The Internal Revenue Service is an important department within the United States government, also known as the IRS. This name and its initials aren’t very fondly thought of, unless you have a bachelor’s degree in accounting and are interested in a career as a tax preparer, Enrolled Agent, IRS auditor, or another similar roll within the accounting profession. As long as you have your accounting degree, a degree in a related field from an accredited school, or it’s in progress, you’re likely to be able to find a job with the IRS, though you'll likely only have access to entry-level positions. But, you will probably also need your certified public accountant (CPA) certificate or training as an enrolled agent if you want to gain access to work as an IRS auditor or a higher-level position.
Within the mission of the IRS, it works to provide help to taxpayers who comply with the law, taking care of any issues they may have with their individual tax returns and answering their general questions about tax planning. The agency also targets those taxpayers who try to cheat on their taxes owed, ensuring that they will eventually pay what they owe on their account.
What is the IRS?
The IRS is the Internal Revenue Service, a government bureau contained within the federal Department of the Treasury. This is the agency that collects your federal taxes. Three divisions inside the IRS take care of three different populations of taxpayers. The first is the Small Business and Self-Employed Division, or SB/SE. It’s pretty self-explanatory. This is the office that will receive the tax returns from the self-employed and small-business owners of the U.S.
The second division is the Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division, or the TE/GE. This area ensures that every tax-exempt organization and government entity is following current tax laws. The work is exacting and they offer assistance and information where needed.
Finally, the third division is the Large Business and International Division or LB&I. Here, the accountants and clerks are solely responsible for the tax documents sent in by large businesses and businesses with an international presence. Here, they process more complicated types of tax forms and ensure the content is up to date and compliant with law. Each employee in each of these divisions must have a deep understanding in terms of what the government may require of every individual or business.
Internal revenue agents are essentially auditors. They review each taxpayer’s tax returns with a virtual magnifying glass. When these auditors are auditing anyone’s taxes, they will go to that person’s state, city, business, or home looking for additional documentation that proves the taxpayer’s submitted paperwork. They are trying to verify whether or not the taxpayer was fully honest in completing their tax form. These are entry-level positions in which most IRS agents begin their careers. They can opt to work as a generalist within the agency or they can choose to work as a tax specialist, focusing on one technical aspect of tax law.
Because the IRS is contained within the Treasury Department, it’s vitally important that the work the IRS does is accurate. The Treasury and the entire government rely heavily on every tax dollar that is collected and that’s why, as taxpayers, we are expected to honestly report every source of income.
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Working for the IRS as a professional requires that you hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting, or a degree in a similar field with plenty of coursework in accounting. If you want to move into a management role, then earning graduate level knowledge and/or an advanced degree will improve your chances.
College graduates with accounting and legal degrees can apply for a position as an appeals officer or an artificial intelligence analyst attorney. For those applicants with skills or a degree in computer science, openings for computer specialists or information technology specialists may also be available.
There’s also the expected positions for IRS agents, internal revenue officer, and mathematical statisticians. Every one of these requires that you earn a related college degree as a student.
Analyst positions allow you to dig deep into the data handed to you. Whether you’re applying for a position as a program evaluation and risk analyst, a program analyst, operations research analyst, or a policy analyst, the work you do requires that you look for the tiniest, but most important details. You’ll write and submit highly detailed reports that your supervisor will use in determining any changes to be made to tax policy.
Compliance officers and tax examiners go through those tax returns that have been selected for audit. They will have to have at least one of a few certifications in hand before the IRS hires them into this position. During the application phase, applicants will have to prove that they have the knowledge necessary to carry out their job duties. After all, they are responsible for calculating everything sent in by taxpayers or their tax preparer. If they find errors, omissions, even attempts to hide income, they will have to act on everything they find, even if the taxpayer may have made an honest mistake.
If a taxpayer has experienced an event that has made it impossible to earn an income or pay any taxes that they do owe, they can ask for temporary relief from filing their taxes. They will have to show proof that the disaster has seriously impacted their life, including their ability to file and/or pay their taxes.
The work environment for these agents (sometimes credentialed as an Enrolled Agent if they offer a taxpayer advocate service), tax collectors, and each tax preparer is most often inside the offices of federal, state, and local governments. If they are working on a tax audit, they may be working in the field for a time in whatever state or precinct where they are needed. Otherwise, they will be working inside their office as IRS employees.
