Filing taxes can be stressful, with America’s complicated tax code turning what could be simple formulas into quadratic equations. But if your anxiety comes from the fear that a filing mistake could turn into a painful audit, you can likely stop worrying, based on recently-released figures from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In the last decade, your chances of getting audited have shrunk from slim to virtually none.
To be clear, no one is advocating you try to scam the IRS. Chances are that won’t end well. But according to a March 2021 Department of Treasury report, only 1 out of every 225 individual returns (0.4%) was examined by IRS staff, with nearly half of those returns belonging to filers who claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The audit rate for individuals making less than $200,000 who did not claim the EITC was even lower, approximately 1 out of every 369 filers (0.3%).
According to Dept. of Treasury figures, out of more than 199 million tax returns in FY 2019, only 771,095 returns were examined – a drop of 44% from FY 2015.
While the IRS has automated some of its review processes to catch large reporting anomalies by machine – and tax fraud can still result in serious financial penalties and jail time – the IRS has a lot fewer employees policing it than it has in decades. It also has fewer employees working in customer service, to help taxpayers navigate one of the world’s most complicated tax systems.
The number of IRS revenue agents shrunk 43% between Sept. 2010 (14,749 paid employees) and Sept. 2020 (8,350 paid employees), according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.
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