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IRS Commissioner Pushes Back On Audit Target Claims

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig is pushing back on assertions that the agency is spending less time targeting wealthy taxpayers for audit in favor of lower income taxpayers.

“This is damaging to tax administration in this country when people say IRS audits more lower income people than higher income people,” Rettig told attendees June 23, 2022, at the NYU Tax Controversy Forum.

He asserted that audit rate figures can be skewed depending on when the calculation is taking place. For example, he noted that if data is published on rates of audit for the 2021 tax year in 2022, the numbers will be considerably off.

“[W]hen you see these audit rates, don’t jump on that train and say IRS is only auditing .0000 something,” he said. “I go, Wow. Who are these folks we picked up? Right? The average audit gets picked up, particularly for high wealth taxpayer at least 16 months after that return has been filed. Why would we audit in the same calendar year that it’s filed?”

Rettig noted that wealthy people may be filing later toward the extended filing deadline and filing more returns covering multiple years simultaneously, which would push back when audits take place. The would give the appearance that audits for more wealthy taxpayers may not be happening as much as for lower income taxpayers when examining a single-year audit rate.

But in reality, he said that audit rates for those who make more than $10 million “runs right around seven or eight percent. And as of this year, it’s at 8.7 percent. You will see that the $5 to $10 million group runs about 4.2%. You will see the $1 to $5 million group runs about 2.2%. Most of you have done the math and you understand exactly what I’m telling you, you go for the higher income folks.”

After that, the numbers drop off “considerably,” he said.

“The $1 million-and-under person is really the executive who has W-2 and 1099 income and we have that information,” Rettig said. “The over $1 million person is the entrepreneur who has a lot of pass-through entities and whatnot, we don’t have that information,” and they get audited more because of it.

Rettig also used the forum to continue advocacy for more funding and guaranteed funding over multiple years to help improve not only enforcement, but to help improve the services that the agency provides to taxpayers, including hiring for call centers and providing better outreach.

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