- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006


Taxpayers who ask a volunteer for help preparing a tax return risk a 6 in 10 chance that the volunteer will get it wrong, a slight improvement over last year’s odds.

Auditors from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, an independent office that oversees Internal Revenue Service operations, asked volunteers to prepare tax returns for two hypothetical taxpayers.

Only 39 percent of the tax returns were prepared correctly. Last year 34 percent were accurate.

The IRS has been moving away from helping certain taxpayers prepare and file their returns and has been encouraging them to seek assistance at volunteer centers like those audited by Treasury inspectors.

The centers aim to assist low- to moderate-income, elderly and disabled filers, along with people who have limited English skills. The IRS provides training and some support to volunteer centers run by community-based organizations.

The inspectors based their hypothetical taxpayers on features typical to the people who visit volunteer centers.

One scenario concerned a divorced taxpayer with a 10-year-old child who worked as a clerk and received child support. The second scenario had a single taxpayer who lived with her sister and whose three children lived in the household only during the summer.

The scenarios were designed to test the volunteers’ knowledge of some common tax benefits, including the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit and benefits for retirement contributions and dependent care.

In most cases, the errors made were in taxpayers’ favor. In the sampling of hypothetical returns, taxpayers would have gotten a total of $31,828 more than they should have.

In the few cases when taxpayers were deprived of benefits they should have gotten, those taxpayers would have paid $4,411 more in taxes than necessary.

The auditors found that volunteers did not always use interview sheets designed to get basic information from taxpayers before volunteers start preparing a return. In some cases, taxpayers left many answers blank, or volunteers did not use the forms when preparing tax returns.



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