax questions and negative IRS experiences that can be addressed in this column.

What I find most interesting, however, is that as unpopular as the IRS appears to be, the concept of tax collection itself continues to flourish'Witness the poor showing in the Republican presidential polls of Steve Forbes, who continues to campaign on a platform of derailing the tax code'It seems that, complain though they might about the confusing tax laws, the American public wants to continue to be taxed in the current fashion.

IRS to target EIC filers
And speaking of confusing tax laws, in other IRS news, the announcement has been made that the most feared tax cheaters are those in the lowest income brackets, in particular those who take advantage of the Earned Income Credit'The IRS has decided to step up efforts to enforce the rules in this area and to seek out abuse among these dangerous miscreants, many of whom pay little if any income tax.

For the record, the calculation of the Earned Income Credit is complicated enough that the IRS encourages taxpayers to not even attempt figuring the credit themselves, but to simply write 'EIC'in the space provided on the tax return'By making this entry, the taxpayer is requesting the IRS to perform the calculation of the Earned Income Credit'Since the IRS feels it necessary to go after the Earned Income Credit cheaters, I daresay few people are using the option to have the IRS calculate the credit for them (or is the IRS going after its own representatives who are miscalculating the credit for these taxpayers?).

I should qualify my use of the term, 'cheaters'in the previous paragraphs'My guess is that a significant percentage of the miscalculations of the Earned Income Credit is not due to cheating but to the inability to decipher the confusing rules accompanying this part of the tax return.

Changing the rules to make the credit easier to calculate does not seem to be an option that the IRS is considering'For 1998 tax returns, the instructions for the Earned Income Credit alone took up one fourth of the line-by-line instructions that accompany the tax return.

Considering the fact that many people who qualify for the Earned Income Credit are also the least educated of our nation's taxpayers, presenting them with incredibly complicated instructions, then suggesting that this is the group that is going to be targeted with audits and examinations, seems a bit strange to me'It's as if the IRS is intentionally setting this group up for tax trauma 'giving them incomprehensible instructions, then punishing them when they don't understand.

To the extent that there is abuse in this area, and there must be significant abuse if the IRS is targeting the EIC group, I can only suggest that all tax abuse problems of this type would be solved, were a flat tax to be enacted.

copyright © 2000 Gail Perry - Fun with Taxes

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