Tax Examiners, Collectors, and Revenue Agents

Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents work for state, local, and federal government agencies, identifying and collecting taxes, reviewing returns, and auditing individuals and businesses.

Tax Examiners, Collectors, and Revenue AgentsTax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents have somewhat different roles in the tax process. Tax examiners scrutinize individual and small business tax returns to make sure that they have been completed correctly, checking math and social security numbers and making sure that the deductions claimed are legitimate. If information is incomplete, tax examiners may contact the filers, or they may ask for supporting documentation. If returns are incorrect, tax examiners adjust the returns, which may result in refunds or additional payment. If taxes are underpaid, examiners may assess additional fees, penalties, and interest charges.

Revenue agents have the same responsibilities as tax examiners, but they work with more complex tax information and audit returns for corporations. Revenue agents handle a variety of business types, such as retail, finance, insurance, construction, real estate, and multinational organizations. Agents typically gain experience by handling many types of business returns, and they may choose to specialize in a particular type of business as they progress. Whether they work for federal, state, or local governments, revenue agents perform similar duties, auditing returns relevant to the revenue they monitor.

Tax collectors, known in the federal government as revenue officers, attempt to contact delinquent taxpayers and work with them personally to settle tax debt. Collectors have a variety of duties, including negotiating repayment plans, investigating claims that tax payers cannot afford to pay a debt, requesting that the government file on behalf of those who did not file claims, enforcing liens, and garnishing wages. Collectors rely on detailed records to keep track of payments, and they may occasionally work with law professionals to organize property seizures or other legal actions.

Most tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents typically work a standard 40-hour week at computer workstations in an office setting, with occasional travel for reviewing and auditing off-site records. Additional or overtime hours may be necessary during tax season. The responsibilities of tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents can be stressful, as the work often requires dealing with evasive or delinquent taxpayers.

Education, Training, and Essential Skills

Specific formal education requirements for tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents vary with the employer, but generally, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, business administration, economics, or a related discipline is required for entry-level positions. Some employers will also accept an associate’s degree with related experience working with tax documents and regulations or financial records. Many employers offer on-the-job training for new hires and ongoing professional development for these positions.

All tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents require a set of skills to be successful, including strong analytical and mathematical abilities, interpersonal and communication skills, ethics, and confidentiality. Additionally, these positions require the ability to tactfully handle confrontational situations and to negotiate and manage time efficiently. A background check is required for many of these jobs.

Advancement and Professional Development Opportunities

Tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents have a variety of pathways for advancement, either through promotion to positions with more responsibility or taking on managerial roles within an agency. Since tax laws and regulations change constantly, professional development and continuing education are usually offered regularly by federal, state, and local employers. Workers who want to advance quickly can do so by taking advantage of these courses and improving their auditing techniques.

Non-governmental tax professionals can increase their potential client base by becoming enrolled agents through a federal licensing exam. Additionally, experienced agents can increase their salaries by learning to specialize in large corporations or criminal cases or by becoming international agents.

Outlook and Income

Overall, the employment rate for tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents is expected to grow by 13% over the next decade, driven by increased tax law enforcement and improvements in information systems, resulting in more audits. Demand will be highest for tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents with strong accounting skills, knowledge of tax law, and experience working with difficult or complicated cases.

Only two percent of examiners, collectors, and revenue agents are self-employed; the rest are government workers. Annual median salaries for tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents are about $48,000, with the highest median at $89,000 and the lowest at less than $28,000. In general, the federal government pays higher wages than state and local governments, and federal employees receive additional perquisites in the form of paid vacation, health and life insurance, and retirement plans.