Because of the relatively small number of openings, jobseekers
can expect to face competition; workers with knowledge of tax
laws and experience working with complex tax issues will have
the best opportunities.
Taxes are one of the certainties of life, and as long as
governments collect taxes, there will be jobs for tax examiners,
collectors, and revenue agents. By reviewing tax returns,
conducting audits, identifying taxes payable, and collecting
overdue tax dollars, these workers ensure that governments
obtain revenues from businesses and citizens.
Tax examiners do similar work whether they are employed at
the Federal, State, or local government level. They review
filed tax returns for accuracy and determine whether tax credits
and deductions are allowed by law. Because many States assess
individual income taxes based on the taxpayer’s reported Federal
adjusted gross income, tax examiners working for the Federal
Government report any adjustments or corrections they make
to the States. State tax examiners then determine whether
the adjustments affect the taxpayer’s State tax liability.
At the local level, tax examiners often have additional duties,
but an integral part of the work still includes the need to
determine the factual basis for claims for refunds.
Tax examiners usually deal with the simplest tax returns—those
filed by individual taxpayers with few deductions or those
filed by small businesses. At the entry level, many tax examiners
perform clerical duties, such as reviewing tax returns and
entering them into a computer system for processing. If there
is a problem, tax examiners may contact the taxpayer to resolve
Tax examiners also review returns for accuracy, checking
taxpayers’ math and making sure that the amounts that they
report match those reported from other sources, such as employers
and banks. In addition, examiners verify that Social Security
numbers match names and that taxpayers have correctly interpreted
the instructions on tax forms.
Much of a tax examiner’s job involves making sure that tax
credits and deductions claimed by taxpayers are legitimate.
Tax examiners contact taxpayers by mail or telephone to address
discrepancies and request supporting documentation. They may
notify taxpayers of any overpayment or underpayment and either
issue a refund or request further payment. If a taxpayer owes
additional taxes, tax examiners adjust the total amount by
assessing fees, interest, and penalties and notify the taxpayer
of the total liability. Although most tax examiners deal with
uncomplicated returns, some may work in more complex tax areas,
such as pensions or business net operating losses.
Revenue agents specialize in tax-related accounting work
for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and for equivalent
agencies in State and local governments. Like tax examiners,
they audit returns for accuracy. However, revenue agents handle
complicated income, sales, and excise tax returns of businesses
and large corporations. As a result, their work differs in
a number of ways from that of tax examiners.
Entry-level Federal revenue agents usually audit tax returns
of small businesses whose market specializations are similar.
As they develop expertise in an industry, such as construction,
retail sales, or finance, insurance, and real estate, revenue
agents work with tax returns of larger corporations.
Many experienced revenue agents specialize; for example,
they may focus exclusively on multinational businesses. But
all revenue agents working for the Federal Government must
keep abreast of the lengthy, complex, and frequently changing
tax code. Computer technology has simplified the research
process, allowing revenue agents Internet access to relevant
legal bulletins, IRS notices, and tax-related court decisions.
Revenue agents are increasingly using computers to analyze
data and identify trends that help to pinpoint tax offenders.
At the State level, revenue agents have duties similar to
those of their counterparts in the Federal Government. State
revenue agents use revenue adjustment reports forwarded by
the IRS to determine whether adjustments made by Federal revenue
agents affect a taxpayer’s taxable income in the eyes of the
States. In addition, State agents consider the sales and income
taxes for their own States.
At the local level, revenue agents have varying titles and
duties, but they still perform field audits or office audits
of financial records for business firms. In some cases, local
revenue agents also examine financial records of individuals.
These local agents, like their State counterparts, rely on
the information contained in Federal tax returns. However,
local agents also must be knowledgeable enough to apply local
tax laws regarding income, utility fees, or school taxes.
Collectors, also called revenue officers in the IRS, deal
with delinquent accounts. The process of collecting a delinquent
account starts with the revenue agent or tax examiner sending
a report to the taxpayer. If the taxpayer makes no effort
to resolve the delinquent account, the case is assigned to
a collector. When a collector takes a case, he or she first
sends the taxpayer a notice. The collector then works with
the taxpayer on how to settle the debt.
