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 upgrades

photo via

The IRS website is getting another makeover within the next few weeks.  It looks like many of the changes will be cosmetic/visual.  Hopefully the “before” isn’t better than the “after.”

I don’t mean to say that the changes will be entirely superficial.  Sometimes it makes sense to rearrange content that was already there before so visitors can navigate to what they want more quickly.  Anything that enhances access to tax relief information is fine by me.

For example, we will have access to subscription services from the home page.  I get IRS news and updates sent direcly to my email inbox, but I can’t remember how I set that up because it was years ago.  So having the ability to add or modify subscriptions right from the home page seems like a positive change.

Some changes to are part of an effort to make the website pages match up better and appear more consistent.  IRS also promises enhanced search capabilities — a very important upgrade from the point of view of a tax attorney, and for a website with such extensive content.

The most interesting change will involve transitioning to an “intent-driven navigation structure.”  I think this means that will attempt to understand what you want to see before you ask to see it based on historical nagivation information that it “learns” as you surf.  We’ll see how this works.  It reminds me of Genius Mixes and Smart Playlists in iTunes.  I haven’t been too impressed with technology that predicts what I like.

IRS Promotes its Spanish Language Website

The Spanish language section of the IRS website is slowly becoming more robust, but it still offers a very limited amount of information compared to the massive amount of content on the main website. Today the IRS highlighted 9 key features to be enjoyed by Spanish speakers on

1. Its a website, so its always accessible, 24/7

2. You can get tax forms and publications in Spanish

3. E-file is available with Spanish instructions

4. You can check the status of your refund

5. The Spanish site includes an Earned Income Tax Credit eligibility tool

6. There is information about assistance for those who are unemployed or who are otherwise suffering a hardship

7. Tax law updates are available in Spanish

8. The Multimedia Center has video and audio content in both English and Spanish

9. Twitter @IRSenEspanol

This seems like a healthy list of features, but this is pretty much everything the site has to offer. Even the “More Topics” link in the “Espanol Topics” menu just takes you to the same topics in the menu itself. Kind of goofy if you ask me, but its getting there.