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Tax Specialists
Significant Points
  • Most jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related field.
  • Job opportunities should be favorable; those who have earned professional recognition through certification or licensure, especially a CPA, should enjoy the best prospects.
  • Much faster than average employment growth will result from an increase in the number of businesses, changing financial laws and regulations, and greater scrutiny of company finances.
Nature of the Work

Work consists of conducting tax examinations of entities such as sole proprietorships, small size C and S corporations, partnerships, fiduciaries, and non-business related individuals. The entities' principal sources of income are from salary, wages, dividends, and investments, and in some instances small businesses, self-employment, and supplemental income.

What Needs To Be Done

Interviews taxpayers, tax practitioners, and accountants to discuss and determine tax laws as they pertain to the taxpayer's situation. Reviews books and records to gain an understanding of the taxpayer's methods of accounting. Analyzes financial statements. Analyzes data to properly apply pertinent tax laws. As required, makes adjustments; initiates credit transfers and payment tracers; recomputes tax, penalty, and interest; prepares manual refunds; makes abatements; and prepares and executes waivers to extend statutes. Provides customer assistance in examinations by explaining issues involving such matters as accounting and its applicability to tax law and regulations, prevention of future delinquencies, and appeal rights. Provides training to tax customers on such matters as technical tax law and accounting policies, practices, and principles, IRS tax programs, and pertinent tax law modifications. May resolve complex customs collection issues concerning wage(s) and investment(s). May also provide technical and procedural advice to taxpayers and their representatives who are involved in examinations and to customers participating in tax training programs.

Difficulty and Originality Involved

Initiative, ingenuity, analytical ability, and resourcefulness are required to plan and execute assignments under a variety of work conditions including the following:

  • pertinent tax laws are not always clear;
  • situations encountered may lack precedent or may match conflicting precedents;
  • records may be incomplete;
  • available data may be unreliable;
  • taxpayers may resist audit findings; and
  • often must depart from past examination approaches and extend traditional techniques or develop new ones.
Examples of Assignments
  • checking data and comparing reports or transactions to source documents, or authorizations against transactions to ensure their acceptability for further processing;
  • drafting simple instructions to describe internal accounting procedures for a procedures manual to be prepared by a senior accountant;
  • assisting senior auditors in executing portions of an audit plan that tracks process flow, verifies reported data, or assures that functional operating instructions generate desired results;
  • conducting searches of budget and financial records to provide factual data on the amount and type of funds available for submission to others within the employing entity who will use the data to prepare budget estimates and reprogramming actions;
  • serving as a source of information on specific rules and procedures governing the processing of routine budgetary actions; and/or
  • examining all portions of income tax returns to determine tentatively whether income is substantially correct and submit work to a supervisor with recommendations on taxpayers’ tax liabilities.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Many tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents have a bachelor's degree. But relevant experience, or a combination of postsecondary education and experience, is sufficient qualification for many jobs. Specialized experience is sufficient to qualify for many jobs in State and local government.

Education and training. In the Federal Government, workers must have a bachelor's degree or a combination of some college education and related experience. After being hired by the IRS, employees can expect to attend several multiweek training seminars. In State and local governments, workers often have an associate degree, some college-level business classes and specialized experience, or a high school diploma and specialized experience.

For more advanced entry-level positions, applicants often must have a bachelor's degree. Candidates may sometimes qualify without a bachelor's degree, however, if they can demonstrate experience working with tax records, tax laws and regulations, documents, financial accounts, or similar records.

Specific education and training requirements vary by occupational specialty.

Tax examiners usually must have a bachelor's degree in accounting or a related discipline or a combination of education and full-time accounting, auditing, or tax compliance work. Tax examiner candidates at the IRS must have a bachelor's degree or one year of full-time specialized experience, which could include full-time work in accounting, bookkeeping, or tax analysis. After they are hired, tax examiners receive some formal training. In addition, annual employer-provided updates keep tax examiners current with changes in procedures and regulations.

Collectors usually must have some combination of college education and experience in collections, management, customer service, or tax compliance, or as a loan officer or credit manager. A bachelor's degree is required for employment as a collector with the IRS. No additional experience is required, and experience may not be substituted for the degree. Degrees in business, finance, accounting, and criminal justice are good backgrounds.

Entry-level collectors receive formal and on-the-job training under an instructor's guidance before working independently. Collectors usually complete initial training by the end of their second year of service, but may receive advanced technical instruction as they gain seniority and take on more difficult cases. Also, collectors are encouraged to continue their professional education by attending meetings to exchange information about how changes in tax laws affect collection methods.

Revenue agents usually must have a bachelor's degree in accounting, business administration, economics, or a related discipline or a combination of education and full-time business administration, accounting, or auditing work. Revenue agents with the IRS must have either a bachelor's degree or 30 semester hours of accounting coursework along with specialized experience. Specialized experience includes full-time work in accounting, bookkeeping, or tax analysis.

