Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Relax, the IRS Is Calling

January 18, 2002

The Internal Revenue Service, that faceless, confounding federal bureaucracy that annually rises from the dark depths of our winter subconscious, has decided to reinstitute a random national tax audit that will affect thousands of Americans. This is scary stuff because next to nightmares about arriving for the first day of school to find final exams being handed out, the worst dream for many of us is being summoned for a tax audit of our 1999 return--and finding the desk drawer full of tax files labeled 1994-1998, plus the 2000 folder.

So relax and read these figures to put into perspective a much-touted IRS crackdown that just happens to have been announced when all those W2s and 1099s are arriving at our homes: According to a very friendly agency spokeswoman, IRS numbers (unaudited) show that last year 127,590,270 personal tax returns were filed. That's an awful lot of 1040s, Line 37s and Combined Totals from Previous Lines. This April's total is projected at 132 million. Of those, the IRS has sternly announced a random audit of 49,000, a tiny football crowd.

Eight thousand will be computer-checked, 9,000 filers might get a letter with a stomach-sinking IRS return address and 30,000 returns could involve meetings. But there will be only 2,000 line-by-line audits, the filer sitting at some agent's desk with his happy family photos looking on. And you say, "Well, that's certainly a nice-looking family you have! Would you like to see pictures of my poor family?"

The new audit is called the National Research Program, which sounds like a CIA front. What it resembles is highway troopers parking empty patrol cars in interstate medians on Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend. Just to be on the safe side, you slow down, at least enough to see whether there's an occupant. Remember, too, this is an election year. The IRS doesn't want to be a target of House incumbents who will be voting on the next IRS budget come fall or of any pol looking for a whipping boy.

Yes, even a statistically vanishing chance of an audit will shape up some cheaters. Some individuals do, shall we say, minimize taxes, though rarely on a scale of a certain Houston energy trading company. Few families have nearly 900 subsidiaries in tax-haven countries.

The IRS estimates total 1998 tax cheating at $278 billion, a little under $1,000 per American. (Cheating figures for 1999 are apparently still being totaled). A while back the IRS began requiring a Social Security number with the name of each child deduction; suddenly, 7 million American children vanished, a mass abduction never fully explained. But that's another editorial.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|