In cases in which taxpayers fail to file a tax return, Federal
collectors may request that the IRS prepare the return on
a taxpayer’s behalf. In other instances, collectors are responsible
for verifying claims that delinquent taxpayers cannot pay
their taxes. They investigate these claims by researching
court information on the status of liens, mortgages, or financial
statements; locating assets through third parties, such as
neighbors or local departments of motor vehicles; and requesting
legal summonses for other records. Ultimately, collectors
must decide whether the IRS should take a lien—a claim on
an asset such as a bank account, real estate, or an automobile—to
settle a debt. Collectors also have the discretion to garnish
wages—that is, take a portion of earned wages—to collect taxes
A big part of a collector’s job at the Federal level is imposing
and following up on delinquent taxpayers’ payment deadlines.
For each case file, collectors must maintain records, including
contacts, telephone numbers, and actions taken.
Like tax examiners and revenue agents, collectors use computers
to maintain files. Computer technology also gives collectors
access to data to help them identify high-risk debtors—those
who are unlikely to pay or are likely to flee.
Collectors at the IRS usually work independently. However,
they call on experts when tax examiners or revenue agents
find fraudulent returns, or when the seizure of a property
will involve complex legal steps.
At the State level, collectors decide whether to take action
on the basis of their own States’ tax returns. Collection
work may be handled over the telephone or turned over to a
collector who specializes in obtaining settlements. These
collectors contact people directly and have the authority
to issue subpoenas and request seizures of property. At the
local levels, collectors have less power than their State
and Federal counterparts. Although they can start the processes
leading to the seizure of property and garnishment of wages,
they must go through the local court system.
Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents generally work
a 40-hour week, although some overtime might be needed during
the tax season. State and local tax examiners, who may review
sales, gasoline, and cigarette taxes instead of handling tax
returns, may have a steadier workload year-round. Stress can
result from the need to work under a deadline in checking
returns and evaluating taxpayer claims. Collectors also must
face the unpleasant task of confronting delinquent taxpayers.
Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents work in clean,
well-lighted offices, either in cubicles or at desks. Sometimes
travel is necessary. Revenue agents at both the Federal and
State levels spend a significant portion of their time in
the offices of private firms, accessing tax-related records.
Some agents may be permanently stationed in the offices of
large corporations with complicated tax structures. Agents
at the local level usually work in city halls or municipal
buildings. Collectors travel to local courthouses, county
and municipal seats of government, businesses, and taxpayers’
homes to look up records, search for assets, and settle delinquent
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents work with confidential
financial and personal information; therefore, trustworthiness
is crucial for maintaining the confidentiality of individuals
and businesses. Applicants for Federal Government jobs must
submit to a background investigation.
A degree in accounting is becoming the standard source of
training for tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents.
A bachelor’s degree generally is required for employment with
the Federal Government. In State and local governments, prospective
workers may be able to enter the occupation with an associate’s
degree in accounting or with a combination of related tax
and accounting work experience and some college-level business
classes. For more advanced entry-level positions, applicants
must have a bachelor’s degree; demonstrate specialized experience
working with tax records, tax laws and regulations, documents,
financial accounts, or similar records; or have some combination
of postsecondary education and specialized experience.
Tax examiners must be able to understand fundamental tax
regulations and procedures, pay attention to detail, and cope
well with deadlines. After they are hired, tax examiners receive
some formal training. In addition, annual employer-provided
updates keep tax examiners current with changes in procedures
Revenue agents need strong analytical, organizational, and
time management skills. They also must be able to work independently,
because they spend so much time away from their home office,
and they must keep current with changes in the tax code and
laws. Newly hired revenue agents expand their accounting knowledge
and remain up to date by consulting auditing manuals and other
sources for detailed information about individual industries.
Employers also continually offer training in new auditing
techniques and tax-related issues and court decisions.
Collectors need good interpersonal and communication skills
because they deal directly with the public and because their
reports are scrutinized when the IRS must legally justify
attempts to seize assets. They also must be able to act independently
and to exercise good judgment in deciding when and how to
collect a debt. Applicants for collector jobs need experience
demonstrating knowledge of business and financial practices
or knowledge of credit operations and collection of delinquent
Entry-level collectors receive formal and on-the-job training
under an instructor’s guidance before working independently.
Collectors usually complete initial training by the end of
their second year of service, but may receive advanced technical
instruction as they gain seniority and take on more difficult
cases. Also, collectors are encouraged to continue their professional
education by attending meetings to exchange information about
how changes in tax laws affect collection methods.
Advancement potential within Federal, State, and local agencies
varies for tax examiners, revenue agents, and collectors.
