Earned Income Credit

IRS' Tax Year 1994 Compliance Study and Recent Efforts to Reduce Noncompliance Gao ID: GGD-98-150 July 28, 1998

In April 1997, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published the results of its tax year 1994 earned income credit compliance study. The study showed that of $17.2 billion in earned income credit claimed during the study period, taxpayers overclaimed about $4.4 billion--or 26 percent. This report (1) evaluates IRS' study methodology to determine if the reported results were reasonably accurate, (2) identifies the primary sources of earned income credit noncompliance found in the study, and (3) determines whether recent IRS compliance efforts are designed to address the primary sources of noncompliance.

GAO noted that: (1) IRS' estimate of $4.4 billion in EIC overclaims has a 95-percent confidence interval of $4 billion to $4.9 billion; (2) GAO's evaluation of the study methodology showed that the estimate is reasonably accurate and representative of EIC claimants filing between January 15 and April 21, 1995; (3) some aspects of the study methodology affected the precision of the results; but, given the scale of the findings, these limitations do not affect the study's message or its usefulness in designing compliance approaches; (4) although it is a reasonable estimate of EIC overclaims, the entire $4.4 billion should not be viewed as a potential savings to the government had IRS somehow been able to prevent or correct all of these errors; (5) for returns filed with an EIC claim, the tax year 1994 study was designed to evaluate taxpayers' compliance with each EIC eligibility filing requirement, to produce an overall estimate of EIC amounts claimed in error, and to identify the sources of these errors; (6) the study was not designed to detect or quantify EIC claims that taxpayers could have made; (7) the largest source of taxpayer error identified by the tax year 1994 study relates to EIC requirements that are difficult for IRS to verify--those related to qualifying children; (8) unlike income transfer programs, the EIC was designed to be administered through the tax system; (9) this choice generally should result in lower administrative costs and higher participation rates and emphasizes that the credit is for working taxpayers; (10) EIC eligibility is difficult for IRS to verify through its traditional enforcement procedures; (11) thoroughly verifying qualifying child eligibility requires IRS to do an audit of the type done in the EIC compliance studies; (12) with new enforcement tools provided by Congress and an increase in funding designated for EIC-related activities, IRS began implementing in fiscal year 1998 a plan that, over a period of 5 years, calls for attacking EIC noncompliance; (13) most of the efforts that make up the EIC compliance initiative had not progressed far enough at the time GAO completed its audit for it to make any judgment about their effectiveness; (14) IRS plans to measure the overall impact of the compliance initiative on the overclaim rate through annual studies of EIC compliance starting with a baseline study of tax year 1997 returns; and (15) IRS plans to measure the results of the individual initiative components implemented in 1998.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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