What Does an IRS Agent Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
The Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigative Division has grown from six investigators in 1919 to a 3,700-member law enforcement division made up of both sworn and non-sworn employees, including nearly 3,000 highly trained special agents.
The job of the IRS agent is vital to enforcing the tax laws of the United States. The role of the IRS and its investigators is important in ensuring the government maintains its civil and defense infrastructures for the protection, use, and enjoyment of all. If you are good with numbers and analysis, and you appreciate the importance of taxes and finance, then working as an IRS special agent may be the perfect criminology career for you.
Most people appreciate their roads, interstates, sewers, parks and garbage collection. Almost everyone respects the jobs of police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical service workers.
When April 15 rolls around, though, very few appreciate that their tax payments go to pay for all of those services. No one likes paying taxes, and some people go to great lengths to avoid them altogether. Violating federal tax laws is a crime that the government takes very seriously, and IRS special agents work in the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division to enforce the tax laws.
IRS Agent Duties & Responsibilities
The primary function of IRS agents is to enforce the tax laws of the United States. They conduct both civil and criminal investigations into cases involving tax fraud. IRS agents also assist other federal agencies in conducting investigations into various financial crimes, such as money laundering, financial fraud, and embezzlement.
Most federal law enforcement agencies have some sort of financial crimes unit. The IRS Criminal Investigations Division, though, is the only law enforcement body with the authority to investigate tax law violations.
The job of an IRS agent often includes:
- Conducting criminal and civil audits
- Information and intelligence gathering
- Forensic accounting and financial analysis
- Writing extensive reports
- Preparing search and arrest warrants
- Providing courtroom testimony
- Conducting interviews and interrogation
IRS Agent Salary
An IRS agent's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.
- Median Annual Salary: $54,540 ($26.22 /hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $101,120 ($48.62/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $32,500 ($15.63/hour)
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Education, Training & Certification
The IRS agent position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:
- Education: Potential agents must have a minimum of a bachelors' degree, with at least 15 semester hours dedicated to areas of study such as finance, economics, banking, business law or tax law.
- Naturally, IRS agents need to have excellent analytical skills and must be good with calculations. They must also have done well in school and graduated with a minimum of a 2.8 GPA.
- Training: Once hired, agents attend law enforcement and special agent training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. Upon completion of their training, agents must be ready and willing to be assigned to any of the division's field offices across the country.
- Other requirements: To meet the minimum requirements to be considered for a job as an IRS agent, you must be a United States citizen under the age of 37 and you must have a valid driver license. Recent military retirees and those currently working in other federal law enforcement careers may be exempt from the maximum age requirements. The hiring process also includes a psychological exam, medical screening, and a drug test. Finally, potential IRS agents are required to submit to an extensive personal tax audit to ensure they are following the laws they intend to enforce.
IRS Agent Skills & Competencies
Successful candidates may be entry-level, while more senior applicants have gained previous experience in a law enforcement or investigative job that focused mainly on areas such as accounting, forensic auditing, and business or finance practices.
In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:
- Analytical skills: Agents must identify potential criminal activity by conducting investigations and analyzing evidence.
- Computer skills: Much of the data under investigation will be accessed via computer.
- Detail-oriented: Agents need to pay attention to detail to identify fraudulent transactions through forensic accounting, and track potentially complex transactions such as those involved in money-laundering.
- Interpersonal and organizational skills: IRS agents must interact with people across various departments and groups, and cases may involve large amounts of data, making interpersonal communications and an organized approach to work critical.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for tax collectors and revenue agents, a group which includes IRS agents, is a forecasted 10% job growth between 2016 and 2026. This is driven by a tightening federal budget that will result in reduced hiring. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.
IRS agents are law enforcement officers who work closely with financial information and calculations. Like other investigators and special agents, much of their work is conducted in an office setting, as well as in the field exploring leads and gathering information and interviews.
Agents may be assigned nearly anywhere in the United States or to one of several field offices around the world, including offices in the United Kingdom and Canada.
Most IRS agents must work a full-time, 40-hour weekly schedule.
How to Get the Job
Most federal law enforcement careers are highly competitive because they tend to pay so well and come with great benefits. This is no less true for IRS agents. As part of your job search, review the IRS jobs website's description of its application and hiring process to gain a more thorough understanding of all that the IRS requires from its applicants.
The IRS puts applicants through an extensive and rigorous hiring process that includes a battery of online tests and job simulations in order to determine a candidate's suitability for the job. There is also a written assessment to assess writing skills, as well as a structured oral interview.
Visit the IRS jobs website to search for IRS agent positions and start the application process.
To stay up to date on the availability of IRS agent jobs or any other federal criminology careers, you can also create a profile and receive vacancy alerts from the federal government's job portal, USAjobs.gov.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in an IRS agent career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:
- Accountant or Auditor: $70,500
- Financial Examiner: $80,180
- Budget Analyst: $76,220