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William Byrnes (Texas A&M) tax & compliance articles

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The IRS Inappropriately Bans Many Taxpayers but a 22.7% Improper Payment Persists Regardless

Posted by William Byrnes on February 11, 2014


The National Taxpayer Advocate provides the following  > report information < on the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Earned Income Tax Credit and Family Credits

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income-earning individuals and families. If you qualify, the credit could be a maximum amount of up to $6,044 in 2013. This means you could pay less or no federal tax or even get a refund.

The EITC is based on your earned income and whether or not there are qualifying children in your household. You must file a tax return to claim the EITC and if you have children, they must meet the relationship, age and residency requirements.

What is the EITC?

A taxpayer may qualify for the EITC if you worked any part of last year and made less than $51,000 in 2013.  Read more about the EITC, how to file for it, and how to receive a refund:

IRS Incorrectly Bans Many Taxpayers from Claiming EITC

The National Taxpayer Advocate reported that the IRS Incorrectly Bans Many Taxpayers from Claiming EITC (see > Taxpayer Advocate Report on EITC < )  Excerpted from the National Taxpayer Advocate report…

Section 32(k) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) authorizes the IRS to ban taxpayers from claiming the earned income tax credit (EITC) for two years if the IRS determines they claimed the credit improperly due to reckless or intentional disregard of rules and regulations.  This standard requires more than mere negligence on the part of the taxpayer.

According to IRS Chief Counsel guidance, a taxpayer’s failure to participate in an EITC audit does not justify imposing the ban.  Once the IRS imposes the ban, any EITC claimed in the next two years will be disallowed even if the taxpayer is otherwise eligible for the credit.

IRS data shows:

  • The IRS imposed the ban improperly almost 40 percent of the time in 2011;
  • Taxpayers who were (but for the 2011 ban) eligible for the credit in the following two years were deprived of a tax benefit that averaged more than $4,600 for the two years combined.

In a representative sample of two-year ban cases, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) found:

  • In 19 percent of the cases, the IRS imposed the ban solely because EITC had been disallowed in a previous year;
  • In only 10 percent of the cases did a taxpayer’s response to the audit raise the possibility that he or she had the requisite state of mind to justify the two-year ban;
  • In 69 percent of the cases, the ban was imposed without required managerial approval;
  • In almost 90 percent of the cases, neither IRS work papers nor communications to the taxpayer contained the required explanation of why the ban was imposed; and
  • Taxpayers’ average income was about $15,500.

Low income taxpayers face unique obstacles in learning EITC rules and substantiating their entitlement to the credit, but IRS procedures do not take this into account. Instead, the IRS applies the two-year ban on the basis of unexamined assumptions about the taxpayer’s state of mind or even presupposes reckless or intentional disregard of the rules and regulations, potentially causing significant harm to taxpayers who may be entitled to EITC in a subsequent year.

Treasury > reports < that the other benefit programs results in high administrative costs and low error because of the necessity of the pre-qualification for benefits by a caseworker, whereas the EITC’s program’s administrative costs are less than 1% of the program benefits.  The Treasury report continues that “the IRS screens EITC claims against certain criteria and also conducts approximately 500,000 audits of claims annually.”

Almost a Quarter of EITC Payments are in Error

Yet, considering that the IRS improperly bans taxpayers from the EITC program and performs 500,000 audits of EITC claims annually, 22.7% of the EITC is improperly paid.  A challenging problem to be addressed.  Low administrative cost but high rate of improper denial of eligibility and high rate of improper payment.  Send me (or use comments below) suggestions of how these problems may be mitigated.

2012: $55.4B Total Payments (Outlays) with $12.6B Improper Payments = 22.7% Improper Payment Rate

FISCAL REPORTING YEAR IMPROPER AMOUNT (IN BILLIONS) IMPROPER RATE
2010 $16.9 26.3%
2011 $15.2 23.5%
2012 $12.6 22.7%
2013 $13.2 22.8%
2014 $11.8 22.8%

Treasury’s EITC Program Comments

A number of factors unique to the EITC program trigger errors.  The complexity of the law contributes to confusion around eligibility requirements, mainly qualifying child relationship and residency rules.  Other factors include high program turnover of one-third annually, return preparer errors, and fraud.

The IRS will continue to address EITC noncompliance through its aggressive compliance program which includes examinations, reviews of income misreporting, systemic corrections during tax return processing, and an enhanced focus on paid return preparers.  Because tax return preparers handle two-thirds of returns claiming the EITC, the Department of the Treasury expects the implementation of new preparer requirements for registration, competency testing, continuing education, and compliance checks will improve EITC compliance, decrease fraud, and reduce overall program noncompliance.

Additional information on the program is also provided annually in the department’s Performance and Accountability Report

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