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Highlights

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates that $68 billion of the annual $345 billion gross tax gap for 2001 was due to sole proprietors, who own unincorporated businesses by themselves, underreporting their net income by 57 percent. A key reason for this underreporting is well known. Unlike wage and some investment income, sole proprietors' income is not subject to withholding and only a portion is subject to information reporting to IRS by third parties. GAO was asked to (1) describe the nature and extent of sole proprietor noncompliance, (2) how IRS's enforcement programs address it, and (3) options for reducing it. GAO analyzed IRS's recent random sample study of reporting compliance by individual taxpayers, including sole proprietors.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of the Treasury 1. The Secretary of the Treasury should ensure that the tax gap strategy includes (1) a segment on improving sole proprietor compliance that is coordinated with broader tax gap reduction efforts and (2) specific proposals, such as the options we identified, that constitute an integrated package.
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As of December 2020, Treasury has taken no action to address this recommendation and has not provided GAO with plans to do so. Treasury's tax gap strategy does not cover sole proprietor compliance in detail while coordinating it with broader tax gap reduction efforts as GAO recommended in July 2007. In March 2016, Treasury officials reported to GAO that they have implemented or proposed several actions to address the tax gap among sole proprietors, such as requiring reporting on payment card payments and improved audit selection procedures for sole proprietors. However, GAO's July 2007 report noted there are many trade offs involved in various options for improving sole proprietor compliance. GAO recommended that Treasury's strategy for reducing the tax gap include a segment on sole proprietor compliance that is coordinated with broader tax gap reduction efforts.

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