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The Real Poop

It is an answer that immediately stops party conversations.

"What do you do for a living?"

"I'm an IRS Auditor."

Crickets chirp. Uncomfortable glances around the room. Party-goers edging away from the circle. It's like telling someone you're from Ohio. (Our apologies to Ohio. Go Browns.)

IRS Auditors or, a bit cooler sounding, IRS agents, work for the government at all levels—federal, state, and local. They are the government''s number crunchers, individuals whose dreams are punctuated by the clacking of calculator keys, and whose fingers are stained with red ink (no, it isn't blood) from checking over thousands of tax statements.

What are they looking for? IRS Auditors are scouring through federal and state income tax and local property tax returns, looking for claims or omissions which don’t quite fall within the definition of "legal." Think of the business mogul claiming caviar flown in Swiss-trained endangered condors as a necessary company expense, or the non-profit including a new Rolls Royce in the yearly budget as "transportation."

When agents find these interesting tidbits of intentional inaccuracy, they bring down the financial equivalent of Thor's hammer: the audit. IRS audits—the very idea of them—are enough to cause a sweaty-armpit epidemic in a room full of the most cautious calculators. The audit is the financial equivalent of the police searching your home: There is suspicion of nefarious wrong-doing and, instead of tearing apart your couch cushions, agents begin rifling through your records, examining your earnings, and thumbing through your receipts. IRS Auditors are looking for discrepancies in what you earned and spent, and your business-related claims. If they find that you paid too much in taxes (rarely), they will actually reimburse you. If they find that you paid too little (usually), they will collect.

Audits are the reason why IRS agents get the bad reputation on the street and struggle to make—or at least keep—friends at parties. Anyone who has earned money and paid taxes is a potential target for an audit, and that makes folks nervous. Many law-abiding citizens also may believe that their hard-earned salaries are mercilessly taxed, and that those usurped funds are then spent inefficiently on gold-plated toilet seats for high-level government officials.

If you are reading this and thinking that this might be a gig you could like (or if you simply can't resist the chance of being called an "agent"), then you just might be perfect to take on the tax code and become an IRS Auditor. The world needs individuals dedicated to crunching numbers, moistening armpits, and ending party conversations. Seriously, though, IRS agents have the very important responsibility of making sure that everyone who chooses to earn money in the country is also paying their fair share toward such important institutions as schools, hospitals and fire departments, and much-needed government infrastructure like roads and parks.

If you choose this noble path, you will first and foremost need to be good with numbers. If you need to take your socks off to count higher than ten, this may not be the occupation for you. But if the multiplication sign is worn off of your graphing calculator, if you steal your parents' checkbook just to balance it, or if you have math tests with gold stars papering your refrigerator, you may be on the right track. Because, first and foremost, a tax auditor's job is primarily about numbers, no two ways about it (notice all the number vocabulary?).

Besides numbers, you will also need to be comfortable working with other people. No matter what anyone says, misanthropic hermits do not make good IRS agents. Beyond the fact that most hermits can't get out of their homes (or caves) because of the stockpiles of canned food and mounds of munitions, they simply don’t possess the people skills to check the bills. IRS agents often need to counsel taxpayers on accounting and reporting techniques. And in the event that you do find fraudulent or faulty claims, you will need to meet with claimants and business representatives to resolve situations while avoiding potential conflict.

Still reading? Then you may be wondering what you will need to do to join the ranks of IRS agents and get your very own briefcase and adding machine.

To begin with, almost all IRS auditors need to have earned a bachelor's degree. Not a degree in cooking ravioli in a hot pot and drinking straight from the faucet—the other kind of bachelor’s degree. Preferably in Accounting. Your courses should include Personal Accounting, Financial Accounting, Business Accounting...it's a lot of Accounting.

Having a bachelor's degree is not the only way to get in. Positions as IRS agents are also available to those who are Certified Public Accountants, or CPAs. Becoming a CPA usually involves a certain amount of undergraduate study, work experience (usually under a CPA), and passing a comprehensive exam. Once certified as a CPA, you can provide financial assistance or advice to individuals or businesses. You can also apply to become an IRS auditor.

Once you get your calculator in the door and are hired as an IRS agent, there will be a period of on-the-job training under an IRS master. Wax on, wax off-type stuff. Close your eyes and use the force kind of training. Actually, the majority of the training will involve keeping up-to-date on the most recent changes to tax codes and laws so that you are fully prepared to get your hands on that first tax return to begin your number crunching.

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