For related jobs outside government, experienced workers can
take a licensing exam administered by the Federal Government
to become enrolled agents—nongovernment tax professionals
authorized to represent taxpayers before the IRS.
As revenue agents gain experience, they may specialize in
an industry, work with larger corporations, and cover increasingly
complex tax returns. Some revenue agents also specialize in
assisting in criminal investigations, auditing the books of
known or suspected criminals such as drug dealers or money
launderers. Some agents work with grand juries to help secure
indictments. Others become international agents, assessing
taxes on companies with subsidiaries abroad.
Collectors who demonstrate leadership skills and a thorough
knowledge of collection activities may advance to supervisory
or managerial collector positions, in which they oversee the
activities of other collectors. It is only these higher level
supervisors and managers who may authorize the more serious
actions against individuals and businesses. The more complex
collection attempts, which usually are directed at larger
businesses, are reserved for collectors at these higher levels.
In 2004, tax examiners, revenue agents, and collectors held
about 76,000 jobs at all levels of government. About half
worked for the Federal Government, 3 out of 10 for State governments,
and the remainder in local governments. Among those employed
by the IRS, tax examiners and revenue agents predominate because
of the need to examine or audit tax returns. Collectors make
up a smaller proportion, because most disputed tax liabilities
do not require enforced collection.
Employment of tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents
is projected to grow more slowly than the average for all
occupations during the 2004-14 projection period. Because
of the relatively small number of openings, jobseekers can
expect to face competition.
Demand for tax examiners, revenue agents, and tax collectors
will stem from changes in government policy toward tax enforcement
and from growth in the number of businesses. The Federal Government
is expected to increase its tax enforcement efforts. Also,
new technology and information sharing among tax agencies
make it easier for agencies to pinpoint potential offenders,
increasing the number of cases for audit and collection. These
two factors should increase the demand for revenue agents
and tax collectors. The IRS plans to streamline its tax examination
and collections process, and both State and Federal tax agencies
are turning their enforcement focus to higher income taxpayers
and businesses, which file more complicated tax returns. Because
of these shifts, workers with knowledge of tax laws and experience
working with complex tax issues will have the best opportunities.
Several factors may limit the growth of these occupations.
Because much of the simpler work done by tax examiners, collectors,
and revenue agents is now computerized, productivity has increased,
limiting the need for more workers. The work of tax examiners
is especially well suited to automation, adversely affecting
demand for these workers in particular. In addition, more
than 40 States and many local tax agencies contract out their
tax collection functions to private-sector collection agencies
in order to reduce costs, and this trend is likely to continue.
In 2005, the IRS received Congressional approval to begin
outsourcing tax collection. IRS outsourcing will dampen growth
in employment of revenue officers but is not expected to affect
employment of revenue agents.
Employment at the State and local levels may fluctuate with
the overall state of the economy. When the economy is contracting,
State and local governments are likely to freeze hiring and
lay off workers in response to budgetary constraints. Opportunities
at the Federal level will reflect the tightening or relaxation
of budget constraints imposed on the IRS, the primary employer
of these workers.
In May 2004, median annual earnings for all tax examiners,
collectors, and revenue agents were $43,490. The middle 50
percent earned between $32,520 and $62,570. The bottom 10
percent earned less than $25,120, and the top 10 percent earned
more than $81,240.
However, median earnings vary considerably, depending on
the level of government. At the Federal level, May 2004 median
annual earnings for tax examiners were $52,830; at the State
level, they were $41,920; and at the local level, they were
$31,310. Earnings also vary by occupational specialty. For
example, in the Federal Government in 2005, tax examiners
earned an average of $36,963, revenue agents earned $81,417,
and tax specialists earned $54,364.
Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents analyze and
interpret financial data. Occupations with similar responsibilities
include accountants and auditors, budget analysts, cost estimators,
financial analysts and personal financial advisors, financial
managers, and loan officers. See the Career
Database for more information on these careers.
Information on obtaining positions as tax examiners, collectors,
or revenue agents with the Federal Government is available
from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the
Federal Government’s official employment information system.
This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities
can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may
State or local government personnel offices can provide information
about tax examiner, collector, or revenue agent jobs at those
levels of government.
For information about careers at the Internal Revenue Service,
- Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Ave. NW.,
Washington, D.C. 20224. Internet: http://www.jobs.irs.gov/index.html
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Occupational Outlook Handbook,