Tax Administration:

Tax Requirements of Small Businesses

GGD-99-133: Published: Aug 24, 1999. Publicly Released: Aug 24, 1999.

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James R. White
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on small business tax requirements, focusing on: (1) the federal filing, reporting, and deposit requirements that apply to small businesses; and (2) the actual experience of small businesses in meeting these requirements, including their involvement in the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) enforcement process.

GAO noted that: (1) small businesses, like large businesses, are subject to multiple layers of filing, reporting, and deposit requirements; (2) GAO identified more than 200 different IRS requirements that potentially apply to small businesses; (3) through such requirements, IRS administers a variety of tax policies--notably those associated with income, employment, and excise taxes; (4) in considering the implications of the number of requirements, it is important to recognize that the requirements reflect the many decisions that have been made by Congress and the executive branch to accomplish their policy goals, including those that might benefit small businesses and other taxpayers; (5) it is equally important to recognize that most businesses do not need to comply with all or even most of these requirements; (6) the ones that apply to a particular small business would depend on how the business is organized, whether it has employees, and the nature of its business operations; (7) limitations on IRS' information systems prevented GAO from fully determining the extent to which small businesses filed the various forms and schedules or their involvement in key stages of IRS' enforcement processes; (8) IRS has acknowledged that these limitations hinder its ability to effectively manage small business activities and will continue to be a serious impediment until the systems are improved; (9) GAO was able to obtain and analyze limited data on small business filings of income tax forms and on some aspects of their involvement in IRS' enforcement processes; (10) GAO's analysis of IRS' 1995 data on the most commonly filed income tax forms and schedules showed that small businesses, on average, filed one secondary form in addition to their primary income tax return, with little variation among types of businesses; and (11) GAO's analysis of small business audits showed that the audit rate for small businesses is higher than the rate for all taxpayers and that about two-thirds of the audits of small businesses result in recommendations for assessment of additional taxes and penalties.

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