IRS Stat Interpretation

I always find it interesting that when the IRS comes out with new statistics, they try to distort them ever so slightly to appear more in their favor.  Or the IRS will highlight one thing and downplay another.  Most of the time it’s hard to see what benefit they find in this.  Here is an example I found on the News & Events page of the IRS website that compares data from May 10, 2013 with data gathered at this time last year.

The article bears the title “More Taxpayers e-file from home in 2013,” which also happens to be the first distortion.  There are a number of statistics on this page, including the drop in number of refunds issued, the drop in refund dollar amounts, and the drop in total money refunded countrywide.  That’s a pretty important statistic, isn’t it?  And never mind the fact that the total number of tax returns received so far has dropped as well as the total number of tax returns that have been processed.  That kind of information could have made an equally relevant title, right?

And the most drastic percentage change (in this news release) from 2012 to 2013 was regarding visits.  As of May last year, 255,269,615 people had accessed the IRS website looking for information about their individual tax questions.  This year that number climbed to 318,408,842.  That’s a 24.7 percent increase!  This was also a stat that the IRS liked because they flagged it and noted that “More people are using to get answers, file their returns and resolve issues.”  But are they really obtaining a positive result on the website?  This is the way I interpret the stat: the IRS can’t take many taxpayer calls because there is not enough money to hire the right number of personnel, so people have resorted to finding things on their own on

The IRS Book of Numbers

Nowhere else will you ever see as many “millions,” “billions,” and “trillions” than in the Annual IRS Data Book.  The 2011 IRS Data Book was released this week and, once again, it is teeming with large, almost incomprehensible numbers; just the kind of thing that makes a tax attorney smile.

The Data Book is the number one source for statistics related to return filing, refunds, revenue collected, enforcement, taxpayer assistance, IRS budget, and IRS workforce.  Here is a small sampling of some of the huge numbers reported in the 2011 Data Book:

  • IRS collected $2.4 trillion in 2011
  • IRS processed over 234 million tax returns
  • Taxpayers filed more than 133 million returns electronically (77% of all individual returns)
  • IRS paid almost $338 billion in refunds
  • IRS examined 1.1 percent of all individual income tax returns
  • IRS examined 1.5 percent of all corporate income tax returns
  • 319 million visits to for taxpayer assistance
  • 83 million walk-ins and phone calls for taxpayer assistance

If you’ve never seen the annual data book, it may be worth your time to take a look.  It is interesting to see the progression of total revenue collected year-by-year beginning in 1960, or compare revenue collected by state or by type of tax.  Just don’t inadvertently hit your print button because everything about the publication is huge, including the page count — 74