The IRS Oversight Board has released the results of its 2010 Taxpayer Attitude Survey showing that taxpayers feel that income tax cheating is unacceptable and are generally satisfied with their personal interaction with the IRS.
The nine-member IRS Oversight Board was created by the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-206) to oversee the IRS as it executes that act’s mandate that it better serve the public and meet taxpayer needs. The board has conducted annual taxpayer attitude surveys since 2002. This year’s survey was conducted last August, and received answers from 1,000 respondents over the age of 18 (500 men and 500 women). The survey had a margin of error of +/– 3%.
Attitudes About Paying Taxes
In this year’s survey, 87% of the respondents said that it is “not at all” acceptable to cheat on your income taxes. This is an increase from 81% in the 2003 survey. At the other end of the spectrum, 4% of respondents answered that it is acceptable to cheat “as much as possible.” In every survey since 2003, between 3% and 5% of respondents have answered “as much as possible.”
Perhaps as a corollary to this, 97% of respondents completely or mostly agreed that “[i]t is every American’s civic duty to pay their fair share of taxes,” and 96% completely or mostly agreed with the statement, “Everyone who cheats on their taxes should be held accountable.” However, 27% of respondents completely or mostly agreed with the statement, “Taxpayers should just have to pay what they feel is a fair amount.”
When asked how much influence various factors had on whether they report and pay their taxes honestly, 64% of respondents said fear of an audit had a great deal or somewhat of an influence, and 66% said third-party reporting of their income to the IRS had a great deal or somewhat of an influence. However, the factor that respondents reported had the greatest influence was personal integrity, which 92% of respondents said had a great deal or somewhat of an influence on whether they report and pay their taxes honestly.
In the 2003 survey, 88% of respondents said personal integrity had a great deal or somewhat of an influence; 59% said fear of an audit; and 64% said third-party reporting of their income. The least influential factor was “Belief that your neighbors are reporting and paying honestly.” In 2010, 44% of respondents cited that as a great or somewhat of an influence compared with 38% in 2003.
Attitudes About the IRS
Survey respondents said they would be willing to wait on hold an average of 11 minutes to speak to an IRS customer service representative when calling the IRS toll-free number (the median answer was nine minutes). In her 2009 report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said that the IRS keeps callers on hold an average of nine minutes. In that report, she urged the IRS to answer 85% of taxpayer calls within five minutes; the survey indicated that 54% of respondents would be willing to wait longer than five minutes to speak to an IRS customer representative.
When asked about their personal interaction with the IRS (which includes filing a tax return), 77% of respondents said they were very or somewhat satisfied with the experience; this represents a decline from 82% in the 2003 survey.
Finally, the survey asked about IRS oversight of tax return preparers. In response to the statement “tax preparers [should] be required to meet standards of [c]ompetency in order to enter the tax preparation business,” 94% of respondents thought that this was very or somewhat important (compared with 87% in 2007, the first year the question was asked). In response to the statement “tax preparers [should] be required to meet standards of [e]thical behavior in order to enter the tax preparation business,” 94% of respondents agreed this was very or somewhat important (compared with 86% in 2007).