Other qualifications. Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents work with confidential financial and personal information; therefore, trustworthiness is crucial for maintaining the confidentiality of individuals and businesses. Applicants for Federal Government jobs must submit to a background investigation.

Collectors need good interpersonal and communication skills because they deal directly with the public and because their reports are scrutinized when the tax agency must legally justify attempts to seize assets. They must be able to negotiate well and deal effectively with others in potentially confrontational situations.

Revenue agents need strong analytical, organizational, and time management skills. They also must be able to work independently, because they spend so much time away from their home office, and they must keep current with changes in the tax code and laws. Revenue agents that travel need a valid driver’s license to perform their duties.

Advancement. Advancement potential within Federal, State, and local agencies varies for tax examiners, revenue agents, and collectors. For related jobs outside government, experienced workers can take a licensing exam administered by the Federal Government to become enrolled agents—nongovernment tax professionals authorized to represent taxpayers before the IRS.

Collectors who demonstrate leadership skills and a thorough knowledge of collection activities may advance to supervisory or managerial collector positions, in which they oversee the activities of other collectors. It is only these higher level supervisors and managers who may authorize the more serious actions against individuals and businesses. The more complex collection attempts which usually are directed at larger businesses are reserved for collectors at these higher levels.

Newly hired revenue agents expand their accounting knowledge and remain up to date by consulting auditing manuals and other sources for detailed information about individual industries. Employers also continually offer training in new auditing techniques and tax-related issues and court decisions. As revenue agents gain knowledge and experience, they may specialize in an industry, work with large corporations, and cover increasingly complex tax returns. Some revenue agent advancement specialties involve assisting in criminal investigations, auditing the books of suspected criminals, working with grand juries to help secure indictments, or becoming an international agent.

Employment

Accountants and auditors held about 1.3 million jobs in 2008. They worked throughout private industry and government, but 24 percent of accountants and auditors worked for accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services firms. Approximately 8 percent of accountants and auditors were self-employed.

Most accountants and auditors work in urban areas, where public accounting firms and central or regional offices of businesses are concentrated.

Some individuals with backgrounds in accounting and auditing are full-time college and university faculty; others teach part time while working as self-employed accountants or as accountants for private industry or in government.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average, while retirements over the next 10 years should create additional job openings at all levels of government.

Employment change. Employment of tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents is projected to grow 13 percent during the 2008-18 decade, which is considered as fast as the average. Demand for tax examiners, revenue agents, and tax collectors will stem from changes in government policy toward tax enforcement and from growth in the number of businesses.

Two factors should increase the demand for revenue agents and tax collectors—the Federal Government is expected to increase its tax enforcement efforts, and new technology and information sharing among tax agencies make it easier for agencies to pinpoint potential offenders, increasing the number of cases for audit and collection.

The work of tax examiners is especially well suited to automation, adversely affecting demand for these workers in particular. In addition, more than 40 States and many local tax agencies contract out part of their tax collection functions to private-sector collection agencies in order to reduce costs, and this trend is likely to continue. The IRS outsourced some tax collection activities, but the agency is ending this practice.

Job prospects. The large number of retirements expected over the next 10 years is expected to create many job openings at all levels of government. Both State and Federal tax agencies are continuing to focus enforcement on higher income taxpayers and businesses, which file more complicated tax returns. Because of this, workers with knowledge of accounting, tax laws, and experience working with complex tax issues will have the best opportunities.

Competition will be greatest for positions with the IRS. Opportunities at the Federal level will reflect the tightening or relaxation of budget constraints imposed on the IRS, the primary employer of these workers.

Employment at the State and local levels may fluctuate with the overall state of the economy. When the economy is contracting, State and local governments are likely to freeze hiring and lay off workers in response to budgetary constraints.

Earnings

In May 2008, median annual wages for all tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents were $48,100. The middle 50 percent earned between $36,590 and $66,730. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $28,390, and the top 10 percent earned more than $89,630. However, wages vary considerably, depending on the level of government and occupational specialty. For example, in March 2009, the Federal Government’s average annual salary was $42,035 for tax examiners, $91,507 for internal revenue agents, and $63,547 for tax specialists.

IRS employees receive family, vacation, and sick leave. Full-time permanent IRS employees are offered tax-deferred retirement savings and investment plans with employer matching contributions, health insurance, and life insurance.

Sources of Additional Information

Information on obtaining positions as tax examiners, collectors, or revenue agents with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978) 461-8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result.

State or local government personnel offices can provide information about tax examiner, collector, or revenue agent jobs at those levels of government.

For information about careers at the Internal Revenue Service, contact:

Information on obtaining Tax Specialist positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Correctional Officers.

 


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