The IRS has established basic requirements for internal revenue workers, assuring tax compliance in accordance with the tax code and all kinds of tax forms. This includes educational requirements. Every revenue agent is required to complete an accounting degree as students at a four-year university. These courses are supposed to include upper-level classwork that every junior and senior takes before graduating.
The coursework in accounting has to include principles of accounting, cost accounting, auditing and both intermediate and advanced accounting.
Completed introductory courses should include introduction to accounting 1 and II, introduction to financial accounting, principles of accounting 1 and II, introduction to managerial accounting, and principles of financial accounting.
Examples of intermediate accounting include financial accounting, intermediate accounting 1, II and III and introduction to financial reporting.
Don’t forget about cost accounting courses. You should have taken cost accounting, managerial/cost accounting, managerial accounting and principles of managerial accounting.
Advanced accounting requires the most effort. This includes courses in government and non-profit accounting, accounting for international environments, advanced accounting, accounting/non-profit organizations, advanced accounting problems, advanced accounting theory, advanced financial accounting, advanced financial reporting principles, advanced and non-profit accounting, consolidations and mergers, consolidations and equity issues, financial accounting III, consolidation and partnership, government accounting, financial accounting III, governmental accounting, government entities, governmental and institutional accounting, international accounting and government and non-profit accounting.
If you apply to work as an auditor, you should have taken classes in introduction to auditing, auditing and control, auditing theory and practice, and assurance services.
Remember, all of this is for an entry-level revenue agent and you can't do much to skip this ste pand move up in the department. If you want to advance within the IRS, you’re going to have to have a master’s degree or the equivalent in accounting experience. Plus, you may have to have your CPA license, which means you'll sign up for and take the Uniform CPA examination and earn a passing score on each of the four sections of the test. Working at the IRS is a mentally demanding job and you’ll have to have the educational background and necessary tools to succeed.
Before you first apply for a position at the IRS, take the certification exams for the accounting role you’re most interested in or qualified for.
Certified Public Accountants (CPA) should pass the Uniform CPA Exam and obtain their main certification, as well as keep up with any necessary continuing education.
Enrolled agents are licensed by the IRS. Before beginning to work as an IRS auditor, they are supposed to take a three-part Special Enrollment exam that allows them to show their knowledge of individual and business client tax preparation, financial planning, and client representation. Every three years, they have to submit proof that they have completed 72 hours of study in a continuing education course with an acceptable finishing score.
Tax Attorney Certification
Tax attorneys have to pass the state bar in their state or be licensed by their state’s courts in order to have access to these positions. They should hold their law degree, earned from an accredited school, and keep up with continuing education hours. They should have a high level of personal and professional character.
Certified public accountants, enrolled agents, and tax attorneys should remember that they have unlimited representation rights. This means they have the training to represent clients on any tax matters that involve tax payment and collection issues, audits, and appeals of IRS decisions. As long as they have an IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN), they are legally able to work as a federal tax return preparer. These individuals do not have the training or authority to represent tax clients before the IRS, as of January 1, 2016.
To help taxpayers who are looking for the credentials of tax professionals at the IRS, a directory with each federal tax return preparer, with required credentials and specific qualifications is available. This directory allows taxpayers to search for a specific tax preparer or professionals by name, city, state and ZIP code. Enrolled agents, CPAs, enrolled retirement plan agents, and enrolled actuaries who hold their PTINs are included in this directory. The directory also contains the Annual Filing Season Program Record of Completion recipients. These individuals aren’t enrolled agents, tax attorneys, or CPAs. Individuals in this program are required to complete continuing education hours if they plan to complete tax filings for their clients in an upcoming tax year.
Salary and Career Outlook
As of 2016, the job outlook for a revenue agent, tax examiner, collector, or other tax professional should show insignificant change between 2016 and 2026. Any effect on their employment prospects is affected only by any future changes to local, state, or federal government budgets and this means that they enjoy a certain amount of job security within the tax industry, even outside of tax season.
The median annual wages for a tax examiner, revenue agent, or tax collectors was $53,130, or about $25.54 per hour, as of May, 2017.